Saturday, December 5, 2009

WWE Tribute to the Troops

I got back from my trip to Forward Operating Base Poliwoda (Ballad) a couple days ago. During the flight to and back from Ballad the one thing you notice is that Iraq isn't as much of a desert as most people think. Sure, there's lots of sand but as we flew over there are green fields, groves of fruit trees, crops and waterways that stretch from one end of the horizon to the other.

On the 3rd the Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment got a visit from the stars of World Wrestling Entertainment during their 2009 Tribute to the Troops Tour. John Cena, Vince McMahon, R-Truth, Ray Mysterio and the Bella Twins were all there.

What really made my day was getting to interview John Cena, professional wrestler, actor and entertainer. These guys aren't all muscle and no brain either. John Cena gave a great interview. He comes off as quite intelligent and genuinely caring. The WWE stars were supposed to have a private lunch but they said let the Soldiers in so they ate with everyone.

The whole time they ate they were mobbed by Soldiers, Civilians, and members of the Ugandan Security Forces for photos. Throughout the whole day there's nothing superficial about them and not a single look of annoyance on their faces after being stopped for picture after picture. They smile, shake hands and some lucky Soldiers even get kissed on their cheek by the Bella Twins.

I stopped watching WWF (changed to WWE due to a trademark dispute) when I was about nine years old. One day I saw one guy do a head stomp and you could see from the camera angle it missed but the other guy's head jerked back anyway. That's when I realized it wasn't real. After that it pretty much stopped interesting me. But this group of people really made me rethink my position on the WWE. It may not be real but the people are real.

I got a nice picture with the Bella Twins hoping to make my wife jealous :P

After we got back I produced the video. You can check it out on the Dragon Brigade Facebook fan page or at the link below:


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Back in the Saddle

I know it's been a while since I posted here. My father's death was kind of hard on me. Problems can really weigh you down when you're deployed. Family issues and illnesses, work issues, personal issues...when you're deployed problems have a tendency to multiply and it's hard not having your family there with you or being with your family to reassure them.

I guess I haven't been the usual crack wit I used to be on a daily basis. I have good days and I have well...days.

Aside from all the rain turning the sand around here into mud we've also had a lot of fog lately. I get kind of nervous when it's foggy outside. That's when the ninjas sneak in and if you can't see any ninjas that probably means you're already surrounded.

We've been really busy as of late. Last week and this week have been one late day after another. We covered the 701st Brigade Support Battalion's Diligent Challenge yesterday. It's an all day Soldier Challenge that pushes you mentally and physically. (Story & Video upcoming)

While we were following the Soldiers throughout the day I saw a large cloud of smoke in the distance. It didn't strike me as unusual at the time. I figured they were stoking the fires at the burn pit but it turns out they weren't. The building that a MPAD (Mobile Public Affairs Detachment) and a lot of other Soldiers worked in caught on fire. Apparently, most of their equipment was destroyed or burninated. No one was hurt as far as I know.

While we don't have a lot of office space ourselves it looks like we're going to be hosting a few of the MPAD Soldiers so it'll be even more cramped than usual. :P

While I've been deployed I purchased the Star Trek: The Next Generation series box set and I've been having a continual Star Trek: TNG Marathon since. I'm currently half-way through Season 4. I'm not exactly a Trekkie but Star Trek: TNG was a pretty awesome show. I'm just wondering what I'm gonna watch when I get through Season 7. I thought about DS9 but if I remember correctly it was a little less space opera and a little more soap opera.

I'm also a fan of Psych, My Name is Earl, Burn Notice, Family Guy and American Dad. I used to keep up with all my favorite shows on Hulu ( and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim ( but, those websites only let you stream their shows in the USA, not to mention our internet connection is way too slow.

I picked up dinner to go from the chow hall today. I got a turkey wrap and some Waldorf Salad. I wasn't sure what it was but it had apples in it so I thought I'd give it a try. Well, it appears to be diced apples drenched with mayonnaise and relished with tiny nuts and I'm not sure but maybe tiny bits of bacon too. Well, it doesn't taste as great as it looked to me...Whoever came up with this should have stopped at apples or at least left out the mayonnaise.

I'll be traveling tomorrow and talking to Soldiers at various camps to get some thoughts on Thanksgiving in Iraq. Then it's another late night of production when we get back.

We've gotten a lot of boxes and goodies from churches, organizations and friends and family lately. That stuff is a real morale booster. Well, not only have I been amiss in keeping up my blog I've got some letters to write to Grandma too!


