Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman is serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.
Second full day back at work. I spent most of Saturday trying to catch up, reading the flood of e-mails in my inbox and going through orders that have been published since I went on leave. I will be spending most of today doing the same.
Despite the fact I was gone for about three weeks, nothing in my lane fell through the cracks. The great thing about the Army is that it has been around for over 225 years, and if I, or someone else, is gone for three weeks or so the Army continues the mission. Nearly every position in the Army requires us to learn the job above and below us, and as officers we have confidence that professional NCOs (noncommissioned officers) will fill in for us when we are on leave, sick or, God forbid, go down.
Sgt. 1st Class James Massey is my operations NCO. During my leave he covered my job while simultaneously performing his. He is also a career soldier and has 15 years of service in the Army. This is his second deployment with the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom and his third time in combat including Desert Storm. He has also deployed to Cuba, Kosovo, Bosnia, and has served a tour in South Korea.
At the completion of this tour he will have spent over two years of his life in Iraq, away from his beautiful wife and two children. During his time in the Army he has earned two Bronze Stars and numerous other awards for his service. He is a quiet and consummate professional; I am truly lucky to be working with him, and am in awe of him every day I walk into the office.
I had the chance to walk around the FOB (forward operating base) yesterday and noticed a number of things have changed in the course of three short weeks. The first thing I noticed was more barriers have been placed around the FOB.
Nearly every FOB in Iraq has an untold number of large, concrete barriers surrounding buildings where soldiers work and live. All the guard towers, concertina wire and concrete barriers can give a FOB the ambience of prison. As a force we have spent millions of dollars on the concrete barriers, and when the next war comes I will be sure to invest in whatever company produces them.
The barriers do serve an important purpose. They are used as a force-protection device to shield soldiers against indirect fire attacks. If a rocket or mortar lands inside the compound and the barriers absorb the blast, saving one soldier's life, all the money we have spent is worth it. In this respect the barriers have already paid for themselves many times over.
I was also able to take time to get some personal stuff complete. First on the agenda was a haircut — three weeks away left a mop growing on the top of my head. The barber shop is located on our FOB, and a cut costs $3. The barbers are all third-country nationals or TCNs, mostly Indians, Filipinos and Nepalese. (Even the Iraqis outsource.)
Most of us give the TCN $5 for the cut. Percentage-wise, it’s a large tip, but they do a fairly decent job and shelling out an extra $2 is not going to set me back on that yacht I've been saving up for. Most of us are on a two- to three-week cycle for getting haircuts, depending on how fast our hair grows.
My second errand was dropping off laundry at the laundry facility. Laundry services are performed by Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR). It’s a great service for the soldiers here, free with a two-day turnaround. Just drop the bag off, inventory what you leave with them and pick it up in 48 hours, all neatly folded. When it comes to laundry, I am inclined to say I have it better here than back home. Not paying for detergent or having to get stains out of your clothes for an entire year is a nice way to live.
The rest of the day was fairly routine — lunch at the DIFAC, back to the office and later over to headquarters for a meeting in the early evening. I will get more into the daily routine in upcoming entries.