Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Two Flags

On the convoy into our new home, I looked outside of the vehicle and noticed an old Iraqi flag. It was a flag that was designed and flown back when Saddam Hussein was still ruler of Iraq. It was red on the top, white in the middle and black on the bottom with the words God is Great in green Arabic writing and three green stars.

This interested me because not too long ago, the new government took the three green stars out of the flag in order to symbolize a new government and a new era for Iraq.

I didn't think much of it and just pondered it in my head for a while. Then when I got to the station, I noticed two different flag poles, one with the old flag on it and one with the new one.

You can see the one flag on the top of the police station and one in the yard, on the right.

This is the one that is on the pole in the yard. You can clearly see that there are no stars in the field of white. It is the new Iraqi flag, representing the new government.
As you can see by the flag on top of the police station, it clearly has the three stars. It is a flag from the old regime.
Both of these flags are in the same compound.
I asked Fawwaz about this (we nicknamed him Yoda by the way) and just smiled and said, "The people who fly the old flag like it better than the new one." The smile he gave me was the one he uses when he is hiding something or trying to get me to press an issue further.
"What do you mean by that? Do you mean they like what the old flag represents more than what the new flag represents?"
"Yes. The Sunni Iraqi's liked the old days when the Sunni were in power. They fly the old flag when they can get away with it. The Shia, or the government offices that are controlled by the Shia, fly the new flag."
So why do we have both flying here? Favoritism. According to Yoda, the police station wants to appear to be impartial and serving both the Shia government and the 80% Sunni population of Ramadi.
I get that, but a nation divided doesn't work out too well. Consider the United States back when there was a Union and a Confederacy, both with their own flags. Flying the "Stars and Bars" still gets some peoples' feathers all ruffled up. In fact, if I remember correctly, it was a civil war that wound up settling that dispute too.
Semper Fi,

Tea Time

No, we are not playing golf. Yesterday was the last day of the month of Ramadan for the Iraqi's.

Today Fawwaz came in and gave Sgt Garrett and I a mini-Twix he had been saving up for just such a day. We thanked him and asked why he gave it to us. He then explained that the next three days are holy days and that Muslims are to share these days with those they are close to. They are to spend more social time with their families and friends and wish them "eid mobaark." When someone wishes you "eid mobaark," it is customary to give them a sweet treat or something like that.

This gave Sgt Garrett and I a mission: We had to make sure we went around and wished everyone "eid mobaark." (No, not for the treats, but because it was showing our hosts that we know about and care about their customs... although the treats were great!)

We went over to the Iraqi LtCol's office and wished him "eid mobaark." He smiled and chided Fawwaz about training us well. Fawwaz laughed and we sat and discussed the season with the LtCol who graciously offered us each a Hostess Tiger-tail and a Pepsi. He later said we were a welcomed and unexpected surprise.

As we went back to the office, Sgt Garrett and I discussed with some of the other Marines this courtesy and suggested that they grab an interpreter and extend similar courtesy to their counter-parts.

Before long, the expected happened. Marines were sitting and having social conversations with Iraqi's and enjoying chi (the Arabic word for Tea).

A little after lunch we were called upstairs to an Iraqi Captain's office. He wanted to extend similar graces to us and have chi with us as well. His office was about 14 feet long and about 10 feet wide. There is a desk and three single beds along the walls. The beds are for sitting, as the custom is to offer seats to guests and this man has a bunch of guests on a regular occasion. Besides, it is harder to steal a bed than a chair and these office spaces seem to play musical chairs a bunch.

Chi... they take about a table-spoon of sugar and pour it into a glass that is a little bigger than a shot glass. It probably holds about 2 ounces of liquid, tops, when empty. Then they pour the very warm tea into the glass and offer it to the senior person in the room first.

In our case, there was a Marine Captain who got the first glass, despite the fact that there was an IP Major sitting in the room (mind you it was an Iraqi man passing out the tea, so he was making the decision as to who was senior...). Then our interpreter Fawwaz was offered tea, then the Iraqi Major and then the Gunny.

