Friday, November 20, 2009

Looking In The Mirrors...

Sigh. Yes. I know. I haven't posted a blog in a long time...aside from the story that I did recently. So yeah...if I had blogged during my little hiatus it wouldn't have been very positive.
Anyway. I'm blogging now. I'm more content now...we're leaving Baghdad very soon. Things are starting to wind down for us as far as public affairs is concerned. I, on the other hand, still have to layout the newspaper and distribute it until our replacements arrive.
Things have changed since my last blog. The weather has been the most drastic change. No longer are the days where we swelter in the 115+ degree heat. Since about a couple weeks ago, the temps have been nice. Partly cloudy skies and temps in the 70s-80s during the day and between 50-60 degrees at night. The rains have turned everything to a sticky, mucky mess. A precursor to the December weather at Fort Dix.
I'm still reading books and teaching the GT improvement class. It's my last class. I'm glad I've had the opportunity to do that. Not only has it kept the 'rust' off but it's helped Soldiers put themselves in a position to change their course while they're here. Many of them want to become officers while others want to re-enlist and change their MOS.
Speaking of which, that's my major change.
The Army has done it's share in changing my life. When I first enlisted, it was so I could get some money to help finish college. I was 23 years old. I started out in aviation, working on Apache helicopters. At the University of Houston, I entered the Green to Gold program but had to drop it at the end of my junior year when I had to choose between that and teaching. I met COL Beesley, he and I taught LOTC in Galena Park ISD (some of my best years teaching) and I even worked for him as his PAO. He's the one who encouraged me to re-enlist when my contract was up and showed me the light...that light being public affairs. Since then, I've deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, I've served in Germany, and I've been with the 211th MPAD for almost 8 years now. 2LT Delgado and I are the only remaining Soldiers from the original crew when the unit came into being. I've been to so many schools and training events and have been very fortunate.
What I'm getting at is...after almost 15 years of service, I'm leaving the Army after my return home from Iraq. Many have tried to talk me out of this. "You only have five years left!" they'd say. Others have encouraged me and wished me well. I've thought about this for a long time. I've talked (and argued) about this with my wife before also. When she married me, she married the military too. She's been through a lot...but the one who finalized my decision for me is Loren, my daughter.
I remember blogging about an unhappy and unnerving experience I had during my leave in May. I don't want to her to miss out on anything...including her father. I've missed a lot already. My not being home has affected her and my wife. Call it selfish...I don't care. I've seen so many kids at school missing out when it's a single parent household. I don't want that for my family.
So, I'll be saying goodbye to the Army and the 211th MPAD. I've had the privilege of working with some great guys and girls during this last deployment. It's been quite a journey. I'll miss it at times...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Karkh Area Command Graduates First Class of Strike Team Soldiers

By Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke
MND-B PAO

BAGHDAD – Sixty-nine Iraqi Army Soldiers stood at attention on the parade field at al-Muthana Air Base, here, Oct. 19, during a graduation ceremony for the first class of the Karkh Area Command Strike Team.
IA Soldiers from six different units, that formed the new team, trained together for six weeks under the tutelage of combat advisors from the U.S. Air Force, special operations, the KAC Advisory Team, and D Troop, Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division.

Training focused on movement and weapons skills, advanced small unit tactics, mounted combat patrols, intelligence gathering, explosives ordinance disposal, and physical fitness training, which culminated in a combat patrol in west Rashid.
“This is the first class of the Strike Team that will eventually number over 400 Soldiers,” said Capt. John Stires, of Palatine, Ill., the KAC Advisory Team operations officer. “The Strike Team will be responsible for all quick response operations for Multi-National Division—Baghdad west of the Tigris River.”
The Strike Team was formed from collaborations between Iraqi Staff Gen. Ali Hamadi, the Karkh Area Commander and Brig. Gen. Frederick Rudesheim, the deputy commanding general for support with MND-B.
“We are honored that you are the first members of the Strike Team,” said Ali during the ceremony. “We will serve Iraq, the Iraqi citizens and ensure security in Baghdad from insurgents and terrorists. We are very proud of the Karkh area units and this training class. Our thanks to Coalition forces who helped mold the Strike Team.”
The Soldiers of D Troop, who trained the IA Soldiers, reflected on the last six weeks they’ve spent with them before the ceremony.


“These [IA] Soldiers have a lot of combat experience but no specific methods,” said Sgt. Jose Munoz, a KAC instructor assigned to D Troop, DSTB, 1st Cav. Div. “We’re teaching them how to be more effective and make them better Soldiers,” said the Santa Barbara, Calif. native.
Sgt. Juan Bracero, another KAC instructor from Chicago, also assigned to D Troop, added that training goes back to muscle memory and they showed the Iraqis how to execute day-to-day operations and pretty soon they started doing everything on their own.
“We’ve accomplished something here,” said Spc. Ervin Lee, a cavalry scout from Columbiana, Ohio. “They knew the principles of things like room clearing and we fine-tuned that. Now they’ll be able to teach more of their own guys.”
The IA soldiers’ enthusiasm and dedication did not go unnoticed.


“We know you’ve worked hard to get here,” said Rudesheim during his speech to the Soldiers standing in formation. “You are proud examples of the Iraqi Army and your mission is more important than gaining trust. It’s about demonstrating to the Iraqi people that you can function as an elite unit within the Iraqi Army.”
With the sun was settling below the horizon, the Strike Team was called to attention, the command signaling the end of the ceremony. It may have been the end of the day, but it was the beginning of a new chapter for the IA and its Strike Team.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

VBC Service Members, Iraqi Scouts Leave Their Mark on Community

By Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke, MND-B PAO

VICTORY BASE COMPLEX, Iraq – Twenty-five children lined up outside the entrance to Saddam Hussein’s old Flintstone Palace, on Camp Slayer, here, August 2. The boys and girls were split into two groups, each led by a volunteer service member. Maj. Gary Farley, an Iraqi Ground Forces Command Military Transition Team advisor for Multi-National Corps - Iraq, led one of the groups up the winding path to the entrance of the main structure while the other group was led around the palace to the edge of a man-made lake.


Today, the Iraqi Boy Scouts and Girl Guides of Victory Base Complex ventured out to begin a community service project and learn a little about fishing. The organization recently celebrated its one-year anniversary after establishing a scout camp and community to teach valuable scouting lessons and implement new sporting activities for the area’s youth. Over 100 service members take time from their schedules and meet with the children each Saturday.

After Iraq embraced the scouting movement during the British occupation in 1921, its Boy Scout and Girl Guide program became a member of the World Organization Scouting Movement. Due to war and instability, it has been decertified twice by the World Organization Scouting Movement. After its one year mark this past April, the program is only growing stronger.

Inside the main structure of the Flintstone Palace, Farley led the children through the doorway. The children look around, wide-eyed, at the graffiti that has accumulated over the years, and a linguist explained to the children what they were to do.


The Flintstone Palace was commissioned by Saddam Hussein for his grandchildren and modeled after the neighborhood in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Over the years, the unused structure has fallen into disrepair in some areas and is covered with graffiti. The scouts’ mission was to beautify the building after learning its history and take a break by fishing from the back porch of the building.

“Maj. Raheem wanted to do something off site,” said Farley, who is from Gowanda, N.Y. “We wanted to show the kids that this place is part of their history and that community service begins by connecting ideas and bringing people together to accomplish a mission,” he added as the linguist finished explaining what was required of the children. Maj. Raheem Falah, a member of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces, and Farley have worked together for several months now, organizing events for the children.

The kids wasted no time grabbing paintbrushes and paint. With VBC service members by their sides, they began white-washing the walls of the palace as other service members took care of the higher areas with rollers.


