See the terrain ... See the enemy ... See yourself.
The desert is not as most people expect. Last week the temperatures were pushing into the 90s; we thought this was it and we put our cold weather stuff away. Then we had a day of rain. It was not a cold rain but after walking outside 20 feet, we were soaked. The tents we sleep in have been battered by the sun and rain, so wherever the frame touches the tent fabric water seeps through. I found myself moving my little cot all night to find the spot where water did not drip on my face. Since it has rained, the temperatures have dropped and we are back to wearing cold weather gear. There is also a large number of pools of water in our camp after the rain. The animals are starting to come out too. We have seen ants and other beetles. Of course flies are making as frequent trips to the portajohns as we are. We have two people in our brigade being treated for Rabies after playing with the cute little wild puppies. I have still yet to see the big three: scorpions, snakes, and spiders. In fact, I had to keep reminding the guys when we stop on the side of the road in our travels: don't just look for bombs, mines, and booby traps, but also keep your eyes out for wildlife.
The thing that impresses me most about the desert is the moon and the stars. There were a few weeks when the sun set after dinner and the moon did not rise for three or four more hours. With no street lights or trees, the moon has a greater impact on the light conditions. When the sun went down after dinner, we were all stumbling around in the dark trying not to trip on the gravel or run into the concrete barriers. Later on when the moon rose, we could see clearly from one end of the camp to the other in the middle of the night. The stars here are amazing. I see many more than any other place I have been. With the horizon so open, flat, and no ambient light, the constellations are impressive. It's like those movie scenes where two people are looking up at the same star thousands of miles apart. It would almost be romantic, except I am in my helmet, sweaty uniform, and dusty face running around in the pitch black.
We have been getting briefed almost every night describing how fragile the political situation is and we expect the worst when we go on patrol. Since the elections there has been changes, even in local leadership. The police chief was fired a few times and the old government was asking for help getting rid of him. We decided to stay out of the middle of it and when the new governor took over, he reinstated the police chief. There are also some big political players in our area that have been keeping quiet or keeping things under control. Being out on patrol reminds me of being in high school after getting my license, not having a job yet and doing nothing but driving around looking for friends, girls, something to do, or some trouble to get in. We ride around not in any hurry to get anywhere, but to gauge the mood of the local people, look for any contraband items, or observe the interactions of the local authorities. I would not even speculate to say we are acting like police since it is not our responsibility to pull over or arrest anyone. If we see something out of place we call our higher headquarters and they try as much as possible to get the local law enforcement to take care of it while we hang out for back up.
Patrols also feel like being in a parade. We ride around waiving to everyone (mostly kids). In addition to our patrols, we run security for supplies in and out of our area. We pick up vehicles from one place and escort them to another. These right now are the more dangerous missions. We generally travel at high speeds over the desert and try not to stop. Going through built up areas are difficult with traffic control and security, as are rural or barren areas where the danger is improvised explosives.
I hope my analogies convey how it feels to be over here without making light of the situation. In my time in the army, we have always trained to be aggressive and assertive. This is a different type of conflict; winning the war means winning the kids, the parents, and the grandparents, not attriting our enemy through shock, firepower, and maneuver.
We have a decent rotation for the guys so they do not get bored or burnt out. We rotate them on missions as much as possible depending on the requirements. That allows them time for laundry, concurrent training, mail, and internet. I find that no matter what, I keep myself busy from the time I get up until I go to bed. I end up with most of the odd jobs and coordinating with the other units. I do manage to get out on the missions, and I like it. I have been frustrated occasionally, usually from a wild goose chase or a miscommunication that results in wasted time or effort. The few times I take a few minutes to relax and stay in one spot too long, someone finds me to do something else or something happens and I end up running around even more.
We have a good family and community here. We all have that common bond of being soldiers and in general help each other out. Unfortunately, it is not the same as being home. There are many freedoms we don't have and I have tried to keep things simple so I will appreciate them when I go home. I thought about getting more comfortable since we may be here over a year, but we could end up moving to a different camp on short notice if the powers that be decide it is a good idea. Being eight hours ahead of your friends and family with a busy schedule does not give much time for phone calls unless I get up early or stay up late. My evenings are filled with meetings and planning for the next few days. It also takes me two or three days to gather my thoughts and have time to write them down for my emails. Then when I do, the internet is not working or overly crowded.posted by Scott | 23:49 Baghdad time | © 3.15.2005
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