MOMMA SAID THERE’D BE DAYS…

Have you ever had the absolute worst day of work that makes you want to quit immediately?

On occasion I have those but I try to remember the real worst days I’ve ever had and usually it either makes me laugh or at least realize how ridiculous I am being because… it could be worse.  In no particular order, here are some of my truly worst days in the working world.  I hope they will help you laugh off a bad day as well.

  1. That day in July 2003 I guarded at least 20 Iraqis by myself as they paved a base dining facility (DFAC) parking lot and no one from my unit checked on me so I could use the bathroom, or brought me food or water.  By the end of the day I had a colossal migraine from dehydration, lack of food and the sweet smell of tar that was never going to cool in the over 100 degree heat.
  2. Base cleanup day in Germany when I wasn’t in any kind of trouble but had to clean sidewalk cracks with my bare hands.  I actually had a sergeant major come bring me a spoon in case that was super helpful.  That same day I was told to mow grass (which I have never done) and when someone else broke the lawn mower I was given a pair of scissors to cut the grass with.
  3. When I was a teenager I worked in the children’s section of a department store and I too frequently had to cover a dinner break for someone who worked in lingerie.  I was young and naïve and very unprepared to help a man who came in for a bra fitting and for very real advice on wearing women’s lingerie.
  4. The time I had to continue working in full mission oriented protective posture (MOPP) gear (you know gas mask, protective uniform over the uniform, plastic boots over the boots and gloves), while sirens blared and I had to pretend to continue working as normal. Have you ever had to jab at a keyboard with a pencil eraser (because the gloves were so bulky) wondering if something awful was going to happen, and wondering when it would be possible to take off the 18 layers of protective gear to cool off to eat and use the bathroom?  At this same time I walked to work over two miles each way through an old minefield (but don’t tell my mom)!
  5. While guarding Iraqis who were police calling (picking up trash on) the base and they kept handing me unexploded rounds as if they couldn’t go off in my hand and as if the military is cutting coupons and recycling.

Maybe some of my crazy days can help cheer us both the next time we aren’t living the dream!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Containers

This week’s challenge is a photo of a container.

From “Don’t judge a book by its cover” to “Don’t look at the jug, but at what it contains” (an old Rabbinic saying), we’re constantly taught that the contents of things are more important than the vessels, wrappers, and boxes that hold them in place. This week, let’s give outer shells their due and focus our lenses on things that contain other things. ~ 

containers

This photo was taken on Balad Airbase, Iraq in February 2006 during my second yearlong deployment.  The entire base was flooded from rains.

WHY I’M NOT A FAN OF FIREWORKS

My first conscious experience with celebratory fire was in July 2003 in Baghdad when Iraqis celebrated the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein (Saddam’s two sons).

At the time, I was working the night shift on Camp Victory and was walking back to my sleeping tent (I almost called it home) with two co-workers.  The sky was lit up with celebratory gunfire and in the video only the tracer rounds are visible. All we wanted to do was sleep, and we were used to ignoring the booms, so we walked the half mile together, along the road with no shelter and watched as the rounds flew above us.

Immediately I thought how uneducated and uncultured the Iraqis must be not to realize what goes up must come down and those rounds absolutely would come down somewhere and could/and did injure and kill people.  It seemed like a scary and terrible way to celebrate.

Eleven years later, I realize I had been hearing celebratory fire every fourth of July and now have a legitimate hatred for fireworks and especially for the amateurs who insist on setting their own explosions off.  Stupidity doesn’t discriminate.

I know I’m not the only veteran who hates fireworks and I think it’s sad that the men and women who fought for the country can’t always enjoy the celebrating of the county’s independence.

FEAR AND LOATHING IN KUWAIT

I arrived in Kuwait on January 28th, 2003.  I lived at Al Jaber Airbase until mid-June.  My initial overall feeling was excitement, at seeing my boyfriend again and to be involved in a unique and exciting experience.  My boyfriend had deployed in November.  I was so naive and had no idea what was really happening.  Did I think this was going to be some sort of party? This complete confusion over world events and naïveté was becoming a familiar feeling, as it happened on 9/11 as well. I have learned gobs more about the world, history and myself since I left the safe confines of schools. I graduated college without a class covering the Middle East with any depth, is that still possible?

kuwait.jpg

When I was settled at Al Jaber Airbase, I lived with two Air Force Security Force women in a nice trailer with indoor plumbing and a dayroom.  When I met my roommates, one was proudly showing off an Arabic newspaper (souvenir) she had gotten on her last trip off of the base.  The large front page picture has stayed with me ever since, although I haven’t been able to find it on the Internet.  On January 21, two American contractors were shot in Kuwait, a country I had thought was safe, one was killed, the other seriously injured.  The picture showed the passenger of the SUV shot with his head laying on the dashboard.  Up until this point, I had never seen a dead body in the flesh, but this image put a fear in me that I couldn’t acknowledge or admit to anyone at the time.  I pretended not to be bothered by this or to show much interest, but researching it eleven years later, it clearly bothered me.  If you are interested in the story, you can find it here.  Don’t worry this is an American version of the story and thus follows the American journalism “breakfast test.”  The American public does not want to see pictures, that may be unsettling if viewed while eating breakfast.  As important as this is, I do think that it allows us as a country to live in a bubble of naivety.

Soldiers are known for “topping” each other’s tall tales.  During that same first week or two, other soldiers would tell stories for the shock-value.  The key was to always look unaffected.  I did this either by practicing my poker face, zoning out or simply not believing anything anyone told me.  The problem was there was no one to talk to about the nagging fears of which stories were real.  You may think just Google it, but access to Internet was very limited and was used for communication home.

