Medicine Soldier

A View from Iraq


Black Friday

(Written 11.25.2005, posted 12.12.2005)

After Thanksgiving, we were hoping for a quiet Friday, and it is usually a slow afternoon since it is a big prayer day and most of the meetings we have are in the morning. Unfortunately, we had an indirect fire attack. It was unclear whether the attack was directed at us or the local schools and police stations. Once again, all the radios were filled with traffic attempting to locate the source, ascertain damage, get accountability, and put together a counter mortar response. Later on that night, all our platoons were out encountering roadside bombs. Thankfully, some were not well put together and did not achieve the desired effect. I stayed up all night on radio watch until everyone came back in safely.

Saturday was busy with administrative issues and I have been mentally and physically exhausted. I have not even been keeping up with my emails, except for duty-related responses to our missions and movement.

posted by Scott | 22:00 Baghdad time | © 11.25.2005
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I Am Thankful for...

(Written 11.24.2005, posted 12.12.2005)

Most people would not believe the dinning accommodations we have here. Most of the camps host contract dining facilities with third country (non-Iraqi) nationals cooking and serving the food, very much like a large college dining hall with short order, main line, buffet, salad bar, and desert bar. Our camp is still using cooks in a trailer. During the summer months the drains to the air conditioners, when they were working, just poured the condensate on the dusty concrete floor. The KPs (kitchen police) would do a good job washing off the vinyl tables and then pick the chairs off the dirty floor and put them on the tables.

However, on Thanksgiving, we had nice table cloths, a full meal with desserts, and even egg nog. Apple pie never tasted soo good. Although I was sad not to be with my extended family for the first time since I can remember, it felt good to sit down with my new extended family and express the bonds we share from our experiences this year. Growing up in New England, Thanksgiving has been a holiday stereotypically depicted by posters of Pilgrims and Indians coming together for a pre-winter feast. I was curious to see how the Mississippi Brigade would display their decorations even in Iraq.

We are supposed to be sensitive towards our Muslim counterparts, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to exchange traditions or stories with the interpreters, considering they had recently finished Ramadan. Our spread looked more like the typical cornucopia with no indications of a religious nature except a few paper dolls in puritan dress. The locals did not seem to be bothered by our secular representation of the American Indian tradition.

I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in the American Indian community for over 14 years. My friend and mentor from South Dakota, a few friends, and I usually get together at the hospital he works at to explain what a traditional Thanksgiving or "wopila" is about. It is more than an annual tradition to gather and eat. In fact, it is done after weddings, funerals, births, sweat lodges, namings, significant events, and on the harvest moon.

In any event, I took some time to give thanks in my own way and I am thankful for:

  • the new friends I have made
  • the lessons I have learned
  • being able to hear children laugh and play despite the poverty and being surrounded by physical and human waste
  • the support of the Iraqi Police, Army, and even most of the Iraqi people the support of friends and family at home
  • coming home in one piece
  • living in a country where we can vote without having to pass through checkpoints manned with machine guns

posted by Scott | 22:00 Baghdad time | © 11.24.2005
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Things Are Getting Muddy

(Written 11.10.2005, posted 12.12.2005)

The change in weather has brought damp days and rain. We re-tarped our tents just in time for some rain, yet there were still puddles in our tents. The mornings are damp and the fine sandy "moon dust" just cakes to our boots in the morning and gets tracked inside our tents.

The weather is not the only thing getting muddy. With such little time left, the soldiers seem to not care about some things. In some ways it is good; they don't mind some of the mundane or arduous details around the camp because in a few weeks, it won't matter when we are all headed home. Other things, like paying attention and having the right gear on patrol, must continue to be enforced. Supplies are running low and we are not getting any mail. This has also been a bittersweet reminder of our pending rotation.

Then there are those people who realize this is the last chance to accomplish or try certain things, either physically or morally dangerous. Most people are content with just going home with their appendages intact, and others want medals, badges, or other ways to prove their combat experiences. Everyone is also burnt out about something: the food, the mundane cycle of meetings, patrols, even movie nights. Still, we go through periods of inactivity and more hostile activity, so you can never assume it is going to be a quiet night.

One evening, reports of flashes and bangs came from the main building complex on the camp. Everyone who had been on the camp when artillery, rockets, and mortars were incoming assumed it was the worst: insurgents anticipating troop rotations. I was busy trying to ascertain what was unfolding on the camp while listening to four radios. There were patrols reporting in from outside the camp, the higher unit trying to assess the situation, our unit's two-way radio, and the camp two-way radio. After about 20 minutes of chatter and units reporting in their accountability, it was discovered that two transformers on the camp blew up and there was no cause for alarm. It turned out to be a good "fire drill" for things to come.

Our anticipated rotation has prompted some improvements and changes on camp. From additional gravel to new shower units, we have made some necessary changes to leave the place in better condition than we found it. Still, were we not good enough to have these improvements sooner? The pumps on the shower units were not installed correctly for the first week or so with the new units. Perhaps it was a ploy to keep us on our toes. When we heard the pumps kick on, we had to do the "duck and dive" because the water would get either really hot or really cold until the pump cycled off.

We all had hoped for more improvements on our camp, like the dorm room-sized trailer homes (or cans as they are known on other camps) or even the Chow Hall.

posted by Scott | 22:00 Baghdad time | © 11.10.2005
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