Friday, July 31, 2009

Once in a Lifetime

On Friday, 31 August, I was fortunate enough to be one of the few soldiers in my company to visit the Ziggurat of Ur. It is an ancient temple that was built over 4,000 years ago. Over the last 90 years it has undergone some reconstruction. There was no tour guide on this trip, so it was a challenge to try and distinguish between the original structure and the parts that were repaired. Myself and another educated soldier from my company were as close to tours guides as we could get. By the standards of most Americans it's not much to look at. This was easily seen as many other soldiers walked around looking bored, lost, and confused about all the hype. Many soldiers had no clue that they were walking on top of one of the oldest man made structures on earth.

For me it was quite the opposite. I am amazed that I was privileged to experience this world wonder. I could have spent all afternoon out there. I sacrificed 4 hours of sleep to see it, and I would have given up 4 more. I knew it would probably be my only chance to see this ancient temple. It was surrounded by ruins of the ancient city, but they were off limits. I would give away my air conditioner for one month to have a day in those ruins with an archaeologist!

It was difficult to find a lot of background info on the ziggurat. The online sources are limited, and have inadequate citations. This site seems to cover all the main points. It isn't well written, and I am sure most of it is plagiarized, but it will give you some of the basic facts about the Ziggurat of Ur.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Just After Dawn, Right Before Bed

I walk into the rising sun on my return from the gym. This morning I am early and the sun is just above the horizon. It is an unusually cool morning. The mercury must have dropped below 85 before dawn. The wind is at my back edging me towards the place I now call home. I am reminded of my real home as the subtle shades of pink and orange play around the feather light cirrus clouds in the sky. My legs feel long today, my strides are powerful.

I must cross a barren dirt field to reach my living area. If death has a color it is the color of the earth here. As I near the other side of the clearing I see some movement. A squad of soldiers is preparing for the day's mission. It is a scene I have witnessed many times before. The sounds and movements are familiar. More than half way back.

As I close the distance between the soldiers and myself my attention is drawn to their vehicles. It looks like they have used old cans of black and green spray paint to create a camouflage pattern on the Humvees. The effect has made the trucks look like steel cows. Large, boxy, ugly cows. Close enough to see into their eyes now.

As I pass the soldiers take little notice of me. I barely glance at them. I am more interested in the bird shape on the door of the third Humvee. I wish I had looked at it closer. I must twist around and look behind me to see it now. Like finding animals in the sky. I don't want them to think I am strange, so I do not look back. Only 100 feet from the entrance to my living area.

A soldier from the group runs past me. He has forgotten something, I assume. There is always one that isn't prepared. As I am about to pass the concrete barriers of the living area I take one last look at the group of men. I am suddenly wondering how many of them will return at the end of the day. Are they thinking the same thing? Will the bovine trucks be there tomorrow? Was that supposed to be a bird? Would I notice if one of them was missing? The gravel shifts awkwardly beneath my feet.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Late Spring Cleaning

A few months before my deployment I began making a list of books I wanted to take with me. Some of those were books I've had on the shelves for months, but haven't had the time to pick up, and some I wanted to purchase for the trip. I also managed to pick up a few free books along the way (as you can see from my April 29th post), and have a couple more mailed to me. So far I have finished seven books, and hope to make it eight by the end of next week. If I were to empty my pockets or bag you would almost always find a book or magazine among the contents. I believe I have about ten books remaining in my library, and some are still out on loan.

For many of the soldiers here reading is a way to relax, escape, and fill up the "hurry up and wait" time. I have found a few soldiers who don't mind lending their books, and a few I will lend mine to. For those that didn't bring any reading material the choices are limited. The PX (Post Exchange) has the worst supply of reading materials I have ever seen. I think my local Quickie-Mart at home has a better selection. Unless you like cars, girls on cars, motor cycles, girls riding motor cycles, sports, body building, or home and garden magazines you are out of luck. I don't know why they have so many home and garden magazines?

That brings me to the point of this post. I would like to ask you to do some spring cleaning. Send me all of those old dusty volumes from your high school and college days, or your children's high school and college days. Look in your attic, basement, closet, and storage unit for books/magazines you don't need or have read and don't care to keep. Pick up a few volumes for a buck or two the next time you find yourself at a yard sale. You can also go out there and stimulate the Underground Economy (as I like to call it) by shopping at a local used book store, the Salvation Army, or Good Will. For those of you that live in the Carlisle area one of my favorite places for great deals is The Bookery. It is a used book store located behind the Bosler Free Library and run by volunteers. Most of the time you can walk in with ten dollars and walk out with just as many paper backs.

If anyone is feeling ambitious I encourage you to ask your friends, family and coworkers to donate a book or two as well. Take a cardboard box to work and write "used books/magazines for soldiers in Iraq" with a sharpie. If they want to contribute, but don't have any books to give (not everyone is a reader :) ), tell them you are accepting small cash donations to help with shipping costs. Holding a book drive could be a great activity for a church group, athletic team, or a boy/girl scout troop. I'm no girl scout but I think there would be a badge to cover that one!

Don't know what to send? Paperback books are always best because they are lighter and easier for us to shove in our cargo pockets. Soldiers will read just about anything. The only books that don't seem too popular are the romance novels with pictures of an overly passionate couple on the cover. But beggars can't be choosers. All genres are in play, even self help, religion, and motivational books. For magazines almost anything goes too. No nudie magazines!!! You might think you are doing a soldier a favor but pornography is grounds for an Article 15 in country. You could get reduced in rank, lose pay, and be put on extra duty indefinitely. Some magazines we are lacking include Time, The New Yorker, National Geographic, other news and science magazines, outdoor living, and fitness magazines that are about health not appearance. Both old and new issues will be appreciated.

What will I do with all of these books and magazines? I will give them away. My mom suggested I try to get some backing to open a library. It's a great idea, and something this base is lacking. Unfortunately I don't think it would be practical. I would have to acquire an area to run the library out of as well as volunteers to work it. There is also the issue of accountability. With the way soldiers come and go it would be hard to track down an overdue library book, and impossible to charge a late fee. I will keep my eyes open for the opportunity, but for now that idea has to be shelved.

The best I can do right now is to put the word out. I will be asking my supervisor if I can set up an area at the Grab-n-Go for the books and magazines. If I can get it established I may be able to keep the books well supplied by the soldiers. Many of us take a book and give a book. There are tables in the Laundry room where people put books and magazines when they are done, and they are free for the taking. Soldiers will also donate all of their reading material at the end of their tour. Many don't want to lug it all back home, or simple don't have the room to pack it. Books are a semi renewable resource in the desert.

Where to send them:

Stephanie McDonald
Co E 2/104 AVN BN GSAB
APO, AE 09331

If I get a good response I will be sure to keep you all updated. I will also post some photos of the donations received, and the dispersion of them.
If anyone has questions you can reach me via e-mail. My address is listed in my profile. Thanks for the support.