As always if you want to keep up with the latest news, photos and videos from the Dragon Brigade check out Facebook Fan Page or Youtube (links on the right)

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Last Salute

The flight back home was grueling. It takes a day to make the trip from Iraq to Kuwait and back to Oregon. The processing, waiting and endless security checks are infuriating. By the time I got to the airport in Oregon (two hours from Mom's house) it was one in the afternoon. For me though, it was still about 6-am and I had only gotten about 6 hours of sleep during the flight.

I gazed out the window of the plane, across the sun and the rolling fields of clouds and wondered why couldn't he wait? I got the news when I called my boss from Kuwait. He had been in an induced coma for three weeks and he finally succumbed to respiratory complications and an infection which had been caused by a terrible bout of flesh-eating virus he had miraculously survived many years ago but had lived in pain since and his condition was worsening. I hadn't realized how bad it was when I first found out. Before I had even left Iraq my Dad had already died.

My Mom and Dad got divorced when I was about two years old. My Mom had to deal with me and my two sisters. I was the real hellion though. I went through a foster home then she took me back and finally put me up for adoption. I was just five years old when Mike and Marsha adopted me. It wasn't easy for me being taken away from my family. I didn't understand and I guess looking back I felt betrayed, unwanted, and discarded.

Growing up I was somewhat of a social misfit and eccentric to say the least. My parents and I had a rocky relationship. I won't deny it wasn't easy raising me. I was wild, hyper-active, and always getting into some sort of trouble.

After I graduated high school I joined the Marine Corps. During that time I met Tatiana and I later had to inform my parents that I was getting married and she was pregnant. Well, Dad didn't quite approve and things were said. It was hard after that.

Over the years, things got better between us but it seemed like exchanged politeness mostly. I would call and we would talk for a minute or two usually and he would hand the phone to Mom. The last conversation I remember with him went pretty much the same way. I told them we were going to Iraq for the second time.

Life teaches us hard lessons. If you have something you want to say to someone, treat every moment as if it was your last chance to say it. I wanted to be angry at him. I was angry at myself too. But all I could think now was that I wish I could have told him I loved him one last time.

During the trip home, I had to stop a few times in a private corner and stop the flow of tears from my eyes. I've always been stubborn with my emotions. I don't think a man should be seen crying. That's foolish, of course. So instead, I kept it in during the trip home. And through the entire trip my head ached and my stomach hurt but I didn't want to make a 'scene'. I didn't want strangers' pity.

I started writing this down on some paper I had and it felt a little better, as if I was talking to someone.

Our flight to Denver got delayed and when I got off the plane I had about 15 minutes to get to my connecting gate which was on the opposite end of the terminal. I had to practically race down the moving walkways just to get there barely in time to board.

As I was making my way through the terminal I noticed a comical character. A man, tall and thin as a rail in his 30s or 40s, wearing stone-washed designer jeans, a black leather jacket, aviator shades and sporting a styled hair-do reminiscent of Elvis. But I didn't have time to stop and gawk.

On my flight to Oregon I struck up conversation with a contractor for a company that specializes in sniper equipment and had just come from the annual sniper competition in Fort Benning, Georgia. After talking to me and hearing my situation he handed me a coin. It's one of those military coins engraved with his company's logo on it. I also sat next to a retired hunter from Roseburg, Oregon just a quick drive from Oakland where my Mom lives. He offered me a ride if I needed it but Mom was going to meet me at the airport.

It was raining when I got there. A couple days later we went to a viewing. My Dad didn't want a ceremony or a service or anything like that and had requested to be cremated. He was stubborn too and didn't like people fussing about him. He hated being nearly crippled and admitting he was in pain.

I finally broke down and cried. He looked peaceful. At one point, I almost thought he was just sleeping maybe. We may have had some bad times but we had good times too. My thoughts drifted back to when I was younger. I love my Dad and this is how I'll always remember him.

 Before I left I joked with my Boss. I said bad things happen in threes and my dog would probably die. Well, today my dog Hilde had to be put down. She was an old German Shepherd and had severe arthritis and was succumbing to it finally. My Mom still has Hilde's son and daughter Lothar and Falkie thankfully though. So when the chips are down they really are down.

My fondest memory of my Dad is when he read The Hobbit to me when I was 5 years old. He would read a chapter every night to me and every night I would beg him to read just one more. I've been an avid reader ever since.

When I get back home from this deployment I'll read The Hobbit to my kids too.

As we left the viewing and said our final goodbyes I walked over to him alone. I looked at his face. It was him but just a shadow. I'll always remember him as he was in that photograph. What I had to say to him required no words to be spoken.

