Saturday, 30 May 2009

out of the frying pan...

Apparently leaving Iraq is just as difficult as spending 10 months there. Two nights ago, we finally left for the helicopter pad to catch a flight out. continuing with one of the oldest army traditions, we sat around for about 3 hours before hearing that out flight was cancelled. About ten minutes later, we were informed that the flight was cancelled, but ‘not officially,’ prompting us to immediately spring into action and continue sitting in the rocks and heat for another six hours. Flipping off common sense when it came time to eat was the only thing that surpassed this blatant disregard for logic. Most of us had gone well over eight hours without a meal, which might not sound bad, but when you consider how fast your body burns it’s energy in high heat and moderate humidity, it became quite an urgent matter fairly quickly. Since we had a minimum of two hours before the possibility of leaving, sending people to get food seemed like a decision that most third-graders wouldn’t balk at. The way it was handled made it seem like we were orchestrating a lunar landing, and, despite my cast caloric reserves, I am certain that I came close to death.

We left the landing zone (LZ) around 4 am, and returned to our previously vacated tents. After sleeping all day, not knowing when we would be departing, we were informed in a 5 pm formation that we would be heading out in a few short hours. After a few minor military stumblings and much waiting, my chopper’s wheels left Iraqi soil around 1 a.m. the quick flight to Kuwait was uneventful in nature, but the chopping rotors lack of available conversation made me close my eyes and reminisce about the years I have dumped into the army and Iraq, I was grateful for my safety and the friends I have made. Corporal Spidey, Specialist Diablo-Cono, and Specialist Noshow have been here with me through this tour as well as the 04-05 debacle, and without them I would not have stayed as positive or happy. We rode out on a Chinook, and the ramp on the back was left open. This gave the rear of the chopper the appearance of one of the slack-jawed morons it was transporting, and allowed me to gaze nostalgically into the Iraqi night. The superheated exhaust blurred our camp’s billion-dollar lighting system into obscurity as I inched away from Iraq for the last time.

Sadly, the rampant idiocy followed us to Kuwait. Within minutes of arriving at our temporary camp here, some of the dim bulbs we sent ahead to secure things here were telling me how I had to be awake in 5 hours to fulfill some Random Army Requirement that involves driving a minivan to transport soldiers to and from the little shops and eateries here.. This sounds like a good idea until you find out the size of the base. From my tent (which is one of the furthest from the center of the base), the shops are about a 2-minute walk if you don’t know where you’re going. Basically, It will take longer to load up the minivan and drive there than it would take to talk, so I am sure my services will be ignored and most likely ridiculed.

I wish I could say that there is silver lining here, but, from the looks of it, we went from one version of purgatory to another. For those of you who have never been to Kuwait, it is nothing but sand as far as the eye can see. Combine that with driving wind and temperatures approaching ‘pre-heat,’ and you can get a tan and windburn just walking to the bathroom. The few amenities of note are completely offset by building frustration and despair. There is wireless internet here, but it is just a tease; you can connect and get a signal, but actually loading a webpage or sending an instant message is too much for it to handle. When I complain about things like this, people usually say “Oh Matty America, you’ve come so far and have so little time left! You are also unusually good-looking, so cheer up.” A deployment is like a mental and physical marathon, and right now I am running on fumes. Even the littlest things set me off, and keeping my cool in the heat is getting harder by the hour. With any luck, only people I like will talk to me for the next few weeks so that I don’t have to start defecating in other people’s sleeping bags to teach them a lesson. Known as a ‘Hot Pocket,’ it is a valuable source of entertainment and a powerful teaching tool. The lesson of ‘don’t fuck with me or I will shit in the little cocoon in which you sleep’ is not one you soon forget.

Recap: done with Iraq, the only thing worse than being stuck in Kuwait is being stuck in Kuwait with a camouflage circus, my tent has dog-sized rats.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

meth or gardening?

Penis Rock. Looks more like the real thing in person, i assure you.

FACT: my wireless internet has been shut off since i am departing within the week. i will now rely on free computers that have to be signed for 30 minutes at a time.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU: absolutely nothing. go about your lives, citizens. as much as i know that this blog has replaced (fill in the blank) 1 - meth 2 - coffee 3 - online shopping 4 - world of warcraft 5 - kelly clarkson addiction, it will have to be put on hold for at least a little while. filling the void with A - tending a garden B - sudoko C - or D - world of warcraft would be a constructive alternative.