Fawwaz explained later that the Captain was seen as senior to the Major because he was an American Officer. Fawwaz was senior to the Iraqi Major because of age (actually grey hair because they did not know the ages of either man). So if you have more grey hair, you get your tea first, got it?

Today was one of those socially productive days that pay of big-time when you least expect it. It was a day of building trust and good faith that months of dialog could never build.

Semper Fi,

Who to vote for?

Since I am on the topics of politics anyway, I figured I might as well get this off my mind... and I am not going to tell you who you should vote for. That is none of my business.

The perspective I have is to look at: our nations enemies.

Our government's primary role, from my humble perspective, is to protect us. That said, I feel we need to look at our enemies and ask ourselves who they would want in power. If they would want Joe Jones (and I don't think anyone by that name is running) in power, we should prevent that person from getting into power at all costs.

Abortion, welfare, health care, who a candidate's daughter slept with... none of that factors into my equation as none of it is our GOVERNMENT's primary goal.

Just my perspective, and I am done.

Semper Fi,

Monday, September 29, 2008

...More on the Nickname

I asked Fawwaz what the greeting salam meant, so as to find out about my nickname, and he said it means "peace." How very ironic that a Marine Gunnery Sergeant would pick up the nickname "peace" while deployed.

That brings me to a point that I discussed with my aunt about three months ago. Why is it that we have 130,000+ MILITARY members conducting nation building? The nations military is supposed to be a violent arm of offense or defense that imposes the political will of a nation on those who would oppose it.

Many of the jobs here are missions that forward the development of a human infrastructure. We are building their government and their police forces and their civil infrastructure. Using Marines to do this is like using a hammer to repair a computer circuit board. I guess it can be done, but is it really the right tool for the job.

Now before I go further, I must say that it is an honor to serve over here. My country called me to do a job and I am going to do it to the best of my ability. Also, I understand that we are here to ensure the security situation remains stable and that we keep peace so that development can happen. Furthermore, there are a hand full of civilians also over here working to rebuild civil infrastructure and doing a damn fine job. I get all that.

What I want to know is, why are the majority of people here in the military and not in the state department? Why aren't police officers, in majority numbers, over here teaching the police? Why are the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines doing so much civil nation re-construction?

The answer probably lies in the lack of people or the lack of funds in those areas. If that is the answer, then our system of nation building is broken and we need to fix it. I guess we need to fix it like we need to fix our economy, our border security, our welfare system, our health care system, our ........ oh well, I guess this hammer can wait!!!

Semper Fi,

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Damn Possum"

I just have to pass on this story I got from Colleen today in my e-mail. It will make you cry with laughter. She is such a great lady to put up with my absence...:

Yes you read that right. Damn possum, let me tell you a little story.

We got up today, did a bunch of chores in the house, (basically we cleaned the whole thing!) folded two loads of laundry, and headed out for cheerleading (a whole other story there!), we got home around 11:10 and we were outside beginning yard work at about 11:20am. We started by vacuuming the pool, picked up the poop, all the yard sticks to prepare to mow. We all agreed we’d mow after lunch and then go in the pool. Well all morning Pudlee was going crazy by the small shed. She walked around it literally 50-100 times, jumped up on the sides of the shed and just seemed very bothered by something near the shed. I looked couldn’t find anything and Katie thought she was just annoyed by the squirrels. But then… I noticed out of the corner of my eye as we were putting all the shovels, rakes and stuff away, a long nasty looking tail peeking down from the grapevines. It was a possum. A pissed off possum. I got the kids to get Pudlee inside. I tried to call animal control, they only work M-F 10-4. Called Steve, he wasn’t home. So I called you dad, (I’d love to hear his side of the story on this one!) first mom answered the phone, she was ready to chit chat!” Mom I need Dad right now, is he there?”, there was obvious panic and stress in my voice. “Dad there is a possum stuck in the grapevines, what do I do? This is a man job, animal control is not open. Help!”

