Monthly Archives: December 2015

Merry Christmas from DJ

I was very well taken care of by friends and family this Christmas.

I was very well taken care of by friends and family this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

So, Somalia outlawed Christmas. Djibouti, and those of us on Camp Lemonnier did not. It was actually quite pleasant. Friends and family back home were more than generous and thoughtful in sending holiday cheer, but do you want to know what the best present of all was?

My own wet CLU.

It’s been a few days now, I’m somewhat settled in, but I’m still logging it as a Christmas miracle. The things that you don’t value until they’re gone are: privacy, a personal toilet, and a shower in which all the leftover pubes belong to people you know.

My own private room!

My own private room!

No mud, no stray hairs from strangers, and no shower shoes!

No mud, no stray hairs from strangers, and no shower shoes!

No one else will be using this toilet or sink for the rest of my stay!

No one else will be using this toilet or sink for the rest of my stay!

The internet mafia went after the hearts and minds by offering free internet on Christmas day and one day on either side. A nice offer, but probably a poor business choice. It had no effect on my Skyping home to see my daughter open presents. That was my number one priority today no matter what. Money no matter.

If you’ve ever deployed, or know someone who has, you might be familiar with the term “deployment family”. It’s a must have for sanity’s sake and I did get to enjoy Christmas dinner with my deployment family. Mostly the boys I came with, and some more I’ve picked up along the way. In our culture meals are really what bring us together and the galley catered to us so I’d like to offer a sincere shout out to all the peops who slaved on Christmas day to bring us a bad ass prime rib, lobster, turkey, shrimp, egg nog, cake, ice cream and pie dinner.

Thanks to the galley team for putting together a great spread.

Thanks to the galley team for putting together a great spread.

I made this my cheat day which means I usually let go of the reins and don’t even make an attempt to PT, but the boys were doing an easy 2 miles so I felt obliged to join. Some of us also met up to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” in the theater last night. I went for the social aspect, but found the flick more funny and enjoyable than I remember it being. MWR hosted a band but I did not make the effort to fit it into my evening. Much to the chagrin of my sister-in-law.

The jog justified the second scoop of ice cream.

The jog justified the second scoop of ice cream. And who knew I was so short?

If asked where I’d rather be right now I’d answer “at home” without hesitation, but since I’m not, and I can’t be, and someone’s got to be over here, and all other things considered, it’s about the best Christmas a man in a combat zone could have.

Grand Bara 2015

Lord willing, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A 15K footrace across a dried up salt lake in the Djiboutian desert. Of course, we did it Gunny style. What, you ask, does that mean? Please, allow me.

Step one: proper planning. And rightfully so, we took a lot of troops off Camp so proper planning and force protection measures were necessary.

Step two: show up wicked early. In the Navy we say, if you’re early you’re on time, and if you’re on time you’re late. We mustered at 0115 (that’s 1:15 in the morning) for a 0600 race less than 2 hours away. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about showing up early, the only downside was that it meant sitting on a bus for 5 hours before a 15K race.

How about some highlights? Continue reading

A reprieve in Germany

I had the incredible fortune to travel off CLDJ into Germany. Words can’t explain how great it was to be part of civilization again. But alas, all good things must come to an end, so back to DJ for me. Here’s what sticks out the most: the shower, the food, the general happiness of the people, the speed of the free WiFi, the relaxed and welcoming work ethic of our brethren at AFRICOM, the crisp air and natural running path, and the shower.

Before departing for Germany I wrote my graduate advisor, who is German, and he advised me that the most important bucket list items were to dine on spaetzle and German beer. He’s brilliant. I’m happy to report to the boss – Mission Complete! What he failed to warn me about were all the sexual innuendos (see pics from my hotel room).

AFRICOM works respectable working hours so in the evenings I ventured out to the subway and, as any good tourist should do, pushed buttons, paid money, and rode the train in whatever direction it was going. Once again, no major international incident incurred. I found myself in Schlossplatz for Winter Market festival. Awesome! I will confess that it made me pine for my own daughter seeing kids on skates and riding amusement rides.

In the spirit of providing tips to future warriors fortunate enough to find the need to visit the boss:

  • The Dormero hotel is sweet. Killer breakfast, great bar, English is no problem and it’s super close to the base.
  • Get as few rental cars as possible. They’re a pain in the ass. My travel partner got it and had to deal with it despite several attempts to pawn it off on me.
  • Get your spouse out there. Better yet, drop a 96 hour liberty chit when you find out you’re going and add some time off at the end.
  • Some extra lead time on the front end is critically valuable to navigating the base, sell your chain of command on that, not to mention some after action meetings required on the back end of whatever you’re there for. Picking up what I’m putting down?

