Sunday, June 29, 2008


Iraqi boy sits in a dirt pile along the side of the road.

I remember some years ago a news story that reported, then First Lady, Hillary Clinton wanting to rid the White House of uniformed military. Back then I was a serving officer and thought the whole idea blasphemous. Today, I’m not so sure she didn’t have a point.

If you look at news footage of less-developed countries, uniformed personnel surround their heads of state. Some of the Latin American countries come to mind as they have a habit of placing a uniformed officer behind the president when he speaks in public. It’s as if the military is looking over the president’s shoulder making sure that he stays in-line. Personally, I find it a little creepy.

I believe that the United States, as well as other nations, should strive to be above that sort of image. The President doesn’t need a Marine standing there opening the door for him every time he leaves the office. I’m certain that the Corps could better utilize the young Marine in another capacity. Is the Corps so awash with highly trained Marines that it can afford to make them doormen? I don’t buy the security argument either as I believe that’s the Secret Service’s purview. I think the President can open his own doors as it’s not like his hands are full. Besides in makes the President appear less royal. You don’t see a Royal Marine opening the door at Number 10 do you?

Having been stationed in Washington DC I realize that the military does have a lot of legitimate ceremonial duties, but I contend that many of those associated with or around the White House are unnecessary and often send the wrong image to the world. Why must visiting heads of state be greeted by formations of flag-bearing soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines? I think that we’re past that now, and those guys and gals can be better used elsewhere. We are at war, aren't we? We spent a lot of time, energy and money training the finest uniformed men and women in the world, let’s allow them to do the job which they joined up for in the first place.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Executive Protection- The Low Profile Option

AK-47 magazines sit atop a wooden palette at a Baghdad neighborhood check point

In Executive or Close Protection there is a threat spectrum in which we operate. Low-threat jobs normally entail a single, unarmed agent who often spends more time facilitating than guarding. On the other end is the high-threat environment, which according to the American model, is normally the purview of the PSDs or Personal Security Detachments. Prevalent in Iraq and Afghanistan, PSDs operate with the philosophy that brute force and superior firepower will deter or defeat any attack on their client(s).

Aside from the threat spectrum, however, there is also a profile spectrum as well, one which many protection details fail to recognize or simply ignore. The profile spectrum is characterized by answering the question, how much or how little do you want the client and the protective detail to stand out and be recognized? Many American details lean toward the high-profile end of the continuum as exampled by US Secret Service operations, high-risk PSDs, the entertainment or sports industry where protection is a fashion accessory. When watching these operations its clear who the clients are or at least who the members of the detail are and what they are doing.

Now give some thought to the opposite end of the profile spectrum, low-profile or 'covert protection'. For me, this is where the art of close protection lies; in the game of deception, and subterfuge that securely moves the client around without ever giving anything away. Security comes from remaining hidden, obscured, not drawing attention to yourself or the client. There’s no need for flashy SUVs, sunglasses, or earpieces. It’s all done in plan sight and no one is ever the wiser for it.

The British teams are very good at low-profile operations, using tactics and techniques developed in Northern Ireland by their Special Forces during the “troubles”. I for one believe this explains why there are proportionally so many British protective details in the world compared to pure American teams. The Americans practice what they’re taught in the various executive protection schools. Very few, and I know of really none, have an emphasis on teaching low-profile or 'covert protection', as most of their classes are derived from official U.S. Government doctrine developed by the Secret Service, Diplomatic Security Service, the Department of Defense, etc…

Having said that, care must be given not to confuse the difference between low-risk and low-profile. Protective details can conduct low-profile operations across the entire risk spectrum as evidenced in Northern Ireland, some of the current British-based details, and very specialized American details in Iraq and Afghanistan. Similarly high-profile operations can be conducted in low-risk environments, which is often the biggest mistake made by new operators.

Finally, protection should either be one or the other; high-profile or low-profile. Do not try to meet in the middle somewhere. All that achieves is maximizing the weaknesses of both doctrines without ever achieving any of their strengths.

