Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Inner Game

I’m reading a good little book entitled, The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green and Timothy Gallwey. The book is part of Tim Gallwey’s “Inner Game” series that is written to help people perform at their optimal level by reducing the noise that goes on in one’s head that often leads to nervous anxiety, stiff limbs and fingers, unequal breathing, etc…

As it turns out The Inner Game is one of the best books I’ve ever read on the Zen Buddhist practice of staying in the present moment, and reducing all of the extraneous noise and distraction that takes place both within and without. I’m not sure if Tim Gallwey is familiar with the practice of Zen but he seems to heavily touch upon it. He goes so far as to suggest some exercises designed to increase one’s awareness to the task at hand, staying in the present moment, and not assigning any preconceived notions or ideas; just play.

So far I’m thoroughly enjoying the work and would recommend it to anyone trying to improve on a skill or task whether it be music, sports, or even just getting more out of life.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Getting My Life Back

There was a time, long, long ago when I would go on long bike rides, attend back-to-back Aikido classes, or enjoy a leisurely breakfast at Einstein Brothers. It was an idyllic time, full of fun activities and adventures. Then came “child”, and it all came to a screeching fast halt.

Today, for the first time, my wife and I went back into the Aikido dojo, this time with a four-year old in-tow. We rolled and tumbled, teaching the littlest aikidoka, and remembered the old days of endless hours spent on the canvas-covered mats. We both realized this morning that we are slowly getting our life back, this time, however, with the unmitigated joy of being joined by our eager and adventurous son. Long Sunday bike rides, underwater hockey, and more Aikido are just around the corner. Imagine the joy!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Back From PEI

I’ve been up at Prince Edward Island, Canada for the past ten days attending a piobaireachd course at the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts. The bed and breakfast that I stayed in did not have an Internet connection so hence my prolonged absence from this blog.

Attending a course in classical music for the Highland bagpipe is one of those things that you can do when you’re “retired”. It was great fun and I’m a much better piper for the experience although our Atlanta neighbors might not see it that way.

Prince Edward Island is paradise on Earth, at least for three months out of the year. Cool ocean breezes, swaying pine trees, and picturesque pastoral scenes crisscross the island. Everything about the island is relaxing and low-key. I’m not sure why I was even surprised that my accommodations didn’t have an Internet connection. It’s just in keeping with the “time stood still” atmosphere that permeates the collection of small towns and ancient seaside farm pastures.

Nonetheless I’m back in Atlanta and at it again. More to follow.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

You Might Be A Metro-Tactical...

Dhow makes it's way up Dubai Creek at sunset

Sitting in the VIP lounge of Dubai’s airport the other day I spotted the metro-tactical poster boy. This guy had it all, right down to the shaved head, goatee, American flag baseball hat, and Velcro splashed all over his khaki shirt. If you’re unsure what I’m talking about; that’s probably a good thing. If you’re “tracking”, than press on:

If you're back in the "civilized world", you might be a metro-tactical if:
  • You believe that khaki is the new black.
  • You're currently wearing more than one article of clothing made by 5.11 or Oakley
  • You have a single dog-tag embedded in the laces of your boots.
  • Your blood type is inked onto any piece of clothing. Extra credit if it’s tattooed.
  • You're wearing a “riggers belt”
  • You're wearing an ID card holder around your neck in the mall.
  • You’re wearing an earth tone baseball hat with a subdued American flag on it. Extra points if you’ve sewn on “ranger eyes”
  • You’re sporting Velcro
  • Your keyring is made of 550 cord.
  • Your backpack has a tag in the back that states “Insert Your Name Tag Here”.
  • You can’t have a conversation without using the words “roger” or “copy”
  • You're carrying your MNFI card prominently displayed in your wallet.
  • If all of your t-shirts are black.
  • You’ve contemplated the individual merits of black, OD green and khaki.
  • You’re wearing dogtags.
  • You know how much protein your last meal had. Extra credit if it came out of a blender.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Oberserving Change

A lone cameraman "shoots" concertina-topped blastwalls depicting hope for Iraq's future.

