You might die trying
Dave Matthews, smart man.
Things continue to be busy and snowball. My boss is back. Not only did I have to catch him up on all the changes, attacks, and incidents in his absence, but I was also tasked with a big responsibility. We are starting to plan now for the movement back home for good. I understand why we are starting the plan now, since I have hit many obstacles in the week. We have people and equipment tasked out between three camps, and in the end, it all has to get put back where it belongs. Unfortunately, our near-sighted brigade is not seeing past Mississippi where they belong. They keep forgetting that we have another 1,600 or so miles to go back to Yankee territory. I have been trying to play nice and I have grown some fortitude when talking to senior officers about my dilemmas. Unfortunately, I have had many wakeful nights the last two weeks. Thoughts of home and the journey still ahead to get there fill my head with dreams and hopes of things to come.
We also have Katrina acting up in the Southern U.S. Realizing many of the families of the deployed soldiers here live in the areas that are now flooded, there is talk of emergency leaves flooding our units. It will affect the focus and morale as well as those of us expecting to get leave.
The Iraqis still have not reached their referendum deadlines for the constitution, which plays a big part in our security and operational timeline. We are getting pretty adept at distinguishing outgoing mortar fire, artillery, and air strikes when compared to the roadside bombs and incoming mortars.
I had the opportunity to go to Baghdad last weekend. I went there primarily to see how we are resupplied; however, it was also an opportunity to see Baghdad. We drove near the Baghdad International Airport and arrived at the camp complex that surrounds manmade lakes speckled with Saddam's old palaces. (We are actually located at a Forward Operating Base which has many fewer amenities than an actual camp, like laundry service, catered dining facility, Post Exchange, et cetera. Our camp is about a 1-star compared to the 5-star camp in Baghdad.) The problem with going to Baghdad is the number of attacks on the roads coming and going. Right now, the roads there are closed. When I went, things were uneventful and quiet. It must be the number of people praying for me. It was a good diversion to have a change of pace for the day. I was able to eat a few good meals and relax. The problem is the times we had to travel in and our were outside my sleeping schedule, and since I have not been sleeping well, I returned to our camp with a terrible headache. Then it was back to the daily routine the next day.
This week continues to be challenging. Amidst constantly changing and ever-present threats from the enemy and fighting to make sure my company is represented among the other units, one of my friends was killed recently. I have not known him but for the two months we spent here. He was not a member of my unit, but someone who I sat with and joked with at meetings. He was one of the guys here who went out of his way to make sure we Yankees felt welcomed. He died doing his job, trying to improve the conditions here, trying to make things better for the Iraqis. As sad as we were today, everyone's heads low, we still had to keep on going throughout the day. There were still missions to run.
It is hard to believe it is almost September. I was walking across the camp today thinking to myself, It is nice that it is finally getting cooler. When I looked at the thermometer after lunch, it was still reading 110. We are also catching ourselves telling "war stories" from last winter and spring. We were retelling the camel spider story and the time there were 75 of us stuck in a 50-man tent in the middle of a deluge in Kuwait. Still, we have many days to go and I have mixed feelings about the stories that are yet to come.
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It's Been a While
It has been a busy three weeks and I have not had a moment to sit and compose my thoughts. Amongst other distractions, I am covering for my boss who is on leave, and since we are so busy I have opted to do the lion's share of the work to give the other guys who are patrolling more frequently a chance to rest. My sleep cycle has been off and the heat continues to be relentless. There is a standing joke when we get our weather reports that "it will cool off soon." The predictions are usually between 111-115 degrees, but every time I pass by the thermometer it is pegged out. Although, I am busy on the camp coordinating missions with the other units and keeping the guys informed, I am looking forward to going out a little more. Then again, things outside the camp have not been nice.
Better than the Sopranos
It is true that real life is better than fiction. We are supposed to be training the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police to run their own country, yet there is still so much leftover corruption, distrust, and power issues. The Army and the police have two separate functions and have to work together in any country. But these guys are having issues. A power struggle erupted over here and almost threatened the security of the elections in our areajust because one soldier thought he was better than a policeman. It erupted like a Shakespearean feud. I fear as the elections draw near there will be even more activity, both political and tactical.