FACT: the formerly undefeated Master Batters are not master fielders. we emerged victorious after a hard-fought game in the Dustdrome. numerous bouts of shit-talking sprouted up between the overpaid KBR contractors and the american heroes (us). it was a satisfying victory in which i hit no fewer than 49 home runs and personally accounted for every out in the field. if you think that this is not possible or plausible, you werent there, and this is my blog. only 4 of my teammates were injured trying to carry my burly ass off the field in celebration.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU: you might want to buy your Jersey Bombers trading cards and apparel online as soon as possible as it will most likely sell out faster than a Jonas Brothers concert. you're welcome for the heads-up.

FACT: i am concerned that i will run out of material without the army handing it to me on a dusty silver platter.

WHAT THIS MEANS TO YOU: anything you would like for me to elaborate on, re-visit, or delve it, please just post a comment here. i am very dedicated to my fans in every way, and enjoy writing a great deal.

recap: the 'meth' thing was a joke, we master batted today, Corporal Stretch found the rock shaped like a penis and woke me up to give it to me.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

pitching a tent

as a step in my unit's departure process, we moved from our pods into large tents. these tents are a mixed blessing. they are extremely cold, even when it is 120+ degrees outside, but they have consolidated all of the assholes and douchebags in my unit into a very small space.

i have been reunited with my best friend Specialist Diablo-Cono, and we now live on bunks 18 inches apart from each other. we spend our days lying in bed playing free online poker (interestingly enough, you can still get angry when you lose $5,000 in poker, even if it's not real money), trying to work up the courage to walk the 1/2 mile to eat, and listening to music. after 10 full months of being on opposite schedules, it's nice to finally get some 'us' time and be able to reconnect as only grown men can.

since our silly mission has fizzled to an unceremonious halt, we now have 24 hours of 'free time' a day. naps are bountiful and, thanks to our 65-degree tent, can be taken any time. our softball schedule is less rigorous, our beds are comfortable, and the end is within sight. you would think that this couldnt be more perfect as far as deployments go, right? wrong. the same half-wits who have made the last 11 months terrible are at it again. we have reformed into our original platoons, and the bulls-eye on my forehead must have reappared overnight. there is nothing more degrading than being called out for something you didnt do in front of 35 people and knowing that there isnt a thing you can do about it aside from being glib. with about 2 weeks left until we are completely finished, the nitpicking and assholery are still in full swing.

at this point i have given up on everything and anything having to do with the army. our last 15 days should be the easiest of the tour, and i can't wait to get home.

recap: assholes, douchebags, people over 50 shouldnt act 12.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Quieres comer?

military food is notoriously awful, as any army movie or war documentary will show you. metal cans ripped open with bayonets, grizzled men eating bean slop in foxholes; you know the images to which i am referring. these heroes from wars past deserve a standing ovation for tolerating such mediocre cuisine.

2003: We started off getting rations of food and water: 3 liters of water and 1 MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat) per day. MREs are vile little brown plastic bags, with smaller boxes and bags inside. they contain roughly 1100 calories total, and are meant to give you all the nutrients and energy that you might need during intense operations. there are 24 different 'menu' options, divided between Case A and Case B. there was a time where i ate around 3-4 MRE's per day, and i could tell you exactly what each of the 24 choices contained, down to the condiments. i loved menu #7 (Chicken with Salsa), #5 (Grilled Chicken Breast), and #23 (Chicken with Cavetelli). when i received my first MRE in basic training, i was ecstatic. after hearing so much about these meals with a shelf-life of 7 years, i was aching to try one. after my 1500th MRE, i have become completely desensitized to the utter lack of flavor and engenuity it must take to create something that is more an engineering marvel than a food item.

2005: dining facilities (dfacs) have sprung up, giving employment to thousands of oompa-loompa like short men with very dark skin in dark blue jumpsuits. they either understand no english or are just so filled with hatred that they disregard your order entirely. if you say something terribly complicated like 'no cheese,' they will pile cheese so high that you will have trouble discerning what is on your plate aside from grated cheddar. the smile they give you after butchering your order says either 'have a great day,' or 'fuck you, white devil.'

