Medicine Soldier

A View from Iraq



The five weeks back from leave have been full of people and equipment moves as well as getting ready for and executing the elections. I have been very busy and working straight out. Most of my time has been consumed by administrative business, packing, customs training, and running the command post during the elections. Surprisingly, the elections were tensely quiet. There has been more activity the week following the elections with suicide bombers, roadside bombs, and artillery missions. Still, I became settled in a routine after the elections dealing with small but important stuff. I finally had enough and was able to go on a peacekeeping patrol instead of a combat mission or a convoy run.

It was good to get out on patrol again and be around the people and not after a specific target. We did a "presence patrol" where we talk to people and gather information about how they feel and what their needs are. These "atmospherics" get rolled up and reported to the highest level. When it crosses the big desk, they make decisions on how long we should stay here and how many assets to use.

On my microscopic level, we are able to get out on the ground and talk to the people and learn. We spoke with some men who served in Saddam's army and now are unemployed. They were concerned why they have to be unemployed when there is litter in the streets and poor sanitation and electricity. They are willing to work and there is work to be done in the towns. The interpreter explained to us about the mistrust and low-level corruption. "It's like mafia," he said. In talking to some others citizens, we were told that we (US/Coalition Forces) are not needed here in this town; they trust their local security forces (the Iraqi police and National Guard), but they are happy to see us and see that we care.

We had the opportunity to learn about Ramadan firsthand as we stood in a street at a bakery. Some men were praying on their small blankets while we talked to a baker who was making some Ramadan treats to be served at sundown. He asked, "Why are you not fasting?" I told him it was not my turn and I suggested he show me. He laughed and handed me sweet but greasy fried dough-like bread.

It was my first time on a dismounted patrol where we walked for blocks away from the safety of our machine guns and seven-ton HMMWVs. It was not a big deal. I have complete confidence in the soldiers I work with. I was just thinking how far we are from the stereotypical Hollywood image of some kind of chiseled, rugged soldier. We are citizen soldiers, just average people doing the best we can. It is true that the insurgent cartography is a checkerboard mosaic spread out through and among the towns. We are trying to use the friendlier pockets as spheres of influence to sway public opinion on the less friendly areas. We know which areas are okay to walk in without the vehicle support and which areas not to stray too far along the back roads.

The end of Ramadan is referred to as the "nights of glory" when the Koran was revealed to Mohammad. As the end of October has been approaching, the gatherings of people at dusk have been growing. This time of religious renewal for Muslims is also a time when the suicide bombers are expected to attack, as if access to heaven is guaranteed after a suicide attack. We have been fortunate in our immediate area as the only thing these guys have been able to blow up are themselves. Some of our neighbors have not been so lucky.

After a successful day on patrol, we returned back to our camp for a company formation. It was rare to have all of us in one spot, considering our patrol schedules and having units detached to other camps. Some awards were given out, and I received some accolades; my boss is recommending me for promotion when we return. After several frustrating days, it was nice to have some rewards and see that my frustrations are not for nothing.

We have started our rainy season, and I hear it has been snowing at home. We have prepared for the wet season by re-tarping the tents, and extra gravel has been deposited around the living areas. Although the colder weather feels strange here, it comes with a sense of completion as if things are coming full circle. I am torn between keeping everyone in the game, and thinking of home and moving on to other adventures.

posted by Scott | 16:37 Baghdad time | © 10.30.2005
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Surviving the Election

The elections went of very well. After long days of patrolling during the curfew to ensure that no pre-placed bombs or weapons were brought close to the election sites, we were all tired, weary, and did not know what to expect with the elections. I sat in the command center most of the day trying to visualize what was going on out in the towns and track the progress on maps and on paper. It was a tense day hour-by-hour. It seemed too quiet. I was prepared for the worst and ready to respond to any attack. As the hours passed by, we were relieved that the day passed without incident. We even started joking on the radio at the end of the day when one of the platoons brought dinner out to one of our other platoons and they did a relief in place on the over watch position. I teased them over the radio about not rehearsing the tactical maneuvers necessary for the link up.

