I've gotten a lot of great e-mail from people this last week. Thanks to everyone who wrote, and I'm progressing through my responses. Bjorn, Kristin--it won't be much longer.
It's clearly turning into summer in Iraq. We've been deployed now for four and a half months, two and a half of that in theater. Although, the time spent at Fort Dix seems so much briefer by comparison. It's as if my whole life to this point has been sand and heat. Life is completely different out here. So many things which are taken for granted in our first world country are absolute luxuries here in the third. --Especially for military personnel, living out in the middle of nowhere. For those of you with geographic shortcomings, the middle of nowhere is located centrally relative to the back side of Earth's bum. The part with the sun, and the UV radiation, and the sand-that-is-really-just-glorified-dust, and the lack of water. I feel more akin to Robert Jordan's Aiel every day. I'm about this far away [indicates microscopic distance between thumb and forefinger] from making my writing address
Spc. Monath, David
C Sept of the 323rd Hold of the MI Clan
Camp Bucca, Three-Fold Land
I slept for a couple hours yesterday afternoon, after lying awake not sleeping for a couple prior to that. When I woke up, my mattress and t-shirt were soaked, and I immediately drank a liter and a half to recover in part, then went to dinner and drank seven beverages, and after I got back to the tent I drank another 1.5 liters (that's the size of the bottles we get.) We drink easily six to nine liters of water a day, not counting drinking at meals. You know that sweat you get from moderate to heavy exercise that induces you to take a shower afterward to get clean? That's just the normal, "I'm alive and walking" state here. You just live in a constantly replenished sheen of sweat. Taking a shower in the daytime is the ultimate exercise in futility. The MOST time you will ever spend really and truly clean will be eight hours, if you take a shower at nine PM. The sun is up by four every morning, and by five it's already hot. By seven, it's sweltering. Forget that nonsense about deserts being hot in the day and cold at night. It works that way for a couple months during winter, and that's about it. Otherwise, it's blazing during the day and nearly comfortable at night.
Even knowing how hot it is, you forget sometimes just _how_ hot in relation to temperatures back home, and how much our bodies have acclimated. Sometimes the wind is so hot it hurts. If you leave a bottle of water in your tent ("shade," mind you,) within fifteen to thirty minutes it's the perfect temperature for tea or coffee. You know, just after it stops being too hot to touch, and before it begins cooling to tepidity? --lukewarm doesn't exist here. You just reach out your hand for the bottle, and when you touch it, you almost experience the hot potato reflex, and then realize--that's the standing air temperature. Easily above 120. Those temperate figures given for Baghdad and Kuwait City simply don't apply to the middle of the desert.
And Port-a-Johns? Ha! More like individual saunas you can poop in.
Ack--it's been two hours since dinner, and even sitting inside, I really need more water. At least we have big shipments of ice every day. That has to be the single most important luxury we have--ice to keep our water cool. That and the air conditioning in the shower trailers and chow hall. [returns with ice-cold beverage] Ahhhhhhh. . .
The Army, if nothing else, is good at teaching coddled Americanites about perspective. Basic was probably the most extended, uncomfortable trial of my life in terms of living conditions and exertion. I'd been FAR more miserable in the past, but that had nothing to do with getting up at four in the morning to do two hours of PT every day, being punished for no reason other than that it built character, subjected to a micromanaged regimen of janitorial services, equipment maintenance, classroom instruction, random physical exertion to the point of muscle failure, and strict discipline.
The moment of epiphany for me in Basic was when we got back one day from a long, wearying ruck march and stumbled into the barracks late at night to get a few hours of sleep before waking for PT the next morning; we sloughed off our rucksucks and kevlar helmets and collapsed on the tiled floor, too tired for the moment to climb into bed, and at least two of us independently and sincerely said, "Ahhh, this floor is comfortable," in a moment of bliss.
