Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blackhawk UP!

Two Blackhawk helicopters waiting to take us to FOB War Eagle.

Hey Kent! Which way to Sadr City?

I can see Saddam's house from here!

The lucky bastard who gets to go home because I am replacing him (on the left, SSG Tristan Smucker)

My pimp new ride. Spinners are on order.

Mom: please note the 5 separate layers of 1-inch thick hardened steel for blast protection.

Can I go home yet?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Slipping Away...

This might be my last posting for a while. You see, the way it works in Iraq is this: the big military bases have everything: great food, big gyms, fast internet, comfortable beds, etc. They also have the most soldiers who never go outside the wire. Camp Liberty, COB Speicher, The Green Zone, these are examples (you can look them up on Wikipedia) of huge, sprawling military installations, literally the size of small cities.

The farther you get from the big bases, the fewer services are available. I am writing this at a small FOB (Forward Operating Base) called FOB War Eagle, in eastern Baghdad. FOB War Eagle houses a Battalion-level command, a company of Iraqi Army soldiers, a private security organization, and is about the size of a small city block. They have a computer lab with internet access, some indoor plumbing, and a decent dining hall with 3 hot meals a day. I arrived here yesterday via Blackhawk helicopter. I have some cool pictures but no way to get them onto the blog right now.

I am here only temporarily, though. My final destination is...ahem. How to put this delicately.

Imagine the worst ghetto, the poorest slum, in one of the most repressed, angry, and backwards cities in the world. Christened "Al Thawra" when built in 1959, then later "Saddam City" and finally "Sadr City", this region of Baghdad consists of 20 square kilometers of sprawling, high-density urban-poor housing. The largest piece of it is controlled not by the US military, not by the Iraqi Government, but by a sort-of Iranian death-mafia known as Jeish al-Mahdi, or the "Mahdi Army".

The Mahdi Army started out as Moqtada Al Sadr's personal militia, but it slowly morphed out of control into a large gangster organization for kidnappings, protection rackets, and political subversion in and around Baghdad and Basra. Funded largely by Iran, the Mahdi Army now has all sorts of divisions and splinter-groups within. These are the guys planting all the EFP's I talked about in earlier postings (those high-power, armor piercing roadbombs).

Long story short, Iran seems to be using their Mahdi Army people to try and create another Hezbollah-style state-within-a-state in Iraq, in order to put pressure on politicians here, pull off assassinations and kidnappings at whim, that sort of thing. All very typical as far as Middle Eastern politics go, but the kinds of things that give nightmares to normal Americans.

So anyway. Where was I headed with all this?

Oh yeah! Crappy internet in Sadr City. Don't expect frequent, photo-festooned blog entries from the Kentster any more. (sad face) This may change, and I will keep you posted.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Boots on the Ground

If the Army can schedule an event at 3am, they will, preferentially. Something about "the earlier the better".

Things moved rather quickly the last 24 hours. Our platoon was notified of an opening in the air-window out of Ali Al Saleem airbase - by 7pm that night we were packed and the tent swept out. Buses took us to the airbase where we waited for a C17 flight into Baghdad International Airport (a.k.a. "BIAP").

After some fitful sleeping in the waiting area, we hustled up the on-ramp in full body armor, and roughly an hour later, we landed at the main Baghdad airport, formerly known as "Sadaam International". Now it is a sprawling way-station for military, diplomats, contractors, foreign visitors, pretty much anyone who comes into Iraq from around the world.

I've seen all sorts of soldiers here: British, Australian, Moldovan, Albanian, Dutch, etc. One forgets how large the coalition is. Of course, the Americans occupy all the dangerous areas.

Recent rains have turned everything muddy - that special Iraq mud that is one part clay, one part quicksand. Vets know what I'm talking about. Everything is dirty. It rains mud here in the spring and fall. No wonder these people are pissed off.

A welcome addition to the billeting tents are WiFi routers. It cost me $26.50 for a week of service, which so far is quite fast. My bank won't let me access their website though - something about their security firewall blocking an Iraqi IP address. Can't say I blame them.

Two of my guys (McGarry and Choi) get to stay here at Camp Liberty to accomplish driver's training for the new MRAP vehicles. I'm taking a Blackhawk helicopter later to another base for some other stuff I can't really mention right now.

So now I'm in Iraq, officially and inextricably. From Day 1 of my mobilization orders, that took exactly 58 days, or just about 2 months. However I am still not doing the actual Army job I was trained for. I'll let you know when I am.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Kuwaiting and Waiting...