Dad laughed, and said “get a long pole and poke him, make a hole in the vines so he either falls out or can climb out!”

I went looking for a pole, “I can’t find a pole long enough”

Dad says, “a broom handle will work.”

“ No it won’t I want a long long pole, I ain’t going near this thing. Hold on this will work” I begin to poke the damn thing, it barks spits and hisses at me… I scream like a girl!... several times mind you! Dad is now rolling on the floor laughing, “Dad this isn’t funny, well it kinda is, but I shouldn’t’ be doing this, it’s a AUGHHHH!” “Dad I need a stronger pole?”
Dad then says… “go get a long pool pole”

“Okay, this is ridiculous, why do possum love me so much. Go somewhere else, this is not your home…” dad is still rolling on the floor laughing…”it’s not funny Dad!” I walk back over to the vines … “he’s gone. Oh crap where did he go? I can’t find him Dad!”

“well he probably got loose and ran away”

“He better not come back, I think I really made him made” dad is still laughing.

We talk a bit more and haven’t seen the possum since. Damn Possum!

So then we ate lunch, mowed the lawn (the lawn mower broke, the self-propel handle), washed both cars, blew the driveway off and then finally hit the pool! The kids did, the water was only 76 degrees!!

A day in the life of a Marine Wife is never dull or boring, especially when their man is deployed!!

I love you Beautiful, and will be home soon to deal with the Possums of life!!!

Semper Fi,

Ups and Downs

Man, yesterday it was Soap-Opera central around here. Everyone seemed to be majoring in the minors. The littlest ankle biter stuff was getting elevated to colossal heights and people were so focused on the ants that they forgot about the picnic.

We woke up to the Internet being down... talk about panic. Several guys were mission ineffective, unable to concentrate on their work or anything until we had connectivity back up. Now if it is down due to cloud cover or too much sand/dust in the air, we are in for a painful time! Seriously, they were like Gunny's without their coffee.

Then we had 3 relatively influential Marine decision makers come out and visit yesterday. Before they arrived, we had everyone out in rubber gloves picking up cigarette butts in the parking lot... this is Iraq people. We have a yard out here that is strewn with litter and we are picking up cigarette butts in the parking lot where the Col is going to pass through? I understand tidying a place up and all, but we are in IRAQ. I understand the respect I am supposed to have for those guests we have visiting, but this is IRAQ.

Two people trying to communicate about dates and times that are literally months off became a shouting match and created animosity between otherwise sane, rational adults.

The stress monster was just walking around clobbering people yesterday and I became a real GOTE (Gunny On The Edge). I took it out on the appropriate antagonists, but good grief!!!

Today on the other hand was much better. I was able to resolve most issues with a single bound, stop lumbering Iraqi's with a hearty "salam," and write it all up in a hearty report by chow time. Nice and easy.

Now why was yesterday so painful???

Semper Fi,

The Weekend of the Upset!

What is up with College Football lately? Seems the rankings are just way off.

(Just for perspective, most of my family are from Ohio, so I am a Buckeyes fan...)

No. 1 USC fell to unranked Oregon State! (Love to see a team that just beat OSU fall on their sword...)

No. 3 Georgia lost to No. 8 Alabama! (Sorry Kevin. I didn't have a "dog" in this fight, but I know you did...)

No. 4 Florida fell to unranked Mississippi! (After they whopped OSU so many times, I am really happy to see this!)

No. 9 Wisconsin lost to unranked Michigan. (It was hard to pick a side on this game as I really dislike Michigan, but normally root for the underdog.)

No. 16 Wake Forest lost to unranked Navy.

No. 20 Clemson fell to unranked Maryland.

...AND my No. 14 Buckeyes WON against undefeated (and unranked) Minnesota.

Now I am only a number watching fan, not a sportscaster by any stretch, and even I can see that some of these teams are just flat over-rated... or is it that any given team at this high level of competition can beat just about any other team on any given day.