A memorable story was that Saddam had hung Kuwaiti military leaders from the seven arches decorating the entrance to the very base I was stationed.  This is scary because a) you are not so far south that Sadaam’s military could not reach; and b) I remember the last invasion.  This is modern history.  I remember that time… I was in Middle School and had a brother in the Navy.  Remember Kuwait is less than 17,000 square miles – smaller than New Jersey. I had been so sheltered as a child, I had no idea what dangerous was.

Once the war started, there were new scary things like donning our MOPP gear (better know as our gas mask and protective suit).  We had the news on at our work site, and I found comfort watching my childhood hero, Chirstiane Amanpour putting her mask on and taking it off with us.  She was located at another Kuwaiti base.  We watched as Saddam Hussein launched Seersucker missiles at Kuwait.  At the time, I had a brother in the country as well.  It was a lot to deal with all at once, being so far from home and being somewhere where not only should you keep track of what is happening in the world, but you were going to be part of it whether you wanted to or not.

I should have gained some comfort in seeing other people struggling with what was going on and we should have leaned on each other. That isn’t how it worked though. One soldier shot himself to go home. One soldier had such anger issues he punched other soldiers and an air conditioning unit. One soldier nearly shot himself with his antropine the first time the gas alarm sounded. One soldier was stock-piling MRE cookers to make bombs. One soldier scratched at his smallpox shot so much he became infected in multiple areas and threatened to spread it to another soldier who was unable to get the shot. One soldier lost his toothbrush and used a washcloth for a long time (out of laziness not unavailability). These were not the people I grew up around. These were not the people I wanted to depend on during a tough situation, like say…war.  So I closed myself off a bit and didn’t think about any of it much. I learned to depend on myself.

THE LONG WAY HOME

Ten years ago, I spent two days convoying from Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq to Camp Doha, Kuwait.  According to Google, its approximately 418 miles.  By FAR the longest drive I took either year I was deployed.  I had been lucky enough to fly from Kuwait to Baghdad in June 2003, rather than convoying into Iraq like so many of the troops.

I rode in a freight liner truck, which was a manual, and we didn’t have a trailer on the back.  This convoy was a test-run for redeploying the brigade. Those of us leaving, were the ones who were too close to our 365 day mark, and we had to leave theater by 31 January.  If I recall correctly, I think the Army would have had to significantly increase our pay everyday for every day past 365 that we were in theater.

truck_driver

Let me translate for you what this means in my life…

  • Our unit had no idea what they were doing and pretended to conduct training on a sand table (map in the sand) the day before the convoy.  This equates to a map we’re not taking with us and are hoping we’ll never need to remember.
  • I was unable to drive the vehicle because it was manual – if anything should have happened to my driver, it would have gotten interesting very quickly.
  • Not having a trailer on the back of the freight liner meant the ride was extremely bumpy, on the unpaved roads.
  • The Mark 19 mounted to the turret of the truck a few vehicles in front of us, was missing a firing pin (a key element to make it fire), so it was literally only a deterrent for show (as was the poor gunner).  The MP (military police officer) up in the turret, only had a 9mm pistol if he needed to fire a weapon.

I of course went to the PX and bought loads of snacks and drinks, because what would any road trip be without lots of fat kid snacks?  Armed with (at least) two enormous bottles of San Benedetto peach sweet tea (at least room temperature if not warmer… yum), loads of gummy candies, and who knows what else… we loaded up into the vehicles with little to no idea where we were going (other than following the leader), or what to expect.

Numerous things went wrong on this convoy…

  • The soft cover HMMWV (humvee) in front of my truck had unzipped the windows because none of the vehicles had air conditioning.  The box of computer manuals and notes started flying out of the backseat window.  They stopped and a girl started chasing after the pages into the desert.  She could have stepped on an IED or anything else, chasing after these pages.  Luckily, nothing happened to her, but it was a bit ridiculous to worry about them as they scattered.
  • At some point, we also had a possible IED threat along our route and we all had to dismount (get out) and pull security, while it was investigated.  Weirdly it was among the less memorable events of the trip.  I do remember the crowd that gathered while we pulled security outside the vehicles.  I remember wishing I could use a bathroom (a very common theme throughout the trip for me).
  • We lost radio contact with our convoy commander, who as the MP vehicle told us was letting us know we the convoy was leaving us behind and the MPs would stay with us.  We were going to tow a supply truck driven by TCNs (third country nationals).  No one asked if we had a tow bar – which of course we did not.  When we made our way to the supply truck, which was farther ahead of us, it was like a scene out of Star Wars with the sand people surrounding the truck.  The bedouins were attempting to steal parts off of the broken down truck when the MPs let off smoke grenades to scare them back into the desert.
  • At that same time, I had drunk (what seemed like) gallons of sweet tea and was hoping to pee somewhere… anywhere.  No that’s not true, I was hoping for a magical clean bathroom or even a Porta John to suddenly appear like a mirage in the desert.  Unlike my driver who just stood on the step every time we stopped for a minute and shouted we had a radiator leak like it was hilarious, while I was nearly crying I had to go so badly.  I tried to block myself behind the tire of our truck while the MPs, the driver were discussing hooking up the supply truck behind us…. and just at that moment, the MPs let off the smoke grenades.  Congrats… I would not go to the bathroom until our overnight stop HOURS and HOURS later.  And also, I’ve never had sweet tea since.

There was grid lock leaving the small camp in the morning, which I’m sure is hard to imagine, but true.  The second day was a little less memorable and much calmer as about half of it was spent driving through Kuwait.

Here are a few pictures from my trip.  Please excuse some of the dirt and blur as I was in a moving vehicle.