Monday, January 23, 2006

The Quest for the "Best Combat Pedicure"

I leave this morning on a weeklong trip up north. I packed my ruck sack, cleaned my M-16, added the neck and crotch guards to my body armor and, most importantly, I got a pedicure.

Foot care is important in a combat zone.

Many people wonder where the best place to get a pedicure is in Iraq. There are at least two beauty parlors that offer pedicures: one on Camp Anaconda and one on the Q-West Base Complex. I’m headed to Q-West, and having just treated my feet to a pedicure at Camp Anaconda, am in a good position to compare the two.

Since starting this quest, many have felt the need to tell me that pedicures are only for women and the Air Force. For the life of me, I can’t understand what’s feminine about getting your feet massaged. Besides, I always pick a nice Army green for my toe nail polish.

I will come back as soon as possible with reviews of my combat pedicures. Only one will earn the title, “Best Combat Pedicure.” Peace and good foot care be with you all.

photo caption: I maintain a high level of suspicious alertness as my feet soak in prepartion for a combat pedicure at Camp Anaconda. Photo by Ryan Poland, film genius.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I was hoping we’d get the day off, but that didn’t happen. G.W., whose visit to King’s grave was heavily protested, recently said that America has made progress toward King’s dream, but we’re not there yet.

This is one of those special occasions when I agree with G.W. Within the military in Iraq, I don’t see a lot of tension between white and black soldiers. It doesn’t mean it’s not there, I just haven’t experienced it. However, I have been witness to the emergence of a new racial epithet for Arabs.

Haji, once an honorable term for one who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca, has moved into popular use among soldiers to denigrate and generalize Arabs and those who live in predominately Arab nations. Spencer Case wrote a great editorial about it in the Jan. 15 edition of the Anaconda Times on pg. 2. It will also run in the Army Times soon and you can read it on his blog, Case and Point, at

The chow hall was nice. They made a huge MLK cake. I couldn’t help but notice that it was a two layer cake, vanilla and chocolate. I nearly teared up as I realized that, in a small way, this cake was realizing Dr. King’s dream. Two separate flavors combining to form one cake. But then I realized that the vanilla layer was on top of the chocolate and that they were separated by an impenetrable layer of cream cheese icing. Just another example of the vanilla cake keeping the chocolate cake down.

So, yes, G.W., I guess we’re not there yet.

photo caption: a lovely sunset on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Camp Anaconda, Iraq.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

$10 million a month is a small price to pay for not waiting

“As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.” – Donald Rumsfeld, Dec. 9, 2004

Rumsfeld’s infamous words apply to more than just body armor – they also apply to cargo containers. When the Army started deploying troops and equipment to Kuwait for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, there was a shortage of government owned cargo containers. Waiting to purchase the necessary containers would have slowed the momentum of the war. And momentum, I have learned from years of roller coaster riding, is what makes things fun.

So instead of having a boring, momentumless war, the Army borrowed cargo containers from the commercial shippers and let the good times roll. The shippers let the Army use their containers free of charge as long as the Army unloaded the containers and returned them to the ships within a certain amount of time, usually about 15 days. Every month after that, there would be a late fee.

But everyone was having too much fun fighting the Iraqi army and completely forgot to turn the containers back in. Two years later, the U.S. government was spending over $10 million a month on container late fees, according to Lt. Col. Patrick Lyons, the man the Army turned to shape things up.

Lyons, along with his hard working team from the 840th Deployment Distribution Support Battalion, have tracked down and returned many of the carrier-owned containers. They also worked out rent-to-own deals with the cargo companies. Most units were using the containers for storage rooms, but one unit had cut the top of their container and made a swimming pool.

Over the last year, the 840th lowered the detention costs, or late fees, to about $350,000 a month. Unfortunately, Lyons and his team do not get a commission on the money they save the Army every month.

The big question now is what is the Army going to do with all that extra dough? I have a few suggestions.

1. Give every servicemember in Iraq an $800 bonus at the end of the year.
2. Buy a piece of artwork every month off e-bay, like an autographed picture of Joe Montana for $5 million (Picured above. This is for real, here’s the link:
3. Create an army of robots to replace American soldiers in Iraq. Their superior strength and inability to be depressed will help bring peace to this troubled land.
4. Pay the foreign fighters to screw with Iran instead of us.