On the porch outside the palace, the water glistened as the sun slowly drifted west. Small groups of scouts and service members huddled over fishing poles, showing the children how to bait the hooks, swing the poles back and cast the lines. Once the children understood what do to, they began to cast out, disturbing the water’s smooth surface as each baited hook plopped down.

Spc. David Hughes, an ammunition specialist with 2nd Platoon, 664th Ordinance Company, 10th Sustainment Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad, and 13-yr old Mohammad picked their spot and were baiting their line.
“I got a 2-yr old back home and I’d like someone to do this with my daughter if the opportunity came up,” said Hughes, a Branchville, S.C. native.


On the edge of the structure that resembled a balcony, Maj. Raheem blew a whistle, signaling that the groups needed to switch places. Children who were fishing eagerly climbed the steps leading to the main building, entered the rounded doorway, and picked up the brushes that their fellows dropped in the pans and began covering the spray-painted walls. Others who were painting now stood at the water’s edge with their eyes fixed on a linguist who explained how to set up their fishing poles as they were picking at the dried paint on their hands.

Back inside the main building, 1st Lt. Jacqueline Zuluaga, an ambulance platoon leader with the 256th Area Support Medical Company, 421st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 1st Medical Command, attached to MND-B, seemed to be everywhere at once. The Florida National Guard Soldier, who was one of the event’s main planners, was shoving water bottles into the icy depths of a big cooler.


“We wanted the children to paint the palace and clean up the graffiti here,” said the Orlando native. “It’s more for them than for us. Scouting is all about giving back to the community and here they’re doing that and establishing a new footprint. This can empower them to take ownership of their community,” she said.

As the children moved from room to room, they would stop and marvel at the explosion of color on one large wall where Abdul Sajad, an artist, was hard at work painting a mural depicting a summer landscape with flowers and birds in flight.


After both groups had painted and tried their new-found skill at fishing, they lined up outside the rear entrance of the building. Each child came in, dipped their palms in colorful paint, and left their little handprints on the wall.

“The kids need to learn about giving back,” said 1st Lt. Jessica Burton, of the 644th Ordinance Detachment, 620th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 10th Sus. Bde., 1st Cav. Div., MND-B. “They can learn to take pride in their work and in their community. These kids weren’t even allowed here in Saddam’s time,” said the New Braunfels, Texas, native who serves the officer in charge of an ammunition supply point.

“The handprints signify them leaving their mark and when they come back they can say ‘Hey that’s my hand,’” said Farley as he watched the smiling children pressing their painted palms on the walls. “I hope this artwork deters any future graffiti,” he added.


Outside the main entrance, the high-pitched squeal of a power drill attracted the scouts. A sign was being fixed to the wall. It read in Arabic and English: “Restoring one place at a time. The Iraqi Boy Scouts and Girl Guides worked to improve this site. Please keep Iraq beautiful. The future of Iraq thanks you.”
“Another group of kids will come next month to continue the painting until it’s finished,” said Farley. Thanks to dedicated service members and the youth of Iraq, the eyesore at the edge of Camp Slayer can be a place of pride for the community that surrounds it.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mile-long Training Trek Concludes Combat Lifesaver Class

By Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke
MND-B PAO

BAGHDAD – As the sun slowly rose beyond the palm trees on signal hill, Soldiers worked together in two teams of nine to complete a mile-long combat lifesaver training exercise to end a three-day CLS course, here, July 22.

“Okay, everyone set?” asked Sgt. Janelle Graham, a combat medic and course instructor with Headquarters Support Company, Division Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. “You need to do a fireman’s carry from here to the quarter-mile mark.”

Soldiers in full gear lined up with stretchers, skeds and aid bags as the Sacramento, Calif. native explained the first task. On her signal, one Soldier on each team was hoisted onto the shoulders of another and the whole team shuffled down the road. On cues from the medics, teams stopped and switched ‘casualties’ and equipment so everyone got a chance to complete the first task.


The teams, sweaty and focused, worked to keep up with the demands of the medics.
“Skeds! Get your casualty on a sked! Your casualty has a gunshot wound on their left leg!” shouted Graham. As Soldiers placed their ‘casualties’ on the skeds, Graham eyed the placement of the straps across the ‘casualty’s’ chest and legs. As one team member strapped on a combat tourniquet to an ‘injured’ leg, another applied an emergency trauma bandage. Then the teams lugged their equipment and their casualty on their improvised litter to the half-mile marker.


“Okay, you need to administer IV’s,” yelled Graham as the teams reached the marker. Teams switched to four-man litters and quickly gathered items needed for an intravenous injection out of their combat lifesaver bags.

Securely strapped to her litter, Pfc. Lauren McKeehan, a supply clerk with HSC, DSTB, 1st Cav. Div., from Texarkana, Ark., extended her arm to Pfc. Kenny Lawson of Battery E, 3rd Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment from Philadelphia, who quickly applied a tourniquet and had IV fluid flowing into her vein in less than two minutes. After taping the line to her arm, Lawson, an air defense control computer operator and maintainer, held the bag of fluid aloft as he and the rest of his team took off for the finish line.


Everything the Soldiers have learned the past two days was being put to the test. Day one of instruction consisted of controlling bleeding of an extremity, opening and maintaining the airway, treating penetrating chest wounds and decompressing a tension pneumothorax. Training on day two consisted of evacuating a casualty using a sked or improvised litter, inserting a nasopharyngeal airway tube, initiating a saline lock, administering an intravenous infusion and initiating a medevac card and requesting a medical evacuation. The CLS class usually lasts five days but, in a deployed environment, there is a limited amount of time that Soldiers can be away from their daily duties so the class is taught and evaluated in three days.
“I like that there is a lot of hands-on training,” said McKeehan. “You get to interact with new people and there are a lot of things that have changed since the last time I took a CLS class in Korea.”

Lots of things are changing.

“All Soldiers are now required to be combat lifesaver certified,” said Capt. Marolyn Pearson, the division’s senior physician’s assistant assigned to HSC, DSTB, 1st Cav. Div. “If we’re in a mass casualty situation, encounter an improvised explosive device, or injuries during a patrol, there are usually one or two medics around,” she added. “If a medic is not available, a Soldier who is CLS qualified can do almost anything a medic can do.”

Fatigue set in as Graham warned about communication and teamwork when lifting and lowering the litter as McKeehan’s teammates shuffled along the side of the road, struggling, stopping and switching out from carrying the litter to carrying equipment. The end was in sight and Cpl. Michael Warren, an information technology specialist with Company B, DSTB, 1st Cav. Div., encouraged his team. “We’re almost there, keep it up!” Warren, who hails from Dexter, Mo., led his team past the finish line. The Soldiers lowered the litter and proceeded to suck in air and suck down water.


With the exercise complete for team one, Lawson withdrew the IV from McKeehan’s arm and the team moved to some shade to wait on team two. As they waited and drank water, Warren pulled out his notes and began reviewing his team for the written test that was set for later in the day.

“You really have to learn to depend on each other,” said Pfc. Seth Crowell, a supply clerk with Company A, DSTB, 1st Cav. Div. “Communication is important and I’ve also learned that you have to be conditioned or you’ll burn out physically. It was a good experience,” the Buffalo, N.Y. native said as he poured water over his head. “I have a new respect for medics.”

The combat medic who taught the class and supervised the practical exercises for the past three days was happy about the results.

“I saw a lot of good teamwork today,” said Graham. “Lawson and his team did great with the IV, they were communicating, and I think they need to work on their PT [physical training] more,” she said as she walked back to her ambulance.
“I’m proud of them,” said Graham. “They all passed and we now have 18 more combat lifesavers here to help if needed.”