Sometimes its hard to remember that these guys are mostly just kids from the age of 18-22, putting it all out there on the field for a few seasons before they have to grow up. Kind of sounds like our military, right, 18-22 year old kids putting it all out there on the line for a few seasons. Then there are those old salts that go pro....

Then there is the whole underdog thing. It is interesting how we root for the under-dog as long as they are not playing our team, right?

Just my thoughts, have a very happy Sunday!

Semper Fi,

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Today I was given a nick-name and it really made me think.

As I walked around the police station, going toward the entrance, I passed by the little guard shack. It was manned by an Iraqi Policeman who was sifting through some papers as he checked the people passing by. As I approached his station, I greeted him with the typical "salam," and put my right hand over my heart. He grinned from ear to ear, put his papers down and replied, "salam," and reached out to shake my hand.

Very enthusiastically, he said about two sentences in Arabic and then acted as though he expected a response. At this point, I was in trouble, as I was at the end of my Arabic and he was at the end of his English, but we were both seemingly very happy to see each other.

Since I was on my way to work, and I really knew not much else to say, I repeated, "salam," smiled and tried to make my way inside....

He was having none of that. He grabbed my hand, smiled even more and said a sentence again in Arabic. This was getting kind of awkward for me, but he seemed to be enjoying himself. Then he said, "salam, you say."

Puzzled, I complied and he laughed and said something else. About this time an interpreter was walking by and I heard him laughing. I asked the terp what the officer was saying and he told me that he had just given me the nick-name Salam because that is all I know how to say.

I turned to the police officer, shook his hand and said, "ismee Salam, shukran!" (my name is Salam, thank you!). Now he was the one with the puzzled look on his face and I was the one grinning as I walked into work.

We will see if it sticks.

Anyway, now that I think about it, it was his way of telling me that I was accepted around here. Brothers in arms really only give nicknames to guys they like or guys they think enough about to assign them a name of their own.

I guess sometimes they give nicknames to people they really despise, but that was not the body language he was conveying. He had seen me around, watched my interaction with people in the compound and made it a point to engage me.

Furthermore, they called me a friendly greeting name, and not something derogatory. One fellow here on the compound is nicknamed Abu Teese. Abu means father-of and Teese means butt. Basically he has a really big butt and they tell him that every time they call his name.

Semper Fi,
m aka, "Salam"

Some Admin Notes:

My internet connectivity is sometimes spotty (like today), so don’t get too alarmed if I don’t post for a period. I will type my thoughts up in a document and post them when I get a chance. Remember, no news is good news while I am gone. If something bad happens there WILL be news and it will be from Colleen. Trust no other source and if I am silent for a while expect the best: I am gainfully employed serving my country.

Also, Friday will be my best day to post things as the work load is lightest that day. So if you only have one day to read it, I would recommend Saturday.

On that note, if you have anyone you really want to read this blog, feel free to pass on the web site address on to them. Again, I welcome readers and comments, I just may not have time to get to moderating too often. Don’t get offended if I cannot get to your post right away.

Finally, I will omit specific details on purpose and avoid subjects that will get people into trouble. I am specifically sticking to my personal feelings, opinions and observations.

On a lighter note: The honey-bucket truck came last night! What a welcomed surprise to have new toilet paper and a flowery smelling set of port-a-johns. Our predecessors told us that this service is only paid to come twice a month, so I was expecting this kind of thing.

Semper Fi,

Friday, September 26, 2008

My Mugshot

Well, here it is: a recent mugshot from the sandy side of life.

Semper Fi,


Sgt Garrett

Sgt Garrett is the Marine I am deployed with. He is a solid asset out here and just a dynamic guy. The deployment is still young, so I don't have too many stories about him just yet, but stay tuned...

If you know Sgt Garrett, you know he is one of the best and they would not have sent him out here otherwise.

Semper Fi,


The Home Front

Just wanted to take a minute to brag on Colleen. She is doing an AWESOME job holding down the house. There are just so many moving parts and she seems to keep them all in one bag....

