Rough Book

random musings of just another computer nerd

Category: Army

Over Here – Day 433

Happy Halloween, everyone. Guess what I’m going as this year? A soldier! Yeah, pretty original, don’t you think? This time last year, I was on the first day of my four-day pass to Phoenix. One year. Three hundred and sixty-five and a quarter days. The time it takes for our little blue, wet world to travel around the Sun. In a few days, I will be on my way home. Physicists and philosophers have long tried to understand the perception of time. But neither arcane equations nor metaphors have actually been able to fully explain the human perception of time. I have come to understand that over the past year. It is strange when a year can seem both interminable and fleeting at the same time. I remember the day I got here, like it was yesterday. It was a cool December afternoon and we were waiting at Baghdad International Airport for the old unit to pick us up. I guess the date of our departure was so far off in the future, obscured by the clichéed “mists of time” so to speak, that I didn’t even think about it. Or, maybe it was because it was so far off, that I didn’t want to think about it. Whatever the reason, I did acknowledge our departure was a very long way off. I set myself little “markers” during the year. Chronological mile-markers, if you will. Some of them were totally random, meaningless to others, but of great import to me. For example, on my second day in Iraq, we made our way to the International Zone, to go to FOB Union III where we thought we would be staying. As I grabbed my stuff and made my way to our living quarters, I caught a glimpse of some writing on a dry-erase board. It said, “10 weeks”. 10 weeks – a nice, round number. Although it seemed like a long way off then, I remember thinking how it would feel when we were down to 10 weeks. My next “mile-marker” was my leave date, which was in the first week of May. My leave was situated nicely in the middle of my deployment and so it was a sort of halfway point too. The marker after that was for when we were down to a hundred days, because after that, we would be down to double-digits – woohoo. Then I had “83 days”, because that’s how many days our SSA had left (they had come to Iraq a month before we had) when we were at a hundred-and-something days. My second-to-last marker was for 10 days, because after that, we’d be down to single digits. Now that’s a REAL reason to celebrate! And last, but by no certain means, least is our actual day of departure. Suffices to say that it’s only a few days away! Now when I look back, the whole year looks like it just sped by. I think a year seems like a year because of the different things we do. Different things that happen. We set up “mile markers” in our head so we can think back to “the totally crazy party back in February where I got totally wasted”, or “oh man, Spring Break”, or “Oh yeah, that’s when I went up to meet my family” and so on and so forth. But over here, there really isn’t much to distinguish one day from the other. I did the same thing over and over again, and so there was absolutely nothing to mark the passage of time. I do remember the individual moments when I would wistfully stare at the “Time Tracker” spreadsheet that we had, wishing that time would move faster, but at the same time it does seem like it sped by. The old adage “time flies when you’re having fun” doesn’t really seem to fit here. I can’t really say I “had fun”. It wasn’t all that bad, but it really wasn’t “fun”. Oh well. At any rate, I’m just glad that it’s almost over.

The past few weeks haven’t been all that bad, really. The new unit came in a few weeks ago and we slowly started handing over ownership and responsibility for our various missions, to them. I also started doing something that I should have started a long time ago. They have Latin Dancing on base at many locations. They have one (and by having one, I mean in the most liberal sense of the phrase) at the Division MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) Center. It’s on Thursday nights, and there never has been a huge turnout. I went to this one because it was close to our pad. But the really good one, was the one on Camp Slayer (Saturdays at 2000. 8 pm for you civilian types). It’s a bit of drive from where I live, so I never really tried to go over there. But I decided to try it out last month and I didn’t regret it at all. The only thing I regretted was not going there earlier. There is a huge turnout – the dance floor is positively crowded. It reminded me of the old “Bash on Ash” (A club that used to be on Mill and Ash in Tempe) days! It also gave me a chance to unwind and do something different. Usually, when I tell my fellow soldiers that I enjoy Latin Dancing, I am met with humorous intrigue, quickly followed by a few lighthearted jabs. As a result, I am not really in the company of a lot of people who really enjoy the activity. So it was pretty neat when I met new people who enjoy dancing as much as I do. Never did I realize that there would be this much interest in this activity in Iraq. In fact, I was expecting a year of no dancing at all. I guess I was wrong. I was mistaken for a Puerto Rican more than once. It usually happens when someone approaches me and rattles off something in Spanish. When I tell them I don’t speak Spanish, they are often confused. I guess they don’t meet too many Indians who can Salsa or Bachata! I had my last “Latin Nite” last Saturday, and I felt a little sad but then I realized that I’d be doing more than enough dancing when I get back. In fact, Johanna told me that I’d have to dance so much that I wouldn’t be able to feel my feet. Making up for lost time, I guess.

Right now, almost all of us are in the Tents. We moved in two weeks ago. I sold all my stuff, and shipped a bunch of stuff home too. It’s not too bad in the tents. Since we don’t have too much to do now, we basically sleep in, read, or watch movies. I think it’s rest that all of us deserve!

That’s about it for now. The next time I write, I will most probably be in CONUS (Continental United States). Oh, and here are the pictures I promised:

Amber and I
Amber (SGT Brinton, USMC) and I at Camp Slayer on Latin Nite. She’s an excellent dancer; a great follow. Definitely one of the better ladies I’ve danced with.

HQ Ammo
A bunch of ammo!

Comforting Embrace
A really touching picture I saw in Stars and Stripes. Insurgents (so-called “freedom fighters”) killed the baby girl’s father and mother, before shooting her in the head. She’s slowly recovering in the hospital keeps crying and moaning all the time. The Air Force Chief Master Sergeant in the picture is the only one who can comfort her.

