Sunday, May 25, 2008

Fun and exciting times in the army

Right before I left South Carolina in July of 1986 and began my four years of active army service my recruiter handed me a booklet showing all the nifty stuff a soldier could do in his or her spare time off post. The booklet, paid for with taxpayer dollars, came complete with glossy high quality photos of young smiling guys playing golf on a beautiful sunny day, a group of attractive guys and gals on a raft in the middle of a whitewater rafting excursion being splashed and paddling around rocks, a couple snow skiing down some unnamed mountain smiling so big their perfect teeth almost outshined the sun, and several other photos that were just too damn perfect to have any normal basis in the reality about serving in the United States Army even in the carefree lazy days of the mid to late 80’s. I had already served two years in the South Carolina National Guard and received enough exposure on how recruiters worked to understand that the story of Cinderella and the nifty off post activities booklet I had just looked at could have been sold in the same section of any book store being displayed side by side. But none the less I kept an open mind as I left the warm comfortable security of what was then the normal one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer National Guard duty and started playing soldier full time.

When I entered active duty I kept the same army MOS (Military Occupational Specialty or job) I had been trained for during my two years in the National Guard, which included my basic and Advanced Individual Training to become a Stinger missile gunner. And even now I must say I adjusted fairly quickly to the more intense and longer routine of training that active duty demanded. But as far as the neat off post activities booklet was concerned for the most part my initial suspicion was confirmed. The air defense battalion I was assigned to had huge segments of people that were either preparing to follow one of the three division brigades out on a Field Training Exercise (FTX), had a huge segment out on a FTX, or had people recovering from a FTX they recently returned from. All army posts have people, usually civilians, whose job it is to organize different off post activities but given the training schedule for the Fourth Division that at the time was based at Fort Carson, Colorado and how the air defense battalion farmed out its people we had very little time for group fun trips. So just about anything that was somewhat adventurous was organized by the soldiers themselves when time allowed but after what could be a month or longer in the field not many had the interest or energy for anything beyond the basics of human needs.

While the daily routine of army life kept us very busy soldiers in my battalion did have “down time” or time off that divided those soldiers living in the barracks into two different types. One type had a dynamic social life that had those guys only showing up in the barracks for an inspection, some sort of duty, the day before the unit moved out for a FTX, or for the couple of days after an FTX when equipment was repaired and cleaned to be made ready for the next FTX that came all too soon. After that the guys with a dynamic social life were out and gone. Despite what the off post activities may have been offered these guys, in their late teens to early twenties, cared not one bit for golf, whitewater rafting, or skiing they instead headed for their girlfriends house or apartment or wherever they could meet chicks looking to take care of those basic human needs. The other group living in the barracks were the ones without a real social life and after evening chow could be found drinking beer either in their rooms or in the barrack’s dayroom watching television. Occasionally some could be found on the floor anywhere between the latrine and their rooms after passing out from such a fun filled evening. Several times I found fellow comrades in the service of defending the Free World passed out at the base of a toilet and being honest here once or twice I found comfort myself in resting my forehead against cool porcelain, then again all soldiers at one time or another spent some portion of a night sleeping in the latrine.

Being single and living in the barracks I skirted the extremes of both groups. A date or just going out to some club was not a rare occasion for me but there were times that could stretch for a few months when due to some unexpected demand on my money or just a dry spell between girlfriends I could be found hanging out with the other beer drinkers. It was during one of these dry spells that after meeting my roommate’s friend from high school that I was talked into jumping out of a perfectly good airplane and almost talked into going to Ranger School.

Early in March of 1988 Rocky Bolan came to my unit after serving a year in Korea. Rocky and Lawrence Sanders, one of my roommates, were from Maui and were long time friends having gone to high school and played on the football team together. Lawrence was, or still is, an excellent soldier but his greatest concern at that time was getting back together with a ditzy girl he had met at some club that would drop him for another guy one day then come back not too many days later begging Lawrence to take her back. Rocky being new to the area had no contacts and because he had not seen Lawrence since they had graduated from basic training wanted to hang out with him some. Then there was me, after having to shell out five hundred bucks on car repair and because of the lack of transportation and disposable money my most recent girlfriend had dropped me like a rock covered in gooey poop, so we three were pretty much going nowhere during that time. After about a month the money situation for me got better, Lawrence once again hooked back up with his ditzy girlfriend and was following her around like a lost loving puppy, and Rocky began looking into a local skydiving club as some sort of preparation for his dream of going to Ranger School.

