Rough Book

random musings of just another computer nerd

Category: Army

How I got a medal from the Army for writing code

In 2005 my National Guard unit was deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. My MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) in the Army was 92A, which is basically a logistics and supplies specialist. My job was to order parts for mechanics, pick them up, return old parts, manage HAZMAT, dispatch/return vehicles from missions, and handle licenses. I also did a few other things that I don’t remember right now. Anyway, at the time, the heart of this system was a tool called ULLS-G (Unit Level Logistics System – Ground). I say “at the time”, because shortly after we came back, ULLS-G was replaced by SAMS-E (Standard Army Maintenance System – Enhanced), which incidentally uses Oracle as a back-end database. Compared to SAMS-E, ULLS-G was a dinosaur. I had used it quite a bit, of course, having been in the Army for about 4 years by the time I was deployed. It was a complete pain to use it. ULLS-G was a DOS application (yes, MS-DOS) and most of the computers I used it on at the armory were only running DOS (this was circa early 2000’s so it wasn’t too uncommon to still see DOS systems around). By the time I was deployed most computers were running WinXP/2K or something like that, and so you could run ULLS-G in “MS-DOS compatibility mode”.

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Giving toys to kids in Iraq

This is an old video; I just found it. I uploaded it to YouTube since you can’t view it on the original DVIDS site. When I was in Iraq our unit commander’s (CPT Callaway) mother sent a bunch of toys over to us. We took these toys and handed them out to Iraqi kids.

End of a Journey

December 19th, 2000 was a Tuesday. It was the day I enlisted into the Arizona Army National Guard. Today, 9 years later, I’m finishing up my service. From my very first days at C Btry, 1/180th FA, a tour in Iraq, and all the way to Eco 29th BSB, it’s been quite a ride. I didn’t reenlist because I want to concentrate of my career, and frequent deployments would put me at a serious disadvantage in my field. This is not to say that I’m not torn by my decision. Part of me wants to stay in. Part of me will always want to be in the Army. It has been an amazing 9 years for me. Being part of the Army has given me discipline and confidence and has taught me the meaning of honor, duty, loyalty, and courage. I think I was a good soldier and as an NCO I think I did my best to take care of the soldiers under me. Along the way, I also made some wonderful friends who might as well be family now. The kind of camaraderie that forms when you serve with people in a combat zone cannot be put into words.

Looking back I think I can say that I’m satisfied with my career. I still remember coming in as a 19-year old Private… I knew that I at least wanted to make Sergeant before I got out, and I’m glad that I was able to achieve that. Being able to wear the uniform is something amazing. You are a part of something larger than yourself. It’s hard to put into words… I just know that it’s something that I will miss terribly.

I can’t say that I’ve looked forward to this day (although my family has). 9 years is a long time to serve and after doing something for so long, it becomes a very integral part of you and your identity. I guess I will always be a soldier and a veteran; I have earned that right. But I know I’ll always be looking back at my Army years fondly, half-wishing I was still wearing the uniform and still serving the nation.

Go Army! HOOAH!

Inside an actual can of whoop-ass

My friend Joey sent me this picture! I think it’s pretty awesome!

Inside an actual can of Whoop Ass

Inside an actual can of Whoop Ass

HOOAH! Go Army!

How I Joined the Army, Went to War, and Came Back

This is an article that I originally wrote for Anjali, a publication from KHNA (Kerala Hindus of North America). I was asked to write an article describing my experiences in the Army and this is what I came up with. It eventually ended up being a lot longer than I planned.

How I Joined the Army, Went to War, and Came Back

About 8 years ago, I raised my right hand and took the oath of allegiance. I swore to follow and obey the lawful orders of my superiors, and to protect the United States of America from all enemies, foreign and domestic. I enlisted in the Arizona Army National Guard on December 19th, 2000. I was 19-years old at the time. Many people have asked me about my motivation for doing so; this was two-fold. Firstly, there was the issue of college tuition. The Guard offered to pay (at the time) 75% of my college tuition if I fulfilled my contract, and kept good grades. Secondly, I was attracted to the discipline of the Army, and I wanted to be part of something larger than myself.

