Thursday, August 10, 2006

TERRA FIRMA HERE I COME!

Hello everyone. Yeah, yeah… I know. It’s been a while, I’ll admit. But give a guy a break, I’ve been busy lately, what with all the preparations for going home and all! J That and as I have mentioned many times before… the bad guys over here seem to like the heat. So we’ve been running quite a bit lately. Anyhow.. what’s new? Nothing much. As many of you well know I just celebrated my 27th birthday, and by celebrated I mean acknowledged. J Actually I want to extend a special thanks to all of you who emailed or otherwise wished me a happy birthday. I received more than 60 birthday emails from all of you, and I really appreciate it. It really made my day to sit and read all of your emails and comments. Thank you a million times. I really can’t thank you all enough,… for that and just for all the support that you have given J and I over the course of the last year. It really has been amazing and I know this experience would have been even longer and more miserable were it not for your efforts. So here’s to you all. Thanks!
Actually I did get another birthday present worth mentioning. As it turns out my birthday was also the beginning of a new ongoing operation here that has drastically reduced, actually so far stopped, all the AIF activity in the AO. So as a result we didn’t have to work on my birthday, and actually we haven’t been out yet since! (Knock on wood) I know it can’t last forever, but it’s a nice change, especially in light of the extremely heavy optempo we’ve been enduring these last several weeks.
So that’s where we’re at here, kickin back and waiting for our replacements to show. P actually left us yesterday and is now “hold up” at HQ in Baghdad… surely hating it there as he is now under the watchful eye of the command! Which for all you non-military types out there that means one thing,… busy work. There is nothing more atrocious to a military desk jockey than seeing a soldier sitting around, enjoying him/herself, with nothing to do. Surely there has to be something that needs to be done… Inevitably they will come up with something for you to do, whether it’s pressure washing the outside of a dirt building, in the middle of a desert, or performing a redundant inventory of something or other. I know this doesn’t seem to make sense, but I assure you, as a six year veteran of the military I have experienced this first hand many times. It is almost as though your command feels your paycheck is coming directly from their pockets, and they need to get every last penny’s worth out of you. If your not tired, sweaty, dirty and otherwise miserable, then your getting off too easy. But I can’t pity P too much though. He is enjoying the smorgasbord of food set out for every meal there in Baghdad, as well as 24 hour Pizza Hut’s and coffee shops, and of course no threat of being called outside the wire.
So.. that’s that. Were still here (hard to believe, I know) but after 11+ months, what’s a couple more days right. At the writing of this entry we’re looking at 2 weeks till we’re out of Brassfield and 3 weeks till my feet land on terra firma in the western hemisphere! I hope to see all of you in the weeks following my return, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do! Enjoy what’s left of the summer and rest assured that while I’m not quite done yet… we’re almost there! Thanks again to all of you for your continued support.

Frank

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

NO MATTER WHICH WAY YOU CUT IT

Hello all,
It occurred to me the other day that I haven’t posted a blog in a while. So what did I do? Like any red blooded American, I procrastinated. Fortunately for the blog, just as I was sitting down to enjoy some of the 4th season of the Soprano’s, the power on the pad went out. In the “balmy” 120 degree summer temps that occur here daily our AC units have been demanding ever more electricity from the old-and-getting-older generators that are in a constant state of disrepair and are seemingly perpetually being adjusted. So as I sit here in the dark typing this entry, a small army of contractors are working on our generator, racing the sun as the accumulated AC in our CHUs dissipates rapidly.

As for the lack of blog entries lately I must apologize. I have meant to keep up with it better than I have, but several factors have contributed to my delinquency. First is that we have been rather busy lately. Not busy in the “a lot of enemy activity” sense mind you, but busy in the “patrols are manned by scared short timers” sense. That is to say that most of our days lately have been filled with gearing up and going out on “missions” that turn out to be small piles of trash that we drive half an hour to get to, just so that we can immediately recognize that there is no real threat and watch as EOD kicks the “suspicious” piece of garbage off the side of the road. Actually this reality has been our misfortune so often lately that EOD has taken to actually claiming the piece of trash and brining it back to the FOB with us so that we don’t end up getting called out an hour or two later to discard the same piece of trash that has blown back onto the road. Granted, we would rather go out a hundred times to pick up trash than once to pick up a soldier… but I feel there should be at least an attempt to justify calling us out. We are, after all, a limited resource. After several days now of intermittent sleep and very little “actual” work we have begun to feel like we are being subjected to undue torture.

The other reason I have been delinquent in my blogging is that of our need to protect our tenuous relationship with reality. Let me explain. Being over here, while bearing all the earmarks of life; eating, drinking, sleeping, day to day life is not really like life as we have ever known it. In fact much of our life here seems to be dictated by pure fate. Constantly being on call we never know if we will be busy or slow from one day to the next and this has bred in us a sort of reverence for things out of our control. I guess you could say that we have developed a set of superstitions along with a sort of “sixth sense” about the patterns that emerge in our lives. Many times it has been the case that the mere mention of a mission and simultaneously a “pang” will shoot up each of our spines… and sure enough half an hour later we get a call. Either that or a visitor will arrive and bring with them a tide of missions that seeks to wash through and leave only just enough time to catch quick naps between missions rather than actual sleep. I know it may sound somewhat ridiculous but this has ultimately caused us to behave like a ball player who wears the same socks at every game, by which I mean that we try to deviate as little as possible from our daily routines in order not to disturb the delicate balance that the mission gods so hate disrupted. I know that explanation doesn’t hold much water when held up to scrutiny, but suffice to say that when we are steady and get on a roll, so to speak, the days seem to wash together and time seems to pass a little more efficiently and without incident. And that, come to think of it, pretty much sums up our current situation.

So, if that is our current situation than this next observation would detail our immediate future. We spend our time now much as we have in the past… lifting weights, watching movies, reading books etc. Only there seems to be more and more something looming in the back of our heads. It hasn’t fully developed yet, but the beginnings are definitely taking root. What I am referring to is “short timers syndrome”. Our team isn’t quite there yet… but it is all around us. Several of our counterparts as well as this entire FOB are gearing up towards leaving. Each passing day soldiers are acting more and more like seniors in springtime. The changes are not drastic however, they are more discreet and gradual… so as to almost be imperceptible. Only a few things really stand out, like becoming more and more risk adverse (hence the upswing in frivolous missions). The only recent manifestation among our team is a propensity to have wild mood swings. In recent days our moods are most often upbeat and optimistic, after all we have never been closer to going home as we are right now. But then again on certain days it suddenly seems as though life is playing out a mathematical/philosophical question posed a long time ago that is:

If there is a finite distance (or time in this case) between you and an object it stands to reason that the distance could be broken into fractions. Now take that distance and halve it, you have just moved half way to your destination. In theory every time you move you do have to cross that plane which would constitute the next halfway point between you and your destination, however, each time you do so the distance between you and the next halfway point becomes ever smaller. Continuing on like this for eternity can you ever actually reach the finish line?

Now obviously we live in a world unconstrained by the limitations of this theory, so inevitably we will ultimately reach our goal. But I said all that just to impress the sort of feeling that we get when we add up the days we have left and when all’s taken into account we could have sworn that we were further along than we are. On one such melancholy day recently SGT J put it like this… he said “no matter how you slice it… it’s not tomorrow”. It’s a strange sort of feeling to get, and hard to describe too. Actually more and more it seems as though as the excitement about going home builds and builds, and the frustration and anxiety about not being home yet accumulates as well… that basically everything sort of washes out and just becomes a type of background static, emotional white noise. Perhaps that is what they mean by the “thousand yard stare”. I had always assumed that that came from being scarred by war but perhaps not. Perhaps its not the unseen enemy your looking for out there… its just some future time that isn’t now, some idealized memory projected into the future, where your loved ones are close, laughter fills the air, and a cool breeze stirs the trees.

I love and miss you all… only another couple months to the finish line, no matter how you want to cut it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN...

Hello everyone. Yes, I am still here… very much so as a matter of fact. I understand that I have been remiss in my duties as a blogger/deployment stenographer to the tune of some two months now. As you may have guessed in a span of two months a lot can happen. Indeed, so much has passed that I am now writing you a changed man. I am changed forever the way that a lump of steel changes when drop forged or when a forest fire changes the landscape of a once serene valley. I, of course, am referring to my 96+ hours of travel getting to and back from the US. This torturous time period has left its mark on me forever, reducing my buttocks to flat numb pancakes of flesh and effectively redefining the “natural” curve of my lower spine. However, no matter how horrific and torturous those hours were it was certainly all well worth the price for the 15 days I got to spend with my wife and all of you! I couldn’t have had a better time, really. I want to send my heartfelt thanks to all of you who made my vacation such a perfect and wonderful time. Everyone was so generous with their time and love and everything! I want to give special thanks to Dr. & Mrs. P who truly made our vacation dreams come true and another round of thanks to the H’s and my folks (Dad & B) for hosting two raucous parties that turned Cinco de Mayo into “Primo Weekend-o de Mayo”. Many other people put themselves out for J and I again and again as well, too numerous to mention here. But now that I am back in Iraq and find myself pondering my vacation. The more I think about it the more overwhelmed I am with just how lucky I am to have all of you as my friends and family. In fact, while the return trip could have aroused Marquis de Sade, thinking on all of this I actually found myself in somewhat of an upbeat mood. Unfortunately this didn’t agree with my downtrodden travel mates and I had to keep my enthusiasm to myself. Also during my many many hours confined to my approximately 8 cubic foot of space my musings led me to another realization that further lifted my spirits. What could it be you ask? I’ll explain it to you like I told my wife. Up until this point in the deployment I have had my eyes fixed on getting to my vacation. Well, now that the vacation is behind me my eyes are now fixed on the end! Yes! The End! Oh how great that is going to feel! So really for the first time since I left the states, I can actually catch a glimmer of the light at the end of the tunnel. Next thing I know, I’ll be headed back home for good! Hot Damn! J

So now that I am back in Iraq what’s going on you ask? Have you ever seen the Twilight Zone? Yeah… it is a bit strange being back. It’s like time stood still while I was away and absolutely nothing changed. It’s this strange sort of feeling like someone actually could have cut and spliced that vacation into the middle of this deployment like a movie clip or something. Actually one thing did change… the weather. Within the first couple of days that I was back I noticed the days getting a bit warmer… and by a bit I mean like the earths crust had just busted open and exposed the swirling molten mantle below. Seriously… I mean, what season is it? Late spring or late in the apocalypse? And this is supposedly the promised land? What was the promise? I promise to slowly cook all of you and your crops and animals in the noon day sun? Good lord. I have an idea. Why don’t we come up with alternative energy sources and then everyone can forget this furnace of a region even exists! Oh well. Don’t let me throw you. I’m not all that bitter. After all in another couple months this will all be behind me and I’ll be back doing my thing and I’ll be better for having lived through this. Besides, there is still some work to be done over here, and we’re doing it the best we can. C’est la Vie!

