Wednesday, December 31, 2008
For the past couple of weeks the Iraqi army has been doing a "left seat-right seat" with the Americans, shadowing them as soldiers dutifully checked ID cards, vehicles and pedestrians entering and exiting the zone. Over time the Iraqis have assumed primacy at the checkpoints while their American counterparts remained in in the background.
As a result the Iraqi army has quadrupled the number of soldiers manning the access points. Now when you drive into the checkpoint you're greeted by a hoard of AK-welding Iraqi soldiers all seriously directing you to do "something", most often in opposition to the direction of their peer standing right next to them; stop, pull-forward, get out of the car, stay in the car! Each becoming more agitated as you fail to comply. It's utter chaos, no one is seemingly in charge and you don't know who to listen to. In the past, failure to follow these commands would get you shot. Needless to say it's both confusing and very, very tense.
I look at the two American soldiers standing in the background, pleading for some sort of organization or sanity. One looks at me and shrugs. Welcome to the future of Iraq.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Update from the previous post:
Our Iraqi staff member was diagnosed with having an acute myocardial infarction, aka a "heart attack". The degree of blockage within his coronary arteries and subsequent damage to his heart could not be ascertained by the Army surgical hospital as it was not set up with a catheterization lab nor equipped to do an angiogram. The cardiologist therefor recommended transferring the patient to an appropriate Iraqi facility where he could get further definitive treatment.
Now is where the fun begins. There are three such hospitals in Baghdad that are equipped to do the needed procedures. The preferred one had no available space, and told our recent heart attack victim to try back in a few days. The second, accepted our guy, ran an ECG, blood pressure, drew blood for labs, and then sent him home. The physician stated that "cardiology really wasn't his thing, and that the real expert was enjoying his weekend and would be into the hospital in a few days". He prescribed some blood pressure medicine and sent our guy away.
The third and final choice was also equipped to do the procedure but our staff member didn't feel safe going there. The hospitals here are wildly secular, and roving armed gangs have been known to go through the rooms looking patients that weren't of the appropriate religious flavor.
Where does that leave us? Twenty-four hours after having an MI our 53-year old staff member with chronic high blood pressure and a significant cardiac history is back at the villa resting in his room. No one has any idea as to the damage to his heart nor the degree of blockage to his coronary arteries. If this were the United States he would be admitted to the ICU and on his way for an angiogram. Maybe a hospital bed will become free tomorrow. We wait.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Christmas was punctuated yesterday with one of our senior Iraqi staff complaining of severe chest pain, sweating and vomiting. I took a look at him and knew right away that he was having some sort of cardiac event and needed to get to the U.S. Army-run hospital inside the International (Green) Zone.
I had rehearsed this scenario dozens of times in my head; loading the patient into an armored car, calls being made to the Coalition's press office to coordinate our arrival and reception, treatment inside the moving car through the checkpoints, and speedy arrival into the hospital for definitive care.
Thankfully everything went as I had envisioned it and we got out Iraqi friend in front of a U.S. Army cardiologist in just under twenty minutes. Oxygen, ECG, IV fluids, more aspirin, more nitroglycerin, morphine, x-rays, antithrombotic therapy; all accomplished quickly relieving our patient's pain and eventually diagnosing unstable angina and non-ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (UA/NSTEMI)
Today, the day after Christmas, we plan to go back to the hospital to visit. I'm thrilled that we have the opportunity to do so. Merry Christmas K.
Monday, December 22, 2008
I got involved in a discussion the other day about Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), protocols, and other cookie cutter procedures that would guide people along the correct course of action. My Scottish security partner came out with a saying that I had never heard before, "Rules Are The Idiots' Guide To The Wise". Huh? In other words, SOPs are put in place to help guide someone that doesn't really know what they're doing in the first place. Wow, that's pretty damning, but it's true.
I've seen guys wrap their head around the minutia of SOPs, writing them down, diagramming them out like football plays, making PowerPoint slides, carrying them around in little notebooks. Come on, either you know what your doing or you don't. If you're confident, knowledgeable, experienced, and calm you will probably make the correct decision every time. If you're carrying around the playbook under your arm and constantly diagramming things out on a whiteboard, well, you might be in over your head.
I know this may sound blasphemous to many in the security industry, but to be honest our ranks are filled with guys and gals that would be lost without their playbook, unable to take the appropriate course of action without the SOPs. They're playing out of their depth.
There's nothing wrong with comparing notes with other team members, but it should be nothing more than an azimuth check. If I've got to memorize a bunch of immediate action drills, then I probably don't have any business being involved in any immediate action.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
- A group of impromptu musicians played folk and bluegrass music in one corner much to everyone's delight. The Brits were struggling with it though.
- Several people wearing PT uniforms with drop-leg holsters. It must be hard to run like that.
- A group of cyclists stopped by, out for their Sunday morning ride, adorned in black and yellow Go Army/Livestrong bicycle shirts.