Friday, July 17, 2009

Family Guy Fun...

Lots of things have changed since we've started getting ready for this deployment back in October 2008. Met lots of new people, switched from putting magazines together in InDesign to a newspaper, and gotten used to 110+ degree heat...just to name a few.

When I met SGT Soles, I figured he was a quiet kind of guy who kept to himself. Back in Bryan, when we were training for this deployment, I had a room by myself at our lovely EZ Travel Inn and, since he showed up late, he roomed with me. Pretty soon we started watching The Family Guy. I never really paid attention to that show. All I remembered about it was the fact that it came on TV and then was taken off due to some of its content.

Well, apparently it has a huge following because the more I watched it with him, the funnier it became. I mean some of the stuff you see happening is so crude and funny but it relates to life sometimes and the intro to the cartoon says it all.

I can say that I'm hooked now. The Family Guy comes on every day here in the evenings. Thanks SGT Soles, you bloody fool!! That's Stewie. He's a great character. I recently printed out many of the characters and SGT Soles and I 'assigned' them to members of our unit here after evaluating their characteristics.

For example, I'm Stewie. Everyone knows how I blow up at stuff now and again. SSG Burrell is Quagmire...without a doubt. Giggity. SGT Logue would be Meg. SGT Fardette could be Chris. Hmmmm...I'm not sure if SGT Soles and I assigned Bryan to someone. He could be SGT Risner...quite possibly. Giggity-goo. SGT Risner maintains his cool in just about any situation. 1SG Martinez or 1LT Sarratt could be Peter....but, credit to them, they don't screw up a lot like Peter does.

Anyways, as you can see, Soldiers have to find ways have fun in the office. A deployment would be extremely long and boring if we didn't. As it goes, all my blogs can't be serious or just my stories that I've written here. So, if you haven't seen The Family Guy, check it out. Don't be duckin' me, man!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe Works Magic in Baghdad

Did that title catch your attention?? "...let me tell you how healthily, how calmly I can tell you this story..."

Since I've started to take over the English portion of the GT Improvement class, I noticed that students have to read passages and then answer questions about main idea, author's point of view, or what a word means in a sentence. They also have the word knowledge portion where they get a word in a sentence and have to pick out the one-word definition from the four answer choices below.

One of the small passages on their last homework assignments was the first two paragraphs of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart. Now, if you ever talk to one of my former students, you'd know that I love teaching Poe. I time it to where I can teach all the Poe stuff (Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven, and The Masque of the Red Death) during Halloween. I decorate my room and everything. The kids love it and I'm pretty sure a lot of them remember it well.

Anyways, we went over the passage and the questions. I told the Soldiers that I have the complete story and if they wanted the whole thing. They all said yes so I went to work. The next day of English I came in and handed it out. We then read it out loud and I was amused at the faces that some of them were making as we were reading. They obviously haven't read that story before or haven't seen it in a long time. A lot of them liked it though...and of course, I went nuts with how and why the narrator did this and that.



I then used that piece to review main idea, vocabulary via context clues (Poe's vocabulary is extensive), and sequence of events....all needed for the AFCT (Armed Forces Classification Test) that they'll take this weekend to try to increase their GT score.

I talked to several of the Soldiers last night, asking them why they're taking the class. A couple just wanted to increase their score, a couple told me that their platoon sergeant made them take it, and there are several who are putting in a packet to become a warrant officer or will go OCS (Officer Candidate School).

For those who don't know, your GT score determines what type of job you can perform in the military. If you have a high GT score, there are more jobs that you can pick from when you sit down with a recruiter.

Next month, I'll be the primary English instructor for the class. It gives me something to do at night and keeps me fresh with my teaching stuff that I miss. I think that I'll end each class set (there are 6 classes a week for 3 weeks) with Poe.

So now I must go, "hark, it is the beating of his hideous heart!"

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Educational Opportunities Abound for Deployed 1st Cavalry Soldiers

By Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke
MND-B PAO

BAGHDAD – One word sums up what a post-secondary education creates for someone: Opportunity. A person with a college degree, on average, can earn twice as much, or more, in their lifetime compared to someone who only has a high school diploma.

A degree from an accredited college or university can be a key that opens the door to a promising future. A deployed Soldier, however, cannot always attend the college of their choice and must work around their busy schedule to earn a degree online.

An increasing number of Soldiers are doing just that with the help of the Staff Sgt. Russell J. Verdugo Education Center here on Camp Victory. Between 700 to 1,000 service members a week pass through the doors for counseling and assistance in their quest for higher education.

“They [service members] can come in for any type of educational assistance and Soldiers can process and use their tuition assistance within 24 hours,” said Paul Karczewski, of Washington, D.C., and one of the three counselors who work at the education center. “We don’t process National Guard or Reserve tuition assistance here, but all active duty Soldiers can use Title 10 money for college,” he added.

The education center works closely with Central Texas College which is based in Killeen, Texas. It has a lab with computers for student use and proctors are available for examinations. The counselors and Soldiers use GoArmyEd, an online portal established in 2006, which allows students to research colleges and universities, register for classes, and request course materials and books. The portal services more than 140 accredited colleges and universities.

“The education center has helped me a lot with proctoring my exams and adding classes,” said Pfc. Randi Boardman, Joint Visitors Bureau administrator for the 1st Cavalry Division. “GoArmyEd is so easy too. I got my schedule and registration done and my materials and books were mailed to me with no problem.”

Boardman, who is from Chana, Ill., is attending Central Texas College online and plans to study architecture at Arizona State University. “I like the lecture setting, but sitting down and forcing yourself to actually read the textbook and learn the material is harder,” she said. “Luckily, I get a lot of spaces in between work so I pull out a book and work on coursework.”

The online community is just as diverse, maybe even more so, than a college lecture hall. Just down the road from division headquarters, Sgt. 1st Class Julia Palma, the Budget Manager for the 1st Cav. Div., is working to earn her Masters in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix online. “It fills the time when you’re separated from your family,” said Palma, who is from Lafayette, La.


Being deployed has not stopped the 19-year veteran from working to earn her master’s degree. “You have to be disciplined to complete online coursework,” she said. “You work it into your schedule and stay up late to complete the work.”

Discipline and dedication is what drives Sgt. Magdalena Sweesy, the executive administrative noncommissioned officer for Brig. Gen. Frederick Rudesheim, deputy commanding general for support of the 1st Cav. Div. Sweesy is working 8-week semesters which will earn her double the college credit that a traditional semester offers.

“This is hard; I’m very busy and work after hours to complete all my class work and research,” said Sweesy, who hails from Honolulu. She is attending Barton County Community College online and aspires to major in criminology at Kansas State University in 2010. “GoArmyEd is very helpful here because of the time difference,” she said. “I don’t have to wait for someone to be in the office for registration. My career counselor is always online via email.”


Whether single or married, working in an office or not, Soldiers have increasingly jumped into the virtual world to begin their college coursework. The Army’s tuition assistance program makes it easy.

Sgt. Ryan Sweesy, one of the personal security officers for Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy of the 1st Cav. Div., and husband to Sgt. Magdalena Sweesy, has started his first semester of classes. “I’ve started class work here because there are fewer distractions,” he said. “I either have a mission going out or a paper due.” Sweesy, who is from Cleveland, is attending Central Texas College online and plans to major in astronomy.

The opportunities for Soldiers who have the desire and dedication to earn a degree online outnumber the hurdles they may encounter. Time management is essential for deployed Soldiers who are working online to attain a degree.