Until next time…

Lots of love

F

Monday, March 20, 2006

WE'RE OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD

Hello all

Today is March 20th, 2006. I apologize again for my blog entries being so few and far between these days. In the last few weeks we have been kept busy with several visitors and a trip to Camp Speicher in addition to our usual duties. As a result the last couple weeks have flown by, which while a blessing, has also kept me from being able to sit down and write to you all. So here it is in all its glory… my latest blog.

Unfortunately I have little to report. I suppose there has been a lot of “stuff” going on, but lately I have found that more and more our days here are beginning to blur. Like being caught in a perpetual “Groundhog Day” or something, each day comes and brings with it more of the same. I can’t complain too much though. One of our visitors divulged his schedule to us, which to me, seemed like a fate worse than death. 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a generous 12 hours a week to take off from the schedule as he sees fit. While some days we work much more than that I just simply can’t imagine the torture of having to watch the clock, like I know I would, day in and day out like that. So I guess that is really where we are at now, just trying to find the good in the bad so to speak. More or less adapted to our lives here and just trying to make the best of it.

I understand that Samarra has been in the news quite a bit lately, and that fact has caused a bit of anxiety for some of you. Well rest assured that things here are still quite normal. I have mentioned before in passing that quite often the things that are drummed up on the news don’t necessarily reflect the situation on the ground here. Well this seems to be no exception. Yes there is a large operation underway in the area and yes we are exposed to some of it. But our role here has gone unchanged and likewise our daily lives have seen little impact. In fact, if anything the operation has quieted things down a bit around the AO. (knock on wood) Perhaps because the insurgents are just laying low till the operation settles down, perhaps because they are on the run… only time will really tell. But if I had to guess, shortly after the operation completes things will resume to normal, whatever that means.

Now for a little of my brand patented tongue in cheek satire. Let me take a moment and reflect on my visit to Camp Speicher. For those of you who don’t know Speicher is a large U.S. military camp about 40 miles north of here. I am not sure about the actual numbers of personnel there, but I know it is easily in the tens of thousands. We made the trip there to get some equipment installed on our vehicle and ended up getting stuck there for 3 days waiting to find a convoy heading back in our direction. While there we were treated to the hospitality of our detachment command as well as to the multitude of amenities available at Speicher. Strange as it may seem, being at Speicher it is sometimes hard to believe that you are still in Iraq, at least for us who are accustomed to the Spartan existence at Brassfield. The compound, roughly half the size of the District of Columbia is a bustling community that is reminiscent of a U.S. army base back stateside, complete with MPs ready to stop you and cite you for minor infractions such as not wearing your helmet while driving a vehicle or not observing the posted speed limits. The more we were exposed to the lifestyles of those living at Speicher the more it seemed practically like a garrison existence, despite what the residents there may boast. The fact of the matter is that Speicher has probably close to a 95% fobbit rate (my guesstimate) and one of the classic signs of a fobbit is there ability to trump up the dangers and rigors of they’re “meager” lifestyles with complete ignorance of what it is like for the rest of the soldiers in country. While soldiers from Brassfield jockey for seats on a convoy that will take them on a hour plus trip over IED laden roads to Speicher just to get a chance to eat at the Burger King there, the residents of Speicher speak excitedly of a mortar attack that struck 200 meters from the chow hall there. One soldier, it is rumored, actually applied for and received a CAB (Combat Action Badge) for being in the chow hall, behind concrete walls, 200 meters from the impact. Now, I don’t want to be too hard on all the soldiers there, they didn’t choose their locations any more than I did, but to me these inconsistencies border on egregious. Another welt I suffered while at Speicher was the showers. Let me preface this with a “brief” description of the showers I use daily at Brassfield. A small trailer, the size of our CHU sits at the end of the pad. Surrounding it is a giant puddle of stagnant water that resides there permanently, fed by the runoff from the leaky drains in the showers themselves. This puddle is the breeding ground for more flies than I care to think about, many of which find their way into the showers to torment those lucky enough to be bathing there. Inside the floors are linoleum, torn and frayed in several spots, swollen with more stagnant water and muck accumulated there for presumably the last 3 years. There are 6 shower stalls, 4 of which work on a regular basis, and when I say work, I mean that water still comes from the head as well as the knobs and leaky pipes. The ceiling is covered with blotches of mold in between patches of flaking paint and rust and the basins of the showers themselves are usually filled to the brim with water from the previous occupant. Needless to say shower shoes are not a luxury item. In addition, posted above each of the 6 sinks is a sign that reads, “Non potable water, do not drink”… I read and re-read this while I brush my teeth with the brownish water that comes from the faucet. Occasionally while your in the bathroom you will be treated to an experience that can only cause you to shudder and shrink away wallowing in self pity. I am speaking of witnessing one of the local national truck drivers coming in and availing himself of the facilities, primarily by hoisting his feet into the sink and proceeding to wash them. You try not to notice as his toes brush the mouth of the faucet and knobs, desperately trying to keep your mind clear of any thoughts as you finish using your sink and hurry back out to be greeted by the flies. ‘Nough said. At Speicher the showers are basically just the same, only the exact opposite. Clean as a whistle, every surface inside the shower trailers gleams white like in an ad for Spic and Span. Hot water pours from the massaging heads like a glorious healing waterfall washing over your body and exhilarating your soul! Ok.. well maybe not all that. But the showers there are really, really nice. In fact I think I took about 8 showers in the three days I was up at Speicher… any excuse would do. All the while I couldn’t help but notice that those treated to this luxury were probably also those least likely to appreciate it, having desk jobs and all. I thought of all the soldiers back at Brassfield, looking grubby after pulling 12 hour patrols only to return to sandbagging and other back breaking details. Oh well. I don’t want to wallow in self pity too much. Believe me, I have been to the patrol bases in the city… I know that my “meager” existence at Brassfield is likely viewed with contempt by those who still have to burn their shit weekly, amongst the many other inconveniences that accompany life at a patrol base. But this is my blog and I’ll cry if I want to! Again, I don’t want to come off like I am belittling the sacrifice that the soldiers who live at Speicher are making. The day after we returned to Brassfield a mortar struck just outside the building where our detachment headquarters is housed, killing and injuring several people. Certainly their sacrifice is no less than anyone else’s and they should be honored as the American hero’s they are.

I also want to mention that my one year wedding anniversary just passed this last Sunday. While the event was somewhat painful it was also a reminder of just how lucky I am. God was certainly looking out for me when he gave me J. I, nor any man, could ask for more in a wife than J has been to me during this first year of our marriage. I echo her thoughts and sentiments in her post, it is an amazing feeling to wake each day loving her more than the day before. J is truly the greatest woman I have ever known and despite our separation she has cared for me and supported my every step of the way. I owe her my eternal love, and she has it. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life showing her and all of you just how much she means to me. I love you more than I thought possible sweetie… and at least we missed the paper anniversary and not the diamond anniversary right? J

So that is where we stand now. P should be returning from his R&R in the states soon, I hope that it was restful and enjoyable for him and his loved ones. I am beginning the countdown to my R&R… only about 5 weeks away now! So till next time… so long and I love and miss you all very much.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

WHAT'S SO CIVIL ABOUT WAR?

