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.

Friday, May 8, 2009

"Thank you, come again!"

Most people join the Army to get a leg up in life. They want to get out of their crappy home town and avoid working at the local 711. In my case, I join the Army and they make me work at the local 711. Below are photos off my new work location. We call it the Grab-N-Go. It is a small trailer stocked full of snack foods and cold drinks. It just opened shortly before we arrived, and there are many improvements that need to be made. I have spent my last few shifts staying very busy.

The Grab-N-Go is open 24hrs and I am currently scheduled to work third shift. Luckily the place was a mess when we first arrived, so I am keeping busy. I spend the night organizing, cleaning, and stocking the fridges with Gatorade, sodas, and juices. I enjoy the strange tedium of arranging the soda label with the Arabic facing in and the English labels facing out. Some might think that it is a crappy job, but it's not all bad. It's surprisingly rewarding to see the smile on a tiered soldier's face when he walks in at 2am and discovers we have his favorite kind of cereal. Another hidden benefit is that I can listen to music, read, play cards, or even watch a movie during my shift. As long as the shelves are stocked and the trash is empty no one bothers me.

The Gab-N-Go sits right on an air strip. I hear the choppers and cargo plains fly in and out all night. The sound is familiar and slightly comforting. It is as close to the sounds of home as I can get right now. The photo below is what I see almost every night from the door of the shop. The birds will occasionally take off from those locations. I never get tiered of watching them fly.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Close on Kuwait

Written Saturday May 2 at 3:30pm

My time here in Kuwait has been brief and mostly uneventful. As you can see from my photo timeline not much has happened from the time we got on the plane until now. I spend a lot of time waiting in lines. J My short field experience turned out to be more fun than I had expected. We did some live fire training that gave me a sizable bruise on my right arm. We also conducted convoy operations. Our instructors were knowledgeable as well as fun.

One of the biggest events that have taken place here happened last night. Two camels were brought to the post for MWR camel rides. People were talking about it for days. Soldiers were lined up, circled around, and cameras were flashing. By the time I made it to the site they had cut off the line for rides. It was also getting dark, so the picture quality isn’t the best. It looks like it is snowing, but the wind started to pick up and sand was flying everywhere. That made it even more difficult to get a good photo.

In the photo where my eyes are closed the camel was getting cranky. He was grunting and shaking his head all over the place. I liked him the best. He seemed like a real a-hole. J One of our favorite photos is the two headed camel. I almost convinced a few people it was real. I am sure I will see more camels in Iraq. Hopefully I will get to ride one next time.

In the next couple of weeks I hope to bring you blog entries about Chuck Norris, Porta Potties, and the local vendors/shops that are on post. Stay tuned!!!