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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Feedback from readers: 1
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.