Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Hail, tiny weapons, and other surprises.

Dorn, the automatic rifleman for my fire team, had been looking for a hydraulic buttstock for a long time, and finally purchased one on ebay. Or at least, he thought he purchased one. When the box came, it was much smaller than expected. And much lighter. It turned out that Dorn had misread the item description, and bought a 1/16th scale model of an M249 SAW automatic rifle. The mini SAW came complete with a 200 round drum and a sling. It is so detailed that the bipod folds out, the bolt can be cocked, the cover opens, and the hydraulic buttstock folds out and over just like the real thing. The seller is located in Asia and won't take it back, so now Dorn is stuck with an expensive decoration that sits on top of the TV. I calculated that if the weapon could shoot, it would take .o14 caliber ammunition - not even big enough for birdshot.

While on guard duty up on the border a couple of days ago, we got to see some amazing weather and the first spring migrating birds of the year. During the night we were awed by almost continuous lightning, and brief but intense hailstorms. The hailstones ranged from rain drop sized to a half inch in diameter. After sunrise, while patrolling the fence, I saw several great grey shrikes of the pallidirostris subspecies (with the pale beak, whitish lores and lots of white in the wings), some desert wheatears, a stonechat, and a few barn swallows.

While watching the gerbils, I wondered if perhaps one reason why they keep enlarging their burrows is so they don't get drowned by rainstorms. The sand that the gerbils were ejecting from the burrow entrances was wet at first, and then dry. It would make sense that when it rains really hard small burrows get flooded much more easily than large ones, and when they start to flood the gerbils can keep throwing out wet sand. Also, the sand here tends to turn into a hard, almost waterproof crust over time. If the gerbils keep digging, they'd keep fresh, water-absorbant sand exposed at all times.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Now with full-color illustrations!

The last few days have been interesting; we spent three days training on convoy operations. That was where it paid off to be a gunner: I got to fire lots of live and blank ammunition on the M240B machine gun.

I just figured out how to post photos onto this page. This one is of Shiltz on a .50 caliber machine gun with a blank adapter.

The blank-fire range was fun because I got to fire at moving vehicle and people. It was also overrun by camels. I am quite amazed at the density of the camel herds – how can there be any vegetation left at all? The camels will eat anything that stands between them and the sand: plants, cardboard boxes, even the insulation foam the instructors use on some of the dummy IEDs! This, along with the fact that they cross roads as if they were drugged and blindfolded, makes me wonder how any of them can survive at all.

As for the live-fire range, we breezed through it and shot up almost all the targets.

After the convoy training, we returned to duty at the border. I went on a couple of foot patrols to secure the perimeter and go souvenir-hunting. I picked up a nice piece of shrapnel on a site where ordnance (bombs, howitzer rounds and rifle rounds) had been detonated, and I caught a very small white scorpion in an ant colony. Scorpions are popular pets around here, but I just don’t want to start collecting live animals so I gave it away.

A couple of soldiers are also looking for gerbils to keep as pets, but I didn't try to catch one because I like to look at them while on guard duty. The gerbils we usually see here are technically jird, probably the Libyan jird Meriones lybicus. According to the website, they are called Jirdh al libyi in Arabic, with the "dh" pronounced like the "th" in "smooth" (الجرذ الليبي). A pair of them lives underneath the cement barriers right in front of one of our positions, where they provide me with endless entertainment.

The gerbils usually end up getting the awful bacon I get in my breakfast. They eat a little bit of bacon, and run the rest back into one of their burrows. From time to time, they erupt into a bout of running from place to place with their long tail up in the air like a bumper car antenna rod, and then return to foraging as if nothing had happened. When they are not hoarding food or running around with no apparent purpose, they extend their burrow systems. The main gerbil burrow in front of our position is so extensive that it is threatening to tip a heavy concrete “Jersey” barrier over. Alternatively, the sand between the tunnels might fail to support the barrier and allow it to settle right through the gerbil home.

The "jird" gerbils look cute, but apparently they are fearsome animals. I was told by a soldier who used to keep one that they will kill and eat an emperor scorpion, leaving only the stinger.
As for the most popular pets on the border post - the stray dogs - they must have been killed. It was bound to happen, since they were aggressive towards any civilian who looked Middle-Eastern or Indian.