Friday, June 27, 2008

It's Not Just Sandwiches

Little Iraqi boy walks along a dirt street

My Scottish partner mistakenly left his sandwich and a bottled Starbucks iced-coffee in the car after returning from a task this afternoon. He went back a few minutes later to look for it and it was gone, obviously taken from the car by our Arab security drivers who are tasked with cleaning out the vehicles. Upon questioning the two drivers he got a resounding, “We haven’t seen your lunch nor the coffee”. A lecture ensued about the importance for westerners to be able to get the truth when asking questions. This certainly isn't the first time the drivers heard this.

Soon after, one of the drivers showed up with the missing the lunch and coffee stating that he found them in the Driver’s Room. “Dun’no how they it got there.”

The “take away” here is that two 40+ year old men have to play this little kindergarten game about telling the truth while at the same time saving face. My friend, who’s been kicking around the Arab world for years, is telling me that this happens on all levels, not just with sandwiches. Iran’s Ahmadinejad (technically not Arab) is doing it right now with the IAEA, Saddam Hussein did it with the United Nations, Hamas did it with Jimmy Carter. Lying to save face is endemic within the Arab culture. I realize that sounds terribly racist, but it's true and Arabs will be the first to tell you so. For my part, sadly I have to question everything that I’m being told by the guys whose hands I often have to put my life into. It makes for some very frustrating moments.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fighting Through The Rough Patches

Iraqi boy heads his soccer ball down the street

I’ve learned that you need to struggle to make progress. I have several skills that I work hard at to become proficient, it’s just my competitive nature. Some days things come easy and effortless, other’s everything is a battle, and it seems as if I’m regressing instead of becoming more adept. You can apply this to almost everything that we strive to be better at, it’s part of the human endeavor.

I believe that it’s those times when we have to fight through the rough patches that we make the most progress. If, on the other hand, our practice is easy and effortless how are we really learning anything? Sure it feels good and marks the progress that we’ve made, but I question the value of effortless practice. I try to look at those days when it’s hard and takes effort as rare gifts, as those are the true opportunities for achievement and progress in whatever you strive to be better at. Having a bad day? Perfect!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What's Not To LIke?

Iraqi woman stares into the camera. She's not about to smile.

After banging around this country for over a year I’ve just now come to the conclusion that Iraqis do not like us, not at all. I know that it’s hard to fathom, what’s not to like? Westerners in general, and Americans specifically, are happy, jovial, albeit culturally insensitive people that are here to rebuild their country. Yes, all of that is true, but in the eyes of the average Iraqi we were the ones that broke it in the first place. In the words of retired General Colin Powell, “… you break it, you own it”. To be truthful, our “ownership” has not been all that good.

At best the Iraqis tolerate us simply because we’re slowly making infrastructure improvements, we’re the only game in town at the moment, we employ a lot of them, and not having us here right now would be exponentially worse. At worst, they want to blow us up, and speed off to paradise.

The Iraqi people that I come in daily contact with have worked for years alongside westerners, and still there’s an undercurrent of disdain, or maybe more accurately, disapproval. They don't understand the western culture and simply try to exist alongside it while maintaining some semblance of their own cultural and religious identity.

In the meantime we are working to make the best of the situation at hand because that’s really all we have. In the end we rely heavily on one another and working friendships are formed, but if conditions were better I believe they would just as soon see us off to the airport with a hardy “thank Allah those idiots are gone”.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Sitting on the BIAP tarmac, well off to the side is an all white Airbus A300 B4 with the letters 'DHL' hastily painted over yet still visible through the layers of dust. The only lettering untouched is the infamous tail number N1452, identifying this aircraft as the DHL Airbus that was struck by an insurgent surface to air missile shortly after taking off from the Baghdad Airport in November of 2003.

The Airbus sits in the baking sun and dust; it’s undercarriage home to dozens of pigeons as evidenced by the carpet of droppings covering the concrete below the wheel wells. Both engines have been removed and all signs of damage from the missile have been apparently repaired. The tires of the famous aircraft are well flat indicating that it has not moved for quite some time. The cockpit windows are caked with thick dust and offer no relief to the curious. Today the Airbus is little better than a huge shade tree for those that are out on the Baghdad tarmac for other reasons, trying to avoid the 130+ degree heat. It was fun, nonetheless to explore a piece of recent aviation history.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Shooting at the airport

We brought a news crew into the Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) this morning. After several days of securing permissions from the Transportation Minister, the Civil Aviation Administration, Iraqi Airways and the airport security contractor we were finally allowed to do the story on Iraqi Airways.

