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Sunday, December 23rd, 2007
2:32 am - Why did no one tell me?

That is all.

Oh, Merry Christmas.

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Sunday, December 16th, 2007
3:36 pm - Iraq takes control of Basra from British army
Iraq takes control of Basra from British army
16 DEC 07 AFP

BASRA, Iraq (AFP) — Iraq formally took security control of the southern oil province of Basra from British forces on Sunday, paving the way for Britain to sharply reduce its nearly 5,000-strong troop presence.

The transfer order was signed by Basra Governor Mohammed al-Waili and Major General Graham Binns, the head of British forces in Iraq's second city.

"The handover means victory for Iraq and defeat to its enemies," Iraq's national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie said at the handover ceremony.

"This achievement is one of the main achievements of the national unity government. It has come after sacrifices and direct support from our sons and all Iraqis. Our biggest challenge is to maintain the security in Basra."

Basra, the ninth of Iraq's 18 provinces to be returned to local control by the US-led coalition, is the fourth and final province under British control since the 2003 invasion to be transferred.

The ceremony saw Iraq showcasing its military equipment as soldiers paraded in front of a palace of the executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi forces were heavily deployed in Basra to thwart any insurgent attacks, while helicopters patrolled the skies above, an AFP correspondent said.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband hailed the transfer as "a major step forward."

"It is a testament to the growing capacity of the Iraqi security forces, and to Iraqi readiness to step up and assume responsibility," he said.

"I want Iraqis to know... Britain remains a committed friend. We will continue to support the people and government as they forge a future based on reconciliation, democracy, prosperity and security."

British troops were greeted as liberators when they rolled into Basra but never subsequently succeeded in winning over the predominantly Shiite population. Few residents will mourn their departure.

"It's our wish to see the Iraqis take responsibility for security in place of the British. They never understood anything except the language of the bullet," complained Abu Ahmed, a 55-year-old parking attendant.

A recent BBC opinion poll found that the vast majority of Basra residents share that sentiment -- 86 percent of respondents said they saw the British as a negative influence. Only two percent thought their presence positive.

Student Sawsan Ali, 21, hoped Iraqis would be able to provide the security.

"It is not easy to control the security in Basra as enforcing law needs a strong force," he said.

In a statement issued in London, Defence Secretary Des Browne said the transfer of Basra to Iraqi control was a "tribute" to British forces who have lost at least 174 dead since 2003.

"But we are not yet at the end of the road. Our role in Basra is changing to one of overwatch but our commitment to Iraq is undimmed," he said.

US officials in Baghdad also welcomed the handover but warned that more needs to be done.

"In order to attain sustainable security, the provincial and military leadership in Basra still have work to do and we will assist as requested," said a joint statement by US Charge d'Affaires in Baghdad Patricia Butenis and General David H. Petraeus, head of coalition forces in Iraq.

The almost exclusively Shiite city of 1.7 million people has been riven by rivalries between Shiite militias, but a feared explosion of violence once British troops pulled back has failed to materialise.

Rubaie warned that the performance of the provincial authorities was being watched.

"The people of Basra will witness what you are going to do with security... whether you will support the militias, whether you will fight the corruption, whether you will cooperate with terrorism," he said.

The Basra governor pledged to enforce the law regardless of factional loyalties.

"We are ready to stop anybody who tries to sabotage security," Waili told the gathering.

The three main Shiite factions in the city -- the former rebel Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), the radical movement of Moqtada al-Sadr and the smaller Fadhila party -- recently signed a peace agreement.

SIIC chief Abdel Aziz al-Hakim told AFP that peaceful rivalry between factions was "the very nature of democracy."

"Political competition will not transform itself into armed conflict," he vowed.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who made a surprise visit to Basra on December 9, said in October that British troop numbers would be cut by more than half to 2,500 by early next year.

Following the handover, British troops will provide specialist backup to Iraqi forces, such as patrolling the border with Iran and carrying out economic activities.

