30 March 2007

Going Down in Flames!

It seems as if I will have to face the fact that I can no longer wear the ACU's. By order of the CENTAF Commander, I have until 27 Apr to be in Desert Combat Uniform. I'd rather walk around in just my boots and a Viking helmet if that would help make me stand out as an Air Force person...but not so lucky. A terrible thought isn't it?? :P

Perhaps, I may be on the receiving side of the new Airmen Combat Uniform. Looks just like the DCU's without any new functionality and has really silly looking blue digital tiger stripes. The silver lining is the new uniform will cost a little over $100 for the pants, shirt, t-shirts, rank, and hat. I can have one set for free. A small pittance for the 7 months away from home and the extra added gluteus maximus pain from this entire ordeal.

A big hello to my Anderson High School classmates tuning in to my blog. I received an email from my classmate and friend Colleen Hines about the plans for our 20th year reunion. I have been out of high school for 20 years!!!! Holy smokes, I am old! However, in retrospect, I have accomplished a great deal, traveled the world, supported 2 combat campaigns, and have been blessed with a beautiful family, loving parents, and great in-laws throughout the extended family. Not bad for 38.

This weekend I will head over to the Chaplains office. They have a program where you can have 30 minutes of time with a video camera. I am going to read some books for my children and then send the book and the dvd back home so they can see and hear me read to them. Every so often, we are able to webcam as well.

The uniform ordeal has been an unfortunate distraction. Rest assured, we are all focused- intensely - on doing our job to protect our brothers and sisters in harms way. Seeing them each day in the dining facility in reward enough. The Lord has His own plan and calls his children home when it's time. There's nothing I can do about it. The real reward is having one of the soldiers see my JCCS-1 patch on my shoulder and thank me because our equipment saved them from being caught up in an IED explosion.

Thanks go out to Ivan Shetler for teaching the kids how to rope at the recent Cowboys and Cowgirls theme birthday party for Alex and Nikolas at our house. Hello to Uncle Russ and Aunt Deanne in Largo, FL. I am going to fly a flag over the Al Faw Palace and send it to my cousin Darcy's class as thanks for staying in touch with me on each of these deployments. Hello to the Stoller's in IL and FL! Hello to Colleen Hines' dad...thanks for explaining the death spiral cork screw approach into the airfield here in Baghdad to Colleen.

28 March 2007

Complete Buffoonery

This will be somewhat of a rant...but a clean one.

The last I checked, there is a war going on over here. There is an Air Force run base to the north of us called Balad. They have the responsibility to oversee every AF person deployed to Iraq.

Okay, Administrative control is fine...as long as they stay out of our way. Not so lucky.
When not working on keeping Coalition Forces protected from certain types of IED's, I have to deal with threatening emails from the admin glorified clerks up north telling us what uniform we have to wear. "That's so incredibly insignificant and stupid", you must be saying to yourself. I know I did!

The picture to the right shows me in the Army Combat Uniform. I have it written in my orders to wear the Army ACU for duty. A 3 star general signed off on us wearing these while assigned to the mission we are doing. The clerks from up north are saying we have to wear the desert battle uniform - the usual brown one you see on TV.

They sent an email threatening us that if we don't change our uniforms, they will send us home with administrative reprimands (Article 15) for failure to obey orders. Kids are dieing every day and these ___clowns are worried about whether we're dressed properly for the fight. Aaaaaggggghhhhhhhh!

The fellows with stars on their shoulders are being pulled in to this quagmire. I am hoping for quick resolution (in my favor).

= = = = = = = = = end rant = = = = = = = = = = =

So I am at the coffee shop the other day called the Green Bean. I was one of many to be entertained by an enterprising young enlisted fellow playing guitar and harmonica. He can actually sing too. He's pictured below. He walked away with a guitar case full of tips...not bad for a couple of hours doing what you like to best. He plays every Tues and Sat if you want to come over and listen!?

I have been remiss in adding pictures of my surroundings. Here are a few:

This is a mosque we have on base and sets about 100 meters away from where I work.

Side view of the Al Faw Palace. Once used by Saddam to host the Arab League of Nations. 3 levels, lots of rooms, and where we all originally slept shoulder-to-shoulder, toe-to-toe when we first rolled in 2003 before Tent City and trailers were brought to the base.