Caleb and Seth are both still in Webelos Scouts and doing just awesome. About every month they are earning a new award. This last month it was the Outdoor Activity award, the Citizenship pin and they are well on their way to a couple more. They are also selling popcorn to support their upcoming camping activities. (hint, hint)

Katelyn is now signed up for cheer leading. I think she starts that up this weekend, so that should be really neat. I am looking forward to pictures and stories. She is also working with a friend of ours out at some horse stables once a week. She is learning to feed and care for horses, handle them safely and muck stables. I think that last part is her least favorite. ... Every once in a while she gets to ride them too! Not bad for turning 8 years old on the 5th of October.

All the kids are doing well in school and seem to be taking this deployment in stride. I am so blessed to have such a supportive and productive family! Now you see what I mean when I say Colleen is doing AWESOME! She is keeping all those things going while working at the Scrapbook store, keeping the family active in church, keeping the house, yard and pool looking great and supporting her husband seven time zones away. I am amazed every time I think about her. She is the greatest.

Semper Fi,

Job Well Done

The Marines we replaced are now on their journeys home. They did a great job out here and I only hope we can do their work justice.

The Marine on the left is GySgt McPhail. He and I are competing for one of the 3 Master Sergeant slots this year. There are 9 other qualified Marines also competing, so we will see. He is in the position ahead of me based on date of rank and honestly, he probably rates it more than I do. He has one more year in than I do. He is a black-belt in the Marine Corps martial arts program and was a NMITC instructor just like I was. He runs high first class PFT’s and is just a solid Marine Gunny.

All that said, he also established this post as the best one in Iraq and none of the Iraqis here wanted to see him leave.

Cpl Carrillo is the Marine next to him. He speaks 4 different languages fluently, including Arabic, so he was an invaluable asset as a part of his team. His son was born about two months ago, so he is anxious to get home and hold him for the first time.

Great work fellas!

Semper Fi,


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Hooch

The small building we are staying in, we are calling our hooch. It is a solid, wood structure that is probably 20 feet long and 16 feet wide. It is subdivided up with a hallway connecting three rooms. Here is a picture of where I sleep, taken from the hallway.

As you can see, the room inside the hooch that I sleep in is only as wide as the bed. I have my clothes and gear and stuff under the bed and protected from the dust by my poncho liner. Then I have my poncho acting as a dust cover for my bedding. There is nothing between the gable vent and the floor except rafters, so anything that blows in (leaves, dust, pigeon feathers...) just comes straight down on the floor.

The lights, air conditioner and single plug that is in my room is run by an old 1960 Iraqi generator, so when that beast goes out, we lose power. That has happened once since I have been here (a week) but I am told that is rare.

I cannot ask for much more. It is a great set-up. Sgt Garrett is in this building and his room is set up generally the same way.

Work and toilet facilities are at the IP station, about 25 yards away.

This picture is taken looking at the IP station from the hooch. I will hit on more of this picture at a later time.
Semper Fi,

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Experience...

OK, this is my blog, so I can say controversial, harmless things in here if I want to, right? They are all things that I am experiencing, not just my opinions, so, that’s cool, right? Good, here goes.

- I am on a compound with probably 200 Iraqi's on a daily basis and I have seen probably 2 praying on a regular basis. I am not saying they don't pray, but I am saying that it is not the show-stopping spectacle we envision in the states. Maybe they are like most Americans who are “Christians” but show up to church twice a year and pay no more than about $40.00 a year in tithes or offerings. Don’t get mad at me, I am just calling it like I see it… my point is, most Iraqi’s are “normal” people, just like most American’s.

- Nearly ALL the Iraqi’s I have come in contact with observe the Ramadan fasting. They don’t drink anything, including water, and they don’t eat from about 4am until about 6pm daily. That said, it is completely acceptable for non-Muslims to eat around them. This fasting is a personal thing to them and from their perspective they are strong because they resist the temptations. They see me eating in front of them as: 1. A challenge to their resolve that they are going to overcome and be better for overcoming. 2. My personal choice not to observe the fast. They understand that I am not Muslim and therefore don’t observe the same customs they do.

