An Uneventful, but Full Day in Al Asad

Today I did not go anywhere.  Travel is arduous, so I am glad to stick  around.   It was not a nice day, however.  It was a bit humid AND dusty.  I kinda thought those two things would not go together.  We are also getting some bugs and, although I have not yet seen any,  it is snake & scorpion season.  Evidently in summer it gets too hot even for those nasty cold-blooded creatures.  So now with the advent of the cool (the term is relative) weather, they begin to slither or crawl around more energetically.

I had my medical briefing.  The doctor wondered how I could have left the U.S. w/o all the shots.  He was also surprised at my relative lack of medical history.  I told him that my father had been to the doctor in 1945, the early 1970s and when he died a quarter century later.  I am not sure that last one counts, seeing as he was already dead.  Anyway, that was enough for him. I had already been much more often.  I had to get an anthrax shot today.  It stings for about ten minutes.  I have to get three more.    I also need tetanus, smallpox and yellow fever.   The doctor says those things are not really around here very much, but it is a requirement.  He warned about the scorpions, however.  Three of the local species can be deadly.  They are rarely really a problem, he says.  Just a nuisance.  In our “cans” they are not found.  I guess they eradicate them periodically.  I do not feel sorry for them.

Marine culture is interesting, very different from State Dept but I find much to admire.  They have lots of meetings, but people are very well prepared and nobody wanders off topic.  They are also very aggressive and they DO seem to believe all that stuff they talk about.  When they are attacked, they respond.  I can see how it can cause trouble in some PC circles.  If a Marine gets killed or even shot at, they all want to go out and catch the bad guys.

The Marines treat me with respect.  I think I am doing okay with them, but we are very different in our worldviews. My tolerance of ambiguity is something strange among them.  They like plans and they like to make specific progress against those plans.  But, they seem to recognize my particular skills and the need for some ambiguity in what we are planning.  They are coming around and talking to me one-on-one.  I guess it is the same for me.  I recognize the need for their skills and outlook.  I think we can work together well.  I got some mileage for being physically fit, not as good as they are of course, but they can recognize it. It is really a big deal for them.

One guy told me that the way they see it Marines are carnivores and State Department is made up of vegetarians.  I do not want to eat nothing but red meat, but I want to show I am not a “tofudobeast” either.

I talked to the base commander.  Everybody assumes he will make general after this, and he deserves it.  I told him that my job was to make his job easier in development, public diplomacy and peace building.  He liked that.  We agreed on almost all the priorities.  The thing I like about the Marines is that they are very truthful – maybe blunt.   I used to think I was like that, but now I see I am not.  He showed me all the operations on a big map.  He knows it all in great detail. He was proud of what his Marines had accomplished and it is a grand accomplishment.  The new strategy worked.  They take the ground and then they send some Marines to go live there and hold it.  After that comes the building stage, where I hope to make contributions. Conditions at these forward bases are atrocious.  The Marines consider our situation at Al Asad the height of luxury, and I guess it is.  We have AC and hot food.  At these little forward bases, the snakes and scorpions are not eradicated.

Speaking of luxury, I moved into my predecessor’s can.  It is a double wide, literally twice as big. I like to have a little extra space, but that was not a big problem for me before.  What I miss is being able to go out among the trees, even things like sitting on the deck and enjoying the green.  It is also noisy all the time.  Helicopters fly around.   We have the sound and smell of generators.  Trucks roll by.  I am adapting.  The conditions are bad, but the work is good. 

Now comes the time of paperwork and bureaucracy.  I have a bunch of projects to approve, or not.  I can approve up to $25K.  After that, up to $200K we need to have Baghdad approve.  In some of the projects I am afraid that we are getting ripped off.  I really do not mind if that is a cost of doing local business and influencing people,  but I do not want us to be seen as weak or stupid negotiators.  I am asking to go back and get better deals.  I think that will cause of bit of consternation among our guys, but I think we will get more respect from the locals if we do it AND we will get a better deal for the taxpayer.  Nobody likes a cheapskate, but nobody respects a wimp.  I think we have to play the local negotiation game.  That is why we have local specialist and making sure it gets done is where I add value. 

I am also trying to get alternative energy considered.  When we do local power generation, I always ask about solar.   The sun stares unremittingly on this land anyway and shines the most when people want air conditioning; we may as well make some that hot light into electricity.   I think it will work. Even in this land of hydrocarbon, actually getting fuel to remote places is difficult and expensive.  Solar works here.  I hope to make it work more. 

Although riding in helicopters is more dramatic, I have to admit that I have more of the pencil necked bureaucrat than the warrior in me, a talker, not a fighter.  My sort is needed here too.