“Make sure you’re really ready to do this because it’s so easy to say you’ll do the assignment tomorrow and put it off because you don’t have to physically go to class,” said Magdalena Sweesy. “It’s all on your initiative.”

A deployment can be an excellent opportunity for Soldiers to begin or continue their post secondary education. Determination, creativity, time management and the help of the education center here and GoArmyEd, can make that opportunity become the key that will open to many doors to a better future.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

FDA: Unregulated Supplements Pose Health Risk to Unaware Consumers

by Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke, MND-B PAO

BAGHDAD – Rows of colorfully designed jars and plastic tubs scream “Shock your muscles” and promise “Get ultra-ripped fast” or “Gain 12 pounds in 2 weeks!” At the end of the aisle, slick magazines line the shelves showcasing the newest methods to gain mass or how to push 20 percent more weight instantly when you use their new technique.

What many don’t know about these weight training products that bring in a large amount in sales in the post exchange and online is that many of them are not regulated or tested by the Food and Drug Administration. Manufacturers of dietary supplements are themselves responsible for ensuring and documenting the safety claims of their products.


“The supplements you see on the shelves or online aren’t regulated by the FDA and contain proprietary blends and ingredients that aren’t tested for safety,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Callin, the division surgeon for the 1st Cavalry Division at Camp Liberty, Iraq. “Just because they’re on the shelf doesn’t mean they’re safe.”

Recently, the FDA placed a mandatory recall on all Hydroxycut products by Iovate Health Sciences, Inc. Hydroxycut products are dietary supplements that were marketed for weight-loss, to spur water loss, and as an energy enhancer. The FDA received reports of serious health problems indicating potential liver damage, serious enough that one death due to liver failure has been reported.

The FDA has also received 23 reports of serious health problems in people who have used Hydroxycut, ranging from jaundice (the yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes) to elevated liver enzymes. The symptoms of liver injury include jaundice, nausea, vomiting, excessive fatigue, stomach or abdominal pain, brown urine and loss of appetite. Other health problems reported include seizures, cardio-vascular disorders, and rhabdomyolysis, a type of muscle damage that can lead to other serious health problems such as kidney failure.

The FDA has urged consumers to stop using Hydroxycut products in order to avoid any undue risk. The FDA has not determined which ingredients, dosages, or other health-related factors may be associated with risks related to Hydroxycut products.
Callin went on to explain that the claims that these supplements boldly make are not justified and come from lab studies where they take the results out of context. “The lab results, which are statistical numbers, don’t translate into physical change in a person’s body,” he said.

Creatine, (creatine monohydrate) a popular supplement that promises mass gains and large pumps during workouts is another thing that Soldiers need to stay away from in this environment.

“Creatine can cause kidney damage,” said Callin. “It sucks the water from your bloodstream and transports it between your tissues (called edema), making you swell.” If that water isn’t put back in, it could lead to serious heat injuries.
“The last thing we need is to have Soldiers taking supplements that take themselves out of the fight because of extreme heat and dehydration in tough combat conditions,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy, division command sergeant major for the 1st Cavalry Division.

Malloy, who is from Campbellsburg, Ind., stressed eating right, exercising regularly, and watching your calorie intake if you’re overweight and want to slim down. “If you want to gain mass,” added Malloy, “Focus on better physical training, a good nutritional plan, and be committed and realistic because there’s no quick fix.”

So what’s a Soldier to do when he or she wants to supplement their workout? “Everything you need is available in the dining facility for free,” said Callin. “Many of those supplements will simply produce very expensive urine.”

Camp Liberty Clinic Keeps Servicemembers Smiling

by Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke, MND-B PAO

BAGHDAD – The tools and weapons Soldiers use to accomplish their missions are well-known. A rifle, bayonet, body armor, helmet, uniform and boots make up the basic issue. While on their mission, Soldiers may forget about another set of weapons that are essential during a deployment: a toothbrush and dental floss. Oral hygiene sometimes falls under the ‘not too important’ category for Soldiers who are on a forward operating base.

The Camp Liberty Dental Clinic on Victory Base Complex, staffed by Soldiers from the 464th Medical Company (DS), is fully capable of handling just about any dental issue that may arise. The 464th is attached to the 421st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 44th Medical Command of Landstuhl, Germany, and the clinic here supports the Soldiers of Multi-National Division-Baghdad and surrounding FOBs.

“Our mission is to perform dentistry services in theater to all servicemembers and Department of Defense civilians,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ralph Hewgley, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the clinic, who is from San Antonio. “From fillings and cleanings, to oral surgery, we have a seven chair office, digital X-ray capability, and a fully operational lab that can handle just about any Class I or Class II situation and we also do crowns which is Class III dental work ,” he said.


“Every year, you have to have a dental exam or you’ll be dropped to a Category IV,” said Lt. Col. Jeffery Callin, the division surgeon for the 1st Cavalry Division. Callin explained that a Category IV rating requires extensive dental procedures but it also means that you haven’t had a dental exam that year.
“Every brigade support battalion has Level II capability and Soldiers can go there for a Category IV exam and it doesn’t take long,” added Callin who is from Belton, Texas.

In the operating area of the clinic, the proof was in the smile as Spc. Christopher White of Company A, 628th Area Support Battalion , 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, slowly stretched his mouth into a small smile to get a feel for his new teeth. White, who is from State College, Pa., was medically evacuated from the dental facility in Talil, Iraq, after it was determined that the clinic there could not help him.

“This clinic has been a big help since Maj. Beilhardt referred me here for treatment,” the National Guardsman said as the high-pitched sounds of dental drills and suction tubes filled the office. “I didn’t want to miss work so I didn’t go to the dentist when I needed to and now I’m here,” he continued. White had surgery to replace his front teeth with an upper denture.


Maj. Ralph Beilhardt, who is from Jonesboro, Ark., and officer in charge of the clinic has worked in dentistry since 1997. “Talil didn’t have the materials and lab to handle Spc. White’s situation, so I referred him here,” he said.

The Camp Liberty dental clinic is one of five here in Iraq, all staffed with Soldiers from the 464th Med. Co. (DS). Soldiers who come to the clinic are not only able to benefit from dental services and cleanings, but they can also have mouth guards and partial or full dental inserts created within a very short time thanks to the two-person dental laboratory.

Here, the lab supports all the dental clinics in Iraq. “This lab is non-stop,” said Spc. Bruce Williams, a dental lab technician from Chicago, as he mixed a gooey substance that will end up as a mold for a mouth guard. “We can make partials and bridges that are sent via Federal Express to Fort Gordon, Ga., and Germany that get back to the Soldiers very quickly,” he added.


“Having the clinic here is a huge asset and helps keep Soldiers ready to fight,” said Callin. “Look at it like a preventative maintenance checks and service (PMCS). You have to PMCS your vehicles and you should to do the same with your body.”
The clinic is open Monday through Saturday and the sick call hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. each day. Appointments are booked for the afternoons. Since January 2009, the dental clinic here has seen more than 31,000 patients and the work the Soldiers of the 464th has performed has saved their patients more than $13 million worth of dental services.

“If you take good care of your teeth by brushing and flossing, it cuts down on plaque buildup which lets you preserve what you have longer and your yearly cleanings won’t be traumatic,” said Callin.

It’s recommended that Soldiers take the time to exercise good dental hygiene while deployed and make sure they get a dental exam while in theater. It keeps records current and prevents complications later when Soldiers redeploy.

That toothbrush and dental floss may seem like cheap plastic but they can save you what can amount to thousands of dollars in dental care if used every day.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Some Cheer--and Fear the U.S. Pulling Out

So, today is the day. The deadline that's been talked about for so long. The deadline that the previous administration worked out with the Iraqi government.