I stood straight and at attention and slowly raised my hand in salute to the former Marine who had served in Vietnam and perhaps more admirably had served as my father, then slowly lowered my hand.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Going Home

Well, my Dad has been in the hospital for a while in critical condition with an infection in his leg from complications from a bout of flesh-eating virus he had some years ago. He has been kept in an induced coma for a while but now his condition is worsening. He has organs on the brink of failure and is being kept going by an array of medical machinery.

I don't want to go into the full details of it but I got a Red Cross message today and I've already got a flight going out tonight. This wasn't exactly how I envisioned spending my R&R but this is it. But if anything, I have to hand it to our unit for getting me out of here so quickly on their end. I hope I will get a chance to say goodbye to him while he's still alive.

For those of you keeping up with my blog you probably won't hear from me for a week or two. There isn't a whole lot I or anyone can do right now but pray.

As always you can get the latest news from the Dragon Brigade by checking out the Dragon Brigade Facebook Fan Page and other links (see links on the right).


Monday, October 19, 2009

What a Feeling

As a broadcast journalist sometimes we have to do stuff that may seem dumb or embarrassing to other people and even ourselves. Today, I was working on a story about health and fitness and I was doing a stand-up in the chow hall. A stand-up is something where the reporter is on camera, talking about something and showing something to illustrate the point of their story. Well, needless to say I got a lot of funny looks in the chow hall as I was setting up my camera. I took my camera to the main chow hall last week too and managed to scare everyone away from the dessert bar.

My OIC (boss), CPT Walsh just happened to sit down at the table next to mine as I was setting up the shot. She asked me if I ever felt weird doing this stuff in front of people. I said no, not really. When I was in high school I had a reputation for doing almost any trick, stunt or silly bet in the cafeteria for a flat rate of fifty cents.

Once I drank a cup of insanely hot salsa for 3 bucks and change. My lips burned for the rest of the school day. We also had a friend whose dad grew jalapenos and he brought a bag of those to school one day. I'll just say this, if you're going to eat an entire jalapeno in one bite you better have a big glass of something ice-cold standing by.

Anyway, for fun last night I put together a half hour, non-stop dance mix for aerobic workouts I call 'The DJ Workout'. I might share it online sometime but the mp3 is over 50 megabytes so it would take forever to upload. As a note to anyone whose deployed out here with us, see me if you'd like some pumped up jams to groove out to on the treadmill or whatever.

I also made a little music video for fun last night. What's a Soldier to do when they want to cut loose? We're not exactly next door to FunLand so we make our fun (and fun of each other).

Anyway, just to prove that it would be absolutely impossible to blackmail me,  I submit this:

How does the saying go? Is it "white boys can't jump" or is it "dance" ...or is it both? You decide.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Cakes of Wrath

Today I finally got off the overweight program. I've been struggling with my weight ever since I succumbed to chronic back pain. Since I was diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease I've been on a permanent profile. I've been on therapy, had painful shots and tried all sorts of drugs. Of course pills can control my pain to an extent but they have a down-side too and there isn't anything that seems to fix it and the docs said splitting me open would probably make it worse.

Anyway, since my physical activity has been slightly limited since I got on profile I started to pack a few pounds and learned the hard way I had to start watching what I was eating and working harder.

When I was in the Marine Corps I had terrible eating habits. We got smoked so much in the Marines that most of us could eat whatever we wanted and however much we wanted. While we still work out in the Army, they don't tend to subject Soldiers to what I would classify Marine Physical Training as...i.e. Soul-Crushing Torture. I must have consumed like 3000 calories on average a day during my time in the Marines and weighed 160-165 pretty much my entire tour. It's frightening to think now the horrible things I subjected my stomach to as a Marine. Also, as a sidenote cat and dog don't taste too bad. They taste kind of like chicken if it were gamy (gamier than game hen).

People say diets don't work and they're right. Diets don't work! You have to make lifestyle changes which is what I've been learning. So, I'm within Army standards now with a bit to spare but I'm still working on losing more weight (trying to get my Marine bod back) and as I said in an earlier post restoring my abs to kicking-sand-in-your-face-at-the-beach-and-stealing-your-girlfriend quality. Each of my abs used to literally have their own six-pack.

I don't want to have to keep telling people what I great bod I used to have. I want to be able to play the marimbas on my stomach.

Anyway, to reward myself tonight for dinner I had...(drum roll) a chicken salad. :P

Yeah, I could have had a cheeseburger or some ice cream or a piece of pie but, it seemed like a step backwards rewarding myself with junk food so, I'm just gonna keep staying the course.

Our PAO shop did an interview over our DVIDS Satellite to AFN and the Pentagon Channel tonight. We had to work out a few kinks on both ends but it turned out sucessfully and it's actually scheduled to play tonight along with my video of an Explosives Ordinance Disposal demonstration at an Iraqi Security Conference held here in COB Speicher last week.

