Thursday, May 21, 2009

The National Zoo (aka Adding to the Wanted Pets List)

A while back I asked Ana for somthing any husband should be able to ask his wife for: a pangolin.* Surprisingly, she told me that I can't have one. Since then, I've been keeping a list of all of the different animals she tells me I'm not allowed to have. That way, whenever we have someone over to the house and they ask a question like, "Hey Shawn, how come you don't have a wombat?" I can refer to my ready-at-hand list and reply with certainty, "Because of my wife."

Until the other day, the list looked like so:

Sun Bear? No.
Pangolin? No.
Raccoon? No.
Skunk? No.
Armadillo? No.
Wallaby? Yes.
Wombat? No.
Red Panda? Yes.
Koala? No.
Polar Bear? No.
Miniature Cow? Yes.
Cat? No.
Marmoset? No.
Pygmy Hamster? Yes (but only if I name it "Widget")
Penguin? No.

Odd, I know. I mean, who would be willing to have a miniature cow living in the backyard and yet be opposed to the idea of having an adorable, harmless, low-maintenance armadillo instead? How could you be williing to jump through all of the legal hurdles required to own a red panda and be unwilling to own a much easier-to-attain raccoon.

You're probably also noticing a handful of animals that I might like to own that are not on the list. These are the ones I've already had, such as a ferret**, goldfish, Chinchilla, Sugar Glider, rabbit, chipmunk, iguana, Argentine Horned Toad, newt, and crawfish. Since I've already owned at least one of each, I really don't need to push to get another one. Plus, the rabbit didn't get along very well with the dogs and I don't want to take any chances.
Anyway, to odd thing about the list was the seemingly randomly selected positives. Why a Red Panda and not a raccoon? Because she was actually looking at a Red Panda when she told me I could have one of them. Clearly. So naturally the first stop we had to make once we arrived in our nation's capitol was the national zoo.

Walking around at the zoo itself, it was easy. All I had to do was spend a few minutes with her watching cute fuzzy little animals doing cute fuzzy little animal things before I asked and she was suddenly willing to own all sorts of exotic wierdness. Now I can have otters and lemurs and meerkats and Golden Lion Tamarins. I probably could've even gotten her to agree to the Naked Mole Rat if I were so inclined. I really wish I'd've thought of this before.
Note, while the tamarins were kinda cute:
I think I prefer the lemur:
The whole trip was a great success. Even if there were a few animals I didn't think to ask about:
There were also a few that she decided she wants without my even having to ask, such as this elephant shrew:
While it looks fairly unremarkable from that angle, the snout on that little animal is ridiculously elongated and prehensile, so it can smell around corners.
There were also a number of animals I just plain didn't want:
Rilla-Wrestling
In all, it was a good day, but after all of the hours of walking (and running) around, we were both a bit worn out:
*A pangolin, also known as a spiny anteater, is essentially a normal anteater covered in scales (similar to fingernails) instead of fur. They are indigenous to South America, they eat insects, they're prized for their meat, and they're endangered.
**The ferret was actually a pretty cool pet despite the fact that he was deaf, stinky, and riddled with cancerous tumors when I got him. He also lived to be a bit over eight years old (that's like 230 in ferret years) before I had to put him down. But that's a story for another time.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Summer 2009 Roadtrip: Phase One

First of all, let me apologize for not writing for a while. This has been the first time I've really had a moment to sit down and write anything. Sorry. Deal with it.

After a high-speed, two-day outprocessing at the Navy-Marine Corps Mobilization Processing Site Gulfport, Mississippi, I had a nice long weekend with Ana in New Orleans. While we were there I started getting caught up on all of the good food, drink, and desserts I've been missing out on for the past few months. Like this goofyness:

dessert

We did a lot of walking around town. I've always like the architecture in New Orleans, but as always I failed to take enough pictures. In fact, the only house picture I took was this one:
folks house NOLA

Probably because of the striking similarity to the paint scheme at my folk's house:


But anyway, New Orleans was fun. Ana's been in DC for a few weeks now, so she was in town for the movers to pick up all of her stuff and catch up with a few friends including this guy:
Stinky

Once the movers were done packing and picking up everything, we were all set to take off for Washington DC.

Again I failed to take many pictures. I took this one in Georgia where they apparently grow really big peaches:
GA Peach

Along the way we passed at least a dozen busnesses claiming to be the "world's largest fireworks store," but I couldn't convince Ana that we really needed to spend a few hundred dollars on sparkly explosive stuffs. Oh well.