Customs
Waiting for our boxes to get inspected by Customs personnel.

Dora and I
Dora. One of the people I met while dancing at Camp Slayer.

Halloween Skeleton
Our Halloween decoration at the Motor Pool.

Camouflage Humvee Cover
Camouflage Cover for our Humvee

Card Page One
We get a lot of cards from kids. SGT Laning gets some strange ones…

Card Page Two
Like I said, strange…

Motorpool Mouse
We had a rodent problem in the Motorpool. They were getting fat off our food and off creamer. We finally caught one of them.

Palmer and Dahlseid
SGT Dahlseid and SPC Palmer installing the camouflage cover on the humvee.

Latin Nite at Slayer
Latin Nite at Slayer

More Latin Nite at Slayer
More Latin Nite at Slayer

Slayer Salsa Crew
Slayer Salsa Crew

Mmmm Steak
We look forward to Seak Night (Tuesdays) with great anticipation.

More Steak
Mmmm… More Steak!

Titty Twister
Ouch.

Sunset
Another Iraqi Sunset.

Another Sunset
As you can tell, I really like taking pictures of sunsets.

Tent, Post Storm
We have thunderstorms here, just like the ones in Arizona. This tent didn’t fare too well after a particularly strong one.

The Plane
SPC Ortiz: “The Plane! The Plane!”

Over Here – Day 369

It’s been one year since I left Arizona. What a year. I still have around two months left… but still, that’s two compared to fourteen! My last day in Phoenix is still fresh in my mind. It was one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I have ever been through. It seems like it happened aeons ago, and at the same time, like it happened yesterday. I remember thinking how much time there was ahead of me before I could be back home again, and see my family and friends. And now… salvation is in sight! Back then, I didn’t have the words to describe my emotions at leaving… and now I find that I am at a loss for words to describe my emotions about coming home, except that I can only say that it will be a feeling of joy in its most distilled and purest form. I want to thank you all for making me feel that I am not forgotten and that I am loved. Thank you for all the emails, letters, and care packages! Nothing makes a soldier happier than a little something from his loved ones. Thank you once again.

As far as things that have been going on here, there hasn’t been much. Everyday is pretty much the same and we’ve gotten into such a rut that we really don’t notice the days flying past, which is A Good Thing. I don’t even know where August went. The only exciting things happened a few weeks ago. First, we had a company organizational day where we had a treasure hunt. The team with the most points got to throw pies in the Commander’s face. It was pretty cool! We had him locked up in a stock that SPC Palmer made. Then the winning team threw pies at him and then doused him in water!

A week or two later, we went to the IZ for our organizational day. 1st platoon took us there, and I got to drive! Ok, now it was my first time, so I was less than exemplary at getting there, but hey… it was my first time, alright? We first stopped over at the Crossed Sabres. I had already been there before, but it was nice seeing it again. I took a few more pictures, and also climbed up one of the hands and took had picure taken of me peeking out of the top. I also climbed up this tower and took pictures from the top. We also visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which honours the Iraqi Soldiers who died during the Iran-Iraq War. There is nothing inside now – all the exhibits are empty and there is a thick layer of dust over everything. It lives up to its name. After that, we visited the American Embassy in Iraq. The Embassy is housed in Saddam’s palace. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures, which is truly unfortunate, because the architecture is simply breathtaking. All the flooring is in marble, and there are all sorts of carvings on the door and on the ceiling. The furniture is absolutely gorgeous. It’s also extremely easy to get lost in there, because the whole place is so huge! Most of the rooms have been converted into offices and operations centers. Also a lot of the larger rooms have been made into chow halls or MWR (Morale Welfare and Recreation) centers. At the back of the embassy, there is a pool. That was our next destination. We spent the rest of the day chilling out by the poolside, and playing volleyball in the water. It was nice to just unwind and have a day that is completely different from our usual days. When we were done at the pool, we went to this place called Blackhawk where we bought (pirated) DVD’s from the Iraqis. After that, it was time for us to go back.

Oh, I almost forgot. Before we had our organization day, I took a trip to Ramadi. This was a week or so before our organizational day. The drive to Ramadi is two hours long, and really boring. The landscape looks like the one between Tucson and Phoenix, except for the fact that here, you have the occasional bombed-out building. The camp I went to in Ramadi can be summed up in one word – dusty. It must suck when it rains there. Everywhere you have inches and inches of moondust – fine dust that gets everywhere and in everything. The place also gets hit by a lot of mortars and RPG’s, but when I was there, it was strangely quiet. Nothing much happened over there, I just hung out with my buddies there and also with SSG Lopez. That was pretty much it.

I wish had more exciting things to say, but unfortunately, this is about it. As far as my family is concerned, they want it to stay that way and I understand!

One more thing, I ran into this blog. It’s a blog by a girl (who use to be) in Baghdad. Her posts are very touching. You’ll find a lot of pictures of kittens and cats there, because she likes them a lot, but there are actual posts where she talks about her experiences also. So go ahead and take a look.

That’s about it for now. Enjoy the pictures:

The Commander in the stock, and the First Sergeant with a cattleprod
The Commander in the stock, and the First Sergeant with a cattleprod.

Commander and Pie
The commander with pie on his face!

In the humvee
That’s me in the humvee, on the way to the IZ.

SGT Perez and I in Ramadi
SGT Perez and I in Ramadi.

In the humvee again
In the humvee, again.