Day 7 in Kuwait arrived this morning. Inclement weather (sandstorms, if you must know) delayed our flight into Baghdad, so now the brave soldiers of the 315th PSYOP Company maintain a holding pattern in Tent 26-16. A holding pattern comprised of laptop movies, long naps, sumptuous chow-hall spreads, and really boring views of the desert.

Not to mention the incessant drone of diesel generators, which power everything on this remote square of arid terrain known as Camp Buehring. Come dusk, a soldier in a hardhat and golf cart buzzes around to each of hundreds of stand-alone floodlight generators dotting the base, and fires them up for the night.

There is no quiet to be had, anywhere, ever.

With all the extra time, we managed to put up our own painted t-wall barrier. Pretty sweet! I helped with the flames.

Have you ever done laundry in a plastic garbage bag? I just did. Jealous?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Crandall's Second Law of the Kitchen

Recall Crandall's First Law:

"If you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there is an 80% chance that you'll get it wrong".

Today I share with you Crandall's Second Law of the Kitchen:

"When working in the kitchen, the drawer which you need to access most at any given moment, will be the one in front of which your spouse is standing."

The married folks know what this means, and now can call it what it is:

Crandall's Second Law of the Kitchen.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Proud To Be A Technoviking

Army units love their mascots, nicknames, and mottos. The PSYOP insignia hosts a chess-piece knight's head, implying we prefer mental strategy over brute force. All PSYOP units have some variation of the horsehead in their Company mascots. Black Knights, Wild Horse, Ghost Horse, etc. Our unit, the 315th PSYOP Company, claims the "Darkhorse".

Each platoon (or "detachment") within our company has some liberty to make up their own sub-motto. My group, Detachment 1230, settled on "The Technovikings".

Understandably, this needs some explanation.

Spend some time around young adults or late teens,and one quickly notices how tech-savy and gadget-friendly they are. Every last soldier in my platoon keeps a personal laptop computer, along with all of the accompanying gadgets: cellphone, Sony PSP (handheld video-game console), and digital camera. They are constantly talking, texting, IM'ing, screening DVD's, and surfing the internet as the situation allows.

Anyhow. Enter YouTube, the video website with its memes and overnight sensations. A certain video enjoyed a brief period of popularity recently, the "Technoviking" video clip. This clip consisted of nothing more than some amateur hand-held footage of a "street rave" in a European city, i.e. people dancing in the street to techno music.

Doesn't sound too interesting.

Until, that is, the Technoviking enters.

Of course, one needs to see the video to truly absorb its gestalt, but suffice it to say that the Technoviking is one of the most compelling characters to appear on the video screen since...well, since ever. He is a real-life combination of Leif Ericsson, Chuck Norris, Gandalf the Wizard, and Michael Barishnikov. The Technoviking - a shirtless, muscular street-raver whose facial expression is permanently set on "Urgh?" - steps in to regulate a scuffle between a drunken passerby and a groped female raver. He then gives his trademark gesture: pointing up and off into the sky, to remonstrate that the drunk needs to turn around and keep moving along his merry way. Spontaneous street justice set firmly in place, the Technoviking proceeds to lead the crowd in a march up the street while dropping intensely intricate euro-dance moves, his Teutonic pectoral muscles bouncing up and down in time with his beard-braid.

Utterly hypnotic.

For $3, the Kuwaiti tailor here on base made us custom "Technovikings" tabs for our unit identification patches. Pretty flippin' sweet.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Now Kuwait Just A Minute...

Welcome to desolate Camp Buehring, Kuwait! Located on the deserted plains of the Persian Gulf, this Army base is a reception and staging area for all sorts of military units on their way to Iraq: Military Police, Field Artillery, Quartermasters, Aviation, Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations, etc. The landscape may appear barren and moon-like, but it comes alive at night with snakes, camel spiders, kangaroo mice, and scorpions. Scorpions!

In true morale-boosting fashion, the food here is superb: polite Kuwaitis in tailored uniforms dish out a variety of steaming entrees, accompanied by fresh fruit and salad bar, dessert bar (31 Flavors in the house!), and plentiful drinks. In a nod to our Arab hosts, the walls are festooned with portraits of the various historical Emirs (Kings) of Kuwait. We exited the dining hall this morning to the melodious strains of the movie score from "Patton" blasted from the PA system. No mosques here, no muezzins or calls-to-prayer.

The brave troops of the 315th Psychological Operations Company are billeted in a long, semi-cylindrical tent known fondly as Tent 16-26.