- The Iraqi people want Iraq to be strong, respected and free. They understand that what is done is done and we need to get on with it. They appreciate what help we give them, but want a normalcy that anyone would be right to expect. They want clean running water, consistent electricity, functioning sewage, reliable public services like fire, rescue, police, etc., and they want the inalienable rights everyone deserves. (hmmm, kind-a sounds like most people.) As long as we are here to help them get these things, they like us here. When we lose this focus, we are no longer welcome.

- Along those same lines, we are a crutch to them. OK, their national leg was broken. I got that. Crutches help the leg heal. I understand. Eventually, the cast has to come off and the crutches are needed by someone else. Unfortunately, we don’t have an X-ray machine that tells us exactly when to take off the cast or when to drop the crutches. This is going to have to be a weaning process that may prove painful. We need to start pulling back and letting them exercise their freedoms to succeed or fail on their own.

That is all for now… see that wasn’t so bad! Just my experiences… Agree, disagree? Comment if you feel led!

Semper Fi,


Tonight I was invited by Fawwaz, our interpreter, and some of the guys we are training, to break the fast with them. WOW!!!

Every night, at about 6pm, the Iraqi’s that are fasting break the fast with a big meal. The idea is that they get together with their families and those that they are close to, to share and bond with them in the breaking of the fast.

The fast is meant to be a time when they take control of their physical urges and really purge the bad stuff out and focus on being better people. When they break the fast, nightly with family, they can share their daily struggle and learning with those they love, care about and respect. That said, just being invited was a privilege and an honor.

6pm rolls around and the minaret’s start blasting evening prayers to announce prayer time and the ending of the day’s fast. We make our way around about a 6’ by 6’ blanket spread out on the floor and sit, bare footed around the outside, and eat. Now mind you, we didn’t have our own plates. What we did was, take a piece of bread, kind of shaped like a flat football, broke it into bite sized pieces and dipped it into the prepared food like you would dip a chip. In some cases, you would just eat straight out of the bowl with your spoon, if it was a dish that didn’t stick to the bread that well.

The foods were mostly made from olives or olive oils, tomatoes, potatoes and other vegetables. There were a couple dishes with meat, rice and other vegetables in them to add variety. It was great! There seemed to be little conversation because everyone was busy eating, but what was said was through smiling acceptance. There were four Marines, Fawwaz and two other Iraqi’s there around the meal.

The Marines I came here to replace are leaving tomorrow, so there will be another breaking of the fast one last time with them. I am STOKED. I will do my best to write on the new things we do there, but it should be relatively the same.

Semper Fi,

Monday, September 22, 2008


So there I was, sitting and having lunch with three other Marines, discussing the some of the cultural differences between our families and a traditional Iraq family. Our interpreter (who I will talk a lot more about later) was quietly, politely, sitting there listening, just taking in our conversation as we get to the part about multiple wives. (Yes, we were eating lunch, during Ramadan, in front of our Muslim interpreter, which is another topic I will hit on later....)

The sentence immediately following the sub-topic introduction went something like, "I can't imagine having more than one wife... I can hardly keep up with one wife, much less three or four." Now I don't remember which one of us said that part, and it really doesn't matter, but the conversation continued along those lines until we invited our interpreter into the conversation. He only has one wife and so we asked him for his thoughts on the topic. I gotta warn you, this guy is really deep, philosophically.

He starts off talking about our legal system and tells us that Americans have a strong system that defends our rights and that the people really depend on that system to protect them. In other parts of the world, such strong, fair systems don't exist, so people have to learn to protect themselves (he is discussing our foundational liberties, rights and freedoms at this point). He says that Americans don't need to have big families or tribal ties to survive. In the third world, people need to have many kids and multiple families in order to protect territory and add to their numbers.

