Tuesday, April 26, 2011

TTT - 4/26: Kuwait Update Pt. 5

Here we are again. These Tuesdays just keep getting closer and closer together. That's a good thing, I guess, when you are waiting for the day to come when you can go home! I am not the only one away from home this week though...Lynette finds herself in Chicago as of yesterday. But this isn't about Lynette, she can post something if she wants. ;) On with this weeks topic!

So here at Muhammed Al Ahmed Naval Base, or KNB as we call it, there are a variety of "stray" animals. The camp has (or had...I haven't seen him in a couple weeks) a dog that roams around between the buildings and greets people as the day goes by. I even found him as a running partner one night while getting ready for the semi-annual Physical Readiness Test this month. The rumor is that he belongs to some of the Third Country National workers here on base, but no one who is here now can verify that rumor. "Steve" is not the topic of this week's blog though.

There apparently is a rodent problem here on base. So how does one combat such a problem? That's right...cats. The base has cats everywhere! There are cats in the camp, there are cats at the boat house, there are even cats at the other base where our boats operate. All those cats seem to be pretty well fed, yet every night I still see the rodents scurrying around the camp or around other parts of the base. I want to give you information about three very specific cats though. These cats are the BMF cats.

That's right. My shop has three cats "assigned" to it. An Army officer came down about a week after we took over from the last unit to inform us that we are responsible for these cats. This proved fairly interesting to me because when we got our in-brief to the camp, they explicitly explained to us how we don't own the cats and we are NOT to feed the cats. They are purely for rodent control. These things seem to completely contradict one another...The other piece of this strange puzzle to "our" cats is that the last unit bought cat food and stored it in a box where the cats slept (I didn't know this part until later.) This spot also doubled as the smoking area...

So the a few days went by and I noticed the cats, who are normally very skittish and run off when we come around, were inching their way closer and closer to where the guys congregate during the day. I couldn't figure out why...we didn't really pay them much attention since we didn't feed them as instructed. This is when our Navy counterparts told me about the cat food and that we were out. I also had noticed that no one was watering them. I can understand not feeding them, they should hunt for the mice, but they can't get their own water...

After a discussion with our officer regarding the care in which we were supposed to give these cats (and a few cans of tuna later) it was determined that these cats were indeed not to be fed, but watering them was deemed acceptable. We're not in the business of watching cats wither away...then something happened.

I had noticed that one of the orange cats (two orange cats and one white cat with orange patches) went missing. I didn't really think much of it since we weren't feeding them they spent most of the day out, I assume, hunting. Then a couple days later I noticed that none of the cats were around. This was only odd because usually when we arrived in the morning they were just starting to get moving. Again, I didn't put a whole lot of thought into this anomaly because maybe they finally found someone to feed them. Oh well, less focus on the cats, more focus on work. This was a Friday and we take the weekends off unless something comes up. Monday morning rolls around, and still no sign of the cats. Again, no harm no foul, time to get to work.

As I have mentioned, there is a dual bathroom shack in our compound. This is where I noticed something. There were strange noises coming from under the shack...noises I haven't heard in many, many years. There they were...4 kittens and mama! This was the cat I first noticed had gone missing. She had burrowed away under the bathroom to pop out some kittens over the weekend. Now what are we supposed to do? She isn't going to be able to go hunt with kittens and we aren't supposed to feed the cats. As I said before, I'm not in the watching cats die business. So I broke down and got her a can of tuna (that we may or may not have been stashing away for the cats) and I put a bowl of water down for her.

This is where the story sort of winds to a close as well as gets a little sad with a twist of unknown. So Tuesday we had one of our lovely sand storms. So since boats weren't getting underway, we didn't have anything to do so we took the day off. This means no one was down at the shop to keep an eye on the cat situation from our side. There were a couple Navy guys that made the venture in the bad weather, but they stayed inside as much as possible. Wednesday I strolled in to the shop and went straight to where the kittens were at when I last saw them on Monday...gone! And the mama cat had also disappeared. Did she move them during the storm, did someone come and snatch them up while no one was around, or did the unspeakable happen and they all died?! Well, I can't speak for 3 of the 4 kittens, but one of our Navy friends said he saw the white and orange cat come back earlier that morning...with a kitten. :( The next day we saw the mama cat wandering around looking somewhat frantic, but we weren't sure if she was looking for kittens or food. That was the last we saw of any of the cats for a little while, that was two weeks ago.