The units that pass through like to paint the concrete bomb-blast barriers (known as "Jersey Barriers") with their unit crest/insignia/motto, etc. I doubt anyone in my unit will be motivated enough to do this before we leave. I'm not sure where they find the paint.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Headin' to Kuwait

It's payback time for the Gulf War ... Kuwait is the only Middle Eastern country (minus the Gulf States) that lets us stage our military bases and equipment for the Iraq conflict. We asked Saudi Arabia, and they were like "Umm...no. Saddam Hussein may be a douchebag, but he keeps the Iranians out of our backyard. " We asked Turkey and they were like "How about you take your Kurd-loving ground-pounders elsewhere?" So we relied on old faithful, Kuwait, the tiny little country whose ass we saved in 1990.

Our flight is on a chartered 747, and that's all I'm allowed to tell you. A week or so of acclimation and training in Kuwait is required prior to our release into the "Theater of Operations", aka Iraq.

McGuire Air Force Base has some funny security measures. Dozens of soldiers were forced to relinquish their Leatherman and Gerber knives at the gate.

Grenade launchers, however, were welcomed with open arms.

The good folks of the USO were waiting for us in the airport terminal, serving hot food and handing out free pharmaceuticals. I stocked up on Dramamine. I joined the land-based Army for a reason - there's no way my stomach could handle regular Air Force flights or Navy sea voyages.

IRAQ! The Musical

Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred road bombs!

Five hundred twenty-five thousand, terrorists here!

Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred road bombs!

How do you measure, measure the fear?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Leave & Pass

It's October 12th, two days before our scheduled flight to Kuwait. Confined to the barracks, the proud soldiers of the 315th PSYOP Company don't have much to do, apart from trying to shoehorn just one more piece of overpriced, unuseable Army equipment into their duffel bags. This morning my team was issued five identical rifle cleaning kits: 5 identical sets of brushes, scrapers, pliers, solvent bottles, etc, each kit the size of a handbag, and costing $50+ on the civilian market. We could easily get by with one for the whole deployment. Maybe 2 for spares. Now we have to find space for all this stuff in our regulation 2-duffel-bags-and-one-rucksack for the flight over. No joke, they issued one of the teams a camouflaged battleaxe last week. A battleaxe. We're headed to Baghdad, a major metropolitan area, no forest for miles in any direction. I politely inquired of our NCOIC if we would sign for spears or perhaps a bear trap next. He didn't laugh.

Anyway, who cares about all that stuff. I just got back from LEAVE & PASS!

The Ft. Dix pre-mobilization process requires all soldiers to receive 4-5 days of leave prior to flying overseas. I flew Joan and Madeline out to New England, rented a car, and spent a short week in a whirlwind tour of Manhattan, Boston, and Connecticut.

Most of the single guys in my platoon headed for New York or Atlantic City to burn their time in a blurry streak of bars, cheap hotels, and cheaper women. The Crandalls, however, focused on friends and family: Great Aunt Joan (Joan's namesake) of Bethany, Connecticut, who has waited patiently for 3 years to regale us with her meatloaf in chili sauce recipe. The Moores of Boston: former San Diegans whose daughter is two days older than Madeline and one of her best friends. The East-Coast Crandalls: My older brother Clyde, his son Scott and two grandkids, all Massachusetts residents. Throw in a day-trip to the Big Apple, and you can see how my 5 days went by in a hurry.

All the pictures from my Leave are on the web here.

I had a tearful farewell with Madeline and Joan this time. No more breaks for the Kentster: it's off to the Middle East for our 9 months boots-on-the-ground. The only way I come home early is if I get shot or a close relative dies. As much as I avoid complaining, it still strikes me as unfair that Joan should have single-motherhood thrust upon her again, or that Madeline should go fatherless for so long. They did nothing wrong, no trespass to deserve this sort of deprivation.

I leave you with this: the monster lobster roll I had for lunch in Boston, at a famous restaurant whose name I'm sure Joan remembers but escapes me right now.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Kent's 401k Rant! (no really, read it, it's entertaining.)

The gracious folks at Sierra Wireless (makers of excellent broadband internet modems - check one out at your local Sprint, Verizon, or AT&T store today!) upgraded my laptop to a rugged new Panasonic Toughbook 52 (magnesium housing, built-in handle). Now if only our stock were worth something!

