Wednesday, March 11, 2009

At Home

I've been at home for a week now.  Part of this week has been decompression from the constant go-go-go in Baghdad.  Another part of it has been it's own go-go-go as I try to get everything done so I can start with the Corps of Engineers.  The Corps follows Department of Defense guidelines for deployment and they are much more stringent than the State Department's.  At State, it's "are you breathing?  Got a passport?  You're good to go."  With DoD, it's "have you had your anthrax, smallpox, tetanus, flu, polio, MMR, and hepatitis shots?  Got a recent EKG, audiogram, eye exam, dental exam, HIV test, urinalysis, and blood tests?  Have you completed these 11 different training courses?  Got a passport?  Filled out a phone book's worth of forms?"  I was able to do a lot of stuff while still in Baghdad, but much of the medical had to wait until I got home.  So I've spent much of the past week running around getting tests done or scheduled or whatnot.  Still not done yet but almost.

I've been asked a few times what I notice most about being back home.  It's the little things, really, mostly things that I took for granted.  I can get in my own little truck and drive anywhere I want to, whenever I want to, and not have to think about the latest security warnings.  There aren't checkpoints every few hundred yards.  No guards toting AK47's.  No Jersey barriers set up in zigzag patterns, with big honking speed bumps, to slow everybody down.  You don't have to show a badge to walk into the grocery store.  The grocery store actually has a big selection.  The mere fact that there is a grocery store is an amazing thing in itself.  And these are just some of the differences between life in the International Zone and life in Mars Hill, North Carolina.

I was driving down the highway the other day heading into Asheville.  Now think about what has gone into this statement.  There is, in fact, a road there.  It was carefully planned between many national, state, and local agencies.  The land was acquired and paid for through procedures worked out over a couple hundred years.  A contract was awarded in a competitive bidding process.  Funds were identified and spent in an open and transparent manner.  The contractors had years of experience in building roads and bridges and built this particular road to modern standards.  It is maintained to modern standards as well: patched, repainted, and resurfaced as needed.  It's smooth and open, and anybody can drive on it, any time of the day or night.

This doesn't happen in Iraq.  Local, provincial, and national agencies don't work well together.  They don't know how to create budgets and have an extremely hard time spending the money they do have.  Corruption is rampant and available funds have a way of shrinking or disappearing.  There is no "eminent domain" procedure to allow for planning roads or other public projects.  There is no transparency in government.  While there are construction standards that they follow, these "standards" are subject to the whims of those in power, who are subject to all sorts of other influences.  In short, the governmental systems that give Americans something so normal as a road are dysfunctional in Iraq, if they exist at all.  

But they're getting better, slowly.  Very slowly.  Violence is a tenth or less of what it was a year ago.  The "brain drain" that took place under Hussein and again during the violent 2004-2008 period is beginning to reverse, and people with training, education, and experience are beginning to return.  I still say it'll be a generation before Iraq gets up to the level of Jordan, Kuwait, or maybe even Lebanon, but at least it's starting.


  1. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/12/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  2. that small pox vac, doesn't hurt, but makes you sick, if you are flying right after you get it, be sure to have something strong to take for headache, like excedrin migrain, or if you already have it, that's great, you won't ever get small pox or cow pox