April 20, 2003

I just wanted to let you all know that reading messages from you is really the

highlight of my day. There is nothing better that happens to me here than
hearing from you (and communicating back to you the often surreal stuff that
goes on here. This has truly been one of the oddest experiences of my life).

I try to bring you the details. I find that I really enjoy reading and imagining
the details in what you send. The nuances are what help make it real for me, and
I really do appreciate the creativity in what you send.
I'll try to paint a picture for you of what it's like for us coming into Iraq.
I think that it's important to note that this desribes the second trip "in".
The first was far more dicey with active snipers and other unpleasantness.

I'm on a grey CH-53 helecopter that takes off from the flight deck of the ship.
After the bird gets louder and some lift is felt, I look out the back to see
the ship getting smaller and farther away. Then open ocean is seen followed
by miles of mud flats and riverbanks. The flight is smooth though the bird is
very loud. Hydraulic fluid from above drips onto my leg. Cables and small hinged
access panels flop about wildly from the vibration. I have yellow foam earplugs
stuffed into my ears so that I won't lose any more hearing than I have already.
There are 9 of us plus the two pilots, two machine gunners and air crew (2). Our
green "kit bags" and back packs are piled up in the center part of the helecopter,
bags of mail for delivery to distant camps and several pallets of bottled water
from Bahrain and MRE's fill the "bird". The back end of the bird is open and wind
and hot engine exhaust move through the passenger area. We are either sitting on
olive drab fold down seats or on boxes wearing full chemical gear and body armor.
Each of us has an M-4 or M-16 rifle, and some carry sidearms as well.

View to the back of the CH-53
Our Gunner getting a drink before "going to work"

The wind knocks us around a bit and finally we see a large port and factory complex
come into view. The gunners tense up and take their positions watching the area below
for targets and problems. None catch their eyes and no rounds are fired. I Crane
my neck and stand up to look out through the small side window, I can see that the
place is huge, encompassing many hundreds of acres with many uniform tan colored
buildings, lifting equipment, conveyor belts and loaders of various types. Large cranes
line the docks and berths. Small boats and military vehicles are everywhere. Dripping
wetsuits and dirty desert "cammies" hang from lines strung between crane supports. The
place is buzzing with activity, mostly British Soldiers and Royal Marines riding special
desert painted dirt bikes, small odd "tracked" tanklike vehicles and land rovers.

Me with a Brit Dual Sport Dirt Bike
Interesting Brit Vehicles everywhere!
We're picked up by "Master Guns". A Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sargeant in a white
"dually" pickup truck. After loading our gear into the truck, we're whisked off
toward a warehouse complex, maneuvering around obstacles placed in the roadway to
limit vehicle speed in a zig-zag movement. Finally we arrive between two very large
warehouses with British Flags on them and nude or mostly nude Soldiers or Royal
Marines sun bathing on every available horizontal surface. They're on the hoods of
trucks, the roofs of trucks, on the ground, on cots, on top of cargo containers,
everywhere. There are many women with them, also Soldiers--- They aren't bothered
at all by any of the flesh show taking place, including their own it seems.
The place has a odd festive look with gold and silver foil wrapped tires everywhere.
They are creatively used for every possible function: supporting tents, tables,
room dividers, shelves. They're everywhere. The color and shinyness make the place
look very much like a department store's Christmas display. Inside the warehouse,
boxes of lightbulbs from Indonesia are used to make dividing walls, bags of PVC
pellets from Saudi Arabia are used to hold things down. I dump my helmet onto a
free cot that I'm offered by my LT and then strip away the body armor and hot
'chem' clothing. I put some of it under my cot along with my rifle that I feel
is a white elephant, or a prop that I have to carry since I've never actually fired
one. I rationalize carrying it by imagining a situation where it would be better to
have something than nothing, even though I have little confidence in my own abilities
with the thing. I'm most concerned about my hurting someone by mishandling it.

Tires wrapped in foil are a strange site

After shedding all of the heavy gear, now deemed unnecesary, I get "the tour" from
my LT who's bored out of his mind and seems happy just to have someone to talk to.

My LT, LT Rich Haas, is a young submarine officer who's really bright but is out of
his element a bit. He took the position here about 2 months ago. It was supposed to
be a "staff job", basically a desk job. Then they started asking him about his boots,
his will and gas mask sizes and talking about deployment. He was put into a small,

well established platoon that did not feel the need for an officer, any officer.
The thinking among the enlisted guys was that having an officer was bad enough,
but a submariner was worse than bad, since he could never be an "operator".
He isn't a member of any of the "communities" (EOD, SEAL or Recon Marine) and has
very little credibility with officers or enlisted in this badge crazy command. He's
found that he's in a tough spot. He does the best that he can with it, but he's
justifiably frustrated and disappointed by the situation.