- Five or six people reading bibles. OK, it was Sunday. No one was reading the Koran though.
- An Iraqi army officer fighting through his first ever expresso. He couldn't finish it.
- Waves of khaki colored flight-suited PSD types; blood types scrawled on their boots, patches Velcro-ed here and there.
- Soldiers in dusty ACUs with M4s strapped across their back trying to find some normalcy in a coffee shop.
- Women with a single guy in-tow. Few women are seen alone there. They always have to token male escort, who's happy to go along albeit a bit desperate looking though.
- No Wookies or blasters, but I wouldn't put it past one of the PSD guys to have a Genuine Immitation Luke Skywalker lightsaber tucked away someplace.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
This was not good. We returned from a task and were driving through our neighborhood. Up ahead were several local security guys standing in the street observing a handful of guys in white lab coats running around. As we approached I could see the "lab coats" holding clear plastic bags of raw meat in their gloved hands and were feeding it to the very enthusiastic neighborhood dogs. The twenty of so dogs and their recent puppies were devouring the meat as fast as it could be handed out.
This is the Iraqi method of keeping the street dog population down. Each piece of meat was laced with poison, most likely designed to cause massive internal bleeding within the dogs, killing them all within hours. It's an image that will live with me for years, ten-week old puppies sitting in the dirt gnawing gleefully on pieces of raw meat as we drove past.
Aftermath: A few hours later I returned to the street. The dead dogs lay in the dirt along the side of the road. Two fuzzy puppies lay together near a mound of dirt. As tomorrow is the beginning of the weekend they will remain there for several days.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
We returned to the Baghdad Ballet School to deliver some gifts that were generously donated by a similar school in Mobile, Alabama. It was a great afternoon and I got a chance to interact with a lot of the kids. I laughed because the only English that they could speak was to sing the "ABC song" and count to ten, which they did relentlessly. I taught the boys how to do an "Obama-style fist-bump", as well as thumb wrestle. American culture is good for a lot of things. I walked away smiling. It was a good afternoon in Baghdad.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The Iraqi's have a new device at selected security checkpoints around Baghdad. A serious looking operator holds what looks like a toy remote-controlled car device in his hand, and wearing a pair of earphones, dutifully walks down the side of the car. What he's listening for I have no earthly idea; maybe the ticking of a bomb? Who knows?
This ridiculous display prompted a tirade of comments from my Scottish security partner about how the Arab culture is not the most technologically savvy on the face of the planet. My favorite remark described how you could give Iran, Iraq, etc... the most sophisticated fighter aircraft in the inventory complete with state of the art weaponry and in the end you will still have some guy at the controls wearing a green scarf around his head mumbling "Allah akbar".
I'm not sure why the Arab culture has not embraced technology. Maybe its a function of it's education system; preferring to spend time studying religious subjects instead of physics or chemistry. Quite possibly they don't need to, as they can afford to hire foreign "technicians" to manage things for them. This is certainly the case in much of the Middle Eastern oil industry.
I helped a 30-something year old Iraqi set up his first laptop. I got him a Yahoo account, an email address, login, and password. I did it all for him in minutes as he curiously looked on. When I got to the mandatory "security question" I scrolled through the various options to find one that was appropriate for him. OK, "What was your childhood friend's first name?" He looked at me with dinner plate size eyes and exclaimed, "They know that about me!?"
Friday, December 12, 2008
I tried to explain this concept to an Iraqi friend today and he looked at me like I had a third eye. There was no way that he was going to wrap his head around the fact that money does not equal automatic happiness, and in most cases it's just the opposite. He believes that money will bring cars, houses, more cars, and even greater houses, all adding up to eternal bliss and happiness for he, his wife, and their children. He found the story of the Gates' intention so bizarre that he ran over an had to tell all of his Iraqi friends.
I took a step back and asked him if he were happy right now. He claimed that he and his wife were very happy... but would be even more happy with a bigger house and another car. I tried to point out people that live modestly with great satisfaction, and others that are swimming in wealth but suffer from depression and a myriad of other ailments. My friend was not biting, and in the end I gave up as he continued to stare at me in blasphemous disbelief. You can't win 'em all.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
When I first started visiting Latin America in the very early nineties I was struck by the fact that I never saw anyone outside running, or biking. On those very rare occasions when I did see a lone jogger, he inevitably turned out to be a visiting gringo. As a matter of fact, it was considered inappropriate for men to even wear shorts in public, aside from the one-off "football" player. The gyms were sparsely populated by men that looked to be replicating movements from the 1960s' Jack LaLane Show.
Ten or fifteen years later it's all changed; the parks of South America are full of runners, cyclists, bladers and the like. Modern box-gyms are everywhere, as are Spinning studios, and yoga gyms. The Latin population has embraced the pastime of fitness.
