Sunday, April 29, 2007

29 April 2007

Good News! The firm I work for, was awarded a renewal of the contract to provide computer services here in Iraq (and South-West Asia). I always knew that they would get a renewal. The old contract actually expired, and UNISYS was paying us on an interim authorization. Anyway, the way is now cleared for me to ask for a third year on this project.

I like Iraq, and I like this project, and my firm has always treated me fair and square. I have no real problem here. I would like to return to my old duty station at Al Asad Air Base. Forward Operating Base Sykes is not bad. I have a decent trailer, unlimited shower time, the chow hall is excellent (they are still not serving eggs, and it may be a long time before they do!). The Rec Hall is decent, and most of the Army people treat me all right.

I am a little disappointed, that the Logistics section, where my office is, has restricted me from using their break room. What does the Army care, if I hang out there and watch their Television? I have a secret clearance, and even though I am not a soldier, I am here on Army business. We are all part of the same family, whether I wear a uniform or not. I am disappointed.

Summer is coming. This morning, the wind was blowing so fiercely, that it blew my door open to the trailer. I had to wrap myself up, to walk to the shower house. I picked up my laundry, and walked down to the chow hall. I did not have much appetite for a big breakfast, so I got some juice, milk, coffee and yogurt. Lunch is at 1130, I will go back and get a sandwich, maybe some ice cream.

I got a small hassle with my pay record. I have not logged on to the website, and checked my direct deposits for so long, that my account went inactive. I had to email the accounting firm that UNISYS has administering my pay records. They will re-activate the account, then I can check my leave and deductions,etc.

Mail here is erratic and spotty. I may go two weeks, without so much as a letter, then get a pile of mail in one day. A lodge in Hawaii, sent in a pile of recreational gear for the Rec Hall, and I delivered it, and the Rec Hall staff was thrilled. I am glad to see this kind of Masonic charity.

I still do not know if I will ever see Freemasonry here in Iraq. I was asked to take over this project in December 2005. It is now almost May 2007, and I am no closer than when I started. I am still waiting on my application to be a dual member of Master Builder lodge #911, in Tonawanda NY, and I still have no idea when the charter (dispensation) to operate Land, Sea, and Air lodge #1 will be issued. The Grand Lodge of New York meets in May, maybe then they will move on the dispensation.

I am delighted that the presidential campaign is underway. It is great theater, and the Rec hall television is kept on the news channel most of the time. I am anxious to see it play out. My feeling is that Hillary (Ptui!) Clinton will get the Dem nomination, and that Barack Obama will get Vice-presidential nomination. The Republican side, I am pulling for Mitt Romney, but I think that Giulani is a real contender. I would like to see a real tough "law and order" type like Rudy get that nomination. I met him briefly in Washington DC, and he is genuine.

I pray every day, that I can get back to my old duty station. I thought that Al Asad, while not being a paradise, was about the closest that I had ever seen to a real ideal work station. I had two bikes, and a Gator vehicle to get around in. My trailer was huge, and carpeted. I had cable TV in the trailer, and we had a good Masonic club, and posters up all over the base.

My office was an entire BUILDING! That is right, the marines gave me a whole warehouse, with unlimited areas for storage. I had a huge amount of privacy, and I could work, and get around the base by bike. I had to make a lot of road trips, but I did not care, I liked the chopper rides in the middle of the night, and staying out at different places. I sure hope that I can get transferred back to Al Asad.

The KY Derby is coming up in one week. I am going to stay up all night at the Rec hall, and watch it. It will be about 3am Sunday morning, and it should be a terrific race. One thing I miss being here in the desert, is I cannot enjoy horse racing. It is the "King of Sports, and the Sport of Kings".

Friday, April 27, 2007

He is tired

An interesting email.