Sorry it’s been so long since I last wrote, but things here have been picking up quite a bit lately, you probably have seen some of it on TV actually. In fact we have been busy enough that lately sleep has been “catch as catch can”, so needless to say keeping up with regular communication and emails etc has been basically impossible. In my spare seconds of free time I have been trying to figure out why we are suddenly so slammed and I have concluded that there are several factors. First is the new unit here. The 101st, or the “Band of Brothers” is running the entire northern portion of the country. With their take over of the responsibility there came a great deal of change. I am not sold that it is all good… but they seem to think very highly of how they are doing, so that is something at least. In any case some of their policies and procedures have changed just slightly, enough that our average mission has gone from taking 1 ½ hours outside to about 3 hours. I am good at math so let me tell you… that adds up fast. I am not complaining, just saying for the record. Besides I have tried complaining and it doesn’t seem to do any good. In fact when ever I question the logic behind some of their more asinine (in my humble opinion) policies I am usually greeted with blank stares as if to say… Huh?? So, while painful, we have more or less had to adapt to their style and just suck it up. C’est la vie! Non?!
Also there is the weather. It is what I guess you would call spring over here, so it is warming up during the days but still chilly at night. Occasionally the rain comes, like the kind of rain I read about in the bible with Noah and that boat thingy. But this country, being the giant clod of dirt that it is, has no ability to absorb the water so it pools stagnant on the surface of the ground and generally makes a mess out of everything. You might be thinking that these pools of water sound familiar… that they sound a bit like puddles… well that is partially right. The only difference is that Iraqi puddles tend to be a bit bigger than normal, in fact there is one in the parking lot behind our bay, or I should say one that used to be the parking lot behind our bay. It is now become ‘Lake Brassfield”. The “lake” at its deepest was about 3 ½ foot deep and roughly 1 or 2 football fields in surface area. At its biggest it was actually large enough that it had waves when the wind picked up. But the lake is beginning to recede and the sun is coming out earlier and staying up longer which brings me to the next reason that we are getting busy.
I may have mentioned previously that the “bad guys” don’t like the cold weather. Conversely they seem to thrive in the heat, so the warming trend seems to have thawed out some of the grumpy insurgent types and they have dutifully returned to their surly lot in life, that of blindly lashing out at the people who are the only hope they ever have of building peace and civilization here. They have also seemed to find time in their busy schedules, some where between shooting at U.S. convoys and planting IEDs, to actually kill each other and attempt to inspire a civil war here. You may have seen something about the Golden Mosque being blown up here the other day. That was interesting. Here’s how it went down for us.
The day before it happened we were all kinds of busy. We were out and about for most of the day, returning to the FOB just in time to catch some of that yummy chow you all read about (lies lies!), then back to the CHU for several hours of paperwork to complete the day. Finally after we could take no more we tried to get some personal time and some shut eye. We tried. Back out we went again for another 3 hour mission in the middle of the night. Yeah. 3am … finally some rest! We were awakened by the usual sound of our radio going off blaring our call sign shortly after sunrise. An hour later we were in the city, working away when we started noticing something very different about the day. Often there are people that come out and watch U.S. soldiers as we go about our business in the city, but today there seemed to be many, many more. Each minute that passed brought another gaggle of civilian onlookers, only they were more jumpy than usual, and not to mention very interested in what we were doing. Finally we took our cue and wrapped things up and retreated to a patrol base on the edge of the city, about 3 city blocks from the destroyed mosque. Once we arrived at the patrol base we were told that everything was being locked down for the time being and that we should come in a wait for a while. After a short time of “smokin and jokin” in the mess hall the information changed. They came back and told us to gear up and to fortify the perimeter. Goody. Intel had informed us that there was a credible threat against the patrol bases in the city, there was an armed Shiia militia enroute from Baghdad with about 50-100 trucks full of angry-type people. So as we positioned our vehicle on the front line and checked our ammo stores we listened as the local Imam’s came over the loud speakers for the call to prayer. The call to prayer seemed a little longer than usual and we heard the shouts of thousands of angry-type people and the crack of their indifferent-type firearms as the crowds gathered in the city streets a couple hundred meters to our south. A couple minutes later a “net call” informed us that the call to prayer had also included statements that indicated that all Americans are the enemy and those who could, should kill us. Ahh.. no wonder. This was in harmony with the first official statements released by the local religious authorities just moments earlier that the mosque had been destroyed by none other than… the Jews and the Americans of course. At that point it seemed inevitable, we would finally have to rely on all that high speed army training we got and soon waves of angry-but-soon-to-be-dead types would come into view. As the minutes passed and we shared a few jokes followed by a few nervous laughs when SGT J commented that the tension was so thick you could cut it with some sort of “tension cutting device”. Minutes turned to hours and tension receded to acute awareness and then to stand by. Finally word came that the new official stance was that the Sunni’s had targeted not only this Mosque, but several others and therefore the angry-types, while still angry weren’t likely to come flooding the streets on a kamikaze mission to overrun the patrol bases. Whew. So as is standard these days, several hours later after some burgers and, I won’t lie, a few cigarettes it was decided that we should return to Brassfield. I found it ironic that I had made that very same decision hours earlier and only now did the powers that be come around to seeing it my way. Go figure.
So that is our story, at least as told by me. Currently the city is a bit crazy so we have been ordered to stay out for the time being. So not to disappoint, but there is no need to look for us in the crowds of people pictured on the evening news, we are back at Brassfield, finally getting some rest and probably watching some movies too. I miss all of you and think of you often. Please forgive my stiflingly belated or non existent correspondence, I promise that I still am getting your letters and emails and that I love getting them. Till next time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

GRAY SKIES ARE GONNA CLEAR UP.... PUT ON A HAPPY FACE

Recently as I scrolled through my blog it occurred to me that there isn’t much in the way of positive type information represented. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me to be a glaring omission on my part, as there are plenty positives and much to be thankful for over here. Plus, as I was telling my wife J the other day, there simply must be a substantial amount of positive to off set the negative… otherwise I would be decidedly miserable; which I assure you, I am not. I don’t really know where to begin though, I know it is there and all I need is to look for it. Let me think and perhaps this will be cathartic for all of us.
Let me see... one of the things that comes immediately to mind is my friendship with my roommates/teammates. Together we are making the best of the situation and trying to even have a little fun while were at it. I am not saying that it’s all peaches and cream sharing 90 sqft of living space between three grown men, but it works better than you might imagine. In short, I am greatly thankful for the friendships I have developed with P and R. Without them, my experience would be greatly diminished, to say the least.
Yet another positive is, of course, the experience itself. I mean, c’mon… what young boy never played around and imagined himself a soldier? In a way I am acting out the fantasies of nearly every kid who ever got a plastic gun and crept around in the shadows of the back yard, hunting bad guys. So, despite the fact that this is real, and those are real bullets in the chamber, there is a sort of “neatness” to all of this. Having the weapons and tactics, and employing our resources, pitting our intelligence and skill against an enemy, unseen and dangerous… It sounds like a novel or something, only it’s all really happening. Funny, I suppose as a reservist this revelation may affect me more than the active duty guys here, but it is a bit of a curiosity for me. Two years ago I had never really imagined that I would end up here. 5 ½ years ago, when I joined the Reserves, prior to 9/11 and the world of today, I hardly could have imagined a reason for actually going overseas to fight. Furthermore, I never imagined coming over in this capacity; as when I joined the military it was as an Engineer, working in a rock quarry. In any case, I don’t mean to trivialize being in a war, but it is an adventure for sure.
Another positive here, and this is a “doosy”, is simply the import I find in the details of life now. Not to claim enlightenment or anything, but for better or worse this experience has already given me a more profound appreciation for the little things in life. Nostalgia seems to permeate nearly everything. Every song that reminds me of my wife, and every picture of my nieces and nephews brings a smile to my heart. In as such, I derive much happiness and joy knowing that I am lucky enough to have such a beautiful and wonderful wife awaiting my return. Having my own personal “fan club” in the form of my nieces and nephews at home rooting for me and praying for my safe return is quite an honor as well. I don’t know. I guess you just get a real sense of how lucky you are. Living amidst all of this chaos and uncertainty there is such a great sense of comfort knowing that things are in order back home. Before I arrived here, I imagined more that I would be jealous of everyone back home, partaking in the holidays and festivities that I was accustomed to. Only now that I am here there is something reassuring in knowing that things are much as they were before I left. I smile thinking of my friends and family sharing a laugh and a drink, perhaps raising a glass for me in my absence… After all what am I doing this for if not in an attempt to contribute to ensuring our way of life goes on unimpeded and is secure for us and future generations, right?
That leads me to seemingly the strangest sort of positive I have become aware of… that of missing home. This may seem a bit weird, but to actually miss home is a good feeling for me. I am not sure if I can properly convey what I mean, but let me try. I am not referring to homesickness… that would be the negative side of missing home. What I am talking about is realizing that you have a home, and missing it. Perhaps this feeling is something that is solely my own, but I doubt it. Maybe more just the appreciation of it, as such, is unique to me and my situation. Again, however, I would be willing to bet there are more than a few out there who could sympathize. I have basically been a vagrant since I graduated high school in 1997, leaving behind my first home; bouncing around from coast to coast, from friend to relative and back again. Only recently, just before my deployment, I realized that I finally have a home. I am not really talking about a place to live either, but all the things that make Annapolis and my new condo there a real home. I have my brother and sister and their families living close by, not to mention, Dad and B just around the corner. I have a history in the area now as well. It’s where I first attended college, where I got both my A.A. and B.S. degrees. It’s where I found my wife, fell in love and proposed to her. It is where I found my first true friends; all my boys from AACC and D in the city. It is where I discovered who I really am. Well at least for the moment anyhow. :-) Realizing that I have all that now… well I think you can see why I view it as a positive. It feels very comfortable and familiar to long to be home, and it feels especially good to have a home to long to be at.
So to wrap things up, I just thought that my blog was a little bit of a drag… and I am usually not that way. So I thought that in order for this blog to more accurately represent me it should also reflect my optimistic and positive side. When I sit down to write these things I have a tendency to bitch and gripe about the things that are on my mind, but I don’t want everyone to end up thinking that I am just sitting over here stewing over all the negative stuff. Don’t think that these are the only things that are uplifting over here either… there is much, much more. A smile and wave from a four year old Iraqi kid sitting on his fathers shoulders as we roll by; a heartfelt letter from a close friend, a package from a friend with just a hint of Old No.7, letters and notes of support from many I hardly know, a generous gift of the entire Star Wars epic, a fresh cup of Starbucks coffee, the sound of my nana’s voice saying “I love you” from 6000 miles away, finger painted xmas trees, volumes and volumes of emails from my favorite retiree (love you momma), the sound of pride I hear when I speak to my father and brother… there are a million things that keep me going. Certainly the support that I get from all of you tops the list. I really can’t adequately express how much it means to, not only me, but all deployed troops that you and the rest of America is behind us. We are, after all, not a group of warmongers or anything of the sort. We are your friends and neighbors, just Americans following through with an oath we took to protect and defend our nation when called upon.
Before I end I have one final thought. Seeing as how this blog is primarily about how I get along, and the positives in my experience; I would be remiss to gloss over the contributions of the one person who I owe much of my personal happiness to in the first place, my beautiful wife. In a few weeks we will have been separate for longer than we were together as a married couple. After another few weeks we will celebrate our one year anniversary as husband and wife, having shared only 5 months of our first year of marriage together. Despite this, our bond has remained strong; stronger than ever, in fact. I am not ashamed to tell all of you that she is the most amazing woman I have ever known and that I am madly in love with her. I am blown away by her unwavering love and compassion for others, even while she struggles with her own plight in all of this. Also, her steadfast love and care for me throughout all of this has made me the envy of the army… Indeed it is widely known that deployments are hard on marriages and families, especially young marriages. I am so blessed to count myself among the few who are lucky enough to, not only be free of such worries, but enjoy such success and the satisfaction of a sound marriage, fledgling though it may be. I am convinced that I couldn’t possibly be as successful as I have been at completing my task if it weren’t for her undying support and overwhelming love. I want you all to know it and I want her to know it too. She is the light at the end of my tunnel, and the reason I wake each day with a smile on my face. I love you J. Thank you.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