The Middle East, on the other hand, is not there yet. In the two years that I've been traveling here I've never once seen anyone running outside, albeit Baghdad is not a 'jogger's city', as my friend jokingly described what he called Insurgent fartliks. The incidence of smoking is through the roof, Middle Eastern men are becoming increasingly fatter, and the cultural diet would make the American Heart Association wince with pain. Unthinkable here is the vision of a women runner, complete with running shorts and singlet. I wonder where we'll be ten or fifteen years from now?
Monday, December 8, 2008
Friday, December 5, 2008
I "aged-up" this year, which means in triathlon parlance that I'll be racing in the next higher age bracket, in my case against 45-49 year old men. This is something that athletes oddly enough look forward to, unlike birthdays. In the back of their minds their still 44-years old and racing against all of those old men and women, "I'll certainly do well". Yea, right!
The fact of the matter is that older athletes are doing better and better every year, putting up times that in years past would have swept the event regardless of age. Here are the qualifying times this year for the 45-49 year old age group, times necessary just to get into the Hawaii Ironman Championships; where the best Ironman triathletes in the world are swimming 2.2 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles:
At Ironman Arizona you needed less than 9 hours and 54 seconds.
Ironman Wisconsin: 10:36
Ironman Western Australia: 9:05!
Ironman Australia 10:47 (10.05 for 50-54 year olds!)
Men and women have been competing in these events for decades now, and are currently on the cutting edge of state of the art athletic training techniques. They know exactly what they're doing, and are amazingly consistent year after year in their performances. Some experienced racers are putting up their lifetime fastest times well past the age of fifty!
As Lance Armstrong returns to the Tour de France this year at the tender age of 37, I wouldn't be so quick to relegate him to the back of the peloton.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
The pragmatists, Iraqi President Maliki being one, realize that the U.S (Coalition) presence is necessary to provide stability to a very volatile society. The Americans are not the "occupying force" that the other camp would have one believe, but are trying desperately to get Iraq to be able to stand on it's own two feet, albeit for selfish reasons.
The ideologues, on the other hand, are quite willing to watch Iraq burn so long as there are no American or foreign forces "occupying" the land. They represent the radical Islamists that would rather sacrifice their country and their lives, or more over the lives of their followers, than tolerate the presence of a foreign culture on their land.
This is the fight that is waging within Iraq today as it struggles with the status of forces agreement that is necessary to give U.S. forces legitimacy in Iraq in the coming year(s). It has been primarily a political struggle, one which Maliki has demonstrated a great amount of deftness. At times the struggle has turned violent as the ideologues use their greatest weapons to influence the public's opinion. So far it's not looking good for the pragmatists as they continue to use political slight of hand and resorted to putting the decision to a public referendum in the coming months, a public that is heavily sided with the ideologues.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Back on the road again. I flew from New York (JFK) to Amman the other day on Royal Jordanian Airlines, an airline that I've taken before and like very much. Nonetheless the boarding gate at JFK was a scene of great amusement. As soon as the agent announced the boarding of the flight there was a bum-rush of people stampeding for the air-bridge. The disorganized throng of humanity completely overwhelmed the single, unsuspecting gate agent who was pleading for everyone to form a nice and orderly single line. I laughed to myself and mumbled, "Yea, that's gonna happen".
My experience has been that a lot of cultures don't "do lines" very well, and the Arabs are certainly one of them. There is no sense of chivalry, order, or fairness, just a pushing match to get in front of the old lady in front of you. Politeness is weakness, as a friend of mine once noted of the Arab culture.
On another occasion I let my guard down and permitted an old man being pushed in a wheel chair to go in front of me at the Immigration check point. What I didn't see was his extended family behind him that was accompanying Grandpa. Daughters, nieces, cousins, close friends, and a few strap hangers all cut the line exclaiming, "We're with him". I felt used and my fellow passengers behind me were none too happy with my chivalry either. Lesson learned.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Today is the American holiday Thanksgiving, the traditional day when its celebrants give thanks for the things that they have. The day is normally spent with family, enjoying a large meal, and watching football on the television. We've added another tradition in my family, one designed to pass on the spirit of the day to our almost 5-year old son. Today is the day when he goes through all of his toys and packs up those that he no longer uses to ship off to Goodwill, a charity organization for those who are in greater need.
Five year old boys aren't very keen on parting with their things so its a struggle to get him to put his past treasures in a box to send off to someone else. The struggle is the learning processes here, the realization that someone else in the world isn't lucky enough to have an Optimus Prime robot, and that the plastic toy may bring some other little boy as much joy as it did him. Before long the spirit of the exercise takes hold and my son enthusiastically scours the house for things to give away. It's a good Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
- The entire country has no concept of personal service. The Bolivarian revolution has bread a generation of workers that believe they're fully entitled and thus have no motivation to provide a quality product or service. They get paid one way or the other.
- While Hugo Chavez rants about empowering the poor, the Presidential Palace is surrounded by his homeless countrymen (and women) sleeping in cardboard boxes on the streets.