After formally enlisting in December, I went to Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina on the 26th of May, 2001. Basic Training is definitely something I look upon fondly (now), but at the time it was definitely a very difficult and trying experience. I was never the overtly physical type while growing up. Hence, the completely physical aspect of the Military was intimidating to me. I had also heard stories about the Drill Sergeants, how they were extremely strict and demanding, and continually in your face. Basic Training is a strenuous physical, mental, and emotional ordeal. For most people, it is the discipline and lack of freedom that is most difficult. The Drill Sergeants control every aspect of your day. You do everything according to a set time-table, and you learn the value of punctuality and discipline. To the uninitiated, seeing what a recruit experiences at the hands of a Drill Sergeant may seem frightening, or even cruel. Recruits have to sacrifice some of their individuality and personal freedoms, and this is terrifying to some people. What Basic Training teaches you (other than how to be a soldier) is how to be part of a team; to place the welfare and well-being of your brothers and sisters-in-arms (and by extension, the nation) above your own.

To be very frank, the strictness of Basic Training didn’t faze me. I went to an Indian School, growing up. I found many similarities between the school environment in an Indian school and the environment in Basic Training (excluding the weapons, explosive, and other bodily-harm-causing implements). Both environments have a strong focus on discipline and respect. In Basic Training, the Drill Sergeants are God. To do anything, you require their permission. You speak when spoken to. If you want to go to the bathroom, you raise your hand. If you speak out of turn, or do not do what you are told, you get punished. Does this sound familiar to any readers who have studied in an Indian School?

The day I graduated Basic Training was a very proud day for me. I had endured one of the toughest experiences of my life. I went from a scrawny 104-pound 19-year old to a 125-pound, US Army Soldier. I was confident, disciplined, and words like “Honor”, “Duty”, and “Loyalty” were more than just mere words to me; they actually meant something now.

Over the next few years, things weren’t all that exciting. I went to AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Fort Lee, Virginia in 2002 to qualify for my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), which was to be an “Automated Logistics and Supplies Specialist”. To be honest, I didn’t know what my job in the Army actually was when I enlisted. My conversation with my recruiter went something like this:

Recruiter: Well, so what do you do in College?
Me: I’m trying to get a degree in Computer Engineering.
Recruiter: Oh really? Well this has computers in it!
Me: Oh really? I’ll do that!

At the time, I was really naïve and perhaps should have put a little more thought into it, but in retrospect it’s interesting how that one little decision shaped the rest of my life. The description of my job isn’t that glamorous. I essentially maintain a supply chain so that the mechanics in the maintenance section can get the parts they need to fix the vehicles in our unit. To this end, I worked on an archaic piece of software that was written in the 80’s and subsequently updated over and over again. When I found out that this was what I was actually doing, I felt a little… deflated. But eventually I realized that I was an important part of the system, and my programming and computer engineering background eventually did help me excel at my job, especially when I got deployed.

The next few years in the Guard were pretty uneventful. I attended and performed my duties at drill one weekend every month, and two weeks in the summer for Annual Training. Of course, things changed after September 11th, 2001. Twice after that, I was almost deployed; once to Luke Air Force Base, and then to Iraq . Though I understood my obligations, I was extremely unnerved and frightened at the prospect of putting my college education on hold. Through an intricate series of events not of my design, I somehow fell through the cracks and managed not to get deployed. I was able to continue my college education and graduate in the spring of 2004. When I finally did have to go, I felt that I was ready.

In early 2005, I was told that I would be deploying to Iraq. Needless to say, my family wasn’t very thrilled. They were understandably scared and worried about my safety. Many of my friends asked me to figure out some way to get out of it (one of them kindly offered to break my legs, so I wouldn’t be able to go). If I had done what they had asked, I don’t think I would have been able to live with that decision. The truth of the matter is that no one wants to go to war. In fact, I vividly remember my Drill Sergeant talking about going to war. He once asked us to raise our hands if we wanted to go war. Of course, all of us raised our hands up. He said, “Really? Then all y’all are stupid! No one wants to go to war! No one wants to die! We go to war because it’s our duty!”. Trying to get out of going to Iraq seemed dishonorable to me. I would be turning my back on my comrades and I would be violating the oath I took when I enlisted. I understood, and knew that it would be a difficult and dangerous experience, but I decided to do it any way, because it was what I had to do. It was my duty.

I left Phoenix on the morning of the 30th of August, 2005. It was definitely one of the most heart-wrenching and saddest days of my life. I wasn’t sad for myself, but I was sad for my family and friends. I didn’t want them to worry about me and I even felt slightly guilty at the emotional turmoil I was putting them through. But even though they’d rather have me back home, they all understood why I was going and why I had to go. I spent three months in Ft. Lewis, Seattle where the whole unit underwent pre-mobilization training. We left for Kuwait on the 18th of November. We spent about two weeks there before we actually flew out to Baghdad, Iraq.