You learn to appreciate small freedoms, like driving a car, or doing chores when YOU choose to do them, or being able to eat whenever you want. Further, out here in the desert, you learn how much it means to be able to sleep when you wish, to feel clean, to put something down and come back to it in a few minutes without a layer of dust covering it, to sit or stand and truly be comfortable, to have carpet, internet access, a choice of hobbies. Even to hug someone you care about, or be with people you love, and who love you.
This land is truly the world's dirty gym socks. How I envy you Wetlanders back home.
On another, completely different front, I've made two significant purchases on Ebay in the last week. Since I've been playing the guitar, and up until now, my total acquisitions have included an acoustic Epiphone guitar purchased at Atomic Music in Beltsville (MD,) which was my first personally owned guitar ever; and then a friend of mine gave me an el cheapo electric and a practice amp. A little while thereafter, I bought a Fender Standard American Stratocaster and a Line 6 Spider amp from Guitar Center. This has kept me happy for many years, and while the Line 6 amp is capable of emulating a wide range of sounds and I would strongly recommend it to any beginner, you just can't quite recreate the sound of a high quality, born-to-rock tube amp (valve amp for ye Brits.) Especially true for higher, overdriven notes, which should properly turn into that clean white scream so familiar to classic and hard rock fans. --A la Slash's solo from November Rain, and much of David Gilmour's Pink Floyd work.
This brings us closer to the point of this last week's endeavors. Slash uses Marshalls exclusively--specifically, the Silver Jubilee 2555 model, released in '87 as part of Marshall's 25th anniversary of business and discontinued in '89, about which he later said, "This is the amp that has made six pretty successful albums, done countless sessions, survived two riots, three world tours and my inflexible approach to a specific sound. It's been flawless the entire time and I wouldn't even consider trying anything else-something that consistent, you just don't #!*$ with." After some of his amps were destroyed in St. Louis riot in 1991, he was worried that if anything happened to the remaining Jubilees, he'd be in trouble where his sound was concerned. He asked Marshall if they could make him another ten, and Marshall's response was that it wouldn't be cost effective to produce so few, but they could, for the first time in the company's history, make a custom line for him. Thus was created the JCM2555SL Signature Slash Edition amp, only 3,000 of which were made. The components were exact duplicates of the '87 Silver Jubilee models with a couple changes to suit Slash's playing, not altering the sound in any way. Each amp comes with a snakeskin cover and Slash's signature on the amp next to Jim Marshall's. So, if that's the sound I'm primarily drawn to, why go anywhere but the source?
Eeexactly. I'm now the proud owner of my very own Marshall JCM 2555SL Signature Slash amp. All I have to do is get demobilized now and maybe I can touch it . . .
I have an almost discouraging amount of work left ahead of me before I'll even approximate Slash's playing skill, but there IS a huge difference between playing with an upright piano or a Steinway concert grand. And therein lies half the point of making such a purchase. Now that I'm sure I'll be playing the guitar for the rest of my life, it's worth the investment to own equipment of such quality, whereas my first few guitar purchases were relatively inexpensive, commensurate with the unknown factor of my eventual involvement. The other half of the reason for buying this amp is the reason stated above--having the proper equipment to produce the tonal qualities I desire for my playing.
I also bought a lower key "practice amp" which is actually part of the same line as the "whoopty-do" amp, but built on a smaller scale with a couple fewer options, but still powerful enough to work in any small club or church venue. The 2555SL is a 100W amp, brimming with power, and not to be used when neighbors are home--the neighbors two doors down, or across the street, that is. (Although, it can be switched down to 50W, and to give you an idea of the relative power, THAT's the wattage Slash most often uses in concerts.) This second amp is the Marshall Silver Jubilee 2550 Mini Stack. It has two 9" speaker cabinets, and the head is based on the same schematics as the larger version, but can be powered down from 50 to 25 watts. Now you can almost use it in the house . . . WITH soundproofing. [grin] The household will doubtless be happy it has a headphone jack . . .