Rich Haas
He shows me all of the modern conveniences that the Brits have brought along:
a TV lounge ith Satellite news around the clock, a small "cafe" (with warm sodas) and
tea, A complete troop laundry facility with a squadron to run it, a large shower
tent and changing area (with hot water!), an small exchange where you can buy many
necessities. Hot items at the exchange include Sodas, Pringles potato chips, some
"gucci" field gear like camelbacks, leathermen tools and various cool "tactically hip"

No stadium seating at this theatre! Still cool!
The exchange!

We are immediately approached by a pair of Royal Marines who want to know what we'd

like to trade. Items that they really want include our desert camouflage pants, small
tents and american "gucci gear" as described earlier. It seems that the pants make
great shorts and the tents are very, very popular. Americans want russian made AK-47
assault rifles and Saddam trinkets. It is agreed that we'll get togther later after
a complete inventory of tradable items is identified.

more later...
From the Mailbag:

Robb Hart writes:


Robb here.

Sorry that I have not contributed to you entertaining daily bulletins, so far.
Work has been surprisingly busy, despite the world teetering on the edge of WW3,
there has been little of the slowdown in my world that we experienced after
9/11. In fact the last month has been pretty surreal, during the first week of
the war I was in Florida filming a huge awards show at Disneyworld. To be
watching the bombs drop on the TV screens whilst Mickey and his friends pranced
around with their fixed plastic smiles was fairly creepy!

Joe Responds:
Even right there, the first day with actual bombs and bullets flying very close
by, it didn't feel like WW3 (to me anyway). It was really odd. Thought your
disney juxtaposition would be really creepy. Imagine all of this on acid!
Fiction couldn't be much goofier (Sorry Goofy) I mean crazier than real life.

Robb continues:
The show went well, we filmed concerts with: Carolyn Dawn Johnson (A country
singer), Bruce Hornsby and Kool and the Gang. The award recipients included
Christopher Reeve and Marian Wright Edelman (a civil rights activist who once
worked with both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King). Since I've been back, I
have been editing these and other projects. The week before last, I cut the
three concert shows, a commercial for a boutique in Beverly Hills, a trailer for
Lucasarts for a monster game called 'Wrath - Unleashed' and I designed a web
site for 'Fairy Sprinkles' - they sell kids dress-up stuff. I cannot complain
about monotony in my work! I almost forgot the hardest project of that week. I
installed a new sink in the bathroom at home. It was a replica, made by American
Standard from their 1920's catalogue. It was odd to think that I was probably
installing a sink that was similar to the one that had been there 80 years ago
when the house was built. Of course being a plumbing job, nothing went as easily
as it should. I went to the hardware store to buy the fittings and was assisted
by a genuinely knowledgeable guy. I mentioned to him that I wished I had met him
before, since my last plumbing job had led to four  return trips to the store.
He commented that that was unusual most people average three. He words were
prophetic, three trips later I completed the job!

Joe sez:
Yes! You do have a fascinating job. (I mean the plumbing. No...)
I brag about you often and I'm maybe a little bit jealous of just
about everything except the pace you keep. I used to do that, but not anymore.

Robb goes on:
Your reports have been a wonderful flip side to the news we see here. The
reporters don't usually bother to describe the smells!

Joe responds:
You should smell the reporters! They live in tents, in their cars, use our very
luxurious facilities (where permitted) and often eat with us. In exchange for
protection, logistics support and easy access they did a BBQ for us. It was nice.
One of our junior guys was helping me with some electrical work for the press guys
and one of the reporters slipped a fifty in my pocket. I protested but he'd have
none of it, so we continued and afterwards I explained to the junior guy that I
didn't feel good about it and gave it to him. He was very suprised. He's sort of
a tech that I've been trying to develop, he's really strong technically and has a good
attitude, especially when you recognize the value of his work. He just buzzed for
the whole rest of the stay there. I just let him run with it. He was fixing and
improving everything he could find. Other chiefs commented that "he was trying to
be you" (speaking of me). I was really jazzed to see things going so well for him
and that (non-techy) people were recognizing it. He was having fun and getting
better at a rapid rate.

Robb Continues:      I have also been
fascinated to read about your expanding understanding and knowledge of British
habits! We don't all run around naked, but quite a few of us wear speedos and
cannot understand why Americans are so keen hide themselves under yards of baggy
fabric! As to the trappings of civilization, Laundries - afternoon tea and so
forth, well those are traditions that won us an empire or were they the things
that lost us an empire? Whichever way, it's true that wherever we are in the
world we try to keep up appearances. I even took a dinner jacket with me to the
Amazon, in truth as a joke, but it felt great to stand in the rain forest
wearing a white tuxedo sipping a cup of tea!