SGT Dahlseid and I over Baghdad
SGT Dahlseid and I on a tower overlooking Baghdad.

Over Baghdad
Over Baghdad.

Humvees
Our humvees as seen from the top of the tower.

Humvees closeup
Closeup of our humvees.

Crossed Sabres Hand
Peeking out of one of the hands at the Crossed Sabres.

Iraqi Soldier and I
An Iraqi Soldier and I at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

At the tomb
At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Group at the tomb
All of us at the tomb.

With another Iraqi soldier
Another Iraqi Soldier and I.

BBQ
Mmmmm…. BBQ…

Blimp
We can see these blimps over the camp. I don’t know what they do.

Stock
This is the stock that SPC Palmer made. Pretty awesome craftsmanship.

Funky Jeep
I saw this pretty sweet looking jeep at the PX.

SGT Laning and I
SGT Laning and I.

SGT Laning and SPC Greene
SGT Laning and SPC Greene.

Update:

I made an “Army Of One” poster using a group picture of all of us in the Motors Section. Here it is. It links to a larger version:

SGT Army Of One
Army Of One!

I also wrote a script that archives all my journal entries. It will archive everything except the latest entry, into an actual file. You can still submit comments to the archived entries, but you may not see your comments immediately. The script is run hourly so it may take up to an hour for your comments to show.

The Worst Journey Ever. The Best Vacation Ever.

I finally got some time to sit down and write about my leave. I have been rather busy. Our days are long, and after I get back from work, I don’t have very much time and I’m too tired to sit down and write a journal entry! Well, anyway… here it is. Be warned… it’s pretty long!

Ok, so this last month (May), I went on leave. My leave date was the 8th of May. Little did I know that this day would be the beginning of what I would like to call…

The Worst Travelling Experience Ever

We meet our hero at BIAP where he is waiting with his fellow soldiers to get a flight to Kuwait. It is around 8 in the morning, and the day hasn’t gotten hot just yet. Everywhere there are Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Seamen and Civilians sitting and waiting. Some are playing cards or talking amongst themselves. Others are listening to music, or watching movies on their laptops, or reading books. Still others are sprawled out on benches or on the dusty concrete floor, sleeping, using their luggage as pillows. At about 9 in the morning, a formation is called. As our hero hurries and falls in, he looks around and notices Captains, Majors, and Sergeant Majors also in formation. It strikes him as a little funny since he usually sees them in front of a formation, and not in one. Leave – the great equalizer. Somebody comes up to the front of the formation and informs everyone that there are two flights leaving Baghdad. The first one leaves at 12 noon, while the second one leaves at 10 pm. However, there are personnel who have been waiting at BIAP since yesterday, and therefore, they will be given preference for the 12 noon flight. Our hero hopes and prays that there is enough room on the flight for him. However, he has been in the Military long enough to know that expecations are rarely met, and Murphy’s Law holds sway most of the time. Sure enough, there isn’t enough room on the flight and he has to wait for the 10 pm flight. He settles in for a Long and Boring day.
Read the rest of this entry »

Over Here – Day 248

Sorry for the long delay. I don’t have much here in the way of a post. Not much has been happening here, actually. The most exciting thing that happened was that a mortar hit this port-a-potty near our Motor Pool. Kinda funny when you think about it. Luckily no one was in it, and it happened in the dead of night. The other thing was Easter, which was fun because SSG Lopez’s wife sent us all this candy. Thank you Mrs. Lopez! The other major thing was the extension of my contract. With my impending promotion, I would have an extra year in the Guard. So I figured I’d just re-enlist here for 3 more years, and get $7,500 tax free! Other than that, not much. We’ve had some crazy weather with some sandstorms rolling in. I’m just counting down the days to my leave. 7 days and a wake-up! So that’s about it. Enjoy the pictures:

Happy Easter
All of us, with our Easter Baskets. Thanks Mrs. Lopez!

Mortar Hit
Mortar: 1 Port-a-potty: 0

Sandstorm at the Motorpool
Ok, so I lied to you guys. I’m not in Iraq. We’re actually on Mars. I mean, come on – look at the sky!

Sky during a sandstorm
Mars

Smoky Sunset
Smoky Sunset

Crazy
Re-up? You’re Crazy!

Outta your mind
Re-up? You’re outta your mind!

Over Here – Day 195

Well, finally. Sorry for the extremely long delay. The Internet connection has been pretty lame here for the past month and a half. I haven’t been able to get on for very long, and uploading anything is out of the question. Ever since a new unit took over the Wireless Internet, it’s been absolutely terrible, and only works 20% of the time. But I don’t have to deal with those bastards anymore, because I have wired satellite internet for around $45 a month. That’s pretty sweet, considering that the internet cards for the wireless internet are $20 for 10 hours. The connection isn’t spectacular, but it is pretty decent.

Now for an update of things that have been happening over the past month and a half. First of all, it has been a little over three months since I have been in Baghdad. Time sure has flown! I only have around a month or so before my mid-tour leave, which I’m really looking forward to, because I get to go to India for my cousin’s wedding. My whole family is going to be there, so it should be a whole lot of fun.