Germany was the bomb, but, if I had been travelling from home I would likely be slightly less impressed. I’d still rather be home, I’ve made a good life at home, but it points to the fact that hardships in life help us appreciate the finer things that often go overlooked. Sometime after I get home I expect a situation where we’re packing up the kid and the dog to go on some trip and a bag falls over and some milk spills and a tire is low on air and I drop my phone and the dog won’t get in the car and our daughter is crying and I hope that when that apparent cluster happens I can have the will to slow down, give my wife a hug and say, at least I’m not in Djibouti.

Friday Funnies: Meetings

I heard this quote second hand from a Tim Ferriss audio book, The Four Hour Work Week. For those that work with me on projects, you’ll know I go to great measures to avoid meetings. I have found theoretically, and experimentally that the work with respect to man-hours is much greater by optimizing desk sides and small group think. The routine meeting drives me nuts. Yes, there are times when big groups need to meet, but when they do, call a meeting. Can we all please stop meeting for the sake of meeting? One last thing, if we absolutely have to meet the host needs to bring an agenda. Too easy.

Here’s how Dave Barry sees it:

“Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other large organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate.”

PS. The Joint Staff absolutely qualifies as a “large organization” and we are guilty as charged. Apparently Dilbert thought of this too….

Meetings

CLUville. Coming to a theater near you.

MTV is out here filming their next reality TV series, CLUville. I’m sure they’ll blow a few things out of proportion, but they could actually come away with a pretty sweet show.

That, of course, is not true, but if the producers read this and realize the potential I want a piece of the cut. Drama? Check. Seemingly miserable living conditions? Check. Horrific bathroom scenes? Check Check. Several episodes could easily revolve around our school-girl-like tendencies to “check the list” every Monday. Oh, and did you hear that the bowl of condoms at the EMF (medical facility) gets refilled every day!? Sex? Check mate. I’ll accept my royalties in bitcoin, please.

This would be the point at which I would say, “But really, let’s talk about CLUville” if any of that were not true. Instead, I think the canvas has been prepped, so I’ll fill in a few details. CLU (pronounced Clue) is an acronym for Containerized Living Unit. That’s what we live in. Imagine a shipping container, and…you’re done. I’m not sure how many are out here, but I can say that I wish I were the dude that pitched the idea to the DOD.

CLUville

A look down the edge of CLUville. Double stacks and single stacks shown. Triple stacks exist deeper in the village.

Before we break down these CLUs, let’s first go over logistics. Part one: you land in Djibouti. You get bussed around, stand, sit, stand, get in line, sign here, sit, listen, stand in line and then you get a key. Don’t go using your imagine now, it’s just a key, old school metal thing, has a tag on it with a number. That number is your CLU number, your new home. Now, race to your CLU so you get first dibs on beds and locker over your roommate, unless the CLU is already occupied, in which case the best of everything is already spoken for. This is home for the next 3 weeks to 3 months, depends on how fast the list is moving.

Clu Ville_2

The west side of CLUville, looking into the heart of the village. In the distance are the triple stacks, it’s a bit more dense in there than out here at the fringe.

The List! Yeah buddy, every Monday, 0900, a new list goes up. Billeting owns it. Did you catch that school-girl comment up above? As the “wet” CLUs are vacated with victorious warriors departing theater the new guys work their way up the list. Once you’re at the top, you get an email marking the second best day at Camp.

Ok, so, the CLU itself. First option, shared CLU, applies to all E’s through O5. Two beds, four lockers, one desk, an AC unit and a door. The containers have a partition in the center so each container has two rooms, no door connecting them. The best part is the shared bathrooms. Also containers but they’re fit out with sinks, showers, urinals, and toilets. Again, doesn’t require a big stretch of the imagination, just cycle a hundred dudes through a container as described. They train us to not give a damn about privacy (just ask a sailor if they’ve ever shared a urinal), this is just an opportunity to put our training into practice. My Gunny at OCS used to make us call a cadence “This is what you asked for”.