My partner in crime, SPC Campbell left us this morning to visit another one of FOBs (Forward Operating Base) and do some canoodling with Soldiers there. I got to visit FOB Summeral earlier this week and got a chance to talk to some Soldiers there.

I'm currently working on a fresh and funky album of Electronica Breakbeats called 'Electric Dream' which is coming out really nice. Also, I was googling myself "DJ Colletta" tonight and I found people are torrenting some of my music! Torrents are what people normally use to trade pirated software, games and music. I don't mind that people are torrenting and sharing my tunes though. I think it's pretty cool.

Sadly, my room-mate PFC Bruno left me last night. His section shuffled their guys around and they moved him in with another guy in his section. So, I was left all alone. Sniff. And just when we were about to become BFFs.

But, it's okay. I'm supposed to be moving in with a guy who I'm on good terms and share similar interests with tomorrow and hopefully I won't have to play anymore musical trailers.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dreams and Goals, TOPs and LOLs


I have been having some really weird dreams lately. Last night I was trapped in a strange tower. At the top of it was a room filled with gears, cogs and other strange machinations. No doubt the 'steampunk' part of my brain was working overtime. At first it looked as if there was no way out and then I spied a strange panel with a faint glow on the wall. It looked like it was missing a gear. I looked around the room again. Lying in the middle of the room was an old top hat with a rusty gear affixed to it. I picked up the hat and ripped the gear from the old felt then popped it into the wall panel. Suddenly a trap-door appeared on the floor in the middle of the room. At the same time a giant cork-screw gear in the room began turning. The walls and the cieling suddenly began closing in on me. I leapt for the trap-door and as I jumped down I began sliding down a long winding tunnel alarm began beeping and I woke up.

I have even crazier dreams than that sometimes and I keep a dream journal online called REMLAND.


As much as I hate being away from the wife and kids, being deployed does give you the benefit of a little extra 'me' time albeit the fact of course that Iraq isn't exactly Happy Time Fun-Land Supreme.

I want to get promoted, lose some weight, restore the previous glory of my once mighty abdominal muscles (my abs had their own abs), read a hundred books (2 down), write a couple books (working on one right now), have a little extra fun with my job, pay off some bills and learn some conversational Arabic.

I've got a Nintendo DS that doubles as an e-book reader (with the use of a special R6 game card) and I've got enough e-books to last me a life-time. I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy. So far I've read two books by Robert Heinlein, Citizen of the Galaxy and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. If you don't know he's the guy who wrote Starship Troopers and one of my favorite authors. The movie was okay but the book was ten times better. I like stories that intermingle genres and that have an equal amount of action and humor. I'm also a big fan of Piers Anthony, author of the famously funny Xanth series and also an awesome book called On A Pale Horse about a guy who accidentally kills Death. On my last deployment, I wrote to him and I got a box full of books including a signed auto-biography which was super cool.

I finally found another rock of sufficient size and weight to complete my rock collection. So I now have two rocks that are both about 30 pounds although one is slightly heavier. I put each one in a laundry bag and I call them my "PT ROCKS" rocks. I've been Rocks-ercising with them, doing curls, lifts, and other stuff. I actually got some burn on earlier tonight. :P

I also started writing a book called F.O.G. V.S. F.O.E., a somewhat humorous story about a boring file clerk in a bureaucratic re-visioning of heaven who becomes a rogue angel to put a stop to a demonic plot. It's actually a re-write of a super-shot story I wrote some years back. I might post a preview of it later.


No not a spinning top. This morning was our Brigade's official Transfer of Partnership ceremony with the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. We were at the gate early this morning to round up media but they came a handful at a time and we had to bus them back and forth. It was a regular circus type affair. We had members of the Iraqi Army, Police and local community as guests as well. As luck would have it I got stuck on the last bus behind a long and slow-moving convoy while trying to get back so I wouldn't miss the beginning of the ceremony. Sure enough I did. But our tenacious photographer SPC Shantelle Campbell was on the scene getting the money shot of the Brigade colors being uncased.

Col. Hank Arnold (left) and CSM Michael McCoy (right) unfurl the Dragon Brigade's colors.
(photo by SPC Shantelle Campbell)

I can't confirm this but I'm pretty sure if you combined our Brigade Commander and Command Sergeant Major they might possibly form another Chuck Norris. Unfortunately, the paradox of having two of Chuck Norris inhabiting the same plane of existence would inevitably bring about the end of the world or Chuck-ocalypse ending all life as we know it.