Towards the end of January, I got to roll with 1st platoon on one of their missions, which was pretty neat. They actually had me ride along for a… well… for lack of a better term, a “tech support call”. The Iraqi colonel’s computer wasn’t working and they needed me to fix it. We headed out at about 8 in the morning towards an Iraqi Juvenile Detention center. We basically hung about there for a while chilling in the Humvee. We bought some freshly baked bread off this Iraqi guy and ate that for breakfast. Usually people bring along stuff to munch on, but since this was my first time, I hadn’t brought anything, so I went ahead and got some bread. While we were waiting there, I saw something that made my whole day. It was pretty much the sweetest and cutest thing I saw. A little girl, who couldn’t have been more than two or three years old, was walking with her mother. She had a pink sweater on and pigtails and as she walked by us in our Humvee, she smiled shyly at us. We waved and smiled at her. Then as she was walking away, she turned around, flashed a huge smile and blew us all a kiss. It was a Kodak moment, and I wish I had my camera. The children here seem to like us. But I feel a little worried at times because they run so close to the Humvees, and I am afraid that they may get hit. The soldiers toss them candy and toys. They’re always cheering at us and waving to us when we drive by.

After leaving the Juvenile Detention center, we headed to the IZ (International Zone) and had lunch at the Al-Rashid hotel. I bought a few DVD’s there – there is a huge market in bootlegged DVD’s – you can get movies and entire boxed seats for ridiculously cheap prices. The Iraqis love to haggle, so you can even talk them down a few bucks. I’m sure the RIAA and the MPAA are gritting their teeth. Or probably not, they’re too concerned about American piracy – maybe if they changed their outmoded and dicatorial business practices something would change, but they’re too stupid to do that. Anyway, enough of that, I feel a rant coming on.

After lunch, we headed over to the place where the Iraqi Colonel is at. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there and so I couldn’t fix his computer. I figure I’ll go there again one of these days, I’m not sure when. Eitherway, it will be a change from what I do normally.

The other interesting thing I did was escort duty. We have Iraqis and TCN’s (Third Country Nationals) who come into our base and work here. They need escorts when they move around base, and as a result we have Escort Duty. The first duty I had was escorting this kid around from one contractor site to the other. He didn’t speak much English. But he would say “America Good! America Zain! Saddam Muzain!” (“America Good! America Good! Saddam Bad!”) from time to time. I also escorted this other kid who actually spoke excellent English. In fact, he used to work as a translator. I asked him why he didn’t go to school, and he told me that his father was killed when insurgents bombed a mosque he was praying at. He’s the oldest son in the family, so he has to forgo school to make sure his sisters and younger brother can go to school, and also to put food on the table. Everyone has their opinions on this – I don’t like to talk about mine because I feel that one’s political views are irrelevant, especially if one is in the Military. I am here to do a job, and that’s what I’ll do, regardless of what I think. But at the very least I feel that the “freedom fighters”/insurgents are hardly doing anything for Iraqis. On the other hand I can see coalition forces doing things to rebuild Iraq. So whether you agree with the reason for this war, or whether you disagree – I’m just stating what I can I see here. I guess people want to know what Iraqis feel about us being there – because I do get asked that a lot. Just from my brief drive around, I saw a whole spectrum of reactions. From complete support, to indifference, to open hostility. It never is black and white. The few Iraqis I have talked to, support the coalition effort in rebuilding Iraq, but look forward to the day when they can take over and run their country on their own. But that is just my experience.

Other than that, not much is happening. The rains have finally stopped, and it hasn’t rained for over a month now. Everything has finally dried up, but it also means that it’s dusty all over again. But I’ll take that over the mud. It’s also slowly starting to warm up, but the weather right now is perfect – like Phoenix in the winter. Oh yeah, and it looks like my promotion is coming through and so hopefully, I should get my stripes soon. I’ll be a Sergeant (E-5) now.

My job is just the same – each day is not much different from the one before, and they all just sort of blend together into one. We work long hours, at least 12 to 12 and a half hours a day, but it’s not so bad because it makes the day go by quicker. We get one “down day” a week, where we get to sleep in, and just relax in general. I look forward to those.

I’ve been keeping myself busy and entertained by watching movies and reading books. I also acquired a guitar from a buddy of mine a month ago and I have been teaching myself. I wish I had more time to play, but I try to do a little bit each day. I think I am getting better. Since I know how to play the piano, I can apply some of the theory here. So it helps a little bit.

Oh yeah, and I did get my new computer – a new Alienware laptop and it totally rocks. The other one started dying on me – hard-drive failure – because of the dust, I think. Umm… yeah… so Chip… I know you’re reading this… I’ll uh… be needing a new laptop when I get back… I hope it’s not a problem! Write this one off as WIA (Wounded In Action)!

Oh and check this out. So we spend a lot of time watching movies, right? I wanted to rent some somehow, so I figured I could try and use Netflix. I mean, we have an APO AE address, which is physically located in New York. They just route the packages from there. So theoretically, it should work. I tried to use Netflix to sign up, but the website complained that the address was invalid and wouldn’t let me go any further, which was totally lame because the address is a valid one. So I figured I’d try Blockbuster, and although the website claimed the address could be invalid, it accepted it anyway. Within a week and a half, I got my movies! Pretty sweet, huh? I wonder if they know that they’re shipping to Iraq! It takes anywhere frome one to two weeks for a movie to get here and around the same time to get back, so a round trip of two to four weeks. Which really isn’t all that bad. But anyway, I think it’s pretty sweet that I got Blockbuster to ship to Iraq!

What else… well, I can’t think of much else. There really isn’t much else to talk about actually. I am keeping well, eating well, taking care of myself, and all that good stuff. Oh yeah, and Keerthikutty, thanks for your care packages and the Nutella! Thanks for sending it all over! Also acha, amma, aniyammama and ammayee, thanks for all the stuff you sent over from India! All your care packages made me really happy! The simple pleasures mean a lot here, and thanks a bunch. And of course, I can’t forget Michael for shipping my sweet new laptop over and all my home videos. Thanks a bunch buddy! It’s much appreciated!