The entertaining part of this was just how many people came up to us and told us that we couldn’t film or take photos in the airport. We were surrounded by representatives of all of those organizations, and still the Iraqi Police, Iraqi Customs, KBR, and the security company still thought it necessary to inform us that we couldn’t take pictures. It seemed like the new national sport, telling the media it couldn’t film inside the airport.

One over-eager, low-level, security contractor informed our cameraman that he was going to have to review our tape for approval. You want to upset a cameraman? Tell him that you want to have his tape. A good cameraman is well-prepared for that eventuality.

This is a case of what I call “half-security”, in other words applying restrictive measures in the name of security because it seems like a good idea; security measures in the absence of common sense. What are we going to capture on film that everyone sitting around the terminal already cannot see for themselves? Are the fifty new KBR employees just in from the States, marching past the camera, somehow in disguise? Everyone knows who they are; they all have little red KBR ID card-holders around their neck so that they can identify themselves!

My other favorite is cell phones. Every security checkpoint that we pass through the “checkers” want us to remove the battery from your cell phone, lest we detonate a car bomb with it. Meanwhile they neglect to open the trunk of our car and search for the mystery explosives or completely overlook the Motorola radio hanging from our hips. It simply sounds like a good idea to remove the cell phone batteries but is devoid of any common sense or reason.

“Half security” is the case with almost every protective measure that you come across in Baghdad. Security is a sport here, played well by a few, but for the majority, they’re doing just that… playing.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Don't Give 'Em An Inch!

Writing on a concrete blast wall with plastic flowers in the foreground.

We dropped some of the media guys off at the Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) yesterday morning. As is normal with the airport there was a long line of people waiting to be screened by security just to get into the terminal building.

As we’re wrestling with the vast amount of bags that the media habitually travel with, loading them up onto the handcarts that are available, the line continues to grow behind us. In front of us are almost one hundred people destine to wait for an hour before they can get screened, and to our rear is a middle-aged lady with a handcart stacked with luggage. She pushes the cart right into the ankles of the westerner in front of her; hard and deliberate, as if she were trying to push her way through him.

I’ve seen this happen before in other Arab airports and just wrote it off to a mistake or not paying attention. That’s not the case, she did it again, this time harder, and I reached out and grabbed her cart and yanked it back towards her. The look she gave me was priceless, as if I had somehow committed some grievous sin against humanity.

Politeness and courtesy are seen as a weakness in the Arab culture, even among women and especially if there’s a westerner involved. For her to stand and wait for us to load our handcart was weakness to her, and she was having none of it. The same attitude manifests itself with drivers and pedestrians on the street as well. No one will yield an inch and you are forced to fight your way through lines and traffic jams to make any progress.

I’ve spent a great deal of my life assimilating into other cultures, and have made it a point to study them and achieve a better understanding. The Arab culture remains a complete enigma to me, and I don’t think that I will ever even begin to comprehend it.

More Cultural Tidbits

Young Iraqi soccer player

Here’s a little stumbling block westerners have when trying to work within the Arab culture; Arabs lie. At first I thought that was a terribly racist observation until someone pointed out that it’s in the Qur’an. Muslims, not only have permission, but rather have a duty to lie to non-believers; it’s called, “taqiyya”. Wrap your head around that little tidbit.

When talking to the throngs of Iraqis and other Arabs that we have working for us it’s all but impossible to get a straight, reliable answer to your question. At a minimum you will receive a gross exaggeration, but more likely you will be told a bold-faced lie with no remorse or compunction whatsoever. You will get whatever story, exaggeration, lie or fabrication which will save the most face and honor with the person you are speaking with.

Here’s another favorite of mine; "honor killing". True story as reported by a Jordanian newspaper (see above). Young Muslim wife is married to her husband who is “pimping her out” to his friends to perform sexual acts for them. The wife can’t take it anymore and runs home to her father. The father, injured by the insult that his daughter left her husband, is therefore forced to murder his own daughter to restore his honor. He does so by wrapping her in bare copper wire and plugging it into the household outlet and walking away for 15 minutes.