Subject: He's tired and so am I "I'm Tired" Two weeks ago, as I was starting my sixth month of duty in Iraq, I wasforced to return to the USA for surgery for an injury I sustained priorto my deployment. With luck, I'll return to Iraq to finish my tour. I left Baghdad and a war that has every indication that we are winning,to return to a demoralized country much like the one I returned to in1971 after my tour in Vietnam. Maybe it's because I'll turn 60 years oldin just four months, but I'm tired: I'm tired of spineless politicians, both Democrat and Republican who lackthe courage, fortitude, and character to see these difficult tasksthrough. I'm tired of the hypocrisy of politicians who want to rewrite historywhen the going gets tough. I'm tired of the disingenuous clamor from those that claim they 'Supportthe Troops' by wanting them to 'Cut and Run' before victory is achieved. I'm tired of a mainstream media that can only focus on car bombs andcasualty reports because they are too afraid to leave the safety of theirhotels to report on the courage and success our brave men and women arehaving on the battlefield. I'm tired that so many Americans thin k you can rebuild a dictatorshipinto a democr acy over night. I'm tired that so many ignore the bravery of the Iraqi people to go tothe voting booth and freely elect a Constitution and soon a permanentParliament. I'm tired of the so called 'Elite Left' that prolongs this war by givingaid and comfort to our enemy, just as they did during the Vietnam War. I'm tired of antiwar protesters showing up at the funerals of our fallensoldiers. A family who's loved ones gave their life in a just and noblecause, only to be cruelly tormented on the funeral day by cowardlyprotesters is beyond shameful. I'm tired that my generation, the Baby Boom-Vietnam generation, who havesuch a weak backbone that they can't stomach seeing the difficult tasksthrough to victory. I'm tired that some are more concerned about the treatment of captivesthan they are the slaughter and beheading of our citizens and allies. I'm tired that when we find mass graves it is seldom reported by thepress, but mistreat a prisoner and it is front page news. Mostly, I'm tired that the people of this great nation didn't learn fromhistory that there is no substitute for Victory. Sincerely, Joe Repya, Lie utenant Colonel, U. S. Army 101st Airborne Division This needs to get all over the U S A.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Email from a South African Mason

I got the most interesting email from a South African Mason who is here in Iraq.

W.Bro. CharlesJust read your notes on the uphill battle to open a lodge 'in country'. I wouldlike to say, "jolly good show and good luck".I'm a private security contractor in / out of country since mid 2003 and currently in the IZ, quite some way from your location, I believe.My background is law enforcement and international private security so it doesnot seem that I would 'qualify' to become an affiliate member of the proposedNew York Military traveling Lodge structures, here in country.Like you, I have no official mandate to make statements, comments, etc. but Iwould like to re-iterate my previous comments of encouragement. I'll pass thison to my Provincial Grand Master, as a matter of interest and for his insight.Good luck and if I can be of any minuscule assistance, do not hesitate toshout.My mother lodge is the Sharman Crawford Lodge No. 608 I.C. - Constituted on 16May 1927 in Cape Town and named after a member of the British Military topstructure of Cape Town, a British Colony at the time - The Right Honorable, SirSharman Crawford CBE. Our lodge is a member of the Most Worshipful, the GrandLodge of Ireland and we meet in the De Goede Hoop Lodge Room (oldest masonicbuilding in SA - built in 1752 by the Dutch), within the Cape TownParliamentary Complex, on the 2nd Thursday of each month.Maybe you will find the time to copy me with your progress, every so often.You stay safe and take care.Fraternal GreetingsStephen van DiggeleRt. W. Past Provincial Deputy Grand MasterProvincial Grand Lodge, Southern Cape Provinceof the Cape of Good HopeRepublic of South Africa

and my response:

How very wonderful to hear from you. Of course, we would be delighted to have you participate with our traveling military lodge. ANY MASON in good standing may participate. We have American civilian and military personnel now participating, and we had one Kuwaiti national petition our lodge.A traveling military lodge is a "lodge without walls" set up by a Grand Lodge, (In this case, the Grand Lodge of New York USA) to serve (primarily) a group of military Freemasons. Our lodge was first established in World War 1, in 1917. This is our 90th year of operation. I am currently at Forward Operating Base Sykes, near the town of Tall'Afar. the lodge is at Al Asad Air Base, but we hope to "franchise" out smaller lodges elsewhere in country. If there is no informal masonic fellowship at your current base, then I encourage you to begin one. We have a "Masonic square and compasses club" here.If you are interested in the story of our lodge please see Fall 2005 issue page 32For a journal of our progress, and my personal journey to get Masonry in Iraq please seehttp://www.cemab4y.blogspot.comMy home lodge is Bowling Green #73, Bowling Green KY, Grand Lodge of Kentucky Free and Accepted Masons. I lived in Maputo, Mozambique 1984-1986, and I spent many fine times in Nelspruit and the Eastern Transvaal. I took a wonderful holiday in Sun City Bophuthatswana. Please feel free to email anytime, I love to get correspondence from Freemasons here or anywhere!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

17 April 2007

Tax Day. Fortunately, my taxes are filed. I hope I get a refund this year. My accountant back in the USA handles it. We heard about the school shooting last night. I had hoped that the base would have our flags at half-staff, in respect for the biggest mass murder in US history.