After speeches and media interviews we entertained our guests with tea, cake, ice-cream and finger food afterward. I've seen so many cakes cut since I've been deployed I'm starting to wonder how much the Army budgets for cakes and pies. I know it probably doesn't sound terribly exciting when I describe it but I'm not a big fan of ceremonies.

The other day I was at a conference and it ended with an American and an Iraqi in what I feared might become an endless loop of thanking each other. But finally one of them relented and it ended. I was almost envisioning having a leg-locking moment. I've seen this happen before. When we were on a parade field for some big ceremony in the Marine Corps one of the short scrawny guys in our unit locked his legs out and fell flat over, mouth agape and taking a big bite of grass and dirt as he hit the ground. He was in the rear of the formation and our Medics quickly removed him from the scene. Some guys have all the luck.


We get time off here and there but working a 7-day work week can get to people quick. Unfortunately, there are only four of us in the Public Affairs Office so shift-schedules are pretty much impossible. Not to mention it's pretty easy to tap out a 4-person shop. Anyway, the other day I swore I was going to X out all the days on the calendars and replace each day with the the letter 'M' because here...everyday is Monday. :P

Don't worry. I'm not losing it. It's actually that quirky sense of humor that keeps me going most of the time. Speaking of which...

OPSEC aka Operational Security is all about keeping military information secure. I've noticed a few computers around our brigade sport sideshow screen-savers with little OPSEC ads or messages on them, similar to WWI and WWII propaganda posters but on a much less over-the-top scale.

AFN, Armed Forces Network TV also runs PSA's (Public Service Announcements) about OPSEC and can come off as kinda funny sometimes even un-intentionally. That's not to say OPSEC isn't serious business. It's a vital part of all military operations but, it never hurts to have a laugh as long as you remember the message.

So with that in mind, I made a few unofficial OPSEC posters of my own. I guarantee gandering at these will cause people to ponder OPSEC at least twice as often on any given day. (Also, cats are awesome and as we all know everyday is Caturday which actually supercedes the everyday is Monday rule)


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Close but no Cigar...

I was hyped up yesterday to go out on my first mission since the last time I was deployed and what should have been a teaching conference where our Doctors taught Iraqi Doctors turned into waiting for our Iraqi Police escort to show up...which didn't. Nowadays, due to our Status of Forces Agreement we can't just go willy-nilly wherever we want to. If we're out in the towns especially we're supposed to have an escort from Iraqi Security Forces or Police. If they don't show up it's no dice.

I visited with some 701st Soldiers a couple days ago and put up a shout-out video from them. As a note to any 1ID families who may be reading this and want to see your Soldier: Don't worry, we've got a year ahead of us. We'll eventually get around to everybody...who wants to be on camera.

You find a lot of people who are camera-shy in the military. Some people stiffen up, some get nervous and shaky and some flat-out refuse to be on camera unless mandated by their Commander. We still get shy and nervous people on camera. We just have to utilize a highly technical process known as 'buttering them up' and 'breaking the ice'. A lot of the time, it's literally like pulling teeth to get people on camera. In the past, I haven't been above playing the pity card aka "I have to interview someone for this story. Can you help me out...please?" accompanied by the saddest, pitiful look I can muster. (I probably shouldn't be telling you all my secrets)

Last night, the Muse struck me and I made this awesome trance remix of the Army Strong song. It's just a rough cut and due to our bandwidth limitations I was only able to upload a low-res/low bit-rate (i.e. crappy) video. Anyway, I might use it in some sort of motivational hoo-ah type video later. One of my long-term projects is to make a History Channel-ish documentary of our deployment to Iraq so maybe I'll use it in the end credits. :P

My DJ name is most aptly...DJ Colletta. I DJ'd at a few clubs when I was living in Hawaii, on the 1's and 2's (Mixer and Turntables) with the classic 12" vinyl records. These days my record collection collects only dust but, I still dabble around with music production and I've been working for a while on an album called  RemLand: In Memory of...

It's mostly for funs. I don't expect I'll become a world-famous DJ sensation overnight. I sort of have that classic Jack of all Trades, Master of None curse.

I also started working on writing a story last night. I've been into reading and creative writing since I was a kid. One of my goals is to actually finish writing at least one of my books while I'm out here. I've written short stories but I've never really finished anything more than 10 pages. So I started writing F.O.G. V.S. F.O.E. a classic good versus evil story in sort of a comical combination of religion, science-fiction and fantasy.

When I'm not working I've got plenty of stuff to do. Work out at the gym, play video games, read books, etc.
These days an awesome laptop is pretty much all you need to stay entertained.

I also got this big rock and I'm currently looking for another one. I'm going to call them my "PT ROCKS". Ta-Tch! (cymbal hit) I'm going to use them to do curls, shrugs, squats and stuff like that.

