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Coping with civilians in the ranks

Published January 13. 2010 05:00PM

(Editor's Note: This is another installment from First Lieutenant Jed Fisher, currently serving as a United States Army platoon leader in the First Armored Division in Iraq. He has spent his whole life in the Palmerton/Carbon County area, and "misses it dearly." Jed has been emailing home and shares what his life is like in the Maysan province in southeastern Iraq.)

A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

The year 2009 was a good year, and 2010 should be a great one.

Things here are going well otherwise. We're under 100 days left now, and all of us are ready to go home.

It's hard to keep your 'edge' for an entire year. We fight complacency as best we can, but it really is a struggle some days to make sure we do all the little things that ensure our safety.

We're also busy scheduling and coordinating for our redeployment, which all at once is a monumental task, but taken piece by piece is not so bad. The biggest challenge we face with that is the massive amount of documentation needed to bring our weapons and communications equipment home, all of it meticulously inventoried, packed in shipping containers, heavily guarded and well documented.

We are also in full scale "retrograde" mode, as is every other American installation here in Iraq. We are reducing our physical "footprint" (as we call it) on a weekly basis by sending extra vehicles and troops home or perhaps to other less fortunate places in South West Asia.

I'm really just looking forward to getting home, and getting my life back on track. My wife, dogs, and family are paramount of course; but there are so many things that I'll never forget about this place - that will make life back home so much more rewarding.

It's the simplest things, too that I value most. Such as going to a gym where there's more than one working treadmill, cooking my own food, sitting on a sofa, running water, showers over two minutes long, street signs, safety, hard working people and a functioning government.

I wish I could write more, with more detail but for now, this is the best I have. Take care everybody Happy New Year.

I wrote a little something about civilians in our ranks.


"You guys have to listen to what I'm saying," demanded the fat, slobbish civilian with a greasy graying ponytail.

After a few moments, I realized he had plenty of other unfortunate physical traits, which are all easily forgotten about but the hair.

Not so easy to overlook.

I was sitting in a class given by a maintenance expert on some of the tasks we'll have to complete in order to redeploy our thousands of pieces of equipment. I was frustrated for at least two big reasons, and as I have a bad tendency to do when I'm experiencing this level of face reddening rage, I usually start to pick apart the source. In this case, it was the ponytail.

Actually, it started at the nose. Fat and sweaty, his white nose protruded awkwardly from his face, as if his brain wanted it as far away from his peripheral vision as possible. His glasses continually slid freely down the greasy ramp, and I couldn't help but compare it to a slide on a playground. A fat, soft long finger-nailed hand effortlessly pushed the glasses up into their rightful resting place high on the bridge of his nose, but this didn't seem to stop the civilian from glaring at us over the top of the rims. I could only imagine how much dirt could be caked onto a tiny space like the little rubber pads on the glasses that come into contact with the nose.

Above the nose, two eyes - brown in color. Smug in nature. The eyebrows were much less fortunate, and he had a forehead like a professional wrestler taken akin to making tiny incisions in the soft tissue to produce profuse, yet usually harmless bleeding.

His wrinkles looked like a log cabin viewed from a steamy window, lines upon lines obscured occasionally by drops of perspiration.

His hair was unevenly distributed back over his scalp, revealing uneven and shiny bald spots. The hair flowed like a freshly plowed field, really, I could almost see each strand. The lines pulled back and joined together at the ponytail, held together doubtlessly by a dubious rubber band.

All of this analyzation probably makes me judgmental, shortsighted, and in some ways an inconsiderate jerk. Truthfully though, none of my observations are anything more than the most harmless games I play in my head when faced with frustration emanating from other humans.

Call it what you want, but if you were sitting in my boots, listenting to Mr. Carmern's lecture on the importance of accurate inventory procedure, I think you would have tuned him out like I did.

Our modern Army is swarming with civilians. They serve in our army at all levels, from the lowest paid traffic cops, to highly paid skilled laborers. We have cooks, financial specialists, mechanics, lawyers, logisticians - the list might go on forever. It's a complete necessity though for this day in age, as we are overextended as an army and cannot afford to lose manpower to these essential services.

At my current outpost here in Maysan Province, Iraq we don't have any of the luxuries of the bigger bases in Baghdad - places with KBR chow, great gyms, movie theatres.

We are responsible for everything on this little FOB. On a daily basis we have to provide a half-dozen or more of our troops at any given time to support various work details, ranging from porta-potty guard (guarding the locals while they clean and ensuring the locals actually do clean) to cafeteria support. We do it all and I see the need for supplementation. Most of the civilians in our ranks are hard working and loyal servants. They really are great people. But, of course there are the jerks too.

I like being on this FOB because there is little red tape. If you need something done, you talk to the Soldier, Sergeant, or Officer in charge of that commodity and schedule a time. It's very easy to get things done, because there are few beaurocrats here. You do your job and everybody benefits. The biggest rules are: be respectful and do not needlessly risk the safety of others.

I think what I'm saying is, it will be hard to transition back to the idiocy of bureaucracy of insignificant people clinging onto the shred of power they have and making life a serious challenge just because "those are the rules".

Everybody has experienced this before.

Just think of the last time you went to the PA Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) license center.

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