Medicine Soldier

A View from Iraq


2.26.2005

Quick Reaction

Now that we have our vehicles, the daily routine is starting to change. We spent a whole day tearing the vehicles apart and changing fluids and checking all the systems. The next day we wanted to go for a test drive and stretch our legs and put to practice some of our training and see what works and what we need to adjust. We still have many guys on camp security so when we sent the patrol out I was able to be the machine gunner. We went flying down the road at 50 miles an hour with me in the turret. I was feeling a little safer than I did when we came north now that we are in the armored HMMWVs.

We just ran down the street to another camp where some of our sister units are. It was a good ride and we were able to get some fresh air. Imagine living and sleeping in your office and not being able to leave your work property except with a carpool of your coworkers and boss.

Today we were working on load plans for a mission sometime this week. We wanted to pack our equipment in case we had a mission on short notice. My job was to change the security codes on the radios. While I was doing that, one of the watch officers from the control room came running over and said there was something going on outside the gate and I needed to send one of my platoons out to check things out. So I ran and grabbed some of the other leaders and had them gather guys coming off guard shift and woke some other guys up. Meanwhile I crawled back in and laid across the seat of the HMMWV to finish installing the radio codes. Next thing I hear is boots next to my head and feel a belt of ammo across my leg. The guys were prepping the vehicle while I worked. I had enough time to jump out of one vehicle and send them along to get more info while I loaded up with the rest of the guys. I grabbed my armor and took off for the control room. As things progressed, the guys got their game faces on and we understood there was a vehicle outside our camp with people carrying weapons. We were put on standby to back up the camp security. Then another report came around that some people were captured and were to be held at the camp. I called the control and recommended we stand down because one of the platoons was supposed to support the detention center and half of the guys were with me on standby. I sent the guys back to the tents while I ran back to the control center and debriefed the officer in charge.

I grabbed a quick sandwich and headed to another briefing. After that, some of us went to the detention center to check on our guys there and watched them work. It is almost bedtime now and I have just finished the coordination for the guard shifts between the camp security and the detention center. Tomorrow I am back where I started today, prepping for the mission this week to get the mail.

If you ever have a bad day at work, I recommend printing these pictures and hanging them on your door. Hopefully your day won't be so bad or at least as crazy as mine.


posted by Scott | 23:00 Baghdad time | © 2.26.2005
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Pictures

It's the blogmistress here. Scott sent along some photos that I finally got around to posting. See February 11, 14, and 24. Others will be posted as I receive them.

This is my personal favorite, a pic that doesn't pertain to anything in particular except that he took the Red Cross "blood drop" with him. It adds a little splash of color to the desert, doesn't it?

posted by Kelly | 17:03 Baghdad time | ©
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2.24.2005

Long Day

My day started early or never ended. Last night we agreed to support one of our sister companies by providing a truck to take some sensitive secret equipment to another camp. The catch was the convoy was leaving at 2am and I received the mission at 8pm, six hours notice. I was going to go and then the commander decided he did not want me to go. By the time the coordination was made it was almost 10pm and I had to brief someone else to take my spot. I gave very clear and specific directions to link up with the convoy and who to give the sensitive equipment to.

I went to bed at midnight and did not sleep well wondering if I should have gone, because I had all the details. I got up at 6am and checked in to make sure the guys left with the convoy and then I took a group to the range to fire some more machine guns as we prepare to do patrols regularly. Things were going well and I was pleased with the trainers and the sergeants in charge. Upon returning to the control center to check in I was yanked out of my HMMWV by a captain wondering why I was not on the convoy and where my truck and the sensitive equipment was. I told him I was absolutely sure my guys and the truck were in fact on the convoy and they were very trustworthy and detail oriented. So the Captain handed me over to two majors and another captain who started in on me saying the guys never checked in with the convoy commander and how could they sneak in to the convoy. I told them all they had to be there. That they had to drive right by the convoy to leave our motorpool where we kept our truck and there were no other units leaving that early. I could not imagine what they were doing, they could not be hiding inside the camp all morning. So one major gave in and called the destination and found out the sensitive equipment was delivered and I was off the hook. The other major was not happy but he dropped it.

My guys did not return as scheduled, and I was worrying and wishing I had gone. I went with my commander to find out where they were when they pulled in at dinner time, with a truck full of mail. Everyone was excited to see them safe and see the mail. Unfortunately there was another truck full of mail with our units stuff. So we unloaded the mail and went for dinner.

After I recounted my day to the guys, two lieutenants sat next to me complaining about their long day. I asked them if they were on the convoy with my guys and they said yes. I asked them if there were any problems and they said no. So I told them my end of the story. It turns out they were in charge of the convoy and my guys were on time and did exactly what I told them. They were going to speak to the other officers for me.