While it sucks being away from the family deployments are a great time to do things you don't normally have time to do even though you still don't have a whole lot of time to do them, like sit down and meditate for example.

Today I got shout-outs from Soldiers in the 2nd BN, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment. So once again, it's time to edit!


Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Graphic Account

I've been working on making new posters for our brigade retention office since yesterday. It's not actually officially part of my job description per say but, I enjoy graphic work.  (If you haven't figured it out yet the pun titles are intentional also...sorry.)

Before I got out of the Marine Corps they had accepted a packet for me to become a Combat Illustrator but our retention ended up botching the whole re-enlistment process not once but thrice over so my spidey senses started buzzing and I called it quits. They hadn't given me any official paperwork and just wanted me to sign on the dotted line with their word they would get me that job. Yeah...kinda like how when I signed up the Marine recruiter told me they would get me Combat Correspondent and I ended up in artillery as an RO/FO (radio operator/forward observer). Soon after I got out of the Marines our unit ended up getting orders to fight in Fallujah.

My second day out here in Iraq, I met one of my old friends from C 1/12 Artillery at the chow hall who crossed over to the Army too. That was a nice surprise. We ate lunch together and joked around. His wife and mine gab together on the phone all the time and complain about us. :P

Anyway, here is a rough draft of my work-in-progress. BTW, The 'John Doe' in the picture is actually SPC Jesus Gardner. I made the metal grate and the cloud texture using a program and the actual poster I created in Gimp, which is a free, open-source alternative to Photoshop. The Text-Art was also hand-made in Gimp. While, I do have Photoshop I prefer to use Gimp. Photoshop is a power-horse but I've found that Gimp is a lot more streamlined for a lot of work and after being a long-time Photoshop user it only took me a day to get used to Gimp. I also brought a sweet Wacom Bamboo Drawing Tablet with me. So maybe I'll do some painting too!

Today the 325th Brigade Support Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team cased their colors and the 701st BSB, 4IBCT uncased their colors during a ceremony. This is where one units covers their unit flag and the other unit uncovers their unit flag. I talked to some 701st Soldiers and taped some shout-outs while my partner in crime, SPC Shantelle Campbell was focused on getting the proverbial 'money shot' where the Commander of the 701st uncased their unit colors.

There were 12 other Soldiers there with cameras. It was actually kinda funny seeing all those people. We've had problems in the past at official functions where people who weren't with the PAO actually tried to tell us to get out of the way of their shot! No worries though, Campbell got a good position and got her photo.

Our interpreter Nate brought in some delicious bread this morning. It was something sort of like panine bread and it tasted great.

Anyway, time to get editing!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hard Knock Life

We got a visit yesterday from a group of kids from an orphanage nearby in Tikrit.
I was in the 86 Combat Support Hospital during my last deployment so I had seen some horrible stuff done to kids. There was a man making explosives and had his children handling them and they blew up. The kids were brought to the hospital in critical condition with 3rd degree burns all over their bodies, a girl who was about 6 and a boy who was 4. I was in the hospital the night the girl died. I was walking through the ICU when the flat-line sounded. She was surrounded by medics who had done all they could. You could tell it was hard on them. I'm not sure if the boy made it. Many of them were angry because there was nothing they could do about the father and he walked away from it unscathed. Many nights there you could hear the cry of babies and children.

In this group there was a boy whose left arm ended just below the elbow, another boy who couldn't walk without being helped, and the sweetest little girl with an amazing smile who appeared to be autistic.

The boys played Soccer with the Soldiers. The girls rough-housed with with the Soldiers and ran around chasing and dog-piling on a couple big guys. The kids also got to check out a MRAP and a Blackhawk Helicopter. Later there were arts and crafts, bouncing balls in the gym, bowling, basketball, and the 25th Infantry Division band played for them. Afterward, an Iraqi Policeman took the drum sticks and one of the boys sang while the girls and boys danced around in a circle singing along. At the end of the day each child was given a backpack filled with gifts.

Overall, it was generally a feel-good type event. Although some say their future will be uncertain when we leave, I say if we can do something for them now we should. Ultimately, when we leave it will be up to the people and government of Iraq to invest in their children.

Even though we had two interpreters with us I felt a little out of place.
We had an Arabic class before we deployed but nothing that lasted more than an hour so, myself and probably a lot of other Soldiers are right back to where we were before the class.

I didn't really learn much Arabic during my last deployment so one of my goals for this one is to become a little fluent, at least conversationally. I started practicing on this website I found online yesterday and our interpreter in the Public Affairs Office, a sometimes serious and sometimes funny guy named Nate promised he would teach us as well.

