August 10, 2006 - One of the most notable things about working in Baghdad is the amount of overtime and the long hours. Before I came here, I wondered whether it's all really necessary or just people hanging around with nothing else to do. Well, I have to admit it's a bit of both. There is an incredible amount of work that needs to be done and the days fly by (although the weeks crawl by; I haven't figured that one out yet). I come in at 8:00 a.m. and before I know it, my stomach tells me it's time for lunch. I swim, eat lunch at my desk and the next time I look up, it's 4:00 p.m. and there's still so much to do. The earliest I have gone back to my hootch was probably 6:00 p.m. The latest was 10:30 p.m. I must admit that the 10:30 p.m. one was because I was taking care of some personal issues, but still. . .
The tenured generalists don't get paid overtime (as officers we are not entitled to it). But the untenured officers and the specialists all get overtime, as do the Civil Service employees here on an "excursion" tour or TDY. The amount of overtime paid is astronomical, but much of it is necessary. If you come to work in Baghdad, be prepared for long hours.
On the other hand, I find it mildly amusing to hear the macho-style "Gee, I was here until midnight last night" comments. Sometimes it's like we're all competing to see who's put in the most hours. (As if that is a measure of one's true worth - NOT!!!) But sometimes I stay at work because the room is bigger, the chair is more comfortable and the internet is faster than in my hootch. And if an e-mail comes in from Washington, I can answer it right away! But I think we'd all like to believe we're tough cookies (and we are!) and ready to put in those long hours to make sure things happen.
August 18, 2006 - In the last month that I've been here, I think I've slept through the night about three or four times - once was last night (Thursday) and once was the night before last (Wednesday). Tuesday night I found myself wide awake at 1:30 a.m. and got up to read e-mails and found that my son was on-line (it was 5:30 p.m. there). We ended up chatting until about 2:00 a.m. my time and then I could sleep. Some nights I go to bed, feeling tired, but I lay in bed, wide-awake. I have tried warm showers, reading, taking both prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids and sometimes they help and sometimes they don't.
But the oddest thing about this insomnia and lack of sleep is that I don't feel tired. Of course, it's hard to get out of bed, but once I'm out of bed, and get moving, I'm wide awake. The energy level of the people at the Palace is probably what keeps me going. What else could it be? I don't drink a lot of coffee, I just go.
Maybe I will spend my entire R&R sleeping. We'll see. But I did sleep two nights in a row about 7-8 hours, so maybe I've finally gotten over this insomnia. . .
August 22, 2006 - Yesterday was the first day I saw clouds in the sky. As the clouds increased, the wind began to blow harder than usual. By the time I left the office around 6:30 p.m., it was downright overcast. I could look directly at the sun through the haze and it wasn't even bright enough to cut through the haze. I had heard of sand storms, but this was more of a fog. I went to the PX and by the time I came out, the air was full of sand. By the time I got back to my hootch, I felt gritty all over. The sand had seeped through my doorway and onto my floors. If this is what a sand fog does, I hate to see a full-blown sand storm. I hear it's an amazing sight. I just hope we don't get one on the days I'm planning to travel back to the States for my first R&R. They cancel flights because of sand storms.
August 27, 2006 - Whenever I think I have it bad, I remember the military here in Iraq. Those who are out in the countryside fighting must really have it tough. The military has to wear their full uniform - long-sleeved shirt, long pants, boots, PPE (bulletproof vest and helmet, which weigh about 35-40 pounds), etc.
Even when they're off-duty, they can't have fun. Under General Order #1, military in a war zone are not allowed to drink or have romantic liaisons. Now, I am not a big drinker and I'm happily and faithfully married, but for a young person who hasn't started to approach the age of settling down, it can be tough.
I did come across this photo, though, which I found highly amusing. Rumor is it's to help the military in the IZ (where liquor can be found) to learn to resist the temptation to indulge: