September 2007 - Happy Birthday Crazy Tony!

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Middle East » Iraq
September 30th 2007
Published: October 4th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

Sitting in the TrunkSitting in the TrunkSitting in the Trunk

Left to Right: Andy, Me, and Julio
Down Time
We’ve had a couple of long missions this month were we had to wait around at another FOB for several days. Those missions aren’t hard. I actually enjoy them because they give me plenty of time to read. I got some good pictures of us living out of the trucks like gypsies.

Happy 30th Birthday to Me!
September 10th (my birthday), came and went like any other day here. Nothing special happened. I quietly opened a few small presents by myself in my corner of our room because it was my birthday. Nobody knew. Nobody. Why? There is a special, time-honored tradition in the Army. It is called the “Pink Belly.” On a soldier's birthday (or any other special occasion), his closest friends (and some not-so close friends) will surprise him. Not the way civilians surprise each other on their birthdays. In the Army, several soldiers overpower the birthday boy and wrestle him to the ground. He is held there with his shirt pulled up so that everyone can give him a happy birthday smack on the belly - hence the name - “pink belly.” Other more complicated versions involve duct taping the soldier to something and leaving
Pure JoyPure JoyPure Joy

Look at the looks of glee on their faces. Also note that I'm covered in duct tape from my knees to my chest. At this point they THOUGHT they had completely submitted.
him there for hours. Silly string is often a part of the festivities.

Isn’t it great to know that the people with which you entrust the security of our great nation haven’t matured past the age of twelve? Regardless, it's really a lot of fun, and it's not hazing because it has nothing to do with being new. Everyone gets special attention on their birthday but only if someone finds out that it's their birthday. That brings us back to my "private" birthday. I didn't tell anyone that it was my birthday until it was over.

The Two Week Rule
Little did I know that there is a "Two Week Rule" in Charlie Company (one week before and one week after). Argh! Foiled again! As I sat watching a movie with my headphones on and my back to the door, Shawn poked his head in. I never saw him, nor did I know what was coming next. They bought the whole platoon (and good for them because it took all of them). I wasn't going down without a fight. It took ten minutes and eight infantrymen trained in Ju Jitsu (most of whom I taught) to get me
Breaking the TapeBreaking the TapeBreaking the Tape

After I broke out of all the duct tape, they are flex cuffing my left hand to the cot.
handcuffed, my feet taped, and onto a cot outside my room; but that wasn't the end of the fight. They used two rolls of duct tape to tape me to the cot and then undid the handcuffs because my wrists were starting to bleed. It took a few tries, but I broke all the duct tape. It took everyone by surprise (even me) because we’ve never seen anyone bust the duct tape before. Unfortunately, one of the guys had handcuffed my right hand to the cot. They piled back on me, about a six guys this time; and there wasn't much I could do cuffed to a cot. This time they used flex cuffs (plastic hand cuffs made out of super strong zip ties). There was no getting out, but that didn't mean there was no fighting. I sent elbows and head butts at anyone in range. I even bit one of Shawn's triceps. That earned me a couple punches in the side from him. They stood the cot on its end under the battalion HQ. At times, my feet wouldn't touch the ground and I slid down with all my weight on the cuffs. I felt like I was
Head Butts and Chomping TeethHead Butts and Chomping TeethHead Butts and Chomping Teeth

As they carried me on the cot to the battalion HQ, I head butted and bit anyone careless enough to put an arm in range.
being crucified.

Passersby would often stop to watch, but they generally left when I started threatening them by name with horrible violence (not mean violence - just a friendly assault similar to what I was receiving). Since there are only a handful of guys in battalion that can beat me up one on one - most took me seriously enough. Even my commanding officer disappeared shortly after I spotted him and called him out. This worked to my advantage, since the guys didn't have the nerve to leave me there at the HQ for hours waiting for some passerby would free me (which is what I expected). I was actually disappointed that they didn't leave me. It didn't matter much since one of the officers that I threatened had pity on me (he had recently had a birthday), and he had already slipped me a spring loaded knife when the guys came back to free me. They only loosed one hand and then ran away. That didn't save them though. I spent the rest of the evening stalking the shadows around our rooms and assaulting all my buddies one at a time. I gave out more charlie-horses than I
Road ConeRoad ConeRoad Cone

All my buddies were kind enough to fit me with this snazzy birthday hat.
could possibly count. Shawn was complaining for days about his bruised leg . Of course, he was the ring leader; so he got the worst of my “revenge.” All in all this was great fun (and relatively safe). A good stress reliever. I must stress that all this is just fun horse play between friends, and it is done in the spirit of fun. No soldiers were harmed in the making of this story.

More Childish Antics - The Cinnamon Challenge
I learned a fun game from my days working at Outback Steakhouse. It’s called the “Cinnamon Challenge.” You offer a guy money if he can swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon all at once without drinking anything. Sometimes the pot would get over a hundred dollars. It’s not a bet. He gets paid if he wins, but doesn’t owe anything if he loses. It seems like there is no downside - easy money, right? Wrong! While it’s not impossible, it’s very unpleasant. I actually seen several people do it, but even those guys regretted it afterward. The cinnamon burns your throat, mouth, and nasal passages. People sometimes get sick. You cough up cinnamon for days afterward. Add all this to the fact that it is very unpleasant even while you are trying to get it down, and you have the makings of good “clean” fun.

We recently had a company barbecue, and I decided things were too dull. So, I got out the cinnamon. The first guy tried for 30 bucks, and he actually got it. It was so much fun though, we kept trying to get people to do it. As more people tried (and failed) coughing cinnamon everywhere, more and more people became financial backers. Around 15 people finally went in together to get our platoon leader (who we love to pick on) to try. It took a $180 pot, and some encouragement by our battalion commander to get him to try. No one thought that he would get it, but sure enough he did. We had to pay up, but the look on his face when he had the cinnamon on his mouth was worth a million bucks. No one regretted it for a moment - except maybe our platoon leader.

The Concerned Citizens Program
You may have noticed in the news lately that there is some controversy about a new strategy that we are using all over Iraq. We are cooperating with many insurgents (now former insurgents) who have realized that the real victims of their war are the people of Iraq. These new "concerned citizens" help us fight against the real extremists (for example Al Qa’ida) that just want to perpetuate this war regardless of the cost to the Iraqi people. With their help we've found some IEDs (roadside bombs) and made the roads more secure from future bombs. So far, this cooperation between former enemies seems to be paying off; but only time will tell if it is a viable long term solution. I pray that this cooperation continues and that the Iraqi political parties can follow suit to make the government work to give these people a reasonable hope for a better future. However, for many soldiers this is a bitter pill to swallow. Our official policy is that we will not cooperate with any individuals who have shed American blood, but there is no way to know for sure if all of these new concerned citizens are innocent. Many soldiers, especially those who have lost close friends, would rather keep fighting these former insurgents rather than forgiving them and working together. That feeling is totally understandable, but I know that eventually someone must forgive and seek reconciliation, or this war will never end. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely some risk in this strategy, but I think that it is a good move on our part. I just hope we can trust these people. Please pray that we can.

Exit Strategy
Furthermore, please don’t just pray for our troops; also pray for the Iraqi military and police force. That is our main strategy for success. Once they can secure this country, we will no longer be needed. Eventually, America will grow weary of the Iraq war. Indeed, I think they already have, and eventually they will want to pull us out. I just hope that the Iraqis are ready to pick up the slack when that happens so that all our efforts will not be wasted. I feel mixed about the idea of a pullout. First, the question is way above my pay grade, so I don’t know what the right answer is. All I know is what I would like. On one hand, of course, I selfishly want us to pull out because I don’t want to leave my family again to come back here. On the other hand, I feel like pulling out too early and giving up on this country would waste all the blood that we’ve spilled over here. I’ve lost friends here, so I would like to see their death count for something. I want to win, so please pray. Pray that both that we leave Iraq and that our sacrifice was not in vain. Pray for the Iraqi people, government, military, and police.

The Iraqi Poverty Mentality
We had an interesting mission the other day. We went to a local town.. As we walked into the market district, a friendly mob of kids slowly formed. The asked the typical annoying questions, "Mister! Mister! Give me money." or " Give me futball (aka soccer ball)." or "Give me chocolate." Something interesting happened when a young girl (about 12 years old) came up to me with her two little sisters. They were all cute kids, especially the baby (around 3 years old); but the middle girl (about 6 years old) was carrying the youngest on her hip, which was just adorable. I wish I had gotten a picture. We exchanged high fives and hand shakes (except for the oldest because touching a man outside her family at her age would be inappropriate in their culture since she is old enough to marry), and I squeezed the baby's chubby cheeks (she was so cute). They, of course, asked me for money. Then the oldest asked me (in a somewhat suggestive way) if I had a "madam" (aka wife). This is a very normal question to get from males, especially young boys and teenagers; but girls are rarely that forward. Actually, girls rarely talk at all. They tend to hang around the periphery and not speak much (as the culture dictates).

Then she really surprised me by asking if I had a picture. Even the boys had never asked me that, but as a matter of fact I do carry a couple pictures with me every time I go out (right next to my heart ). It took some real digging to get at them without taking my body armor off, but I managed it. I was an instant hit. Every boy and girl in the immediate area was clawing at those pictures. I’m just glad they were laminated or they would have surely been ripped to shreds. The girls looked at the pictures of Laura, Jaeden, and Selah then handed them off to the clawing boys, who probably would have beaten them if they had not. The oldest girl told me that Laura was very beautiful. The she asked me (very suggestively) if I thought she was beautiful too. Quite surprised at her forwardness, I told her that all three of them were beautiful. Luckily, about that time, the oldest girl spotted someone (probably an adult relative) in a group of men that we were approaching and ran away with her sisters.

Later as we walked back to the truck, all the guys were talking about this pretty little girl because it was so rare to see a girl her age come up and talk to us. Cameron joked that he would buy her and bring her back to the states so that she could be "America's Next Top Model" in 2014. I told them about what she had said to me and our Mohammed, our Iraqi interpreter, told me that she wanted me to marry her. I laughed, but then he said quite seriously that I should leave my wife
Sleeping in the Bath/Laundry RoomSleeping in the Bath/Laundry RoomSleeping in the Bath/Laundry Room

We got a little bored and started putting our snack trash on Julio. :)
in America and come to Iraq where, on my salary I could live like a king. He said that I could buy a beautiful house and a new car and have many wives. If this had come from our other 'terp (interpreter), Tommy, (a truly dirty individual) I would have just laughed it off and ignored him; but it really surprised me coming from Mohammed. He was a teacher before the war. He is older, more mature, more educated, and more respectable than most of our 'terps. For me he epitomizes respectable, Iraqi people. So when he said that to me, it was like Iraq said it to me; and it was so sad.

These people have such an impoverished mindset with so little hope that often they think that a nice house and car, many wives, and lots of kids will make you happy. They are grasping at straws. The poor little girl (who probably got beat when she got home for being so friendly with the American men) was grasping at straws - hoping that I would like her and take her away from her poverty. I wish I could adopt her and her sisters and every
The Cinnamon ChallengeThe Cinnamon ChallengeThe Cinnamon Challenge

Can you swallow a table spoon of cinnamon without anything to drink? Avery thought he could.
other little kid over here. I wish I could personally give each of them hope for a better life before they become forever jaded and stuck in a dead end life.

That is the great difference between Iraq and America - hope! In America we believe it is possible to make something of ourselves, and we do just that. Here the people are waiting to be saved without any hope that it will ever happen or that they can do it for themselves. They are stuck because they believe they are stuck, and the believe they are stuck because it has been beaten into them since childhood. The first person that gives these people hope (either true or false) will change this country significantly - either for the better or worse. FDR gave us hope during the Great Depression and forever changed America. Likewise, Hitler gave Germany hope around the same time. Somebody will give these people hope. I just pray that is what we are doing now - giving these people hope for a better future.

Ultimately, this same lesson applies to our human condition. As individuals, we will not become any more successful than we hope to be. The question is where will you (or do you) find your hope. Do you find it in your talents, career, or even your family? These human sources of hope will either let you down eventually or lead you astray or both just as Hitler led Germany astray and eventually let them down. If you find your hope in the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, your hope will eventually and certainly be satisfied. Ask yourself right now, "Am I satisfied with my life right now?" The answer in my case (and probably in yours) is, "No." Then ask yourself, "What is going to get my life to the place where I will find real satisfaction?" My career? What if I get laid off? My family? What if there is a car crash? My talents? What if you're the one in the car crash? Jesus Christ? What can the world do to change Jesus Christ, the world's Creator? Nothing! Here lies our only true, unchangeable hope.

Getting Mad Makes Me Mad
There are a lot of stupid little things here that stress everyone out. It's funny, all the guys here that were here earlier in the war said that it was a lot less stressful. Showers were hard to come by. The food was atrocious. Some lived in tents without AC. Nevertheless, all of them say that things just made more sense and were much less mentally stressful. One of those guys just broke his roommate’s nose the other day because of a childish dispute. Even I have been on the verge of fisticuffs (great word huh?) on several occasions. I even had to go to the combat stress counselor once with another soldier because we couldn't figure out how to work things out peacefully. I wanted to talk, and he wanted to fight. The problem was that he almost convinced me that he was right and that we should fight. Obviously a bad idea, so I suggested to my chain of command that they order us to see the counselor. Things worked out beautifully once we were forced to work out our differences. Sure we were mad at each other (a little), but we were much angrier at other things (like officers in our chain of command for example). The problem is that you can't take out you frustration on many of those stressors (especially superior officers ), so people end up taking their stress out on each other.

One of my biggest stressors is stress. Let me explain. When I joined the Army and for my first few years in service, I never really let things bother me. I always kept an even keel when stressful things happened. Sometimes, I even had to pretend to be mad to get my point across to stubborn soldiers. Since I have been in Iraq, however, I have started getting mad much more frequently. Sometimes it's little things - sometimes big. This development in my personality is particularly disturbing to me. I don't like getting mad. In fact, getting mad makes me mad. I'm mad because I'm mad and I don't want to be mad. I don't know if that makes any sense to anyone but me, but it is how I feel.

Depressed? Not me!
We had several hours of mandatory briefing today aimed at helping us reintegrate successfully when we get back. During one briefing, they listed the symptoms of depression; and much to my surprise, I have every one. I thought, “I’m not depressed, am I?” But then acute depression is (I guess) a normal response to an abnormally depressing situation like a death or war or both. As I thought about it, I have observed most, if not all, of these symptoms in all the guys here. So are we all depressed? I guess, but I don’t think that’s weird or unhealthy. In fact, I think it would be unhealthy for a person to not be at all depressed after leaving their family for 14 months and seeing their friends die. I think that it’s good that the subject is not taboo the way it used to be. It helps people recognize and deal with normal problems, so that they don’t become abnormal or overwhelming. Maybe that’s why I like writing these blogs so much. It let me get all my “crazy” thoughts so that I can stay sane. Of course, if you know my family history, you’ll know it is a lost cause - we all crazy. I think that’s why my mom is a psych nurse and my wife is a psych major, so they know what to do with all us crazy folks running around. Now, you have to ask yourself if my humor is a defense mechanism aimed at hiding how crazy I really am. Well, the doc says it’s time for me to go back to my padded room, now.

God bless you all!


5th October 2007

So it looks like you had a little fun!?!
Or maybe the guys had fun at your expense, either way it was probably a good time had by all -- so to speak. Things like that must be a bit of a stress reliever, just to get crazy for a few hours. You certainly made me smile reading it, so thanks to you and your guys for being silly for a little bit and having the nerve to let others see it, too!! Have a good day! Kath
17th October 2007

Thanks for spreading the joy
As I cracked up laughing reading your birthday blog and viewing the pictures, I yelled into the living room where my housemate/sister was watching tv - wanna see a guy duct taped to a cot wearing an orange cone on his head? Of course, she did! We also appreciated the cinnimony grin. :) You are an amazing leader and I'm glad we chose your name as a fluke (My sister went to Erskine College. HA!) You have been a great inspiration to me. Thank you so much1

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