Now, the next Wednesday the mama cat came strolling through the shop again. This time she wasn't frantic, but she was clearly hungry as she made her way through the trash cans as per normal. This started to become a daily occurrence and I watched her retreat to the junk yard across the street from our shop. I still don't know the outcome of the other three kittens so I guess it's possible she has them in the junk yard, but no one really knows for sure. Thursday on her daily stroll through the shop, the white and orange cat came back. It was not a friendly reunion...they fought under one of the boat trailers in the shop before we left for lunch...it wasn't a long fight though. By the end of Friday I had seen all three of "our" cats. None of them are living in the shop anymore, but they still seem to come scrounging for food in our garbage cans. We don't eat at the shop so I don't really know what they think they'll find.

Today one of the guys felt sorry for mama cat and opened up a can of tuna for her. She is looking pretty thin. She devoured the tuna in a matter of minutes. In a discussion we were having about the cats while we watched her from afar we determined that everywhere else on base we see these fat cats roaming around (not from rodents of course,) and then there are these three. Charged to us by some misfortune of their fate, forced to live off of rodents that clearly don't exist in our area since they have to have been living off of something! They wouldn't be able to roam to a different portion of the base though as the stronger, rounder cousins would probably kill them...

Pretty macabre, but such is the life of the BMF cats! That wraps it up this week. I'm not sure what else to talk about now. I know no one wants to hear about broken boats and us fixing them. ;)

I'll keep the alarm on...I can probably spew forth some nugget to share with you all next week. Maybe I'll talk about the barbecue on Friday at the beach...Stay tuned, and I'll see you next week!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

TTT - 4/19: Kuwait Update Pt. 4

Is it really Tuesday again?! Well, my iPhone alarm says it is so I guess I should come up with something to write about! Here we go...

So the weather here has been interesting since I arrived in January. First off, it was winter when we got here so the days were in the mid 60s and the nights got into the 30s...no big deal, if this is how the desert is going to be I'm gtg! The unit we relieved told us it was even the rainy season...never heard of such an animal in the desert, but some things are green here so I guess I'll buy it.

After the first week the rain decided to show us what "rainy season" truly meant. It would roll in ominously, as most rain storms do, and then it would rain for about 30 minutes at night. Then the storm would blow over and the ground wouldn't stay wet for more than a couple hours. And I got some good sleep! ;) This type of rain, however, was merely a tease. About a week after the rest of the guy showed up the true rains came. It rained about 15 days out of the first three weeks everyone was here...including a stretch of 8 days where the sky leaked at various intensities. During this storm system the grounds flooded, including the creation of what we at the BMF (Boat Maintenance Facility, where I work) have dubbed "Lake Bjorn." Don't ask me why Bjorn became the namesake for this ever growing pond at the entrance to our shop, I was not there at that particular venture (probably off dealing with driver's licenses or internet!)

After the week and a half long flood the rainy season was over...and the heat started coming on. At first we didn't notice the heat. It slowly crept from mid 60s to 80s with little mention of how hot it had gotten. It actually was quite comfortable after the last month of disgustingly damp weather. During this time though (roughly a 6 weeks into the deployment) we got to witness another awesome weather phenomenon that happens in this part of the world...sand storms!

This storm came in on a Friday night (I know because I pick my laundry up on Fridays) about the time I was getting ready to go to dinner and then grab my freshly cleaned clothes. As I walked out of my PCB I saw people staring to the west, mouth agape and taking pictures. This was pretty odd because our PCB is in the corner of the compound and all there is to the west is a brick wall and Constantina wire...not very picture worthy if you ask me. So being the curious being that we all are I took a peak. To my surprise, all I see is a big black cloud rolling in, FAST! Upon further staring I noticed that the cloud was not black at all, but dark brown, and it was pretty low...clearly the desert has decided I am impeding on it's space and I need to go away. So I ended up not going to dinner that night or picking up my laundry. That storm blew from about 5:30 PM until about midnight, but the dust didn't settle until after 3 AM. There was sand EVERYWHERE! We ended up cleaning the shop for about 3 days afterward...luckily the PCB doors were closed and tight enough to hold most the dust out.

The good news after that dust storm was our shop got really clean...the bad news was that another storm rolled through the night we got the shopped all clean. :p This second storm wasn't nearly as bad as the first, but all the nice clean shop needed another bath. Go figure...