Spring is coming. The nights are cold, I keep the heater running in the trailer. I prefer to wear a denim jacket in the mornings, it is perfect for this climate. The Rec Hall is usually kept very cool, so I just keep it on all day. This morning, I did not have much appetite, so I skipped breakfast. I can get my lunch at 1130am.

I got some interesting emails from my friends back in the USA. One of my old Air Force friends, Major David Block(retired) has decided to petition for the degrees of Masonry. I hooked him up with a lodge near his home, and he is getting the paperwork submitted.

I found a couple of interesting websites, and I have been ordering some items from the USA. The summer will be HOT here, so I ordered some short pants. My previous supervisor discouraged the employees from wearing short pants, but I wore them anyway. When you ride a bike 5-8 miles a day in 120 degree heat in the Iraqi desert, short pants are more serviceable.

I don't think the new supervisor cares one way or another if we wear short pants.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

An Article about my duty station

Here is a COPYRIGHTED article that appeared in the Halifax (canada) Herald Limited.
I think it is very accurate.

Monday, August 15, 2005 Back The Halifax Herald Limited------------------------------------------------------------------------Off-duty soldiers live in comfortIraq remains a dangerous place, but U.S. troops not shortchanged at end ofday By SCOTT TAYLOR / On TargetThe two major military campaigns mounted by the U.S.-led coalition forcessince 9/11 have proven that the conventional notion of linear warfare isobsolete. The Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam's regular army could not stand in theface of the overwhelming technological superiority and massive firepower ofthe American juggernaut.As a result, the U.S. offensives were quickly able to capture all their keyobjectives in Afghanistan and to depose the regime of Saddam in Iraq withonly a minimum number of casualties.However, in both of these theatres the resistance has been unpredictablydogged, and the relentless insurgents and holy fighters have turned theentire countryside into a guerrilla battlefield.Biding their time and avoiding major combat with heavily armed front-lineAmerican forces, the insurgents instead target U.S. supply vehicles withbooby traps and hit-and-run tactics.In response to this new threat, the Pentagon has had to rapidly introduce awidespread program of up-armouring every vehicle in the army's inventory.As the highways of Iraq and rough tracks of Afghanistan have become the new"front line," every truck, fuel tanker, and Humvee must be converted into acombat-capable weapon platform.Another major development in the way non-linear modern war is waged is themanner it has manifested itself in the ability of the U.S. military toprovide creature comforts for their combat soldiers.As I discovered on my recent visit to the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regimentbased in Talafar, Iraq, there is very little discomfort or personal hardshipassociated with waging war against the insurgents.That is not to say these soldiers don't face danger on a daily basis (duringmy five-day visit, 3ACR incurred five killed in action and one seriouslywounded), but it is only to observe that at the end of a gruelling patrol,these troopers can return to the relative comfort of Forward Operating BaseSykes. This compound consists of a heavily protected airfield about five kilometresfrom the insurgent-held enclaves in the city of Talafar.To date, the U.S. troops housed at FOB Sykes have not received any incominginsurgent shellfire, as there is no way for them to safely approach theAmerican base across the wide-open desert terrain.Without threat of hostile fire, the troopers can sleep safe and sound intheir air-conditioned portable trailers, enjoy hot showers and flushtoilets, and dine up to four times a day at their massive, privately cateredkitchen facility. Operated by the corporate conglomerate Kellogg, Brown and Root, the messhall serves up a stunning variety of main courses, fast food, salad bars andmade-to-order sandwich counters.Unlike the old Beetle Bailey comic strips, U.S. soldiers no longer spendtheir off hours pulling kitchen duty and peeling potatoes.The task of preparing the four daily smorgasbords is done by a bevy of cooksand cleaners recruited from civilian firms in Turkey and India.Given the level of insurgent activity in the Talafar area, the U.S. basedoes not employ any local Iraqis. The extreme heat and dust at FOB Sykescertainly takes its toll on clothing, but KBR also provides a complete24-hour laundry service free to all soldiers.To keep fit, the troopers of 3 ACR have access to a fully equipped,air-conditioned gym and before each morning's training runs, the KBR trucksdampen down the roadside dust with their water trucks.During their off hours, U.S. soldiers can rent DVD movies at the on-basemini-mall, or use the satellite Internet cafe free of charge.One has to keep in mind that these facilities are all part and parcel of aforward operating base.From FOB Sykes, the troops don their full flak jackets and venture out on adaily basis to patrol the winding streets of Talafar.At the more established, larger Green Zones in Mosul and Baghdad, U.S.personnel have additional access to a complete range of fast-food outlets -Pizza Hut, Burger King, Taco Bell (to name just a few) - bowling alleys,movie theatres, swimming pools.The experience of modern warfare still includes the horror, shock andviolence of previous conflicts, but the U.S. soldiers' personal lot betweenfirefights has improved considerably.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Life in Iraq