I realize that most people, when asked to make up a list of positive experiences, don’t put “war” on that list (unless you’re an arms dealer). My year in Iraq was definitely a stressful and difficult experience that fundamentally changed me in some ways. But in a gestalt sense it was a positive experience for me; in some way it has characterized and validated my service. Prior to my deployment, I often had the feeling that I was simply “going through the motions” of being a soldier. But there I was in Iraq, doing what I was trained to do, supporting my fellow soldiers, and getting the mission done.

For most people, politics and war are inextricably intertwined. War is, after all, an action which is the culmination of a series of events based on some sort of political policy. This really isn’t the case with soldiers (or any military person). Of course, this seems paradoxical, or even nonsensical. After all, we’re the ones who’re participating in the war, so shouldn’t we be aware of the politics of it as well? Not really. Politicians decide policy, and in the case of war policy, the military carries it out. I was well-aware of the hugely political overtones of the Iraq War. I was also well aware of the arguments for and against the war, and I had my own views on the matter. But when you’re lying awake in bed in the middle of the night, listening to incoming mortars exploding all around you, shaking your flimsy tin-can residence, politics becomes largely irrelevant. People often ask me about my political feelings about the war and I decline to answer. They often ask me my views because of my experience, but this is the very reason that I don’t answer. People assume that because of my experience, my views have an extra legitimacy to them because “I was there”. By extension, they also assume that my political views define the character of, or motivation for my service in Iraq. It is hard to explain how or why soldiers maintain this “wall” in their heads. It’s not an attempt at rationalization, rather it is necessary for us to function properly in a combat environment. Trying to decide whether throwing the grenade that is currently in your hand espouses and promotes a libertarian or neo-conservative political world-view, while bullets are flying at you from all directions, is probably detrimental to your combat effectiveness. Hence the need to completely render politics irrelevant. When people ask me why I went, and why I served there, I tell them that I did it because it was my duty; because I wanted to support my fellow soldiers and because I wanted to complete the mission. I owe no further explanation.

Like I had mentioned before, my experience in Iraq was definitely stressful. I missed my family and friends terribly. I realized the value of the simple things in life, like not being afraid of being hit by mortar (for instance), while lying in bed, watching South Park on TV. Finally, imagine spending a whole year with your baseline level of anxiety ratcheted up to about 10 times its normal level. When we first got there, I was startled by every incoming mortar, but I eventually got used to it. I was initially stationed at the Green Zone, and got to visit the major landmarks in the area, like the Crossed Sabers, Saddam’s Palace, and the Al-Rashid Hotel. However, our mission changed and I came back to join the rest of the unit at Camp Liberty, Baghdad.

Our unit’s mission in Iraq was varied. We would usually be transporting VIP’s, prisoners, or supplies to different places in and around Baghdad. My job mainly kept me on base (and my family was extremely relieved because of that). To be very honest, there were times that I wished I could go “outside the wire”, instead of stay on the base. It wasn’t because I was fatalistic or crazy, but I enjoyed the adrenaline rush and also felt like I was doing something more tangible. I was able to go out about 10 or 12 times during my tour in Iraq. If you ask me what it feels like to be in imminent danger, I can say that it’s definitely an odd feeling. While I realized that I was in extreme danger, I didn’t feel scared or frightened. Only extremely alert and focused, which I guess, is how you would want to feel in a combat environment.

I didn’t truly realize the importance of my MOS until my tour in Iraq. Since our unit’s mission consisted a lot of convoying, the maintenance team was extremely busy ensuring that the vehicles were in a fully mission-capable state. A vehicle that breaks down outside the wire is extremely vulnerable, and so we had a huge responsibility to ensure that this never happened. My job, as mentioned before, was to ensure that the maintenance team had access to the repair parts they required. Most people in my position simply use the software provided. However the software being archaic, and having been written a few short weeks before the invention of the wheel (I am being sarcastic, of course) was not very user friendly or intuitive. Tasks that should be simple took forever to complete. The interface was obtuse, and the designers had made some seriously brain-dead decisions. Reporting was even more tedious. Most other units there would painstakingly write up a report every morning manually and send it up to the TOC (Tactical Operations and Command). Not content with this state of affairs, I resolved to completely streamline our operations. I essentially wrote my own programs that automated a lot of the data entry and reporting. Tasks that normally took hours now took only a matter of seconds to complete. In addition, I was able to send out extremely accurate reports because I figured out how to interface with the Army software’s database. I never once in my life thought that I would be putting my degree to use in Iraq. I never created any of these enhancements in the expectation of some sort of reward. My driving force was to ensure that I did everything humanly possible to guarantee the safety of my friends and the success of their mission outside the wire. Towards the end of the tour, I was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for my efforts.