Oh, and an update on my mailing address. Our parent unit has changed and so there is a slight change in my mailing address. It is as follows:

Vivin Paliath
372nd MP – HHB 1/180th FA FWD
APO AE 09344

That’s pretty much it for now. And as promised, here are some pictures:

At Iraqi Juvenile Hall
Grant and I by our Humvee at the Iraqi Juvenile Hall.

In the Humvee
Inside the Humvee.

Motorpool Sunset
Sunset at the Motorpool.

Iraqi Sunset
Iraqi Sunset.

Iraqi Sunrise
Iraqi Sunrise.

Iraqi Doggie
I met this friendly doggie at the KFC we have here. He was very playful.

Puppy on a Humvee
I didn’t take this picture. I actually found it on one of the computers at the Internet Cafe. But I thought it was a really cool picture, so I’m putting it up here for all of you to see.

Update:

I have a Skype number that you can call me at. I’m usually available between 9 am and 2 pm and 8 pm and 9 pm Arizona Time. If you can’t reach me, you can leave a voicemail too. The number is (602) 281-4616.

Over Here – Day 143

It’s been a while since I posted, and that’s because I’ve been pretty busy. I had some pictures to post, but unfortunately my external hard-drive fried because of a power-surge. Maxtor is sending me a new one, but they won’t restore the data from the old one, which really sucks. When I was talking to the representative, they asked me why I didn’t backup the data. Which was pretty funny, and incredibly irritating at the same time, because they market that particular brand (the OneTouch) as a backup hard-drive. Pretty stupid, if you ask me. But I guess it’s better than nothing. My buddy has the latest pictures I took, and I need to get them from him so that I can post them here.

Things have been pretty boring here. Our New Year’s and Christmas celebrations weren’t too spectacular. I was actually on the Nigh Shift during Christmas, which kinda sucked. But we did have a Christmas tree. On New Year’s day, I didn’t actually realize that it was the New Year until somebody told me. That’s because all the days are pretty much the same here. You don’t even know (or care) what day of the week it is.

Other than that, not much at all. I’m doing alright – I pass my time by watching movies or reading. Speaking of reading, I’ve been doing that a lot. I’ve been through about four books in the space of a month. The first two are by Neil GaimanNeverwhere and Stardust. Both are light, witty reads and typical Neil Gaiman – imaginative and expressive. I enjoy his works very much and you might too, if you’re into fantasy, witty prose, and typical British humour. The third one I finished, is Edenborn, a novel by Nick Sagan, Carl Sagan‘s son. It’s set in a dystopian future where a plague has wiped out almost all of humanity. Genetically engineered survivors are in two factions – one dedicated to preserving humanity as it was, and the other dedicated to genetically engineering better humans that can survive the plague. I found it pretty interesting. The one I’m currently reading, and have almost finished, is Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I’ve been meaning to read it for quite some time, and I made sure I bought it before I left the US. It’s an amazing book and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

Other than that, not much. I have the day off today, so I’m enjoying it. Previously, we had a day off every nine days. Which was pretty terrible. But now we have it set up so half of us (in Maintenance) are off on one day, and the other half on the next. That way, we get to be off once a week, which is good.

I’m just hanging in here. I am getting my mid-tour leave in May and I will be going to India, so I’m looking forward to that. What else – oh yeah, you can always hear stuff explode around here. A week or so ago, we were getting hit by mortars all through the morning. It wasn’t anywhere near us, although one did hit close enough to set the walls vibrating. But the insurgents can’t aim worth shit and usually end up sending their mortars into the lake. So we really don’t have much to be concerned about.

As far as the weather goes, it’s pretty chilly here. It rained over the past week which made all the dust here turn into squelchy, sucky, sticky mud. Mud that almost sucks the boots off your feet. Mud that gets everywhere. Mud that looks like different consistencies of chocolate ice-cream. But it’s starting to dry up, so that’s a good thing.

Other than that, not much else. I’ll keep posting here from time to time, and maybe next time I may have something more exciting.

Over Here – Day 114

I guess this would be my first post from Iraq. I am in Baghdad right now, but I can’t get more specific than that. If I told you, I would have to kill you. God… I’ve always wanted to say that! Right, so I’ve been here from the 6th of this month. We left our camp in Kuwait and drove for about an hour to the airstrip. On the way, we went through the desert (no way!) and saw wreckage from the first war. It was pretty neat. After we got to the airstrip, we unloaded all our stuff, and then loaded it into a C-130. It was my first trip ever, in a C-130. I guess now when we sing cadences of going on a C-130, I will be saying the truth now. Like almost anything in the Army, the C-130 is not made for comfort. It is completely utilitarian and only serves to transport troops without any regard for comfort or aesthetics. In fact, it almost seems that the seating was added there as an afterthought. The flight was very cramped, and very loud. To get an idea of the experience, squeeze yourself and five people into a garbage can, and then have someone bang on the outside for one and a half hours. We touched down at BIAP (Baghdad International Airport, or “bye-op” as it is known and pronounced here) and proceeded to unload our stuff and then load it into the back of a truck. My first view of Baghdad was the airport and the bombed out bunkers at the airport. It was rapidly getting dark, and so I couldn’t see much on the way to the barracks. We had no idea if we were “inside the wire” (in a safe-zone) or not, and so we were saying how much it would suck to get hit by an IED. Typical Military Black Humour. Once we reached our barracks, we got the keys to our rooms. I was only going to be there for one night since I would be leaving with 2nd platoon to another FOB (Forward Operating Base) the next morning.

