Medicine Soldier

A View from Iraq


4.01.2005

Days Go By

We have been here long enough to establish "steady state operations." What this means is periods of predictable change. Whenever things start to go smoothly, something changes. This is good because things never become boring, but in the long run I feel more and more tired. I have changed some of my daily activities from keeping busy to make the time pass, to enjoying moments of quiet time when I can to make up for the times we are really busy.

I did have a few adventures recently. We had to fly some Iraqi trainees to another camp for training. We patiently waited through the evening for the helicopters to arrive; however, they missed the landing zone and landed in one of the open areas near our dining facility. The tents in the area had been removed so the ground could be re-graded and raised to prevent flooding. The helicopters mistook the bare land for a suitable landing pad. The dilemma was the helicopter's proximity to my company's tents that were beginning to become unhitched and the group of trainees that we now had to move across the camp. I jumped in our company "up armored camp HMMWV," a.k.a. go-cart, and drove over to the landing site to ensure the helicopters did not take off. I also had to signal and guide the Iraqis with escorts to the helicopters. The guys in my unit and one of our sister companies were watching from our tent with night vision devices while I shuttled back and forth. It must have looked comical. When we were done I found myself ahead of the helicopters and took a breath. Then I realized as the speed of the rotors increased which way they were exiting the camp. With nowhere to go, it was like a scene from The Mummy; the sand preceded the two birds and continued to pummel me and my ride until at last the birds were safely off the ground and out of the camp. When I finally opened my eyes, I felt like I had three inches of sand stuck to my head.

There was also a beautiful thunderstorm here the other night. The temps here change so drastically at dawn and dusk that interesting weather patterns occur. We had a minor sand storm concurrently with an amazing lightning storm. Then as the weather grew colder, it rained off and on. I tried to capture it on video. The lighting conditions made the lightning impressive, and the fine sand and rain mixture gave an eerie illumination.

Trust

These times are also very frustrating because we are trying to work with the Iraqi people. My position affords me many opportunities to see this on various levels. I am often on patrol riding or walking through the streets in Iraq. I can always feel the vibe in the city. There are some days where it feels more like joyriding, sightseeing, and parading down the streets. Other times the hair on the back of my neck is crawling. On other days, I attend meetings with Iraqi officers or people on the street with complaints.

The reality is the Iraqi people still have much fear and apprehension and it is a delicate balance of trust. The Marines and the Army have both done damage in the cities we patrol and although it may be different people, the uniform stands out. Now we are trying to work with them, training them, giving them aid, and even passing out candy, toys, and toothbrushes for the kids. Under Saddam, the people knew what to expect. They feared him and knew the system was corrupt. Challenging the system got people shot or decapitated, or their families hurt. Now soldiers in the same uniforms are trying to help them. On the other hand, they have a newly elected government on top of old tribal customs, beliefs, politics, and corruption. The people do not know whom to trust and my heart goes out to them. We also rely on interpreters to accurately and correctly convey each of our thoughts and convictions. I watch as they talk and I can see and feel their emotions, not knowing which way to turn. On the other hand, the terrorists wear no uniforms, change their tactics, and often work as sleepers to gain trust and access before committing to a suicide bomb or something.

I still believe they are good people and keep reminding myself how long it took the U.S. to really become a united country and appreciating how diverse Americans are and the things we now take for granted. The American army is after all a microcosm of America held to a tighter standard by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. We are here to provide a positive example for the Iraqis as well as respect their beliefs. In doing so, we have given up more freedoms than being away from our families and we live on cots in tents. We have been given special orders that we are supposed to follow in addition to the Uniform Code: no alcohol, pornographic or explicit material, no proselytizing, no gambling, etc.

We are in a period referred to as stability and support operations, where although there is no open combat, there is always potential for something to happen.

Long(ing) Days

Overall, this is very draining. Between the weather, physical activity, and other factors, I have felt worn out. I have tried to make time to read, relax, and unwind by getting lost in a DVD, book, Tai-Chi, or meditating. Most often when I put my foot down to make time for myself, something happens downtown or someone shows up at the front gate looking for a sympathetic ear, which in many cases the real decisions happen many levels over my head. This week the media released a story indicating my company was the spearhead in a major offensive campaign here in the city. Soldiers were calling their wives who were in tears, not realizing that if they were calling on the phone, we probably weren't fighting. The truth happens to be very far from the media release. Last week was a Muslim holy week and we stepped down our patrols out of respect for the faith and for security, as there were many people from out of town. It was decided that we would allow the Iraqis to practice this pilgrimage that they were not afforded to practice during Saddam's times, while we watched quietly but still maintained visibility. Despite some problems with local police tensions, the celebration went off successfully with little or no incident. The worst thing we were prepared to do (but did not have perform) was search certain makes and models of cars with men military age in response to threats they were making against our troops.

With all this going on I have been at an emotional low. However, I was relieved today when I received several packages in the mail, and the letters from home and my civilian employer reminded me how much they miss my "quiet humor, cheerful smile, and easygoing willing-to-help personality." These words were not only very timely but also a welcome breath of fresh air and improved my spirits. Thank you.

posted by Scott | 15:27 Baghdad time | © 4.01.2005
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