Chapter 9: Managing Frustrations

    Friday, November 19, 2003

    From Baghad, The Green Zone (Darn it!)

    This past week I got to spend a couple of days in Bahrain. If you are reading this in Alexandria, Virginia or San Francisco, California that might not sound like big stuff.

    But. If you are reading this anywhere in Iraq you're saying to yourself "Hey! How come HE got to go to Bahrain?"

    I might have told you about the living conditions here which are not anywhere near living in a sleeping bag on the ground and eating Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs).

    Actually, our sleeping quarters look very much like this:

    In fact my sleeping quarters look exactly like that. And I make my bed every single day, not just when I'm taking a photo of it. If I did not, it would, in short order, look like the other side of the room which is owned by a young man who is �

    �anyone? Anyone?

    Twenty four? Keerekt! It's like living 48 inches from The Lad.

    The only difference between this room and summer camp is: There's not a bunk over my head.

    I went to Bahrain because there was a soccer match between their team and the Iraqis. I went to a soccer match once. It was the World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl in 1994.

    It was 163 straight hours of Italians and Brazilians in shorts running back and forth which ended in a zero-zero tie.

    But, a trip to Bahrain is a trip to Bahrain so I was thrilled to go and help our side.

    We were met at the airport by a group from the US Embassy there. The Administrative Officer of the Embassy asked me what I thought would be the biggest difference.

    "Clean cars," I said.

    She looked at me quizzically so I explained that all the cars in Baghdad are covered with a layer of brown dust - even the ones with bullet holes in them.

    I might also have mentioned that seeing a woman in a short skirt and hose was somewhat different than I was used to, but I was trying to be on good behavior around the State Department folks, so I let that go.

    Remember my room in Baghdad?

    Here's a photo of a room at the Sheraton in Bahrain:

    Notice any difference?

    I called back to Baghdad after I had been there a while. They asked me what I had been doing.

    "I've been in the shower for 16 straight hours," I said. "And I haven't worried about running out of hot water - or cold water (which happens with some frequency here in the Green Zone)."

    Another difference was the utter lack of frustrations.

    Just about everything that was supposed to happen, did happen. The Embassy provided cars and drivers and equipment and office help and supplies and just about anything we needed.

    In Iraq � In Iraq�


    Some of you might remember my very excellent management theory which holds that:

    "A" people hire other "A" people. "B" people hire "C" people.

    That is, in any organization the brightest and most creative will tend to clump together. The "A" people.

    And those who are not so will also tend to clump together. The "C" And the leader of that group will not be comfortable around "A" people because he or she will believe that surrounding himself with weaker folks will make him look stronger by comparison.

    Nothing you can say or do will dissuade a "B" person from hiring "C" people. And nothing will tempt an "A" person to hire a "B" person - or, if a "B" person is hired, nothing will tempt the "A" person from keeping the "B" person around long.

    And all concerned are happy with this arrangement.

    Dear Mr. Mullings. Is this A-B-C stuff leading somewhere or what?
    Larwence J. Peter


    I am developing a new theory for surviving in Iraq: "Manage the frustrations; don't let the frustrations manage you."

    That's it?

    Give me a moment.

    In Iraq nothing happens the way it was supposed to happen, where it was supposed to happen, or when it was supposed to happen.

    It is a given that there will be frustrations. And when you make backup plans because you know there are going to frustrations, new frustrations pop up that you never contemplated.

    Here's an example I heard just yesterday:

    A friend of mine had to go to a meeting which required a tie and jacket. Because he knew he was going to this meeting, he had not shaved in the morning.

    His trailer is about a ten-minute walk from The Palace, so he started out toward his trailer, but returned when he remembered that his roommate had their only key.

    He went to his roommate who told him he had misplaced their key and had meant to go to the billeting office to borrow a master key and leave the door open, but hadn't gotten around to it.

    My friend went to the billeting office; but was told the guy who handled extra keys was no longer around and no one had actually figured out his system so it was going to take some time - hours, probably - before another key could be made available.

    My friend was with another guy whose trailer was somewhat closer and who offered a tie, a jacket and the use of his shaving gear.

    Whew! Off they went to the second trailer, by now pretty badly pressed for time.

    My friend stripped off his shirt and lathered up only to discover, when he turned on the faucet, there was no water.

    See what I mean?

    This sort of thing happens all day, every day.

    Two groups of people fail here.

    The first group are those who gnash their teeth and rail at the gods when they turn on the faucet and nothing comes out.

    On Thursday, the helicopters which were supposed to take a Congressional delegation to Tikrit didn't show up because of bad weather. The only reason I was interested in that was because I was hitching a ride with them, so after spending most of the day at BIAP, I ended up still in Baghdad.

    My backup plan was to hitch a ride on another helicopter going out on Saturday morning which would have had me in Tikrit at about noon.

    On Friday afternoon, I was told that flight had been scrubbed, so I went to the backup plan to my backup plan: A convoy on Saturday afternoon which will get me up there on Saturday night.

    I am hopeful but not confident, but neither howling at the moon nor stamping my feet will get me to Tikrit any sooner.

    The other end of the scale are those who decide: "Something is going to go wrong with this project; something always goes wrong with every project, so there's no sense in even starting it.

    And then they spend the day poking around e-Bay because they just can't deal with another day of frustrations.

    The secret is to find the middle ground: Not to get into a projectile sweat on one end nor shrink into an emotional fetal position on the other.

    Manage the frustrations. Don't let the frustrations manage you.


    It's yuletide here in Iraq where a lot of that sort of thing actually started - what with the Garden of Eden having been here and all.

    American troops being American troops, they make their merriment where they can find it. This it outside the Public Affairs shop at the 1st Armored Division HQ:

    As far as the 1AD is concerned, Frosty is authorized.

    The military airlift portion of Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) has been jammed with soldiers, Marines and Airmen trying to get home for the holidays.

    You have to be at the airport three hours in advance of the flight you're supposed to be on. Which means a lot of waiting and praying your flight - or your leave - isn't cancelled.

    This happens to be a soldier at the airport in Baghdad this week, but he represents every soldier who ever waited for transportation home from any theater anywhere on the planet at any time in history.

    If that doesn't make you weep with love and respect for these young people, you need to come over here and work with them for a while.

    Oh, the soccer game between Iraq and Bahrain? It ended in a two-two tie.

    How frustrating.

    NEXT: Jesus and I celebrate our Birthdays in Iraq.

    Be safe.

    -- END --

    Note: The Iraq Travelogue emails are distributed through the services of Focus Data Solutions, Inc.

    Click here to return to the Mullings page