Ever since he arrived to Fort Carson Rocky had been trying to talk Lawrence into going skydiving with him but Lawrence, who told me many times he hated just flying in a plane to get home to Hawaii, would never ever willingly jump out of one. But harking back to the off post activities book my recruiter gave me and being seriously gung-ho (translation: brain dead) I told him I would go skydiving with him. A couple of weekends later Rocky and I loaded up in my now dead but stilled loved Camero for the trip out to Ellicott, Colorado for our skydiving adventure.

The place we arrived at where we would learn to throw ourselves out of a plane was a testament to the glory days of civilian aviation, which was long ago. We were well east of Colorado Springs on the dry prairie surrounded by a sea of small cactuses and thorny spear-like plants that in the field were called by soldiers a “Jesus Christ plant” due to the nature that whenever someone made any kind of contact with it pain and some blood loss resulted with the unlucky soul yelling out the aforementioned savior’s name. Several very old trailers and rickety sheds ran parallel to a gravel airstrip. Add a couple of faded windsocks, small planes in various states of disassembly, and a collection of locals sitting on anything from coolers to lounge chairs with the bottom about to fall out drinking beer early on a Saturday morning and you have what might send most people, with an ounce of common sense, back home quickly getting over the desire to put their life on the line for some stupid adventure. But for two young soldiers with far more money, at that time, than common sense it was a seriously cool place. Since Rocky and I were a few minutes late we were hustled straight into the “class” were we learned the various principles involved in skydiving and the maneuvers needed should any unexpected situation arise. Namely how to untangle the cords leading up to the chute if they were twisted after opening, disengaging the main chute should it completely fail, and the short simple prayer you should whisper if both the main and backup crapped out with the gravity being a bitch causing you and Mother Earth to rush to reunite. It was added as an afterthought by our instructors that it wasn’t the fall that killed you, but the sudden stop.

Once our training was done we were loaned a jumpsuit, a cheap helmet, goggles, and of course a parachute which was sized to our weight. After our small group of trainees including Rocky and myself were prepped and checked out by the pilot, who was wearing his own parachute, he gave us a small briefing saying simply that as newbie’s if for whatever reason we did not see him or our jumpmaster who was the guy who controlled the jumpers we should all exit the plane as quickly as possible since some sort of serious shit with the plane had occurred and they would already be out.

As luck would have it I was chosen to be the one who jumped first from the first group going up that afternoon. Thinking back now the term guinea pig comes to mind since all chutes being used by the newbie’s had just been packed that morning by the same people who already had a nice tower of empty beer cans going up as we drove up earlier that day. But being gung-ho (refer back to my earlier translation) I was eager to be the first guy to experience the thrill. Takeoff on the gravel and dirt airstrip was a bumpy affair with a strange squeal being heard at times that the pilot said under his breath were “damn prairie dogs”. Once we were airborne we leveled off at what I believe was at least 1700 feet with the jumpmaster standing up and throwing a lever that popped the door open I was sitting beside. The door was spring loaded and hinged at the top and it latched to the underside of the wing, I looked outside the open door at the doozy of a first step with wind whipping by me at 125 miles an hour. Still in enthralled in what I was about to do I automatically threw my left foot onto the small step mounted just outside the plane and used my left arm to grab the strut running from the bottom of the plane to the underside of the wing. I twisted and soon found myself standing on the small step holding the strut with both of my hands outside the plane. Jumping off the step but still holding onto the strut adrenalin was pumping through my veins and I had a massive rush the likes I had never had before. I apparently held on longer than I was suppose to when I heard the jumpmaster yelling for me to let go, I guess he thought I had froze up.

