Archive for the ‘Mad Moments’ Category

Mad Moments – 06

February 13, 2010

Spring 2007 

Some US troops, apparently recently arrived incountry, opened fire on the Iraqi Army just outside the base perimeter this afternoon.

The Iraqi Army defends the outer perimeter of this base. In other words, yes – they’re our allies.

The US Army called the Australians for help in the middle of the firefight, but those Aussies are no fools. “Clean up your own mess,” they replied.

Eventually the Iraqi Army sent out troops to stop the Iraqi Army from continuing to shoot up the US troops.

 (This may not sound like a funny story from an outside perspective, but from incountry it’s choice fodder for some raucous laughs and a  couple days worth of decent jokes …)



A Day In The Field – Month 9 (or …)

November 22, 2009

Mad Moments 5 (or …)

How Projects Get Messed Up (or …)

Spring 2007

I dragged ex-boss Tom out to Alamo Road today. Well, come to think of it, he rather foolishly volunteered (must have been a dreadful meeting on the schedule …), choosing a day dedicated to digging holes in the road shoulders.

This unpleasantly arduous activity was ordered by some officers and talking heads up in air-conditioned Baghdad. During a recent telecom they asked whether the road is really 9cm thick all the way out to the edges. While I stifled giggles and rolled my eyes, Tom leaned toward the phone speaker and said, “For the most part, yes!”

A typical Tom answer, this is accurate without necessarily being true. It was offered with the hope that (for the most part!) they’d be satisfied and move on. Really, of all the things to be worried about on this project, the edges of the road probably ought not be on the radar. These aggressive vocal overseers of ours could worry about the subbase, the base, the thickness of the asphalt in the lanes, or in the center, or better yet, the constitution of the asphalt itself! Really, if so inclined, Tom and I could suggest some really important things to worry about … but Tom is a secretive and diplomatic fellow.

My own inclination would be to tell all these generals and colonels and majors and paper engineers every single deficiency of the project. Left to my own forthright devices, I would tell them that due to their constant, unholy pressure to get the work completed at the stated expense of quality, they’re now in no position to be whining and fretting to us about the outcome. I would also point out to them (politely, and using the word ‘sir’ as often as it struck my fancy) that their own pitiful budget was understood at the very beginning to be inadequate to the needs of this light military transport road, meaning the design was substandard even before, by the way, they changed the designation and intended use of the road from a light military transport road to a heavy military transport road halfway through the project without having provided any collateral shift in funding or design in order to accommodate their own changes …

But that’s just me.

Where was I? Oh yes, the telecom wherein the brass are beating on us (again) and Tom is taking it … Is the asphalt 9cm thick on the edges? For the most part it is.

“Go measure it,” someone snapped at us through the phone speaker. I made a nasty face at Tom. He made a nasty face back, then leaned toward the phone speaker and chirped, “Roger that!”

I’ve noticed that when Tom thinks an order is stupid, he says, Roger that! instead of something more normal for a civilian, like ok. I’ve noticed that most of the military men respond to stupid orders with that phrase as well. I’ve decided that I’m going to practice doing it. I’m going to try to remember to add “sir” to the end of it to see if Tom can keep from busting out laughing when I say it.

Just for the record, digging eighteen holes at five kilometer intervals down the shoulder of a 109 kilometer road in 120F wearing a full uniform and body armor … sucks.

About four hours into this farce we finally hung it up. Sweat-stained and a bit sun-dazed, we climbed back into the Land Cruisers and told the PSD men to take us home. I stared out the window wondering how the colonels would take the news that only about seventy percent of the road edges were to spec. The answer to that didn’t take long to figure out, so I emptied my mind and just stared out at the beautiful expanse of gold sand, effectively ignoring the stupid road we were now driving back north on, passing all the stupid little holes we’d chipped into its shoulders.

“I think,” Tom said suddenly, turning to look at me with a satisfied expression on his face, “that we should write up the scope of work for the maintenance contract on this road so that the contractor has to make all the patches to the road in shapes of different animals.”

I stared back at him, trying to catch up. Road patches in the shapes of animals?

Ignoring my blank stare, Tom went on. “Then we could just say, There’s a new pothole out by the lion, or The giraffe area needs a surface treatment – it’s unraveling.

We both turned our heads to look straight ahead, between the heads of our PSD men in the front seats, through the ballistic windshield glass, and down the long straight black asphalt road we were traveling. Huh.