Due to the nature of my job, and the fact that I mostly stayed on base, I wasn’t able to interact very much with the Iraqi people, or catch that much of a glimpse into their lives outside the base. In my experience though, most of the Iraqi people I did meet were extremely friendly and hospitable, with a sincere desire to see their country succeed. This is not to say that all Iraqis liked us. More than once I saw people on the street make obscene gestures at the convoys as we drove by. That, and the IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices) clued us into the fact that we weren’t universally liked. A lot of Iraqis actually worked on base and ran shops that sold different kinds of merchandise and also a whole lot of bootlegged DVD’s (one of the first Iraqis I met was a kid on the street who wanted to sell me DVD’s). They would arrive at the base in the morning and leave in the evening. They were required to have escorts at all times as well, and this was how I was able to meet a lot of them. The lower enlisted (I was specialist at the time and hadn’t been promoted to Sergeant yet) had to perform extra duty, and one of these was “escort duty” where you had to escort Iraqis or TCN’s (Third-Country Nationals) around the base. I can recall my first time performing escort duty as especially poignant. The person I had to escort was a 12-year old boy who helped the garbage truck collect garbage around the base. He spoke excellent English and I asked him why he didn’t go to school. He told me that his father had been killed when insurgents blew up a mosque he was praying at. Since he was the oldest member of the family, he had to quit school and earn money.

The year passed by quickly (although at the time it seemed to drag on forever). Soon, the unit that would replace us arrived on base and we quickly started training them. We had gone from counting-down months to counting-down days. Finally, the day of our departure arrived. We flew out of Iraq at the beginning of November. We stayed in Kuwait for two days before flying out to the United States. As the plane left the tarmac, everyone on the aircraft started cheering; we were glad to be finally leaving the Middle East.

The day I finally landed in Phoenix, Arizona was one of the happiest days of my life. My friends were there to greet me and I was relieved and ecstatic that I was finally back home. Getting back to civilian life took some work. My friends told me that I was a little more subdued, and quiet. My family complained that I wasn’t that social and didn’t want to talk. The truth was that I really didn’t feel like talking about anything, really. Sudden noises would startle me, and make me think of an incoming mortar attack. As the months went by, I finally got used to being a civilian again. For the most part, I was my old self, but with a host of new memories.

As I write this, I have less than a year left in the military. My ETS date (time of separation) is December 18th, 2009. When I am discharged, I will have served 9 years in the United States Army National Guard. I have decided not to re-enlist, even though I know that I will miss the Guard terribly. Even though there were difficult moments I had to deal with, I know I will miss the camaraderie and the discipline. I have decided to focus completely on my civilian career, and I feel that 9 years is a decently long stint in the Guard. Even though I will be out of the military in a year, it will forever be a part of me, and will also be something that defines me as a person. Joining the military was one of the most pivotal decisions of my life, and it has turned out to be a rich, rewarding, and wonderful experience all the way. It has helped me grow more as an individual, and has built up my confidence. It has taught me the meaning of the words Loyalty, Honor, Duty, and Courage. Even though I may not wear the uniform in a year, in my heart I know that I will always be a Soldier of the United States Army.

Sorry for the delay

I’m really sorry for not updating this journal for… well, seems like forever. I figured I’d start writing regularly but that turned out to not be the case. A few things got in my way. Ever since I started working at Infusionsoft, I’ve had less of a desire to come back home and sit at the computer… again. The reason being, that most of my code-cravings are taken care of at work. Seriously, I love it. As a result I don’t really feel like coming back home and sitting in front of the computer.

The second thing was that my parents were here for a long time, and so I was spending most of my time with them. Then what else… oh yes, there was a thunderstorm and the power went out and my server decided that it didn’t recognize the NIC it had recognized for the past four years. So I went and bought a new one, and as soon as I plugged it in, it recognized the old one. I love computers. Then of course, there’s the fact that I was just pretty lazy. For some insane reason I decided that I wanted to upgrade the server to FreeBSD 7.0 and then I kinda just dragged my foot on setting everything else up.