Well, now we are into Spring and we are doing good with the 80 degree weather then one day last week it hit. BOOM 97 degrees. And now I must mention again that my shop is open on one side and the air conditioning isn't exactly rated to cool...Kuwait. :p Since then it has consistently been in the mid 90s with one day (Friday) being just into the 100s. Anyone want to sweat off a few pounds? I know this place... :D

Well, I have rambled on about one topic again for a great length so I guess that leaves the cat discussion for next week. Fine by me...with things going the way they are I'm going to run out of material! So with that I leave you for another week!

See you then...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

TTT - 4/12: Kuwait Update Pt. 3

It's Tuesday!!! Yes, I did set an alarm, but I was at dinner when it went of...I'm sure my roommates loved that. :D On with the storytelling!

So I left off with our crew taking over. We work in essentially a carport that is enclosed on three sides and the Navy crew we work with splits to bays within the building with us. The rest of the building is Kuwaiti Navy and we don't ever see anyone over there, not that we are really looking for anyone. Within our shop there are two offices. One is for the crew to sort of congregate and do training or relax. This is usually full of Navy guys as my guys use chairs in the shop near the toolboxes. The other office is where I work. Nothing really special about it except it has desks. This is also where we have meetings for the leadership or planning for the upcoming weeks.

The shop also has a little portable box that contains two bathrooms. One side has AC so when it gets hot, apparently guys from the old units would go hide out. Seems gross to me, but to each his own. :p

The final bit about the shop is that three cats live there. The base has cats scattered throughout for rodent control. I don't know what rodents they are controlling because I see mice all the time! Anyway, those three are assigned to my shop area. As one Army warrant officer told me, "You are responsible for them." Whatever that means...we aren't supposed to feed them per our "Welcome to Kuwait!" brief. There will be more on the cats later...

So at some point during my early existence in Kuwait, it was determined that I was going to handle the internet acquisition for our unit, at the least, and maybe the Navy if we could get a good deal. This starts a two month process...

So before the unit we relieved leaves, I am taken to a local cellular/wireless broadband company. The person who took me had to cancel their internet because our command didn't want what they had, and I was there to try and figure out what they could do for us for the time we would be here. This meeting included managers from sales, legal, and some other department that I don't recall. The general consensus when the meeting was over was that the best thing for our needs would be to get individual USB devices that connected wirelessly to their cell towers (their 3G network.) The only thing I needed to figure out now was how many people were going to be interested so I could give them a rough number for them to cut us an offer.

This process of collecting interested parties took roughly 3 weeks...we had already been in Kuwait for a week. I should say it took me that long to just get them a number so they would give us an offer because no one wanted to commit with a price tag. Fair enough...

1 month down, and the outgoing crew were selling off the methods of internet to people like hotcakes...first thorn in my side. All the while I'm running a boat maintenance facility where we are playing revolving boats because the minute the off-going crew was relieved everything started going wrong! (Go figure...) So with an estimated number of interested bodies, I head back to town for my second meeting. There I meet the sales woman I would be dealing with for the rest of this process. We go over some details and she gives me tentative information...all based on a set amount of time for a contract. This amount of time would have been feasible had we started this process when I got here, not a month and a half later...

This is where the internet story takes a turn for the irritating. I take the information I gathered back to the unit for people to mill over. All the while, the command had gone to the Army to get on their internet system...thorn in my side #2. Now we are polling everyone to see which they would prefer...2 week process. Time is not on our side as the offer for the USB connections is going to change if we can't commit to X amount of time. (Which we end up not being able to do...)

After the two weeks are up, the general consensus of the unit is that USB wireless cards are preferred, but instead of the 75 potential people I gave the company I'm looking at about 45. (Please refer to old unit's stuff selling like hotcakes.) On top of that, as I mentioned, we can't commit to the minimum time to get the great deal. The company mills all this information over and comes back to me (in a third meeting) with free devices, but we have to pay the full monthly service fee which is roughly $75. Free device, no big deal...45 people still on board! Oh wait...we forgot you said you can't commit to the time, while I have told everyone the price and started collecting money. USB's are now full price (roughly $45.) Instantly down to 22 people. I explain that is unacceptable and they manage to knock the price in half for the device. I little more acceptable and we get a final tally of 27 people with internet...2 months into our deployment.

Of course to conclude this part of the internet saga...my sales rep then informs me they want the rest of the money for the entire contract by the end of the month. I told her I would do my best, but that's not exactly the best thing to ask someone who was getting the runaround...