Thanks to EWODAD for writing. Thanks to JJ's and Suz for continuing to read and comment. Hi Gramps. Thanks to my folks who are helping my family out right now. Thanks to all for prayers. Pastor Mike - I am working my way down the Lent list from the Lent package.

22 March 2007

Dining Facility Musings

Our dining facilities are worked by men from Kuwait, Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and a few other countries. I showed up right at the end of US breakfast because at 0830, they get to have their breakfast after serving us. A couple big hits for these fellows are:
- huge bowl of grits to dip french toast in to
- Cocoa Puffs and Apple Jacks (a true race of about 8 fellows to the cereal tables is fun to watch)
- curiousy enough, they put their cereal with milk into the microwave and nuke it for one minute. To each their own, I guess.
- some have been truly corrupted by the American diet as they chow through breakfast burritos and hash browns.

I can also tell the kids who have just returned from midnight convoys. Besides being dirty, most are outwardly still wired on adrenaline. By the time they have finished their meal, they are very calm and almost sedate in their post-mission body crash. My heart goes out to these kids because I know they are going out again tonite to face the danger that awaits. There are many young ladies mixed in to these units. I know how my folks must feel for me being here as I envision my girls potentially being in the same place in about 12 years. I have a lot of respect for these brave young ladies! These seemingly demure girls, throw on their body armor & helmet, adjust their pony tails and climb up into a gun turret behind a 50 caliber machine gun - standing ready to lay down a wall of death to whomever challenges the security of that convoy. Keep them in your prayers.

The team guarding our dining facilities, as I mentioned before, are African. I have found out they are from Uganda doing their part for the Iraqi effort. They still light up and greet me before I can get to the entrance. I have been teaching Swahili to my office colleagues who want to say hello in Swahili too.

My days have been very busy writing threat assessments and pouring through daily reports from many agencies. Our adversary is very well trained and have many advanced techniques and weapons at their disposal. It's obvious they watch us very closely and plan their attacks carefully to exploit weaknesses they see in our operations. There are no good answers for what we can do. The tide is turning in some places as the locals are enjoying more freedom of movement. They go out of their way to warn some units of bombs, caches, and the location of insurgents.

No matter when we leave, I truly believe U.S. forces will leave Iraq a much better place than when we rolled in...even if the press won't report it.

18 March 2007

More Life Change

First and foremost, I should tell you of my Permanent Change of Station orders.

The Battlelab where I work is being closed by the Air Force (along with the other six Battlelabs). It's among the many cutbacks in personnel, programs, and overhead functions the Air Force needs to discontinue in order to pay for the new fighters, bombers, and other high tech weaponry we need to remain Super Powers in the years to come.

Anyway, I am headed back to the Mother Ship. We are being posted to the Intelligence Directorate at US Space Command in Colorado Springs, CO. Our report no later than date is 30 Sep. Theoretically, I should return to Mountain Home mid to late August. Thus, there should be ample time to out-process Mountain Home AFB. The Battlelab will have closed their doors and turned out the lights on 1 Aug...so I am not so sure who is going to in-process me from deployment. I am sure that will be figured out on 31 July!

It rained yesterday and the dust became 4in thick squishy mud that sticks to your boots and feels as if you were wearing ankle weights. The picture below is the sand storm that preceded the rains. The background color is sand. The cloud deck yesterday was 3,000 feet...meaning everything underneath was blowing sand and dust.

Today was very bright and clear as the rain cleared the sky for a couple days. Pretty much washed us clean!

My cousin, Darcy, is a school teacher in IL at Heartland Private School. I was pleased to receive an envelope filled with letters from the children in her class. These were the same kids who wrote to me the last time I was deployed here to Camp Victory. Thank you Darcy and to all the wonderful children you teach. I'll have a reply to their letters this week and see what kind cool things I can send them Iraq this time. In 2003, I was able to get my hands on Iraqi money with Saddam's face on the bills and sent them to Darcy's class as a gesture of thanks for thinking of me and writing.

This coming Wednesday is Operation PwGP day. That stands for Picture with General Petraeus day. Providing his security detail doesn't throw me down and handcuff me, I will attempt to get my picture taken with the Commanding General of Multi-National Forces in Iraq. He really seems like a soldiers soldier...soooooooo, I am hoping he doesn't mind a 30 second delay in his schedule for a picture.

