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 well...you 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)