Run Around Slayer

This morning I got breakfast on my way to formation since formation was at the band hall this morning.  Then afterward, I dropped my weapon off at my room, and SFC KW and I went for a run.  We had decided to run through the Slayer Tunnel to Camp Slayer and around the lakes there and then back.  We had guessed that it would be about 8-10 miles, but we were off a little.  It was only 5.86 miles.  We ran it in 1:02:08 (10:36 pace – really good for me!!), but we had an hour break with just under a mile to go.  They had the roads closed off because there was a suspected unexploded ordnance (UXO) by one of the amnesty boxes.  It took a while for the EOD (Explosive Ordnance guys) to get there and then they weren’t there for maybe 5 minutes.  I’m pretty sure it was nothing – at least, nothing went boom.  So while we waiting, KW and I stood by the side of the road and just chatted.  I’ve never really had a chance to talk to him and get to know him, so the delay was kind of nice – other than it interrupted a really good run.  We were finally allowed to head back through the tunnel and home.  I like running with faster people.  KW said we’d take my pace, but I let it be pushed just a little bit.  If I never push my pace, I’ll never get faster. 

When I got back TD was waiting for me to go to lunch with.  So I changed shirts and socks really quick so I wasn’t soggy gross and we headed to the chow hall.  I took some pasta (egg noodles) and meat sauce to go along with my jalapeno poppers, but the noodles weren’t cooked enough, so my lunch consisted of jalapeno poppers, a little bit of watermelon, a gatorade, and a chocolate milk.  Whatever.  Then it was home for the afternoon, and I ended up have to reconstruct my running log for this year.  I opened my file and my data was there but all the formulas and macros were corrupt.  At least I had only done 11 runs prior to today for this year.  And at least I was able to recover the data.  That took a bit of doing, but mostly it was an exercise in extreme patience.  I did manage to get everything taken care of just before I headed to afternoon formation.  Then it was back to my room to stitch until dinner.  I ate dinner with MM from the 56th Army Band and lots of good conversation there.  Then home to stitch more before heading back out to help teach some basic salsa lessons that my friend JH invited me to go to.  I got to be his demonstration dance partner for what he was teaching.  It was fun, and I even learned some as well.

Off to bed now. . .

Today’s High:  69
Current:  63


After formation I went and turned in my security badge.  Then I stopped by the Chaplain’s office to attach cards to the prayer shawls that are ready to be mailed.  Then home to start packing and cleaning my room.  I got all my pictures from yesterday’s trip to Camp Slayer uploaded to my Facebook (well, not all 112 of them – because some were 4 shots of the same thing and some didn’t turn out, but there is a good number).  You can see them here:  Camp Slayer Tour Pictures  The pictures pretty much tell it like it is, and there are a couple that if you don’t want to know, don’t ask.  I went to lunch with my friend JH and then to the band hall to drive around with one of the 56th Band supply guys to show him some of the supply places that he’ll be frequenting around here.  We stopped by my room and got 3 more boxes of yarn (donations for prayer shawl ministry) to bring to the chapel as well.  Afternoon formation we had to bring our body armor and gas masks with to ensure we have everything we’re supposed to.  Then it was home to finish all the comentary on the pictures and get them in order.  Dinner was with GY and GB and then home to stitch for the evening.  It was a pretty laid back day.

Today’s high:  73
Current:  57

Last Salsa Night, Slayer Tour, & Last Chapel Service

Yesterday morning I got to the band hall early with a couple of Soldiers, and we got the truck loaded and headed out to the place to turn in our chem-bio protective stuff. That went ok – not quite as smooth as we had hoped, but it’s done so that’s what matters. After we got back, I bought Green Beans for 2 of the 4 Soldiers that went with (the other 2 didn’t want any). Then it was home to get the last few things that I needed to mail and I headed to the Post Office to take care of those. And then I did computer stuff and stitched. I took a break for mail call formation and then back to stitching until dinner with some of the guys from the BQ and then home for more stitching before I headed out to salsa night. It was a lot of fun as always, but it was sad in a way as well. It’s always sad when you have to say goodbye to good friends, but I’m also happy knowing that I’m going home to my guys soon.

