Iraq version of Office Space
When I’m not out humping a ruck and photographing the infantry or other soldier types, my bottom sits in a chair, behind a desk in one of Saddam’s former palaces. Lined with marble flooring, exotic Arabic paintings, 24-karot gold trim and mahogany ceilings, this place might give the impression that we’re in an exotic resort rather than Saddam’s former vacation home.
The last couple days, I’ve been in the office just waiting for something exciting to happen, so I can go cover it. Occasionally, I just gaze at the walls and unaligned tile, thinking about what I’ll do when I get home or what I’ll eat for chow. During today’s random thoughts, I realized how similar my office setting is to the movie “Office Space.” There’s faulty equipment, annoying people, pranks pulled and loud explosions.
For starters, half of our equipment, such as printers and scanners, were purchased on the Iraqi market. All Iraqi products require 220 power. As the Iraqis say, “No problem. All our power is 220.” This works out great for the Iraqi printers and computers, but for the equipment brought from the U.S., it’s a problem. See, most American electronics require 100-200 v power. Plug one of those into an Iraqi outlet, and you just lost yourself a $500 printer. But there are step down converters to take care of that issue. Only you need a funny looking plug-in to plug into the step down, which is purchased on the Iraqi market as well. Once we were taking photos in the general’s office for Christmas cards and the Iraqi power strip – which was connected to a step down converter, which was connected to an extension cord, which was connected to a generator – started melting. “Do you smell something burning, sergeant?” the general asked. Another time we tried setting up a broadcast studio at a remote location and plugged it into what we thought was 110 power and boom, just like that the one piece of equipment vital to our mission was fried. The movie Office Space had one, lousy printer making a mockery of them. We have tons and tons of wires and power sources causing us problems. I remember an electrician once told me that none of the power in this country was grounded. Power in Mosul is about as consistent John Kerry’s voting record. I recall a late-night guard duty shift I had when the city looked like blinking Christmas lights. I overlooked a neighborhood of about 2,500 square homes and the power was on, then it was off, then on, then off. This went on for four hours. It got me in the mood for Christmas – that was in April. Since then, we have spent millions making this city’s power situation much better.
Also like Office Space, I have several bosses. In the military, anybody who outranks you can be your boss. I can’t say that I genuinely hate any of the people I work for, but man, when they want something, they want it and want it now. “Print that photo off in an 8 x 10,” said a full bird colonel who could crush me like an ant. “Uh, sir, we don’t have any ink.” This was overheard by somebody lower ranking than the full bird, but outranked me. “Sergeant, don’t you give a field-grade officer an excuse. You do what he says.” The day before we were told not to print anymore photos, because we were running low on ink. So, I printed the damn photo for the full bird. The person who gave the order saw me printing the photo. “What are you doing printing photos? I specifically told you not to print photos. We’re almost out ink.” “But ma’am, a full bird ask..” “I don’t care. They need to run it through the proper channels.” That day, I received three butt chewings.
As mentioned in a previous post, the soldiers in my unit are pranksters. Right now, my desk is looking like a low-budget hair care salon. For whatever reason, people started putting beauty products on my desk. I have tampons, herbal shampoo, tooth brushes and Covergirl “clean makeup” along with 40 different other products. I dish out the pranks too. We kidnapped one of our sergeant’s stuffed animals and randomly placed ransom notes on her desk. We took photos of “Tinky Winky” being held prisoner with its eyes and mouth duck taped. We even had Iraqi Policemen point their AKs at the doll. The animal was traded for five green M&Ms and a few other items. However, as she will soon learn, Tinky and its children have been kidnapped again.
No doubt, we have a lot of fun in this office. Hey, we’re in Iraq and we have to stay sane somehow.