May 29, 2004

random stuff (and how to send me packages)

I've got some pretty serious GI distress right now. I'm told this is normal when you first show up, but combined with the jetlag it's really knocked me out. I'll write more when I'm back on my feet.

On the upside I'm told that Uday's lions are here in the Green Zone. There are some relatively new cubs too. I'll have to be sure to check them out at some point. I hear that they're nice and big -- after all they grew up on human flesh (Uday would often throw would-be rivals to his lions). We actually work right by his Pleasure Palace, it's now being used by the CPA and I'm assured that none of Uday's many women are to be found there.

Speaking of women ... there aren't any. Well, there are a few but would be suitors literally line up just to talk to them. I saw this really annoyingly good looking guy the other day (you know, the kind of guy you wish would leave the party so that you could get some attention again) dropping all of his game, going way out of his way, seriously chatting up a woman that I don't think he would have imagined dating back in the US. Yeah, I'm being superficial but it's a fascinating phenomenon. I wonder how long that guy has been here and if his fate awaits me.

I will note that I got a pleasant surprise by the chow line when I saw a figure come into the CPA from the outside wearing fatigues, flack jacket, helmet, M-16, side arm, etc. -- just like the other hundreds of people milling about -- when the helmet comes off, long blond hair falls down onto her shoulders and the fair features of her face are revealed. My conclusion for the day: chicks carrying guns are hot (assuming they're not really mad and pointing the gun at me). Either that or I've been here too long already.

Oh, btw, it turns out that I CAN GET MAIL/PACKAGES. Even better, it only costs regular USPS rates to send me stuff (hint, hint). I can't post the address here but e-mail me and I'll send it to you.

Posted by rick at 11:51 PM

May 28, 2004


I'll post more when I get them, so check the link reguarly.

Posted by rick at 10:17 AM


Friday (today) is the equivalent to Sunday in Iraq, everyone has the day off (the contractors have a 6 day work week here). At 4pm yesterday someone tells me that if I don't schedule a ride into the Green Zone with security by 3pm that I might not be able to get one. Well, I immediately asked for one and was immediately denied because it was after 3pm (and they have a car shortage). So today I'm stuck inside all day, my housemates all split at 7am. No gym/food/people/pool on my off day. I'm stuck at home with some power bars I brought and some juice my housemates have in the 'fridge.

I started looking around the outside of the house (through the windows) and realized that I didn't see any security. I was wondering if maybe they thought the house was empty, I slept from 11pm to 11am last night and I'm brand new, and kinda took Friday off. Then I saw some local guy planting something next to the entrance we use. I was just about to call security when I heard someone in the house. Did I mention that I'm not allowed to have a gun here? Anyway, it turns out it was just my housemates coming home on the afternoon run and the guy outside was a gardener or something (security knew him). I ran outside (but not outside the courtyard) to try to catch a ride back with the PSD's but they were already gone. So I'm still stuck here all day.

Oh well, like a housemate just said: it's better to be stuck inside than stuck outside.

Posted by rick at 03:33 AM

how to reach me

here are the best ways to reach me:

1) e-mail
2) skype, username = rickbentley. Download the client from, you will need mic and speakers, or a headset, for your computer. We can talk live for free, at better quality than a normal phone too.
3) yahoo IM, username = rickbentley68. Download the client from If you have a webcam on your computer we can video chat as well.

In fact, those three (with the possible exception of my cell phone) are the best whether I'm here or in the US. Three more options, AFTER checking the time difference note below, are:
4) 00964 (Iraq country code) followed by 790-191-957 -- it's my Iraqna cell phone. Incoming calls are free to me. You have to pay international rates, dial 00 from your phone first; this will put you in touch with a long distance operator. Then both confirm the dialing instructions for Iraq (it might only be one leading 0 for you) and the rate you will be charged -- if it's worth it to you then call me (again, AFTER, checking the time difference).
5) My cell phone. It's off. If the shit hits the fan here I'll turn it on. Otherwise it's off. If you leave a message I won't listen to it until I'm home. What could you really say that's worth $2.99/minute, my roaming cost, anyway? 976 numbers charge less than that (er, so I'm told).
6) If you really feel the overwhelming need to leave me a v-mail you can call 415-358-5883. Your v-mail will be turned into an e-mail and sent to me.