Since this was my first jump I was attached to a static line that went from the rip cord of the pack containing the parachute to the plane itself which automatically opened the chute once I had fallen back from the plane at a certain point. My actual freefall was about a second but in that second the plane zoomed away at what seemed like warp speed. The sudden jerk of the opening chute popped my consciousness back to my training and I checked to make sure the cords were not tangled and after that grabbing the small steering toggles that inflated the end cells of the square chute I was using. I looked up realizing that the skydiving club staff had packed my chute correctly even after a morning breakfast of Coors finest made from Rocky mountain spring water. With my most critical needs having been met at that time I was able to notice my surroundings as I slowly drifted downward. When flying on a plane the true scope of the earth below is greatly restricted due to the tiny windows. I have no idea how far off I was able to see from my descending position but I do remember the majesty of what lay below all around me. From the basic terrain features, the small cluster of human settlements that dotted the land around the airfield, to the crisscrossing roads with cars carrying people to unknown destinations. It all carried an importance that after years of pondering what I saw I’m still unable to fully describe.

After several minutes I again realized that there was something my training was requiring me to do. Since the area surrounding the airfield was full of unfriendly plants a space had been cleared for the skydivers to safely land without having to dig thorns out from sore butts. As soon as my chute was deployed I was suppose to use my steering toggles to turn completely around and steer myself to the landing zone which was marked at the center with a 30 foot day glow dot which could be easily seen, even from my height. My reverie of the earth below had taken enough time that I had drifted completely off the correct flight path and I was going to come down well away from even the 300 foot outer parameter of the landing zone. Another aspect of our training that day was how we were suppose to pull down on both the steering toggles and “flare” at the last second slowing our decent to the point we would touch down as lightly as all the videos show skydivers usually doing. With me being well away from the ground guides that would use hand signals to show me when to flare it looked like I was about to get real up-close and personal with the cactus and Jesus Christ plants below me. Because God looks after fools I somehow flared at just the right time and came down between a nasty nest of cactuses as light as a feather without hitting one. One of the staff members had tried to reach me but he arrived in time only to help me gather up the parachute that had fallen to the ground. None the less I was high as the space shuttle orbiting the Earth wanting to jump again as soon as possible.

The rest of the first group all made their touch downs inside the landing zone although one guy flared to early landing on his back with a loud thud. Since we were newbie’s after the club gave us our first jump we in turn had to wait at the bottom of the totem pole for another chance allowing the more experienced skydivers to get their jumps in. A couple of hours later the weather changed grounding us for what turned out the rest of the weekend. Like some new zealot converted to the true religion I was ready to do whatever it would take to jump from a plane on a more regular basis. I had long since had a desire to attend airborne school since I went active duty but given the confusing nature of my moving from the National Guard to active duty attending that school was somewhat of an issue for me and the army bureaucracy. Rocky trying to get a buddy to attend Ranger School with him assured me that after we finished Ranger school we would be sent straight to airborne training. As we drove back toward Fort Carson in the early evening we discussed plans on applying for and getting ready for Ranger and Airborne school.

It would nice to close this out writing that Rocky and I got to Ranger School, passed with flying colors, and were awarded the Ranger tab to wear on our uniform. But that didn’t happen; we did start running an extra three to four miles in the evening for several weeks along with working out heavy in the gym until Rocky got pulled for a temporary duty assignment down in Honduras, something we had both volunteered for but his number got pulled before mine. I next found myself being sent to the Pinyon Canyon maneuver site in southern Colorado for a very long FTX. When I returned Rocky was gone again but this time to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin. While I was recovering from my FTX I met a girl named Annette at an off post laundry washing my clothes and she and I hit it off pretty well. When Rocky returned he was once again ready to resume training but all I wanted by then was to hang out with Annette and, for a lack of any nicer way to write this, get my basic human needs met. Making matters even harder was that Annette didn’t have any real love for the army since her first marriage broke up over the demands the army put on it making her less than enthusiastic in supporting any “Rambo adventures.” Rocky didn’t take long to find another buddy to go to Ranger School with him after hooking up with a guy in one of the infantry battalions, and while I was always open to skydiving again Annette and I took up SCUBA diving (Yes, in Colorado I took up SCUBA diving, you will just have to wait for the story on that one.) which sucked up just about every penny I had buying my own equipment but had the advantage that Annette looked damn good in a tight wet suit.