I know I said we would be caught up by the end of this week (and I sort of am,) but I think I'll leave it here and talk about the weather and cats next week. I have to have something to write about...things are getting slow here. :)

See you next week! (Yes, I still have the alarm set. :p)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

TTT - 4/5: Kuwait Update Pt. 2

So as usual, I forgot to blog for two weeks then I'm a day late the next week. I guess I should set an alarm for Tuesday afternoons! Anyway, on with the update!

I left off at the end of week one, desperately wanting the rest of the unit to arrive! That would wait another week though. So in the meantime, between paperwork and turnover stuff, I went caching on Kuwait Naval Base. Yup, they have that here too! The good news was there were 4 caches listed on the base! One I had been tracking since May of last year...it hadn't been found. Can you say FTF in a foreign land because I CAN! :D After further research, I realized that 90% of the caches in Kuwait are on Coalition Forces Facilities. Good news for me, and bad news for me...

So to leave our base we have to have a letter that says we are allowed to leave to go do certain job related tasks on the other bases. Problem 1, not all bases have job related tasks on them for everyone. Problem 2, the letters expire every week so I constantly have to get updated ones. Problem 3, none of the letters allow for travel out to Kuwait City...this is the biggest problem for me since I have to get items in the city to do my job. The good news there is that people know this and don't really bug me too much about it.

Another road block in the leaving the base is that people who live here drive...well, let's just say they aren't the safest people to drive around. Speeds of up to (I'm guessing) 200 KmPH. That's about 125 MPH... They don't typically use turn signals. If you are in the space they wish to occupy, they will move you if they can't get around you. The best part is that Stop signs are generally more of a suggestion than a law... All these things require us to carry a letter that indicates the risks of driving and the precautions taken to mitigate those risks. We are now up to 2 pieces of paper required to leave the base...

Now, on my "Travel Letter," an E8 (second highest enlisted rank) or an O5 (the lowest rank of a "senior" officer) has to sign the letter. That is of course unless you have a Letter of Exception to Policy signed by the general...this letter states that an O4 can sign the letter which in our case is who signs the letters...paper number 3.

Finally we need the vehicle registration placard, which is like our DoD stickers at home, but we rent the vehicles here so there are no decals. Also we need to show our IDs. In other words, we have to carry a binder of crap just to leave the base...And if there is more than one person (which you can't go out alone of course) each person needs a "Travel Letter." Now off we go!

So we can't go anywhere unless on official business, we can't go to town without long pants, and generally speaking we should wear collared shirts to conduct any business. Good thing some people were told they wouldn't need civilian clothes. ;)

The final week without the crew was pretty uneventful. I went out in town a few times to make the contacts I needed for buying stuff locally and we took a trip to one of the local cellular companies. The cell companies here are the only source of wireless internet, which is the primary internet source. That trip will be touched on later as it is an on-going story that just recently concluded and we still aren't out of early February in this update. :D

Just before the main body arrived the 9 of us enlisted were moved into our permanent barracks, which was one row of buildings from where we already were...why we couldn't stay I don't know, but that's the Army for you. :p Once we got into our buildings we moved beds and lockers around to try and make the accommodations a little more friendly. Boat division had their own building, as did Security. The rest of the the unit who were not chiefs, officers, Weapons department (they got to stay with their Navy counterparts,) or female got another building (my building!) Each division then got their own "room" in the building. We tried to make the individual space as fair as possible, but the Army likes to come rape buildings of beds and lockers once people transfer out. A couple days later everyone arrived!

It was 3 AM when 7 of us got up to meet the buses as they arrived at Kuwait Naval Base. We made one last trip through the buildings to ensure beds had linens and each person had enough lockers then we went to the parking lot...and waited...and waited...and waited some more...They finally arrived at about 5 AM, after we were told they would be leaving at about 2:45...lucky us. :) They arrived just in time for breakfast, but since they were all 11 hours behind all they wanted to do was sleep! Some guys were able to tough it out based on the minimal sleep they could get on the plane, while other guys just made their beds and crashed.

After the first day, the next couple days included indoc briefs and area familiarization, on and off base for some people. The good news was everyone made it. The bad news was that they only had 4 days to get the hang of everything because we were taking over! There was very little turnover time between the rest of the guys and the outgoing unit, but luckily for me fixing boats is fixing boats no matter where it is or who was doing it before you...

That should be enough boring details for this week. Next week I'll get into more of the cell phone company ordeal and driver's licenses...my two favorite subjects for the last two months! I may even throw in a caching experience or two. Hopefully by the end of next week's tale I will be caught up to present and the story won't be so long and boring!

See everyone next week...(now where is my alarm?) ;)