WE DON'T ALL SEE THE WORLD THROUGH THE SAME SAND COLORED GOGGELS

It’s been a little while since I last wrote so I figure I should give a little update. Lately things have been picking up. Which is not all bad as it displaces time better than sitting around, but otherwise is not anything to celebrate. I am not sure what has caused this recent upsurge in activity, but lately we have been pretty busy. Perhaps some new guys have come into the area, ones not afraid of the cold. Who knows?
Tragically during all this recent insurgent activity a soldier from this area was killed by an IED. I don’t really want to go into detail about that, but something that happened later that evening occurred that struck me and got me thinking. I have always known that everyone’s experience over here is different, but until that evening it wasn’t quite as clear just how different it can be. You see over here there is a term used, it is used to describe soldiers that don’t ever have to leave the FOB. This isn’t their fault, usually, but none the less those of us who do have to leave the safety of the FOB vent our animosity towards them by dubbing them FOBbits, or FOBgoblins. Again, I want to stress that it usually isn’t their fault that they never have to go outside the wire. So if you know someone who could be described as such, don’t think of their deployment as diminished… we are all still soldiers, and all still stuck in this country. That being said, there is often a naiveté about those who remain safely tucked behind the walls. It is from this, that the animosity springs; my animosity at least. Let me explain. As I have mentioned there has been a recent spike in insurgent activity, especially as it pertains to IED attacks. Some new TTP (Techniques, Tactics and Procedures) are emerging in the area and there is some evidence to suggest that there has possibly been an upsurge in insurgent numbers and/or improvements to their supply chain. To give you a little perspective without revealing too much, there have been more reportable IED strikes in the first 10 days of January than in all of December. So, with that in mind, I will regale you with what I overheard that enlightened me to the breadth of the disparity between my experience and that of one of my fellow soldiers, a FOBbit. I was sitting in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) on the evening of the U.S. KIA. I had actually just learned that he had died from his wounds after being MEDEVAC’d to a military hospital. Having just learned this, needless to say I was a little shaken. This is the first U.S. KIA in this area since I have been here, and I had been to the scene of the incident and seen some of the carnage. While mulling all this over in my head, feeling for his loved ones, reconstructing his last moments in my head and generally not feeling to good about things; I heard a SGT on the phone next to me. He was speaking with someone who was coordinating a convoy through out AO the next day and was calling to see what the conditions were and if they should be aware of any recent activity in the area. The SGT sitting next to me was scanning a document that summarized all the recent insurgent activity in the area and after a few moments of reading declared to the soldier on the other end of the phone that there was nothing really going on in the area, nothing to significant anyhow. As soon as I heard what he said I had to stop what I was doing. I was stupefied. I was sitting there wondering how he could be reading that sheet and ascertain that there was no significant activity in the area. Perhaps the levels of activity were not worldwide news worthy but he wasn’t being asked about that. He was being asked about the condition of our roads and the level of danger that existed on them. I won’t reveal his position but it is part of his job to know and understand the patterns and significance of the insurgent activity in this AO. I briefly mused if the soldier who had died would agree with him or not; or if his family would think his death insignificant. I am being a little harsh here, but that is how I felt. I suppose that I also felt a little snubbed that all of the information that I spoon feed him and his colleagues hadn’t impressed on him. Being reserved as I am, I waited until he was off the phone before pulling him aside. I informed him of how differently he and I saw the situation and handed him proof of his err and told him he ought to call that person back and change his statements. The look on his face said it all. He really didn’t understand. This soldier had no real grasp on what was happening outside the gates. He replied, “Oh” before moving across the room and busying himself with mock paperwork until I left the room. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not accusing him of being callous or unsympathetic to the death of that soldier. For all I know he could have been friends with the guy. I am sure that he felt for him and that he too would deal with it in his own way. I just was amazed to discover that in his estimation that all the recent activity leading up to a U.S. KIA didn’t amount to anything “significant”. I don’t know if he heeded my advice or not. There was little I could do to force him to. After all perhaps it was I who had distorted the significance of the recent activity in the area. Perhaps I am too close to the action to understand how it all adds up on an administrative level. I don’t know. I guess I should just stick to my work and not bother with nosing into other peoples jobs. I guess that you just hope that all this is going to work. You take the information coming from the front lines and you consolidate it and learn from what the numbers tell you and then use that to inform your decisions. Right? I may be thinking above my pay grade here, but it seems pretty simple to me.
Anyhow, I just thought that was a prime example of how different two soldiers (one a FOBbit, one otherwise) in the same area, working in the same field, could view one event. There a many other observations along these lines, most of less import than this. Some are even funny. But this just sort of stuck in my “craw” and I wanted to vent a little. Plus it gave me an opportunity to use the word “craw” in my blog, and who can argue with that? So anyhow, looking back at what I’ve just written, I want to assure you all that there is no real need for alarm. Usually things do work better than the way that all went. Most of us over here actually do know what we are doing. And not to worry, those of us who do go out, usually don’t heed the advice of those who don’t anyhow… we have learned for ourselves how to best protect our own asses. Just for the record though, that convoy that came through the next day did get hit by an IED. No one was hurt, just a couple of blown tires, and we can thank God for that. Till next time.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

MERRY 25DEC05 AND A HAPPY 01JAN06!