The next morning the unit at the other FOB came to escort us over to our new location. We travelled through the red-zone to our destination in the IZ (International Zone). It is hard to describe the feeling of being in a combat-zone and of being in imminent danger. I didn’t feel scared, but only highly focused and alert. I mean, this was the real thing. I might have seen movies before about being in a war, but now I was in one for real. Our journey was pretty uneventful, but exciting. In Iraq, the military pretty much owns the road. A good analogy would be ambulances and fire trucks back home. You know how we move out of the way when we hear a siren? It’s pretty much like that here. The civilian vehicles move out of way when the convoy passes through the road. The gunners wave the cars out of the way from their turret. It’s pretty funny at times – some Iraqis don’t move at all, and then suddenly they notice the convoy almost on them, and you see them swerve out of the way. We are actually authorized to push cars out of the way if need be. You might think that’s not a “nice” thing to do, but niceness has nothing to do with it – it is a question of survival. We get hit by VBIED’s (“vee-beds”, Vehicle Borne IED’s) and IED’s, so slowing down only increases our chances of getting hit and also increases the damage, which is why we stop for nothing. If need be, we even cut across curbs and go on the opposite side of the road, against the flow of traffic.

We finally got to our new location and found out that there wasn’t really any room for us. So there were 28 of us cramped into a little bay. I was a little disappointed, but I figured I could hold out for a couple of weeks. Being in the IZ was interesting. I got to drive around and see a lot of landmarks, like the Ba’ath Party Headquarters, the Crossed Sabres, the Al-Rashid Hotel, and the American Embassy in Baghdad. The IZ is a huge fortified zone, and I guess it would be the safest place in Baghdad. It was a pretty neat place to be stationed in, but unfortunately it wasn’t for us. In typical Army fashion, our mission changed and we had to come back to our original base to join the rest of the company. However, the day before we left, we got to do some weapons qualification. I got to fire the M2 and the M249 and qualified well on both of the weapons system. Oh yeah, while we were at the range, we saw a mortar hit in the distance. But that’s part of the usual flow of things here. On the way back from the range, I got to drive. It was pretty exciting. We were going along at a really fast clip, and had to cut the curb and jump over the median a few times and go against the flow of traffic. Definitely an experience.

The next day, we convoyed back to our original location and joined the rest of the company. I was also detached from 2nd platoon and re-attached to Headquarters. I was happy to be back with my old friends, but I have to say that being in a line platoon was pretty exciting and that I did enjoy the experience immensely. In addition, I was with the best line platoon in our company – they have a bunch of good soldiers, and learnt a lot of stuff from them. After I came back, I found out that I had a room, but no furniture. In fact, it’s been like that for about four or five days now. I have been sleeping on the floor, with my sleeping bag. There were some cots for me to use, but they were full of dust and dirt, missing poles, and didn’t seem very stable. But the floor isn’t that bad. Anyway, I alerted my leadership to the shortages and so now I’m just waiting to get my furniture. But it still sucks and I’m a little annoyed. I’ve been living out of my duffel bag for about 3 weeks now. Oh well – it’s what we’re trained to do anyway.

Right now I’m doing what I’m normally supposed to do; working in the motor pool. It’s not too bad, since I’m with my friends, but it’s not exactly the most exciting job either, especially when you’ve been out driving like a maniac on the streets of Baghdad. But it’s safe, and that makes my friends and family happy. I also have a free reign of the operations in the motor pool and so I can streamline and structure the operation the way I want. The Army’s current logistics software, called ULLS-G, written sometime before the extinction of the dinosaurs, is about as smart as a retarded house-plant. So I’ve taken the liberty of automating different processes. I’ve been able to use SDI (another tool made by the Army, but this one is actually pretty neat) program to talk to the database and dump the data into text files. After that, all I need is some Perl (of course!) magic to transform it into an Excel Spreadsheet (using the Spreadsheet::WriteExcel module). My section chief was pretty impressed with what I was able to do. Now I just need to find a way to actually write to the SAGE database files. The data is either encrypted or packaged into some binary format and so I can’t seem to access it. If I could, I could make changes really quickly instead of using the brain-dead ULLS-G interface. I’m not sure if anyone out there knows the file-structure of a SAGE database file, but if you do, please let me know.

Oh, and by the way, since I moved back to my original FOB, my address has changed back to what it was originally. So here it is again:

Vivin Paliath
504th MP – HHB 1/180th FA FWD
APO AE 09344

That’s about it for now. Here are some more pictures, and a video. I have the video for download using BitTorrent. I don’t want to offer a direct link because my server only has so much bandwidth, and I don’t want to clog it all up. If you want to download the file, download the BitTorrent client from the link I just provided. The client is a small download, and trust me, it will be faster than just download the file directly. I won’t tell you what the video is, so you’ll just have to watch it. I made it myself, and I hope you like it! I’ll post more videos here as I take them.

Loading Up
Loading our stuff into the trailers, in Kuwait.

In C130
Inside the C130.

Me inside the C130
That’s me, inside the C130.

C130
The C130 Hercules.

Baath House
The Ba’ath House.

Crossed Sabres
The Crossed Sabres.

Pedestal
This is the pedestal that Saddam’s statue used to be on.

Stadium
This is where Saddam used to stand, brandishing his rifle.

An Iraqi kid and I
This kid was trying to sell us DVD’s.