I’m heading home in a day or so, my short time here in Iraq has come to an end, causing me to become slightly reflective of those things that have recently changed. Over the past months:
  • The security situation has vastly improved, to the point where violence is the exception and not the norm. Daily explosions and gunfire that could be heard throughout Baghdad is now a rarity. Today automatic weapons are fired less in anger and more to celebrate local weddings and soccer victories.
  • The streets are full of pedestrians going about their daily business; children happily walk to school, the shelves of neighborhood shops are full of goods, and kids peddle refreshments to gridlocked motorists.
  • The road to the airport is undergoing a face-lift; painted murals adorn concrete blastwalls, new bright and shinny guard rails, palm trees, irrigation, and new hope-filled billboards. They still haven’t fixed the heavily pot-holed road though.
  • Main battle tanks, Bradleys, and Strykers are a rarity on the Baghdad streets now. HMMWVs still flit around but chances are they belong to the Iraqi Army and not the Coalition.
  • Muqtada al-Sadr has been severely marginalized and his Madhi Army fractioned into many dysfunctional pieces.
  • PSDs still operate with an amazing degree of aggressive disregard for those around them. The Iraqi Government, however, is on the verge of striping their legal immunity. I’m waiting for the first PSD to get pulled over by the Iraqi Police and ticketed for speeding☺
  • The Baghdad airport is undergoing renovation. Operations have moved to another terminal while the old one is “improved”.
  • The government is reconstructing the many traffic circles in the city that were destroyed during the war. Work is progressing slowly but there is still no order to the traffic that circumvents them.
  • The Iraqi soccer team has enjoyed great success, acting as a unifying force for this country. Soccer is the one thing that every Iraqi can get behind and support.
All-in-all Iraq is improving greatly albeit slowly, certainly not at the pace that many U.S. politicians would like to see. Nonetheless, the average Iraqi is seeing his or her country rise up from the rubble caused by years of despotic rule, warfare, and subsequent sectarian violence. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.

Monday, July 7, 2008

This Is Gonna Hurt A Little

Protective blast-wall covered in Arabic sits behind some plastic flowers at a check point. I'm sure it says something about "deadly force is authorized".

One of the many things that I bounce around with is the Japanese culture; at least what I envision it to be. I’m not sure what has attracted me to it for almost my entire life; maybe it’s the whole warrior-monk, search for spirituality, samurai thing. Who knows? Frankly I gave up trying to analyze the reasons for the affinity many years ago and am just going with it.

As part of this “interest” I’ve dabbled in such pursuits as Aikido, iaido (sword drawing, cutting, and return techniques), shodo (calligraphy), shakuhachi (bamboo flute) ikebana (flower arranging), haiku writing, sake (rice wine) appreciation, and the Japanese language as a whole. As you can imagine, this has been a great source of entertainment for my wife, only tempered by the fact that she is an aficionado of the culture as well.

I’ve played around with learning the language since I was in college in 1985 and it’s always been an uphill battle. During my military career The Army spent tons of money and time trying to force Spanish into my noggin, with limited success, so Japanese has been a bit of a challenge. I've never attempted formal classes as it's been hard to schedule them, so I've sort of gone about it on my own using books, CDs, and anything else I can get my hands on. My Japanese language library at home rivals anything that Barnes & Noble could offer.

Lately I’ve discovered several outstanding on-line language resources and have delved back into this painful practice once again. I’m finding that it’s a fairly productive way to spend my time while deployed; better than sitting around watching DVDs. Of course Arabic would be the obvious choice while plunked down in Iraq, but I find the language guttural and not very attractive, to say nothing of the culture.

I’m happy plodding away with Japanese. I’ll never be able to attain the heights that I have in Spanish, but it’s a good mental exercise and I enjoy the challenge. Again, I’m sure my wife will be looking on with great amusement as I continue to struggle.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

One Tick Closer

A little Iraqi girl smiles for the camera

We spent yesterday at Camp Victory, a sprawling military outpost adjoining the Baghdad airport. The camp is one of the largest bases in Iraq and home to some thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and contractors. While our media team went off with the military to cover a massive re-enlistment ceremony, my partner and I retreated to what is known as the Green Bean; the local coffee spot.

