30 April 2011

Six Weeks Down, Thirty Four To Go.

I will start by saying this: I love you, Al Gore, for inventing the internet. I like you a lot, Niklaz Zennstrom (from Sweden) and Janus Friis (from Denmark), for creating Skype. Because - These two venues have allowed me to stay tuned into my family and friends - fairly seemlessly for the past two months. That's a great thing.

Here's the laydown of the lowdown (on the downlow, no doubt) from the past couple of days.

After a quick week in Bahrain, my predecessor and I made our way to Cairo and Alexandria Egypt for some planning meetings.

Not Pictured, but with honorable mention: About an hour into a four-hour trip to Alexandria from Cairo our Chevrolet Suburban that was outfitted like a tank, started to shimmy - and by shimmy I mean the steering wheel looked like it was trying to make mashed potatoes it was shaking so hard. The driver pulled over and we found a 18" tear in the inner wall of the tire. Crazy. So we limped on down the shoulder for a few km until we found a gas station/ Burger King. Oh yeah! Beef Royale with Cheese! That's the Lemon/Lemonade scenario for you! That would also help explain the symptoms of what I like to call the Bahraini Mudslides that I can't seem to get rid of...TMI? Never.

Naval Planning (aka- Making Sausage)
We helped organize some naval activities that will happen in the next couple months. It was not my first time interacting with another country's navy, but it was the first time I've been on a planning board with a foreign navy. It was pretty darn cool to be a part of the initiative that puts a plan together for about 12 vessels and aircraft to work at sea. It was a two day conference, and the Tuesday evening we all met up at the Egyptian Naval Officer's Club for supper. It was a fabulous spread - the best meal I've had since I've been here. I'll spare you the details, but it was ladden with fish and squid. Soups, salad, hummus and more. Awesome. For someone like me who loves to try new foods, it was right up my alley! I wanted to take more pics of us eating but I didn't want to be 'that guy'.

We stayed at the Four Seasons. It was the best hotel I've ever been to. Except for one thing. Internet is ridiculously expensive here! They will provide a business center for free, but if I wanted internet in my room it was going to cost $72 for three days! Sorry honey, no Skype this week. I'm a tight wad, what can I say.

We drove back to Cairo on Thursday without any incidents. There were a lot of reminince of the Revolution on this side of the highway for some reason. Cop cars with rocks through their windshields and a few vehicles overturned and burned to the ground. Lots of graffiti about 'Freedom' and 'Welcome to Free Egypt'. I can tell the Egyptians are proud of their accomplishment and everyone one wants to tell their part of the action. One of the men that worked in the lounge told me he was rioting at Tahrir Square when the police hit him with the firehose. It knocked him down and he was trampled so bad by the masses, he had to be rushed to the hospital. He fractured his nose and was badly bruised in his back and chest. Even with all that, he was still at work because he can't afford to lose his job - he has a family to support - that was straight from his mouth.

What can you say about internal fueds? Well, we've had some pretty serious ones. I can't imagine that when the American Revolution ended this country was in a great place. I bet it was like this, "Yes! We did it!...okay, now what". And that is right where Egypt is today. Now what. They'll get it. A civilization doesn't make it for 7000 years to let a small thing like Hosni Mubarak slow them down.

So far so good out here. Can't wait to see what's next!

20 April 2011

I'm Finally Here

With my training in South Carolina over, I turned in all my gear, packed my bags and said good-bye to my new compadres. Then I hit the rack (I call it Operation My Racky Freedom). I actually went down at about 8:30, which was a miracle - I'm usually up until at least 11. I was beat like a drum after two really tough days of "culminating events" training.

Here's a quick rundown of my travels to B'rain:
Wed morning I had to catch a flight pretty early. My airport shuttle left at 0415! I made it to Norfolk at 0830 and called my cousin Becca. She came and picked me up and she, her husband Tony and I had a fun morning catching up. Then Becca dropped me off at the military airport. That was around 3pm. My flight was at 7:50pm...now it's been delayed until 10, then 11, and then it finally boarded and left sometime around Midnight-thirty. So that was awesome.

We stopped in Spain for two hours, Italy for two hours and finally made it to Bahrain at 3am on their Friday (translates to 5pm EST Thursday). The flights weren't too bad. I sat next to a normal sized guy that thought he was He-Man though. We spent most of the Atlantic Ocean fighting over the armrest. Then I finally told him we needed to come to a 'Gentleman's agreement' over whose elbow goes where. After that, we had two nice flights. I'm sure he was happy to see me leave as he headed on to Djibuti (where is that anyway? Just kidding, but not really).

I slept about 13 hours Friday, then ate dinner in my hotel Friday night. It was an awesome meal. I went to a lebonese restaurant in the lobby. I was going to take pictures, but I mean I'm only so much of a rube...anyways while I interacted with the host and server, I realized this is it- I'm really on deployment! We both misunderstood each other for about 5 minutes to start. What I did understand is that I sat down at a restaurant with a 20 Bahraini Dinar minimum...that meant nothing to me as he explained it three times. Then I pulled out my handy-dandy currency converter (thanks Ipod Touch) and realized 1 BD = 2.7 USD. Oh yeah! I was about to drop $53 bucks on dinner plus drinks. Later I explained this to Katie. She said I should think about eating Ramen, PB&J crackers and a big glass of milk. "It's got all the food groups, plus you can call it the 'AC College Fund Diet'. I promised I would, and as my cracker crumbs fall between the keys I feel the Lyme's Disease setting in. At least my baby will get the smarts!

The work week here is Sunday - Thursday. I think it's because of the 7-10 hour time difference to the States. Sunday I checked into my new job. My office looks like every Navy office, partitioned cubicles, coffee pot, etc. Everyone seems pretty nice and I think I'll fit right in.