Sometime the next day I finally achieved my normal level of caffienation:
Shawn Thorsson, awake!

We stopped for the night in Virginia Beach too. While we were there, Ana snapped this picture of a very imposing statue of a very angry-looking King Neptune and his equally angry little sea turtle:
Neptune

Meanwhile, I was standing by below:
Octomolestar
Other than that, most of the road trip amounted to hanging out with Ana's pitiable little dogs:
Tragic Dogs

...and enjoying the company of my wyfe:
Wife picking

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Afghanistan in Retrospect: a List of Quotes

This morning I was digging through the little notebook I've been carrying around with me for the past nine months or so and re-reading a whole bunch of little quotes I've written down during my mobilization, to include the training beforehand, the travel there, and all of my running around. I failed to write down who was saying them, but they're all fun for their pointedness or ridiculousness.

Because I'm in a sharing mood, here's some of my favorites:

"Remember: no battle is won until the checklist is done"

"The barracks are fairly comfortable and there's wireless internet access available. Just don't harass the roaches. They live here, we're guests, and they outnumber us."

"While you're here you'll have plenty of time to bond. A little bondage never hurt anyone."

"The only thing left to say is: go forth, do good things, and play nice with your new green friends."

"Welcome aboard flight 695. Please place your rifles behind your feet and your pistols in the seat-back pockets in front of you."

"Those who destroy cannot defeat those who create in the long term. Shock and awe failed this test."

"This chart shows a breakdown of IED activity by month. As you can see from the chart, there's no good time to be in Kabul."

"If toilet paper were made of nails, there'd be a lot more assholes in the world."

"Why can't I use my Visa card here? It's supposed to be everywhere I want to be." "Did you want to be in Afghanistan?" "Good point."

"So what if it was on the floor? I'll eat it. You call it 'filth,' I call it 'fiber.'"

"I'm glad we were able to help you make your conference a success. In the future, if you need any support at all, please don't hesitate to look elsewhere."

"Really, we're building the plane while we fly it."

"We need unity of command, but we'd settle for unity of effort."

"I'm sorry sir, but I'm going to need you to explain that to me. I'm sure you made sense, it's just that I'm learning to speak Army as a second language."

"We're trying to sort out a common definition of the problem. So far we've only managed to agree that there is actually a problem."

"We can't measure all of the subjective factors involved. It's like tracking little kids shoveling clouds. It just doesn't make sense."

"It takes all kinds. I just wish it took fewer of this kind."

"We like to keep our budget small and closely restrict out reconstruction efforts. This is unlike the American model which is more like filling potholes with $100 bills."

"I demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty."

"You can't boil the ocean."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

LCDR THORSSON, ARRIVING.

So here's the short version of the voyage home thus far:

It started with me leaving behind the last tent I hope to sleep in for quite a while. It was one of these ones:

Tent City
I hopped on a bus in Kuwait at 1830 so we could wait for almost an hour before we started rolling. It was most of two hours to get to the Kuwait City International Airport. As we arrived, a Navy petty officer stood up on the bus, told us that we were at the terminal and wished us good luck finding our flights. I never would've guessed we'd need luck until I started looking:

Departure board

Once we were there we were marshalled into a line by airport security personnel and told to wait until they were ready for us. Standing there it became clear that we were waiting mostly so the local nationals could be in line ahead of us.*

Once we were through security (or what they called security) we had another couple of hours to wait for the flight to leave. I was connecting through Frankfurt, Germany and my flight was leaving at 0055.** I was flying on Lufthansa.

If you glean nothing else from the reading of this entry, know this: I absolutely LOVE Lufthansa. Less than an hour off the ground and they started with the beverage service. I'm not sure how often they brought the cart around (or how often I went to the galley to get refills) but I'd bet that I singlehandedly accounted for one and a half of their rather large bottles of red wine and one of their small bottles of Bailey's Irish Cream. That alone may have accounted for my generally positive impressions of the airline, the food, the cleanliness of the plane, the speed of the flight, or the fact that I teared up at the end of Marley & Me. One way or another, it was a great flight.

We landed in Germany at about 0600 and I had almost four hours to kill in the terminal. It was only through an act of tremendous willpower that I managed to talk myself out of buying a Bavarian maiden costume*** for Ana.