But uncertainty remains over the ability of Iraqi security forces to keep a cap on factional rivalries, particularly given the province's vast oil wealth.

Basra produces more than 70 percent of Iraq's oil, and 80 percent of crude exports go through Basra port.

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Sunday, November 4th, 2007
11:43 pm - united in the quiet of the desert...
Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert.

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Thursday, November 1st, 2007
12:32 am - words and plans
"God determines who walks into your life. You determine who walks away, who stays, and whom you let in." -our chaplain.

After I come back from Iraq I will have vacation for the whole month of October, 2008. I am going to the South Pacific.

The weather is being suitable for Halloween --wind is howling around the building.

That is all for now.

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Tuesday, October 30th, 2007
10:03 pm - O Fortuna velut luna...
Flint, Michigan Sheds Foreclosed Properties
by Tracy Samilton

Morning Edition, October 30, 2007 · Abandoned homes are a big problem in Flint, Mich., a former manufacturing stronghold that is losing jobs and residents.

In some neighborhoods five or more houses in a row are boarded up, as one owner after another packs up and leaves. Once they have sat vacant too long bulldozers come to demolish them.

But the county is stepping in and taking control of the city's tax-foreclosed properties, selling plots to neighbors for a dollar or paying churches to maintain them.

The Genesee County Land Bank is demolishing the abandoned homes in an attempt to end decay and help Flint downsize gracefully.

The lots are sold to the neighbor for a dollar, or turned into parks.

Dan Kildee is Genesee County's treasurer and the chairman of the Land Bank. He says the old system, where the county auctioned tax-foreclosed properties to the highest bidder, worked against the city's interests. The amount of money raised wasn't that much and the result was often a spiral from bad to worse.

"Single family becomes rental, then slumlord owned, then eventually a big abandoned, burned out shell," said Kildee.

Towns throughout the county — all better off than Flint — are allowing the Land Bank to spend all the money it gets from tax-foreclosures only on Flint.

Kildee said neighboring towns understand that a house loses value if it's next to an abandoned one, and property values in the county are depressed by the presence of a dying city in its midst.

He added the new system is helping just about everyone: Developers who can prove they have Flint's best interests at heart get properties at a good price. Residents don't have to fear when the abandoned house next door will be set ablaze, and the city can focus its scarce resources on crime and jobs.

Real estate investment advisor John Reed said speculators mainly come after tax-foreclosure properties because they sell too cheap.

But it's difficult to entice enough legitimate developers who care about Flint's long-term future.

As Flint shrinks, it's taking on an oddly rural quality. Most streets are rundown, but there are also ambitious vegetable gardens springing up under the tender care of the new owners of double lots.

Mary Lymon sits at her patio table, overlooking her new yard that boasts a cheerful flower garden, a trellis and a swing. It's a big change from the days she worried about drug dealers coming and going at the abandoned house that once stood there, she said. Once the house was gone and the land was hers.

"I just really enjoyed coming out with my coffee — felt like I was in the country," said Lymon.

Tracy Samilton reports from member station Michigan Radio.

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9:44 pm - Pakistan
Two years ago I stood on this very curb trying to argue with the Pak Army that MG Shajahan Ali Khan (the most wonderful name I have ever heard) did in fact say the media could enter

TextCollapse )

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12:48 am - Vacation plans
With the exception of four days over Thanksgiving, I will be in Iraq or headed there until next October. Then I get a month of vacation. In addition, I should get two weeks vacation sometime between February and July.

So I am spending a lot of pleasant minutes planning out these vacations, on which I plan to spend the extra money I'll be making.

For the two weeks, I'm either going to S. Africa or Brisbane, AUS.

For the month, I found a trip to Fiji that fits neatly into my schedule AND is for single travelers AND revolves around kayaking/snorkeling/diving/hiking rather than beach/shopping/resort. I hate to commit this far out, but it looks tempting...