I'm going to have to get friendly with the neighbors, just so I can find out their vacation schedules and work hours. =P
Financially, this was a heavy investment. Quality equipment isn't cheap, I've I've lamented for years. However, both of the pieces I bought are also short production collector's items, so if necessary the cost can always be recouped, most likely at a profit. Even so, I'd probably opt to work three jobs before selling the amp. I bought the Slash amp at $500 below list, on par with the average used price I've seen on the net, although certainly not the absolute best, but those prices were a decade ago, before people really started hanging on to them. Dittos for the mini stack. Although boy, shipping hits you in the solar plexus when you want to move something that weighs a hundred pounds. *erk*
Good AND bad in separate ways, the expense will ultimately be barely noticeable given the tax-free income I'm making overseas and the time I'm expecting to be over here. Despite everything, I still don't want to expect to be home too much before Christmas, although I think Bush is going to try pretty hard to get most of the Reservists and National Guard home by the holidays. National Guard recruiting is failing to meet goals for the first time in years, and Reserve recruiting is down a bit, too. SHOCKER. It's not so much THIS deployment that's making people flee the part-time military, it's the prospect of the NEXT three deployments. If the Army wants a Reserve system to work, it's going to truly have to be a Reserve, instead of a 1/10 pay vital component which is required for any significant operation. The standing Army, as it has been known for years, and now is emphatically proven, is incapable of fulfilling our nation's military needs. It's sort of like designing a family budget, and counting your credit limit as income.
I hope Reserve and Guard recruiting continues to fall flat on its butt. There's a strong point which needs to be made, and the sooner the better. The actual disparity between required Guard/Reservist numbers and recruiting goals is going to opened even wider as current members refuse to renew their contracts. Of my company, not a single one of the junior enlisted is planning to re-up, and a majority of those at retirement age (read, senior enlisted) aren't re-upping, and the plans for the middle NCOs are basically the toss of a coin. And it's not just hitting enlisted, either--I'm working with several officers here, ranging from a 2nd Lt. to a Major, and the Lt., even just starting his career as a Reservist officer, is heading for hills, with not a chance in hades of reenlisting. The Captain thinks he's staying in, but from listening to him talk about his wife--he's not. In fact, that's a wide-ranging truth in the Reserves--the wives aren't going to allow this to happen to their families, and they're putting their collective feet down, hard. Now, Jenni hasn't said to me, "Dave, don't reenlist," but I know for a fact that she's strongly uncomortable with the idea. --And I happen to share her feelings and reasoning.
People are getting truly fed up with the pattern in the last four years of near-constant deployments. If you're one of those people who says, 'well, you signed the contract, deal with it,' I've got a couple things to respond with. The first is provocative--'Who the hell do you think you are and why don't you have even the most basic grasp of the military agreement you're referring to?' The second statement is: The Army Reserves are designed to be a supplemental force of part-time soldiers who can be activited to full-time status in periods of great need, for the duration of the need. The problem is that as is mentioned beforehand, the Army is abusing the privilege, by creating a scenario for itself wherein the Reserve component is no longer a supplement, but a necessary component of ANY serious action. This is, at its heart, a breach of at least the spirit of the contract, if not the technical letter. It is, in fact, a betrayal of those who volunteered in a proud and self-sacrificial attitude to serve their country. Talk to the Reservists whose civilian lives have been destroyed by being home for perhaps four months out of the last three years--is that REALLY what the contract was for, and isn't it the responsibility of those who have so greatly mishandled the military's manpower? I'm not reenlisting, not because MY life has been destroyed by a single enlistmentment, or that one deployment in three years is unreasonable, but because the Army has proven that it cannot be trusted with the lives of those under its command, and I refuse to allow them the opportunity to turn me into one of those true unfortunates, and more importantly, to make the same point that tens of thousands of Guard/Reservists are about to make when they push the retention officer's pen back and walk away from the desk.