MRE's were still present, though in far more limited quantities. the new addition to eating possibilities was frozen food. at the small patrol base where i spent about 5 months, we used to horde frozen pizzas and chicken nuggets to microwave at our convinience. these deliciously unhealthy meals were a favorite of everyone, and we guarded them fiercely.

american fast food places were springing up in the larger bases, and my unit's was home to a Subway, Burger King, Pizza Hug, and Taco Bell. housed in trailers, the menus were very scaled-down, and the food tasted almost like it's stateside equivalent. it's weird getting a burger from a dude in a turban, and the condiments depended solely on the convoys coming in and out of the base. signs on the window where you ordered gave poorly-worded insight into what your order might be missing: "out stock, the lettuce" sometimes meant that they were out of tomatoes, etc.

2008-2009: a 24-hour Dfac with a rotating menu, providing food to about 5000 people for 4 meals a day. amazing variety: there is a short order line for chicken tenders, onion rings, etc., a 'main line' for the day's offering of chicken, a sandwich bar, a taco/wing bar, and huge refrigerators full of gatorade, sodas, and about 19 varieties of milk. i love the premade chicken ceasar salads and the cheese tortellini in pesto sauce. some people complain about the repetitive food, but i know better. things could be so much worse. at least dinners don't come in brown bags.

recap: grizzled beans, out of stock the humor, loco lub you.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

soft balls


since the last time i wrote about sports (and sports injuries, coincidentally), we were in the middle of flag football. now my base is ablaze with chatter about the softball contests taking place almost nightly on the same barren, post-apocalyptic, mad max-type field that is home to every sports team here aside from the wrestling team (they actually compete in the Thunderdome). the rocks and dirt mounds make fielding ground balls a chore, and the multi-million watt bulbs lighting the field make fly balls disappear on the horizon and reappear on your upper lip (SPC Turkey Jerky took one to his eating hole, and it wasn't pretty). running on the field is the one fun aspect of a sandy field. after sprinting to make a play (or NOT make a play if it's me), you can turn around and see a cloud of dust behind you. the feeling that you were moving so fast that your speed-vortex caused a windstorm in your wake is quite satisfying.

our softball team has jerseys. theyre very nice, and quite out of place in this feces-scented dirtbowl. white with blue pinstripes, they would make the yankees drool in envy. i actually do not have one, so i drool with envy while playing, which makes it very hard to discern where my strike zone is while i am batting. these jerseys cause our opponents to lust after our funding and collective sense of style, and how seamlessly we can transition from an army uniform into one specifically for softball.

the rules are simple: pitch underhand, swing hard, and talk as much trash as possible to your teammates. games are considered 'low-scoring' if one team ends with less than 30 runs, and a mishandled ground ball can turn into a grand slam at the whim of a pebble. the bases are literally 5 running strides apart for me, and this leads to hilarious base-running mistakes and collisions that would make destruction derbies proud.

our record is currently 4-2, and we are led by a fiery coach/captain/third baseman who pumps us up using his enthusiasm for the game and intimidatingly pronounced neck veins. every team meeting is treated as if we were down by 12 runs, and i do my best to take this as seriously as possible. keep in mind that 1/4 of our pep-talks are in spanish, as are the insults hurled at each other. the three other non-spanish speakers and i just look around, admiring passing female corn children or inspecting nearby rocks for possible phallic semblance.

since the unit replacing us has arrived, my company's command has taken a sudden interest in our extra-military activities. having these people show up and toss words of encouragement our way ("score more runs than they do!") puzzled me for a few minutes, but then i realized that they feel the need to appear to give a shit about us after 11 months of enjoying being the enemy. it is nice to have a cheering section, but they never participate in The Wave or some of our favorite chants ("hey-yo MALDO!" or the team favorite "Hey Tiller, stop strangling him!"). it's like having a father show up to his son's first baseball game... when the son has already earned his varsity jacket.

our first playoff game is coming up this weekend, and we are all set to face off against the KBR team (named the Master Batters... how great is that?) who have been playing together since conception. they are undefeated and quite talented, but they lack one thing that we have in spades: dominicans. sociological note: dominicans are literally born with bats and gloves, and they are sent, 300-style, to brutal, no-holds-barred baseball camps when they turn 7. they are dragged away from their teary mothers and subjected to base running drills while being chased by puerto ricans (dominicans can't stand them). fighting wolves in the snow armed only with a wooden Louisville, they must triumph or face the possibility of never being able to play baseball again.

