Wednesday, November 30, 2005

This fine-looking group consists mainly of my teammembers, the Long-Range Planners here at Multi-National Corps Iraq. The first three to arrive in country were myself (not picured), Stu, and Barbara (foreground, L to R), followed by Kristy (pink, behind Babs) and Sabah (white checked shirt, middle). Well, today we welcomed our two newest members, JD (white T-shirt) and Dan (gray shirt). They are both former Navy blokes, and we already know they're going to be a great asset to the team. So far, I'm thinking we pretty much kick butt.
I realized recently that I haven't said much about my office. My team is situated inside of Saddam Hussein's Al Faw Palace, Camp Victory, Iraq (see above photo). The palace and its extensive grounds were used by Saddam and his family as a sort of sportsman's resort. There's a pool or two here (not currently in use), tennis courts, and several gigantic lakes stocked with zillions of giant fishies. I think they used to have some game around here, like deer, maybe, for the guests to shoot at. There are many, many smaller buildings all around the lake and on the grounds that used to house relatives and gov't-type folks, but those are all occupied by the coalition forces now. There's also a ton of palm trees that grow dates here, too. I've tasted Iraqi dates, and I agree with our Iraqi advisors that Iraqi dates are the best in the world. They are super delicious. Look. Here's a photo of one, to the right:
What follows is a photo-journal of Al Faw Palace.

Now, in order to provide some more detail about the history of Al Faw, I have attached a lovely photo of the informational plaque found inside the main entrance. Enjoy.

Here is one of the most-photographed rooms in the palace: the royal bathroom. It's huge, co-ed, and quite comfy. (Paul is demonstrating it's immense size.) The toilets are painted with gold, and the floors and counter tops are marble. The stalls are private, with large wooden doors. Very posh, indeed.

This is one of the royal stalls. (Above.) Inside the stall is a royal bidet. (R)Since Americans don't know what a bidet is, each is just used as a spare toilet-paper holder. hahaha.


Here's a shot of the first four members of my group to arrive at Camp Victory, posing in front of the gigantic chandelier that hangs inside the palace. We're on the 3rd floor here. (L to R: Paul, Shannon, Barbara, Nancy)

This is me, Nancy, sitting on what must be the most-photographed couch in Iraq. That's, like, a giant tea pot to the right. Everybody who visits the palace poses for a photo here. All the other original furniture items and artwork have been tagged and relocated to a warehouse somewhere, to be returned when the palace is returned to the people of Iraq.

These are Saddam's fishies, swimming about in the man-made pond that surrounds Al Faw Palace here at Camp Victory. Notice the bent-back little fellow up top, in the middle. His name is "Broken Back", but since that's not too original, and since he can't turn left, we sometimes refer to him as "Derek Zoolander." Ben Stiller fans will understand the reference. We feed these fish ever day, and they know it and expect it. They wait by the palace entrance, where every soldier who passes by throws them a treat of bread, etc. My friend Kristy and i feed them Power Bar Harvest Bars to make them strong enough to defeat fishing rods. Our main goal each time is to make sure little "Zoolander" gets a bite or two. That requires, oftentimes, a two-pronged attack. The strong fish often overwhelm the little wounded fishy, forcing him down deep and keeping him out of reach of the snacks. And since he can't turn left or swim upwards very well, he's at a serious disadvantage. We break up two Harvest Bars, and Kristy throws hers in the water, away from Zoolander, luring the able-bodied fish away. Once he's in the clear, I launch my Power Bar crumbs into the water, aiming just in front of Zoolander's face. Once we've witnessed him snag one or two bites, we feel we have done our duty and can return to work. Actually, we return to work, regardless, but seeing the little fella grab some chow makes us very happy. This is one of the fun little pastimes that we find entertaining and enjoyable here on lovely Camp Victory, Iraq.

Peace out, ya'll. Catch ya on the flip-side.
My new dream vehicle. OK, OK. So, it's not exactly practical, but that's never stopped me before. I still desperately want a Land Rover Defender 110, but this thing, you must admit, would be really fun on I-5 in L.A.! This is the new REVA, which is being tested in Baghdad now, for possible use by troops in the future. Read about it below!

(Extracted from an article on National Defense Magazine online. Full story here. It talks about armoring vehicles for better protection against IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices)...and it says: One (other) vehicle under consideration is the REVA, a 4x4 personnel carrier that seats 10 passengers and is equipped with two hatches for light machine guns.

Like the MTTCS, the only way to enter the REVA is from the back or the gunner’s hatch. Ten of these vehicles are currently being used by civilian contractors in Iraq, with more coming this month.

The Army purchased five REVA prototypes for evaluation, he said. Each one costs $195,000.

J.J. Van Eck, of South Africa, designed the REVA specifically for the Iraq war, and he modeled it after the South African anti-mine vehicles currently in operation with U.S. forces.

The hull of the REVA consists of a “capsule” without chassis, and the wheel basis is built directly onto the hull with a “V”-shape at the bottom of the hull to deflect a mine blast, said the manufacturer, Integrated Convoy Protection.

The evaluation of these vehicles comes at a time when attacks by suicide bombers and buried explosives are at an all-time high in Iraq. U.S. convoys are targeted on average about 30 times per week, or double the level of attacks from a year ago, said Brig. Gen. Yves J. Fontaine, head of the Army 1st Corps Support Command, Multinational Corps-Iraq. “Our main threat is the IED for the logistics convoys coming from Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey and in going to the Baghdad area,” he told reporters.

We have seen several of these vehicles here at Camp Victory, and they are quite impressive. Hey, REVA, got any spares?

All's well here. Thanks for tuning in.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The gang's all here. Happy Thanksgiving from your Long-Range Planning Team! We're toasting you from Camp Victory, Iraq, where we are thankful to have one another here and all of you back home. Miss you!
(Left to right: Stu, Sabah, Nancy, Barbara, Kristy)
The Iraqi Ground Forces Command put up this banner outside of the chow hall to thank the American servicemen and women for their service here.
Thanksgiving in Baghdad was wonderful. I mean, we did go to work, and we are in, well, Iraq, but it was a great day nonetheless. My team here is very close, and we really did enjoy being able to spend Thanksgiving together. We're family now, and when we can't spend the holidays with loved ones back home, at least we get to share the benevolence of the season with one another.
The food in the chow hall is, I think, really delicious. Those who know me know I'm not the least bit picky, but others here agree the chow is good, too, and they're pretty trustworthy. The daily meals get pretty boring after a while, but it makes the holiday meals all the more special. As usual, I ate a lot of meat, and as per my usual Thanksgiving routine, I also loaded up on dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce. I must admit the sweet potato pie was DEEEEElicious, too. I definitely felt homesick for mom's famous apple pie and monkey bread, but certain sacrifices have to be made, I suppose.
Things are going quite well here, and I hope you all are safe and happy, too. Until next time.

Here we are with Santa. He showed up on this holiday to get us thinking about the next, I guess.
(Nancy, Kristy, Stu, Sabah)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The view from Al Faw Palace's balcony. The man-made lake that surounds the palace is stocked with hundreds of big, greedy fishies. I think they're some type of carp. Ugly but entertaining. This is a typical eveningin Iraq. Absolutely beautiful.


I'm sittin' here at my desk, listening to Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson tell stories through song lyrics. The songs are borrowed from SGT Ben, one of the great IT bubbas here.

My team and I have been working on a campaign plan and spinning creative ideas all day, but we took a break a few minutes ago to gaze out at Camp Victory from the Al Faw Palace balcony. It's a beautiful evening, cool and clear, a welcome break from last night's rain.

There are five of us here on what we refer to as the "Long-Range Planning Team", and we have been putting in long days working on a briefing that's due to our general Saturday evening. The long hours and heavy workload have prevented me from working on this blog as much as I'd hoped to. But don't worry--there'll be time here and there when I can work on it.

It's 1830 here, or 6:30 p.m. for you military types. Back home on the East Coast, it's 1034 (that's am, of course). We'll put in a couple more hours and then call it a day. Last night was a fairly late one, so the rest will do us some good this evening.