My final favorite, and another true story, "blood money". A man owns a motorcycle and sells it in good faith to his friend. The friend promptly goes out and kills himself on the motorcycle because he’s never even ridden one before, Inshala. The tribe of the dead motorcyclist then demands some thousands of dollars from the man who sold him the bike simply because if he never sold his friend the motorcycle the friend would still be alive. Failure to pay the blood money results in the tribe killing the man in order to restore its collective honor.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rip Your Heart Out

A 10-year old boy pipes at his mother's grave. The tune he's playing is a piobaireachd known as Glengarry's Lament.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Old broom leans against a tree along a dusty Baghdad neighborhood street.

There’s a concept in Japanese martial arts called, “Maai”, and it has to do with the distance between yourself and your opponent, in other words, how far away can I be where I can attack him, but he can’t attack me? It’s much more complicated than simply distance; it takes into account the size of participants, length of weapons, the terrain, and even the mental state of the opponents. Complicated stuff, but then again it’s Japanese.

Standing in the Green Zone Post Exchange (PX) today I saw a young PSD that could use a little attention to maai. Keep in mind that the PX is considered to be very secure as it’s located behind several layers of security, safe to the point where I would have no problem letting my 4-year old son run around. The three-man PSD was looking after two junior diplomats from one of the western embassies as they attempted to do their shopping. All “kitted out” with radios, ballistic vests, ear pieces, knives, pistols, sun glasses, 5.11 pants and matching polo shirts the team remained within feet of it’s client as they walked up and down the isles.

This is the one huge mistake that young protectors always make. I know, because I used to do it myself, and it’s so obvious to those that have experience working close protection. Give your client some space!! You’re in the PX, there is no threat, give them some distance and privacy to do what they need to do, know your maai.

I’ve never had a client tell me to get closer to him or her, but I’ve heard hundreds of clients complain that their detail is “all over them”. It's the #1 client criticism. If you’re working close protection you have to be realistic about the threat and balance that with your client’s needs. Pay attention to maai, how close do you really need to be given the realistic threat to your client?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Live Well

A rose prospers in the Baghdad rain.

I’ve always strived to lead a remarkable life, one that when I look back on several years from now, bed-ridden in a nursing home, that I will be proud of. My greatest fear has always been reaching that point in my life and suddenly realizing that I did nothing; that I wasted my time given to me on this earth.

The challenge for me has always been leaping from the open ramp of the C-130, standing on the start line of an Ironman triathlon, or taking that first step on a long and epic journey. It’s hard to break out of the comfort and safety of ‘normalcy’ and throw yourself into the void. In the end, however, I've always looked back with pride knowing that I did the right thing and accomplished the ‘remarkable’, one step further away from the dreaded mundane and boring.

Of course everything is not without consequences. Epic journeys take me away from my family, and being a good father and husband. Spending forever in a pool, on a bike, or in some sort of course is one more moment that I can’t be with my sons, teaching them how to lead their own remarkable lives.

The ‘remarkable’ is not how many races we’ve run, mountains we’ve climbed, or continents we’ve trekked across. It’s how we choose to live each and every moment of our lives. To live and love with honor and compassion is every bit as remarkable as climbing the highest peak. Again, in the end, it’s just you in the rocking chair, and it’s only you who will be able to look back and judge your life’s accomplishments. Live well.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Quick Cultural Rant

We spent the better part of the day today driving around the city of Baghdad on various tasks. My Scottish partner was commenting that the nature of the Arab culture is so terribly fatalist. You can see this simply by they way that they drive; blasting through intersections, cutting off everyone else on the road, no regard what so ever for traffic laws or even norms. It’s as if no one else exists but them, as if they don't care what happens to them or anybody else.

We remarked that courtesy and politeness in this culture are seen as weakness, and that if given the slightest opportunity an Arab driver will put his and your life in danger just to pull his car in front of yours. It’s simply amazing to watch, and you can almost count on an Arab driver doing something absolutely ludicrous, it’s inevitable. All of that just makes our job all the more difficult as we spend a lot of time wondering. "what's the stupidest thing that driver in front of us could do right now?"

Finally it was one of those moments that I wish I had my camera. We came up behind a BMW on the highway leaving the Baghdad airport heading for the city. Across the two bucket seats in the front were four Iraqi men, in the back were crammed another four, and to cap it off there were four sitting in the trunk facing rearward with their feet dangling off the bumper. A Kodak moment for sure, but I make it a habit not to carry my camera while working. I’ve got other things I need to be looking at aside from photo opportunities.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Eat A Raisin

Trees bend along a windy highway on the way to Amman

My wife is the master of multi-tasking. She can bath our four-year old son, check email, chat with her grandparents on the phone, and clean up after dinner all without a second thought. Me, on the other hand, my quest is in the other direction. I’d like to be able to do one thing at a time.