Post Mortar Attack
This was right after a mortar hit a little ways from us.

50 cal rounds
That’s me with some 50 cal rounds.

Update: I have fixed the redirection and caching problem. To ensure that you are able to access the latest entry in my blog, please clear your caches now. My page instructs your browser not to cache, and so whenever you access my website, you will be brought to the latest journal entry.

Over Here – Day 99

Hey everyone, this is just a quick update. Nothing much is going on here, things are pretty slow and we’re just waiting to go up north. The only major development is that I’ve been switched out of Headquarters into 2nd platoon. It was pretty sudden, and the reason is that they need someone to do the administrative work there. In the words of my First Sergeant, “You’re smart, and you can take care of yourself”, so that’s where they need me. I’m asking you all not to be worried, because I won’t be doing anything dangerous. The people in 2nd are pretty good soldiers, and I’ve worked with them before. They’re good guys, but I’m going to miss all my friends in Headquarters. Over the last three months, we all got pretty close and now it’s pretty sad that I have to leave them. But that’s how things happen in the Army, and you just have to learn how to deal with the new situation.

Due to this move, my address has also changed. So if you sent anything to my old address, I am hoping they will somehow forward it to me. Here is my new address:

Vivin Suresh Paliath
HHB 1/180th, 49th MP
APO AE 09348

I’ll let you all know if this changes.

That’s about it for now. No new pictures really – hopefully I will have some next time. Until then, take care.

Update: I have finally fixed the “redirection” bug. Like I suspected, it was a caching problem, which is why you had to clear your caches to access the latest entry. I have now updated the code so that it tells your browser not to cache my page. That way, you will always get the latest entry. But before it starts working for you, I need your to clear your browser cache now. After that, try accessing http://vivin.net again. It should take you to the latest entry (it isn’t this one!).

Over Here – Day 92

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, hope you all had a blast. Things have been pretty slow over here. We’re essentially waiting to get to Baghdad, and I really can’t wait until we get there. That’s because once we do, I can start doing what I’ve been trained to do. Thanksgiving was interesting. The day started with us going to the range to fire our pistols and rifles. They asked us to keep an eye downrange in case camels or bedouins came into our field of fire. In the event of that happening, we were supposed to yell “Cease Fire!”. I didn’t do too well on the pistol qualification the first time around, because I have never fired a pistol before. But on the second try, I did pretty well once I figured out what I was doing wrong. After the range, we got back to the base. They had held the DFAC (Dining Facility) open for us, so that we could enjoy the Thanksgiving dinner. The food wasn’t too bad. They had the whole deal there – Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Sweet Potatoes, and so on and so forth. I ate until I was stuffed!

Today we didn’t do much other than weapons maintenance. Being out in the range all day, filled the weapons with sand. That’s one thing I’m going to have to deal with for the next year – cleaning the sand out of everything. So as you can see, things have been pretty slow so far. We have some more training coming up, but other than that, it looks to be a waiting game. I’ve been around camp some more, but the landscape doesn’t change significantly. However, there are really pretty sunrises and sunsets here. The flat land makes for good viewing.

Oh I also have my address in Baghdad, so you guys can start mailing me. The address is going to change in a month when the unit we’re attaching to leaves, and a new one comes in. However, the APO should remain the same. I will let you guys know when it changes:

Vivin Paliath
504th MP – HHB 1/180th FA FWD
APO AE 09344

That’s about all I have for now, and here are the pictures I promised. There are some pictures from my visit to Phoenix as well:

At Coffee Plantation
L-R: Josh, Naima, Me, Suraj, Rachna, Sadhana, Shareen

At Coffee Plantation
L-R: Josh, Keerthi, Me, Rachna, Sadhana, Shareen, Naima

At China Lite
L-R: Anjali, Me, Keerthi, Rachna

Vibha and I
L-R: Vibha and I

Surreal Phoenix
What Phoenix looks like, with slow shutter speed.

At Coffee Plantation
L-R: Josh, Naima, Me, Suraj, Rachna, Sadhana, Shareen

Camp Caisson
L-R: Ortiz, Greene, Kramp, Smith, Me

Singalong
Outside our barracks at Ft. Louis, singing along to SSG Lopez’s “Bear Song” to pass time

At McChord
Waiting to board our plane at McChord AFB.

In the plane
In the plane…

In the plane
How often do you see a person with an automatic rifle, on a civilian aircraft? SGT Cook is either flashing the peace sign, or the donkey sign. I suspect the latter.

Our barracks
Our barracks in Kuwait

Picture of the Camp
A picture of our camp.

Picture of the Camp
Another picture of our camp.

Picture of the Camp
One more picture of our camp.

At Baskin Robbins
Greene and I at Baskin Robbins.

Kroney's new ride
Kroney with his new ride.

In Full Battle Rattle
That’s me in full battle rattle, minus my rifle.

Desert Siesta
Relaxing in the desert in the afternoon.