I passed most of the day sitting in the makeshift, air conditioned coffee shop that is ever so popular with Victory’s inhabitants. The structure is comprised of twin trailers joined together, air conditioners mounted every five feet on the white metal walls, and leather couches and tables surrounding the massive coffee bar. Over the hours I watched hundreds of military personnel and civilian contractors come and go; the very lifeblood of the reconstruction effort in Iraq. This was how they were spending their 4th of July as well. It seemed like any other day on Camp Victory.

Men and women dressed in dust covered uniforms with weapons slung over their shoulders sat around drinking iced drinks as fast as the Green Bean staff could turn them out. Some were sporting black Army PT shorts but still wore leather shoulder holsters or drop-leg rigs carrying sand-covered handguns. Contractors lounged about in their ever standard 5.11 pants and t-shirts; well-tanned arms often adorned with tattoos.

It was just another day here, the same ebb and flow of people working at their jobs, biding their time in Iraq until they’re able to return home. Some came to this country out of a sense of duty, others for the money, most simply because this is where the military sent them. Nonetheless, there we were, in a makeshift coffee trailer celebrating the 4th of July all together; everyone with a sense of it was yet another day in Iraq, just one more tick closer to being home.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Honor and Commitment In The Security Industry

Showing the neighborhood kids the magic of digital cameras

I don’t write much on the security industry as a whole, but I had a discussion with a fellow contractor the other day and thought that I would put a few words down for those that were not aware of how things worked.

My beef with many operators working in the industry is their propensity to “jump contracts”, in other words coming over to Iraq or Afghanistan on one contract and immediately start looking around for something better. Once they find a job that might be marginally better in terms of pay, living conditions, or mission, they immediate leave the original position and move to the later. Once there, the process starts all over again. At what point to they give their full measure to the task at hand? For lack of a better term, it’s very mercenary in nature, and it doesn’t bode well for the contractor’s sense of loyalty and commitment. If the individual operator cannot be loyal to his or her commitments what makes anyone believe that they will display any loyalty to their fellow teammates or the client?

To be fair, contracting security companies are often guilty of something similar, knows as “resume gathering”, sort of a form of bait and switch. In order for a security company to bid on a contract it will have to show that it can produce the required number of qualified personnel. As a result, companies make false representations to high-end contractors in order to secure their resumes. Once the contract is in-hand the company hires lower-skilled contractors instead in order to save money or increase its profit margin. Again, if a company shows no loyalty and respect to perspective operators why would anyone think that it will honor its commitments to the client?

Security contracting is a very competitive business. Margins have shrunk considerably over the past years and therefore some of the practices have become less than desirable. You live and die in this industry based on your reputation. If you treat your employer, the client, or your teammates with something other than complete up-right honesty and respect you will not be long in the security world.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Day At The Airport... Or Four

Time stands still. The Arrivals board at Baghdad's airport that has not functioned since the first Gulf War.

Air travel in and out of Baghdad has always been tenuous, but lately it’s been particularly bad. Frequent biblical sandstorms and airline maintenance/crew issues have made traveling by plane to and from Iraq’s capital truly a hit or miss venture. It’s not uncommon for travelers to wait several days before they can complete their journeys. The lucky ones are able to stay in modern hotels in Amman or Dubai waiting flights into Iraq, the damned are stranded in the skeleton of Baghdad International Airport waiting.

This makes me laugh. The Information Desk can only tell you were the bathrooms are, which is pretty obvious if you simply just follow the smell.

Getting a traveler to the Baghdad airport requires a good bit of security and is often very expensive. Once you’ve been dropped off at the airport, the security team leaves, and you’re there to stay, all to often for a few days. In a large, modern international airport that’s no great pain as there are hotels, restaurants, VIP clubs, and other diversions to help pass he time. Baghdad has practically none of that, and the stranded are forced to sit and wait in a crowded, dingy, smoke-filled room with a few hundred other perspective passengers often reeking of the sweat of humanity. The chairs are mostly broken plastic, the carpet is beyond stained, and to add to the discomfort there is never any flight information. The airline employees have less information than you do, rumors are move around like the plague, and quite frankly no one even cares.

A fashionable Muslim woman waits. I wonder if she's been the the airport's Prayer Room yet?

Off to one side of the terminal “lounge” is a Muslim prayer room. Every time that I walk past I can’t help but wonder how many believers have gone in there and prayed to Allah to deliver them from the hell that is the Baghdad airport.