I read that there was a countdown on Iraqi TV last night...at midnight, they started partying and such. I guess I can say that it's a good time to be here, under the circumstances. A new government, military, and police/security forces taking the reigns from Coalition forces here. I hope they handle everything well.

The media has been going nuts about it of course. I've seen Gen. Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces here in Iraq, on TV more this week than at any other time. There is also a sort of dread or doom and gloom...the hardcore media asking if the Iraqi forces and powers that be can handle running their own country. This past week has seen it's share of bombings...all aimed at trying to throw everything in disarray. Our Soldiers have trained the Iraqis well. Let's hope that they use that training well because I've seen Afghan soldiers turn and run from a hot firefight. But...so far, the Iraqis have more pride and concern for their country.

I wouldn't want to see my child (or someone elses) come here in a military capacity. The bad stuff is what's going on across the border...in Iran. That's a whole other blog entirely...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Like a Blanket Across the Sky...

I think I'm getting pretty familiar with the weather patterns here. Yesterday, it was pretty hot again...around 122. After chow we came back to the MOC and I noticed that the wind was picking up and there was a light haze in the air.

The afternoon passed and we went to chow again (dinner). By this time, the wind had increased and I could see a darker haze off on the horizon. I told SGT Fardette that it looked like we might get a dust storm soon. We ate dinner and I went to my CHU for the night.

When I woke up this morning, I looked up at the window and noticed the tan/orange light streaming in through the blinds. Great, I thought. When SFC Quebec opened the door to leave, I peered outside and saw that a dust storm had come in. I got out of bed and got dressed. When I went outside to brush my teeth it was like I was on Mars. There was a light orangish tint to the sky and you couldn't see beyond 75 feet or so. The good thing about this weather when it occurs during the day is it blots out the sun's direct rays.

When I went by the thermometer, I checked the temperature. It was 98 degrees at around 0930. Nice. Usually, by this time, it's approaching 105. So, although the dust storm isn't the best type of weather to be in, it does help keep the temperature from rising.

On my way to the fuel point, I took a couple pictures to give people back home an idea of what it looks like here during a dust storm. Enjoy...


Friday, June 26, 2009

A Day in the Life...

Prologue - I've wondered if I've given an account of what I'm doing day by day. Some days ARE a little different than the last...but most days are the same.
Here's what happened today:

Wake up for PT.

PT was in the gym and you're on your own to conduct your workout.

Head back to the CHU for a shower, get dressed and head to chow (breakfast). Found out Michael Jackson died. Wow. He was the shizznit in the 80s and early 90s.

Walk to the media operations center for work. It was hotter this morning than any other and noticed that at this time, the temperature was already 100 degrees.

Start working. What did I do...SGT Logue and I went over to Lost Lake to drop off some memorial DVDs and grabbed some iced coffee. We came back and I sat down and checked my emails. We get around about 80 emails overnight and we have to sift through them to see what's important and what's junk. After that, I prepared five packages of newspapers to send out to the outlying brigade combat teams. I can't deliver to them so I mail the papers out. I edited a story and a photo release and by that time it was time to head to chow (lunch).

Walk to chow. It's about 3/4 of a mile and in this weather, it sometimes feels like it's longer. We walk over a bridge that spans a small canal and the fish and box turtles in the water are looking at us...waiting for food to be thrown down. What's for lunch? Chicken...chicken...but today I had pasta with a big salad. With this heat, you tend to drink more and have less room for food so I have to basically force more food down my throat.

Headed back to the MOC, watched SGT Logue and SGT Soles feed the fish and turtles bread and then headed to division headquarters because I needed to interview the division surgeon for my dental hygiene story. He wasn't there. I headed back to the MOC.

1326 - Took a picture of the temperature. See me in the reflection? 122 degrees! Ouch! Jumped back on the computer and I got three more pages done for the newspaper. Then, I headed over to the base's post office to mail off the newspapers that I packed earlier. After that I went to finance with SGT Risner.

After I came back, I ran over to division HQ again when I found out the surgeon was there and interviewed him. Great quotes. I stopped in the PAO cell and coordinated with MSG Conner for another story that I'll be doing. I ran back over to the MOC after the interview because I had to give a class to the other NCOs about leadership counseling.

Gave the class. It class was short, sweet and to the point and we talked about things that people miss or forget to do when you counsel a soldier. Right after the class, soldiers from the 225th Engineer Brigade dropped in for a DVIDS shoot. While they were waiting around, I jumped back on my computer and added the quotes from the surgeon to my story and let SGT Risner edit it. I have to turn it in to 1SG Martinez for final approval and then I'll send it off to division PAO.

(right now) - I'm typing this.

Chow (dinner) and I bet you it's chicken!

Afterward - Head back to my CHU...shower...relax and watch some TV or read a book until I get sleepy and go to bed.

Epilogue - My night-time schedule is going to change starting this weekend. I've joined a program that helps soldiers with English and math so they can increase their ASVAB score. The class meets six nights a week and I'll be working on their vocabulary, grammar, and paragraph comprehension skills. It'll be a welcome thing for me....I miss teaching.

So...that was about it for my day. How was yours?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

Today is Father's Day. Here, however, it feels like any other day. Hot. 118 degrees by lunch. There are probably a lot of dads back home BBQing, relaxing, and such. Some are getting the special treatment from their spouses, hugs and kisses from daughters...

Came in a little late today...it being Sunday. I noticed on the way to work that if you look carefully, you can see the remnants of the sand storm we endured last week on the poles, satellite dishes, fences, etc. On the poles, for example, there is a dark orange stripe running down the length of each of the poles that line the walkway alongside DIV HQ. It shows you that the wind was driving the sand and dust in that direction. Nature's spray paint job. The rest of the pole looks normal, a dull grey.

The day after that storm, someone sent 1SG Martinez some photos of the storm from close to the al-Faw Palace. Whoever that person is, they took some awesome shots. Kudos to him/her. Here they are:
The beginning...


Afterward...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dust Storm Dominates Central Iraq

You know that feeling you get when it's cold outside and the much anticipated weather report had said that it's supposed to snow? You wait and hope. And then, the next morning, there is a blanket of white covering everything. You'd venture outside and marvel at the snow-covered silence and see your breath coming out in plumes...

But here, of course, it's the complete opposite. Yesterday was the beginning of one of the worst dust storms since we arrived back in February. At first, it looked like a normal, windswept day...hazy, very hot. But, after lunch, the wind began to pick up and the dust/haze in the atmosphere thickened. You could no longer see the sun, which was a blessing because that haze would keep our temperature at a respectable 105 degrees or so.

By close of business, you couldn't see 50 feet ahead of you. The sky took on a brownish/orange tinge and it was dark sooner than normal. When SFC Q (my roommate) walked in to our CHU, the wind was buffeting the outer walls and you couldn't see more than 15 feet ahead of you.

So I read my book in my room and sleep took me. I woke up this morning, got dressed as usual, and picked up my toothbrush and bottled water so I could brush my teeth outside. I opened the door and...slowly scanned the area. EVERYTHING was covered with a thick film of orange dust. If you haven't smelled the dust/sand of the Middle East, let me tell you, it's not appealing.



After scrubbing my teeth I went to chow and headed to work. Along the way, I marveled at how the dust clings to everything and gets into everything...EVERYTHING. It even makes its way into your CHU via the air conditioner...to lovingly coat everything you own. Not quite the feeling you want (unlike the snow), but you get it nonetheless. SGT Fardette said this morning, "At least snow is clean." He's got a point there.

The sign at Camp Slayer (this morning, after the storm) says it all, "Another Day in Paradise". Yeah.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Think Houston is hot?