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Thursday, October 18th, 2007
Lammerke, what are you DOING? That is a dangerous weapon! Do not put your hooves in the trigger guard until you are ready to destroy whatever is in your sights!

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Monday, October 15th, 2007
10:12 pm - The Radio is Singing to Me ...
I am having a full two days of return to adolescence in which the songs on the radio seem to be addressing me personally.

Over YouCollapse )

Boys Like Girls - The Great EscapeCollapse )

Matchbox Twenty - How Far We've ComeCollapse )

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9:20 pm - MREs
Meals Ready to Eat.

I have some advice.

Avoid the beef patty! At all costs!

If you are looking for the dried cranberries, try the Vegetarian MREs. Yes, they have vegetarian MREs. The Spicy Penne Pasta with Mushrooms lives up to the spicy.

The cracker sucks --it is like dessicated plaster-- but provides a workable vehicle for the peanut butter OR the jalepeno cheese spread.

I like when you get a non-Army-packaged item, like the Skittles or the MandMs. The packaging is cheerful and a breath of fresh air from the commercial America we all love to bitch about until we can't access it.

My favorite item is the Yellow and Wild Rice Pilaf. It is seriously good for an MRE and actually a little better than similar food like Rice-a-Roni. But they are fiendishly clever about hiding it. Today I found one in the Chicken Fajita, along with Raisins and Mixed Nuts, which I switched for a Chocolate Sports Bar.

I have been playing no-shit Army in preparation for deployment. IED detection, combatives, dismounted land nav, low-crawling through the red sand (and spending two hours cleaning my gear), tactical road marches everywhere we go while wearing IBA/Kevlar and carrying weapons at low ready. I can't believe I actually get paid to do this! I have escaped the office; in fact, I don't even HAVE an office at this point. (One is about to surge forward and devour me, unfortunately, but as of now I am free.) Of course I am spending any spare time doing my job on this computer, but the training is great.

Hope everyone is doing well.

Some photos behind the cut.Collapse )

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Wednesday, October 10th, 2007
12:03 am - on the lighter side...
Where ARE you supposed to walk?

This sign has been cracking us up all week.

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Sunday, October 7th, 2007
10:37 pm - far beyond happiness
it's pretty here...Collapse )

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Friday, October 5th, 2007
9:15 pm - Look what Lammerke has done
“LAMMERKE! You told them that we liked it the last time … now we are going back for a year. Enjoy this hotel room while it lasts!”

"I told you so, Lammerke. But you know us; it is a new adventure..."

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Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007
10:01 am - mobilized
well, I have been mobilized since yesterday. It is one of those deployments where a reserve unit that was at half strength is quickly manned up, so everyone is in last minute confusion. My specialist just got his orders yesterday, and we have a staff sergeant coming in a couple of weeks.

don't have a car, but as I am back in the charming penumbra of Detroit Metro again, there aren't too many places for me to go, anyway.

will keep you posted!

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Tuesday, September 25th, 2007
10:36 am - Can't beat free...
With the exception of my 0650 flight being cancelled because the Northworst plane had a dead battery (did someone forget to turn off the stereo? leave the dome light on?) today is shaping up. I am going straight to work when (...if...) I get up to Michigan so I have my uniform on, and people have been so nice to me it is kind of embarrassing: I haven't done anything to deserve attention ... and I love attention. TSA let me through the short line at the metal detectors, the guy behind me at the Starbucks bought my coffee, and a random person in the bathroom got teary-eyed thanking me. Then I found out from the Northwest counter that since the new Chili's is opening, apparently there IS such a thing as a free lunch today. Also, I got two coupons from Northwest for stuff in the airport and free miles. So I probably should stop calling them Northworst.

Hopefully the next flight will be a go, and I can get up to the HAND and meet my new brigade. I have lots of notional programs, but until I actually meet the people, I can't really get started. It looks like I will have a Msgt and a SPC --talked to the SPC over the weekend. There is a symposium this week that I hope will get me up to speed on the mission, though I flatter myself I have used the power of Google to figure out a lot.