The weather is pretty comfortable so far, although today was as hot as Hades. I take a shuttle to the base, but there's a pretty decent walk through base to get to my building. I like it, it gives me plenty of time to get some fresh air and sunshine - something I don't get a ton of while on ships.

Bahrain is an island in Arabian Gulf (which is the same as the Persian Gulf, it just depends which side of it you are standing on - Iran or anywhere else). Everyone here is mostly arabic. However, lots of the employees (masons, restaurant employees, etc) are from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The country is East of Saudi Arabia. Qatar is a bigger island just South of Bahrain. There are lots of English speakers here, some better than others. Most are very friendly (especially the salesmen) and offer me tea to come in their store and shop. They sell lots of trinkety stuff (my favorite!!), rugs galore, throw pillows, awesome sheets and towels, hand made blankets and stuff like that. The furniture is so beautiful and I'd love to get some but I'm not sure I can justify the shipping. There are tons of options when looking for a place to eat. There's a TGI Friday's between "home" and work. They even have Krispy Kreme! But I bet by the time they are flown over here they are not as hot and fresh as they are stateside. There's an entire street (I haven't been there) that has all American restaurants, in case I get home sick. That's where all the Sailors go when a ship pulls in, understandably. My hotel has 7 restaurants in it. Mexican, Italian, Lebonese, Iranian, and more. I have only eaten at the lebonese place.

Okay that should catch me up for right now. I will get some more pics uploaded for your viewing pleasure.


16 April 2011

Technical difficulties

I have actually posted twice since I've been in Bahrain. However, due to some quirks in the system - They have not made it to the website.

So tonight I will try again.

I don't want to let down my cadre of followers...loyal readers of my blah-g.

10 April 2011

News: some good, some neutral, some bad

The Good News:
It's been a pretty hectic couple of weeks. The Army has managed to stuff 10lbs of knowledge into this 5lb brain of mine. They've trained me up so well, I could probably cross over to be an Army officer...Whoa, whoa, whoa! Let's not go too far- I still like my three hots and a cot on a ship!

We've done plenty of training, some highlights include: Plenty of classroom work- Land navigation, Convoy operations, some other good-to-knows. We've had lots of weapons and range time and plenty of war fighting tactics. The USA and USN do some things alike, but most things are worlds apart. I like it. It's interesting how our positions (on land vice at sea) change concepts so much. The easiest one to explain is time zones. For the Navy, we operate in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) because ship's movement crosses time zones so often. To reduce confusion, we task the message sender to translate their local time into GMT. In the Army, they just use local time - because their boss is most likely at the same post as they are! That probably seems pretty minor to most, but it's the best I could do.

Since I'm using an iPad to publish this report, I can't figure out how to get my pics from Picasa to Blogger. I rate my tech skills at about 65%. There are a bunch of pics in the top left hand column you can paroose. Warning: The videos are mostly at the Heavy Weapons range and deserve to be played at low volume...buyer beware.

The Neutral News:
I am about three days from leaving Camp McCrady, SC. That means I'm about three days from leaving the good ol US of A for a couple months. Although the shock of leaving has all but worn off, it will be replaced with the shock of cultural difference, time zone shifts, new food, having to haggle for any item I buy, and many, many more. I'm happy to do it though. Katie and I have been planning this for nearly two quarters. She and AC is adapting nicely to their new lives. That's what's most important to me.

I've also been able to get all my 'good-byes' in. I got to spend last Saturday night and Sunday with my whole Aiken family, which was really, really important to me. This Sunday, I was able to hang out with my Dad and Step-mom. I would have posted these last two in the Good News department, but good-byes aren't necessarily good news.

The Bad News:
Today I got a call from Katie and she told me that my dog Belle got out last night and ran off. After about an hour, she got in the car and started searching for her. Now, Belle is a pretty decent mix...Lab and Dachshund is the best I can do to describe her. She's short and long (tubular really). Her face looks just like a dachshund but larger. Big, soft, floppy ears that never get infected and are always in need of a good scratching. (see the pics in the upper left column). She has a great nose for hunting (squirrels, cats, oppossums, raccoon, but not armadillos-that's Lilly's job!). In fact, three times during our walks she just started smelling the ground and just started digging furiously- only to pull up a mole! These days, inside the house she's pretty easy going, and at 7 yrs old (her birthday was last week) she mostly looks forward to a daily back scratch and head pat, laying in the sunshine with Lilly and her two meals (give or take some scraps that might fall directly from my hand into her mouth). She's a great dog and many of you know I call her 'My Saving Grace', because she was the reason I would make my way home most weekend nights...pre-Katie, of course.

She's been a passenger on many a road trip and has logged some serious highway miles. She was my shotgun to Tampa, Aiken (on several occasions), Gainesville, Ozark AL, Rhode Island, Washington DC, Virginia Beach, and most recently the P'cola-San Diego-P'cola voyages. One time she even took a 10-day golfing vacation with me on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
Well, she must have gotten the scent of something pretty good last night because she darted into the darkness. And after calling and calling her, Katie got into the car and started searching for her.

Belle got hit by a car and died. Katie promises me that when she found her, it just looked like she was asleep and there was no real 'signs' of the contact. It breaks my heart that she's not sleeping on the dog bed my Mom made for her right now. One of the many things I looked forward to when returning home from this deployment was the way she was going to react when she saw me again. She flipped her gourd every time I was at sea for over a week- it would have been ridiculous, I can promise you.

Katie says AC asked "Go Belle Belle go?" (that translates to: Where's Belle?) two times today. She didn't know how to answer. She's out playing with her doggie friends is what the answer was. But well all know the real answer: All good dogs go to Heaven. Right?
Good night old girl, I love you and will surely miss you.

I promise to try to post a funny one next time. I'm not trying to depress anyone!