I am 11hrs ahead of CA (pretty much the opposite side of the world). My jet lagged self only has between 10pm and 7am my time for a chance at some sleep. This means to please only call me between 6pm and 9am CA time. In fact, it's probably best for you to call me as late as possible CA time -- given the tense situation on the ride to the green zone I won't be playing Chatty-Kathy on my cell phone, so 6pm is probably too early (but at least I'll be awake). I have to leave this cell phone on 24/7, so if people start calling me when I'm asleep I'll have to change the number. Thanks.

I'll look forward to hearing from you all, again the top three (e-mail, skype, IM) are the best way.

Posted by rick at 02:46 AM

May 27, 2004


Okay, maybe there is something wrong with me but the surrealism of this place has a certain appeal. I kind of like it in a really messed up way.

Just imagine that your office is a trailer with sandbags piled around it to the roof. In a ring around that are 10' tall concrete barriers with spikes and razor wire and armed guards. Two or so miles on a side outside of that is enough concrete, steel, and razor wire to keep an entire country at bay. Uh, literaly. Inside there are military personell with guns everywhere. Almost all the Humvees are armored, and when they roll out of the Green Zone they are armed to the teeth -- at least 4 rifles, plus the 30/50 cal on the roof, with their business ends pointed outwards. It makes for a very menacing site. The whole place reeks of diesel fumes, mostly from the generators but also from all the amazing hardware.

Black attack helicoptors routinely fly 50' overhead, big green Chinooks (large two blade copters) too. Tanks are stationed at every gate. Everyone (who isn't from the US/UK/Australia/...) coming in from the outside is thoroughly searched. Things are locked down here tighter than a gnats rear-end. The US military *can* be very efficient.

No one says "take care" or "have a nice day" or any of the usual pleasantries, they all say "stay safe". Inside the Green Zone you are as safe as a baby in his mother's arms. Outside you are an easy to identify target in your armored SUV -- speed and unpredictable routing are the real defenses here, despite the fact that each door must weight at least 100 lbs with all the armor in it.

You're not allowed to leave the Green Zone w/o a PSD (Personal Security Detail; 4+ armed guards in multiple cars). You are not allowed to leave the Green zone after dark. You are not allowed to leave the green zone w/o a flack jacket with front and back trauma plates. You're given a helmet but then told not to put it on as it just ID's you as a target and not a shooter (I joke with the PSD's that I'll carry it on my lap to protect my nuts, 100% return on laughter with that one so far). We're staying in a mansion outside the Green Zone with armed guards 24/7 around the outside. We have a "warden" and are under lock down. We're not allowed to leave unless we're getting back into the armored SUV with the PSD on a pre-arranged schedule.

Back in the Green zone it's like being on a US Military Base. The best way to blend in, aside from wearing camos and carrying a M-16, or maybe khakis and a short sleeve collard shirt, is to put on a pair of shorts, a gray t-shirt, cut your hair really short, and go for a jog, or walk with some weight room gloves on as you're heading to/from one of the gyms. Lots of military around -- they live (until June 30) *and* work here. I can go to the pool anytime I want, and it's big enough to swim laps, but the work load will make for a tight schedule. there is a Memorial Day party coming up at night in the Green Zone, but if I don't get out after dark then I have to spend the night inside the Green Zone (not a bad thing, it's so warm out you can sleep anywhere, just pick a section of grass or whatever and lay down).

The damage to the buildings is, in some places, amazingly brutal. There are sections of sidewalk that were simply crushed when an invading tank had to make a turn somewhere. Manhole covers are often missing. Other places are completely unscarred and look as palacious as they did two years ago.