We arrived here in Baghdad in early February. The weather was nice then...cool. Now, it's a virtual oven out there. The photo above was taken today in a covered area...shaded. 118...in the shade. The colors represent our heat category chart. It's over 100 everyday now. Osman, our in-house interpreter/translator, told me this is just the beginning. Have to be careful now when we get into a vehicle. Everything inside is heat-soaked and burns your hands. Wait until August...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

To My Seniors...

After what has seemed like forever to many of you, you’re about to graduate from high school. Think back to the great times you’ve had with your friends. Back to when you thought you’d die because a certain class or a certain assignment was blowing your mind. All the challenges you’ve had to face up to now. Feels good doesn’t it?

I remember when I graduated high school…and no, it wasn’t THAT long ago. I went with friends. Parents didn’t go. I didn’t even realize what was going to hit me in the face three months later. I was happy to take that walk across the stage…because a couple years before that, I almost quit high school.

When I attended Sam Rayburn as a student, I was a punk. I worked at a fast food place, got into trouble a lot, and skipped school. I didn’t care about my grades. My GPA sucked. My parents divorced and it kept spiraling downhill. My mother took my little brother and sister and moved up north. That left me and my other little sister, who had to move in with my dad. We enrolled in at Stephen F. Austin in HISD.
School there was different. I made friends and one teacher, Mr. Kendrick, got into my business one day (I was in his radio and TV class). He asked how I was doing. Figured me out pretty quickly. With different friends and more of a family environment, I started working harder at school. Grades got better…slowly, until one day my English teacher called out our averages for the six weeks. “100,” was what he said after calling my name. I was stunned. “How can he have a hundred,” a student asked. “He’s done everything and didn’t miss anything on his test,” said Mr. Hromas.

Well, Mr. Kendrick and Mr. Hromas were across from each other in the hall. Mr. Kendrick taught English, yearbook, Radio and TV, and coached soccer. Kendrick found out that I had done well and asked me to be on the yearbook staff next year…my senior year. In short, I said yes and when we came back from summer vacation, I also had three honors classes, thanks to Hromas and Kendrick.

My senior year was filled with yearbook work, prom committee work, a tough English class, a cool government class (we hosted the city’s mock Republican national convention downtown), and a job at Krogers. I learned that year that, when you put your mind to something, you can achieve it. I also learned that I needed to hit college because I didn’t want to live like my parents did (neither of them graduated high school). I raised my GPA to graduate 107 out of 501.

So, I went to college. I paid for all six years myself (thanks to scholarships that I earned, grants that I qualified for, loans that I applied for and the Army). During that time, I traveled to Europe twice (once as a vacation, the second time I studied there for a summer), and joined the Army (ran out of scholarship money!). When I finished college I had two degrees and a teaching certificate. I chose teaching. Can you figure out why? Yes, I teach English…I’ve taught yearbook and newspaper too…remind you of anyone I’ve mentioned?

Today, I’m in the middle of a hot desert typing this to you. Why? Well, I tell this story to all my students (it’s MUCH longer when I tell it to you in class) at the end of each year. I want my students to know that if school is tough, or life isn’t handing you what you want, you work harder and smarter and earn what you want. I did. Anyone can get that diploma, get that higher education, get that awesome job that you love, and have a nice life. Money isn’t, and shouldn’t be the problem. Don’t EVER let anyone tell you otherwise.

As I said, I almost didn’t graduate high school. And I said that this story is a short version...you should’ve seen me in middle school! Horrible! I failed two grades because I didn’t care.

I’ve missed most of a school year with you. The Army pulled my unit’s number and I had to leave. I remember when some of you were freaking out over the Beowulf literary analysis assignment and telling me you’ve never done anything like that. I remember some of you guys giving me weird looks when I was wielding a sword in front of you while we were talking about Beowulf and Grendel. Well, each of you learned and completed that essay didn’t you? What you have ahead of you is another challenge. Whether you’ve chosen college, the military, or entering the workforce, I wish you all the best in your endeavors. I’m about 8,000 miles away, but I haven’t forgotten about you. Remember what you’ve learned, where you’ve come from, and always know what you’re going for. Congratulations on your graduation!!


A big thank you to my North Shore seniors. You know who you are. Those who came together to create the 2005 NSMS Stampede yearbook staff. Winners of the district's first Columbia Scholastic Press Association Silver Crown award for student journalism. I know one of you is going into college as an English/journalism major. You'll all see me again. Soon.

I’d like to hear from you…where you’ve decided to attend college, major, job, etc. You can respond/comment on the blog or email me. Take care of yourselves. Enjoy your summer.

Sincerely,
Mr. Burke

Monday, May 25, 2009

Boo-Boo-Boo-B-B-Boonie! (say it fast)

Yeah. My boonie. I finally found it. Those of you who know what a boonie hat is, you know. Those that don't...well, read on.

I'm a guy who wears a soft cap, patrol cap, whatever you want to call it here in Baghdad. I've only worn a boonie cap once. When I was in the Cav...as a pad chief for an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter (1995-2001). Back then we could curl the edges and string it up-Aussie style. Once all these restrictions were placed on the wear and appearance of the thing, I stopped wearing it.

The temperature here is steadily climbing. It tops well over 100 here just about every day now. When we're making that 1 mile trek to chow in the sun, you sure feel it beating on you, especially when you're wearing just the cap. I've a nice tan line now that goes around my head and cuts off at my neck. People in my unit were telling me, "Hey you're getting pretty red." Or pointing at the line and smirking. So, to protect my ears, face and neck, I had to dig out the boonie from the bottom of my duffle bag and now I have that frumpy grumpy look since it's kinda frilly around the edges.

At least it'll stop that tan line from becoming more evident. I don't want to go home with a white-topped head. Today I was out most of the day taking the newspaper all over Victory Base Complex. That boonie made a difference...the air can go through it and it provides some shade. Go boonie.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tune In and Get the Message

I'm a big-time TV show and movie buff. Ask anyone who knows me really well, and they'll tell you...yep, Burke spends time at night watching shows and spends money watching good movies.

One of my prime time TV favs is Grey's Anatomy. I've watched that show since day 1. Sometimes I've missed a show or two...especially since I've been here in Baghdad. When I was home on leave I was able to catch the latest two episodes. I thought about that show today and remembered SGT Logue using the internet to get on ABC and watch the latest show. So, we're having a slow day...I jumped online and was able to catch up with the latest....

The writers of Grey's Anatomy are exceptional. Why? They show you how the little nuances in life mean so much. They remind you and/or teach you about life's struggles and its importance. The latest episode entailed a group of college kids heading to graduation...and getting hit head on by a semi. Out of 5 or 6, one survived. Izzy is dying and Corev marries her anyway...Torres' flame doesn't see straight....everytime I watch that show we are given a little thread of humanity and we have to hang on.

That's also what my Soldiers in my unit do. They're writers and broadcasters who go out with Soldiers who kick down doors, patrol, build things, etc., and tell their story. They work to show that little piece of humanity that is on display for that day. How hard they work and in whatever conditions that are present. The dangers they face every day. Then, those photos and story and/or packaged video story gets sent out via the internet to military and civilian outlets for the masses to read/view.

The problem with both of these scenarios is: if you don't watch an enlightening show like Grey's Anatomy you won't get that message that that particular show is trying to deliver. The same goes if you don't read/watch what one of my Soldiers has put together. You won't see what Soldiers here are doing to make this country better. The media, on the other hand, oftentimes doesn't show this side of what's going on over here. They mostly put the bad stuff out there...if it bleeds it leads. IED blew up this, destruction, blood and guts. I guess you could say that about the reality shows...compared to a drama like Grey's. We all know that idiot who dumped that girl on the Bachelor...now she's tearing it up on Dancing w/ the Stars.