While the platoons were eating dinner together, gunfire erupted throughout the city. It was celebratory gunfire, indicating a successful election as the polling sites closed. Everyone was relieved. We all feel like the people here are making progress, and we are very proud of the Iraqi Security Forces and the people for supporting the elections. Overall there were about five attacks throughout the whole country and almost everyone voted.

The day after the elections, I went on patrol to talk to a few of the local police chiefs and assess the aftermath of the elections. Everyone in the area feels good about the elections and the way the Iraqi and American forces worked together. There is a mutual trust among the people, the police, and both nations' armies that was not present last year. The people were very happy and understanding about the curfews and the level of security we maintained. They knew it was for their safety and not to oppress them. We discussed with the Iraqis how the American media keeps portraying "American martial law" here. In fact, we have a good relationship with the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. Our goal is to train them to secure and run their own country. Over the year we have decreased our role and turned over more responsibility to them.

I am reminded of my anthropology classes at UConn where we discussed how America was settled. I was thinking about how it was many years between the Declaration of Independence and our own Constitution was accepted. There was even a time when the U.S. was governed under the Articles of Confederation previous to the Constitution. Here we have Iraq that has gone through many changes in four years. I have a sense that we are shepherding the people here to stand on their own. This shepherding business was tried with the Native Americans to help them manage their own welfare and natural resources; I only hope we are more thoughtful and sensitive this time.

There has been a chill in the air today. It is probably not that cold; it just feels unusual after the hot summer here. Of course, the change in temperature brought back the dust storms and we did not have air support from the helicopters today, so our missions and operational tempo decreased, as did our internet access. Unfortunately, all the bomb planters were out and the two days of quiet is starting to change as the patrols are beginning to hit the bombs again. We are not finished yet.

posted by Scott | 09:26 Baghdad time | © 10.18.2005
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Dear Scott,
Thank you for an inside look. I don't bother with the USA papers. They editorialize news. I would be less credible (not read) if I did that! lol.

Your words are inspiring. I will pray for your troops and you. You are truly appreciated, and that is by 99% of Americans and a large number all around the world. That's the dirty little secret that I will not allow to be portrayed! WE LOVE YOU and SUPPORT YOU and the mission!

Excuse me. We've just met. I want you to never feel alone. Back at home, we are doing what we can to make sure you are taken care of properly, and that you never feel alone, because we care and thank you for your service. I'm rumbling, eh?! lol. Have a great day.

Posted by Blogger Rosemary | 19/10/05 19:49  

Hi Scott,

Thank you for all you have done for our country.
We are honored to have a friend such as you.
Warmest regards,
Wendell & Nancy

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous | 1/3/06 10:49  

Finally the whole world can actually read what a real warrior poet you are. May the sounds of your prose take you as far as your mind and sould wish to as a bird letting the wind blow through your delicate wings...Fly high as an eagle and keep your spirit open and flowing like the vast cool mountain waters down the mountain side..For all you ahve done has not been in vain but slowly will follow the path were you so hopelessly have been looking for..may you always touch others with your poetry.

Congratulations you have finally found yourself..

Love, Dulcecita

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Pre-Election Pause

It has been a busy two weeks. Even though the days are getting shorter, they seem longer. With less light during the day and the elections, our evening "fun runs" for stress release have significantly decreased.

It also feels like there is less time in the day to get things done. I am spending most of my time consumed by the end of tour requirements which encompasses the equipment accountability and transfers, medical evaluations, awards, performance evaluations, mandatory briefings, and scheduling all these events around operations. In addition, we have been supporting the elections with 10-12 hour security patrols around the clock, and we continue to do door-to-door checks on houses of known insurgents or places that would indicate an attack is planned. We are still hearing explosions through out the day, but luckily no major damage or injury. Everyone has been working long days and everyone seems tired and on edge. We all knew this was coming, but thankfully it will be one of our last major events.

