Rough Book

random musings of just another computer nerd

Tag: 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.

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.

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

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.
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