This morning I slept in until about 10 and finally got out of bed about 1030. I stitched for a while this morning and then about 1140 or so I headed up to the band hall – stopped at Green Beans on my way for a cranberry-orange muffin for sustenance. There were 9 of us from the band and we headed over to Camp Slayer to tour the Victory Over America and Victory over Iran Palaces, see one of the last remaining murals of Sadam Hussein, and tour the Baath Party house. It was eye-opening to learn about the history and the stories and everything. All I can say after the whole thing is WOW. Some stuff I knew already, but I learned a lot as well.

Some things I learned.. . . Sadam was psycho (of course, we all knew that). He took money that was being sent to Iraq for food, medical supplies, etc., and used it to build the Victory Over America Palace. He rerouted water from local farmers to "his" areas and then told the people that the Americans must be stealing it. In this desert area, water means power, and he had a lot of water. He was a germophobe. The traditional Arabic way of greeting is a kiss on the cheek, but he wouldn’t have any of that and his people had to greet him in his armpit area. YUCK! He showered like 4 or 5 times a day. In the VOA Palace, he was having 2 elevators built – his own personal one and then one for everyone else. He was very proud of himself – his initials are everywhere so that he would never be forgotten. And when we got to the Baath Party house, we learned that he was a cheapskate and all the nice palaces and everything were a facade. Everything that looks like gold is not gold. It’s aluminum painted with gold paint. And the workmanship – wow. Bricks just kind of thrown in every which way. Steps in the palace were not even – built like that on purpose so that if the palace ever came under attack, Sadam and his people would know the unevenness but the "bad guys" wouldn’t and they would either fall off the steps (no railings and HUGE drops down several floors) or fall down the steps or be slowed up. It was kind of scary going up steps from the 3rd floor to the roof and the steps were only about 2 feet wide and no railing.

More stuff . . . Flintstone Village was built for his grandkids. The Fintstones were Sadam’s favorite cartoon so that’s why he called it that. But why did he build it – complete with bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, servants, and an elevator??? Because he had just killed the kids’ dads because they disagreed – his sons-in-law. Sorry I just killed your dad – here’s a fun place to live and play. The Perfume Palace was the brothel for the Baath Party members. And in the lake (one of many man-made lakes in the area) are little islands with little houses on them. That’s where the Baath Party members could go to "hang out" (I’m sure they paid a visit to the brothel first and were doing more than "hanging out" at the little houses on the islands). There’s a 2 story house in the lake (connected with a footbridge to the palace) for Sadam’s mothers-in-law and I think his wives, too. I can’t remember for sure. There was a cemetery near where the palace is and Sadam didn’t like that group of people that had their people buried there. So when he made the lakes, he had to put all the dirt somewhere and he piled it all on top of the cemetery.

And now for the Baath Party house. It wasn’t a house to live in. It was where the Baath Party member had meetings and stuff. That’s where the war began. We dropped a Tomahawk missile and it hit in the auditorium where they were either watching, just finished watching, or were about to watch Pretty Woman (the found the film during the cleanup). There were 250 people in that room and they recovered 50 bodies. The others were incinerated when the missile hit. You can see all the damage and there are still some chairs and stuff in there. Then there was the dining room. Another missile-hit room. This room had the worlds longest chandelier – it went all the way around the room. Some of it is still up now, but part is dangling because of the missile. The conference room has part of a huge conference table and a few chairs in it. And then the pool room. The pool never had water in it. But if you disagreed with Sadam, he’d take you to the pool – and shoot you. There’s still a blood stain on the side of the pool, and it has been confirmed by a forensics guy that has taken the tour recently.