Church service tonite focused on Ezekiel 33 10-16. Many Christians are plagued with phantom guilt of sins committed in their past. They need to realize the Lord has forgiven those sins and press on. Same goes for the folks who have rested on the laurels of the past. The Lord requires us to be full time servants. No matter which side of the coin, we may be rejected on earth, but will be forever accepted in heaven.

Blessing to you and have a great start of the week!

15 March 2007

Sitting the Watch

It's 3:52 in the morning here in Baghdad. We all take turns being available to answer the Admin phone in case the Red Cross calls or some other emergency occurs. Tonite, as I sit Watch, I viewed the 1976 film "The Eagle Has Landed" based off of Jack Higgins novel of the 3rd Reich idea to kidnap Winston Churchill. A few of you may remember it...starred Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, and Donald Sutherland.

When that finished I took a look around the building for our 8 lbs rat. That's another part of the night watch...seeing who spots the rat. Nothing so far. We have a cat without a tail that hangs around our building. Apparently he hasn't been so lucky catching the rat either.

I am now playing the DVD of Norah Jones Live in New Orleans. Her report with the audience isn't that great but her voice is just as pure live as on a mixed and professionally recorded CD. It reminds me of a Friday night in Clearwater, FL when I first listened to Norah Jones CD with Andra after we put the kids to bed. We liked the music from the first song. In fact, Alex and Ava have had Norah as their going to sleep music. Within the first 15 seconds of hearing her music on the radio, Ava will shout out "Norah Jones!"

Anyway, it's starting to warm up over here. Afternoon temps are reaching the mid-80's and it seems as if the rainy season has ended. A lot of dust gets kicked up by all of the vehicles around here. The civil engineers have water trucks come around and wet the roads down a little to pack down the dust.

Andy Gibbons and I found a local national store on base that sells DVD's for 2 dollars. Available to us, fresh from the theaters via videotape and digital reproduction, every movie that has opened up in the States within the last 2-6 weeks. I think I side-stepped the whole black market moniker there pretty well. :) It's just funny to see people still trying to find their seats silhouetted by the movie screen. What can one expect for $2.00???

Another quick look for the rat has revealed my Girl Scout cookie bait has been snatched from the kitchen corner. In fact he's in the middle of the room swaying his head side to side with Norah Jone's music. Just kidding. I have my camera ready though. If I see him, I'll post his picture. The silly muses of one who has been awake for 22 hours! Speaking of GS cookies, we are supposed to receive a package with 200 boxes of GS cookies in the next week or so. Extra time in the gym here I come!

Work continues to go well. Spending a lot of time pouring through reports to look for trends or emerging changes in tactics or equipment in the counter-IED fight. Still very disheartening to read patrol reports where an IED detonated and the wounded in action have their status changed to killed in action. The only limit to the enemy's tactics is their imagination. It makes trying to shut down these animals akin to chasing a demon...forever running and forever haunted.

11 March 2007

Movie and Pizza Saturday

Just like home, we had the weekly movie and pizza night. We watched the movie The 13th Warrior and enjoyed pizza from the Pizza Hut folks here on Victory. To long to go into here, we found interesting parallels to the plot of the movie and our presence here in Iraq.

Speaking of movies, the Comms folks have installed a streaming video capability and the choice of about 10 different channels for news, sports, and other interests programming. I find I can punctuate my day between meetings and meals by watching a movie. Whatever it takes to make the days go by...I am not ashamed!

I have run across the Commanding General, General Petreaus, twice now. On Wednesdays, he's in the conference room prior to one of my working group meetings. Sometime in the near future, I am going to finesse my way into a picture with him. Give me about 3 weeks to work it out. He's a nice, competent and self-assured fellow.

One of my new hobbies is learning a few phrases of conversational Swahili. There is a new team of guards at the dining facilities and base perimeter. They are most likely from Kenya or Ethiopia. I sheepishly tried out the one greeting phrase I know in Swahili and they perked up, smiled big, and were very happy someone made an effort to speak to them. Now I am brushing up on more conversational phrases. They look for me now and greet me before I can greet them. I am enjoying the exchanges. The funny part is watching the look on every ones face as this very white officer carries on a short conversation in a language many have never even heard before. Ahhhhh, making friends and influencing people the Stoller way. Mom and Dad would be proud. Actually they are very proud of me....they tell me every time I call home. :)

Went to the 6:30 pm Praise Worship at the Victory Chapel tonight. It was very similar to my church back home...the Mountain Home Church of the Nazarene. Good praise band, contemporary Christian music like we sing back home and hear on 89.5 KTSY. Helped me forget I was in Iraq for an hour. Our message was on "The highest Call from God is to Worship - genuinely and whole hearted". Scripture was from John and Romans for the 3 main points: 1) Worship is relational 2) Worship is empowered by the Holy Spirit and 3) Worship is the Truth and Knowledge of Jesus Christ. We'll have a sun rise service on Easter Sunday just outside the Palace along the waters edge. Something to look forward to.