How about that financial melt-down? First the internet bubble burst, then the housing market, now the stock market in general. Commodities are next, I'm going on the record right now. (Then after commodities, "Green Company" stocks. You'll see.) It's all a house of cards as far as I'm concerned. Ever notice how the only people telling you what a great idea it is to put money in your 401k, are the people who run the 401k's? Explain to me again how I give up a hefty percentage of my income to a bunch of semi-literate stock brokers, and promise not to ask for that money back until I'm a few years from the grave? And when I do ask for it back, I get to pay taxes on it? And oh, by the way, if I would like to access any of my money before I turn 65 or whatever, I can not only pay taxes on it but a hefty early-withdrawal penalty as well? But cut the 401k managers some slack, they will let me borrow my own money back from them, at a substantial rate of interest. Huh? I can borrow money from myself, and pay someone else interest for it?

The year-to-date performance of my corporate 401k, held with Principal Financial Group: -15.52%. Way to go, Principal Financial! And I don't want to hear lame arguments about "long-term investing".

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 offers a little-known bylaw allowing activated Army Reservists such as I to make penalty-free withdrawals from their 401K plans. I liquidated mine exactly three days before the financial meltdown on Wall Street. Yes, you could say I am partially responsible for the crisis over at Dow Jones - people saw what I did and knew the gig was up. "Kent did what?!? He cashed in his 401k? He must know something! Sell! Sell!! SELL!!!"

The hard truth: Since 2001, Joe Average Investor would have been better off putting his post-tax savings underneath his mattress (or perhaps in gold) than investing in Wall Street, 401K or otherwise. Am I the only one who has noticed this? Or is the PR juggernaut behind the 401k companies too persuasive to allow people to think otherwise? I contribute the minimum amount to my company's 401k plan in order to get their matching funds, then that's it. I take every opportunity I can to pull my money out of the 401k plan, and use it to pay down my mortgage. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Pay down your what?" (I can hear people thinking that, I really can.)

Oh yeah! Pay down the mortgage! Is there any better use for your money? I'll explain why in a minute. But first I'll dispel another piece of conventional wisdom. An ARM mortgage is not just a good thing, it's a great thing! A beautiful thing.

But first, the mortgage logic. If you are paying a mortgage, then every cent you spend is a mortgaged cent. Every dollar you spend is a borrowed dollar. Even if you are just paying the bills, buying Chinese take-out, or putting gas in your car - it's the same as if you are putting each one of those items on a Visa, with an interest rate equal to that of your mortgage. As long as your are paying interest on your mortgage, (say, 6% for the purpose of this illustration), then every dollar that you don't use to pay down the mortgage, you are essentially paying 6% interest on.

This goes for all your spending money, including the money you choose to put into a brokerage account or 401k. You basically have to make 6% profit on any investments in order to justify not paying off your mortgage with that same money. Think about that. How many investments out there pay a guaranteed 6%? (One comes to mind, for those fortunate enough to have an ESPP at their company). Pretty much zero, otherwise. The stock market, historically, maybe, if you average it out over 20 years, will give you 10%. Wow. So, as long as you are carrying a mortgage, the best return you can hope for on your 401k investment is maybe 10% minus your mortgage rate. In our example, that would be 10% - 6% = 4% return on investment. Wow! That really sucks! All that time, you could have been paying off your mortgage sooner, releasing yourself from debt sooner, and reaping a huge dividend in cash flow once the mortgage was gone.

Now for ARM's...or Adjustable Rate Mortgages. ARM's have been much maligned as of late, not for what they are, but for how they were abused. Ignorant, greedy Americans used low-rate ARM's to buy McMansions that were bigger than they needed and more expensive than they could afford. When the rate adjusted upward, they realized they couldn't make the payments OR sell the house because the market had tanked. Blame the greedy homebuyer? Blame the greedy mortgage broker who talked them into it? Blame the greedy bank that approved the high-risk loan? No! Blame the monetary instrument! That way no one's feelings get hurt.

Here is why I love our ARM mortgage:

1) The interest rate is pretty low, all things considered - lower than a comparable 30-year fixed loan
2) The loan is INTEREST ONLY. I only pay off the interest every month. But...
3) I can pay down the capital anytime I want, as much or as little as I want. And...
4) When I pay down the capital, the total monthly mortgage payment goes down! What a great incentive to pay down the capital!

So I am free to take that cash that I would otherwise be using to pay the capital on the loan, and stick it in my employer's ESPP (guaranteed 15% return on investment!) and then pay down the mortgage in big chunks a few times a year. We've paid down the capital 20% in the last two years - not bad!