Then he goes on to talk about women's rights and how when a man dies, the family matron is really without representation, again, because their nation doesn't have the strength to change cultural norms about the equality of women. Someone has to take care of that woman and her often young family. The legal systems have adjusted to allow a brother or uncle to marry that lady in order to provide for her, legally and financially, without public humiliation, even if he is already married. According to our interpreter, this is always done with the consent of the man's first wife. Then he smiled and added, can you imagine how life in the home would be if she objected?

Finally, he talked about our human-ness and said that we men are really all basically the same. We want to do the right thing and want to be upright, productive members of our society, we just don't all get to play by the same rules. He said that things would be different if all governments were strong and free of corruption (the Marines all smiled and looked at each other as if to mentally identify that our government was not without corruption). It is not a gluttony that pushes men of the Middle East to take more than one wife, as Hollywood would lead us to believe and in many cases, it is hardship that leads the men to take on that added responsibility.

What an interesting perspective. The more I listen the more ignorant I learn that I am.

Semper Fi,

Saturday, September 20, 2008


For those of you who don't follow the Islamic calendar, it is the month of Ramadan. This is a month where Muslims fast and pray extra during the day in order to get their hearts and foci right.

It is interesting to watch. Like in America, some do it right and others cheat a little. Working with our interpreter today, a practicing Muslim, I put my foot in my mouth as I was getting ready to go to lunch. I offered to pick him up something really tasty and went into a monolog about how much he would enjoy what I wanted to bring him for lunch. My heart really was in the right place, but my mind was not engaged.

He politely mentioned that he really would enjoy what I wanted to bring him, but that it was Ramadan and that he would prefer to pass on my offer. It is rude to turn down offers of kindness in his culture, so this was very hard for him to do.

I feel bad about it, but really, my heart was to do something nice for him. It is not easy to keep all this stuff straight, that is for sure. He took it really well and I think he understood where my heart was.

The prayers that are broadcast from the minarets are extra long and start at about 3:50 in the morning.

Those Muslims that practice Ramadan really seem groggy during the day (from not eating or drinking anything) and from taking sleeping time eating, drinking and praying. They really show some strong dedication in breaking from their daily habits though. Most of us cannot go without a meal, much less limit ourselves to one meal a day, for a MONTH. Oh the things we could do if we prayed as much as they do.

Have a blessed day of church!

Semper Fi,

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Exactly Where Am I?

OK, here is an address for you:

GySgt Francis, Mark J.
PTT 3A Unit 73762
FPO AE 09509-3762


That is about all I can tell you about where I am in a general context, for now. Hopefully I will be able to get out and take some pictures and share some details that way.

Please feel free to send goodies and care package type stuff. I am here with about 10-15 other Americans, some coalition workers and a bunch of Iraqi's, so what you send will not go to waste. Also, feel free to pass that address on to others if it suits you.

On that note, if you would like to get some correspondence from here (I will do my best) please pass on your address and I will write as I get time. If you send me your address, I WILL NOT POST it here unless you ask me to. In submitting your comment, I will identify it as an address and treat it as personal information.

Semper Fi,

Inside There....

See, the living arrangments were not too bad there. It was only temperary and served the purpose of keeping us together enough to coordinate movements.


Well, I am there and everything is well with the world. I am probably living better here than I would be there in with the rest of my unit and feel I can really make a difference here.

This was one of the tents we stayed in, in transit. It was really very comfortable, even though we were on cots. This shot was taken during the day and you can see the haze and dust in the air.

We were not there long.

Semper Fi,

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Iraq is not only HOT, but it is FLAT. I have lost my bearings numerous times and that is not usual for me. I am normally pretty good about keeping my sense of direction.

It is really fun to watch people and watch them interact with each other, especially when they only speak phrases of each others' language. A Marine said good morning to an Iraqi in Arabic. When the Iraqi replied in Arabic with a surprised smile and polite, normal reply in Arabic, it was not what the Marine was taught to expect in reply.

When the Marine was obviously socially and linguistically challenged by the Iraqi's response, the Iraqi stopped, thought for a minute and tried to use more simple terms. It was almost as if they were struggling to remember their lines in a junior high school play.

