Friday, October 13, 2006

Camp Arifjan

Friday, 10/13/06

Today I processed into my unit and got to know my way around Camp Arifjan a little bit. (There are alternative spellings for Arifjan, but that is how I've seen it spelled since I arrived here). It’s a pretty good sized installation (the phrase “sprawling Army base” comes to mind). I think perhaps being in the desert where everything is flat and featureless makes it seem larger. Everything you see (except the sand and gravel and a few planted trees) is man-made. Nothing rises out of the ground except concrete, steel, canvas, and vehicles.

There are a couple of radio towers and a large water tower to help with orientation and navigation. The place is divided into zones for reference purposes. The whole camp is a maze of concrete barriers like you see during road construction – both the typical smaller sized ones about three feet high and also much larger ones that are as tall as me. They are used to mark off various operational areas and roads, channel vehicle traffic, and also provide protection from bomb blasts should that be necessary. There are shuttle buses that ferry troops around the base, and I rode them several times today.

After making my earlier blog entry, I rode the shuttle over and reported in to my unit. They got me started on inprocessing (believe it or not, even more forms to fill out, some of which were repetitions of forms I’ve already filled out five and six times). I am getting really thoroughly sick and tired of having to fill out the same information everywhere I go. But I went through it and gave them the information – what else are you going to do? But it’s a crying shame how much time and effort is wasted on BS like this.

I’ll know more about my unit as I get to know people and know my job, but I did learn a little bit today. The most important thing I learned was that the scope is much narrower than I had been led to imagine. I had the responsibilities pretty much dead on, but I am not the FMO for the entire installation – only for our little piece of it. It is about five buildings total, three of which are huge warehouses which have been converted into offices and living quarters. I was pretty relieved to hear this, because with the size staff I was told I’d have, I was really scratching my head wondering how they expected me to be responsible for this entire place.

I got a short in-brief on some of the outstanding issues and previous occurrences, and I can see now why the LTC said that my challenges would be people, time, and resource management. I think a large part of it is going to be managing people’s expectations and perceptions, and helping my staff to prioritize our work when everybody wants his problem solved “now*. Everybody who meets me smiles knowingly and says I have a challenging job.

As I drove around today, I was struck again and again by just how vast an operation this is. It hit me first in the DFAC, watching people process through to eat. There were hundreds of people moving through the line, from every branch of service. There are even quite a few Navy people here (mostly Seabees), which surprised me a little. The din was tremendous – between people talking and TV’s blaring (every one of them tuned to Fox News) it was almost sensory overload. But watching all of them, I got a sense of the scale of what I’m a part of, in a different way than I had before. Perhaps it’s because I was able to see their faces and watch them talking to the other people they were with. Whatever the reason, it was an interesting feeling.

The food was really good. It reminded me of a scene in “Rough Riders” where one of the outlaws who had joined the Army in order to escape capture by a posse was trying to get his compadre to desert. His compadre gave several reasons why he liked the Army and wanted to stay, capping it off with “and besides, the food’s good and there’s plenty of it”. And that’s the truth. If I lose any weight here, it won’t be for lack of opportunities to eat.

The quantities of materiel here are mind-boggling. It reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of England before the Normandy invasion in WWII. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of vehicles of every description lined up in vast vehicle parks, and hundreds of buildings, tents, pallets of materiel, with soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors running around in every direction doing their work. There is quite literally a constant hum of activity, because everything is powered by generators, and every building and tent has one or more air conditioners running. The fuel consumption must be phenomenal – these things are running 24/7. Any time I go outside my tent, the area is lit up like a stadium at a night game (in fact, there is a running track right outside my tent, and basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts just down the road). As far as other MWR facilities, there’s a gym, the PX, a “community center” that I haven’t been in yet, the cyber café, and a vendor’s row with a variety of so-called “Hajji Stores”, i.e. the local vendors selling their stuff on post under concession agreements (mostly rugs, gold, and various handicrafts). There are also a number of familiar vendors, such as Hardee’s, Pizza Hut, etc. Last night when I came in I really wanted something to eat, and I went to the only place that stays open 24 hours besides the cyber café – Starbucks! Yes, there is a Starbucks at Camp Arifjan. They even have the little round tables with the checkerboards on them. So last night, on my first night in country, I had a chocolate crème frappuccino at Starbucks. :-)

It turns out the Cyber Cafe has laptop hookups that are also $5 per hour, so I've gotten smarter since this morning. I composed this entry offline and will simply upload it and log off. This also solves my problem of a secure connection for banking (assuming these people are honest), since it is an Ethernet hookup, not wireless. Even if I don't figure out how to do it from my room, I can always come here once a week or so to update Quicken and Quickbooks with the bank. I expect, though, that that will become less necessary since I'll be spending less money - probably only once a month or so once I get settled in.

Anyway, the scale of this place is amazing – I feel like a very small piece in a very large puzzle. Tomorrow I’ll begin to get more of a feel for my actual job and try to start getting my arms around it. I’ve gotten conflicting stories from various people about how much I should plan to work this weekend, but I think I’ve farted around long enough “getting mobilized”, and now that I’m here it’s time to get down to work.


At 04:36, Blogger Spoiled in Paradise said...

Thanks for the frequent updates. They provide a fascinating insight into our operations in the Middle East.

Oh, and it looks like the Tigers are headed for the World Series. Congratulations!

At 00:52, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First class seats and Choclate frappucinno's? Are you on vacation or in the service? All in all, it is good to hear you arrived safely.


Post a Comment

<< Home