Much changed by March of 1989 when all this started the year before. Lawrence and his ditzy girlfriend were married and when I lost contact with him in 1995 they were still happily married with three kids living on the Big Island. Lawrence left the army sometime after the Persian Gulf War getting a full-time job with the Hawaii National Guard. Rocky did make it to Ranger School and passed with flying colors then was sent to Germany for some reason. Through my contact with Lawrence I learned he finally made it to one of the Ranger battalions in 93 or 94. Annette and I did pretty well for several months until she realized that one of the young, and far better paid, insurance brokers in her office could whisk her off to Cancun far better than I ever could. I went home on leave a month later and saw my recruiter at a restaurant wheeling and dealing another kid in the direction of the army. When I approached them at their table I saw the kid looking at the same off post activities booklet he gave me. The kid put me in an awkward spot asking if all that fun stuff was possible while serving. My recruiter, a Sergeant First Class, raised one eyebrow giving me a strong warning look but I told the potential recruit that it was up to him to make the most of the army. The recruiter’s smile was enough to know that I had given the right answer. And you know as I walked away I realized that to a great extent it was the truth.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A few pictures of Pancake Day

I haven't been able to write anything coherent the last couple of days but wanted to get something a little more happier posted after three posts that reflected some of my darker moods.

Miss Wiggles took over the flipping of the pancakes Sunday morning as I walked away to fix something for Dragonwife. When I got back she had already flipped each one and moved it over to the plate so I after pouring the next batch on the griddle I let her stand over them. She is still a padawan pancake flipper but she is showing a true gift with the Force and spatula. Now if I can only get her to cook the pancakes when she is a teenager. Her brother was the same way at her age but now won't get out of bed while they are warm and when he does finally make his way to the table gets mad because the pancakes are cold and chewy.

Another milestone was recently made as Darth Spoilboy gave up his Wii by allowing Dragonwife to sell it on eBay. Dragonwife, ever eager to have more stuff to put on eBay, didn't give him a chance to change his mind. My only issue is that when my loving wife sold my old Superman comics on eBay several years ago I didn't get any money from the sale. Spoilboy did get most of the money from the Wii sale allowing him to order an bigger amplifier for his guitar. Oh, the joy!

His new love and interest is his guitar and the "band" he and his friends will be starting when one of them gets a set of drums for his birthday. Spoilboy has learned a few cords and when he has not hijacked the computer for his MySpace and Facebook pages leaving me with high and dry with no way to blog he is practicing the few cords he knows. There is some musical genes in the family with my brother, Joe Cool, who taught himself to play the guitar and is pretty damn good. I have long since come to realize I have no musical genes being unable to sing or play a freaking note of music. Of course the thing that got him started with the guitar was Joe Cool and a few others telling him guitar players get all the chicks.

Wiggle and myself did our usual Sunday (PancakeDay) trip to the zoo after breakfast and found the lion and lionesses very much liking the relatively cool morning and not caring very much about all the boobs walking by and watching them. One group of college kids did get a reaction after making a ruckus that involved the three guys in the group trying to impress the two girls walking with them. The three guys were, and excuse the pun, were monkeying around making all sorts of crazy sounds trying to get the lions to notice them. After several minutes I noticed that daddy lion raised his head looking at them with an almost human expression of annoyance. The two lionesses looked up as well then turned over and went back to sleep with daddy lion deciding to lick a part of himself that in turned freaked the college kids out causing them to leave the area. Sometimes I really wonder what species needs to be restricted to a zoo.

After many many visits to the lorikeet aviary where you can buy a small cup of special sugar water to feed the little feathered guys and gals I thought this little one and me were cool since from past visits he and his kin seemed to love landing all over Wiggles and myself without leaving anything behind. But for some reason right after this photo was taken he flew up, landed on my "Air Margaritaville" hat, and pooped on my head a couple of times. Wiggles and several other people in the aviary with us thought the running mess flowing down my back was the funniest thing in the world. Since the lorikeet poop washed out of my hat with no stains he and I are still cool.

I don't know how I got this photo from the recent Jenna Bush wedding down in Crawford but in this exclusive photo you can see Bush's new son-in-law already sucking Jenna's daddy you know what. I get all warm and fuzzy realizing we only have to wait a few more years before before yet another Bush tries to grace us with their inspiring leadership. Could we be looking a a Chelsea/Jenna presidential race several years down the road? Now dammit, there I go getting political and bringing my darker moods back. At least I have now less than three weeks before we go on vacation to Disney.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Uber-Professional journalist loses his cool.