I am pretty tired. I have been doing my best to encourage the guys and keep them in line so they do not get lazy or forgetful from being worn out. Everyone realizes we are close to the end, but we are still far from out of danger. I hope this next week goes by uneventfully. My faith in the media is still a bit shaken from last week's events, but I have nothing to say about that right now.

The internet has been sporadic here and I have had little time to check. I needed a bit of a break today. Also the postal people are shutting down normal operations on October 15th. It still seems a bit early, I would guess November 1st, but once again we will have to go for a few months with no mail. Still it means we are coming home so it is a good sign.

We are still diverting ourselves in our off time with what movies we have not shared yet, and most recently we have been watching TV series like CSI, Smallville, and Alias. I think we are spoiled by having the TV shows on DVD, and it will be weird to go home and watch commercials again or wait so long between episodes.

Other than that, there is not much to report. We are taking it hour by hour as we anticipate some reaction to the elections.

posted by Scott | 09:57 Baghdad time | © 10.13.2005
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The Longest Day

I woke up yesterday at about 5:30 in the morning, after an explosion or report of some roadside bomb in the area. I am getting used to hearing explosions around our camp, often followed by some gunfire. It is often conversation while we are brushing our teeth in the shower trailer. In any event, we sent out a patrol to assess the situation. I could not fall back to sleep so I started some of my morning chores and went to the normal meetings. The afternoon was more exciting because we spent the afternoon packing a shipping container with all our non-essential gear. Everything had to be clean, inspected, and sealed for shipping. Hopefully the container will meet us home. After that was done, I ran around camp helping the platoons get ready for a night mission. I did not really get a chance to eat lunch or dinner; I managed to squeeze in some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

We ended up conducting a raid in the wee hours of the morning. It was a little fireworks to kick off Ramadan, but the mission justified our reason for being here. There were reports of suspected terrorists visiting somewhere near our camp. As I have been busy trying to organize our movement back home, I was not sure what part I would play in the raid, but I ended up running the paddy wagon. It is kind of amazing, after trying to visualize the missions through the rehearsals, to actually see it come together in a good way. It actually went how Black Hawk Down should have gone. We only had a piece of the mission, but everyone did their part and it went well. After sneaking and waiting for hours, I hit the ground out of my truck to hear the early morning prayers broadcasting over megaphones. I approached the raid teams crunching through the sand and trash on the ground. Blindfolded and startled, our captives waited while we negotiated them one by one into the truck. I never really thought myself much of a police officer, and I thought about how dehumanizing it must be to stand almost naked amongst armored strangers yelling words they don't understand. Still, I am sure I gave them more consideration than they for their would-be victims.

After processing them into our "county lock up", I wandered back to our company area to make sure all the lights were off in the vehicles and make sure they were locked. Then I went to the operations center and convinced them to let me turn in my reports early so I could get some sleep. Now it is over 24 hours later and I am ready for a nap. At least it has been cooler here; the lows have been in the 70s and a high of only 95.

posted by Scott | 05:44 Baghdad time | © 10.06.2005
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Once More into the Sand

When I was growing up, my mother always had that "footprints" story on the wall somewhere in our house. While making my own footprints through the deserts of Iraq as the war unfolds around me, I recently had an opportunity to turn around and look back. After months of plodding along, I was amazed to find a marathon of footprints behind me. I am truly blessed to have the support of so many people. From my family and coworkers to my new friends and passers-by I have met in my travels, I am thankful for the generosity, time, and prayers.

I had a chance to go home for a couple weeks recently. I had an amazing time, from staring out the window at the trees to hanging out with my grandfather to visiting friends in Connecticut. Mom threw me a huge bash, and I visited with old friends and made some new ones. It was relaxing to fix things around the house and also very worthwhile to catch a Red Sox game and some shows around town. The weather was beautiful, too. Although the temperatures felt cooler to me, the humidity was something foreign and my body did not know whether to be hot or cold. (Meanwhile in Iraq, it has recently cooled off to 95 degrees, not 120.)