I received an email today from Brother Steve Cramer, and he asked some interesting questions.

Portion of his email:

Also, yes please tell me what daily life is like there in Iraq. We get such a skewed version of life there from our media that I'm not sure what life is like there. Most Americans think that it's just a dirty, dusty, hell hole of a place, but I know that most Iraqis are good people. and they have such a rich history, I think if we can just get them to embrace their own destiny, and embrace freedom, that their culture will bloom and they will become such a model good society for other struggling countries to emulate. Am I off base?All we see on the news is them blowing each other up. I've got to think that some good things are happening over there. I just don't know. Maybe you and I can make a difference. You never know.


Well, I live in Iraq, I have been here for 18 months. And I watch CNN/FOX, etc. I must say that the picture that is presented in the US media is very good. I have no serious problem with it. Iraq is not a dusty hell-hole. Fact is, it is raining right now. Iraq is either dusty or muddy. I have seen some blistering heat, and I have seen snow here at Tall'Afar. Anyplace where there is less than 7 inches of rain per year is classified as a desert. Iraq qualifies.

I must say, that I believe in the mission here. I think the USA is absolutely right to be involved in settling the disputes here, and in helping the Iraqi people to mold their own society and future. It is going to be a difficult task, make no mistake.

Americans are by and large historically illiterate. Let's take a step back into history. Adolf Hitler killed himself, and the nazis surrendered May 8, 1945. I was stationed in Germany 1976-1978, and at the time there were 300,000 American troops in central Europe. Today, 62 years after the end of WW2, there are 70,000 American troops in Germany.

Saddam Hussein was hung in 2007. We should be prepared to have a substantial military presence in Iraq for 40-50 years. This is simple reality. NO one wants to talk about it, but it is going to happen.

Now I must state for the record, that I do not have any contact with Iraqis. I live on a military base way out in the middle of nowhere. The American army runs the operation, and no Iraqis are permitted on this post. The laundry and kitchen staff are all third-country nationals. Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Turks, etc. The security situation is just too dangerous to permit Iraqi civilians on post.

I am optimistic about the outcome here. This war is not about religion. This war is about greed and power, like almost all wars. The main factions are the Sunnis, the Shi'ites, and the Kurds. The Kurds want to set up a separate state, but the oil fields are not distributed evenly in this country. The Iranians (predominately Shi'ite), are bankrolling the Shi'ite militias in Iraq. Weapons and logistical support is flowing into Iraq across the Syrian border. Al Qaeda operatives are active all over this country.

I believe sincerely, that a peaceful outcome is possible, and that all Iraqis regardless of religious sect or ethnicity can have a place in a reasonable political solution. This is going to be a difficult and long-range goal. Problem is, Americans are not willing to pay the price and tough it out for the long haul. Americans expect a "quick fix". After all, we developed the atomic bomb, and ended WW2 in the pacific. We put together "Operation Overlord", and invaded France, and ended WW2 in Europe in 9 months from D-Day to Berlin. We put a man on the moon in 8 years. But here in Iraq, there is no "quick fix" or "magic bullet".