Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Don't Forget to Write

I just learned that the Army is prohibiting soldiers from using blogs while in theatre. So, I'll likely be resorting to newsletter distributions. It'll be a lengthy distribution list.

In all the preparation, mentally, physically and logistically, I've been spending more time trying to figure an effective communication strategy with friends/family back home.

Sat phone
As a typical urban dweller, I'm used to good cell phone coverage and have never had reason to learn about satellite phones. I guess if I lived in Alaska, I might have used satellite phones as my primary communication link. Satellite phones look like cell phones of ten years ago, but cost about 10 times as much as ordinary cell phones. And you can't go down to a local mall and pick up a satellite phone. You need to go contact a very limited number of regional dealers, and make arrangements with companies you've never heard of. Don't know if I'm buying a phone or a ham radio. Choosing a satellite carrier is an adventure, since you need to know where the satellites are positions in earth's atmosphere. I'm told that GlobalStar and Thuraya are good and that Iridium unreliable.

And the tolls/usage costs are about as much $1.50 vs $2.00/minute to call the US from Iraq, ouch. But, I'm told that receiving calls on a satellite phone are free. Can that be true?

By the way, if you do call me, Baghdad, Iraq is 8 hours ahead of the East Coast.

U.S. Mail
My mailing address will be coming to you via a brief e-mail, shortly. I remember sending mail to soldiers in Iraq takes about 3 weeks. That will makes for some very old pound cake.

By the way, here's a link to an Army web site that describes, in general terms, my unit's civil affairs mission:

I'm bringing by blackberry, but I'm not sure that AT&T is handling data cell transmissions in Iraq. I'll find out when I get there. I'll surely be checking my e-mail accounts whenever I have a chance. How often I have network access is another question.

Anyway, I've tried to build some redundancy into my communication links, so it remains to be seen which works best.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


So now we know that you can actually arrive at the airport too early. The plan was to drop off our bags at the airport, secure our boarding passes and return to each of our respective workdays. Apparently there is a 4-hour max for early check in, all in the name of security. I think this was our first trip without incident at the security checkpoint. The classic episode was the olive oil buffoonery at the conclusion of our Rome trip, when we realized that our many liters of liquid souvenirs might pose difficulties to board our flight. On this trip there were no such logistical adventures. Quite a feat from a guy who has had over a dozen pocketknives confiscated over the past 6 years. In fact only fortune greeted us, as we ran into an old work friend. John is one of my few friends that truly have a full appreciation for good whiskey. We caught up with John after he had just finished his drink of choice. More windfall, Susan and I have an entire row 12 to ourselves.

We’re somewhere over Louisville, Kentucky and embarking on a packed week of reconnections with family and friends. No matter how long I’m away from So Cal, when I return I get a more-things-change-…. feeling. Kind of like the Sox/Yankees rivalry of late. Oddities that would strike concern in other cities, such as earthquakes and police extended chases, are simply accepted as norm. Some of the boldest demonstrations of creativity on earth, skillful and an unapologetic implementation of the good life, this we’ll find awaiting us.

Mark scored us some SC tickets. We’ll tailgate then see the Trojans annihilate Washington State. I haven’t been to an SC game since the pre-Pete Carroll days. The days of no bowl invites, let alone national championships. Carroll changed all that. He was practically tossed out of New England. Pete returned the favor with nothing but class. And a big “see ya!” “I’m in So Cal, destroying the Pac-10 and beyond, each year.” Growing up was different, John McKay was calling shots. Ricky Bell, Pat Haden, Charles White, Ronnie Lot and Marcus Allen were taking it to the Pac-10. Though my first games with my grandparents saw SC in the Pac-8, before Arizona and Arizona State entered the conference. Being raised in our family meant following SC, not the Bruins or even the Rams. The grandkids would join the family at an occasional tailgate sponsored by their membership in an SC athletic booster club. Granddad even had an infamous SC fight song horn installed on his Cadillac. Some of these games were legendary. But now new history is written at the Coliseum.

We’re headed to So Cal and the flood of old familiar surroundings will envelop us.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Monday minus 63 days

If it weren't for the fact that I know that this will all end in two months, it would be the most ordinary starts of routine work weeks. A harried accountant negotiating morning commute on the Mass Pike, while checking with the office, eating left-over pizza and slugging coffee. Yes, I'm stuck in a thick traffic snarl and am in danger of missing my morning status meeting - such a scene that has been routinely repeated over the last 10 years. It's a sequence of muscle-memory that feels automatic. But what had previously been a routine is now merely a transition. And what had barely warranted notice is now savoured. I arrive at the headquarters of my tech client with 5 minutes to spare. After the briefing, I take a second to absorb the clean and pristine surroundings, which include a modern and stylish building with finely manicured grounds of this Fortune 100 company. Everyone dressed in their finest business casual apparel. I've spent many long days and late nights at this worksite over the past two years, but today it feels different.

Yesterday I was working in windowless room cleaning and inspecting the M-16s and M-9s of my battalion's "arms room." Fingers oily, hands filthy, knuckles nicked and buried in the tedium of wiping down bolt carriers rubbing-in CLP.

It's all coming to head over the next several weeks. There were briefings at drill this weekend shedding more light on our upcoming MOB and deployment. Reality is setting in as emergency numbers were shared.

Friday we jet off to So Cal, to see family, friends and old buddies. An SC game at the Coliseum, dinner at Javier's in Laguna Beach, some beach time with close friends. And there'll be time to show my girl some old stopping grounds in Arcadia. It's all another chance to create some lasting memories that I'll be longing to relive 6 months from now, while enduring 140 degree afternoons on the FOB.