I'm looking forward to getting back to my hooch and hopping online to chat with my sweetie (a nightly ritual), after which I will turn in for the night to rest up for my morning run. I think tomorrow is going to be another beautiful Baghdad day, and I think we're going to accomplish a lot of good planning. Errr! (That's sort of like "yee-haw!", the Marine Corps way. "Hooah" if you're Army.)

All my best. Take care.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

It rained last night, making for a very muddy experience the following day. The drizzle continued throughout the day. The ground here doesn't absorb water very well, and since it's flat as a pancake, the water just collects into giant muddy puddles everywhere. What was talcum-powder-like sand yesterday is now some of the stickiest mud I've ever experienced.

It rained last night. All indications are that we are entering the inevitable rainy season, and nobody's too thrilled about it. Last night was funny, though. I was walking back from chow, and this guy named Joe, who also works in the palace, and I were wondering at a flash of light in the sky. We were like, "What was that?" We figured it must've been a white star cluster or some type of ordnance. "Well, it couldn't be lightning," I said. "There's not a cloud in the sky," said Joe.

Not even an hour later, the skies unleashed quite the deluge of water, and the flashes of light that occurred then couldn't be taken for anything but lightning. It was miserable. By the time my teammates, Kristy and Sabah, and I returned to the tents, it was a muddy, sloppy mess. Walking the 93 steps between my tent and the toilets at 0345 was no treat, I tell you what.

The rainy season, I'm afraid, is indeed upon us. The first thing Kristy and Pauline and I did the next morning was place a mass order for some classic British wellies (mud boots). I got red, Kristy's are classic green, and Pauline's are a subdued black.

We spent the day working hard on a campaign plan, but we took time during lunch to go to the bazaar to pick up a few items. I got a bunch of Saddam Hussein paraphernalia (sp?), including this exquisite clock, "With Compliments of Military College, Republic of Iraq." Offensive? Perhaps. But I will doctor it up to make it less offensive, and I'll share the results of that in a later blog.

Gotta run. Take care, all.

Monday, November 14, 2005

This is me, your humble author, on the military side of Baghdad
International Airport. I think the purple shirt lends an air of
benevolence. Hell, I look almost as good in purple as I do in Marine
Corps green!

Well, this is just weird. Here I am, in Kevlar and flak jacket.....and a purple shirt. It's funny to be a civilian amongst all these military folks, especially considering this is a war zone and I, Nancy Lynn Olson, Major, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, am unarmed. Bizarre.
Anywho, as I am figuring out exactly what I want to put in this little ol' blog of mine, I will probably skip around a little with the storytelling. I assure you it'll all make sense eventually, but the first couple of weeks of this will likely be a big, fat mess. I have quite a few pics, and I fully intend to take a lot more. The problem is, my note-taking lapsed after the first four or five days, so I'll have to make up a lot of muckity muck to fill in the blanks. I ensure you it will sound quite authentic. Making things up and calling them fact is a long-running tradition in my family, and I am proud to carry the torch for another generation.
I suppose I should briefly explain what I'm doing here.
I just left a six-month tour of active duty at HQMC Public Affairs and was hired by a civilian company to help manage a program that we're running out here with the Multi-National Corps at Camp Victory, Baghdad, Iraq. From here on out, I'll refer to them (the Army and other military bubbas) as "green." Green normally refers to the uniform color, but since uniforms in this terrain are desert camouflage, or khaki, or that cute Easter-egg pastel color of the new Army fatigues, I guess that doesn't make sense. "Green" is just a whole heckofalot easier to say than all that other stuff, though. So green it is. The guys (and gals) in green and my team (most of whom are former military, by the way) are working on some top-secret-squirrel stuff that I'm not at liberty to discuss. I still haven't figured out what to say about that or how to explain what I do each day, so I'll probably steer clear of it altogether. I guess this blog will consist mainly of anecdotes about the life and shinanigans of a gal and her friends and co-workers on one of the largest forward operating bases in the world. Hope I can keep it interesting for ya. I'll introduce new characters later, so that might help.
That's all for now. Take care, and stay tuned for more photos and nonsense.