At 0940 Germany time it was time to hop on the connecting flight (also Lufthansa) from Frankfurt to Houston Texas. Despite the fact that I'd been awake for about 30 hours at this point, I still didn't really manage to sleep on that flight. Several glasses of wine and 250 pages of novel-reading later, I got my first glimpse of the United States: a patch of nondescript farmland through a hole in the cloud cover somewhere in the midwest. I'm not sure why, but suddenly a great weight was lifted off my shoulders and I felt like I was ten feet taller.****

We landed in Houston about an hour late. The original itinerary had set me up with about 90 minutes to get through customs, re-check my bags, and get to the other end of the airport to catch my connecting flight on Continental Airlines. I realize it might be a surprise, but I missed my connection. Then, in an effort that was above and beyond the call of the line of duty for any customer service representative, they gave me a standby ticket for an overbooked flight that wouldn't leave for another five hours. Welcome home indeed.

After a bit of running around, I managed to convince a more friendly customer service agent to set me up with a flight to New Orleans instead of Gulfport, Mississippi. This meant going to a different city (and state) from where my luggage was headed, but it also meant that Ana (who was waiting patiently for me to land so she could collect me) could get me in New Orleans and then drive me on to Gulfport.

While I was waiting, I managed to buy myself the niftiest T-shirt the State of Texas (as represented by the George H.W. Bush International Airport) had to offer:
Camo T

When I landed in New Orleans I rushed out to meet Ana at the gate. She absolutely loved my new shirt.*****

We drove from New Orleans straight to Gulfport, got me a room in the Transient Quarters, and the rest of the evening was none of your business.

Needless to say, we did not make it to the airport in time to recover my luggage before they shut down for the night.

*This is one of those rare moments where I've almost been the definitive ugly American. It was all I could do to keep from grabbing one of these bastards by the throat and shaking vigorously while shouting, "If it weren't for guys like me you'd be an IRAQI you dumb sonofabitch!" or, "My little sister's done more than you to protect your nation, so cut us some freakin' slack." I did not. I should get a medal.

** That's 55 minutes past midnight for my civilian readers.

***This is basically the same outfit that the "St Pauli Girl" wears in those German beer ads. The main difference being that the one I was going to buy would've been about two sizes too small. Awesome!

****I was not, in reality, ten feet taller. If I was I wouldn't've fit in my seat on the plane, silly.

*****Actually, she was embarrassed enough that she almost left me behind at the airport. Almost.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Slowly Rolling

The last time I posted I was still waiting around at Bagram Air Field to catch my flight to Kuwait. So here's the way the timeline ended up working out:

27 April (late): I found out I was actually leaving.

28 April: While doing my last-minute checking out stuff, I found out I couldn't get back some 30lbs of laundry because it was a local holiday (Mujahideen Day) and none of the staff in the laundry were coming to work. This is also why nobody was able to tell me anything about ground transportation to Bagram Airfield or even flights from Kabul to Bagram. The mail room was open though, so I was able to lighten my load by quite a bit. I don't remember how much weight that bit was, but it was about $140 worth of postage. Late in the day I lucked out and got word of a convoy headed to Bagram that might have room for me if I was ready to go by...

29 April, 0540 (in the morning): I got to load everything I own in Afghanistan (and a bunch of Army crap I haven't even pulled out of my luggage since I arrived*) into the back of an up-armored Suburban. I ended up in a five-vehicle convoy and my vehicle had a German driver, Swedish vehicle commander, and the other guy in the backseat with me was a Danish Army lieutenant colonel. Fun.

We arrived at Bagram a couple of hours later and I convinced them to drop me off at the passenger terminal so I wouldn't have to walk while carrying three full seabags (each around 75lbs), one full rucksack (around 45lbs), my laptop case (about 25lbs), my rifle, my body armor, and my sleeping bag. Once I'd stacked it all neatly in the baggage area, I had nothing to do until the following day.

30 April, 0900: I got to muster with the good folks at the Navy's admin shop for all of Afghanistan. It was tucked away in the farthest, darkest corner of the airbase (a good 30-minute walk from anything else), so it took a bit of finding. Once there, I got the last few pieces of paper that would allow me to leave Afghanistan. Then I had nothing to do until...

01 May, 0900: Checked in with the same admin shop to find out what time my flight out would be. It turns out we were expected to muster at 2345, so I got to look forward to a third whole day of waiting around the airbase, wandering through the exchange and waiting in line to use the internet.

01 May, 1100: I happened across a Navy lieutenant who happens to be flying out with me and he tells me that the flight has been postponed by an hour and we'll be mustering at 0100 instead. Fun.