Will yap at you from Michigan if Northwest is amenable to getting me there...

PS. The Fajita Trio is GOOD!

PPS. I will have to write at length about the weekend's festivities, but let's just say that my friend who just came back from Kabul and I kicked it OLD SKOOL.

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Sunday, September 23rd, 2007
9:37 pm - Got my orders
going to play in the sandbox starting 4 Oct ... will be stateside till about the first of the year.

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Thursday, September 20th, 2007
9:20 pm - Birmingham
Well, did the typical wait in line for piece of paper to be signed, proceed to next line, wait, receive paper, after which I was certified as ready to mobilize. I should be going up to the new command next week to actually start on my job, which will be great, but the paperwork hasn't caught up with me in the system, so they couldn't cut me orders today.

I think that some type of celestial authority intervened over the summer when I became conscious that I was using "Y'all" and "fixing to" without irony and even in emails. They decided that I must be returned to the land of "eh" and "abOOT" before I completely disregard my nasal and Industrial Midwestern heritage. The LTC I've been working with went to school next door to me; he went to Western Michigan University, while I graduated from Kalamazoo. In a final weird connection, one of his classmates at Army ROTC is a PAO I worked with in Tampa.

Birmingham, Alabama, seemed to be a leafy gem of a town. You can tell from the map that it was cut through mountains. It's called the Magic City because it grew overnight after two railroads connected in 1871. Now it is post steel-bust, which made me feel at home as I am both from the Rust Belt and a fan of urban ruins. Some of them looked like kudzu-swaddled Harpers Ferry, some like the vast, Mordor-division Chevy-in-the-Hollow I used to stare at from the banks of the concrete-entombed Flint River, having ridden my bike across Corunna Road and through the torn fence. The town was all tucked away into the folds of green ridges, no blocks and blocks of sweltering strip malls like Jacksonville. Or at least not the part I saw. I did see this cool-looking statue but didn't get to the park as I was short on time ... after I got through all the paperwork, talked to my new boss, worked out, and sat in the hotel building up a new program from scratch, I had nothing left.

Wish I had more time to take pictures. I stayed out by Summit Mall , and I stopped by the Barnes and Nobles there to get a book with a neglected birthday gift card. I like to pick up books when I'm visiting a new place because I can write on the fly leaf where I was. Bama seems to be a nice place --the faces are different. Southerners look different than Midwesterners. They are a little more "English" looking, blue eyes, fair, faces build a little differently. I'm having a hard time describing it, but even after a few days, I can tell a difference.

A friend of a friend invited me out to do a run organized by this shop , so we jogged five miles as a prelude to some guilt-free beer drinking on 20th Street. A place named Oak Mills served Nasty Light ON TAP, which further connected me with my roots. With the archtypal "Southern Hospitality" the group included me in their conversation, and we even made plans to take an RV to the Grand Canyon.

Hopefully next week will see me up in the Hand again, if the paperwork gets unwuzzled...

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Monday, September 17th, 2007
11:42 am - One small victory over the paperwork
I have an ID card that actually says "Army" on it. It was rolling up on three months now where I was wandering around with a Navy LT's ID card. Another dubious first... as an added bonus the picture looks somewhat decent, though they insist upon shining the light directly on your forehead, seductively highlighting the red mark the band of my beret gave me.

ID cards have often delivered horrifying renditions of my likeness. The one I just gratefully handed over looked like a mugshot following a bust on a meth lab. I had it in a document pouch around my neck when I was in Iraq, and a major grabbed it, stared at it, and said, "Wow, that looks NOTHING like you. This is the worst ID picture I have ever SEEN, and I've been in the Army for 15 years."

