Medicine Soldier

A View from Iraq


4.20.2005

Living Conditions

I have had some emails from home; 80 degrees feels like a cool day here. It has been in the 80s this week. It felt much better than last week, although we are still debating whether or not we broke 100. The biggest weather challenge this week has been the sand storms. Everyone is obligated to wear their eye protection now—even in camp, not just on patrols. I have had a tough time with bloody noses the last two days and have been using my eye drops regularly. When it was hot last week, we were commenting on the thought we still have about 40 degrees to go and we would be luck to see 80 degrees at night. When we were working on our vehicles, we put some nuts and bolts on the back of the vehicle and when I picked them up, I could not hold them, they were so hot. We were also talking about the portajohns again. One of the guys was joking, "Oh its great. You sweat so much in there it just pours off you and washes everything off your ass."

The flies are very aggressive here. Despite a series of doors, fans, and plastic curtains, the flies manage to harass us in the chow hall, and when we are working outside the flies have not problems getting on your face, lips, and ears. It started with the little black flies that get in your eyes and ears. Now we are up to the full grown dime-size flies.

We caught our first camel spider today. One of the guys came back from brushing his teeth and said, "I think I saw a scorpion." So we went flying back out to check it out. We used the big guy as bait once we realized these spiders try to hide in your shadow. I snuck up on it and chased it toward the other guy, who was waiting with some GladWare. It was a baby, an overall length of six inches. We caught it trying to sneak in our showers. Man, they move fast and they are hairy.



Speaking of showers, a few months ago I commented on the hot water situation. Well, it has been fixed—not by improving the hardware, but the cold water tanks sit in the sun all day. So there is cooler water in the hot tank than in the cold tank sometimes. Guys keep getting burned by the temperatures. We just can't win.

I have also found my appetite has decreased in the heat. However, shortly after we arrived, the food contract was changed and the service has gone from "hero to zero" in a few months. It is nice that we have a short order line, a regular line, and a salad bar, but the quality of food has deteriorated and become predictable. It's funny—my favorite meal every day is breakfast, and I eat the same thing everyday. Lunches are usually better than the dinner choice, but when it is hot I eat smaller portions.

I think I mentioned that going to the grocery store for us is driving to another camp and escorting the refrigerator trucks here. We provide the "gun trucks" for the 18-wheelers. It is a great way to get off the camp and out of the daily routine and move out of out operating area, and it takes up most of the day. The runs are not done on a regular or as-needed schedule, though, so we are not predictable for the bomb planters. This means sometimes we have everything we need for a salad except the lettuce, or no eggs for breakfast, or no bread. I am not complaining—I know the guy in charge of the contractors, he is a great guy and we help each other out. It is just the way it is.

Recreation

I am not sure if I mentioned in my last email about the "fun" stuff we do to de-stress other than running, push-ups, and sit-ups. We have a few volleyball courts and a tent with foosball, TV, and books. However, a softball field was recently constructed and we have inter-unit tournaments. Don't worry, the dugouts are mortar bunkers and our games are limited to three innings. I think we only have about 15 gloves and 5 bats on the whole camp. The average age for the guard units is closer to 37-40. We do have a few senior well-seasoned troops. One of which was going to catch a high slow pop fly—to most, an easy catch—however for some reason he stopped the ball, not with his glove but with his nose. We ended up having to evac him to another camp for surgery. He had a bone chip lodged in his sinus and they were worried about blood clots in his head. When he went for surgery they hooked him up to an EKG and something was not right. He ended up having an angiogram and he was rushed back to the States for a triple bypass. We were speculating that he could have had a heart attack out in the sun and that the softball injury, although comical, probably saved his life.

As I have mentioned before, my evenings are usually busy going to some meetings, getting reports together, and making sure guys are ready for the next few days. I have not been able to get into softball but been trying to get to salsa night. I think I might like it if I can make it on time. I enjoy the idea, although it is meant to be a couple's dance. We did the math and the ratio of males to females is probably 30:1. That is not counting the number of married people or the restrictions on rank. So I end up going to the class and having no one to dance with after.

Things Downtown

We are getting to know the people downtown and have a good working relationship. Although we do not patrol strictly on foot, we will stop and talk to people. My Arabic is improving. We have some regular trouble makers—local kids—and most recently we are working on visiting schools to give out supplies, toys, and things. There are several schools downtown and we ended up "adopting" an all-girls "high school." I figured out they took the average age of all the guys in the companies in the battalion and whoever had the highest number got the high school. Perhaps the unit with the highest average age would be married fathers. I did mention before that in addition to the orders on no alcohol, there is also no fraternizing with the locals. I guess we have come a log way from the Vikings and Sherman's march to the sea. Anyway, we still have yet to get to the school during hours since we have been working nights. I have been nominated the diplomat and overseer of public relations at the school, so I am curious to see how things go. We were really expecting to get a primary school and everyone has been writing home asking for coloring books, stuffed animals, and things for the little kids to enjoy. So once again we went out of our way and found our own school to adopt. The one we found was kind of out of the way, but the conditions are horrible. The students were, however, all polite. The all stand up in unison and greet us in Arabic and say a little prayer for the American troops. We are going to have to petition our chain of command to allow us to cover down on both schools.

We have also been involved in some operations on the other side of the spectrum. It is hard to remain neutral and let the new government work out its differences, but still be involved enough so the governors do not complain we are doing nothing to help them. We continue to interact with the Iraqi adults by training them to run their own police force and National Guard. We are also doing things to keep weapons and explosives off the streets. It is hard to know whom to trust when guys come up to us on the streets and tell us they know where they are selling weapons or where explosives are. We also still have to rely on the interpreters, who often wear masks so the people we are talking to do not recognize them. Last week we had a few near misses trying to follow up on "alleged intelligence." Everyone is good, we just get the feeling sometimes that the other shoe is going to drop sometimes in this fragile environment.

Again I would like to thank everyone sending me stuff both for me and the locals. Also, thanks for the emails. I am missing my life more and more everyday. We do the same thing day after day, seven days a week. Mail and email help to break up the cycle. If all goes well, we may be 1/3 or 1/4 of the way done with this tour.


(Click to enlarge the cartoon.)

posted by Scott | 22:37 Baghdad time | © 4.20.2005
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