Joe and his friends are thoroughy amused:
I could just imagine the headlines: Troops enjoying tea & biscuits, pate and
sunbathing nude. It's a big spring break party over here!

I really want to visit the UK and also Austrailia. Let's talk about that sometime.

Robb closes:
Keep well, we are all looking forward to you speedy return, all the best,

Hi joe,

I'm enjoying your e-mail again although a lot of the tech talk I can't
comprehend. Your friends have some interesting ideas about Cingular. I
hope you will have the time needed to follow through with "getting" them
back when you get back.  

I have been ill all week with bronchitis. I could hardly breathe for a
while but I went to the Dr and the medicine is helping. It was not how I
intended to spend spring break but I did get a lot of rest.

I hope you'll be coming home soon. I really miss you. Give me a quick
call if you can it would be nice to hear your voice.

Love you lots!


Joe Sez> The brits seem to really like being naked or in speedos! It's
kind of odd.

Molly sez>    Yeah, I know!

Joe sez:
I really enjoy this more than the phone calls (which I still enjoy). It
seems like the list kind of brings everybody together. Sorry that you're
not feeling well. I've had some intestinal funny-business, but things are
improving. The corpsman thinks that it's related to flies and hygene on
"the beach" and is treating it accordingly. The phone doesn't work out here
so you'll have to wait until the Iridium comes or we get in closer to shore.
**WARNING: Extreme Tech Talk follows <So be careful, Molly ;) >

Rusty Hodge sez:

Here's some info I found on Paradigm. This inspired me to create a
Email to Google gateway, but I'm too lazy to actually write it. I'll
do it by hand for now:

services commercial & welfare services

In October 1999, Paradigm Services received its first contract for
the provision of welfare communications services to the UK's armed
forces. These services use commercial carriers to enable all military
personnel on MOD-defined 'entitled operations' to 20 minutes of free
phone calls home per week, and is operational in locations worldwide
such as the Balkans, Oman, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and onboard
Royal Navy ships. In 2001, Paradigm Services introduced its Internet
service ahead of schedule for Ex SAIF SAREEA II, the largest UK
military Exercise for 15 years. In recognition of its contribution to
the Exercise, the Company became the first MOD contractor to be
awarded a Chief of Defence Logistics Commendation. Paradigm Services
provides similar welfare communications services to other
organisations, such as the Belgian MOD.

More Background:

*    Key player in the Paradigm team which has been selected as
preferred bidder for the UK MOD's Skynet 5 next generation secure
global satellite communications service.
*    Skynet 5 calls for Paradigm to deliver milsatcom services
initially through the transfer of ownership and operation of the
existing Skynet 4 infrastructure and then by incorporating new Skynet
5 satellites and associated ground segment.
*    Paradigm Services is responsible for all aspects of service
delivery, together with network operation and maintenance.
*    It is able to operate military information services in a
multimedia environment and offers a highly flexible approach,
allowing new service-based products and technological advancements to
be brought into the military arena more rapidly.

system overview
Initial services will be provided using the existing Skynet 4
satellites and upgrading the ground segment. Full services will be
provided using two new Skynet 5 satellites. The Skynet 5 system will
be capable of providing survivable, flexible and interoperable long
range communication services.

The Skynet 5 system comprises of:

*    2 satellites delivered in orbit
*    Management System - To be designed, developed, implemented
and supported by Logica
*    Baseband System - Cogent Defence & Security Networks are
responsible for the design and provision of all baseband elements
*    Strategic ground elements located at three UK sites and five
overseas sites
*    59 tactical terminals
*    36 ship terminals
*    3rd and 4th level maintenance support

system ground segment
Fully compatible with military satellite systems, Astrium terminals
are secure, reliable and proven in the field. Astrium will address
the following ground segment requirements for the Skynet 5 system in
the UK:

*    RAF Colerne
*    2 additional 9 metre X-band heads
*    IF/RF upgrades
*    New satellite control facility (SCC)
*    New Network Management Centre (NCC)

*    RAF Oakhangar
*    IF/RF upgrades

*    DCSA Corsham
*    New System Operation Centre

*    System
*    Introduction of PMS (Paradigm Modem System) modem
*    Addition of Skynet 5 baseband system
*    Upgrade of Management System to meet Skynet 5 / Paradigm needs

system remote ground segment
Astrium is a major supplier of terminals and ground stations to
military forces all over the world, offering products that include
fixed and transportable stations, as well as modems, network
management solutions and specialized systems for airborne, shipborne
and tactical use.