I took over 100 pictures today during the tour, and hopefully tomorrow I’ll get them up on my Facebook. I’ll post a link to them once I get them up and you’ll be able to see a lot of what I’ve been talking about tonight.

Once we got back from the tour, I stitched for a while more before heading to my last chapel service here in Iraq. I’m glad that I decided not to sing with Joyful Noez tonight (even though i still wore my shirt). I made it through the first song ok, but the second song started with RW singing the first verse solo and I started thinking about how much I’m going to miss him – his awesome hugs, his prayers, his HUGE love for Christ – and the tears started. I cried through every song for the rest of the service. And it was an awesome sermon as well. After the benediction, JN always does one song from the beginning of the service again as everyone is leaving. Well, L, the other female vocalist, motions me to come up and join them. So I do and she hands me a mike and puts her arm around me. I cried while I sang, but I did get to sing with them one last time after all. After many hugs and tears, we headed to the chow hall for dinner and ice cream. And then more hugs – but I think I was out of tears. I called Ryan & Robbie and Mom & Dad and then headed home. My country night/salsa night friend DV stopped by and I gave him the baby blanket I made for his daughter and he gave me a card and I cried more. And then more hugs and more tears.

Ok, this post has gotten really long, so I’m going to do my crunches for the day and go to bed.

Today’s High: 78
Current: 66

Long Day

I was up a little early this morning to meet up with my friend CJ for breakfast before he leaves for home.  It was nice seeing him one last time.  Then it was home for about an hour more of sleep before getting up and ready for formation.  After formation, I headed up to the band hall and got stuff loaded in the truck and we headed out to do my last turn-in.  I had 3 guys from the 56th Army Band with me to help out, and their truck.  One of them is one of their supply guys so he could learn where and how to do turn-ins.  So we got the stuff turned in and then headed back.  I hung out until lunch and then after lunch – it’s nice getting caught up with friends in the 56th that I’ve served with in the past – 2 from Jackson, 1 from Korea, 2 from Gordon.  It’s kind of neat seeing everyone again.  And then after lunch I helped sort and inventory stuff that needs to be turned in tomorrow.  That took most of the afternoon, and I finally left the band hall at 1630.

I didn’t want to hang out until the chow hall opened at 1700 and I didn’t want to go home and then back to the chow hall.  So I went to Pizza Hut and got a small cheese lovers pizza again.  I got home and changed into PTs and then opened my pizza.  I wonder if they could have cooked it any longer.  My cheese was almost burned.  It was still ok, though.  Around 1900 a couple from the 56th Band (literally – they’re married, and the guy is one of the ones I served with at Gordon) came over and they got my fridge and my 2 3-drawer storage things.  My room is really starting to look empty.  One more trip to the post office tomorrow, and I have to figure out how to get 3 boxes of yarn for Prayer Shawl Ministry to the chapel, and then I just need to pack and I’ll be ready to go.

Today’s high:  78
Current:  66

Relaxing day and final Country Night

Today was a really laid back day.  We had accountability/information formation at our normal formation time, but up here at the living area.  Then nothing.  I spent the day finishing getting boxes ready to mail, tucking in ends on a baby blanket, cross stitching, and crocheting.  I made a trip to the post office about 1400 and mailed out 2 boxes.  Then we had mail call formation and then GG helped me carry my big box of yarn to the post office, and I took 2 additional boxes as well.  Everything that I plan on mailing to myself has now been mailed.  I still have to make one more trip to the Post Office to mail out things to several other people.  Then I crocheted until about 1900 and I headed to dinner and then to my final Country Night.  It was an awesome evening, but it was sad as well.  They played all the traditional "last night" songs – Friends in Low Places, God Bless the USA, and American Soldier.  I cried by the end of the night.  A lot of my Country Night friends are 18th Airborne Corps, so they’ll all be able to get back together at Ft. Bragg, but not me.  We’ll probably keep in touch on Facebook and/or Yahoo IM.

Off to bed now – getting up to go run in the morning.