None of the above strategy would work, however, if we hadn't made some critical choices to begin with. Here is the long list of critical choices we made:

1) We bought a modest-sized house that we could actually afford, in a neighborhood that we could actually afford, in a city that we could actually afford.

Oooh. Ouch. Yeah. (gulp) That's a tough one for a lot of people to swallow. I can actually hear the gagging out there. It's almost...almost...un-American to live within one's means, isn't it? Yeah. It really is. Hmmm. Oh well! If that's the case, then I guess I am un-American.

Baghdad Blues

Did I mention that I have no interest in returning to Iraq? The last time I left that turbulent country I praised the Lord for getting me through safely, and vowed never to return.

You know what they say about saying "Never".

What choices do I have? Two years left on my Army contract, and the options of fleeing to Canada or inflicting self-injury are just as distasteful to me as this deployment. So I give my concerns to God, en sha'allah. I don't get paid a dime more for getting worried or angry about my situation.

I do, however, make little videos with my webcam and e-mail them to Madeline and Joan. Madeline is getting so tall I doubt I will recognize her when I get back. Here is a picture of Madeline doing her best Moqtada al Sadr impression.

We fly to Kuwait mid-October. I'll soon be giving up clean water, warm showers, hot food, comfortable housing, time with my family, and 47% of my civilian pay for the privilege of hobnobbing with frustrated Arabs in the name of freedom and democracy.

Time machine, please.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Sheikh Your Groove Thing

Training follows training. They still refuse to let the hardworking soldiers of the 315th PSYOP Company off-base to buy a beer, even though we're about to spend 9 months in the belly of the Mesopotamian beast. The last week has been taken up with some rather realistic PSYOP training, involving mock Iraqi villages out in the New Jersey forests, complete with actual Iraqi-Americans and other civilians paid by the hour to dress up as Arabs and play the roles of villagers. My team planned and executed several mock-missions involving face-to face encounters with sheikhs, angry mobs, Iraqi Chiefs of Police, etc.

My platoon received an in-depth set of classes on the nature of IED's (Improvised Explosive Devices, aka roadside bombs). IED's are the number one cause of casualties in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Middle East is so littered with explosives, ammunition, and armaments, that for less than $100, an industrious Iraqi can cobble together an egg-timer artillery round bomb that can destroy a $150,000 American humvee. The class was disappointing in that all it told us was the "How"'s: how IED's are made, how they are activated, how they look, how they are hidden, how much damage they can do. Blatantly absent was the rest of the story: Who was planting them, and Why? Where are they used most, and When? It's a little like learning every detail about the shape of the bullet being shot at you. Interesting, but not entirely relevant.

My team, called "TPT-1234" (Tactical PSYOP Team 4, Detachment 30, 12th Battalion, 7th PSYOP Group, United States Civil Affairs and PSYOP Command) has gained a reputation for good tactical proficiency, and the Team Leader (yours truly) for being a smooth talker. During one encounter at an "Iraqi" Village, the sheikh got so wrapped up in my line of questioning that he forgot the scenario and had to be reminded by the other role-players. Heh heh.

Monday, September 22, 2008

In The Field

Our pre-Iraq training has moved to the next phase: "FOB Victory". The First Army headquarters at Ft. Dix has constructed a full-sized "Forward Operating Base", or "FOB", out in the forests of New Jersey. This FOB is supposed to resemble in every way an actual US Army base in Iraq or Afghanistan: trailer showers, port-a-johns, concertina wire, defensive perimeter, tent barracks, bomb shelters, guard towers, etc.

Mobilizing units spend 5 days living on the FOB, taking classes in Arabic language & culture, doing field exercises (traffic control points, small-unit infantry tactics, personel & vehicle contraband searches, etc.), and just generally living the FOB life. They even have a loudspeaker broadcasting the Muslim "Call to Prayer" 5 times a day in Arabic. Eerie!

One of the few saving graces of being a deployed Army Reservist (if you can overlook the long hours, the low pay, being separated from your wife and children for months on end, and the whole "getting shot at" thing) is the bonding within your platoon. If you are lucky, your unit rapidly gels into a fraternity-like group, a social dynamic that is difficult to recapture outside of college.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


They took my Dude! As predicted, too much cerebral talent resided on my team, resulting in the removal of SPC Duldulao. "The Dude" as we called him got yanked over to Headquarters Detachment, where he will spend the balance of the deployment making copies, getting coffee, and counting boxes of PSYOP leaflets. Exciting!