The Skynet 5 requirement will also include the provision of user
terminals as follows:

*    Land Transportable Terminals - REACHER
*    36 off REACHER Medium
*    6 off REACHER Large
*    2 off REACHER RM Variant
*    15 off Interim REACHER (Talon) - to download a data sheet
click here (alternatively, window users can right click on the link
and choose "Save as.." to save the file to their local hard disc)

*    Shipborne Terminals - SCUG
*    Replacement of existing SCOT Terminals with SCOT 3 for 28 ships
*    Includes Training and Reference System

*    Ship Baseband Improvements - S5MBB
*    Skynet 5 Maritime Baseband to be fitted to 28 ships plus a
further 8 ships

services communications services
Paradigm's Commmunications Services provide all of the mechanisms for
the transmission of user traffic across the Defence WAN and fully
satisfy current MOD service requirements and operational needs. The
services meet a wide range of user needs, with variable attributes
covering confidentiality, availability, survivability and immunity to
a number of hostile attacks, coverage and physical access points.
Flexibility is provided to address growth and evolution in the nature
of services required. The communications service solution offers
flexible service planning and ordering, with the depth of service
provision to any individual subscriber or group of subscribers being
dependent on a variety of factors including level of integration of
the satcom elements within terrestrial networks; operational scenario
implementation aspects; and level of autonomy required by subscriber

services terminal services
Terminal Services, for land and sea operations, may either be a
direct attribute of the communications service order, or selected as
a stand-alone service. Terminal Services are based on high
performance, modern terminal designs, compliant with the essential
features of the REACHER and SCUG User Requirement Documentation. All
terminals are supplied with remote over the air Control & Monitoring
and PMS (Paradigm Modem System) modems providing full integration
with the Skynet 5 system. Legacy terminals will be managed by
Paradigm from initial handover by the UK MOD (due in 2003) under a
transitional service regime. As the terminal population is enhanced
through the initial operating phases, the transitional services will
migrate to separate services and tariffs for individual remote
terminal types.

Joe sez:
Interesting stuff. It sounds like they've outsourced their SATCOM
needs to Paradigm. I must say it seems to work well! Thanks for the
info Rusty!
John Higdon writes:

At 6:33 PM +0100 4/19/03, Talbot CEC Joseph E wrote:
>Now for the bad news.  Unless something has changes in the last two
>years, calls to your Iridium phone are free but the callers have to pay
>a hefty price.  Iridium has their own country code.  I believe AT&T was
>the cheapest to call it.  I believe the rate was around $1.59 a minute.
>Other carriers charged anywhere from $3 a minute to $15 a minute.
>If you give out the Arizona number, I believe you pay for the call.
>Joe sez:
>John does this sound like what you signed up for? Do we have anything
>in writing that clearly states the deal. I don't trust verbals right now.

Nope. The number is an NANP domestic Arizona number. All it costs is
whatever it costs the caller to place a call to Phoenix using his
normal carrier. We (the owners of the phone) pay according to our
plan for outbound calls; incoming is free.

I have it all in writing. I know how it works from READING it.

Joe Smiles:
My Dad sez:

Joe I'm typing this info from their web page. I could not copy it direct to
my e-mail. This is very interesting.
UCAN- Utility Consumers Action Network is a 501[c[[3] non-profit corp.UCAN
mission is to protect consumers from utility abuse,poor service, and
excessive rates hikes. We are committed to using every legal means
available to protect consumers.
40,000  San Diego supporters.Non-profit.25.00 a year membership.We saved
consumers over $68,000 in 2002.Submit a complaint now.. Telephone bill
complaints & other consumer complaints.Major battles since 1984.Tracking &
exposing & preventing Bad Phone service, Fighting gasoline price gouging,
protecting your right to privacy, MILITARY FAMILY INTERNATIONAL RATE
BUSTER. Rate comparsion.. Iraq.  Everdial  .96.6, MCI  .89 AT&T
..98   Kuwait Everdial .28.9 MCI .47 AT&T .52
Utility Consumers' Action Network   3100 Fifth Ave. Ste B
San Diego CA 92103  619-696-6966 Our finances & resources are open to the
public. Joe, There is a lot more info but this is the gist of it. Hope they
can get some results for you re. your telephone dispute.

Joe responds:
Yeah, they might be a good resource, and they are in San Diego, a military town.
But I think that the press will have a more immediate and dramatic impact since
Cingular will perceive that bad press is more expensive than advertising. Thanks
for the good info and I love you!