- While a complete loon, President Chavez is by far the most entertaining head of state there is. His multi-hour press conferences are just one long entertaining stream of consciousness that often delve into song, comedy and poetry.
- The Caracas skyline is marked by tall concrete buildings that now provide housing for the poor; sort of sky-rise slums.
- The Venezuelan military is probably the finest looking military I've ever seen. Soldiers, weapons, and equipment all maintained to a very high standard. As an ex-soldier I couldn't help but be impressed.
- At pennies for a gallon of gas Venezuela has the largest collection of 1970's massive V8 sedans that I've ever seen. It's not uncommon to see a Buick Riviera taxi cab.
- Motorbikes are everywhere, helmets are required. People wear bicycle helmets as they speed in and out of highway traffic at breakneck speeds. I have to imagine that motorcycle-related death is the leading cause of mortality in Venezuela.
- Venezuela has contributed more Miss Universes than any other county. That's the national trivia question asked by every taxi cab driver.
- The Latin diet will not get an endorsement from the American Heart Association.
- The parks are full of runners, cyclists, and bladers. Something that was unheard of 10-15 years ago.
- The Wonder Bra company must certainly be based in Venezuela.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I took a moment and looked into the daughter's eyes and recognized absolute terror as her mother lay helpless on the floor. The young girl was panicked, wanting to do anything and everything to help her stricken mother, but was unable to do anything. Once the paramedic began his care I watched the weight of the world lift from the frightened daughter. She was still visibly nervous but finally help had arrived and a wave of relief swept over her face.
In 24 hours the paramedic and the EMT won't even remember the call to this woman's home, it being subsumed by dozens of other recent and similar calls. The daughter, on the other hand, will never forget it for as long as she lives. It's amazing to have that affect on the lives of random people. What a great job.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
I spent my formative years as a basketball player, a single sport guy, playing "ball" almost year around. Every year the season started for me generally in mid-October, and I normally entered the season in dismal physical shape and endured the pain of conditioning as best as I could. The result of that experience has been to imprint on my psyche a yearly physical conditioning clock.
I stopped playing basketball after college but every year from about late July through August I sub-consciously suspend or drastically curtail my physical conditioning program. By about mid-October my conditioning clock kicks in and I'm back at it again, albeit in pretty sad shape. Each year the slide is more and more dramatic.
I can't seem to adjust this imprinted pattern and the result has been that I'm in fantastic shape by January or February, about three months early for triathlon season. It drives me nuts and I can't seem to push the pattern to the right a couple of months. While the rest of the triathlon world is eating sugar cookies at Christmas I'm in the pool or on my bike, peaking way to early. Maybe I should move to the southern hemisphere.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I love coffee shops. One of my great pleasures in life is to spend the day in a shop or bookstore with my laptop and a stack of books and just read. I once did an entire 18-month MBA degree from a table in a Miami Starbucks.
Currently I'm preparing for an upcoming paramedic course; reading up on EKG rhythms, drug dosages, and anatomy/physiology. It's the perfect environment to study, the 21st century library.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
This past week I traveled back to Maine and spent time with both my family and a the myriad of memories that I still have. I was assaulted with smells, sights and sounds, rushing the past to the very forefront of my mind; piles of Autumn leaves, cool breezes through the birch trees, my mother's apple dumplings, each triggering a flood of memories that were like old friends who have not changed at all.
All of this made me re-think my paradigm of never going home, and I came to the comforting realization that you never really leave.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Clearly this is a bit tongue and cheek, but I've found that there are very few societies that can do this well. It depends on a certain level of politeness, empathy, sense of fair play, law abidedness; all attributes of "advanced" cultures and societies. Give it a whirl and let me know what you come up with.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The weather cleared the next morning and I considered myself lucky to leave Baghdad on a beat-up 737 that was running, "inexplicably" four hours late. Tip from the top: don't even think about asking either the airport information desk or the airline personnel why the flight is delayed. To them it's not delayed if it takes off on the same day that it's scheduled to.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I'm at the very end of my deployment and have no patience for this cultural tendency towards lying. I understand that the anger and rage that I felt was mine, and mine alone. I had to deal with it, accept it, chide my ego for entertaining it, and then just let it go. At times Iraq and the Arab culture can be a wonderful place for a Buddhist :)
Sunday, October 12, 2008
There is a misconception here in Iraq among both security operators and clients alike that as the security situation improves that less security is needed. In actuality it's the exact opposite. In the past mobility around the country for many clients has been severely limited or curtailed due to the overwhelming threat of kidnapping, IEDs, VBIEDs, etc.. Unless clients were accompanied by the U.S. military or a small armada of gunned-up PSDs they were not inclined to venture too far for too often.
