Trouble, Trials, Tribulations, & Travail of Travel

Above are the boots the Marines gave me, nicest pair I have ever owned.

I wrote a post comparing my life to Groundhog Day.  Well, today it IS Groundhog Day and this is deja vu all over again. I was caught in Baghdad – weathered in.  First day it was dust; then it was rain and fog.  Yesterday I made it as far as TQ and at 0300 had to billet. Helicopter crashes are usually fatal and I prefer to avoid any chance of being involved in one, so I appreciate that they are careful with helicopter assets, but it is still frustrating to be grounded when you have places to go and people to meet … or just want to get home.

The biggest hindrance in job is travel and the uncertainty and delay associated with it.  A simple trip to attend a three hour meeting can easily cost three days of travel and delay.  I can embrace the suck; I can accept with resignation that this is just the way it is.  But it is hard to do my job when I can have so many unexpected days away from the office. 

My Area of Operations (AO)  is the biggest in Iraq, the size of S. Carolina.  A trip to Baghdad for consultations requires at least three and usually four days of travel time.  That consists of a couple of hours of flying and a couple days of hanging around.  Nothing I can do will change these realities created by distance, the technical capacity of machines and the reality of operating in an active war zone.  I may, however, have a partial solution to my travels at least around Anbar thanks to my new friends in RCT5.  They have a couple of Hueys (those Vietnam era helicopters we have all seen in movies) that they use for particular missions.  But the RCT has agreed that my team can use them if we schedule well enough in advance to work around their other requirements.  This may mean that maybe twice a week we will be able to make day trips to cities around our AO, i.e. go and return to Al Asad the same day.  If this works out, it will be a great development and save us literally a couple days of downtime each week. 

Few things short of a celestial choir can match the impression of arriving for a meeting descending from the sky amid the dust, sound and fury of a couple of helicopters.  I see what it does for the RCT colonel and the generals.  In Anbar “wasta” – an Arabic concept that encompasses both the appearance and reality of power – is very important.  Having wasta greatly enhances our work, facilitating meetings and ensuring that proposals are taken seriously.  Seeming to have my “own bird” is a great wasta builder.  Those who know me understand that this kind of status thing is not important to me, but I recognize that it is important to my interlocutors & so important to my effectiveness as PRT leader.  I have to be “Da man”.  That is what they expect of me and I have to get used to that kind of role, which does not come naturally.  My preference is diffidence – to act indirectly and downplay power.  Nevertheless, I do have to admit that I like the luxury of not having to overnight on an uncomfortable cot in order to make a short meeting, and – yes – I also think it is cool to have helicopters.  

I hope I am not counting my chickens before they hatch, but I am looking forward to this with great anticipation.