We still have a whole truck load of mail to be sorted and the guys know it is here and they can not wait until tomorrow for us to pick it up from the post office. It is like Christmas; I hope we will not be disappointed.

As for the rest of my day, we are getting ready to assume our share of the patrols now that we have vehicles. So we have this weekend to get everything ready soup to nuts. We have the guys divided into teams to train the crews on the routes, prepare the load plans on the vehicles, and set up a staging area near our tents. So when the "Bat light" goes on we are ready to roll.

It is now almost midnight again and I am unwinding before bed. Here is a picture without my "cool guy ballistic sunglasses." The temperatures are climbing here and the critters are starting to come out...

posted by Scott | 23:44 Baghdad time | © 2.24.2005
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2.19.2005

Birthday Wishes

I had a pretty good day today. We went to the range outside camp this morning and I got to shoot almost every weapon system that we have as well as run the range for the guys we brought out. When I came back I had my reports turned in and I decided to treat myself. I set out a new clean uniform and decided to risk a shower. My one Birthday wish was for a warm shower and I was granted my wish. Upon returning the EODs were destroying some captured ammo, but I convinced myself and my supply sergeant that it was a 21 gun salute for me. I had also been saving a special treat for today. Underwear made of cationic polyester and lycra. It feels like silk and it does not stick. This is definitely the way to go as the temperatures here are already starting to push into the 80s. I don't think I will ever give women a hard time about buying expensive underwear ever again.

posted by Scott | 20:04 Baghdad time | © 2.19.2005
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2.15.2005

Of Mice and Men

We have taken our first casualty here. Yes. We finally caught our mouse. We caught him on sticky paper and after taking some crap from the guys I managed to relocate the little guy and escorted him to a dumpster. The guys in the other tents suggest we start a critter catching competition.

Speaking of dumpsters our trash is burned. Nothing like the smell of burning plastic to wake up to. On the other hand they detonate captured munitions in the evenings, so we get an acoustic fireworks show in the evenings when they ignite small arms, and when the EODs detonate mortars it is like scenes from "Mary Poppins." In the middle of our conversations the tents shake and things become crooked. We fix them without missing a beat during our conversation.

We are also getting used to the test firing of the patrol's machine guns as they leave the gate for their patrol. Our company has also had the luck of being close to the LZ and whenever air comes it makes it difficult for us huddled around laptops to hear the DVDs we are trying to watch. We are trying to time it right during some war movies to get the real surround sound effect.

I am also still having mixed feelings about the foreign nationals working here. On one hand I do respect different cultures and they always appear polite, but basic hygiene skills are lacking. We have to guard and lock the portajohns near the front gate to prevent finger painting on the walls. Flea collars are no longer allowed to be worn because too many soldiers are getting sick, probably from not washing hands after putting them on or leaving them directly on skin and sweating. I was smart enough to roll my socks over them. Speaking of wildlife, no spiders or snakes yet, just the flies coming out. Our midday highs are getting into the 70s and the camp is beginning to take on a whole new smell.

There is still political tension in town with the elections and there is a holy week that starts on Saturday. I don't think I can convince them to celebrate on my account. In fact the religious rite is called Ashura, and it signifies the beheading of Husayn. The Muslims who participate mutilate themselves in honor. We are trying to figure out our patrol schedule to work around the holiday but maintain a presence.

I have been doing some praying myself. It is hard to find a quiet spot, but I some of the guys appreciate my beliefs and have been acommidating and curious. I have also given a tai-chi demonstration.

I hope you are doing well.

posted by Scott | 11:35 Baghdad time | © 2.15.2005
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2.14.2005

Valentine's Patrol

Happy Valentines Day!

It will be a day to remember for me. My first combat patrol... to get the mail.

Miss you.




posted by Scott | 12:13 Baghdad time | © 2.14.2005
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2.12.2005

Thanks

Thanks again everyone for the emails, thoughts, and prayers. I wish I had the time to write everyone back but I try to answer everyone's questions when I write to the group. I was not able to catch the Super Bowl; I guess it started at 6 and not 8 like we heard. I caught some of the post game at breakfast. Happy Valentines day!

posted by Scott | 05:16 Baghdad time | © 2.12.2005
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2.11.2005

Daily Life

We are staying in a quad of ten-man tents. There are four rows of ten tents. In between each tent is either a concrete barrier wall or a concrete mortar bunker. The ground outside the tents is loose gravel. I have given up drinking anything after dinner because the porta johns are at least 50 yards from the tent. One is a straight dash down the gravel road; the gravel that will roll your ankle if you get ahead of yourself. The closer porta john is through the maze of concrete barriers, not fun if you take a wrong turn and it is chilly out. There are also no lights in the portajohns.