I don't know...it's kind of like reading a book. In each book there's an amazing story waiting for its reader...you just have to find it, take the journey and learn. I tell my students that. Especially the ones that freak out over the size of the book. I guess if you're only better off if you do watch, or read, and understand the messages. I do. I'm better for it too...I think.

Grey's especially makes me think about things like that. Hence, me jumping on this blog...so, let me know what you think. Comment and stuff....

By the way...my Soldiers' work can be seen on DVIDS (www.dvidshub.net) and the Army's website. Have a good one, hooah.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things...

After six accountability formations and two roll call formations (one where we were about to get on the bus to head to the flight line), I was finally able to make it out of the heat of Kuwait and back to the dust in Baghdad.

I guess I can say that the hassle of getting back here wasn't THAT bad...considering one group got on a bird, was in the air...and had to turn around and come BACK to Ali al Salem Air Base. There wasn't an empty seat on my plane...and there are still hundreds who are trying to get back to Baghdad.

Anyhow, I walk into our building and there are two guys in the broadcast studio doing a radio show. They were from a radio station in Waco (that's the biggest city closest to Fort Hood) called WACO 100, My Country. Zack Owen and Jim Cotyk were interviewing Soldiers about what they do here, etc. So my 1SG says, "Burke, get in line, you're next." I looked at him, "Top, I just got back!" I said. "So!" he said. So, I got on the mic and those guys asked me about what I do here and if I enjoyed my time back home. It was cool.

I'm here and when I made it back to my room, I found a nice layer of dust waiting for me. It covered everything!! I was gone for only three weeks!! Now, I'm working on getting back into the swing of things.

A couple of things about leave: I was kinda bummed that I didn't get to see my students when I visited Sam Rayburn HS. TAKS testing (evil!) was going on during that week...I didn't even know. I was able to talk to my principal and the English dept. chair though. Overall, my leave back home was great. Got to spend a lot of time with my family, play with Loren a lot, see former students and friends at school, watch some movies, hit up Starbucks and Diedrich's, and go shopping here and there.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Not Born a Ramblin' Man...

I don't know how to start this one so I'll ramble. I'm feeling a little light-headed euphoria right now due to the travel. Getting back to the dust, sand, and gravel too. I'm stuck in Kuwait. I don't know how or why...but I knew this would happen. Two accountability formations already and no flights for me. Sucks.
There's nothing to do here but spend your money. I saw people lining up at the fast food restaurants today, people at the little shops, at the PX and here on the computers. When you get bored, you find something to do. I don't want to sleep a lot, especially during the day because I need to readjust to this time zone. That took 2 days back home.
I had a book that I started when I got on the plane in Dallas. Finished it. Good one too. Now, I'm here and the computer is ticking away the time I have left on this thing. 19 mins.
At the last formation, the private calling out numbers called out one group and told them they have a flight tonight. It's like they relish the fact that we hang on their every word to see if we're getting out of here. We'll see what happens tomorrow morning. Did I mention how hot it's getting here? Even in the shade it's like someone's pointing a big hair dryer in your face. The summer months will be interesting to say the least. 15 mins. Well, that's about it for this one.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Scary How Much a Two-Year-Old Knows


So far, my time off from Baghdad has been great. I've been able to relax here at home with my wife, take care of some issues (dog @ the vet, car's oil change, etc). I've been able to visit North Shore, seeing friends and former students (who attack in packs not by themselves). I've taken in a lot of caffeine (Deidrich's and Starbucks) and watched quite a few new movies (Slumdog, The Burrowers, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Let the Right One In, Doubt). The big thunderstorms and flooding that's been going on have kept me inside too. I've also been able to enjoy my little girl and see how much she's learned and grown.



She's learned a lot of words and is pretty good at putting them together into phrases and small sentences. She'll say, "Good morning, everyone wake up!" when we go to her room in the morning. She knows almost the whole alphabet (we play with the letters in the tub) and lots of animals. She's also pretty intuitive...when I dropped her off at her daycare this morning (a lady we know watches her), she had a big fit. At first, when we pulled up into the driveway, she was saying, "Yay!" After we walked in, however, the clinging began.

She wouldn't let go of my leg saying, "No, OK" her version of 'no'. If I tried to explain to her that I had to go or tried to pry her from me to go she'd start jumping and crying. I bent down to talk to her and she wrapped herself around me, squeezing with her arms and legs in a little monkey vise grip.

We tried giving her a snack in the kitchen...with me in the living room waiting for her to go into the kitchen so I could leave. Loren stood right in between the kitchen and the living room, looking both ways...at the snack, then me to make sure I wasn't moving. I turned; she went nuts. I was finally able to leave and I could hear her outside screaming my name. She knows. She knows I'm leaving again and it's affecting her already. She's just two...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Leave, R&R, EML...Whatever You Call It...I'm There



Today is the day that a lot of service members look forward to when they're deployed. Well, actually, it's when you get home...but today is the day I leave Baghdad for home.

The process that gets us from here in Baghdad to home is something that we don't look forward to. It's long, it drains you mentally, it leaves you exhausted after traversing eight time zones...but it is sooooo worth it.

I'm looking forward to being in my own house, being with my wife, playing with my daughter and our crazy dog. I'm going to pack some good food in my belly, see a lot of friends, visit my students at both schools, and relax.

So, here I come...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Easter Bunny Was AWOL


It's Easter Sunday. SFC Q wakes me up a couple times because he had to head out early. I roll around in bed until around 0800...gotta get up for chow. No Easter candy in my CHU.

I get dressed and head out...to a cloud-covered day with rumblings in the distance. Thunder. No way. We don't get that here. It's really dark over by BIAP. Wow. It's really raining over there. Dang...I have to deliver the paper today all over VBC in the rain. No Easter chocolates or eggs hidden on the way to chow or to the media operations center. The chow hall was teasing people this morning because there was a huge, brightly decorated basket by the exit...with NOTHING in it.

Osman, our linguist, and myself head over to ECP 13 to meet Mofead and pick up the latest edition of The Crossed Sabers, the paper I'm in charge of. It's raining on and off and it's pretty windy. Weird. This weather reminds me of the August thunderstorms at home. Wait, I'll see home really soon because I'm going on leave!

Oh and no Easter eggs or candy so far....

So PFC Ward and I hop in the Nissan Patrol...an SUV that's been acting up lately. It doesn't want to start for me. Dang gremlins! We have to keep the car running throughout the entire delivery so we don't get stranded. We get to Camp Striker and we found out the Easter bunny paid them a visit. When I went in the chow hall to pick up some food, there was a lady (KBR employee) dumping loads of jelly beans, small solid chocolate bunnies, and chocolate on a table. I walked by and grabbed two solid chocolate bunnies as she was saying, "Take, take!"

I had to go all the way to Camp Striker to get some dang Easter goodies! What kind of place is this!!? Oh...it's Iraq. Happy Easter everyone. Now I need to get off this thing and send my daughter some Easter bunny art that she can color and show to me when I get home.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

President Obama Visits Baghdad

Something pretty cool happened yesterday. I heard that the President was coming to this area and was glad that we didn't have that type of PAO mission (media facilitation) because when a VIP of that stature comes here, things get asinine. Anyways, I thought it was going to be a presidential meeting...like with the Prime Minister of Iraq or something. Nope.

Our First Sergeant comes into our office, "OK! The man is here, who wants to go see him?" We all stared at him; silence engulfed the room. "Well?" he said. "You better decide now because you don't have much time."