I had a dream last night where all these people were speaking in Arabic...and I didn't understand any of them. But, I take that as a good sign at least that my brain is starting to try and absorb the language.

I got my laundry back yesterday, too...and my Spongebob sheets? Mite-free. Now I'm sleeping in style!

While we were driving around on a tour around COB Speicher we found a wall with a large mural of the 1st Infantry Division's "Lady Victory" painted on it so, it was a good opportunity for a photo-op, why not?

(From left to right)
SPC Shantelle Campbell
SPC Richard Colletta
SFC Jake Newman
CPT Rebecca Walsh

Monday, September 21, 2009

Out of the Sand and into...the Sandstorm

Finally, on the 18th I strapped on my new IOTV (Improved Outer Tactical Vest), grabbed my gear, and got on a bus headed for the airfield. It took a couple bus rides to actually get to the airfield. Since I'm a Broadcaster I'm dragging around a camera kit bag, a tripod bag (which is stuffed with cables and extra batteries), and my assault pack. I've been lugging this stuff around since the time we left Fort Riley, Kansas and it's a pain in the ass but it's a job hazard.

When we finally clamber aboard the C-17 Globemaster airplane I stuff myself into a chair in the middle of the plane. These seats are even smaller than the stuffiest coach seat you've ever sat in on a commercial airplane and combined with the fact that we are wearing our body armor it's pretty near impossible to move or even assume a comfortable position for the hour long flight.

I popped a couple Tylenol earlier to help ease my back pain a bit. I'm 28 years old and I've got what the docs call Degenerative Disc Disease while not as terminal and cancerous as it sounds it's still a pain in the butt for a young man like myself.

As we take off I pop in my headphones and listen to Soldier's Poem by Muse. I wake up about an hour later as we're dropping in for the landing. We get on to buses once again, unload our duffel bags and ruck sacks off the pallets and search for our stuff. It's about 2am when I finally get dropped off in the living area at COB Speicher, Iraq.

One of the Privates I flew in with has the honor of finding out his new room-mate (at least for the night) is a Sergeant Major trying to get some sleep before an early wake up.

The army's standard issue cots which we slept on in Kuwait were unholy terror on my back. With a triumphant grin I pull my Spongebob bedsheets from out of my rucksack and make the bed.

In the middle of the night I wake up. I'm itching all over like crazy. I jump out of bed and flip on the light. I'm covered in welts on my arms, legs, and back. I inspect my sheets and sure enough, it looks like some little mites snuck into my rucksack during my stay in Kuwait.

I must have rolled over every single one of them though which explains the bites. I stuff the blankets in my laundry bag and disinfect the mattress and the room, then pull out the ole' sleeping bag.

A couple days later and I'm still itching from the plethora of bites but, tomorrow I can pick up my clean sheets. We unloaded some of our office equipment and personal boxes from our container and I'm now re-united with this awesomely warm and soft dolphin blanket I got on my last deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom and thankfully, it's mite-free.

I get a room-mate the second day in Iraq and the next night he gets switched out for another guy. He lets me down easy and says it's not me, it's him...really. My room-mate now (for the time being) is PFC John Bruno, an 11B (Infantryman) in the brigade's Personal Security Detachment. He seems like a fairly smart guy and we have similar taste in music. My previous room-mate was a country fan and I'm not (although I tolerate Garth Brooks) so win/win. I say I hate country music but whenever I hear it my foot starts tapping all by itself much to my chagrin.

The trailer we live is roomy enough for two people. It has air conditioning, lights, and electricity. We have wall-lockers and a little night-stand. Aside from that they're bereft of furniture. A lot of Soldiers flew out to COB Speicher before we did and have already snatched up a significant portion of the furniture, fridges, microwaves and other miscellaneous stuff from 3IBCT, 25th ID Soldiers who were selling or giving them away. I humorously (and jealously) refer to them as "Raiders of the Lost COB"

We've also got internet in our rooms but the catch-22 is it's outrageous expensiveness is only paralleled by it's outrageous slowness. I've got the cheapest plan right now 64k (8kbps download speed max which never seems to top 7) and it costs 50 bucks a month. If you want to get a blazing fast (cough) 128k connection it costs 95 bucks a month. (flashbacks to old AOL billing statements)

Ironically, I've found I can surf the internet faster using a remote client program I have on my computer that allows me to remotely connect to my computer at home that has a 3mb lan connection.

Connecting to the internet requires a unique logon/password so you can't split a connection on a router and you can't share it on wi-fi either. So unless you're sharing the computer you're basically stuck with the bill.

Supposedly, they have to bounce satellites around the world and that's why it costs so much. Theoretically, you could probably purchase your own satellite internet service and come out ahead if you split the bill.