I wake up in the morning between 5 and 6am and work out. It is barely light enough out to see in the mornings. After my work out, I receive the morning reports from the platoon leaders and take a shower. The water here is recycled. They basically filter the grey water and put it back in the tanks. So we brush our teeth with Listerine or bottled water. After that I eat breakfast and spend the morning evaluating the platoon training, coordinate supplies and equipment, and run errands around the camp. In the evening it gets pitch black and we do some night training and attend the brigade and battalion briefings.

We have many foreign nationals working at our camp. They sell odds and ends, do our laundry, work the dining hall, and clean the portajohns and shower trailers. Some of the Muslims still practice the old ways, like the left hand is better than toilet paper, "men are for pleasure, women are for making babies." Things like that. They have special badges and are always supervised by a US soldier or contractor. I understand the concept; we are trying to play nice together.

As far as other little things that make this different from home. We carry our weapons everywhere and have to re-clear them before entering the chow hall, then we wash our hands. We also use the alcohol hand sanitizer after using the portajohns. The problem with washing and sanitizing is the dust. I still always feel like my hands are dirty or dry. We also don't go anywhere without our sunglasses mostly for the dust, hey not only are they ballistic sunglasses but they look cool.

Lip balm is another challenge with the dust. My lips are either dry and chapped or the lip balm catches the dust and I taste dirt all day. We also have a mouse in our tent and we are trying to catch it before we attract snakes.

On our ride in, we saw fruit stands along the road. Tomatoes everywhere. I wonder how supply and demand works with stands every 25 feet and nothing but tomatoes. They look good nice bright red big tomatoes. Then we remembered. They really don't have plumbing here, so the "tomato fields" are fertilized by raw sewage.

Oh, the weather here is not what everyone expects. It has been 40 degrees and it rains.

The camp is in the state of turn over. There are Marines leaving and the Army is taking over. Things in the nearby town are unstable. The Chief of Police was fired and they have not replaced him; the governor assumed he would not win the elections and he decided to leave town. They have also postponed the election results after some tampering by the Sunnis. Things will be tense around here for awhile and I am sure you know North Korea and Iran are acting up. It is hard to believe I have been gone for about three months already.

posted by Scott | 08:25 Baghdad time | © 2.11.2005
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2.06.2005

New Home

I made it safely... well as safe as it is here. It was a wild ride. When we crossed the border it was like night and day between the two countries. Although Northern Kuwait is still rebuilding from GW1, it is far superior to its neighbor. As we crossed, the kids and dogs came running up to the convoys to see and wave. It was like being in a national geographic episode. Except I remembered I was holding a loaded weapon and we were riding down the road at 45mph. The terrain varied as far as lack of vegetation; some spots were all sand and some had nice trees and grasses. Mud huts and grass huts peppered the landscape and we saw a variety of animals from cows, sheep, goats, dogs and camels. Most of the people seemed accepting of us, but then again it was a well traveled route. One of the convoys veered off and they said the mood changed. For the most part the kids were very friendly, waving, asking for food, and giving "thumbs up." The adults watched pretty emotionlessly. We hit some checkpoints that were "police" checkpoints that forced us to slow down. They were tense as they don't wear uniforms and all carry machine guns. We could not tell if they were shouting at us or to us so we kept weapons ready and smiled and waved. On the other side there were guys trying to peddle cigarettes and other trinkets. One guy held two cartons and said, "Two-hundred." I do not know what the exchange is but if he wanted American dollars. I think they have democracy covered and we don't need to be here. I hope he wanted two-hundred of his money.

After several minor incidents, we managed to make it to the base (I don't have time to go into the details). We made it late Thursday and there are no lights in the "streets" or outside the tents and chow hall, as a preventive measure for mortar attacks. So we had to quickly learn how to walk around in the dark without crashing into the concrete barriers that protect us.

I had to find my guys Friday morning and the base is in the middle of a turn over, so no one really knows where anyone is because we are all moving around from transient tents to permanent tents as they become available. I found my guys by waiting outside the chow hall. Speaking of that, the food here is excellent. We have been busy unpacking and assuming control of the base, so this is the first time I had to use the internet cafe. Sorry no cappucchinos here. Just a tent with laptops on a satellite connection.

As far as living conditions, we have been bartering and scavenging from the Marines who are leaving. I currently have a cot, foot locker, and three cardboard boxes that are serving as my nightstand and dresser. I an using the footlocker for my desk and its not too bad.

Hopefully we will be able to catch part of the Super Bowl during breakfast tomorrow. They do not have newspapers, but there are TVs with the news and sports at the chowhall.

I may fly with the Captain to the Saudi border Tuesday.

Take care. Miss you all. I will write some more when we get settled.

posted by Scott | 07:32 Baghdad time | © 2.06.2005
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