****Warning, not quite work place safe due to a pompous egotistical hypocrite.****

The "Morning Joe" staff, including the sizzling hot Mika Brzezinski, laugh and joke about how a pompous egotistical windbag loses all his professional cool on television. Personally, I think the man was possessed by his evil toupee forcing him to say such things. I leave it to y'all to figure out whom I'm really talking about.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Modern day Roman Empire?

If there wasn’t already an over abundance of evidence to consign George W. Bush to the title of worst president in the history of the United States a recent statement he made on gas prices should at least add icing to the already huge cake of lies, rabid cronyism, and incompetence. Bush was speaking on the runaway gas prices that are affecting the country, especially those on a restricted budget. He essentially threw up his hands and while this is not a quote said that there was nothing he could do and that there were no easy answers. Despite his glorious Vietnam-era National Guard service he obliviously missed whatever leadership training they offered at that time.

Being a leader is not, nor ever has been, about offering “easy answers” and any electorate that falls for such promises pretty much deserves what they get. As many times as Bush has gotten in front of people to remind us that he, while acting like some petulant child, is the Commander-in-Chief or when he declared himself “The Decider” you would figure that he could spell out what the country needs to do to break the grip of imported oil no matter how tough the process might be. He certainly relishes strutting around like some modern day Marshall Matt Dillon laying down the law when it comes to the need to torture prisoners or for warrantless wiretaps.

What scares me though is how with gas prices soon to be pushing $4.00 a gallon and a giddy OPEC official speaking about $200 barrel of oil a good many Americans grumble about paying so much but continue to show more interest in the modern day bread and circuses as the future well being of their children slips away. My darkest most discouraging thoughts involve how for most of our history the American people when faced with a problem that threatened them found the strength and the vision to face whatever that challenged them and overcome it, that is until now. While most in government are spineless in facing the power of the oil companies and wouldn’t threaten their comfy positions going against them and with the public complacent and enamored with their lifestyle oblivious of how it can’t be sustained there are some with plans to pull our collective asses out of the fire, if only someone would pay attention.

The January 2008 issue of Scientific American featured an article on a feasible plan using solar energy technology we have now that could by 2050 provide 69 percent of the United States electricity and 35 percent of our total energy including transportation with the use of plug-in hybrids. Of course the federal government would have to pony up 400 billion requiring a hiatus in oil inspired imperial wars to build the required infrastructure. But in turn once the plan was completed it would displace 300 large coal-fired and natural gas power plants. The authors of the article go on to say that it would “effectively eliminate all imported oil”, cut the trade deficit, which would seriously drop the price of oil really pissing off OPEC and its carnival of fruits and nuts. Enough of my drivel here is the introduction to the article along with the link:

A Solar Grand Plan

By 2050 solar power could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash greenhouse gas emissions

By Ken Zweibel, James Mason and Vasilis Fthenakis

High prices for gasoline and home heating oil are here to stay. The U.S. is at war in the Middle East at least in part to protect its foreign oil interests. And as China, India and other nations rapidly increase their demand for fossil fuels, future fighting over energy looms large. In the meantime, power plants that burn coal, oil and natural gas, as well as vehicles everywhere, continue to pour millions of tons of pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually, threatening the planet.

Well-meaning scientists, engineers, economists and politicians have proposed various steps that could slightly reduce fossil-fuel use and emissions. These steps are not enough. The U.S. needs a bold plan to free itself from fossil fuels. Our analysis convinces us that a massive switch to solar power is the logical answer.

Solar energy’s potential is off the chart. The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year. The U.S. is lucky to be endowed with a vast resource; at least 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone are suitable for constructing solar power plants, and that land receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of solar radiation a year. Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation into electricity would match the nation’s total energy consumption in 2006.

To convert the country to solar power, huge tracts of land would have to be covered with photovoltaic panels and solar heating troughs. A direct-current (DC) transmission backbone would also have to be erected to send that energy efficiently across the nation.

The technology is ready. On the following pages we present a grand plan that could provide 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy (which includes transportation) with solar power by 2050. We project that this energy could be sold to consumers at rates equivalent to today’s rates for conventional power sources, about five cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). If wind, biomass and geothermal sources were also developed, renewable energy could provide 100 percent of the nation’s electricity and 90 percent of its energy by 2100.