Hello all. Yep, it’s that time of year again… I know, I guess I am a day late and a dollar short so to speak. Well better late than never, right? Anyhow, as you may have guessed by the title of this entry I am writing about this most recent “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and what it was like over here. Sorry that this entry is a little late in the coming, but I tried to write an entry closer to the actual holidays and it turned out, well… a little sour. I guess the emotions were still a little too close to write about. But now that we are past the holidays I would like to share a little of what it was like here, near where the first Christmas occurred.
I guess the whole thing with being separated from family during the holidays hit me harder than I had expected. Not as though I wasn’t expecting to miss my wife and the rest of my family, but up until Christmas day I had been doing fine. I suppose all I had really missed up till that point was all the shopping, wrapping, traffic, parking, commercials, price tags, head aches, late nights, hangovers and the bulging waistline associated with the season. No biggie, right? I had just hoped that the day would pass like so many others had over here, uneventfully. As it turned out the real problem was, it did. That is why I think my emotions caught me off guard. Nothing particularly bad happened. Like I have said many times with my wife on the phone, the day itself is just another day. One more “X” on the calendar and one step closer to coming home. The only problem with that logic is that when the day arrived the contrast between reality and what could be (ie. home for the holidays) was so great that the day seemed all the “suckier”.
On Christmas day all of the gifts, trees, hats and holiday regalia that you all had sent me (thank you very much by the way) turned against me. The joy I had gotten out of all of the gifts in the weeks leading up to Christmas, like the hand painted Christmas tree from my nieces and nephews and the holiday hats from Dad and J, suddenly turned to anguish. On Christmas day those things began to serve as a poignant reminder of what I was missing; the laughter of children, the cozy morning with coffee, sticky buns and the reading of the Christmas Story, and most importantly those feelings that only can be expressed in a look or a smile shared between two loved ones in the moment. I wondered how many such moments I was missing. Or rather, I knew about how many I was missing. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like the entire day was an emotional rollercoaster. I actually thought I was going to make it through the day unscathed until the “Extravaganza”.
The “Extravaganza” as had been advertised for a whopping 3 days, which we believe really only served to allow the cooks some time off, took place from 2:00pm to 6:00pm; sort of a lunch dinner thing. We returned from a mission just in time to stand in the atrocious line that had formed, since everyone was so hungry. Everyone had developed this urgent need to satiate due to the hiatus that the cooks had scheduled for themselves surrounding their “Herculean” task of preparing the “Extravaganza”. I guess the strain of putting up some cheap decorations and preparing two meats instead of one justified the absence of any breakfast and a limited menu for dinner the night before. If you can’t tell, I wasn’t too impressed with the “Extravaganza”, nor did I agree with their lazy logic. After shuffling through a line the likes-of-which would make a Stalin era Russian grimace, we found ourselves being served a Christmas meal that had been prepared in the US and shipped to us. No really. Actually maybe this is a good time to tell you that all the food we eat here at FOB B-M is like this. They are called T-rations and for those who are familiar with military foodstuffs, they are sort of like huge MRE’s only made for many, rather than for one. So yeah, sure we got stuffing and sweet potatoes and turkey, but it all came over on a plane in an airtight bag. Yummy. Actually that was the real kicker, walking to our table with slices of turkey loaf nestled in the corner of our cardboard picnic plates (you know, the kind with the little sections to keep your food separate), we walked past a perfectly cooked and garnished turkey. Set up on a table for everyone’s viewing pleasure sat a golden brown bird, probably an 18+ pounder. There wasn’t enough actual turkey to serve everyone with it, but there it was… for all to see. I think it was somewhere just after that when it all began to catch up to me. As I inhaled my portions while being phonically assaulted with R&B blaring from the loudspeakers (I don’t know why either), I began to realize that the members of my family were likely waking at that very moment. Sharing with each other gifts, laughs, love. I wanted so badly to just be happy for them. I tried not to be jealous. I know that, in part, that is what I am doing over here… serving to preserve and propagate our way of life, so why begrudge others? My weakness did get the better of me though, and I quickly found myself both depressed and feeling bad for myself, neither of which suits me very well. Later on I spoke briefly with my wife, which is usually the bright part of any day, but sadly was somewhat lost on me at the time.
Here I am finding myself reluctant to even share all of this with you. I don’t want to come off as though I am seeking pity, but it wouldn’t be much of a blog if I couldn’t be truthful about my experiences either. Please do not feel badly for me though, I assure you that I am feeling profoundly better and that my sadness was fleeting. Many others have sacrificed so much more than I, and many continue to… There are some who gave their lives this Christmas, and others who loved them. I know that despite my reassurances some may feel badly for me (Mom K ) but again I will tell you that things are definitely looking on the up and up now. Actually that leads me to the next part of this entry, the New Year.
To be honest, we were more than just a little excited about the New Year, or 01JAN06 as we refer to it. Note: the operative portion of that last sentence is that little 06 part… that’s right, this is the year of our return! I know, it’s a stretch but hey it’s something. Actually that reminds me of what we are really anticipating. The Super Bowl! Not the actual event, more the milestone. You see it all started when we first arrived at FOB B-M. The computer we inherited from the previous team had a program on it that calculates the % complete of the deployment and many other things of that sort. I think I may have mentioned it in an earlier entry. Well, when we first entered our information it spit back that we were less than 2% complete, ouch (about 33% now!). It was about that time that SGT J began devising his ingenious methods of what I call “optimistic math”.
Occasionally, while sitting around the CHU (not sure what it stands for but lets just say Crappy Housing Unit) SGT J will suddenly declare “If you really think about it, we don’t have that much left till we go home” and he then proceeds to describe the semantic loop-holes that he has devised that when stated out-loud make it sound like we really don’t have that much more to go. Mind you, this started in the first month of our 12 month deployment. Many such edits have been made, but none have taken quite so well as the “Super Bowl formula”. Under this formula all we really need to do is make it to the Super Bowl, and the rest is all down hill. The logic is as follows. If we can just make it to the Super Bowl (Feb 5th) then it is only about 6 weeks till SPC H takes his leave; and what is 6 weeks? Piece of cake. Leave is 15 days stateside but that usually translates to nearly a month of absence from your duty post including travel time. Now pay attention, it gets a little tricky here… Having a member missing from the team should serve to break up the monotony of the deployment and time as such can therefore be discounted. Upon SPC H’s return, I have scheduled leave as well. By the time I return this will take us all the way up to somewhere in May. Wow. May is a mere three months from the month that we are to begin our RIP with our replacements, August. Then we are out of here! Furthermore, those three months; May, June and July are three of the busiest months for insurgent activity… that means that we will be working at a high operational tempo and therefore time will fly. So you can clearly see if we just make it to the Super Bowl we’ll be practically home already! I can smell the biscuits and gravy all ready! Makes sense right? Sure it does! At least that is how we see it, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll agree… after all, we are “trained killers”!
So, anyhow that is where we are at for now. We’re still chillin’ here in the armpit of the world (sorry if you happen to be indigenous, just my opinion) dodging bombs, bullets and boredom. It has also gotten quite cold here; extremely so at night, so that sucks too. Supposedly it only lasts a month or two at the most so we are excited about that. Then back to 100+ temps. Hurray. But don’t fret, we are hanging in there. We are armed with our positive attitudes (no really J), camaraderie, many thousands of rounds, and most important of all, the support of all you great people.
I really do love you all and can’t wait till next year when we can all celebrate together again. So, till next time, (belated)Merry Christmas and have a (belated)Happy New Year!

LIFE DOESN'T STOP JUST BECAUSE WE ARE AT WAR

Unfortunately we are reminded here that our lives at home aren't frozen in time just awaiting our return. Too many soldiers are reminded of this as babies are born and family members get sick or pass away. This fact became very evident and all to real for us this holiday season. I wanted to extend my deepest sympathies to the family of my teammate and friend, SGT J. His maternal grandmother Margaret, 91, passed on December 23rd. The loss of a loved one is hard enough without having to endure it during the holidays. My thoughts are with his family and my heart goes out to them all. Don't worry about SGT J, we are taking good care of him. Again, my condolences, thoughts, and prayers are with you.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

WARNING ANIMALS WERE HARMED IN THE WRITING OF THIS POST!

I wanted to write about some of the “differences” that have jumped out at me lately. What I am referring to is the state of living here in Iraq. I don’t know if it these are isolated to the area that I am in or what, but some places just seem terrible, absolutely intolerable. I know that our military action resulted in the destruction of many structures and probably much life here. The absence of a government likely exacerbates the conditions, if not being the actual cause, creating the environment for the dilapidation to occur. The war too, surely contributed to the generally destroyed look of the city. Our occupation of the area is evident when looking around and seeing Constantina wire everywhere and jersey barriers blocking off roadways and redirecting traffic. But it also seems as though much of the city is abandoned. None of the damaged structures are being repaired. No effort of any kind exists to repair roads or bridges, or anything at all for that matter. No real effort to do anything about the conditions exists in reality. The U.S. military is the only constructive force acting in this area at least, and I have neither seen nor heard anything to lead me to believe it is much different anywhere else, except for Baghdad and possibly Mosul. I guess I am just at a loss to try to understand what it must be like to live in this country. What would drive the level of apathy and abandon that is evident here. I originally wanted to write this blog about this one area of the city, the butchery. It is a prime example of what I am talking about. Right in the heart of the business district, about 2 blocks from a group of machine shops and garages, there is a stretch of road apparently dedicated to animal slaughter. As you drive along this road the smell overwhelms you. Rotting, fetid, putrid, disgusting, vile, piles of entrails, carcasses and unidentifiable carrion line the roadway. Bloated stomachs and intestines lay strewn across sidewalks where flea and mite infested chickens peck and eat from the piles. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of flies swarm everywhere. Pools and slow moving streams of thick blood drool towards the gutter, where the emptied bowels of some tens of slaughtered animals soak it in and allow it to congeal, mixing with a smattering of water, oil and gasoline. Semi-dried patches of blood seem to attract the flies the most; however, anyone close enough to see or smell the area is not immune to being swarmed by hundreds of flies. The flies land on your face and crawl across your lips and nose as you try desperately not to think about where else they have been; especially later when a patch on your lip seems to itch and burn. If your gaze wanders upwards in an attempt to avoid the view below you notice the awning above the sidewalk. Weighed down to the point of bowing, the sections of pressed sheet metal provide the final resting place of dozens and dozens of carcasses. Every stage of decay is represented along the stretch of awning above the “butchers’ row”. Bleached white skeletons, twisted spinal cords, leathered jaw bones, and brittle yellowing horns clutter the roof line. A recent addition, no more than a week old, a wilting goat head stares back at you through the haze of flies feeding/breeding on/in it. The several times that we have had the unfortunate experience of responding to a call in this area, we always leave dumbfounded. Especially as we pull off and watch as a 4 year old boy plays with a stick about 5 feet from one of the piles, watched closely by a group of men sitting on folding chairs amidst the sweltering heat and wafting fumes. It’s truly unbelievable. I crack a joke about whether SGT J thinks they do Kosher butchery on request or not as we drive off, trying to avoid really actually thinking about any of it. Later though, the thoughts are inevitable as the images and scents play in our minds and haunt us. People actually get their meat from there. Why don’t those men get a hose, or a bucket of water and wash down the sidewalk? It isn’t something that I am able to understand, nor do I really want to comment on it. I only thought it might make for an interesting tid-bit about our experience over here. The reality is that there are many other areas with similar problems. The only difference is that this area is contaminated with primarily animal waste, where most other areas are filled with an assortment of junk and animal, vegetable and human waste. The entire city is plagued with a lack of waste removal of any kind that I can tell. Piles of trash, stinking and composting in the heat, are strewn across nearly every stretch of road and fields sandwiched between the piles of rubble and old IED holes. The only reprieve from the accumulation of trash and the ultimate final transformation from city to trash dump are the burn pits. Actually that is a bit of a misnomer as there really aren’t pits, just piles of burning trash. The stench is again unbelievable; however, it is welcomed compared to the other, fouler things we could be smelling. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t really like to contemplate this stuff very often, nor would I venture to comment on it. It is hard to see all of this and not feel bad for the people who live amidst such conditions. Amazingly, I think to myself, this isn’t even bad compared to what some endure elsewhere. In any case I only hope that what we are doing here can turn some of this around for the people of this area, and the rest of the country. So what is the moral of the story then? I don’t know… just don’t let me catch any of you littering when I get home! Alright, till next time.

Friday, December 16, 2005

JUST WHEN YOU SHAPE UP....YOU SHIP OUT?

