Thursday, December 24, 2009

We want to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a better New Year, from beautiful Basrah, Iraq. That’s right. While you guys are enjoying a torrential amount of snow, we’ve been blessed to be on the sandy (currently quite muddy actually) beaches of Iraq. We are currently serving in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and this is our Christmas message to you!

From Dave’s world:

This year I have a lot to be thankful for such as my wife, family, friends, and my health. But not my recruiter, he promised me world travel, and sandy beaches. Little did I know when I signed up over thirty years ago that the sandy beach would be here in Iraq without water? This past year has been filled with highs and lows. My top 10 combined list of highs and lows on deployment. (Low first/high last)

# 10 Low - missing Josh’s graduation from Basic Training

# 9 Low - missing our 22nd wedding anniversary

# 8 Low - missing my Grand baby

# 7 Low - missing my better half

# 6 High - the fact that I’m not out on patrols or the gate

# 5 High - I have a roof over my head and a dry place to sleep

# 4 High - indoor plumbing

# 3 High - sharing this deployment with my niece Jessica

# 2 High - sharing this deployment with my daughter Jacki

And number 1 is being on a deployment with fellow soldiers and our contractor friends who are going through the deployment with us. It’s kind of like the movie “Play it forward”. Sometimes you’re there for your fellow soldier when they are down, and sometimes they are there for you. Sometimes the only thing that can get you through the day is a swift kick in the butt from one of the guys or gals that you work with.

I truly am thankful for my family, and our friends that continue to support us in this barren land so far from home. I’m even more thankful that my last ride with the U.S. Army is coming to a close in 2010. I will never look back at my time and not feel a sense of pride and honor for serving my country. I’m ready for Josh and Jacki to become the next generation of soldiers as I get ready to walk away from my final formation.

Let me just say that what we have back home as Americans is not something that should be taken lightly. Seeing the world up close and personal has me proud to be an American! The next time someone around me talks about how bad life in the states is should come here to learn what life without the good old stars and stripes is all about!

From Jacki’s world:

This year has truly been a unique experience for me. Few 19 or 20 year olds can say that they are veterans of war and few soldiers overall can say they have been privileged to serve alongside their father. I feel honored to have been asked to partake in something that’s bigger than me. I’m 20 years old and I am a part of an elite group of people who put their lives on hold for a year without question or hesitation. It’s a rare and beautiful experience indeed.

I have been provided with a classroom that has limitless boundaries as I have learned lessons that it takes some people a life time to learn. I have learned the immense generosity of the American people, as care packages from people I have never met or from people I have known all my life arrived. I have learned to appreciate the small things, like blue jeans and clean water. I have learned to treasure the moments with family, be it far away in a sandy place or within the realm of Skype. I have learned the value of true and lasting friendship. I have learned that I’m privileged to be an American and to be blessed to have all the opportunities I have.

I have a couple months left here before I start living real life again. I can’t wait to slip on a pair of blue jeans or a dress and heels. I’ve got a whole list of things I’ve been waiting to do. It’s about time I start living like a normal 20 year old, or as normal as it gets for me =]. I’ll be starting college in the fall (destination undecided). I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up (thank goodness I strayed from my first career of choice [grandma clown of all things] way back in the day). I just want to kind of live in the moment for a bit when I get back. Take the time to adjust and to learn to make my own choices again.

My father and I hope that you and yours also had a year worth remembering, too. That good fortune and good health has found its way into your hearts and into your home. Please continue to keep the troops in your thought and prayers as this holiday season comes closer. Prepare for a belated New Years upon our return, in traditional Crotteau fashion.

Monday, December 21, 2009

21 Dec 09 – A Great story to share!

A friend of mine (Saundra) sent this to me and I thought it was worthy of sharing. With thoughts of family, Christmas, New Years and our eventual trip back to the good old USA on the horizon I thought this story was fitting. This story makes me think of my own life, and my relationship with my wife and kids. I can see us growing old together and navigating the roads of life together for years to come.

Were both nervous right now contemplating what life without the military will be like? I know I have to find work in order to pay the bills and continue our standard of living. I only hope that when I leave the Army that I can find worthy employment. Susan’s right, even if I didn’t have to work I would have too just to keep my sanity. Not to mention the remodeling jobs and organization of the canned goods that might get me in trouble.

Susan don’t worry so much about me finding a job, remember I was looking for one 30 years ago when I found this one. Until then I may have to work on my customer courtesy skills for example “Good afternoon would you like to super size your order?” Or maybe “Mrs. would you like paper or plastic”?

My resume is ready and soon I will be out there hunting for a job where I won’t have to make left turns ever again.