“It might help keep the convoy truck drivers awake,” I suggested. “The road has so few landmarks of any kind. This would give them something fun to look forward to. They might say, Oh good, we’re already to the rhino – we only have the mouse, the lizard and the tiger, then we’re already on Tampa!”

“We could have the contractor post signs,” Tom added. “Just a picture of a rabbit or a donkey on the sign. Then people would know where they were in the dark.”

I turned to stare at Tom again for a moment. His cheeks were sunburned, but other than this idea of road patches in the shapes of animals he didn’t seem sun-addled. His mysterious knack for maintaining a sense of humor and essential calm in the face of profound stupidity and aggravation might no longer be so mysterious; a creative imagination is a valuable resource. 

“What?” he asked.

“I just had no idea,” I admitted.

I turned back to my own window and stared out at the desert, now choosing animals that might be appropriate to the environment: lizard, goat, hawk, toad, sheep …


Combat Stress Team

November 7, 2009

February 2007

A Combat Stress Team (CST) has shown up in camp. The three individuals (some say four, but it could just have been a change of clothing) exude an aura of benign uselessness. While we’re hunkered down at desks solving one convoluted construction problem after another via slow email transmissions and broken phone conversations, we overhear the CST team chatting cheerfully about how totally stressed out they are with all the travel, jumping from one base to the next each week. While Crowsie puts in a sixteen hour day trying to catch up on paperwork after having spent a tense week running around hairy-scary Maysan in an unarmored Brit Mil snatch, the Combat Stress Team sprawls on the couches in the entry, drinking Coke and moaning about how hot it is here in the south. While we attempt to parry LTC Slasher’s latest micro-managing stupidities on the run without actually dipping into the never-never land of insubordination, the Combat Stress Team disappears into the MWR for a few games of pool. While we’ve been ducking multiple rocket attacks daily for three months, they chatter excitedly after two rockets land, recounting exactly where they were, exactly what they thought, exactly what they felt, and the precise count of their elevated heartbeats.

We’re all duly impressed and feel so much better knowing they’re on the job, putting forth some real effort toward alleviating their own worrisome and potentially dangerous load of combat stress…

(Who hires these people?)


Mad Moments – 3

November 7, 2009

November 2006

Against the advice of the doctors, LTC Corviday checked himself out of the clinic last week for fear of contracting something worse than the 105F fevered flu that he’d checked in with. He has since described the Brit Mil hospital as a mouse-ridden, filth-coated germ incubator. Still quite sick, after his breakout Crowsie spent two additional days holed up in his own hooch.

When he finally emerged, Crowsie was not his usual jocular self. Morose and quiet, for the past three days he’s been sighing deeply while staring blankly into the distance, only occasionally engaging in whatever mayhem happens to be taking place around him.

Tonight at dinner someone asked him how much longer he’d be stationed in Iraq. Crowsie sighed deeply, staring off into space. Not long, really, he said quietly with a perfectly straight face. Ten months. Just ten months and a wake up…

A spark of life …!

Later he danced down the aisle of the DFAC singing I’m so sexy to myself, strongly suggesting to his worried friends that he is solidly on the road to recovery…


Mad Moments – 2

November 7, 2009

October 2006

In an unpredictable and wildly popular role reversal, Boss Tom was unexpectedly the instigator of our only (public) mad moment during the Resident Engineer’s conference held at HQ earlier this week. In the course of a group discussion, Colonel Jeep mentioned the city of Al Amarrah, a trigger-word for our slap-happy staff ever since LTC Corviday invented the Al Amarrah taunt, a butt-wiggling, hand flapping, thoroughly juvenile nyaaah-nyaaah dance described in a previous journal entry.

Utterly ignoring the fact that he was in full view of at least fifty people and that Colonel Jeep himself was speaking, when Tom heard the magic words Al Amarrah he turned around to catch my eye, raising his hands up to frame his face and shaking them, wiggling his body while quietly calling nyaah-nyaaah!

Tom was seated so he couldn’t wiggle his butt around properly, as is normally required when performing the taunt, but he managed well enough without the butt wiggle that Crowsie and I quietly busted up laughing.

His eye no doubt caught by the small ruckus we were creating, Colonel Jeep kept talking but shot Tom a very strange look.

 (And Tom was worried about our behavior …?)