We all jumped at once. I grabbed my personal camera, my cover, and my weapon. "No weapons, leave them with me!" said 1SG. We brought our M4s into 1SG's office and six of us squeezed into the truck. I drove to the al Faw Palace and noticed the tight security at the intersections. We had to park down the street and walk to the palace gates.

As we got in line (long line too!), the MPs were shouting instructions about metal in our pockets, knives, etc. We entered the building and it was like walking into a concert. The band (don't know which one--1st CAV Band?) was playing songs from Cold Play and Radio Head. They were rockin'. Then they started playing the traditional American presidential music and we knew that the motorcade had arrived.



I was by the main entrance when President Obama walked in, staff and media pool in tow. Everyone started clapping and yelling. Everyone's personal camera was up taking in video or taking pictures. He walked up to us and shook hands...making his way around, until Gen. Odierno brought him into the conference room for his brief.



After that, the President came out to speak to all the service members in the rotunda of the palace. The speech was short and to the point. Thanking us servicemembers for our work here and thanking our families for their sacrifices. It was cool seeing and listening to him.

I felt a little strange while I was there with the media going nuts with their news gathering equipment. Weird because as a Public Affairs NCO, I'm used to facilitating these events for the media. We did A LOT of that in Afghanistan. At the palace, I was able to just stand there amid the mass of uniformed personnel and enjoy the moment. By the way, I believe that this visit was Obama's first as President. I've attached a short snippet of video of the President speaking to the bottom of the blog. It's been compressed too so it's a little low res.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Cuts Like a Razor...na na na nana naaaa na na nana...


We all know that razors are sharp. What helps us guys is when a company slaps 4 or even 5 little razors on a handle and says it's a technological breakthrough. Why does it help? Well for one, it cuts down on the razor burn and the amount of cuts you get because the razors are close together.
So, yeah, what I'm getting at is....last night I went to the showers to shave my head and take a shower. When I walked in I saw my first sergeant. I put my stuff on the shelf and proceeded to lather up. After that, I began shaving with my handy little Headblade (love that thing, it's got 2 razors on it).
The Headblade makes it easier to shave our noggins...obviously, just look around the chow hall sometime and noticed the guys walking around sporting their baldness. It looks like a little car. So, 1SG then asked me if I was aware of who he and the XO ran into earlier in the day. I told him yes and shuddered.
1SG noted the nastiness in my voice and continued on about his run in with one of the worst officers I've ever met. I started laughing at one point and nicked myself a little on the back of my head. I immediately knew it wasn't bad, so I kept shaving. 1SG got to the part where he left the XO with the aforementioned officer and I really laughed knowing what a torture that is and then I REALLY cut myself. It wasn't pretty and I started cussing as blood began seeping out, down toward my ear. That thing dug out a hunk of skin and I had to pat it back down to stop the blood from coming out. 1SG took off after that. After he left I took a shower...
So, don't shave your head and laugh at the same time...no matter what the discussion is about.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

VBC Service Members Invest Time, Effort to Bring Back Scout Program

By Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke
MND-B PAO

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - After Iraq embraced the scouting movement during the British occupation in 1921, its Boy Scout and Girl Guide program became a member of the World Organization Scouting Movement. Due to war and instability, it has been decertified twice by the World Organization Scouting Movement.

Improvements in security have led to a resurgence of scouting thanks a to group of dedicated service members. That group, called the Victory Base Council, is working to get the adults of Iraq to become more involved and, very soon, take over the program they’ve began to build toward recertification.


Since the Victory Base Council established a scout camp and community center here in April 2008, up to 150 service members have come together each Saturday to teach valuable scouting lessons and implement new sporting activities to the area’s youth. Today, the elementary-age children learned about heat injuries and worked with arts and crafts while older children played soccer, volleyball and learned how an airport fire truck puts out fires.


“Today we have a small group,” said Maj. John Crawson, who is the Victory Base Complex base defense operations center supply officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Last week the turn-out was large, with 80 children and over 40 adults playing baseball said Crawson.
In one tent, Maj. Ken Broussard, the environmental science officer from the division surgeon’s office of the 1st Cavalry Division, taught the younger children via an interpreter how to spot and prevent heat injuries. “The first thing you want to do is bring them into the shade,” said Broussard, who is from Pensacola, Fla. “You also need to make sure they drink plenty of water,” he continued and on cue, one of the little girls said she was thirsty and she and a few others ran out of the tent to grab water bottles.

When they returned, Broussard finished his lesson by answering the children’s questions and Zaina, 9, raised her hand and said, “You drink water so that it can cool your heart.” Amid the applause, Broussard nodded his approval saying that water helps cool your internal organs.

After the heat prevention lesson, the children moved over to the arts and crafts tent and began painting, coloring and putting together small, wooden model airplanes that were donated by schools in the United States.

“This gives me a sense of belonging and they [the children] accept me and have grown quite fond of the activities that we do,” said Staff Sgt. Kelly Greene, a reservist and supply noncommissioned officer with Alpha Company, 301st Military Intelligence Battalion, Multi-National Corps - Iraq, as she helped with the children’s artwork. “I’ve been doing this since September and it’s a good outlet for me,” said the 5th grade elementary school teacher from Enterprise, Ariz., who is also the Girl Guide program officer for the Victory Base Council.

One table over, Mariem, 5, concentrated on the wheels of her wooden model plane as Maj. Gary Farley, an Iraqi Ground Forces Command Military Transition Team advisor for Multi-National Corps - Iraq, prepared the glue.


“I love to be with the children, compared to 2003, where I just looked at people and they looked at me. Now, I get to interact with them and it’s a lot more fulfilling to see the little ones. They’re so open to new things,” he said as Mariem looked at him for assurance after assembling the wheels. Farley, who is from Gowanda, N.Y., continued, “Sometimes you may not know what you’re doing now, but later on after we leave here, your hope is that these little ones remember the good things that they did and good people helping.”

Amid the shouts from the kids playing volleyball and soccer with Air Force and Army personnel, a high-pitched alarm and the deep rumble of an airport fire engine signaled the next installment of instruction, courtesy of the firefighters from the 447th Civil Engineering Fire Department from Sather Air Base. A geyser of water spewed from the front of the truck and children ran over to get doused while others climbed into the cab of the truck to see what was making all the noise.

“I come because I like the fun and we get to play,” said Mohammed, a 13-year-old Scout, as children’s voices echoed over the fire truck’s public address loudspeaker. “I’ve learned about volleyball and baseball too!” he exclaimed.


Back at the main tent, joy was evident on the faces of the children running around as they tried to avoid the colorful water balloons zipping through the air.
Sgt. Kassidy Fitzwater, a multi-channel system operator with the 146th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, Multi-National Corps - Iraq, was lovingly bombarded with water balloons by the squealing children. After the raid, she walked toward the camp’s flagpoles to mark the day’s closing ceremony. Fitzwater, a resident of Pensacola, with the Florida National Guard, was today’s event coordinator.

“The water balloons were our back-up if the fire truck wasn’t able to show up,” she said as she smoothed her hair back. “I’ve been doing this since January and I’ve seen that we haven’t had to use our interpreters as much because the kids are learning some English,” she said. Fitzwater continued as the children lined up in front of the Iraqi, Iraqi Scout and U.S. flags, “All this makes an impact on the kids because they remember our names and our faces so I intend to keep volunteering until I leave.”


As the sun slowly descended past the tops of the palm trees, the youth of a new Iraq lined up shoulder to shoulder to say their scout motto while the service members who took a little time from their day gathered some distance behind them. Afterward, happy children and smiling service members streamed out of the camp, back home and back to work after taking another step toward helping to build a successful Iraqi scout program and a brighter future for Iraq.