To all of you that still read our blog I thank you for your patience between writings. I’m going out on the road again taking care of some property management issues. If everything goes good I will be back to Basra for Christmas! Until then enjoy your family time this holiday season. You never know how precious it is until there is an ocean separating you from your loved ones!

All: When You Have Some Time, Good Read.

This is a wonderful piece by Michael Gartner, editor of newspapers large and small and president of NBC News. In 1997, he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. It is well worth reading, and a few good chuckles are guaranteed. Here goes...

My father never drove a car. Well, that's not quite right. I should say I never saw him drive a car. He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926 Whippet. "In those days," he told me when he was in his 90s, "to drive a car you had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet, and look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it."

At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in, "Oh, bull!" she said. "He hit a horse." "Well," my father said, "there was that, too."

So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The neighbors all had cars -- the Kollingses next door had a green 1941Dodge, the VanLaninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford -- but we had none.

My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines, would take the streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.

My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we'd ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. "No one in the family drives," my mother would explain, and that was that.

But, sometimes, my father would say, "But as soon as one of you boys turns 16, we'll get one." It was as if he wasn't sure which one of us would turn 16 first.

But, sure enough, my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts department at a Chevy dealership downtown.

It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded with everything, and, since my parents didn't drive, it more or less became my brother's car.

Having a car but not being able to drive didn't bother my father, but it didn't make sense to my mother.

So in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later, I took my two sons to practice driving.. The cemetery probably was my father's idea. "Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?" I remember him saying more than once.

For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of direction, but he loaded up on maps -- though they seldom left the city limits – and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.

Still, they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn't seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of marriage.

(Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.)

He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin's Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish's two priests was on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home.

If it was the assistant pastor, he'd take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church. He called the priests "Father Fast" and "Father Slow."

After he retired, my father almost always accompanied my mother whenever she drove anywhere, even if he had no reason to go along. If she were going to the beauty parlor, he'd sit in the car and read, or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the engine running so he could listen to the Cubs game on the radio. In the evening, then, when I'd stop by, he'd explain: "The Cubs lost again. The millionaire on second base made a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so the multimillionaire on third base scored."

If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry the bags out -- and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream. As I said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still driving, he said to me, "Do you want to know the secret of a long life?"

"I guess so," I said, knowing it probably would be something bizarre.

"No left turns," he said.

"What?" I asked.

"No left turns," he repeated. "Several years ago, your mother and I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in happens when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic.

As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn."

"What?" I said again.

"No left turns," he said. "Think about it. Three rights are the same as a left, and that's a lot safer. So we always make three rights."

"You're kidding!" I said, and I turned to my mother for support.

"No," she said, "your father is right. We make three rights. It works."

But then she added: "Except when your father loses count."

I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I started laughing.

"Loses count?" I asked.

"Yes," my father admitted, "that sometimes happens. But it's not a problem. You just make seven rights, and you're okay again."

I couldn't resist. "Do you ever go for 11?" I asked.

"No," he said "If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it a bad day. Besides, nothing in life is so important it can't be put off another day or another week."

My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was 90.

She lived four more years, until 2003. My father died the next year, at


They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom -- the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.)

He continued to walk daily -- he had me get him a treadmill when he was 101 because he was afraid he'd fall on the icy sidewalks but wanted to keep exercising -- and he was of sound mind and sound body until the moment he died.

One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news.

A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, "You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred." At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, "You know, I'm probably not going to live much longer."

"You're probably right," I said.

"Why would you say that?" He countered, somewhat irritated.

"Because you're 102 years old," I said.

"Yes," he said, "you're right." He stayed in bed all the next day.

That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the night.

He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing us look gloomy, he said:

"I would like to make an announcement. No one in this room is dead yet"

An hour or so later, he spoke his last words:

"I want you to know," he said, clearly and lucidly, "that I am in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever have."

A short time later, he died.

I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I've wondered now and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long.

I can't figure out if it was because he walked through life, Or because he quit taking left turns. "

Life is too short to wake up with regrets.

So love the people who treat you right.

Forget about the ones who don't.

Believe everything happens for a reason.

If you get a chance, take it & if it changes your life, let it.

Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it."


Stay tuned for the Christmas message that me and Jacki co wrote!

