Sorry I have not written in a while. The move to the new camp and then getting settled took a lot out of me. I just haven't had the energy or time to sit down and write a good letter. We have seen more in two weeks here than in several months where we were before. Although it is more dangerous and I miss visiting the children, this feels more like what you would expect from war. We have been marginally involved in several missions since we are still learning the area, but nevertheless we have come closer to the reality of "kill or be killed." I have not personally been on a combat patrol yet, as I have had other responsibilities that required me to stay at the camp. I have been given the opportunity to go to an embassy nearby and will go to Baghdad in a few weeks.
The camp we are living is an afterthought addition to a decaying industrial complex. It is still fully functional, and there are local nationals (Iraqis) working here. There were also mortar attacks in the spring. The result leaves us a little uneasy. We got used to living on a camp that was build as a stand-alone camp where the terrain made us feel like the camp was an M&M on a ping pong table. We could see the desert in every direction and security was easy. Here, the scenery is very busy. We have garbage and scrap metal piles in some areas, steel tanks, pipes and electrical towers in another area. Various buildings are scattered around the camp and we also sit right on the river so there is a nice view and vegetation.
We also have an artillery battery here. The guns fire unexpectedly as they train or respond to real missions. Being tankers and used to firing big guns, we understand what the overpressure created from the moving air as the projectile leaves the barrel feels like. With that knowledge, we can tell that it is outgoing rounds and not incoming rounds. Still, in the back of your head you have to remember at all times where you are and where the closest bunker is located.
The food here is also not as nice as our previous location. It is one of the few camps in the country that still uses military cooks and not a contract dining facility. The chow hall is very hot; you know you are done eating when there is more of your sweat in the plate than your food.
Thinking of the Kids
On one of my last patrols before we left the old camp, we were out inspecting the conditions of the schools in the area. We had to dismount our vehicles and walk around in the streets. The kids were out of school, and everywhere we went we had a little entourage of local kids following us. They were very curious and followed us around the streets and as we walked. We were trying to communicate and I picked up a few more words for my vocabulary. The catch is we were still on a dismounted patrol walking out of site from our vehicles. We would stop and peek around corners and look on rooftops and in windows while we were walking around. I stopped on one corner of the school yard wall to peer around the corner before exposing myself, and I felt a loud thump on my armor plate. To myself I was thinking, "If that was a bullet, shouldn't I be knocked over or something?" Then I realized what happened and quickly spun around to see one of the boys rubbing his head. I broke stride and stopped short to peek, and the boy behind me kept going right into my back. I laughed and went to rub his head, but he ducked down like a scared cat. I pulled some crackers out of my pocket and gave them to him. He smiled.
I Finally Made It Out
This week I was able to go on a patrol. It was good to get off the camp and get out of the daily routine. The days go by faster on patrol. I insisted on sitting in the turret of the hummvee this time. I really wanted to get some fresh air and see the area. We are close to the Euphrates River and its tributaries, so there are more palm trees and greenery than where we were before. There is still the same degree of poverty here. I was talking to some of the civil affairs guys we were escorting about the conditions in Iraq. We both agreed that Saddam was too busy spending money on palaces and weapons, and he let the communities fall apart. Everywhere we go the schools are falling apart. There is inadequate lighting and electricity, small classrooms that are overcrowded, and the foundations are all cracked and crumbling. We also had the opportunity to stop by an embassy guarded by soldiers from El Salvador, and we ran into soldiers from Poland. We were going to go to the ruins of Babylon, but they were closed for some undisclosed reason.
In the News
The area we are in made the news. There was a bombing directed at a mosque in one of the closest towns to our camp. There was speculation that it was an Al Qaeda-related attack, but the insurgents were trying to blame us to discourage relations between us and the local communities. There are lots of political things going on here. The struggle between Sunni and Shia, local politics, and all the corruption makes me think of the mob. The gas prices are just as high over here, but the local police decided they were not being paid enough so they unionized and took over the gas station and at least doubled the price.
Here we have the opportunity to see the full spectrum of modern war. In one area, teams are out rebuilding schools while others teams are meeting with mayors and governors. Meanwhile down the road, American and Iraqi soldiers are chasing and catching these bomb makers. Some of these insurgents get to live and see the detainee center and some do not. We are still pretty new to the area so we have not yet been directly involved with the more aggressive patrols, but I have listened to the pursuit on the tactical radios and we have seen the aftermath of the bombings and the pursuits.
The nights have been in the 80s and 90s this week. While the temperature is still 120-140 during the day, we are finding we get chills at night. I wonder how it will feel coming home to winter in New England. I am however, looking forward to coming home for good. I have decided a bad day at home is still better than a good day here. I am no longer worried about coming home. I am sure things will work out and everything will be OK.
We have started to get mail regularly again. As always, I am grateful for the friends and family I have. I always seem to get the right things at the right time, when I am feeling down or have been thinking about someone. Thank you.posted by Scott | 13:26 Baghdad time | © 7.28.2005
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