Maintenance
Top L-R: SFC Bottemiller, SPC Greene, SGT Laning, SPC Kronemeyer, Me
Bottom L-R: SGT Dahlseid, PFC Smith, SSG Lopez, SPC Ortiz

Maintenance
Top L-R: SFC Bottemiller, SPC Greene, SGT Laning, SPC Kronemeyer
Bottom L-R: SGT Dahlseid, PFC Smith, SSG Lopez, SPC Ortiz, Me

Camp Sunrise
Camp Sunrise

Camp Sunset
Camp Sunset

Over Here – Day 88

Finally, I – we, are here. A landscape foreign, yet familiar. A desert of a different kind. For me, the sight meant a little more since it reminded me of where I grew up. It’s funny how when you fly, your entire period of travel stretches out into one long day. My wake-up at Ft. Lewis doesn’t seem that long ago. Our last day there wasn’t too eventful, well, if you don’t count to whole “going to war” thing. We packed up our stuff and staged it outside before we had a “GI Party” (Army euphemism for cleaning things up) at the barracks. That took a few hours, since we had to sweep and mop, strip the floors, wax them, and finally buff them. We waited around for a while with nothing to do, since we wouldn’t get on the buses until 22:30. Our unit was split in two, with one half taking off earlier than the rest of us. So after we said Good-Bye to them, we sat around watching movies, listening to music, and talking to family and friends. I called up almost everyone I know and bade farewell to them. I also had the opportunity that evening to meet someone I had met during AIT at Ft. Lee. It was another Malayalee in the Army. It was actually pure luck that I got in touch with him. While I was at the Soldier Processing Center, one of the stations I went through was the Chaplain’s station. I noticed his last name was “Joseph”, and his features looked South Indian to me, and so I was pretty sure he was a Christian-Malayalee. I proceeded to ask him if he was from India, and if so, if he was from Kerala. He replied in the affirmative, and we proceeded to talk some more. I was telling him how he was the second Malayalee that I’ve met in the US Army. When he asked me who the first was, I told him, and that was when he told me that he knew who I was talking about and that the soldier had been here for the last four years. He gave me his number and I was able to get in touch with him on my last day at Ft. Louis. He said it was a pity that we couldn’t get in touch earlier, since he could have introduced me to the other Malayalees on base. Apparently there are at least 20 on the base, and there is a sizeable Malayalee community in the vicinity of Ft. Louis. In addition, had we met earlier, I could possibly have even celebrated Onam there. But eitherway, it was good to get in touch with him again.

Our departure from Ft. Louis was pretty uneventful and we made it to McChord Airforce Base pretty quickly. There, we waited for a while since our flight wouldn’t be leaving until 2:30 am. My buddies and I got some dinner from the USO and then I took a nap until it was time for our flight. To get to our flight, we had to walk to the plane. It was a decently long walk at a brisk pace, with all our gear (minus the ruck and duffel bags) in really cold weather. Once I boarded the flight, I felt rather incongruous. The flight was a civilian flight, but here I was, walking down with my rifle slung in front of me, and a pistol strapped to my thigh. You don’t get to do that every day. The flight was pretty comfortable, and I was pretty tired, so I slept most of the way to our first stop, which was the town of Gander in Canada. Gander happens to be in New Foundland, which as I learnt, is pronounced “Noo Funland” and not pronounced how it is spelt. The town is also in the middle of nowhere. The landscape looked pretty desolate and seemed to have been through a controlled burn except for the occasional evergreen. We were in transit at Gander for almost on hour. During that hour, I got to brush up on some French by trying to read the signs and understand them. I also got some real chocolate from the duty-free store. We got back on the plane and flew to Budapest. During this flight, I slept some more, listened to some music, and watched the end of The Italian Job, watched Fantastic Four, and saw most of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life before they stopped it in mid-show because of our arrival at our destination. We weren’t allowed to deplane at Budapest and so sat around for about three hours while they changed crews and refueled. I couldn’t see much of Budapest since it was night, and the city lights outside made it look like pretty much any other city at night. For the next leg, I listened to more music, finished Contact by Carl Sagan for the second time, and started on Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. Soon, I heard the pilot announce over the intercom that we would be coming into Kuwait International Airport in about 20 to 30 minutes. People pushed up the window shades, and sunlight spilled into cabin. Once we were at a lower altitude, I could make out the landscape. It reminded me a lot of Oman, and also of Arizona. Once we landed, we secured out gear, and waited around for instructions. Somebody came onto the plane and in true military fashion, barked out instructions for us. We got out, made our way to a bus and headed to the staging area where we waited for two hours for more instructions. After waiting around, we finally got an escort to our base. It was supposed to take us an hour and a half to get there, but it took us three because apparently, our escorts got lost.

We finally reached the camp, which is in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing as far as the eye can see, and the land is completely flat. There is absolutely nothing around here. The camp looks like it’s in a permanent state of construction. The landscape is dotted with white tents in the shape of ellipsoid half-cylinders. This is what we live in. There are also other forms of housing that are either other forms of tents, or pre-fabs. The placement of the buildings seem to be pretty haphazard, but I think there is a method to the madness. I haven’t seen a single living thing (other than us, and I did see one fly) around here. The land is devoid of any vegetation and frankly, looks like some sort of lunar or martian outpost. However, it’s not all that bad. They’ve done a good job of making the place habitable. The food here isn’t that bad – it’s actually better than what they had at Ft. Louis, and there are more choices. Also they have Taco Bell, Burger King, and Baskin Robbins here. Oh yeah, and Shawerma shops too! I don’t feel that this place is all that bad, and I’m not disappointed to be here. I’m looking at everything as a new experience, and so far, it has been pretty interesting. We’ve had this entire day off, and I haven’t done much other than eat, sleep, and play computer games. It’s been a slow day. Tomorrow, we start training. I don’t know how long we are going to be here, but our time started the moment we got here. So I’m hoping that I’ll be back in the United States a year from now.

That’s all for now. I’d put up some pictures, except the upstream speed here is pretty slow, and it’s taking a while. I’ll try and do it next time, if I have more time. Until then, take care and keep in touch.

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