Thursday, June 29, 2006

So just got back from New York, I did, and the trip was a fairly enjoyable one, and I think one I needed. Here are a couple of things I thought might do well to be cleared up.

Fact 1. Amtrak is a great way to travel.
False: Amtrak does not have jurisdiction of any rails south of Washington, and so from there down one is likely to experience considerable delays. It was, however, probably the best way of traveling in such weather as we were having that day.

Fact 2. Cinderella Man holds up well on a second viewing.
True: Russell Crowe is a good actor, who as far as I can see, has utterly failed to act in anything that sucks (Mystery, Alaska is the closest he's come, and that was one of his earlier roles). A lot of people would not sound as natural with an acquired New York accent. Then of course, the fact of being a true story always makes the difference in a movie that would be stupid if someone had just made it up.

Fact 3.
Georgie Henley is the cutest little cupcake I have ever seen on a movie screen in my life.
True: She acts well, has an adorable smile, and that little dagger she carries is just precious. Whether or not she could be called the preeminent character in the book, I think she surely steals the show in the movie.

Fact 4. New Yorkers are proud and don't like giving praise.
False: New Yorkers are extremely effusive in their descriptions of almost anything, especially things they like, and one might almost say too much so. I can't remember how many people I heard described as being simply the nicest, sweetest person in the world, and subsequently wondering where were the cherubs whose job it undoubtedly was to attend these celestially good people while they graced this mortal coil with their presence. It's the same way with descriptions of places and sights. Not that this is a bad quality, simply a cause for being sure to understand who is speaking.

Fact 5. There is a tree in Central Park that looks like an Ent.
True. I mentioned this a couple of years ago in a comment on Mark Shea's blog, although it really had nothing to do with the topic. Now I have the proof.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Okay, I'll Blog it.

From Cacciaguida comes a link to a story in the Telegraph about the squalor at the Hadithah Dam, so I figured I'd blog about it just ever so.

Let me begin by saying that I really can't shed much light on the issue of what happened on November 19th, because I was at Camp Al Qaim in the far west of the country. The first I knew of it was when the guys from Kilo Company failed on a regular basis to relieve our guys of the duty of internet watch promptly at 2 pm, I eventually heard through the gossip loop that they were all doing legal stuff and filing statements regarding something that involved a fairly signifigant violation of the law of land warfare. It was not even until I got back here that I found out the date of this incident. I guess the way it was told, they made it sound like this was something recent, like early March.

None of the troops wanted to talk, but even a short stay with the men of the 3rd Bn 1st Marine Division in their camp located in Haditha Dam on the town's outskirts, made clear it was a place where institutional discipline had frayed and was even approaching breakdown.

I'll say this now, and probably not for the last time, but I did not learn too terribly much about the rest of the battalion in terms of who was in what company. I got to recognize many of the comm guys since I had dealings with them from time to time. I (and everyone else) learnt the faces and even some of the names of the guys who worked in the chow hall, since everyone saw them. Apart from that, we were a company that tried to maintain our own little bubble and as a result we did not mix a lot with the rest of the guys in the battalion, who I presume were the main ones Mr. Poole is talking about. Nevertheless, I can't really say that I ever noticed institutional discipline breaking down, although I can understand why it might strike him that way. At other, more civilized bases, uniform regulations are more strictly enforced. Desert cammies are the only authorized uniform inside the wire, and the only leeway the individual gets is in deciding whether to wear a floppy cover with the all-round brim of the more stately billed cover with eight corners around it (even this liberty is not unversal, and when the next battalion came to relieve us, they forbade the floppy ones altogether: 8-points only). One could also presumably wear a gore-tex blouse if it was raining, but Iraqi rainstorms cannot always be counted on to last the time it takes you to get to the chow hall and back. At the dam, Marines would go around wearing black, green or tan fleece pullovers instead of blouses, and also dirty coveralls. These were against even 3-1's rules, and every now and then the Sergeant Major, CWO-2 or one of the First Sergeants would call one of them out and tell them this would not fly. Then of course came the memo to all lower-level readers about proper uniforms and things like that. I will also say that a lot of this cleared up by the latter half of the deployment, by which time Poole had been and gone. Crackdowns, not breakdowns, ensued, and by the last few months we were there, you could look at a chow line notice that most if not everyone had a proper uniform that was as clean as was feasible in such conditions.

Such conditions. This brings me right to the next issue. Poole contrasts the Dam with other bases around Iraq, saying that while most places are "almost suburban" with coffee shops, subways and burger kings, the Dam was a "feral place" where Marines hardly washed. To be sure, we were always keenly aware of the fact that things there were of a much lower grade, but we just accepted it as our bad luck. Other Marines had college style chow halls just because they were lucky enough to get stationed on a base that had one (along with more convenient shower trailers), and this was something we just couldn't do anything about. I should point out that the conditions he mentions (hygeine in particular) are a bit exaggerated in the first place, and in the second place, as good as they gould get. The Dam only had three levels that were accessible by truck, and those were therefore the only places where showers and port-a-jons (as polite civilians call them) could be placed. Wherever they could be placed, they were. The biggest shower house was on the top deck, another one on the 7th, and two more on the ground. Berthing areas farther away from the bottom of the dam mostly had their own showers. Although I'm not in a position to say how often the rest of the battalion showered, I know that in my company doing so frequently was encouraged.

I find it strange that in a few places he claims that many were no longer living in their official berthing areas but instead had set up camp in whatever place struck their fancy. Although I couldn't have told you at any given time where each company lived (except for my own), I have to say that this notion of his is almost certainly a misunderstanding. There were a number of places other than the dam where people lived, but they were all that way for a reason. The Motor-T company and most of my company lived in an area near the southernmost gate, and that's where they were supposed to live. The only others who lived away from the dam that I know of were the Northshore folks. Northshore was probably the place Poole says "resembled something from Lord of the Flies", and it was where a certain contingent of my company lived. It really was awful when we first got there, but our folks fixed it up and made it fit to spend a winter in. The summer residence was a shack of waist-high walls and then cammie screen all the way up to the ceiling. Food and ammo were stored in the same (unsecured) hut. When I got back from Al Qaim, that had all been torn down, and in it's place were iso-boxes with plywood doors on the front and heating/ac units installed, as well as a sandbagged and locked enclosure for ordinance and a sanitary chow hall that was cleaned regularly. To a visitor like Poole, it was an image of complete squalor, but in reality, people worked hard to make the best of a situation most others were glad they were not in, or would have been if they knew of it. Most importantly, this was not a bunch of impulsive free-spirited troublemakers who lived out here. At all times at least two boat crews with boats ready to go had to be out there in case there was need of it, and few if any of them actually wanted to live there. Beyond that, I can't seem to remember any such encampments anywhere else. Could Poole have seen the AZ's guard shacks from a distance and thought it was someone's hut?

I remember the story of the guy who shot himself, and Poole should not be surprised that no one wanted to talk about it. I certainly never knew anything at all about it except that he was from supply. I never knew his name, rank, why he shot himself or even what eventually became of the investigation.

I certainly remember the smell, but I never heard anything about it coming from rotten eggs or lubricant. It did not get stronger when one went into a room full of machinery, but it did get stronger whenever a group of Iraqi workers were around. Sorry, that's just the way it was.

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