Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Return of the blog

Hey, I’m back. I was just out on a really long lunch break. We take long lunches in the National Guard.

Things are fine here at Taji. My battalion’s soldiers dutifully protect our base in our many guard towers and entry points, braving threats such as freezing temperatures, rain, darkness, snipers, and bouts of boredom. I pulled guard duty a few times in Germany after September 11th and was completely bored out of my mind after two hours. I can’t imagine what it’s like to do it on a daily basis for 8 months. They’re doing a great job though. We haven’t had many incidents at all. We like to avoid incidents around here.

I have so many interesting and humorous things to talk about from this deployment but I hesitate to write about them because this blog is now officially registered at the Multi-National Corps-Iraq’s command HQ. A new directive had me report my blog address up to my higher headquarters last week. This wasn’t a surprise. In fact, I wrote all my entries with this eventuality in mind, so my throat was gulp-free when I heard in a meeting that all blogs were to be registered by a certain date.

Iraq is generally safer than it was before the fabled surge, but it’s still a dangerous country. Just about 10 miles away from here is Diyala province, arguably one of the most dangerous places in the world. There were also those suicide bombs in Baghdad a few days ago. The ones where the insurgents, from a safe distance, blew up two unsuspecting retarded girls in two crowded pet markets. What animals. Then again, animals don’t exhibit anything remotely similar to this repugnant behavior in the natural world. Baghdad is safer, but what did we expect would happen when we erected 10 foot high concrete barriers between Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods and poured 30,000 heavily armed American troops on the streets? I liken it to a domestic disturbance. When the cops show up at the house, a husband can't his his wife anymore. What’s going to happen when we, the cops, leave? That’s one of the central questions of American foreign policy, though from watching the news you’d think the war was already over.

On a lighter note, my unit is scheduled to return to the U.S. in late April. I can’t talk specific dates of course, but I’ll be out of the Army and on my own for the first time since 1996, when I entered West Point. I got out in 2005 and went to school but was still technically in the Army—something I was so politely reminded of when my parents received the Army FEDEX letter in the mail. I still haven’t written off the Army Reserves or National Guard though. My parents and some friends here think I’m completely crazy for even considering it, but I want to keep my options open. There is the potential for a bonus, extra salary for weekend drills and other training, leadership experience, camaraderie, retirement benefits, and other advantages. But then on the other side there is the chance (or more like the certainty) of more one-year deployments and time away from family and friends during uncertain times. Starting a new career, then having to leave the job after 2 years is not the best way to establish oneself in a field.

I’m jumping into the job market in May, so I’m doing a bit of soul-searching to select a career I’ll be happy with. I’m looking at both government jobs and private sector jobs in a few different areas, including state or city public finance, economic development, and emergency management. (Does anyone know anybody at FEMA?) You know what career counselors say about success: you should know what your short-term and long-term goals are before you apply for jobs. Well, that’s the thing. I’m not entirely sure what my end-state is. Is anyone? As long as I’m doing something I love, in a place that I enjoy, I’ll be a happy camper. Another decision I’ll have to make of course is where to live. What will make my job search a hell of a lot easier is that I am very geographically flexible. I’m most likely going to end up somewhere between Boston and D.C., but I can’t seem to get the other interesting places like San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest, and south Florida out of my head. I obviously want to wait until I get back to the U.S. before I make any brash decisions though.

I hope everyone is doing fine back in the States and I’d like to thank all of you who sent me care packages over the holidays.