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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What's it like over there?

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Brazil native Monte Porter shares his observations as a National Guard member in Iraq


For The Times

My first week in Iraq, a narrative description of "Army" life at Tallil and some of the people I've met.

Greetings all! First of all, let me inform you that my travel agent has officially lost his job. DO NOT hire this person to book any type of vacation destination for you. I was introduced to him by a mutual friend and thought surely I could trust him to do what I needed, since my friend said that he was his uncle. Sam, I believe he said was his uncle's name. "Uncle Sam."

I know, I've been told time and again that one should never buy things from friends or family members. It was a hard lesson to learn, but they say you really improve your life if you learn something new everyday.

I began thinking back about the description in the brochure. There were pictures of swimming pools, fast food restaurants, and a mega shopping complex to buy virtually anything your heart desires. "Uncle Sam" told me it would be a place filled with a little danger, but the off-duty time would be terrific.

"Sunny beaches," I said.

The only picture I could paint in my head was a little resort community that required a few hours work, some intensive training to deal with the environment, and a whole lot of time to work on my figure. Did I mention that a membership to a first class fitness center was included as another fringe benefit? Dude, how could I resist? Suddenly, it was deja vu all over again. I got off the plane, looked around and said to myself with a little too much of my outside voice, "Sunny Beach!" Go figure.

If I've learned one hard lesson already here in Iraq, it is the fact that a good sense of humor keeps it all in perspective.

The bureaucracy, known as the Army, has challenges like no other corporation in America. One would think that after 200-plus years, someone would figure out how to cut thru the (bad stuff) and get to the meat of the matter.

I've learned that if you can't shake your head in disbelief and laugh at the sheer stupidity of it all, you could never survive. My greatest challenge will be to retain what little bit of sanity I have left.

One of my favorite television shows in the late '80s was "Alf." The key phrase from that show is one I find myself repeating hundreds of times a day: "Why must you needlessly complicate EVERYTHING?!"

A couple of us were discussing the challenges of the system here and I jokingly said, "It looks like we are going to have to circumcise (instead of circumvent) the system if we are going to get anything done."

How true that phrase has become here on a daily basis. Of course, when I said it, we were eating dinner and I almost had to perform the Heimlich maneuver on the poor guy. Timing is everything and, man, I was on that day!

Anyway, here's another peek at my life for the first couple of days here at brown town.

Most of you all know that my specialty is maintenance and maintenance management of Army equipment. The sole purpose of my leaving several weeks ahead of everyone else was to establish a Company area for daily operations. The most critical element of what we need to do our job is equipment.

The Army, in its wisdom, has established a specialty for a person to take care of property accountability. The individual is aptly named the Supply Sergeant because they handle all matters of Company supplies, equipment, and other duties as assigned. Now, my thoughts (keep in mind that I've often been accused of having common sense) tell me that the Supply Sergeant should be the one person here with me to get everything set up. A couple of rhetorical questions for you: Do you think the Supply Sergeant is here with me? How about someone even familiar with the Army supply system? OK, how about someone who can spell supply? Work with me here -- Bueller ... Bueller ... anyone .... Beuller.... . Nah, there goes that common sense thing again.

Anyway, to make a short story long, the three of us (me, myself and I) arrived here late one night, or depending on your perspective, early one morning.

I dragged my luggage for what seemed to be miles and miles (turns out it was only a couple of hundred yards). I hopped in a HMMWV with a kid I had never met before, who took me to my can.

I offloaded my gear like a longshoreman into my can (it's what we call our posh living quarters which is actually a miniature mobile home with no plumbing) and went to meet the characters with whom I would spend my next 10 days.

Wow! What an adventure this would turn out to be. It turns out these guys are National Guardsmen, too. However, they are from Puerto Rico and speak VERY broken Spanglish. Hmm, another added bonus of the "sunny beach" vacation destination.

"Oh well, I'm up for a challenge," I said to myself.

I think I remember enough basic Spanish to figure out if they are going to mess with me. It was a good thing I made that assumption and started preparing my head for what was around the bend. It turned out that my prediction would be one that paid multiple dividends for me over the next few days. Any time they got a little frustrated at the situation or "negotiations" we were in, they switched to Spanish to vent to each other.

I just sat back and smiled, knowing they had no clue about how much of what they said I understood.

Monte Porter was born in Brazil but now lives in North Carolina. He is keeping a journal and has consented to share his e-mails to his family with our readers.

His father is Randy Porter of Brazil. If you would like to contact Monte, please call Randy Porter, 448-8758.

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