Many years ago my old high school world history teacher lectured that at the height of Pax Romana the Roman Legions were the mightiest force on the planet, Roman money was the coin of the realm from Wales to Palestine, and a simple emissary bearing a letter from the emperor would send any minor prince into panic willing to do anything to please him. The average Roman citizen enamored with their lifestyle oblivious to how all things change and end believed the Roman Empire would last forever. Roman civilization did end because they became complacent and lost the strength and vision that allowed them to build their empire in the first place. It would be nice to see the United States not repeat history but given the current states of affairs I’m not holding my breath.

I forgot to add a special thanks to Zombieslayer for bring this article to my attention.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Lets all go to the Green Zone fantasy land

The five billion dollar "international village" inside the Green Zone being envisioned by the Pentagon. Don't know about y'all but I'd just as soon use my money at Disney World.

I’ve been shying away from much of what passes as news lately just because if I see Reverend Wright one more time on television or hear one more political pundit expound on how Senator Obama’s relationship with him takes precedence over silly issues like the economy, the war in Iraq, or global warming I think I will lose what meager brain cells I have left. I’ve contemplated canceling the satellite subscription just to avoid blowhard pundits like Chris Matthews grovel in the emission of his own pomposity but Dragonwife would affect bodily harm on me if I did anything that caused her to miss American Idol or Dancing with the Stars.

Also causing an alarming degree of mental discomfort is Hillary who like Utah Savage said at her current post offers: “A new face for every little media market.” Lately Hillary’s insipid smile has started to look more and more similar to the one Mitt Romney flashed around while he was actively running for president. Both ooze greasy naked ambition and have me pondering at times if they might be related. The two could be alien or satanic spawn out to destroy humanity. Just when I thought I could at least relax a little with Romney going back off to Mormon Land I see him hanging out with McCain a few weeks ago. Romney was trying to suck the old man’s intestines out claiming he would love to have the Vice President spot on the Republican ticket. I don’t which one in the White House would freak me out more because if McCain did pick the dude I hope his Secret Service detail stays sharp.

Now top it all off after hearing a small blurb on the radio about some sort of Green Zone Development plan being supported by the Pentagon I knew those in the five sided funny farm must have surely lost all their marbles. Because, and I’m not making this up, the development plan also calls for a 500 million dollar amusement park. And to think with all that has been going on since Bush stood under his “Mission Accomplished” banner five years ago no one has been having any fun over there. I’ll just let y’all read the rest. Excuse the Fox Noise link since it was the first and actually the most concise of those I found. It’s almost like no one wanted to run this story.

Pentagon Backs $5 Billion Green Zone Development Plan

Forget the rocket attacks, concrete blast walls and lack of a sewer system. Now try to imagine luxury hotels, a shopping center and even condos in the heart of Baghdad.

That's all part of a five-year development "dream list" — or what some dub an improbable fantasy — to transform the U.S.-protected Green Zone from a walled fortress into a centerpiece for Baghdad's future.

But the $5 billion plan has the backing of the Pentagon and apparently the interest of some deep pockets in the world of international hotels and development, the lead military liaison for the project told The Associated Press.

For Washington, the driving motivation is to create a "zone of influence" around the new $700 million U.S. Embassy to serve as a kind of high-end buffer for the compound, whose total price tag will reach about $1 billion after all the workers and offices are relocated over the next year.

"When you have $1 billion hanging out there and 1,000 employees lying around, you kind of want to know who your neighbors are. You want to influence what happens in your neighborhood over time," said Navy Capt. Thomas Karnowski, who led the team that created the development plan.

Karnowski said a deal already has been completed for Marriott International Inc. to build a hotel in the Green Zone. He also said a possible $1 billion investment could come from MBI International, a conglomerate that focuses on hotels and resorts and is led by Saudi Sheikh Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber.

Elizabeth Caminiti, a Marriott spokeswoman, declined to comment. Phone calls and e-mails sent to London-based MBI were not returned.