01 May, 2200: Thunder, lightning, and pouring rain start simultaneously. Ten minutes later it occurs to me that my three seabags, my body armor, and my helmet are neatly stacked in the baggage area outside the passenger terminal and probably completely soaked through. Realizing that once something is completely soaked through it can't get any wetter, I resign myself to carrying all of the original weight plus another 90lbs of water.

02 May, 0100: I show up for muster and find out the flight has been delayed even further. Then I go out and find out that some kind soul has dragged all of the stuff that was outside into a nearby tent and it takes me half an hour to find all of my gear again.

02 May, 0215: Roll call. We find out we'll be flying to Kuwait on a C-17 and that every single seat is full. An hour later it is time to load up our luggage:

Bag Pallet in Bagram
There were two pallets like this one and another smaller one with all of our crap.

02 May 04??: Boarding time. We grab our carry-on items and stroll out to the plane:

Boarding Call
Despite being thoroughly exhausted I'm still unable to sleep:

Tired Shawn Thorsson

02 May, 08??: We land in some airbase in Kuwait. They told me the name, but I was kinda strung-out and I don't remember it. A 45-minute bus ride later we were deposited at a tent on the far side of the airbase. Then things got slightly stupider.


We were assigned to a tent for the day. Our bags were dropped off at one end of the tent complex at around 0930. We were told that we would have to board a bus convoy at 2200 that evening after loading our bags onto a stake truck on the opposite side of the tent compound, roughly half a mile away. Why they couldn't drop our bags off and pick us up in the same place still has me boggled, but I suppose that's just par for the course.

I ignored the baggage drop off, ambled over to my tent, sat down on one of the beds in there, and passed out. A few hours later I woke up and got in line to use the internet. A few minutes later the cafe's internet connection failed and I had nothing left to do but wait to leave.

At 2000 I found one of the Navy chief petty officers who was travelling with me and found out he'd managed to borrow a truck to move the pile of bags from one end of the tent city to the other. We mustered up five more guys and it took only two trips with the little truck and a utility trailer to get everyone's luggage over to the pickup point.

At 2200 we began waiting around for the busses to show up. At 2245 the busses arrived and we found out we would have to wait for a boatload of dudes coming in from Iraq that would be moving with us. At 2345 they were onboard and we set out for a completely different base.

03 May, 0230: We arrived at Camp Arifjan, the Army base in Kuwait where the Navy would put us through it's "Warrior Transition Program," and prep us for going back to the states. Within minutes of arrival we were assigned to the tents we would be sleeping in. Moments after that I was passed out on a bare mattress with my balled-up shirt for a pillow.

03 May, 1150: Gear turn-in. I got to unload my M16A2 assault rifle, M9 pistol, gas mask, MOPP suit, entrenching tool, cold-weather gear, body armor, helmet, and oodles and gobs of other random camping gear that the Army wanted back. It was easily the best moment of the year so far.

Once our stuff was unloaded, the rest of the day was ours to spend as we saw fit. I saw fit to spend it lying in my rack and reading.

04 May, 1300: Warrior Transition Workshop. This is where a Navy chaplain sat us down and told us what to expect from our homecoming. The short version: nothing. He pointed out that our return won't involve manning the rails in dress whites and having a big crowd waiting on the pier to welcome us home. There won't be any parades or flag-waving. He also went on to point out that we need to steel ourselves to deal with a bunch of folks who have been doing all of their normal work PLUS all of the things that were our job before we left.

Fun.

Now all I have to do is wait until tomorrow when I'll board the bus to the airport. I'm flying commercial flights all the way back, so I've got to find civilian clothes to wear on the plane. I wish I'd've known that before I mailed home most of my stuff. Oops.

*The Army actually issued me an entrenching tool. For those of you who don't speak Army, an "entrenching tool" is a shovel. By my reasoning, if we ended up in a situation where they need a naval officer to use a shovel, we've already lost the war.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Trying to Make Use of Down Time

I can only describe it as a marvel of military efficiency. I arrived the day before yesterday so I could muster first thing in the morning yesterday in order to catch a flight that won't leave until tomorrow. To think that there are people who have a hard time arriving at the airport two hours before a commercial flight in order to get through security on time.

Anyhow, as long as I'm here doing nothing, I decided to tinker around with photoshop a bit more and came up with some more T-shirt designs like this one:
In case you don't know your code flags, the ring around the outside reads, "glad I didn't join the Army, mad it didn't make a difference."
I'm making it available on a wide variety of stuff at this site: http://printfection.com/TandA

Enjoy.