Finally, there was my getting deployed again. Yeah, you read that right. I was going to Iraq… again. I pretty much found out about it around the time of my WLC training. So there was all the preparation for that. I really wasn’t looking forward to going (who does, anyway?) but I figured I had to (all that duty stuff, raising my right hand, taking the oath). However a few weeks ago I found out that I really didn’t have to go. As it turned out it hadn’t been two years since I got back and so I had the option of not going. So I told my readiness NCO that I didn’t want to go. I have my career to think of, and I think one tour in Iraq is more than enough. I was pretty torn when I had to make that decision. It took me about half a second to decide what I wanted to do. Part of me almost wanted to say “yes”. But I think this is the better decision.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you all know that I’m alive and that I’m definitely going to try and write more frequently on this journal. I’m doing a lot of exciting things at work and I’d like to be able to write about them. So, until next time…

WLC and WTF

I’m going out of town for two weeks for WLC (Warrior Leader Course). It’s a course I’ve had to take after I got promoted to Sergeant while I was in Iraq. I never had a chance to go to it because there was a lot of confusion with the standing-down of the old artillery unit and the formation of the new infantry unit. My readiness NCO was able to get me a class starting this week. The class is in Utah (fun!) and I will be learning a lot of “NCO stuff” like commanding formations, marching, conducting PT sessions, OP orders, and things of that nature. I think it will be pretty interesting. The first week is classroom stuff, and the second week will be field-training. I’m going to see if I can take some pictures. I’ll post them here when I get back.

The other thing that I wanted to write about was an experience I had in college. I’ve been reading The Daily WTF a lot, recently. It highlights examples of bad code, horrible design, and stupid management. Things that basically make you go “WTF?!”. Anyway, some of the articles on the site talk about incompetent professors. After reading that, I was reminded of a terribly idiotic and incompetent professor that I had in college. This happened during the first semester of my senior year (spring of ’03), and of course, I had full-blown senioritis. Scratch that, I wouldn’t say that I was apathetic; I just figured out how to put in the optimum amount of effort. This meant that I would try and see if going to class gave me any value. If it didn’t, I would pretty much teach myself the material. This meant more time for me to party and drink. I’m sorry, I meant study and review. Yes… that’s right. Anyway, the class I had was called CSE 423. I don’t remember the title of the class, but it had to do with VHDL. In simple words, VHDL lets you design logic circuits programatically and then configure an FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) to behave like the circuit you designed. It’s pretty nifty and interesting stuff. I would have enjoyed the class if it hadn’t been taught by this retard of a professor. This professor, let’s call him R. C. is as terrible as they come. He came to class unprepared, his slides were full of errors, and he often had no clue what he was talking about. In addition, he seemed to be passively arrogant. Initially we all liked him because he seemed to have a lively personality. But that didn’t make up for the fact that he pretty much sucked. On the rare occasion you actually got through to him (he almost always directed you to the TA – who was nowhere to be found and checked his email once a millenium) to discuss a problem in your homework (let’s say you were docked a point and you wanted to know why) he would be extremely unhelpful. Most professors explain to you why you are wrong, they don’t just tell you “You’re wrong” and end the conversation.

I remember how I had to leave class early once to meet with my readiness NCO regarding some paperwork. I let him know I was leaving. He wasn’t happy and decided to give quiz to the class just because I left. When I talked to him about it, he told me that he needed a letter from my readiness NCO. I gave him one, and after that he gave me two homework questions to make up the quiz. He randomly picked the last two questions in the list of homework questions for the chapter. When I tried to ask him some questions about the homework, he told me that he hadn’t read them and that I was on my own. Now that I’ve told you what kind of person he is, on to the actual issue. We had a midterm that was about 30% of the grade of the class. In that midterm there was a 30-point question having to do with a VHDL implementation of a state machine. I wrote a correct solution to the problem and I was surprised when I got my paper back and I received a zero. I got a 60% on the test, when I should have received a 90%. I went to him to discuss the problem. There were a bunch of angry and aggravated students in the lab. All of them had been unfairly graded on the test. I mean, what do you expect when you have an idiot for a professor? I went up to him and patiently explained my solution and how I arrived at it.

He told me, “It’s wrong.” I asked him, “How? Can you explain to me what’s wrong?” He said, “Your state machine is wrong, so your implementation is wrong.” Once again, I patiently shows him the state machine with all the correct inputs (or transition conditions) and outputs (or states) and how the VHDL implementation corresponded to it. I asked him, “How can you say my state machine is wrong?” He responded and I kid you not, “Your state machine is wrong because the outputs are supposed to be on the arrows, and the inputs are in the circles. The arrows come out of the circles, so they are outputs.” I stared at him in disbelief for a few seconds. I honestly could not believe what I was hearing. Every computer engineer worth his salt knows what a basic state machine looks like. I argued with him for about 10 minutes. Other students were standing around me, shaking their head because they couldn’t believe what they were hearing either. He finally said, “No, you’re wrong. This conversation is over.” I stormed out of the lab, fuming. Due to the idiocy of my professor, I got a B in that course when I should have received an A (don’t even get me started on the final project. Apparently he thinks it’s totally fair to give you a zero on a question that he didn’t even ask you). I eventually was vindicated later that year when I was part of the Student Advisory Committee. We were a bunch of students who met with the department heads so that they would have a better idea of what the students felt. Basically, liaisons between the student body (the CS/CSE majors anyway) and the faculty. They were asking us about our opinions of professors and I told them exactly what I felt about R. C. I was pleasantly surprised when they told me that they had heard the same complaints from numerous students. “He won’t be teaching here again”, is what they told me. Ahhh… sweet victory. I’m not a vindictive person, but this was something I felt very strongly about and I felt that I was treated unfairly. I was glad to know that others felt the same way as well.