Recap: provocative titles = more readers, dominicans fight wolves, im batting .820.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

and the award goes to... everyone!

the army enjoys making things group activites, which is supposed to promote togetherness and unit cohesion. on some levels that is accomplished, but there are certain things in life that are best experienced solo.

Group activities vital to the military experience:

Running in formation

why it rules: when you get tired, you can draw strength from those around you. someone is always sweating more or breathing harder than you are, and for some reason this motivates me. having cadence sung helps you keep in step, allowing everyone to be on the same foot at the same time, mitigating (the army's favorite word since 2004) the risk of tripping.

why it lacks ruling ability: singing cadence inhibits your ability to breath, which is my #2 favorite activity while running. people also have trouble staying in step, which can lead to people's legs getting tangled and them falling over (watching this happen is my #1 favorite activity). also, larger formations for running (between 100 and 4,000 people) tend to be horribly paced, ensuring that the people in the back are either walking or sprinting in alternating intervals.

Group Bathroom time

Perks: this gives you valuable time to spend around your buddies when you would otherwise be alone. the army would not last a week if you were no longer able to candidly evaluate the quality of other people's bodily noises. granted, there is a fairly steep comfort curve that you must overcome (usually in the first 4 weeks of basic training), but after that, it's almost like family time. rarely do i shower without running into at least 3 people i know, promptly starting a game everyone enjoys: holding a conversation without looking directly at a naked person. this event encourages mass participation, and encourages you to become proficient at getting dressed while staring at the ceiling.

Sags: i've seen more penis than jenna jameson (sorry mom) and more ass than public toilet seats. people do unspeakable things in the shower stalls, and for some reason the bathrooms and showers always smell like the end result of a laxitive-and-baby food cocktail. if seeing all of the back hair and ass-acne doesnt make you gag, the odor certainly will.

Mass Punishment

for: it is a great tool to show large groups of people what NOT to do. making one person's mistake everyone's mistake shows how important every member of a unit can be.

against: it is only useful in basic training. beyond that, it is a way for leadership to flex their authority muscle (which is located under your sphincter) and show people that they are in charge.

Blanket Awards

Sweeeeeeet: if a unit does something noteworthy, everyone should be recognized. it is a great opportunity to show appreciation for the hard work of soldiers en masse.

Uncool: as far as deployments go, the army feels that everyone should only get one award unless you do something truly noteworthy (like being able to keep track of your weapon for 10 straight months) or truly boneheaded (stealing expensive electronics equipment from a Morale, Wellfare, and Recreation facility). giving awards out only once in a 12-month deployment cheapens the remarkable achievements of the few by mixing them in with the completely achievable performance of the many.

there are many other group activities of which the army is overly fond, but these are the most noteworthy. i can't wait for a job that i can quit...

recap: i should write leadership manuals, never ask me why i dont enjoy sausage, and i got another Army Commendation Medal today. consider my own horn tooted.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

They're punching each other!

there is a boxing event held here from time to time that unites service members without fail. their common lust for blood and violence leads them to gather in throngs to witness what can only be described as 'boxing.' last night such an event was held, and the area around the ring was packed so tightly that people had to find seating on top of nearby trucks, buildings, and bunkers. being a pioneer in the truest sense of the word, i was the first to embark on the harrowing climb to the top of a bunker, and was soon followed by friends and the omnipresent Ugandan security forces that continue to attempt to take over the base.

the national anthem sung to open the festivities brought tears to my eyes. it wasn't so much a welling up of patriotism as it was sadness for my freshly ruptured ear drums. apparently out of the thousands of troops here, the best singer we have to offer has the vocal range of a dog being neutered without anesthetic. this horrid display of failed yodeling meant only one thing: the event could only get better.

the first fight must not have been very good, as i recall very little of it. the second, however, was quite interesting in the way i imagine special olympics boxing would be if it were held underwater. the contestents' blatant disregard for 'rules' led to a simultaneous disqualification, causing eye-rolls and moans from the thousands of onlookers.

the third fight lasted around 30 seconds, and improved the current weight class champ's record to 5-0. it was a powerful display of precision pugilism, alleviating all need for antiquated alliteration. the fight was stopped by the referee, arguably saving the life and pride of the loser.

i should take a moment to mention the ringside announcer/MC. his cliched and hackneyed lines were repeated at least 5 times each to make sure that everyone in the crowd was certain of his views on things. i have never heard the obvious stated so loudly and annoyingly. his vernacular might have been a good running commentary on a fight between two hobos in a breadline, but was strikingly out of place among the highly literate and erudite members of the armed services.