In my initial analysis, 99% of my risk factor is the trip from the house to/from the Green Zone, waiting in line at a check point is a shitty place to be. The way out is faster and not so bad. The other 1% is probably the risk of being hit by a fast moving Humvee while walking around in the Green Zone or accidentally stepping into an open man-hole.

I'll have some communication updates tomorrow. I've GOT to get to bed.

Posted by rick at 12:21 PM


Will write more later but am on the ground, in the Green Zone, in Baghdad. Interesting ride from the airport in the armored vehicle with the two PSD's, wearing a vest with trauma plates, driving 90kmh the whole way.

Anyway, I'm in "the camp" where my employer has some trailers surrounded by sand bags inside a big concrete wall. I'll be working here and not the palace as I was originally told.

I went to the CPA (Coallition Provisional Authority) and got my CPA badge, so I can go eat in the mess hall now -- it's set up in the palace's main dining area. Marines are everywhere, armored Humvees, an occasional tank ... kind of a wild place.

Posted by rick at 01:59 AM

May 26, 2004

Amman part II, or seeing Amman at night from a pair of running shoes

I went for a 40min run through Amman. It's much like any other large Arab city (warm even at night, signs look like they're written in chicken scratch, people are polite and the streets are safer than most US cities).

Side note: it's funny that us westerners ended up with the Roman alphabet and Arabic numerals but, because of the way they write the numbers here (it's kind of a cursive script) us westerners can't read them -- so they print them twice. One in a sans-serif type of font and once in the local cursive. Funny that even for the same number system we do things so differently that it requires repetition on all the signs.

Anyway, I ran down the main drag. It lacks the attraction of the walk along the Nile in Cairo, but is familiar otherwise, and the auto pollution was palpable (CA really does lead the world in emissions controls). I saw a bunch of embassies, business class hotels, and Hummers with 30 and 50 cals on the roof. Many of the hotel guards here carry this really cool machine pistol that fits in a hip holster; it wasn't an MP5, the stock rotates 180 degrees instead of collapses straight in. I think that, given the language barrier, I don't have much of a chance of finding out what it is by asking (I'll try to discreetly take a picture and figure it out from there).

BTW: I have cell phone coverage here, and I probably will in Iraq too. BUT don't call me as it's $2-3/minute.
If you feel the overwhelming need to call me on my cell you better paypal me when the call is over (or be telling me that I won the lottery), don't leave me a voice message on my cell as I for sure won't be checking those. e-mail is the best way to reach me. if you can't e-mail me but still want to leave a message leave it at 415-358-5883 -- this will turn your v-mail into an e-mail and I'll get it that way. You can send faxes to that # too ... if, uh, you don't have a scanner (or can come up with some other good reason to use a fax).

Gotta get up in less than 4 hours (again), goodnight.

Posted by rick at 02:44 PM


I arrived in Amman a couple of hours ago from Paris. I had zero time in Paris to even get outside and breathe the air as my connecting flight was tight. I was hoping to cab to the Champs to grab a bite and snap some pics just for kicks - but I suppose it's just as well, my tolerance level for Parisians is notoriously low.

The flight to Jordan was uneventful. Upon landing, on the near side of customs, there were local coordinators there to meet travelers like myself. I had noticed in Paris that the travel information given to our contact in Jordan was still for my defunct Frankfurt connection, so I figured there would be no one to meet me as I came in on my Paris connection. I was all prepared to get to the hotel myself when I saw a gentleman holding up a sign for me, so I got a ride direct to the hotel (Hotel Intercontinental Jordan).

I was surprised to see that my T-mobile phone, which has coverage no where in the US, has coverage here in Amman (I need to activate on their service to make calls but it's receiving SMS just fine. correction: I don't need to activate, it's just T-mobile international service and works as soon as you show up). The SMS/GPS tracking device I'm carrying with me from my Televoke days hasn't reported location yet. I don't know if that's because it hasn't gotten a GPS lock or that its SIM card isn't activated on this system, I'll wait until Baghdad to start to figure that out.