Paranthetically, this was the same major who sent me many snotty emails when I was trying to take reporters to Iraq, including accusing me of trying to run an information op in his AOR and telling me not to send him so many emails because he had better things to do than spend all his time on "your rinkie-dink media tour." I figured it probably wasn't a good idea to advise him he had spelled "rinky" wrong. (Actually, he was a nice guy in person, but when I emailed him the other day to get info about Iraq, he had a snotty out of office message. To tell the truth, I found this admirable.)

I look about 60 years old in my driver's license photo, but this is nowhere near the worst of the ID card humiliations I have endured. The first ID card picture I had taken in the Navy was handsdown the worst picture ever. It was taken in OCS right after the US gubmint treated us all to a haircut. They shaved the guys' heads, and they cut mine so short it stood up in a brush cut. I am not kidding. I have thick hair, and it stood straight up. This is also how I found out my right ear sticks out more than my left. The look on my face when I realize this is the photo for my ID card is indescribable. It was so bad, people were handing it around the room marvelling at the horror. "You don't look female ... you don't even look HUMAN!" said someone in awe.

I should leave for Birmingham tonight ... more paperwork...

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Friday, September 14th, 2007
6:42 pm - Weekend!
Every seven days, like it was planned that way.

I checked out a tent at the MWR for M's friend who doesn't have one. It is called a Eureka Assault Tent. I find that to be quite motivating!

Busy day trying to finish my current projects since I'll be in Birmingham all next week. Not looking forward to doing all the paperwork, but I will get to meet the people in my current unit, including Major Slaughter, whose title combined with his name still cracks me up, and CPT Thames, pronounced like James, not like the river. The convoluted saga that is my military career continues to amuse and astound; in addition to having been in the Navy and the Army at the same time AND having been selected for promotion to LCDR when I was a CPT, I may be setting some sort of record for shortest tour ever, since I will probably be processed out of this unit and into my deploying unit with about a week of total time.

After I do the processing in Birmingham, I will connect with the deploying unit for about two months of training ... and then onward. Sorry to be vague, just practicing stringent operational security (OPSEC). I can't even tell you where we go after the training, though if you aren't guessing, you really haven't been paying attention.

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Thursday, September 13th, 2007
7:58 pm - When Coincidence Isn't...
I have been pulling myself along a string of interlocking people, names, places, coincidences for over two years now, since I went to Germany and Gulfport for the hurricane. Some are eerie.

It looks now that I will be returning to Michigan, where I grew up and went to college, to meet up with the mobilizing Army unit pretty much 10 years to the day I signed up for the Navy. In almost the same town. I found out I was going on September 11, six years after the plane went under my feet and destroyed the office I was about 90 seconds away from visiting. 9/11 was one of the reasons I volunteered to deploy with the Army in 2005 (though probably not what you're thinking ... it's a story that I'll tell at a different point in time), and when the Navy instead sent me to Tampa, I started on a road that changed my life.

Today's mysterious coincidence. Next week I have to go to Birmingham (Ala. not Mich.) for four adventure-filled days of pre-deployment processing (making sure all the records are in order, that I have shots and dog tags --which makes me sound like someone's cat). Driving home from spin class at the Y, I turned to the country station to hear a song about Birmingham.

Finally talked to an LT from the deploying unit, but I really won't have a good sight picture of what my job will entail until I get some time with the commander. I did learn that my position hasn't been filled for a while, which is good in that I can build my own program but bad in that I probably don't have any equipment, and I don't seem to have any soldiers, either. A lot can happen in the interim, and I won't know anything definite until I meet with the commander or the XO.

In other news: the secretary is victorious and the exterminator is returning to prosecute a campaign against a (plastic) rat, the roach is STILL on the floor, my boss threatened to kick my ass AGAIN over something he had imagined, I am returning to Rainbow River this weekend with BIG LAMBIE and two of his work friends, pictures of which I still owe you, and I will keep you posted on the dynamic and doubtlessly enthralling situation that my life is becoming.

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