All that said though, they had the body language right. As they tried to remember what to say, their eyes looked up and to the right, almost as if scanning the right side of their cognitive brain to remember what to say. Their hands tried to accent what they were saying with open hands, palms up. Sincerity radiated through their smiles and they leaned into the conversation, intently trying to communicate. Although their words were a little off, they understood that they were trying to communicate in a friendly way.

All the while, the Marines around were watching some sort of verbal tennis match as these two people volleyed greetings and salutations. You could tell that those looking on also wanted them to communicate and wanted nothing but a positive outcome from the attempted conversation.

Apart from the extremists in our world, I really do think that most of man-kind is the same way. We watch as two nations or cultures try and communicate from different points of view and different interests. The international community looks on hoping for the best, sometimes even providing translators if it can.

In the case of the US and Afghanistan and the case of the US and Iraq, I think it is like the Marine, who cannot speak but a few phrases in Arabic, trying to act as his own translator. Eventually, it all works out, but it is a long and arduous process. From a position of strength, he tries to do what is best by the Iraqi and in the process fumbles good intentions that become mistaken as something devious.

I am confident that the spirit of cooperation will prevail and that the end will eventually justify the means.

Well, more will surely follow.

Semper Fi,

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

One Step Closer

Iraq is HOT. OK, that said, we are still not at our operating destination, but we are done with the flying part. It is going to be trucking and walking from this point forward.

In what I have learned, we are going to be hand washing most of our laundry and eating out of a box delivered about twice a week. This is going to be good training, but relatively austere (if that is how you spell it...) I am certainly not complaining, as we will be living the standards most middle-class Iraqi's live, except they don't get the box chows and their deployments never end. God sure blessed us Americans!!!

My bride and the kiddo's are doing just fantastic there at the house. From everything I have heard from her, they are carrying on like nothing changed on Saturday the 13th. What a great leader Colleen is. I am telling you, she is just the absolute BEST.

Daily I think about how blessed I am to be married to her, to be an American and to have the opportunity to serve our country.

Well, my time is up on the computer! Please feel free to comment on this blog. I will do my best to post daily and give you all an update on what is happening on here. Be warned, I am going to be honest on here and that may offend. Also, as my feelings change so may the tone of the blog. I will do my best to keep it kid friendly with pictures and words, but I will be as honest as I can. Oh, one last thing... I may not have time to comment on your comments, but I will do my best to respond. I may make a collective response if I can hit more than one bird with one stone!

Semper Fi,

Monday, September 15, 2008


Today was spent catching up on sleep and fighting off the urge to get lazy. Idle hands with loaded weapons in them are worse than the devil's playground, you know what I mean???

Flying ahead in time all those timezones makes my head spin and makes the days all blur together. It is 1.25km to the chow-hall and anything to do besides take a shower and get into trouble. I am working on killing a Sudoku book in the time I have to hone the logic bone in my brain housing group. Both my weapons are spotless and that is saying something with all this really, really fine sand/dust out here.

All the things I don't know make it very hard to plan on prepare myself for normalcy. I just have to believe that things will be great and that we will have everything we need.

Hang in there and we will all be back soon, right?

Semper Fi!!!


Sunday, September 14, 2008

I am almost there....

Well, Kuwait is HOT!!!

The trip thus far has gone off without a hitch. Flights were on time, people were where they were supposed to be and doing what they were supposed to be doing. Nothing and no one has been broken so far and we are thankful for that.

Tomorrow sometime, we will get the final word as to who is flying in where and how the ground transport will go after that.

As for right now, I am only going to say that me and a fellow NCO will be working out of a police station teaching Iraqi's what we know about our how to do military operations in a law enforcement capacity. Details will remain ommitted until things are operationally secure and no one is at risk.

Keep tabs on this site though, as I plan on posting pictures of my adventures on here and corresponding with the outside world using this site. We don't have a solid, reliable address as of yet, as it will depend on the unit we are attached to here in the city.

We are doing well right now, our morale is good and our mission is still before us.

More will follow!

Semper Fi