These are just a few suggestions. Anyway, my hat’s off to the 840th for making the Army more efficient so that autographed pictures of Joe Montana can stay in the U.S. where they belong and not in the hands of terrorists, communists or any other ‘ists’ that scare Americans.

photo caption: With the money the Army's saving it could buy two of these works of art a month.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

In the city of the future ...

“In the city of the future, it is very hard to concentrate.” –Thom Yorke of Radiohead on the B-side Palo Alto

You can’t think of Camp Anaconda like a military base. If you think of it in a janissary Spartan manner, then you’ll be confused by certain amenities like two swimming pools, an 800-seat movie theater and a beauty salon that gives $7 pedicures.

No, Camp Anaconda is a city. It’s a city of about 30,000 people. It’s a city where there are no children, most people wear uniforms, and nearly everyone is armed to the teeth. Our building designs are simple and effective pre-fab architecture. We commune to centrally located eating hubs called D-FACs. We’ve reverted back to a feudalistic system of aristocracy (officers) and common laborers (enlisted). In short, it is the city of the future.

George Orwell imagined his dystopian city of the future in his book “1984,” in which an authoritarian government controlled the very thoughts of the populace. Jean-Luc Goddard named his city of the future “Alphaville” and had a super computer run the show.

Camp Anaconda is a lot like those, but not as scary. If their dystopias were boiling pots of water, Camp Anaconda would be a hot tub. It’s kind of nice for a bit, but I’ve been in too long and I’m getting pruney.

The creepy thought is what if the future does bring a powerful State that subjugates the People, but does it in such a way as to not inconvenience the masses. You couldn’t have freedom of religion, but you’d have free cable. You couldn’t have freedom of speech, but there’d be no real reason to complain. What if we like the city of the future?

So, what's life like in Iraq? It’s like 1984, except not so bad.

photo caption: Three of my fellow members of the perfect system in our City of the Future which we call Camp Anaconda. Engels Tejeda (center) is still skeptical while Spencer Case (left) and Traci Varrasso (right) have cleary been brainwashed as evidenced by their cheesy smiles. We were waiting to catch a glimpse of Jesse James and his hit cable TV show, Monster Garage. Being this close to a cable TV star is worth giving up certain freedoms.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Big Board

Every morning I drive past the ‘big board’ that tells me how many days have passed since the last auto accident, negligent discharge, incident of fire, and fatality.

I don’t know how I feel about the big board. When the numbers are low, it’s depressing because something bad just happened. When the numbers are high, it’s depressing because we’re due for something bad to happen.

Lately, however, I’ve started to lose my faith in the big board. Forgive my blasphemy, but I think the big board might be bunk.

Yesterday the 3rd Corps Support Command held a memorial service on Camp Anaconda for Maj. Stuart Anderson who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 7. Unfortunately, nobody told the big board. According to it, it’s been 101 days since the last fatality.

photo caption: I'm standing next to the big board on Jan. 12, the same day as a memorial for a soldier who died in a helicopter crash. Either the big board is load of crap, or it's moving closer to the speed of light than we are and therefore has a different measurement of time relative to the rest of the camp. photo by Ryan Poland, film genius

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Al Franken outs Army's top enlisted soldier and combats anti-troop stereotypes

I'm thankful nobody hates me for being a soldier. Al Franken, who some might know as Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night live and others might know as the author of "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot," came to Camp Anaconda just before Christmas to remind servicemembers that they're not hated. In fact, they might even be well liked.

"We want to show you that all of America -- that every American -- is behind you," Franken said to a crowd of soldiers who gathered for the USO morale show.

Many people erroneously associate support of the military as a solely Republican characteristic. But Franken, a raging liberal, has visited soldiers on USO morale tours since 1999. Rush Limbaugh, for all his bloviating, has never come to a combat zone that I've been in. (He did go to Afghanistan once, which is better than nothing.) In his defense, it's more dangerous for him because he's a much larger target. Also, they have a pretty strict no drug policy here.

I was in Kosovo in 2001 and missed Franken's show. I was determined not to miss it this time. Al Franken is to liberal soldiers as Oprah is to middle class housewives, he understands us. Although, I have to admit, his shows would be better if he gave away cars to the audience or at least a gift basket.