Anyway, so that’s my “WTF?!” story. I probably won’t be posting from my WLC training, so I’ll try and post after I get back. Until next time.

My Clip on NBC Nightly News

A while back, I uploaded clip I made on to my website. It was just a clip of us soldiers being silly. Anyway, after I came back from war, I uploaded that clip to YouTube. My initial comments were something like “lyk yeah whatevr that is so stupied”. I didn’t take those seriously, especially since it came from someone that couldn’t spell “stupid” correctly. I forgot about the clip until I received an email some months later from both NBC, and LMNOTV. NBC asked me if they could use my clip on their NBC Nightly News. I was surprised that my little clip would generate so much interest, and I went ahead and agreed. LMNOTV said that they might air my clip on their “My War Diary” show later this year. I’m going to send them a few more clips and pictures as well.

But anyway, check out NBC Nightly News tonight, and you may see my clip. Oh, and if you’re coming here because you saw my clip on NBC Nightly News, here are links to all my posts dealing with my experiences:

Change

Sorry about not writing for so long. I was slowly getting back to “normal life” and I felt kinda apathetic about writing. Then when I actually felt like writing, my internet connection went down. It’s a long story, and I’ll talk about it later, but basically I have no more static IP’s. But I’m so glad there’s this.

My whole vacation was about “change”. Scratch that. Going to war, coming back, and settling into normal life has been about change. Usually I’m averse to change. Yeah, I’m that guy who orders the same damn thing everytime I go to a restaurant. Mostly because I really like the dish. It’s not so much I like being in a rut (I don’t), but it’s more that once I am comfortable with something, I don’t like changing it. Change makes me stressful and agitated and I usually don’t like it. I like to have a handle on every aspect of the situation and I hate “unknowns”. But if anything, I think I’ve learned how to deal with change.

I find myself thinking of the “good old days” a lot. I get patronizing scoffs from older people (people in their 40’s or 50’s) when I say this, but seriously; it’s true. After college, a lot of things changed. I started working, I got a house, and then I went to war. I listen to music on the radio, and I say “What is this shit? Music was so much better in the 90’s!”. That’s also when I realize that I sound like my father (of course, he claims music was better in the 70’s). But again, it’s more than that. I think I’m in that gray area when you realize that you’re actually starting to become a “grown-up”. Some people say it’s because you lose the clichéed “innocence of childhood”. But I think calling it the “ignorance of childhood” is more apposite, and as we all know, another cliché tells us that “ignorance is bliss”. My view of the world has become significantly grayer and duller over the years by layers and layers of cynicism. I don’t mean this just figuratively. No, really – I distinctly remember the days being brighter when I was younger. Is that what happens when you “grow up”? I remember wonderful summers in India, when I was seven or eight. There is this tree in our backyard that we children would play around. The sunlight was brighter, and butterflies would be flitting around us as we played. I didn’t see that many butterflies when I went to India this time, or the last time for that matter. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough.

When you grow up there are a lot of new things you learn, things you wished you didn’t know. You are expected to take part in “grown up” discussions and things like that. Stuff that’s really tiresome. Sometimes I feel that everyone talks, but nothing gets done. That’s really frustrating for an engineer, who’s whole life revolves around solving problems. I’d say for the most part of the eight years since I left highschool, my life was constant. But I think it was the going away for a year that made me realize how much had really changed. Being out there for a year made me re-evaluate so many things, especially my personal relationships (these especially for the better). I think part of it was because I was a passive spectator to my own life, one that was moving along without me. I mean, life wasn’t really “going on” for me. Life for me, was Arizona and I sure as hell wasn’t in Arizona for a year. It’s funny when I try to place things or relate to things and I realize that my point of reference is from two years ago. It’s very disorienting to immerse yourself into an environment that’s a year ahead of you… like stepping into a moving train.