Those who read this blog are in different walks with a power they believe in. I don't mean to get over religious with this blog. I only wish to make a point that it is my relationship and walk that gets me through each day away from my family; in harms way with mortar and rocket attacks; and helps me center myself after reviewing multiple daily intelligence reports (with pictures) on the effects IED's are having on the brave young kids I work and live with who go out everyday to patrol the streets or provide security for convoys.
Moment of serenity...

08 March 2007


I have had several days to delve into the daily patrol and explosive ordnance reports. There is so much the public doesn't know as far as the magnitude of IED's exploded and/or cleared along the main supply routes. We have immediate feedback on the wounded and casualties. I have also been privy to sniper reports and captured insurgent sniper video. It took a long time to fight back the urge to vomit. This is a forsaken place.

Walking back to work from lunch today I saw black smoke billowing from an IED just outside the compound. The helos were obviously called to med evac an unfortunate soul. Pictures below: (click on the picture to enlarge)

I am busy each day with meetings and introducing myself to folks in the many organizations dealing with countering IED's. Andy and I are continuing our Body For Wife program by working out first thing before breakfast and then returning to the gym in the afternoon to exercise on the ellyptical trainer or treadmill. We have recently invested in wireless internet for our trailer and found out last nifght we have the capability for web cam.

Here's a happy snap from a couple days ago of the full moon.

06 March 2007

Moving Forward

I am officially moved into my trailer..unpacked, sorted, and it looks a little like home with a new 2x3 throw rug in front of my bed and the new bed linens I bought back in Janury while at training in MD. Andra sent my GPS to me and I measured the distance between my trailer and my building: 4.1 miles. So far the office has been pretty good about giving Andy and me a vehicle to get back and forth.

Directly across the street from our trailer is a dining facility, AT&T calling center, Morale tent with computers, voice over IP phones, large screen tv's, movies; next to the Morale tent is a brand new gym; and there is a KBR laundry service. Laundry has been tough for my clothing. My previously white underwear is now a tie-die assortment akin to camouflage. The kids tie-died my underwear once before and Ava named them my Earth underwear. Well, now I have about 8 more pair of Earth underwear compliments of KBR laundry services! On the bright side, laundry is only 24 hours instead of 72 hours when I was last at Victory.

Now for work. I am trying to get a hang of the Navy way of doing things. We are a staff, but we really aren't...so chain of command is kind of loose and folks seem to be in your back pocket. I'll chalk it up to them being helpful to the new guy for now. I have a threat assessment to look forward to writing in support of a new concept of operations. There are a lot of data bases and assessments to jump in to in order to be up to speed on what I need to be smart on. I'll also be lining up trips with the route clearing teams and getting together with Explosive ORDNANCE (now spelled correctly thanks my most favorite EOD tech Ms Laura Turnbull-Peters) Disposal teams, and a forensics team.

This will be the first time in about 5 years that I am able to get back to basics and be a real intelligence analyst. Very exciting stuff!

04 March 2007

It's March Already

First and formost: prayers go out to LCDR Jason Domzal who was whisked out of here 2 days ago at the news of his father's passing. We found out around 9pm and by 4:30am he was on a plane to Kuwait connecting to his home.

We just took our end of course exam to conclude Phase 4 training. I think I will actually get down to Intel work tomorrow. We have been training since the 21st of January. Needless to say, we're all chomping at the bit to finally do "the job" we were sent here to accomplish.

The other good news is that I am now the proud occupant of a trailer and can unpack my stuff for a couple of months. Its called a wet trailer which means a full bathroom separates the 2 occupants. Lucky for me, my friend and colleague LCD Andy Gibbons has the right half of the trailer and I have the left half (roughly 15x15ft). It sure beats the 8x3ft space we have lived in since January. Our next challenge is to acquire a set of wheels as we are located about 5 miles from the HQ building where we work.