Still it went by all too fast. My anxiety about coming home after months of being away quickly abated and it seemed like I never left. Unfortunately it made it much harder to leave again. So close yet still many days to go. I found myself a bit angry and depressed. It is harder to leave the second time, because you know how much people care about you and you know what you will be going back to in the desert.

Although we are approaching the end of the tour, it will be the hardest part, I think. We have to keep the guys together as they become burned out, tired, or just sick of the same routine. I found my first days back were productive, getting everyone back in order and tightening up some of the procedures. Still, in my first twenty-four hours back, there were four attacks in the area. It sure is hard trying to get work done when there are explosions going on all day and reports of suspicious vehicles everywhere. Someone also made a great decision to release 1000 prisoners from Abu Gharib prison to celebrate Ramadan. They promised to be good.

We are working more with the local police and Iraqi Army at the camp we are at now. I still miss working with the kids, but hearing the appreciation from the police chiefs makes up for the attacks the other day. It is hard to remember we are doing the right thing with everything going on. The hurricanes affected us even over in Iraq, as many of the National Guardsmen with us are from the Mississippi area. Imagine going off to war and not having a house to come home to afterward.

I think poverty is universal; the flood victims in the south seem to have the same reactions and frustrations as the impoverished Iraqis here. It is another hard lesson for America and Americans. Almost half of the National Guard is "abroad" this year and are unable to do one of their peacetime missions. The government is still very reactive instead of proactive.

In my travels, I saw just how effective homeland security has become. I wondered why after spending nine months in the desert I had to disrobe, from my uniform even, and go through metal detectors after being on and off planes and helicopters for 36 hours. I thought, "I just wanted to see my family, if I am a terrorist then than there are bigger issues." I was patient; these guys are just doing their jobs. Still, we are so focused on terrorist attacks that we forget there are other national emergencies.

I do feel bad for the people in the south; it does not seem that the local governments had plans for dealing with this type of disaster and people did not want to evacuate when they were told to leave. I still feel funny about having troops come home from shooting insurgents in Iraq and have to police other Americans, especially when the Americans are shooting at the police and military. The one good thing about America is we can all rally around each other despite our diverse backgrounds. That is one thing I wish the Iraqi people can learn from us. There are so many ways to segregate the Iraqi people. Sunni/Shia, tribal factions, political factions, and even the non-Muslim Arabs who live here.

I read in the papers about the anti-war protestors and the anti-anti-war protestors. I am thankful that both groups show tremendous support foe the troops. The bottom line is we are here and we need to finish the job or everyone who died, died for nothing. The Bush Administration may or may not have handled things correctly, Saddam may or may not have been another Hitler, but it is true this is not another Vietnam and should not be considered that. We are not fighting an organized army. We are fighting pockets of disenfranchised people. Some lost power when Saddam was removed, some lost jobs at bomb making factories when Saddam was removed, but these people were rapping their own country. There are lavish palaces in Baghdad while the children sit in a ruined building for school in between a cesspool and a landfill.

We have made a tremendous difference here, but the cost has been high in dollars, time, and lives. This is not a Vietnam; I see it more like Germany after World War II. Whether Bush chose to invade Iraq for personal reasons I don't care to speculate. Seeing it from the inside, we have a foothold closer to Syria, Palestine, and North Korea. Meanwhile, our presence in Europe is decreasing. We are doing good things here to better the Iraqi people and their outlook on Americans and also to keep terrorism out of the States.

So once more into the beach ... I mean breach I go.

posted by Scott | 00:50 Baghdad time | © 10.02.2005
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glad you had a great time at home. i can only imagine how hard it was to go back. thanks for everything you are doing for us there. we do appreciate it all.

MarineMom @ Spaces

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous | 4/10/05 19:56  

Sorry I missed you when you were home. See you down the road,

Barry & Cathy

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous | 4/11/05 05:45  

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