Today’s high:  71
Current:  57

Suicide Awareness Training and a missed opportunity (not related)

This morning after formation we had a Suicide Awareness Training.  It was an interactive small group session and was actually really good training.  It’s a video you watch that’s kind of like the old choose-your-own adventure books.  By the choices you make for the Soldiers in the video determines the outcome for the Soldier.  There were 4 in my group plus our facilitator, and we saved both Soldiers in the scenarios.  It took about an hour and a half, but it was a lot better than previous suicide prevention classes we’ve had where we’re just talked at and powerpointed to death.

Once the training was done, I got my computer out and started working on my music project.  I took a break for lunch and then spent most of the afternoon working on the music.  We turned over the band hall to the I Corps Band today (it actually was going to be tomorrow).  I finished cleaning out my office and that was sad in a way.  Finally I got my computer back from it being repaired and it took almost an hour and a half to burn all the files I needed to keep off it onto 2 CDs.  By then I just wanted to leave as it was close to 1930, so I took my backpack with me and went to Pizza Hut for a cheese pizza for supper.  As I was waiting for my pizza, there were several Iraqi military personnel waiting as well.  I’ve been in Iraq for almost a year and I don’t have a picture of me with Iraqi soldiers for my country collection.  So I ask them if I could take a picture with them – sure, no problem.  I ask a Navy guy that was waiting for his pizza if he would take the picture.  Sure, no problem.  The problem???  My batteries on my camera were dead.  Like it wouldn’t even turn on kind of dead.  *sigh*  And I had the opportunity to get a picture with an Iraqi Air Force guy, an Iraqi soldier, AND an Iraqi Brigadier General.  Hopefully I’ll have another opportunity like that before I leave here.  It would kind of stink to not get a picture of a host-nation soldier.

I got home and my pizza was good.  I had planned on crocheting for the evening, but one my Soldiers came over and needed to talk and we talked for an hour.  I did get a little bit of crocheting in, but not as much as I had hoped.  Oh well.  Tomorrow’s another day.

Today’s High:  69
Current:  59

Staff Sergeant for another year

This morning I had a meeting with the Battalion Sergeant Major at 0500 – along with a bunch of other Staff Sergeants.  The FY09 list for Sergeant First Class was published today, and our CSM wanted to meet with us early before we heard from anyone else that we didn’t make the list.  However, one guy from our band did make the list this year!  Congrats to you, TB!  And on the overall band list, I know 10 Soldiers on it.  I’m not really upset over not being selected this year.  It was only my first look.  Yeah, it would have been nice, but it’s certainly not the end of the world.

After I got back from the meeting (which ended about 0550), I was back in bed and asleep by 0610.  And I slept for another 2 hours.  Then I barely made it to work on time.  Oops!  After formation, I went to Green Beans and got a banana nut muffin and a vanilla chai smoothie for breakfast.  Then it was time to lay out all the stuff from the containers to get ready for customs inspection.  They go through every case and every item to make sure there is nothing that’s not supposed to go back to the U.S.  Once the inspection was done, we loaded the containers back up and they were sealed shut.

I met TD for lunch at Subway.  Niether of us wanted to fight the "zoo" at the chow hall today.  We had a good chat while we ate.  Then after lunch we had a formation and all the Soldiers that reenlisted during the deployment got presented coins from the Retention Sergeant Major.  They’re really cool coins – shaped like a t-wall.  I didn’t get one since I didn’t reenlist while here.  After that, I helped get some hand receipts ready for some stuff and worked on music in Finale on my computer.  At 1545 I was supposed to go to Honor Chapel for a sensing session with the Sergeant Major of the Army.  But when I got to the chapel, I was turned away – the chapel was full and they didn’t have room for anymore.  Oh well.  So I went back to the band hall and continued working on music until about 1720 when I headed to dinner.  And then it was back to the band hall to get my computer, protective mask, and mud boots (combat boots that I’ve been wearing when it was muddy out) and I headed home.  I spent the evening crocheting and I finished a baby blanket minus tucking in the ends.  I’ll do that tomorrow night.  I uploaded a bunch of deployment pictures to my Facebook, so if you’d like to see them, click here.  —->  Iraq Deployment Pictures

Today’s high:  73
Current:  66

Containers are loaded!

