Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving in Iraq

Here I am during the 10k run,
not a bad way to prepare for the big
feast that was coming later on.

Normally I love Thanksgiving, this year was a weird one. First off I was 8000 miles from my family and this was the first big holiday away from home. I spent the morning participating in a 10k “Fun Run,” called the Turkey Trot. Then I was off to work. That’s just not the same as watching football. After work I traveled back to the Embassy Annex area for Thanksgiving dinner.
Unfortunately it wasn’t that easy, on the way the indirect fire alarm went off. So we all offloaded our vehicle and entered the bunker nearby. I’m not really sure how many or where the rockets actually landed but spending part of my thanksgiving in a bunker was a new experience for me. I’m hoping it’s not going to be a new holiday tradition.
The all-clear sounded and we finally got to eat our holiday dinner. KBR, the government hired contractors that handle the food service, put on quite a spread. Everything you could ask for was available. I got totry a few foods that were never on the menu at home. All in all it was a good day, just allot different than any Turkey day I’ve had before.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Winter on the horizon

The Backside of the Embassy Annex, Baghdad, Iraq.

I awoke this morning to chilly temperatures in my room. Not bone chilling like I would experience back home, but certainly a change to the usual weather here in Baghdad.
Winter is coming. In Massachusetts that would mean up to 4 feet of snow and 5-20 degree daily temps. What it means here is Fall like weather. High’s in the 70’s and lows down in the 40’s. Winter also brings the rainy season here in Iraq. I know in January and February it will get even colder.
I walk from my room to work in the palace and I see allot of the personnel here starting to wear their fleece coats. I suspect that when you’re used to 110 degrees, adjusting to 75-80 might take a few weeks.
So this winter will be different for me, but before you know it the temps will start to creep back into the 100’s.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Illustration Friday - Hats

History of the "Yankee Division"

The 26th Infantry Division was my first unit in the Army. When the opportunity came up for an illustration to accompany a recent story on the history of the division, I jumped at the chance.
The 26th is also known as the Yankee Division, because of its Northeastern roots.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Home on Leave!!!!

Here I am with my boys. I took the earliest leave in my unit so I could be home for their 4th birthday.

When you deploy for a year, the Army let’s you go on a 2 week leave. Generally soldiers try to take leave midway through their tour to break up the year. I promised my boys I would be home for their birthday so that meant leave would be only after 45 days in country. Well here I am reunited with my family after a grueling 5 day trip home from Baghdad.
The first thing we did was go to Papa Ginos for a real (Non-Army) Pizza.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Illustration Friday - Visitors

Strange lights in the sky…
…a plane, helicopter or visitors form another planet.
Obviously this is just the sketch; the piece will hopefully be finished at some point. Like I’ve said, I have limited free-time at the moment.
I wanted this to be my first submission to Illustration Friday, but do to the demands of my position here that was not meant to be.
There is always another Friday!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11 Remembered

Here is the display set up to commemorate the anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
This was set up in the Palace Deli in the International Zone.

Today marks the somber sixth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. As our nation takes the time to remember the fallen on that day, we still find ourselves embroiled in the war on terror. This wasn’t a war of our choosing, but one thrust upon us by an insidious enemy that targets innocent civilians. Terror hit home and we all waited to see how we would respond.
The days immediately following the attacks were filled with governmental bluster and chest pounding Americans filled with pride in their country. Our flag flew from everywhere. Citizens put them on their cars, houses and wore them on their lapels. We were attacked, and we came together as a country as I had never seen before.
The American Spirit was back.
On October 7th our response came. Soldiers, participating in an airborne assault, jumped into Afghanistan to strike at terrorist camps hidden in the mountains there. These Soldiers, heroes in there own right, quickly donned hats from the New York Police and Fire Departments to pay their respects for the fallen heroes of September 11th and continued their mission. Buoyed by the sound of war drums and the calls for justice, and yes retribution, the gears of the most powerful war machine on earth had moved. How much and how quickly those gears would turn changed our country and shocked the world.
Now years later we can look back on that day and see some of the results. American pride has waned since then. Divided politically over this war, our citizens often seem more at odds with themselves than with the “enemy.” Our government has once again returned to the standard party rivalries. Our military, however, still stands proud and carries the colors into each day.
Brave men and women serve valiantly in both Iraq and Afghanistan, often being separated from their loved ones for greater than 15 months. Every last one of these individuals voluntarily enlisted to serve our country. Some urged on by there own sense of patriotism, and others trying to make a better life for themselves. I know of one Soldier who enlisted because September 11th, 2001 was the worst birthday he had ever had.
I am currently deployed to Iraq with that Soldier.
Thankfully, we enjoy a great deal of support from our citizens, even if the war does not. Despite its unpopularity, The Global War on Terrorism is unfortunately necessary. Each day that a car bomb, IED or suicide attack happens here or Afghanistan is potentially one less that happens at home. I want my family and yours to be safe.
I understand there are many arguments for and against this conflict, but all I ask is that you take the time today to remember that day 6 years ago, how you felt, and give thought to those that lost their lives.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Kuwait is Hot!!!