On a lighter, but none the less sobering note, it has come time for our current FOB’mates to switch out. Yep, we get the wonderful experience of watching hundreds of soldiers pack up their shit and head home while we remain. I don’t begrudge any of them their right to return to the States. They have, after all, been here a whole year. That doesn’t mean that it‘s not hard fight back jealousy, watching as the daily interaction between the departing soldiers becomes more and more charged and excited as they near their departure date. It’s not the end of the world or anything, but it does serve to constantly remind you of how much longer you have (9 mos, +/-). Well, I guess I can look on the bright side. With the mass exodus, inevitable, many are leaving behind luxuries they either broke down and purchased or inherited from others before them. Luxuries such as the mini-fridge someone left at the end of the pad we’ve got our eye on. Hopefully we’ll end up with a few more comforts the-likes-of cold drinks by the time the switch is complete. Speaking of the switch (also known as RIP/TOA – Relief In Place / Transfer Of Authority), that brings up another point of interest. When we arrived here at the FOB we were informed that we had lucked out. This was indicating that the our TF had recently gotten fed up with taking casualties and had taken on a more aggressive posture that had resulted in them taking a stronger foot hold and ultimately easing our “breaking in” period. While we appreciated coming into an environment where it was obvious that US Forces were “large and in charge”, what that also means is that it took them nearly 9 months to fully understand the scope of their task and develop the means to control their AO. This is not a negative reflection on them but rather just the learning curve that they suffered through while in country. All in all they had a pretty successful run. I believe that they had somewhere in the ball park of 50 WIA and 10 KIA. That’s less then 0.5% of their fighting force, small consolation to the families of the deceased I suppose. Either way, the point being that they had gotten in country and took over from their predecessors and only after learning some tough lessons did they develop the proficiency to effectively control this AO. It is this concept that has us on edge these days. Our new FOB’mates are from the an Airborne Division, a potent and powerful fighting force to be sure. But it is rumored that the specific unit coming here is a light armor unit. That would mean that we could be going from having tanks and heavy guns roving around the AO to up-armored HMWVV’s. I am no military genius, but I would have to guess (and hope) this is nothing more than a rumor, otherwise the future wouldn’t look pleasant. I suppose that I will find out when the switch takes place. It’s somewhat sobering to know that our team will be the most knowledgeable and experienced people on the FOB, as it pertains to this AO and time frame anyhow. I am sure that things will work out fine and that the new unit here will be just as, if not more successful than their predecessors, but I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t lost any sleep over it. I guess all you can do is your best each day, and hope for the best. I know that I and the rest of my fellow soldiers have all the support we need, we’ve got each other and we have the support of our families, God and country. Keep praying for us and know that your support is greatly appreciated. Till next time.

IT ONLY TAKES ONE TIME

Hello everyone. Sorry that this is so long since the last entry. I suppose that I should probably write a little more than I do. I am probably the worst blogger out there, at least so far as prompt posting and the such. But hey, its my blog so I guess I can do what I like with it, and if you don’t like it… well, too bad. Nough’ said.

Well I guess it’s been about almost ten days since this happened but one of our good friends over here was injured. Actually it was, yet again, right in front of us. I can’t go into to much detail because I believe that the investigation is still ongoing, but the long and the short of it is that during a controlled detonation of an IED that was discovered one of the EOD guys, the team we work closely with, was hit with shrapnel. The craziest part was that he was in an armored vehicle well away from the blast. The piece of shrapnel just happened to find that one in a million flight path and found a small weak spot in the armor of the vehicle. When the shrapnel passed through the skin of the vehicle it must have slit in two because he was hit twice in the leg and there was only one hole in the vehicle. The shrapnel passed through both his calf and his thigh. We were shocked and confused when it happened, and as per usual it provided a bit of a grounding effect to all involved. This type of detonation is something that we have participated in probably over a hundred times, literally happening daily if not more. After an IED is discovered it is sometimes safer to destroy the explosives on site rather than to disturb or try to transport them. So as you can imagine with bad guys planting all kinds of IEDs it isn’t a rare occasion that we are present for these explosions. It is rare, however, that someone is injured during one. Sitting in our vehicle 10-20 meters behind the vehicle that was penetrated we were the first people to become aware of his condition and respond. Luckily it all turned out about as well as it could have, considering the circumstances. Our buddy had a small piece pass through his calf and a larger piece pass through his thigh. We never recovered the actual frag but from the hole in the vehicle it seems the piece as about 7-10 times larger than a .50 caliber bullet, which by the way, is huge. For all that he didn’t have any broken bones and having only nicked the artery in his thigh, his blood loss was manageable. I actually remember being so amazed as I watched the medics work on him as he lay on his back with his hands tucked behind his head, smiling. I guess he must have understood at that point that he had brushed shoulders with tragedy and came out with a “million dollar wound”. It’s a funny expression, not to down play getting shrapnel fired through your body at 2700 feet per second, but it means he gets to go home, and will still fully recover. Recent reports confirm this telling us that he underwent a couple exploratory surgeries and that they expect him to fully recover in 6 weeks. So, as I said, sounds like a pretty good outcome to what could have otherwise been tragic. I hear that he is headed back to the States, which is good news under nearly all circumstances. Now I think I know why he was smiling… J It is just so crazy the sheer odds that had to be overcome for that round to reach out and bite him like that. Looking back at the trajectory and distance traveled its astounding to think two inches lower and it probably wouldn’t have penetrated the vehicle. Then again, two inches higher and our buddy might not have been so lucky. Pretty much no matter how you slice it this occurrence just backs up what the SMAJ told me later that day when he said, “well, you guys have a pretty damn dangerous job”. Lately it’s been becoming harder and harder to ignore that fact.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

THANKSGIVING DINNER WITH A SIDE OF PERSPECTIVE

Hello everyone

Today is Thanksgiving. Hopefully you all enjoyed the holiday and celebrated with family and friends. We celebrated today with sparkling grape juice and unlimited meat cuts (quite a treat), turkey and ham which were both good, albeit a little dry. Otherwise the day went on as any other. My darling wife and I are trying to see the holidays this year as just another day. We are trying not to focus on being separate during the holidays, it only makes them harder. Either way they are just another day away from home, and when they pass they are another day down towards coming back again. I guess you can look on the bright side and recognize that even as this is difficult now, it will only serve to make all the rest that much better upon my return, at least that is what I tell myself.
It’s been quite a while since I last wrote in the Blog. I actually intended to write about a week ago, but something ended up happening that I will relate now, but at the time I still hadn’t processed my feelings and I was somewhat unable to articulate them. A little over a week ago we went out on a mission that started out as any other, nothing unusual at all. Only just moments after we arrived, the gunner in the vehicle directly in front of us was shot. He was about 20 foot from us when it happened. Immediately everyone’s training kicked in and we all took up our respective positions and performed our prescribed duties until we could Medevac the soldier to safety. I won’t elaborate too much on the details but he is going to survive and should recover in time. The shot was most likely from a sniper who, luckily for him, never was located.
I wasn’t sure if I should write this and post it on the Blog. I didn’t want to upset any of my close family, but after this last week passed I dealt with the feelings and I now see it as part of my experience and therefore I think it should be addressed. I guess what took me so long to process was just how I actually felt. I never expected to feel the way I did. I guess when you think about getting into a life threatening situation you sort of think along the lines of heroics or how will you react. Well our reactions were a result of our training, but what you feel while it is all happening is a completely different story. Less than a minute after the shot went off we knew that the wound was likely not life threatening. Not to downplay the wound, the bullet had struck the soldier in the shoulder shattering his bone and causing a lot of damage, but under the hands of the medics shock was probably his worst enemy. As I took up a security position and scanned the horizon for the sniper a million things tried to run through my head at once, only none really succeeded. The only thing I could really think about was the scene unfolding about 4 feet behind me. The medics were working inside the well protected perimeter we had provided, cutting away the wounded soldier’s clothing and armor. Occasionally I glanced back over my shoulder. He was bleeding pretty badly, they had controlled it, but there was way more blood than I had expected or imagined. He was moaning and convulsing slightly as the medics treated his wound and fought to keep him from succumbing to shock. As I looked back towards the horizon I felt a lump in my throat and tears welling in my eyes, familiar enough, only I hadn’t felt anything quite like this ever before. It wasn’t sadness for the soldier exactly, that was part of it, but really it felt like I was feeling every emotion simultaneously. It was completely overwhelming. As I fought back the emotion and tried to concentrate on security one emotion surfaced and grew along with the lump in my throat, rage. With every faint moan and every drop of blood that spilled the feeling grew until it nearly consumed me. I have never felt rage before or real hate for that matter, but I think I know now what it is. I don’t even know exactly if my rage was directed at the sniper or the situation or what… I do know that who ever it was that fired that shot, he is lucky he didn’t show his face. Ultimately, after several tense minutes we finished the job we had come to do and we all packed up and left. Once back at the FOB it all began to sink in. Knowing that it was sheer chance that had chosen that PFC to be the target at that moment. Understanding that sometimes you really are just a spectator of your own life, and that you can only do what you know to be the right thing and hope for the best. Also knowing now what it means to hate. That to me was the real kicker. Many of you may not know me, but to those who know me best know that I may have been a rebellious teenager, full of angst, but real anger and hate have never been in me. It scared me then, as it still does now to have known that feeling. As I said earlier, now that a week has passed I feel I have been able to process the emotions and the experience, I only hope that that is the last time I will have to feel anything like that. I also hope that now knowing the feeling of hate, I can more fully appreciate what it means to love. I do love and miss my family and especially my beautiful wife. Keep praying for me and my fellow soldiers, we could use it. Until next time, take care and Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

PROJECT VALOUR-IT

Hello everyone this is SSG FEL's wife. I wanted to let you all know about a project that is going on that involves a little friendly competition.