I was up about 0630 this morning and got the building unlocked.  I did computer stuff and read part of a magazine until breakfast chow at 0800.  Then after I got back, I stitched pretty much until I was relieved at 1215.  Then one of the guys from the 56th Army Band (I Corps Band) offered me a ride back to the living area and I brought my stuff home – and some stuff from my office.  Then he dropped me off at the chow hall and after grabbing a to-go plate, I headed back to the band hall.  After eating, I helped with the continuing of the container loading that had started in the morning.  By the end of the day, everything was in the containers and the band hall looks pretty bare.  We had formation at 1700 for information to be put out – and lots of it, and then cleaning details.  I went to dinner with GY, WW, and TB from the BQ as well as GB and AM.  It was a good time.  Then it was home for a nice relaxing evening crocheting on a baby blanket and doing computer stuff.  Off to bed now. . .

Today’s high:  75
Current:  70

CQ and Joyful Noez

I didn’t get to sleep in today as I am accustomed to doing on my day off. I had to be at the band hall by 0800 for breakfast chow relief for the CQ. I stitched for 1/2 hour while the CQ went to the chow hall for breakfast. When he got back, I headed back home and did a few things on my computer and then went back to bed for a little while. I was back at the band hall at 1215 to take over as CQ. During the afternoon, I stitched and did computer stuff. KW was my chow relief and she was nice enough to give me 4 hours so I could go to church and dinner for my last official Sunday with Joyful Noez. During the opening of the service, we did a prayer shawl blessing/dedication after I explained a little about how the prayer shawl ministry came about and what they will be used for. Then during our song time, I played a trombone solo – Favorite Hymn Medley. It’s a piece I arranged back my freshman year in college using 5 of my favorite hymns. The whole service was really good and three of us from Joyful Noez got our farewell Certificates of Appreciation signed by the Chaplains and our t-walls signed by all the members of JN. It was kind of sad, but I didn’t cry like I expected to. Maybe because I’ll still be here next Sunday and will most likely sing with the group one last week. Dinner was great, too, and there must have been 16 or so at tables together!!! Great fellowship time. Then it was back to CQ duty and I got more stitching done, and after I locked the building for the evening, I called Mom & Dad and we talked for a while. Off to bed now. . .

Today’s high: 71
Current: 61

Grupo Histeria’s Last Dance in Iraq

This morning it was off to the band hall to drop off my computer and then to the chow hall for breakfast.  I wasn’t impressed with breakfast this morning, and usually that’s the best meal of the day.  My scrambled eggs were not as firm as I like my scrambled eggs and the halved pears (canned??) were frozen.  YUCK!!  So I had a jelly-filled powdered donut and some raisin bran.  I spent the morning on my computer working on the music I’ve been working on.  I ended up eating lunch with RN and PP so that was nice.  After lunch I went with KW to get the mail and then we stopped by my room to get the box of prayer shawls to bring to the chapel for tomorrow’s service.  Then it was back to the band hall and I mostly finished the music project I was working on.  At 1500 we got the truck loaded with our salsa equipment and headed to the job site and got set up.  I was planning on not having much down time as I was to be the chow relief for the CQ, but when I got back to the band hall, I found out that other arrangements had been made and I ended up having some down time!  I got some stitching done and then went to dinner about 1845 or so.  Dinner was ok, but I’m ready to go home and start cooking again.  Then we had formation at 1945 and headed out to the gig site.  We did our sound check and had an awesome gig for our last one in Iraq.  I danced a couple of songs during our break and then it was back for the second set.  It was kind of sad in a way.

I need to get to bed now – tomorrow’s going to be a long day.