Cue the angelic: ahhhhh. New email from billeting, pack your bags, check out a gator, you’re off to greener pastures. For O4 and O5 that means your own CLU with your own head (shower, sink and toilet). For O1-O3 that means your own CLU but the container is split in the middle with a head so you share it with one other dude. I’ll happily report more detail on the wet CLU should I ever be so fortunate to move more than 2 spots every 2 weeks. I was thinking Christmas, but forgot about the political will to get a snapshot with the troops around the holidays (which means many wet CLUs are reserved for the distinguished visitors and staff) so I’m thinking more like Jan/Feb time frame.

Before closing let’s level the playing field. I’m deployed to the desert for America, I get 3 meals a day, shelter, showers and generous entertainment. The living conditions are exactly that…living conditions. We’ll bitch, but we’re doing fine. Oh, and you might be wondering what I’ll be doing with all my royalties, well, I’ve got a seat reserved at the infinity pool at the Kempinski to pitch my next idea to MTV…Pimp My CLU.

Friday Funnies: The Arrogance of Authority

I’m a big fan of Jack Spirko and the Survival Podcast. He started his teachings as a prepper and has made a big impact on changing that label to reflect people who prepare for life rather than the apocalypse. If you have an emergency fund and backup electrical power at your home, you’re a prepper. Jack gets fired up over abuses of state sanctioned authority so when I read this it made me chuckle, and think of Jack (who ‘casts from Texas btw).

The Arrogance of Authoritybull
A DEA officer stopped at a ranch in Texas , and talked with an old rancher.  He told the rancher, “I need to inspect your ranch for illegally grown drugs.”

The rancher said, “Okay , but don’t go in that field over there…..”,as he pointed out the location. The DEA officer verbally exploded saying, “Mister, I have the authority of the Federal Government with me!”

Reaching into his rear pants pocket, he removed his badge and proudly displayed it to the rancher.

“See this badge?!  This badge means I am allowed to go wherever I wish….On any land !! No questions asked or answers given!!  Have I made myself clear……do you understand ?!!”

The rancher nodded politely, apologized, and went about his chores.

A short time later, the old rancher heard loud screams, looked up, and saw the DEA officer running for his life, being chased by the rancher’s big Santa Gertrudis bull……

With every step the bull was gaining ground on the officer, and it seemed likely that he’d sure enough get gored before he reached safety.  The officer was clearly terrified.

The rancher threw down his tools, ran to the fence and yelled at the top of his lungs…..

“Your badge, show him your BADGE…….. ! !”

Pencil Holder project complete in the Self-Help shop

I finished the pencil holders! I used this project as a means to get to know my way around the shop, and it worked! I got to know BU1, the shop manager, as well as several other people who frequent the self-help woodshop more than I do. I’m now familiar with the tools, earned the trust of the shop manager, and chipped in a few hours of cleaning which serves as collateral against future requests for use of the shop.

Pencil Holder

This pencil holder was my first project in the Camp Lemonnier Self-Help shop in Djibouti. The material is all scrap pine, the biscuits on the edges were made on the table saw, the coin is glued into a depression made with a 1.25″ forstner bit, and the finish is wiped varnish.

All good right? Well, sort of. Here at Camp Lemonnier we are almost wholly staffed by reservists and individually augmented active duty types. One of several repercussions of that is that the turnover rate here is on the order of 150% every year. So no sooner did I build my shop cred, then did BU1 start packing his bags to get on the next rotator out of here. I’m not selfish here though, I’m thrilled for anyone that has done their time and can get the best view of this place…in the rearview mirror. The problem for me is that the Camp doesn’t have another body to replace BU1. They’re going to assign it as a collateral duty to another guy in the meantime, but that likely means it will be open during regular business hours, during which, I have other regular business to attend to.

I’m an optimist, though. Things have a way of working out, so I’ll chum up with the new guy and get back in there. I have two ideas for my next project; either a plaque with the outline of the continent, or a Charitable Woodworking build for the Friends of Africa volunteer group. I’m still working my angle on the latter…stay tuned.

Finishing Tip

Bonus tip: In an effort to cover the whole piece with the varnish I build these makeshift project supports by knocking a few nails through a piece of wood.

Plaque

This commemorative plaque in progress is a fine example of a future project in the self-help shop. The wooden elephants are popular over here so they find all sorts of good uses. It wouldn’t surprise me if the other half of this elephant was elegantly turned into a pencil holder. What else would a squid do with an elephant ass?