"Project Valour-IT, in honor of SFC William V. Ziegenfuss, provides voice-controlled software and laptop computers to wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines recovering from hand and arm injuries or amputations at major military medical centers. Operating laptops by speaking into a microphone, our wounded heroes are able to send and receive messages from friends and loved ones, surf the 'Net, and communicate with buddies still in the field without having to press a key or move a mouse. The experience of CPT Charles "Chuck" Ziegenfuss, a partner in the project who suffered hand wounds while serving in Iraq, illustrates how important this voice-controlled software can be to a wounded servicemember's recovery"

It's a great cause the armed forces are competeing to see who can raise the most money! GO ARMY!

Chuck Zigenfuss is the author of the blog From My Position, a blog I started reading when I found out my darling husband was headed for the sandbox. I've followed it through his injuries and into his recovery. Valour-IT allowed him to keep his blog going, a great outlet in a very frustrating time for one of our heros!

Consider yourself notified of yet another way you can help our soldiers.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

THANKFUL

Lately things have been slow around here. Being in a war zone, doing what I do, that is a good thing. It means that for what ever reason the insurgents or AIF (Anti Iraq Fighters/Forces) haven’t been causing too much trouble (knock on wood). So you can see how that is a good thing. There are many theories that circulate about why that is. Originally I thought that it was Ramadan, but that ended a couple of days ago. My personal favorite is that it is too cold. Apparently the principles that drive the AIF don’t stand up to the chill that sets in each night. So perhaps it is the cold weather that is the unlikely hero of late, keeping us soldiers out of harms way. What ever the case is, we’ll take it. On the other hand though, it leaves us with little to do but sit around and miss home. Some days are better than others, but lately more than usual I have found myself in a bit of a funk. I seek to find any sort of motivation, but it is so long before I have anything to really look forward to. It is hard to build any sort of momentum that can carry me through this time. My Dear Wife and I were talking the other day about how it seems like January has come early for us this year. By that I mean that usually this time of year flies by. With Halloween and Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year all lined up, a myriad of parties and festivities fill our already buy schedules. Not to mention the emergent L family tradition of our annual pilgrimage to Williamsburg for the Grand Illumination. That mixed in with shopping and the day to day activities it usually seems like there is hardly time to relax. After all is said and done finally January comes, and brings nothing with it. The pace of life just seems to fizzle out during the aftermath of the New Year and amidst the cold, miserable (in my opinion) weather. No significant events or milestones on the horizon for several months, until the weather begins to warm up. It’s this time of year that often brings a sort of seasonal depression with it. That sort of lull has come early this year for us. I think that My Dear Wife is still feeling the busyness of the season, but without the payoff of being able to spend the holidays with her closest family (meaning me). I know that she has plans to spend much of the holidays with our families, but this was to be our first holiday season as a married couple. We have worked and yearned for this time for so long; several years if you only count our courtship, but our whole lives really. It won’t be the last “first” we will spend apart either. Our one year anniversary also comes in March. Not to mention all the weddings of our close friends and family that I have been and will be absent for. In any case my point just being that this is already shaping up to be a long winter.
I guess that it is all part of being a deployed soldier. Lately, when I find myself slipping into a funk, I force myself to remember just why it is that I am here. Many think of this war as little more than a political football, using war anecdotes as a conversation piece or as fodder to justify their own, often narrowly formed, opinions. Well to those of us living it, it is so much more than that. My Dear Wife and I were also talking the other day about how while it has become our plight to endure this separation, there are also so many things to be thankful for. Occasionally we are cut off from using the phones or Internet because someone in this area was killed. It’s called a blackout, designed to give the Army time to notify the families of the fallen through the proper channels without fear that the family will find out via hearsay. While this represents a bit of a confounding situation for the soldiers who are prevented from contacting their families for any reason, it is also a time of reflection and a time to give thanks. Reflecting on the sacrifice that those soldiers and their families gave and being truly appreciative of it. Not running to some tally board so the grand total KIA can be scrolled across the bottom of a screen or posted as a headline, but really allowing their sacrifice to sink in and affect you. Being over here, separated from my loved ones as we head into the holiday season it is my opinion that I have been privileged with the opportunity to serve and contribute to the cause those men and women died for. And no, that cause isn’t oil or cronyism and it certainly isn’t to generate revenue for any of our media outlets who capitalize off the sensational aspects of war. I have to believe that it is something much greater than that. It is to afford us and our loved ones and everyone back home the right to celebrate the holidays, and to pursue what ever life we deem worthy of pursuit. It is a moot point to argue over why we got here, the fact of the matter is that we are here, and we have been given a chance to effect a change. All of this must serve to contribute to a greater cause than even the protection of our own interests (a worthy cause in and of itself). I suppose history will be the judge of this war and it’s proponents, but it is my heartfelt opinion that in 50 years time that perhaps the people of Iraq and this region will recognize, as I do, the reason why these men and women gave their lives, like so many before them. For me remembering the dedicated service of our country’s ancestors, including my own lineage having two grandfathers who served a combined 60+ years in defense of our nation and ideals, is what provides me with all the motivation I need.
So as you prepare for the festivities of this holiday season try to see beyond the commercials, and the catchy jingles of what ever the “must have” item this year is, and remember the ideals and aspirations that make the season worth celebrating. Give thanks for the freedoms we often take for granted and give respect to those who died to give it to us. I know I will.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

JUMP START MY HEART

My last post reminds me of the other day when we were having a conversation, actually one that we have had several times, about how this experience might change our perceptions. Like just how exciting can a roller coaster be after you have been in a 12,000lb armored HMMWV speeding over broken terrain at 50+mph while someone is shooting at you? We laugh, imagining walking off a killer new ride at some amusement park while everyone else is giddy with excitement and we nonchalantly say “yeah, I can see how you would consider that exciting…” It’s funny to think about. I actually imagine that it won’t be that extreme. I think that our minds have a way of compartmentalizing our experiences, and juxtaposing them against our daily life. That is why right now, I can remain calm when we discover that we are standing in the middle of a minefield, and two years from now I can still be in awe at the sights and sounds of a firework display… maybe. It’s hard to say though. Here on the FOB we have become quite accustomed to extremely loud explosions going off without warning. Don’t worry… its almost always outgoing artillery, but still the sound of a Paladin gun firing 120mm rounds is still enough to rattle the windows and give your heart a jump start. We always get a kick out of watching visiting guests jump in their seats when the guns go off, mostly because it reminds us of our first few days here.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

TIME MARCHES ON….YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW

Its now the 27th of October and its been nearly 10 days since I last wrote.. hard to believe. That’s something that is really strange about being over here; the way that time passes. Some days things seem to go really slow... but for the most part, days actually go by pretty fast. Weeks also seem to fly by. As I mentioned earlier… its already been 10 days since I last wrote a journal entry, and it seems like I wrote only a few days ago. Yet for all this time that seems to be flying by, it’s still October, and still in the beginning of our deployment. I guess its all relative. Time can seem to pass quickly, but in the reference system of a whole year it’s just a drop in the bucket! Funny. On our computer we inherited an excel program from the last team that calculates daily the percentage of the deployment that we have completed. I think today it stands as 12.61%. Not bad, but not good either. I remember when it said 2%... that was a little daunting.
What is with this one year deployment crap anyhow? Don’t get me wrong, I am not getting down on what we are doing on a whole, I just think that a year is a really long time. I guess there are some good reasons for it. Cited in a column from Stars and Stripes the Secretary of the Army pointed out that, statistically, the most dangerous times for soldiers is their first and last 30 days in country. Shorter deployments would mean that more soldiers would spend time in those “danger zones”. We have been joking lately that we are now immune from IED attack and small arms fire because we have now been here longer than 30 days. We thought about not wearing our vests and stuff to test the theory… Ha! No matter what the reasons are, a whole year is just a really, really long time to be cut away from your life. I have been activated since May 9th. That means that as a reservist I have been on active duty for almost a half a year. Already I am beginning to forget what it was like not being on active duty. I guess it is a little, I don’t know… unsettling? Not sure if that is the right word for it or not. I think what I am trying to say is, that you get to a point where your life, as you know it, has entirely changed. We are more than the sum of our actions but when defining your life what greater indicator is there than what you do on a daily basis? That being said; when you find your self in a place where you have been doing something for weeks on end, and you know that you will be doing this for weeks and months to come you realize… this is your life. Or at least it is for the time being... and it is nothing like the life you had built. I guess that is why it is so important to keep contact with your loved ones… to remember what you are doing this for and what you are going home to. Sometimes I think about when I come home, having to try to recall where I was at before I was called up. I will have to spend some time remembering all the stuff I studied in school. Go through job interviews again, only this time a distant 18 months from my last pertinent experience. It will be tough. A challenge I can’t wait to tackle though, to say the least. Anyhow, I guess that is why I wrote all this, it is a good sort of mental signifier of where we are in this deployment right now. We are coming to terms with all the things that are going to change while we are away; figuring out which ones will be good, and which ones will be bad. Ultimately joyfully laughing about the prospects of how great it will be to take on any of the negative changes, because no matter how hard they may be, at least it won’t be this.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

WOULD YOU LIKE A SIDE OF AMMO WITH THAT AMMO?