There's a bathroom and shower trailer about 25 feet away with running water (most of the time). All in all, not bad.

The dining facility has a great smorgasbord selection of food but since I've been here all I eat is an energy bar for breakfast and turkey sandwiches and orange juice for lunch and dinner. The sandwich bar at the DFAC is pretty near Subway quality though and they'll grill them for you too, so I don't mind.

There's a tiny shoppette about a 10 minute walk from our living area. The main PX is a good 15-20 minute drive though so walking is pretty much out of the question.

The area also has a Barber Shop, Phone Center, Subway, Green Beans coffee shop, Laundry service, Chapel, Gym, MWR, and a Bazaar/DVD store.

On my second day I pick up a couple pillows and a box set of Scrubs Seasons 1-8 for a paltry 35 bucks. Sure it's cheap but like they say - you get what you pay for. The woman at the Bazaar exchanges a little friendly banter with me and tells me if I need a suit she can make any style for me. I ask if she can make stuff from pictures and she says she'll do her best. I've got this insane coat from a Todd McFarlane action figure in mind, that would be awesome to have for real.

I went for a jog around the living area this morning and picked up an office chair missing a backrest. So it's just like a little swivel stool but it works.

Our Transfer of Partnership (TOP) with the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division is slow goings right now but as soon as they all fly out of here it's our show baby!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

In 3...2...1...

I'm Richard Colletta, a Specialist (E-4) in the United States Army. I'm a former US Marine (radio operator/forward observer) who did his time, took a vacation, and then a while later decided to join the Army. I'm a Broadcast Journalist (46R) with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, which is of course the coolest job in the Army. You know all those other Soldiers who complain about their jobs? Well...I'm the guy that gets to shoot video of them working while they complain! (I kid...a little)

I've also been known to take photos and scribble down a story or two occasionally. But don't think it's all fun and games in the Public Affairs Office. We get serious and we work pretty hard too.

Our unit has been gearing up for the last year to deploy to Iraq and now we're there! This will be my second deployment to Iraq. But before I get ahead of myself let me take you back about a month ago.

It was midnight on the 25th of August when I finished packing my bags, trying to cram a year's worth of things I needed and was required to have into bags that were hopelessly too small to fit them. My 4 children, Ryan (7), Leilani (5), Ian (3), and Gabriella (23 mos) were all asleep. I didn't want to wake the poor little dears. I had already given them hugs and kisses before they went to bed but I gave my son Ian one last kiss before I headed out the door. We're best buds and we would often sleep together with Ian cuddled in my arms.

At 3am we drew weapons from the Armory and dropped our gear off at the staging area. From there things dragged on. I said goodbye to Tatiana, my (smoking hot) wife around 4 or 5am. It wasn't until 12 in the afternoon we actually got on a plane.

We had a stop in Germany for about an hour. As we landed the sun broke over the horizon and cast a golden hue throughout the plane. Beyond the flight-line lay an expanse of grassy plains surrounded by beautiful forests stretching as far as the eye could see. I kinda wished I was a sword-wielding adventurer with long wavy hair and could just go exploring, slaying blood-thirsty wolves, rescuing fair maidens from cutthroat bandits and whatnot but alas there was no way I could get my hair to curl into illustrious wavy locks so I decided to make the best of it.

We got back on the plane for the final leg to Kuwait. For what must have been the 5th military flight in a row I was subjected to the awful acting of Keanu Reeves in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" which was a horrible remake of the original 1951 film. What really gets me is that they don't even say, "Gort! Klatu, Berata, Niktu!" I mean...c'mon.

We got off the plane and piled into charter buses headed to Camp Buehring, Kuwait where we would wait to fly out to Iraq. But due to a series of infuriating circumstances we ended up playing the infamous waiting game, adding nearly another half a day while waiting for new bus drivers to relieve the old ones who refused to drive anymore for the day.

After what was nearly 2 days of travel, we finally made it Camp Buehring.

We had a few mandatory classes while at Camp Buehring, what some might call check-the-box type stuff, powerpoint slideshows and stuff of that nature.

But what should have been a week in Buehring before flying out to our final destination, COB Speicher, Iraq turned into almost a month, of waiting, sleeping, eating, sleeping some more, doing that eating thing again, and get the picture.

Critical Training Continues as Dragons Deploy
A quick refresher in first aid in combat

Greetings from Kuwait
Hi Mom!

Hot Running
I pun whenever I can get away with it...

Remembering 9-11
Soldiers at Camp Buehring run a 5k in remembrance of September 11th.

Friendly Competition

What to do when you've got nothing to do? How about a game of Spades? (Personally, I would've gone with Dominoes)