One of the major “changes” I’ve had to deal with is my little sister’s marriage. I knew it was going to happen one day, but it was more of an abstract concept than something concrete. But yeah, my baby sister is getting married – later this year in fact. It’s a happy occasion, but still different than what I’ve been used to. Some changes haven’t been so happy. It’s sad when you look at an old photograph and realize some of the people are no longer around… and that some of them won’t be around much longer. I wonder if cynicism is the inevitable consequence of knowledge and adulthood. I do find myself looking at a lot of things through jaded eyes. Somewhere along the way I lost the sense of wonder I had during my childhood, or even in my early college-years. I guess I still believe in the goodness of things, but more often than not I am surprised by it.

I think it will get better though. Being in touch with my family, being around my family, and in the company of old friends helps it out quite a bit. Just like anything else, it’s always only a matter of time…

I’ve got a few pictures here from my trip in India. There are a few missing which I will upload later. There are also others that I lost when the drive on my laptod died (this always happens to me). I’m going to try and salvage what I can from it this weekend and see if I can get the pictures back. I’ve got pictures of my highschool teachers and highschool principal here. The feeling I have towards them can only be called “reverence”. In Hinduism they say that the Guru (teacher) is equal to God. Nothing could be further from the truth when describing my teachers. I would not be where I am today, without their help.

Acha
Acha

Amma
Amma

Big Doggie
A Newfoundland I met at JFK.

Honeymoney
The cutest doggie in the world.

Mr. Andrews, Mr. Dogra, and I
Mr. Andrews, Mr. Dogra, and I.

Mr. Bhatnagar and I
One of the most amazing persons I have ever known.

Mr. Joy and I
My old class-teacher, Mr. Joy standing in front of good old 12 A!

Mrs. Ghosh and I
Mrs. Ghosh, my old Ibri house house-mistress. She never actually taught me, but that seems irrelevant. I still remember reciting a piece from G. B. Shaw’s Pygmalion for the House Recitation compeition.

Mr. Srinivas and I
I certainly wouldn’t have understoon Electricity and Magnetism if it wasn’t for Mr. Srinivas. One of the most interesting and engaging teachers I’ve had.

Mr. Stanislaus and I
Mr. Stanislaus wouldn’t let me synthesize RDX in the Chemistry Lab. That was probably a good thing. It’s also because of him that I can still amaze Chemistry Geeks with my random bits of Chem knowledge.

Poochas
Our cats in Muscat. Thomas, Sundari (meaning “pretty one” in Malayalam), Karamban (meaning “black one” in Malayalam), and Tiger Poocha (literally translated, “Tiger Cat”. It’s a name I made up).

Finally Home

This time last month, I was still in Baghdad; a few days away from leaving for home. This time last year, I was in Kuwait; a few days away from leaving for a combat zone. We left Baghdad early on the 5th, to fly to Kuwait. We spent forty-eight hours in Kuwait before starting our journey to CONUS (Continental United States). On our way we stopped (out of all places) at Keflavik, in Iceland. From the plane, I saw a barren landscape that seemed both scorched and frozen at the same time. It was as if someone had burnt the whole countryside and then frozen it. The ground was the colour of rust, with patches of ice. It seemed like an alien landscape, but was weirdly beautiful at the same time. We stayed there for about an hour or two before heading to the United States. On the way back, the sun was just rising over the Nordic landscape. Rays of sunlight pierced through the clouds, lighting up the coastline. I can’t do justice to the scene with mere words, so I have a picture of it later on in my post.

Our first stop in the United States was at New Hampshire. It was our first step back on American Soil. There was a welcome party there for us, from an organization formed by War Veterans and Citizens. I was overwhelmed by the support we received from these people. They had woken up early in the morning to receive us. I felt an instant bond with the old warriors there; an instant recognition – something that only exists between servicemembers. I won’t even try to compare my experience to what those heroes have been through. These were veterans from World War II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, and Desert Storm. You have to understand that some of these veterans, especially the ones from Vietnam, had no one to welcome them when they came back home from war. In fact, they were spit on, hated, and ridiculed. It angers me when I think of the indiginities they suffered, especially from a public that has no idea of the horrors of the war. Quite often they decide that the dishonourable actions of a few are good enough to condemn a majority. This is why I am happy to see that the majority of the American public still support their troops even if they don’t agree with the war. A lot of these veterans feel sad that they can’t join us at war. In fact, as a World War II veteran told us, “I wish I was there fighting alongside you gentlemen, but I don’t think they take 80-year old men in the Army anymore…”. Before we took our leave, the veterans got into formation and saluted us. Our Company XO (Executive Officer) called us to attention and we saluted them right back. The CO of the Veterans’ Formation told us “You have no idea, how much it means to us, for you to salute us.” That counted as one of the most moving experiences in my life. I find it hard to describe the emotions experienced by a servicemember to civilians – it is not something that you can put into words. It is something you have to experience. It some something you develop when you spend time with friends who you know have your back. It is something you develop when you spend time with friends in an environment where any of you can die at any time. It is something you develop when you pray everyday that no one in your company gets hurt when they go outside to do their missions. It’s when you are party of a family. A brotherhood.