Within a few days the outgoing team traded spaces with us, yet again forcing us to move our shit, hopefully for the last time. We also ramped up quickly and before 3 days time we had completely taken over XYZ operations for the AO. The old team had introduced us to the important people to know and helped us find our niche. One memorable experience amongst the rest was the trip to the AHA, or munitions warehouse. We had been given the green light by Captain B to get what ever we needed. We were like kids in a candy store… wandering through with a pallet jack pointing at explosives and ammunition… Needless to say we looked like we were on that show Super Market Sweep….except instead of groceries…. Ammo! Schweet. We were armed to the teeth. Shortly there-after our daily routine developed. At least the routine we would hold for a couple of weeks prior to Ramadan. During this time Lt T visited once, and we had a visitor from Headquarters, SSG P. We had ramped up fast, and we needed to. Right from the moment we arrived until about 3 weeks later we were running 20+ hours a day, catching sleep when we could. We had been told by the old team not to expect too many night missions, they only had about 4 all year.. we had 4 in our first week. They also said they never much went out before 11am. Well, we seemed to be going out every day by 8am. It was really quite hectic, seemed like we were in for a long year. Only later did we find out that the busier you are the quicker the time goes.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

IT’S NOT OVER UNTIL THE FAT LADY HITS THE LAST NOTE.

After another trip to the TOC the other team was found and was going to meet us on the tarmac. SPC McP met us and helped us into our temporary housing. Yet again hauling all of our shit around, by now my shoulders were killing me. After we dumped our shit in the connex we went to meet the EOD team and the other members of the outgoing XYZ team. Our reception went really well and I could tell that we were going to fit in nicely. We stayed in our temporary living quarters for a couple of days while the other team packed up their stuff, meanwhile going out on missions with them. Due to the lack of space in the humvee I had to sit in the “hot seat”. This is what the rear passenger seat had become known as, since it is next to the fuel tank and quite often would be the first part of the humvee to ignite if hit by a powerful enough IED. C, the old teams gunner left for FOB Speicher, about 45 mins north, on his way to Baghdad since we had a gunner that took his place, RJ. On his trip north his vehicle was hit. He went relatively unscathed, while two others were injured in the blast. It just served as a reminder that this deployment isn’t over until it’s over…

HIT THE DECK!

Then we were alone. I mean completely alone. The night was dark, no one was around. We had assumed that we would be greeted by the team we were replacing or by a welcome of some sort… but no. Later we would find that they were told we would be arriving about midnight and so they were unaware that we had arrived. After several minutes it became apparent that no one was coming so I took PH and we proceeded to wander around the FOB. After a couple of disorienting minutes we found someone emerging from a Port-a-Pot… (the only shitters at our disposal ) and he informed us where the TOC (tactical operations center) was at. So we went to the TOC and expected again to find someone who knew what was going on. No such luck. We asked for 2MI (the old teams BN), I was met with vacant stares, so I said Ex Why Zee Team Still nothing… XYZ team? Finally someone understood and told us to wait in another room while they sought them out. After about a half an hour or so waiting with no word, I told PH to return to RJ and let him know what was up. As I was left waiting I heard two or three large explosions… jolting to my feet I wondered if I should seek cover or what… I walked out to the open area of the TOC and everyone was casually continuing their work.. I thought “shit are these guys so accustomed to being shelled that they just don’t care anymore?” So I inquired about the blasts,.. and I was informed that no, they weren’t incoming, but rather outgoing. It was the sound of the paladins barking that we too would become accustomed to. Whew. A minute or two later I realized that RJ and PH would be thinking the same way I had. So I told the TOC I would be right back. I ran out to find RJ & PH sitting on our stuff on the tarmac. As I approached I yelled out not to worry as another volley of paladin fire rang out. Still unaccustomed to it, even though we understood there was no danger we all jumped a bit when the unexpected blasts rang out. RJ told me that I had missed it.. when the first of the blasts had gone off he and PH had hit the dirt and huddled together as we had been trained to in response to incoming rounds. We all laughed.. it felt good to laugh and I found myself laughing a little harder than the situation would warrant, releasing some accumulated tension.

HI HO! HI HO IT’S OFF TO BM WE GO!

After a couple of days of getting issue and other administrative necessities we loaded up our shit yet again and choppered out to BM. At the airstrip we waited while the CH-17’s (Chinook Helicopters) landed. We hauled our stuff onto the aircraft hastily, luckily able to keep all our stuff together as two other teams were on our flight. Carrying our stuff onto the helio’s I hastily stuffed my earplugs into my ears as the sound of the engines was deafening. Approaching from the rear carrying as much as you could possibly manage we had to fight with the winds coming off the rotors before being greeted by the 200+ degree exhaust blasting you in the face. It felt as though your eyebrows would spontaneously combust. Finally all of our stuff loaded we prepared to take off.Once in the air we saw Baghdad emerge out the open back end where a gunner was strapped in hanging onto the edge of the helicopter. As we flew slowly (so it seemed) over Baghdad I wondered how many guys on the ground had a Stinger anti-aircraft missile in their basements, and how many were watching the skies. We flew north without incident and stopped twice, once to refuel and once to drop off people at FOB Warhorse, where we were originally supposed to go near Ba’Quba had our detachment commander not decided that we were more suited to achieving success at the infamous FOB BM than the other teams under his command. The choppers hovered low over the ground, and touched down sometime around 10:30 local time. We quickly off loaded to the side of the helio pad and watched as our detachment command flew off to presumably better accommodations.

Friday, September 16, 2005

SIX AND SIX MAKE?....SOUNDOFF

We were put in a holding area to await transfer to our buildings. Here we were treated to the sounds of sporadic small arms fire… something that we would eventually become almost used to. Waiting there for an hour or more I couldn’t shake the nausea as exhaustion also began to set in. Everyone was dog tired… people were trying to find chairs to sleep in and milling about yearning for a place to lay down. Finally our trucks arrived.. more hauling heavy shit, and of course once everything was loaded, more waiting. We joked as we sat in the back of a troop transport as at least 6 times someone came by and told us to count off. There were 12 of us in the back of my truck, visually apparent by glancing at the six on either side. But we humored our antagonists… not without jeering under our breath though. Finally we arrived at our buildings. These buildings were to become the home of the Headquarters element.. pretty nicely decked out, at least for being in a war zone and all. Phones and email access right there in the buildings was nice.. and beds with sheets and pillows. Sleep was more than welcome, I nearly forgot where I was. That is until a large explosion detonated in close proximity to us, shaking the doors of our room. We emerged from the room wondering if we were under attack or what. Later we found that it was a controlled detonation. EOD was detonating some ordinance it had accumulated from finds. (This too would eventually be common place, it is almost unnatural how I don’t even flinch at the sound of large detonations occurring in close proximity, with no notice. At BM, our paladin guns seem to fire almost all night.. mostly Illumination missions, but the sound of the guns firing is just as loud on this end either way, usually shaking the windows and rattling the doors. We just continue reading our magazines or whatever… ) So Baghdad was a little strange.. we expected to have this be the real “shit” but on base it was like a little American base... we only had to wear our uniforms, small pittance compared to what we would eventually be accustomed to. The chow hall was a smorgasbord of food. Everything you could want.. we had Manchurian Grill one day and they even had a Baskin Robbins stand. Shuttles issued us around base as we went back and forth to the PX or chow or the MWR area.. complete with Salsa night and Polynesian dancer night.. which we attended. There was also a theater that showed movies every night… not bad.

TERRA FIRMA

Finally we had our flight to Iraq. What to expect? A war zone, yes.. but what? We mounted up, this time in a C-130. These planes are quite a bit smaller than a C-17, and we felt it. There were exactly as many seats as occupants on this plane… our pallets of stuff barely fit into the cargo hold, but we managed to pack ourselves in. We were to be flying in complete black out we were told, that way we had a less likely chance of taking small arms fire or a stray RPG that could knock us out of the sky. Great I thought… I can’t wait. Also as a precaution we wore our complete “battle rattle”. We had been lugging this everywhere with us,.. but now it would become like our own personal exo-skeleton. Especially my team, headed for BM where full battle rattle is the standard uniform outside of our personal areas. On board the plane we were also informed that we would be making a “combat landing” meaning that our flight would not bear any resemblance to the smooth acceleration/deceleration of a commercial flight. Boy were they right. After the nauseating takeoff we were treated to a healthy dose of claustrophobia inducing tight quarters. The flight was 2 hours or so and every single second of it I just wanted to freak out. I envisioned myself flailing my arms about, indiscriminately striking those around me in a desperate attempt to regain freedom of movement. My body parts took turns falling asleep and then tingling intensely as the familiar needle/prickly feeling took over. Soon enough my mind adjusted its focus to the building nausea in my stomach. As the plane swirled around making its final approach to BIAP (U.S. military controlled Baghdad International Airport). I can’t tell you just how happy I was to be on terra firma again once we landed.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

ARE WE IN BOCA…..BINGO!

Our last day in Kuwait we ended up marooned at the airfield for almost 24 hours... more last minute delays. We should have seen it coming. After we could sleep no more on the one bunk space afforded us small groups began smuggling themselves out of the area we were supposed to remain in and sneaking over to the Airforce base a couple hundred meters away. Once there we were amazed (not really) to see just how nice the Airforce had it. Their street were clean and paved, lined with sidewalks, sometimes cement, sometimes brick pavers winding through double wide trailers we learned to be their living quarters. The yards around the trailers were manicured with white gravel… it was actually quite nice. We found the MWR building adjacent to the Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Inn and PX. Inside there were couches and a big screen tv. An attendant stood in front of a video library that would rival any average video store. A popcorn machine stood in the corner, free to all. In an adjacent room there were ping pong tables and a large open floor. After a few hours milling around, watching movies and playing ping pong people started to bring tables and chairs into the room. We found out that they were setting up for Bingo night… fucking bingo night? That was the straw that broke my back. I mean come on… these guys and gals were basically living in a retirement community in Florida collecting the same combat pay and hazardous duty pay that we would get for driving around downtown Samarra for god sakes. We enjoyed and some of us participated in Bingo night before returning to our bunker. Eventually we did leave, but not without seeing how the other half lives.