How much of our lives are spent doing several things at once, our bodies are doing two things while our minds are working on two or three other separate challenges? I struggle to do just one thing. When it’s time to brush my teeth, I’m only brushing my teeth. When it’s time to prepare dinner, I want to do just that, nothing else. I am working to focus on the task at hand, no matter how small or mundane.

Here’s an exercise. Eat a single raisin. The catch is that you must take 15 minutes to do so, and that’s all you get to do for the entire time period. Experience the raisin; let it settle in your mouth. Feel the texture of the dry skin with your tongue, taste the initial subtle flavor. For 15 minutes let the raisin dissolve away until there is no hint of it’s flavor in your mouth, notice the subtle changes in flavor, smell, and texture as the raisin transforms and eventually disappears.

Once the 15 minutes are up, you will see how much if life really just passes us by without ever tasting it.

Primordial Spacemen

I watched a CNN story this morning about the beginning of life being reported as originating from “space” and not “Earth”. Aren’t they one in the same? Isn’t Earth and “space” part of the whole? How can they be separate?

The reporter mentioned that life could have originated in primordial ooze rather than coming from “space”. OK, where did the primordial ooze come from? Everything comes from space, how can it be any other way? In addition, everything returns to space as well. “Space” is a modern day term for what some people refer to as the Great Void. You, me, the Big Mac that you just ate, your shinny new car, they all come from the same place, and in the end they return there just as quickly. It is all just “stuff”; stuff without an identity that we humans need to place on it. It takes a form, we define it based on our misguided understanding of the universe, and then the stuff changes once again. It’s not hard to understand we see it every day, in everything that we do. My favorite example is the water flowing from your kitchen faucet. One moment its clear, pure, and refreshing, and 10 inches later when it hits the drain its now sewage; vile, diseased, and toxic. It makes me laugh how the human mind works.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

PSDs Behaving Badly

My disdain for many of the Western Personal Security Detachments (PSDs) is well-documented in this blog. While I understand their job is difficult and infinitely dangerous I believe that their ranks, the guys behind the automatic weapons, are swollen with Walter Middy types, e.g., way under-qualified, under-trained, scared to death, pretending to be someone that they're not, and praying that they don't get killed in the process.

As I stated above, PSD work is dangerous, but in all honesty they bring most of that danger on themselves by the way they drive and comport themselves. The above now-infamous video is from one PSD company, and will give a viewer a good sense as to what I'm talking about. The footage is shot from the rear vehicles of the convoys, who's job it is to protect the leading vehicles from a rearward attack or at least to provide early warning.

In almost every example it's obvious that the roads are crowded as is the norm on most Iraqi highways. The approaching vehicles are hundreds of meters away from the rear of the convoy and pose no overt threat but are engaged nonetheless by the rear gunner. While I can't say for certain, I'm fairly sure that people died or were severely injured as a result of these actions. The people responsible for this should be in an Iraqi jail right now. There's absolutely no excuse for this; it's murder plain and simple.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

You're The Dot

The mid-day sky during an Iraq sandstorm. Everything is painted in a fine, brown dust; the sun is blocked out casting a soft, eerie light on the landscape.

“The dot is misplaced, but once all else is removed it has no place of reference by which its location is determined as right or wrong.”

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Leave It To Clint

Media team poses for a quick picture before heading out on an embed with the U.S. military

The media teams have been busy the last few weeks, doing embed after embed with the U.S. military. The correspondents, cameramen, and producers like getting out away from the villa and seeing other parts of Iraq. Embeds normally require that the military take control of the media team and move it to another part of the country, which quite often involves helicopter flights, much to the glee of the teams. The media guys simply love flying in helicopters, and all to often return to earth giddy and smiling, slinging terms around like, "chopper", “bird”, “helo”, “slick”, and “rotary-wing” like they stepped right out of a Hollywood action movie. I always caution them from using such terms on-air because they often use them out of context and it sounds awkward, and fake, like you’re trying to impress someone. Studio anchors, as an example, are forever using military jargon and it makes me cringe every time I hear it. You can’t go wrong using the proper name, don’t try to be cool and use slang. Let Clint Eastwood do that. So unless you’re aircrew, please just call it a "helicopter".