Now the security environment in Iraq is better, the threat has diminished a bit, albeit there are still bad people doing bad things to clients and their friends. Mobility has increased and as a result clients want to get out of the confines of the safe areas and venture forth to explore and do their jobs. The result is that the security elements are now busier than ever, ensuring the safety and well-being of the clients, coordinating movements, planning logistics, training, and providing close protection. In military parlance, the OPTEMPO has increased dramatically taxing the capabilities of many security details. To evidence this, quality armored cars are nearly impossible to lease in Baghdad right now as they have been snatched up by details that are suddenly far more busy than before moving clients here, there, and everywhere. Some companies are adding several security teams to cover new clients that have suddenly emerged from the ashes and want to move around the country. As this inverse relationship continues it's a busy time for the working security details, much more so than most have anticipated.
Explaining the American presidential election process to our Iraqi staff is always an entertaining challenge. They cannot accept the fact that everyone gets only one vote. Iraqis understand that Americans go to the polls and vote, but they have it in their collective head that in the end, a "group of powerful Israel-supporting senators" will have the ultimate say and choose the candidate that it wants; in this case John McCain. It's telling of their culture and political process.
There is no greater conspiracy theorist than the Iraqi man on the street. Over the years I've heard some outlandish claims such as Iraqi dust storms are purposely caused by nuclear explosions somewhere in the world, or the American tethered radio antennae balloons that dot the Baghdad horizon are armed with powerful cameras and Hellfire missiles constantly searching for miscreants. Iraqis love to believe the outrageous; the bigger the story the more conviction they have that it's true. Weaving some tale that would even make Hollywood blush makes an Iraqi appear powerful and knowledgeable to his family and friends. No one ever calls "bullshit' as that would be a slap in the face, so the stories just keep getting bigger and better.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Sunday, October 5, 2008
My limit is about eight weeks. That's when the phenomenon of culture shock sets in and I notice changes in my personality. Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in a foreign culture knows the feeling; you become short tempered, easily irritated by the "foreign-ness" around you, some may become vindictive or even lean toward outright racism. It's not a pleasant feeling but one of reality that many including myself often have to deal with.
I'm always amused by the tourists of the world who show up, take some pictures, have a ethnic meal or two, and begin to rave about how sweet and kind the local people are. "Why can't we all be so kind, loving, and helpful?" Yea? Spend eight weeks living among your kind and loving new friends and we'll see what you think then! I guarantee that you'll be restraining yourself daily from violence.
If forced to remain in the culture this "shock" eventually dissipates and is replaced by acceptance. That is if you're not in a local jail for running over a little old lady with an SUV.
Friday, October 3, 2008
I contend that it would be best to learn a smattering of several different languages instead of trying to wrap your head around just one. When you consider it, how much of your native language do you really use on a day-to-day basis? Studies have shown that people rarely use more than 3000 words, and generally could get by with as little as 500 or so. Thus my advice would be to take five or six languages and work on them simultaneously. I realize that this is heresy to some, but for someone that is going to travel extensively I believe that it has great utility. Things to work on would be:
- Key phrases
- Interrogatives (Who, What, Where, When, How)
- 10-15 verbs with a basic understanding of tenses
- Courtesies (Please, Thank you, Excuse me, I'm sorry...)
- 500+ word vocabulary
- Japanese or Chinese
Once you have an understanding of 5-6 languages at an extremely basic level then adding additional languages is fairly straight forward, as is augmenting any one of them with greater skills and capabilities.
I often receive emails from guys that are looking to begin working as protectors, or others that are curious about Zen, or if they should join Special Forces or not. I make an honest and dedicated effort to answer all of their questions and concerns from my little point of view. I caution them that their mileage may vary, and ask them to one day pass the favor on to someone else.
After I hit the "send" button I find myself crafting emails to others, people that I have great respect for and are at the peak of the mountain that I wish to climb. Most of these lately are accomplished physicians who unselfishly impart their wit, wisdom and experience onto me, guiding my decisions, answering my questions, giving me opinions from their points of view. They also caution me about my mileage and I promise them that I will pass on the favor to others. It's karma. That's how it works.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
I treat a lot of headaches. That seems to be the chief complaint of our local Iraqi staff, but they describe it in such debilitating terms that it often makes me suspicious. A a single aspirin or Tylenol later and they're good as new, generally within ten minutes, which is surprising as the absorption rate is closer to fifteen minutes.
Today was a sprained knee, so bad that the staff member said, wincing and moaning, that he couldn't walk. I told him to ice it; a half an hour later he's running around with no signs of injury. It's a miracle!!
The truth is that I found many Iraqis to be attention seeking. All they want is someone to listen to their near-death complaint, give them something that looks like medicine and they're merrily on their way. I'm not sure what the cultural reason is for this. If it were my 4-year old I'd say that he's trying to get out of school. At least it worked for me a time or two when I was younger. I don't believe the staff is trying to dodge work, because they're happily back at it again once they've been pulled back from the bright light and resuscitated. I think that I'm going to teach my Iraqi security operators how to initiate IV therapy. Ya got a headache? Ya need an IV!! At least my guys can get some good training out of it.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Driving out of the compound yesterday I watched in horror as a young Iraqi man raised a 2-foot piece of black rubber hose above his head and violently brought it down onto one the the street dogs that populate the neighborhood. If the dog hadn't leaped out of the way he certainly would have hit the dog. The man stood there and laughed as he raised the hose again for another try.