In his place, may I have the privilege of introducing Sergeant Jung Hoon Choi - Korean ex-patriate, two-time veteran (Iraq, Afghanistan) and motorcycling enthusiast. (photo forthcoming) I don't know Sergeant Choi too well yet, but so far he is very quiet and unassuming.

Other than the shake-up on my team, we have been visiting the outdoor ranges lately: machine gun, grenade launcher, and today, the 9mm pistol. They don't allow photos on the ranges, so no photos! I did, however, get to take pictures at gas-mask class (CBNR: Chemical, Biological, Nuclear, Radiation). The black stuff is for decontamination after a gas attack.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why We're Here

How did it come to this? Whose pot of ignorant hubris got boiled down to such pure evil? How much did a human love of drama ignite the burners? Is the Devil himself wearing the toque and apron?

I can hardly believe that it's been 7 years since that morning I descended the stairs of my dingy bachelor apartment in Pacific Beach, only to find that the second tower had just been hit. One tower, that could be an accident, we thought. One tower, a tragedy, but not totally implausible. But two towers...wait a second. That implies a whole different level of coordination, of planning, of intent. The trap door flew open beneath our thoughts, and we fell into a dark basement of conspiracy, suspicion, and fear.

My hippie roommate, who had been expressing admiration for Bin Laden's ability to evade capture just days before, suddenly had a look on his face like a toddler who had his Tonka truck snatched away on the playground: "Hey! That's not fair!" Like, hey Al Qaeda, I know you're struggling against The Man and all, but you didn't have to go that far!

In the mechanical engineering division at Qualcomm where I worked, employees wandered the halls like zombies, seeking updates and tidbits of info: has there been another plane? What flight was so-and-so on? Did she make it home safely? Should I give money to the Red Cross? Join the Army? What the heck is going on?

Long story short, the US economy ground to a halt, the US kicked the Taliban out of Kabul, Bin Laden fled to Pakistan, and the frustrated momentum of the American response spilled up into Iraq. Sadaam's regime, which hosted tons of Uranium and several terrorist training camps, collapsed quickly. Almost as fast, those violent ambassadors of ill-will known as the US Army rapidly alienated their potential friends on the ground, so much so that the Iraqi Sunnis struck a deal with the devil - they welcomed Al Qaeda as partners in the struggle to get their country back.

Fast forward 5 years later to today...after a blossoming of terrorism on their home turf, the Sunnis finally reject Al Qaeda and their psychotic ways. A freshly threatened and insecure Iranian regime continues to undermine stability in the eastern part of Iraq, the Kurds run a de-facto nation-state in the North, and the democratically elected Iraqi parliament is desperately trying to hammer out an agreement as to what tribe gets to steal which portion of the oil wealth.

Keep in mind, that there is always a Bigger Picture...

The British and Americans divided up the Middle East to begin with after WWI, put the tribes in power who rule to this day. Our intelligence agencies and oil interests have shaped the modern face of the region as much as Bedouin culture or Islam. Our interests have been inextricably entwined for over 100 years. Sense of responsibility? Accountability? Does it seem like there is no easy answer?

Do we know what the question is?

Crandall's Law

You know how sometimes, you're looking for something, and let's say you know for sure it's in one of two bags you have in front of you. So, you check the first bag, and lo and behold, it's not in there, so you check the second one, and Voila! there it is. That's Crandall's Law, a subset of Murphy's Law:

"If you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there is an 80% chance that you'll get it wrong"

Know what I'm saying? I can't tell you how many times this has happened to me during this deployment. Whether I'm searching for an armory in one building or another, or a piece of equipment in one duffle bag or another, it's always the same: If I have a 50-50 chance of guessing correctly on the first shot, I get it wrong about 80% of the time.

So now you know. Crandall's Law. Spread the joy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yum Yum Get Some

John Browning was an American, and a true mechanical genius. The guns he designed 100 years ago are still being used today, like the Colt 45 semi-auto pistol, the Hi-Power 9mm, and the .50-cal machine gun, seen to the left. The US military has been using the large-bore M2 machine gun since 1921, and you can find them mounted to humvees in Iraq to this day.

Our succession of machine-gun classes continued with the M2 .50-cal, Browning's longest lasting design. Army machine gunners are trained to fire in 5-7 round bursts, approximately the time it takes to say "Yum Yum Get Some". This prevents overheating of the barrel, which is difficult to replace in battle.

Next came the M9 pistol class. I own a civilian version of this gun (the Beretta 92FS) and have trained on it frequently. I hit a perfect "30" on the indoor laser-qualifying range.