Thursday, September 25, 2008

Random Musings

Armored vehicles, T-walls, checkpoints, helicopters flying overhead, and occasional duck & cover alarms don't even phase me after 2 months.

VIP visits barely register a blip among most of the embassy staff. Since I've been here, we've had 2 secretaries, some deputy and assistant secretaries, numerous congressional delegations, and more visits are planned. In a normal embassy, these kinds of visits would shut down normal operations. Here, it's just another day in the IZ.

Simple pleasures are appreciated. A homemade banner to celebrate someone's birthday, a fresh egg, eating dinner outside now that it drops below 90 at night. Anything that breaks up the monotony.

I'm continuously amazed by the caliber of people here. Sure, there are a few stinkers. But there are some really smart people doing really good work. When all of this is over, nobody can say we didn't try.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Petraeus Show

In less than a week, General Petraeus will turn over control of the multi-national forces in Iraq to General Odierno. A colleague suggested that, before General Petraeus departs, I should attend one of his battlefield update assessments. The update is a daily meeting that covers everything from casualties and status of operations, to electricty output and media coverage.

Standing unobtrusively off to the side of the operations room where embassy personnel connect via video teleconference screens to the base camp where GEN Petraeus runs the meeting, I watched as each person briefed the general. Occasionally he would ask a question, offer a comment or congratulate them for a job well done. Even though I read the battlefield update materials every day, it was fascinating to see it in person. It was a great education of what our military is achieving every single day. I was also impressed with the precision and conciseness with which the meeting was run. Not like a typical State Department meeting!

On another topic, an embassy employee passed along a message he received from a young Iraqi:

One thing more, please thank on behalf of me and many young Iraqis for the sacrifices that you Americans have done for us. A lot of people in Iraq are afraid to say it in public but deep in our hearts we well never forget the brave men and women's who wanted to build a new free and democratic Iraq. God bless America :)

That was nice to read.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Blurry Days of Baghdad

The Arab work week is Sunday through Thursday. That leaves Friday and Saturday for the weekend. To confuse things further, we celebrate Monday holidays on Sunday. So last weekend was Labor Day and, theoretically, the embassy was closed for business on Sunday. But I still had to go in to the office (holiday pay!). The point of all this is that people here never know what day of the week it is.

The job of staff assistant is interesting in a lot of ways, but it can also be frustrating. Everything that happens in the embassy at some point goes through the front office. And just about everything that goes through the front office goes through the staff assistants. It's a great education about what's going on. The downside is that it's hard to predict how each day will go. Most of what we do is unscheduled. So we never know when the end of the work day will be until the work is done.

Working long hours isn't so bad because there really isn't that much else to do. There's the gym. There's reading. And, finally, there's AFN - the television programming the military provides. I've been here just over a month now and I'm starting to meet people and get out a bit more.

I finally had some good news this week when the complications surrounding the assignment of my next post were settled. I accepted a handshake offer to be the Information Officer in Kathmandu, Nepal. When I leave Baghdad next summer, I'll have a year of training in D.C. (including 10 months of Nepali language training) and will arrive in Nepal the summer of 2010. Apart from my dad's frustration at my inability to work in a country that has a decent golf course, I'm very pleased with this assignment. The Information Officer handles press relations, the ambassador's media events, writing remarks/press releases, etc.

In the meantime, the blurry days of Baghdad continue to fly by and sometimes it's hard to tell one day from the other. I'm sure I'll be very excited to take my first R&R break in November.