After over 16 hours of flying, my unit arrives in Kuwait. We get off the plane and wham we get hit with 100 degrees and it’s 1 a.m. local time.
Keep off the grass? Kuwait is the land that grass forgot.

Kind of reminds me of Tatooine. Throw a moisture vaporator out there and your in the Star Wars galaxy. This photo was shot on the way to Ali assalim as we were getting ready to fly out to Baghdad International Airport.
Nevertheless we’re all excited to see a new location. After a few hours of unloading the airplane, we head north to our next stop in our journey.
The military has several transient bases set up for soldiers moving in and out of Iraq. In the pics above you can see one of the tents we stayed in and what the scenery was like.
Temperatures got to well over 125 degrees each day. That wasn’t to bad but the sun was brutal. I’m pretty fair skinned so I put liberal amounts of SPF 50 sunscreen on and still got quite a bit of color. The sun got so hot that wearing gloves was par for the course. Otherwise the items, such as your weapon, got to hot to handle.
The base had all the amenities needed to stay in touch with the folks back home. You even had a star-bucks, a Burger King and a Harley Davidson Shop.
Well the next stop will be Iraq. We’re due to head out anytime and we’re just waiting for our flight.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Give me liberty…

…or at least a trip to Philadelphia!

Here we are in front of the liberty bell. Nice little trip to see some of America's history.

Today most of the unit took a ride into nearby Philadelphia for some sightseeing. We took in a tour of Independence Hall, snapped a few photos of a group of us in front of the Liberty Bell and just relaxed.

Independence Hall.
This was actually a pretty cool moment as the other tourists stood aside and cheered for us as we posed, snapping photos for themselves with their own cameras.
We got to enjoy a nice day off while we ran around learning about the signings of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. If you’ve never been down to see the museum, I highly recommend it. The tour guide was quite knowledgeable and any history buff will get a kick out of many of the static displays.
Here is where all your rights were formed. They debated about and eventually signed
the Declaration of Independence here.
After checking out a part of the past we set forth in search of the best Philly cheese-steaks. We drove with one place in mind, Pat’s.
This place is famous for it’s food. The service was kind of like the soup nazi episode of Seinfeld. We all enjoyed the food, definitely an improvement over our normal army fare.
We wrapped up our day with a movie and then dinner at Charlie Browns Steak House. Just two more days at Fort Dix.
Next Stop Kuwait!!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

“Yankees,” on deck for tour in Iraq

Staff Sgt. Jesse Vautour of Shrewsbury, Mass., assists Staff Sgt. Steven Mojica of Worcester, Mass.,
as he prepares his M2 caliber .50 machine gun for the days training. Both Soldiers are preparing to
deploy with the 1/181st Infantry, Massachusetts Army National Guard as part of a command and control
group charged with overseeing security elements.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Don Veitch, 65th Public Affairs Operations Center)
Here’s a story I wrote about another Mass Guard Unit deploying at the same time as us.

FORT DIX, N.J. – Morning arrives with the sudden chime of the alarm clock, yet sunrise is still hours away. The workday will be well underway before the first rays of summer sun appear on the horizon.
With little fanfare, the Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment file out of their barracks, form up and conduct the timeworn tradition of physical training. The steady drumbeat sound of the Soldiers’ footfalls as they run to cadence is indistinguishable from other units throughout the country. Soldiers have started the day in this manner for generations.