That is all,


Ugandans getting a care package
Same as above

Jackis first camel kiss

Basrah snowman

Dave and Jacki getting ready for Christmas


Dave and Jackis little Christmas Tree

A Iraqi Christmas tree

Basra Bazzare

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

9 Wed 09-hi how are you?

I’m sorry that I don’t update our blog more often. When I’m out on the road it takes a while to get caught up again on e-mails and letters. I spent a few days last week up in Adder (Tallil) doing inventories, transferring some property, and helping with container management. FYI – Containers are either a 20’ or 40’ long box that looks like a semi trailer without wheels. With the U.S. downsizing we are working longer hours moving equipment to where it’s needed, or sending it back to port, hopefully to be used in Afghanistan.

Those of you that have sent us boxes of goodies over here should know some of us are putting on the weight we lost. A friend of mine and his wife sent us some rice crispy bars with chocolate. I vowed I would only eat one a day, and then amended it to two a day, and then it was one at a time. The next thing I knew the bars were gone. I suspect that Jacki came back here and ate some of them in my absence. Then there was Harry’s homemade sweets, again Jacki made like a magician and made them disappear!

Last night Jacki and I decorated a Christmas tree in my room that my friends from Camp Ripley sent me. I wouldn’t be surprised if the local reporters don’t come knocking on my door tonight trying to get a picture of it. We worked nonstop putting the decorations on the seedling (I meant tree). It was fun while it lasted and time with my daughter is one of those treasures here that I cherish the most!

Most of you that really know me, would know that I don’t complain much. Last week I moved out of my CHU (Containerized Housing Unit) with indoor plumbing to the plywood palaces. Knowing me you know that my hearing leaves something to be desired and on more than one occasion people have to repeat things. My new roommate snored so bad on the first night that I finally snapped and asked him to roll over. Trust me when I say it didn’t make a difference. I turned the AC on in hopes that the white noise would drown him out. That didn’t work either! The next night he fell asleep right after watching a movie and was louder than a washing machine with an unbalanced load. I tried my ear plugs with a pillow on one side and a pillow on the other side of my head. The only thing that got me was wet hair in the morning from sweating. I feel for him but my own health was at stake. Three nights of sawing wood, crashing trees and the furniture moving inside of the CHU was enough.

Your probably wondering why did I move and not him? Well I’ll tell you I have less than 60 days and he has over 8 months left here. The choice was easy partially because my tote and two duffle bags had already been loaded into a container for the trip home. The other reason was it was the right thing to do in my eyes. Face it I’m down to the bare essentials now (Pictures, Books, and my Crocs).

The next morning I sub leased a room on the other side of the tracks. The room is sectioned off by plywood walls and the door allows the water in from the recent rain. It didn’t matter about the indoor pool, I was in heaven!

For those of you that believe the desert is dry you have another thing coming. The last few months they have spread gravel out here probably 6-8 inches deep. After walking back and forth through it you felt as if you ran a marathon. There was the usual soldier grumbling about why the gravel had to be so thick. Even the locals made fun of the preparation for rain. In years past the elders that I deal with would tell you that if you got over the metric equivalent of an inch it was a miracle. Let me just say that there is an unseasonable amount of rain that has come down the last few weeks. I’m not a weatherman but the ditches are almost full, and the mud is slowly covering the sinking gravel. Like any soldier were now complaining about the lack of gravel and the mud that were tracking into our living quarters. Trust me when I say with my new room I have to get up in the middle of the night and head down the road outside to get to my bathroom. In the mud I am so thankful for my crocs, instead of being cursed with flip flops!

Pictures for Susan to post will be sent home soon. I have more to share with you of my adventure for now let me leave you with this story. I love this story, I must be getting soft in my old age?

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,

I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.

My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,

my daughter beside me, angelic in rest.

Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,

transforming the yard to a winter delight.

The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,

completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.

My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,

Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.

In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,

So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,

But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.

Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,

Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.

My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,

And I crept to the door just to see who was near.

Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,

A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,

Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.

Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,

standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,

"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!

Put down your backpack; brush the snow from your sleeve,

You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,

away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts.

To the window that danced with a warm fire's light

Then he sighed and he said "It’s really all right,

I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night."

"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,

That separates you from the darkest of times.

No one had to ask or beg or implore me,

I'm proud to stand here like my father’s before me.

My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"

Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."

My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam',

And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,

But my wife sends me pictures; he's sure got her smile.

Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,

The red, white, and blue... an American flag.

I can live through the cold and the being alone,

away from my family, my house and my home.

I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,

I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.

I can carry the weight of killing another,

Or lay down my life with my sister and brother.

Who stand at the front against any and all,

To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall."

"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,

Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."

"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,

"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?

It seems all too little for all that you've done,

for being away from your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,

"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.

To fight for our rights back home while we're gone,

to stand your own watch, no matter how long.

For when we come home, either standing or dead,

To know you remember we fought and we bled.

Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,

That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."

That is all,