MC: Oh theyre really throwing punches! theyre punching! theyre throwing punches! theyre throwing punches!

Matty America: are they punching?

MC: theyre attempting to punch each other!

fights 4 and 5 involved members of my company. fight 4 ended quickly, and our man was not victorious. the fifth ended relatively quickly, and our own Iron Mike remained undefeated in 4 bouts. this victory drew large cheers from the crowd, and i did what any boxing fan would after his favorite fighter was finished: i jumped down from my seat and went to get food.

this distraction prohibited me from thinking about the emotional wringer that someone in our chain of command is putting us through. changing departure dates every few hours (and never for the better, mind you) really fucks with your head. three years in this country, and i can hardly bear the last weeks. my cramped tent's walls seem to be closing in, and my days at work feel hours longer than they used to. everyone is getting really uptight about the littlest things, as all of use are worn thin after 11 months of what has turned into a fairly worthless tour.

recap: violence brings people together, someone shoot the harpy, over 2000 views!

Monday, 11 May 2009

it's not a race, it's a tour.

a few days ago, i volunteered my team (which consists of myself and another soldier) to pick up the unit replacing us at the helicopter pad. i helped them throw all of their bags and gear onto my bus, and then took my seat facing the rear of the vehicle. i knew this unit was from the midwest, but as my eyes took in the faces staring back at me, i realized that these people weren't from the corn belt; they were the children of the corn, all grown up. the sea of blonde hair specked with blue eyes was amazing to me.

the unit i am in is quite diverse. i represent about 47% of the white male population in my unit (and that's not a crack at my size, either). this tidal wave of caucasians that washed over our base is incredible. no longer will i be chastised for my lack of skin and the jokes about my parents being albinos will be directed elsewhere.

i knew it was time for me to head home when i introduced my shin to the metal rail under my bunk the other day. as i winced in pain, my first reaction was to yell out an obscene word... in spanish. lots of my army friends speak spanish, and i can muster up a few key phrases if need be, but i have no business exclaiming displeasure in the language of Taco Bell. this event troubled me to my core and made me realize that it is time for me to be honest with myself: i am finally worldly and urbane. knowing curses in 4 languages and being able to use them at the drop of a hat (or crack of a tibia) means that i have really come into my own as a person.

i hate to sound like a typical white person, but most of my closest friends in the army are hispanic and black. of the 6 guys to whom i am most attached, only 1.5 of us are white. this has given me new perspective on my culture (white people are douchebags), insight into how white people are viewed (total F-ing douchebags), and how white people can help the world in general (stop beings such bags of douche). i have spent many sleepless nights pondering the finer points of these revelations, and come to the conclusion that our differences make us interesting.

before you roll your eyes and close the web page after reading that horribly obvious statement, think about the following: aside from the military, it is very rare for races and religionsto be forced to get along, work together, and co-habitate for such extended periods of time. it is one of my favorite parts of being in the army, and the new slang terms i have learned have already proven quite valuable. i wish it were as easy to garner this sort of varied comraderie outside of the army, but this unique situation makes it all the more valuable for me.

recap - i have a little bit of dominican in me, obama zien, doncha know.

author's note: when asked to critique the portion of this entry regarding other race's views on white people, my friend Codename "Gemini" offered this gem:

"well if half of them would get their nose out the air they could see that they are being douche bags. that said, i still like to play in the snow every now and then."


Tuesday, 5 May 2009

the end draws near...

my blogging from iraq draws to a close, sadly. i will be moving away from my wireless internet within the next few days, and dont want my adoring fans to worry about my well-being. i will do my best to post something while i am without wireless, but we shall see.

be well, and i will keep you posted on the numerous follies that the national guard has to offer the blogging community. i will miss you!