The show was still fun without the giveaway. The best part was when he outed Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston. Franken pointed out that the "don't ask don't tell" policy doesn't make any sense because even the best soldiers, like Preston, are gay.

"He's definitely, definitely gay. Very, very gay," Franken said.

I don't know if Preston is gay or not, but he sure did blush a lot. Was it a tacit acknowledgment?

Backstage I was able to ask Franken a few questions. I asked him if he found any incongruency with opposing the war and supporting the troops.

"That may be the one thing we learned from the Viet Nam War," Franken said. "Don't take it out on the troops."

Thank you Mr. Franken! It's that simple. Don't take it out on the troops. Still, several conservatives I know maintain that it's impossible to oppose the war and support the troops at the same time. This, of course, frustrates me to no end.

When I was in Kosovo, I remind my conservative friends, the Republicans were calling for the troops to come home and the Democrats were having us stay. Talk about a flip-flop. It's as if both parties got together and said, "OK, you guys were pro-war last time, and we were anti-troops. So this time, let's switch."

So for standing up in such confusing times, I think Franken deserves an award. What's the one Bush gave to Tennet, Rumsfeld and Bremmer for screwing everything up? Franken should get one better than that. "For meritorious service in reminding soldiers that all of America supports the troops in the face of pernicious Republican propaganda to the contrary," the citation will read, "Alawicious 'Al' Franken is awarded the super-duper medal of courageous bravery and strong strength."
Thank you Al.

Photo caption: I'm talking with Al Franken and Ben Wikler at Camp Anaconda just before Christmas 2005. It looks like they're laughing with me, but I have a sneaking suspicion they're laughing at me. Photo by Engels Tejeda, freelance war correspondent.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Windexing the steps

Yesterday morning it rained for a few hours straight and the camp turned into one huge mud puddle. I picked my way across the parking lot to the front doors of our office building. It's a building left from the Iraqi air base we took, so it's a solid structure with faux marble tile floors. As I tried to kick all the mud off my boots, I saw a specialist who works in our office kneeling over the steps to the front door.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

He replied that he was Windexing the stairs. On closer inspection, he was, in fact, bent over with a wad of paper towels and a squirt bottle of Windex. He said we were preparing for a general's visit.

I told him I'd jump over the steps, but I couldn't guarantee anything from the others. I have to admit, though, the steps looked pretty clean.

Today we got a polite e-mail from our commander asking us to make ourselves scarce when the general arrives. Sounds good to me. I don't want to be the one who has to Windex the steps again.

 Posted by Picasa

I went with the Iraqi army to drop off back packs and supplies to elementary school students. This girl is in the 3rd grade and stared at me suspicously over her stuffed animal. The little girl sitting behind her was so scared when we pulled up that she was shaking. They've been raised that when they see a man in uniform, bad things will happen. I'd like to think a stuffed animal could change all that, but they're probably right. Posted by Picasa

A soldier who trains the Iraq infantry takes a moment to train children on the subtle art of Frisbee. Posted by Picasa

A little boy sits and rubs his face while he waits to open a small vegetable stand. Posted by Picasa

This boy kept climbing up and jumping off. At first he was smiling, but at this point he just doesn't have anything else to do. Posted by Picasa

A group of soldiers from American Samoa pray in Samoan before leaving Camp Anaconda to help secure the polling sites on Dec. 15, 2005.  Posted by Picasa

A young boy sizes up an Iraqi army soldier on election day Dec. 15, 2005. The enlisted soldiers are called, jundis, and kids still don't seem comfortable around them. If you look at his AK-47 you'll see he has two magazines zip-tied to each other. When one runs out he can just flip it over and stick the other one in. I tried to rig something like this for the M-16 but it's not nearly as conveinent.  Posted by Picasa

I'm saying goodbye to Eliza at the airport. Posted by Picasa

I'm blogging!

Hello All,
I use that term euphamistically considering that, at most, my wife will read this. It's with some hesitation that I start this blog because of the direct negative effect blogging has on newspapers sales. Well, at least that's what they say. But I couldn't sleep last night and I visited my friend Aaron's blog ( I wrote a bitter comment to his posting on pre-war intelligence or the lack thereof. It was kind of fun. So, I thought I'd keep the good times rolling with Chokehold in Iraq.
If anyone has any questions about life in Iraq, I'll try and find out the answers. Presonally, I'm still trying to figure that one out. It's a strange place.