I was greatly tempted to halt the car, get out, and give the man a bit of his own medicine. In retrospect I wish that I had, but we kept moving as we had a client in the car with us. I bit my lip knowing that I had made the best decision for the client in the back of the car, and fought back my rage against the bully with the hose. The next time I'm not so sure that I can be as controlled.
I used the incident as a teaching point to one of our Iraqi counterparts, explaining to him how Americans, and other westerns, hate injustice and loath bullies. It's in our nature to stick up for the down-trodden, and oppressed. I went so far as to use the Special Forces motto De Oppresso Liber as an example. All of this was new to him and I think difficult to understand, as the Arab mentality is to loath weakness of any kind. This is what allowed the man to mistreat the complacent dog sleeping in the street; it made him feel strong to pick on the weak. I wonder how strong he would have felt if I had stopped and "had a chat" with him?
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Standing around the arrivals terminal at BIAP yesterday one thing stood out among everything else; a blond girl, twenty-something, wearing Lara Croft-like khaki shorts, a sheer white linen shirt and not much else. She was standing there talking to her PSD as if nothing were out of the ordinary. The entire terminal, all 60+ guys stood there eying her, some out of lechery of course, but most out of amazement at her complete lack of knowledge and understanding of where she was.
I looked at her PSD and thought, "You guys have screwed up already, and you haven't even left the airport yet". I'm sorry but I viewed this as a security failure. Maybe the PSD didn't get chance to brief her as to what was acceptable attire in Baghdad, but once she showed up she should have been whisked away and changed into something a little less "provocative". Instead she remained on display for the entire terminal, drawing much unwanted attention to herself and her detail.
Women arrive in Baghdad airport all of the time albeit most of them are muslim. I'm not advocating that western women wear hijabs, but I do think that some degree of cultural sensitivity is called for. At least have the wherewithal to cover your legs and arms. The less attention you draw the better for everyone.
After a pause I reverted back to Counter-Insurgency 101 and gave my answer. The U.S surge made it clear to the radical Islamists that victory would not be forthcoming anytime soon. The Coalition applied a full-court press with great adeptness utilizing it's advantages and minimizing those of its enemy. It became clear that an insurgent victory was a long way off and it's ranks began to fraction under the steady pressure of the Coalition's war fighting and intelligence operations.
The Coalition sent a tacit or otherwise message to the insurgency that it was not going to be allowed to win, no matter what; it had hit its high-water mark and will be continually pushed back and marginalized if the insurgents continued to violently struggle. The best course of action, like in countless insurgencies before it, would be to sue for peace and consolidate what gains it had made before those too were whittled away. This, in my opinion, is what has lead to the marked drop in violence over the past several months.
Certainly the violence continues, but for the most part, they are outliers; uncoordinated attacks against targets of opportunity by small groups of fighters that didn't get the memo. It will soon be the Iraqi's sole job to mop up these factions and hold onto the gains. The Coalition will remain in the background to ensure that the homeostasis remains. Should the Coalition draw down too quickly, however, then the insurgency may see an opportunity for victory after all and press the fight anew.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
If the truth be known, there are only one or two hotels in every third-world city where westerners and high-value locals stay or do business in. Clients prefer to stay in the nicest hotel that the city offers and often wrongly assume that because it's relatively luxurious or a known U.S. chain that it must be secure. I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "Hey, this is the hotel that the U.S. Embassy uses for its guests, so it has to be safe". This is faulty logic and lazy protection in my view.
Some consideration should be given to staying in second tier establishments and remaining relatively hidden and low-key. All of these hotels have some semblance of security and the adroit protector can vastly augment that with a little planning and preparation. I contend that there is great security in staying away from the one or two fat, obvious targets in the city and keeping a low-profile. Sure the spa might not be state-of-the-art, but what are you really there for anyway?
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The human condition has the same smell no matter where you go in the world. This is something that amazed me when I first realized it, but the barrio of La Paz, Bolivia smells just the same as the back alleys of Baghdad or the projects of Atlanta. It's the stench of human waste, diesel fumes, urine, unwashed people in greasy clothing, automobile exhaust, rotting garbage, and food cooking in some nearby kitchen. It's an odor that flashes back memories of other similar locations, places where humans struggle day-to-day for food and means; dirt-crusted, sunburnt children play amid the pot holes and blowing trash; and the old simply sit in the shadows, waiting and staring.
The smell of abject poverty, that which covers the vast majority of this planet, is similar to the odor of human death. It's one that will linger with you forever, one that you will never quite be able to wash out of your senses no matter how hard you scrub. Over time it becomes familiar, almost comforting, like coming home again.