Monday, June 9, 2008

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor...

Taking a break at CrossFit Atlanta.

I've taken on an interesting project that I wrote about in an earlier post. One of our employees is very excited about immigrating to the United States as part of the U.S Government sponsored-Iraqi Refugee Program. He's been asking questions non-stop, which has forced me to think through very carefully the answers that I give him.

In short, he has no idea where he would want to live in the U.S. His only criteria is that he does not want to live in an Arab community, and it must be very rainy. Apparently he and his wife have seen pictures of people walking with umbrellas in the States during a rain shower and are quite taken by the idea of a lot of rain. Other than that, it's a blank slate.

My friend's entire goal in life is to own a small market and raise his two children in a safe and nurturing environment. Oddly enough, his wife is telling him that she wants no part of going to the United States, but he looks at me with a smile and says, "No problem, I can change her mind very easily". We've been talking about renting an apartment versus buying a home, small towns versus big cities, neighborhood markets as opposed to Wal-Mart. It's as if I'm teaching a course on American culture, and he's eager and hungry to learn everything that he can. To him it's as if some impossible dream has suddenly come true. I'm happy for him and his family and I know that some small community will gain greatly from his presence. He's one of the kindest souls I've ever met.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Sunday, June 8, 2008


My wife and I purchased a simple board game that my 4 year-old son can play. It has dice and pegs that you move according with your roll. We bought it as a tool to help him learn to add, i.e. the sum of the dice. Last night my wife writes to tell me that our son is in tears because he lost his first game to her; with his weepy voice he exclaimed to his mother that ‘he should always win’. Welcome to life son.

How do you teach your child to lose? I’ve never been a good loser, even today; my ego doesn’t like it, not one bit. My son is quickly heading down the same road and we’re struggling to help him find a balance between his developing ego and compassion for others. Of course I want him to win and be successful at things that he tries, what father wouldn’t? On the other hand our dream is to teach him compassion for all things, and to raise an empathetic and loving son. I’m afraid many of these are lessons that are often lost on a 4 year-old boy, however his 44 year-old father could greatly benefit.

Friday, June 6, 2008

An Arguement For Blogging

I had a discussion with my wife about social networking sites and blogging. She astutely pointed out that once something goes online it’s there forever, for all to see. This brought up a good point, something that’s been in the back of my mind since I started blogging five years ago.

Michael Keaton made a movie once (My Life, 1993) where he played the father of an unborn son. Keaton's character was diagnosed with a terminal disease and therefor he was not going to be around to raise his son. In the movie Keaton makes stacks of videotapes for his son, imparting fatherly wisdom, and just talking to the camera so that his son could, in the future, get to know his father. I remember one scene where Keaton is giving an on-camera class on how to shave. I found it a terribly sad movie, but it has always stuck with me.

As my wife pointed out, our online presence is forever. If something were to happen to me my three sons would, in the future, be able to read about my thoughts, adventures, failings and victories, essentially my life. Furthermore, through my photographs on this blog as well as Flickr they would be able to see what their father had seen, what had caught his eye at that moment.

When I as growing up we had a family photo album with a handful of black and white photos of my parents before I was born, and some of me up through preschool. That's all I had, nothing more, but I would wade through that album time and again. Imagine now the wealth of information that will be accessible if something was to happen, or better yet if nothing were to happen at all. My sons have hundreds of posts and stories that I’ve put up over the years on a separate family blog, as well as this and other online sites. That will be something that they can value for the rest of their lives, and the lives of their children and grandchildren.

Coming To America

Iraqi boys kicking a tattered soccer ball around in the neighborhood dirt lot

We are getting word that the U.S. Government may be planning to implement a program that would grant refugee status to selected Iraqis that have assisted various media outlets and would ostensibly be in danger once the Coalition forces depart this country. As I understand it, these Iraqis, and their families, will be relocated to the United States and given economic assistance for up to eight months, after that they’re on their own to find jobs, housing, etc… Furthermore, they cannot return to Iraq for a set period of time, but will be earmarked for citizenship. On the surface it sounds like an outstanding offer.