We have already been exposed to various forms of attacks. We had our first bunker drill. It felt like a kindergarten fire drill. We were teaching a class on artillery when we heard some explosions that were not the familiar overpressure of outgoing artillery. We all looked at each other and a radio call was given, "incoming." Everyone grabbed their armor and helmet and marched to the bunker. I remembered to grab a radio so we could monitor the aftermath. As we confirmed our accountability, reports came in indicating it was not an artillery attack but a suicide bomber who drove a vehicle at a checkpoint. We have seen our fair share of roadside bombs the last few weeks.
Sometimes I don't blame the Iraqis. They have many things working against them: years of oppression, tyranny, and poverty under Saddam, coupled with all the different factions of which their society is comprised. There is the Sunni/Shia division, various tribal groups, Ba'ath Party, SCIRI Party, etc. There are so many ways these people can be divided, and it is no surprise reading the history of this area being conquered. Still it is hard not to harbor some anger after being attacked. I understand more what Vietnam must have been like and the issues movies like Good Morning Vietnam were trying to address. I also see what is happening between Israel and Palestine.
It still bothers me how the American media portrays the war. Everyone hears about when the soldiers are attacked or some big name is captured or killed. No one hears about the schools, water treatment facilities, power plants, and hospitals we visit. Nor do they hear about the thousands of rounds of ammunition we are capturing and destroying on a daily basis, or hours of grueling meetings where things must be carefully spoken twice, once in English and once in Arabic, so both parties understand the intent and outcome.
Everyone at home still continues to support me. I receive many packages in the mail and probably keep less than one-third of it. Not that it is stuff I do not want, but I enjoy sharing all my goodies with the guys and sending it out to the communities. Usually if someone needs razors, shaving cream, gum, or some snacks they say, "Go see Scott!" My status has been upgraded from the "Wal-Mart of Iraq" to the "Costco of Iraq".
How Am I?
I have been trying to do the best I can with what I have to work with, and it has been tough. I don't think I am doing anything special, just taking care of the little things so they do not affect the bigger things. Sometimes I forget myself. We do have DVDs and satellite TV, but after a while it gets routine: "What haven't we watched yet?" We only have a handful of TV stations to choose from. We do get some European news, a few movie channels with Arabic subtitles, and Fashion TV for some eye candy. We had to take a break from the Fashion TV, since we were starting to remember the designers' names as well as the models'.
In addition to not sleeping well, I am also bored with herding through the chow hall and eating because we have to, not because we want to. I do appreciate the goodies that I have been getting, but I am trying to not make a habit of not going to the chow hall and only eating cereal and granola bars.
I am still finding time to enjoy the music on my MP3 and do a little tai chi and salsa. I tried making some sun tea a few weeks ago. It worked pretty well leaving tea bags in a water bottle on one of the bunkers. Then I remembered hearing a study about heating up plastic and getting the free radicals in the food or water. We have also been able to run on the camp to relieve stress and keep in shape. Aside from the restrictions on running in the middle of the day (when we would burn more brain cells than calories) and the potential for "rocket man" to send us an airborne present, running at dusk along the river is nice. I saw some birds other than the sparrows in the trees that I wanted to get a picture of, but I did not have my camera when I was running.
I also had a bad week, being frustrated with showering and changing clothes, because twenty minutes after fighting with the broken showerheads or figuring out how to get soap off your body when the water runs out, we end up just as sweaty as before the shower. We also have a laundry unit here that washes our clothes. It is a Reserve or National Guard unit from Puerto Rico. Somehow the term "Puerto Rican laundry" is the name that has been given to the facility. It sounds like a racial slur, but no one complains. Unfortunately, they only allow pick-ups and drop-offs during the busiest time of my day when I am either collecting information from or giving information to my company.
I am still glad to be part of this experience. It does not feel like a stalemate war like Vietnam was painted to be. From here, it feels like a nation going through growing pains while the rest of the world watches every step the U.S. soldiers make. I have accepted that many insurgents are people upset by the loss of power they had with Saddam or are Muslims afraid of "American Influence" leading to a weaker Muslim state. It has been tough many times. Looking back at the months that have passed, I have had many memories and accomplishments and feel that overall I have done more good. Still, I often think of my former life back home and look forward to returning home and being with friends and loved ones.posted by Scott | 17:47 Baghdad time | © 8.19.2005
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I keep you in my list of "about Iraq" blogs, and check back regularly to make sure you're safe. That's the grandmother in me. I'll keep checking and really enjoying your updates.