After leaving New Hampshire, we stopped at Ft. Lewis. I remember watching troops coming back from Iraq, when I was there over a year ago. I knew I’d be in their position one day, and I sure was. We stayed there for about five days to go through paperwork and briefings. Finally, early on the morning of the 12th, we headed back to Phoenix, Arizona. On August 29th, 2005, I remember thinking “One day, I’ll be on a plane flying in the opposite direction”. And sure enough, there I was. My level of excitement mounted as I realized that in a very short time, I would be seeing my friends and family… and that they would be elated to see me.

All things come to an end. Sometimes it feels like it takes a long time, but eventually…

As always, here are some pictures. I also have pictures from Thanksgiving ’06. I missed last year’s Thanksgiving, but this year’s more than made up for it. Everyone was there, including my mom and dad, my sister-in-law, and my sister’s fiance. Oh, and I also have pictures of my brother’s and sister-in-law’s wedding reception.

Patten, Valles, Terry, and I at BIAP
Patten, Valles, Terry, and I at BIAP.

UH60 Blackhawk
UH-60 Blackhawk

Chinook
Chinook

Inside the C130
Inside the C-130

Everyone inside the C130
Everyone inside the C-130

Patten and I
Patten and I in Camp Virginia

Soto, Valles, and I
Soto, Valles, and I in Camp Virginia

Nordic Sunrise
Nordic Sunrise

Veterans' Welcome
Veterans’ Welcome at New Hampshire

Retriever Welcome
This doggy was there to welcome us at New Hampshire

Retriever and Whippet
He had a little buddy to welcome us too

Roughnecks at New Hampshire
Roughnecks at New Hampshire

Sombrero
My buddies and I went to a Mexican Restaurant near Ft. Lewis. When we walked in, I saw these polaroids on the wall of people with Sombreros on. I found out that if it was your birthday, you got your picture taken with a sombrero. So I told them it was my birthday and my buddies played along.

Welcome Home Roughnecks
Welcome Home, Roughnecks!

Michael and I
Michael and I at Sky Harbour

Michael, Naima, and I
Michael, Naima, and I

Patten and I at The Monastery
Patten and I at the Moastery

Valles and I at The Monastery
Valles and I at the Monastery

Valles, Patten, and I at The Monastery
Valles, Patten, and I at The Monastery

Viridiana, Berenice and I
Viridiana, Berenice, and I at The Monastery

Dipu Cheta and Keerthi
Dipu Cheta and Keerthi

Dipu Cheta, Simi Chechi, Keerthi, and Mannu
Dipu Cheta, Simi Chechi, Keerthi, and Mannu

Keerthi
Keerthi

Keerthi and Simi Chechi
Keerthi and Simi Chechi

Keerthi, Simi Chechi, and Amma
Keerthi, Simi Chechi, and Amma

Maya, Priya, Keerthi, Simi Chechi, and I
Maya, Priya, Keerthi, Simi Chechi, and I

Maya, Priya, Dipu Cheta, Keerthi, Simi Chechi, and I
Maya, Priya, Dipu Cheta, Keerthi, Simi Chechi, and I

Prem and Simi Chechi
Prem and Simi Chechi

Priya, Simi Chechi, and I
Priya, Simi Chechi, and I

Priya, Maya, and Simi Chechi
Priya, Maya, and Simi Chechi

Thanksgiving Dinner
Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving Dinner
Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving Dinner
Thanksgiving Dinner

Keerthi, Dipu Cheta, Simi Chechi, and I
Keerthi, Dipu Cheta, Simi Chechi, and I

Keerthi and Mannu
My sister and her fiance

Mannu, Keerthi, Amma, Acha, and I
Mannu, Keerthi, Amma, Acha, and I

Priya and I
Priya and I

Keerthi and I
My sister and I

Keerthi, Mannu, and I
Keerthi, Mannu, and I

Maya and I
Maya and I

Priya, Maya, and I
Priya, Maya, and I

Shipra, Maya, Simi Chechi, Keerthi, and Priya
Shipra, Maya, Simi Chechi, Keerthi, and Priya

Aniyammama, Hemammayee, Dipu Cheta, and Prem
Aniyammama, Hemammayee, Dipu Cheta, Simi Chechi, and Prem

Simi Chechi and I
Simi Chechi and I

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