I had a conversation with one of our young Iraqi employees yesterday, and he asked me if I thought that he should take the offer. He makes a very good living in Iraq, outside of his employment with us, buying and selling homes. He told me that he has $100K in the bank and believes that it would be enough to set him and his family up in the United States. His dream is to own a neighborhood market somewhere in America.

How do you explain the difficulties he would face living in the United States? This was my quandary. Any description of the high cost of living, increased taxes, language barriers, culture shock, housing shortages would pale when compared to what he and his family are currently living through. I wanted to describe what I believed reality would be like for him in America, but in the end felt stupid when I looked at his current situation here in Iraq.

In the end, his decision came down to what would be better for his 6 year-old son. My friend felt that the opportunities for his son would be far greater in the United States than growing up in what he envisions Iraq will be like in the near future. I felt that it was a fair and unselfish litmus test, and probably one that my ancestors made a century and half ago when they emigrated from Scotland. I hope that it works out for my friend and his family. He keeps threatening to visit me in Atlanta ☺

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Spring planting in the villa gardens. "Mr. Miagi" doing his thing.

I broke down and joined the facebook community last night, and activated my profile. It’s become wildly popular and I thought that it might be a good way to re-connect with old friends and stay in touch with new ones. Something else to play with. We’ll see how it works out.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Reading On A Desert Island

In Baghdad I get a lot of time to read, and I was thinking the other day that I if were stranded on the proverbial desert island what six books would I want to have with me. Below are my selections; books that I have read numerous times and have had a great and wonderful effect on my life.

Awakening the Buddha Within. This book was originally recommended to me by a friend while I was going through a troubled period in my life. I’ve written about it before on this blog and cannot recommend it enough to those that are searching for greater spirituality in their lives.

The Alchemist. Recommended to me a number of years ago by a dear friend. The work is a fable about a young boy on a spiritual journey and his quest for wisdom and self-understanding. Aside from all of that, it’s also a great bedtime story.

The Way Of The Peaceful Warrior. Another spiritual quest and discovery book. This was the first of it’s kind that I ever read, and opened my eyes to the fact that there’s a lot more to life than meets the young, adolescent eye.

Shobogenzo. Gudo Nishijimi’s rendering 13th century’s Zen Master Dogen’s seminal work. I struggle with this book as it’s filled with lessons that are too often beyond my current level of understanding. Nonetheless, it’s a great book and one that is capable of touching the reader on a myriad of levels.

The Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor. Archibald Campbell’s collection of over 100 ancient and classical tunes (piobaireachd) written for the highland bagpipe. All of this is assuming that I’ll have a set of pipes with me on the island.

The Dogs of War. This is my favorite fiction work and what originally attracted me to the spy thriller genre. Since then, I’ve read many of Forsyth's other works, Clancy, Ludlum, Van Lustbader, and a slew of others. All great fun.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Car Bombs Over Dinner

A little Iraqi girls stares into the camera.

We’re getting car-bombed this evening. So far there have been no less than three massive explosions within the course of twenty minutes, all within a quarter mile of the villa. The windows have been shaken, doors rattled, and dinner conversations abruptly stopped. “Wow, that was a pretty good thump”. It all serves as a poignant reminder as to where we are, and the dangers that lurk closer than we believe. Sometimes we forget.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

My Day At The Foreign Ministry

Another shot from the Baghdad ballet school.

I spent the day at the Iraqi Foreign Ministry (U.S. Department of State equivalent) attending a joint press conference with the French Foreign Minister. I’ll start this off by stating that the Iraqi Foreign Ministry is probably the least secure government building I’ve ever been into. It’s harder getting into any U.S. Post Office than it was the Foreign Ministry. I was completely shocked and awed by the fact that I was standing only feet from both ministers, with a concealed weapon, and no one ever bothered to check to see who I was or what I was doing.

Having said that, the building was also full of personal security details, all trying to out-cool each other. Standing on the sidelines it was humorous watching these very serious guys strutting through the dark interior with their sunglasses on, and every manner of gadget strapped to their bodies. It was an earpiece, Oakley, and tactical vest fest to say the least. Again, no one even bothered to ask about me, they were too concerned about looking cool and couldn’t be bothered.