It tuns out that the King's Brother is getting married and the wedding party is staying at this same hotel as me. So not only is it crowded here but there are soldiers/guards/metal-detectors/etc. everywhere. Other than that Amman is a pretty low key place. It's definitely safe to go walking/jogging/etc, something I'll be doing shortly. I won't get to see the city at all in the daytime as I leave the hotel at 5am tomorrow for my flight to Baghdad. I'm surprised to see that it's a daytime flight, I was told they only flew in at night. Hopefully I'll be online in Baghdad in less than 24hours, look for an update then.

Posted by rick at 11:45 AM

May 24, 2004

getting interesting

I was at the consulting firm's offices today. It's a long story of all the stupidity I witnessed in one day, but suffice to say that I have reaffirmed my vow to never work for a big company again (I have to take two laptops because they won't configure mine to work with their VPN, in fact I can't even check a POP box from their LAN; it just gets dummer from there).

Small change to my schedule, I'm going through Paris instead of Frankfurt tomorrow; which breaks my vow to not return to France unless I'm in an armored division.

Anyway, the interesting part of today was that I finally got a copy of the (business confidential, so I can't post it) security manual. It's pretty fascinating. One of the first pages is all about what to do under certain situations which sound so common place when you see it writing e.g. "gunfire in the hallway" and "mortar, rockets, RPG's,...from outside coming into your room". Then it goes on to provide you with helpful gems like "don't stick your head outside to see what is going on" and "scream, blow a whistle or try to notify someone".

Gee, I didn't even pack a whistle.

Oh well, I do hear it's fascinating in Iraq and a lot of people actually don't want to come home. I'll see it for myself soon enough. DoD processing is at 8am tomorrow, then I'm on a plane tomorrow night.

Posted by rick at 09:42 PM

May 23, 2004

back in DC

I grew up (7th grade - high school) in the Washington DC suburbs in McLean, VA. As I write I'm in a hotel in McLean VA right near the shopping mall where I used to hang out as a kid. Kinda wierd.

Anyway, I'm in this area for the next two days and then it's Tuesday night to Frankfurt, Wed hanging out, Wed night to Amman, and Wed or Th night into Baghdad -- in a lights-out, spiral into the airport, charter flight.

The adventure is on...

Posted by rick at 11:14 PM

May 19, 2004

off hold

Okay, whatever that last hiccup was seems to have straighted itself out. Now it seems I'll be heading to DC this weekend and Baghdad next week. I'm just a little skeptical of any dates they give me but hopefully this is really it, I should get my tix cut today or tomorrow...


Posted by rick at 12:54 PM

May 14, 2004

"on hold"

So, I'm all set to go and then I find out today that the project is on hold -- again. This apparently happens a lot, and usually gets cleared in a week or so, but for now it's on hold. The good part is that they signed me up at the last minute as an employee instead of a consultant, for their convenience, so at least I'm on the payroll as they straighten this out.

Man, this could drive a guy nuts if he let it.

Posted by rick at 11:49 AM

May 07, 2004

it's in writing

I just signed the offer letter today. I officially start on Monday. I will be in CA for a week or so, then DC for a week or so, then off to Bagh-freakin-dad.

Watch these pages as the real adventure begins.

Posted by rick at 06:29 PM

May 05, 2004

no departure date

Well, they want me to work stateside for a week or two before I head over. The only problem is that this had to go through the whole process, again, for approval. It sounds like it's approved but I STILL don't have a written agreement with these guys.

Last week they sent me tickets to lDC for today on a 10am flight, one day there for DoD training, and then to Frankfurt, Amman, and Baghdad ... and then last week they said no to get on the plane as they have to sort out this new round of approvals.

I'm supposed to talk with the the project manager today and hopefully get resolution to all of this, but I'm becoming increasingly less hopefull that they'll make this happen in a reasonable timeframe. Let me put it this way: I'll need a new notebook computer to be able to stay product while I'm there -- I haven't bought one yet.

Posted by rick at 11:25 AM