Monday, September 22, 2008
A favorite tactic of bombers is to detonate one device, wait for a crowd to gather, along with security personnel, and then detonate a larger device, killing and maiming scores of curious on-lookers. Arab countries appear to be particularly susceptible to this ploy because there is something within the culture that attracts people to dangerous or spectacular events like moths to a flame. Time and time again I've watched footage of Iraqi, Pakistani, or Afghan citizens rushing towards an explosion or gunshots motivated only by their curiosity, whereas a westerner's first reaction would be to flee in the opposite direction.
The above footage of the truck bomb at the Islamabad Marriott serves as an example of this phenomenon. It's clear that a large truck is trying to forcibly gain entrance to the hotel. Once it is stopped by the metal gate the security guards rush towards it to investigate, one even attempted to put out the small engine fire. What were they thinking? I have to tell you that my first instinct would be to warn the hotel while I'm legging it in the opposite direction. The Pakistanis didn't and paid for their curiosity with their lives.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
If I had a dollar to spend on executive protection training, where would I spend it? There are a bevy of EP and EP-related schools and course out there, all vying for your hard-earned money, all promising to impart the skills necessary to become a world-class protector.
Let's assume for a moment that you've been to one of the more "legitimate" course and have learned a bit about surveillance detection, advance work, and maybe walking formations. Now what; a driving course, shooting school, how about Thai knife fighting? This is where many people get confused and often go astray.
If you didn't get any driving in your EP course than I contend that you went to the wrong course. That's a must have skill. Other than that, for most mere mortals, the next step should be medical certifications. You are much more likely to apply medical treatment than say the Woo Tan Dragon Tail technique. I know, Woo Tan can be a lot of fun, especially when compared to memorizing the bones in the hand, but for practicality purposes in EP there's no comparison.
Many perspective employers have under-lying medical issues, and often look for medical skills in their protectors. It gives them peace of mind, and when it gets right down to it, that's what we do for a living. The medical world is stratified, thus making it very easy for an informed employer to ascertain exactly what your medical qualifications are. Sometimes the military medical qualifications trip them up a bit, but for the most part anyone hiring an EMT-B qualified protector knows what he or she's getting.
I contend that anyone seriously working as an EP agent should have an EMT certification as a minimum. In the United States Fire and Police normally have this, so why shouldn't it be expected from a close protection agent? For you military guys and gals out there, Combat Lifesaver doesn't cut it. Why? Because it's just that, combat oriented. Someone with chronic asthma or COPD isn't going to need a tourniquet or a splint, they're going to need someone familiar with their affliction and to be able to assist with their medications.
So if you're if you're a protector and you're looking for some way to distinguish yourself from the heard, getting your EMT or foreign equivalent is, in my opinion the best way to do that. Gunslingers and Woo Tan knife fighters are a dime a dozen right now, qualified medics are rare and highly sought after by many companies employing protectors. This is the way ahead.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Today was a first. I witnessed a non-violent protest outside one of the Iraqi ministries; eighty or so people with signs and banners in Arabic protesting the forced eviction from "their" homes. Well, they're really not "their" homes, but more accurately the homes that these people are squatting in, the owners having been displaced, are now returning and want their houses back. The government is forcibly evicting the squatters.
The point is that this is the first open, non-violent protest that I've seen here. Welcome to democracy! It won't be long before we start seeing heavy-handed police tactics complete with gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons. Then you know you've really arrived on the democratic stage.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Lately I've been doing memory sprints; learning Japanese words, hundreds of complex kanji symbols, 15-minute classical bagpipe tunes (piobaireachd), and committing the dosages and characteristics of 80 some-odd pre-hospital drugs. At almost 45-years old this is not as easy as it used to be, but age and wisdom have made me crafty. Instead of the brute force and ignorance of youth I find myself using mnemonics, flash cards, rhymes, stories, pattern review, disciplined repetition, constant review, anything that will help embed the needed information into my brain cells for later recall.
As humans age the adage, "If you don't use it you'll loose it', holds true for both mental and physical capacities. I've seen 80-year old Ironman triathletes, musicians that can play several hundred complex tunes, and people that easily speak 8 or 9 different languages. Seemingly there is no limit to the human capacity, only those that are self-imposed through doubt, neglect, or resignation.
Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
We spent an few hours walking around the rail yards looking at the various trains and cars. Some of the locomotives were Chinese-made, the passenger cars were Turkish, and Sadam's personal car was French-made, complete with kitchen, conference room and bedroom. Everything was coated in dust and stifling hot inside as the air conditioning wasn't functioning. The correspondent doing the story had to flee from inside the car at one point to change his shirt as he was covered in sweat.
My father is a model railroad enthusiast and I wished that he could have walked around with me, feeling certain that he would have seen things of great interest that I had missed. Even my partner, who is something of a train buff as well, was impressed by the historical significance of the station and the yard.