For the moment, however, it's mortars and rockets — not investment money — pouring into the Green Zone, which includes the U.S. and British embassies, key Iraqi government offices and other international compounds. Militants have escalated their shelling of the enclave since Iraqi forces began a crackdown on Shiite militias in late March.

But developers are clearly looking many years ahead and gambling that Baghdad could one day join the list of former war zones such as Sarajevo and Beirut that have rebounded and earned big paydays for early investors.

Even now — with violence in Baghdad again creeping up — the faint hints of the development plan have driven up the Green Zone's already sky-high real estate prices.

Land that a few years ago was going for $60 a square meter on 50-year leases in the zone is now going for up to $1,000 a square meter, American officials say.

Last week, a Los Angeles-based holding company for equity firms, C3, confirmed it was starting a $500 million project to build an amusement park on the outskirts of the Green Zone in an area encompassing the Baghdad Zoo. The first phase, a skateboard park, is scheduled to open this summer.

But any Green Zone project is literally starting from the ground up.

"There is no sewer system, no working power system. Everything here is done on generators. No road system repair work. There are no city services other than the minimal amount we provide to get by," Karnowski said.

He noted that of 500 development projects carried out in Baghdad last year, not one was done in the Green Zone — with the exception of the building of the new American embassy.

The plan also envisions significantly reducing the non-Iraqi footprint in the Green Zone, a five-square-mile area crisscrossed by 15-foot-high blast walls and checkpoints.

About 50 percent of the area is now occupied by coalition forces, the U.S. State Department or private foreign companies. If all were to go according to Karnowski's plan, only 5 percent of land in the Green Zone will be in foreigners' hands in five years.

Privately, American diplomats say the plan is, at best, wishful thinking.

Security is nowhere near the level needed for major development projects. Then there is the question of whether the Iraqi government even wants U.S. involvement in developing the center of their capital.

One diplomat, who asked not to be named because of no authorization to speak to the media, said they did not think Iraqis would want Washington to "turn this area into downtown Kansas City."

But Both Karnowski and Iraqi officials said the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is interested in hearing U.S. ideas in developing the Green Zone, though many Iraqi leaders have expressed worries and words of caution.

"The Iraqi government wants to limit U.S. power in the Green Zone," a top adviser to al-Maliki said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Iraqis also complain that the Americans — because they control security in the Green Zone — essentially hold a veto over the investors.

Karnowski acknowledged that American officials would vet potential investors because of a "vested interest."

Some Iraqi leaders even have drawn parallels to the U.S.-backed development plan and what Saddam Hussein did in the area — known by its Iraqi name of Tashri during his regime.

Hussein stocked the neighborhood with family and tribal allies, political loyalists and members of his elite Republican Guard. Karnowski called the accusation "partially true."

"Why do people build fences around their house? The intent is until such time as it's much safer around here, you want to be able to influence what goes on," he said.

The biggest hurdle to the plan is sorting out the true owners of property in the Green Zone, where "eminent domain by gun" was employed during the Saddam era, Karnowski said.

The chaos after Saddam's fall also added the murkiness.

"It's a jungle here," said Hussein, a 28-year-old from Lebanon who started a contracting company about a year ago in Baghdad and rents out living space in the Green Zone on the side. "It used to be like the Wild West — you grabbed some property and said, 'this is mine."

Air Force Lt. Col. Monte Harner leads the effort to discover who owns the titles and consolidate the areas held by the U.S. military.

He said the Army plans to move a military hospital in the zone — now located in a former private medical facility — to a base nearby, freeing it up for Iraqi use. Also in the works is the consolidation of Green Zone housing used by American troops.

Sadiq al-Rikabi, a top adviser to al-Maliki, said there are also plans for development projects at the Baghdad airport west of the city, including a hotel.

American officials confirmed some projects would be carried out near the airport.

According to Karnowski, the United States will spend $120 million to demolish buildings damaged by air strikes during the opening days of the war.

Both Karnowski and Harner are aware their Green Zone plan is viewed as unrealistic by many, primarily U.S. Embassy officials.

"If you talk to people at the State Department, they still believe a hotel isn't going up. But it is a done deal," Karnowski said of the Marriott project.

Harner also believes even having a blueprint is important.

"You have to stake a goal in the sand before you can begin to move toward it," he said. "Without a vision of what could be, you're just treading water."