Friday, September 12, 2008
I've come to learn that there is a sort of morbid humor that exists between Iraqi husbands and wives. One of my friends here regularly jokes with his wife, who he loves very much, about killing her. He finds this vane of humor hilarious, although I'm not sure how his wife feels about it. He told me that he and his wife had a big celebration the other day because they flipped a coin to see which of them would die first. The result was that she was fated to die before him, so hence the cause for celebration.
Another odd story has to do with one of our Iraqi staff having a massive plug of ear wax removed that had been apparently building up for years. The Iraqi exclaimed to the western medical technician that he was confused because he has his wife cleans his ears on a regular basis. My wife and I do a lot of things for each other, but ear cleaning is not on the list.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Through my own neglect I've let all of my medical certifications lapse, not bothering to keep track of "re-certs", or CEUs. Now I have to start all over again, and what a painfully long road this is going to be. In the coming weeks and months I will begin with basic First Responder CPR and work all the way up through Paramedic and beyond. Needless to say this blog will take on a decidedly medical bent in the future :)
Sunday, September 7, 2008
On the surface this whole concept of empathy for the impoverished is laudable, and truly more people in the world need to embrace it. I wondered what do the poor people, for whom everyone else is empathizing with, do during Ramadan? Do they also restrict their diets, or do they get to gorge themselves on a high fat and cholesterol diet to empathize with the plight of the rich, and if so where is the line drawn between poor and rich?
In the evenings the fasting practitioners, those that are seeking to feel the experience of the poor, feast on vast amounts of food and drink. I'm not sure how this is in keeping with the spirit of empathy. In my rather dim view, I would suggest that they take the food and give it to the very people that are suffering. Then we have true empathy. Without that, fasting appears to be more of an inconvenience than anything else.
Friday, September 5, 2008
What Iraq needs is commercial not government infrastructure. Why an international hotel chain doesn't come in and build a Hyatt or Radisson within the Green Zone or the airport facility is beyond me. Even with the SOFA people are going to be coming in and out of Iraq for decades to come, and right now there's no place to house them aside from a handful of double-wides on a dusty lot near the airport.
The same could be said for Baghdad's international airport. Some bright investment company should purchase, and completely renovate it. Right now it's a dusty, dark shell that is being utilized at about 20% of it's full capacity. A renovation would be easy at this point. Again, there will be plenty of traffic through there in the next 20-30 years to make it well worth someone's effort and investment.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
We're in the month of Ramadan now and its interesting to watch the Iraqis as they struggle with the various restrictions, most notably the practice of fasting. While observing the holy month Muslims are not permitted to eat during the daylight hours. They wake before dawn, eat, pray and then thats it for food until evening prayers. Honestly, very few of the people that I work with faithfully keep to the strict regime throughout the entire month, but they all give it a good try.
One of the guys that I was speaking to yesterday told me that he had never fasted for Ramadan before, but thought that he would give it a try this year. He said, "It's hard and I did it for one day. That's all I'm doing. One day of fasting and I will be in Paradise for one day. That's good enough for me."
Knowing that evening prayers for Sunni and Shi'a come at different times I asked my friend, which one comes first? He told me with a big grin, "I don't care. The first one to prayer, and I'm eating with them". He makes me laugh.
Here's another little oddity, water counts as food. They can't drink water! Keep in mind it's 115 degrees outside and they're running around in 20 lbs of body armor all day long. Normally they're drinking gallons of the stuff. I asked my friend if (when) he collapses from heat exhaustion if giving him an IV will violate the Ramadan restrictions. He told me, "Yes, it does". "No medicine either". I've already decided that if he goes down he's getting fluids. He can bring it up with God later and blame me if he wants to.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
I was involved in conversation with a friend of mine about Iraq's youth, specifically it's adolescent population. I've noticed that many kids are becoming becoming designer clothes-wearing, cell phone wielding, American culture clones. I attribute this to the obvious increased exposure to American and western pop culture via movies, the Internet, but mostly by the large western presence here. Iraqi adolescents are becoming culturally comfortable with the west, enthralled by what they see, and are moving away from radical, fundamental Islam, seeking a more reasonable middle way. This may be evidenced by the 15-year old female suicide bomber that recently "just said no". It was her pimping middle-aged husband, who was a radical jihadist, that insisted that she give her life for Allah, and her "oppressive" mother that forced her to follow her husband's wishes. I suppose that if you're a 15 year-old girl and have a choice between wearing a burkha all your life, never going to school, marrying a 30-something year old, chain smoking, overweight husband, versus having an iPod, a cool boyfriend with a car, and wondering what pair of designer jeans to wear today that the path is going to be obvious. For all of it's faults, that's the great thing about western culture, in the eyes of the world's youth it will trump radical Islam, Communism, and any other oppressive system that comes its way.