A Few New Pictures
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Summer is right around the corner. It is time for cookouts, barbecues, and picnics. Ever had one of those baked potatoes that you throw some butter and seasoning in, wrap in foil and cook, on the grill? Well...most days I feel like that potato, wrapped in my body armor and sitting in the HMMWV.
I have been on a quest to capture in person or on film some of the critters we have around here. I'd like to thank Alison for that. After sitting for hours looking at the back yard wildlife of New England, I thought I would return the favor.
I am still trying to catch a picture of a beautiful teal bird I saw the other day, but I have managed to get some of the creepy crawlies around here. We managed to lasso a Jurassic-looking lizard with a small green head and a tan/yellow body. These little guys are running all over the place. Of course, there is our friend the camel spider who I guess is not really a true spider, non-poisonous, and does not get three feet in length. With those fangs and hairy legs, I'd prefer they stay outside the tent while I am sleeping. I also found an earwig pincher bug almost three inches long, another thing to worry about when you are sleeping. I also found a scarab beetle and a gecko-looking guy.
I am very sad to report that our salsa instructors have been relocated to another camp. I don't know if it bothers me more not having something to look forward to to break up my week, or going to salsa night and not having a partner. I guess the odds are not in my favor.
As a traditional guardsman, I don't think many people understand that we have to live dual lives and the consequences. Going from a normal work week to drill weekend is not so bad, but coming back to civilian life is a bit more difficult, especially while maintaining the same standards as active duty, full-time military. The slogan is one weekend a month and two weeks a year, but I lost track of the lunch hours I had given up on my civilian job to prepare for weekends or the hours driving to and from training meetings or the extra hours at work to squeeze in a workout.
Now on active duty, we see more dualism. We still have lives and jobs to go back to and no matter how many times we (try to) call home or read e-mails, somehow our brains process things still being the same as the day we left. As if we were in a time machine or the rest of our world" is in suspended animation.
As we get closer to the halfway point, I find my thoughts are on coming home and being able to reintegrate into my former life as a civilian. I had to hand off responsibilities for paying bills and my share of assignments at work. Although it is a trade-off being a single soldier where I won't have to worry about fitting back in with immediate family or head of household or parenting, I worry about fitting back in with friends and co-workers. I also wonder how much of me has changed, and I am wondering what I will do when I don't have to work 16-20 hour days.
There is another duality here. Some days we find ourselves fighting the "kinetic war" where we have been sent to guard equipment in the open desert for extended periods of time, prepare to defend the camp against local tensions, or travel on convoys around our sector. Other days we are fighting the "popular war" talking to people downtown, handing out goodies to the kids, or assessing the conditions of the roads and schools, where we are trying to rebuild and stabilize the infrastructure of the area. Although both missions are important, it is hard to make that switch on our posture and aggression level. Considering we could get hurt in either situation, it takes attentive soldiers and leaders to know the difference. If we are too aggressive on our "peacekeeping" missions, we could upset the local sentiment and our support will backslide. If we are too complacent on our tactical missions, an attack would be devastating. The heat factor with the weather does not help; taking off our helmets or body armor for a minute to get some fresh air or when fighting the sleep monster would be detrimental not only to individuals but to the whole group.posted by Scott | 22:31 Baghdad time | © 5.17.2005
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It's people like you who make me proud to live in the U.S.A. Keep up the good work and I just want to express my thanks to you as well. I read your stuff as much as I can and it's inspiring.
Posted by 6/7/05 23:50|
Howdy from Texas,
WCAX TV Spots
WCAX (channel 3 in Burlington, Vermont) will be doing a story on us this week on TV. We also did 10 sec. greeting that should be airing around the same time. So keep your VCRs and DVRs ready.
I should have another update out soon. It has been a long hot couple of weeks.posted by Scott | 19:20 Baghdad time | © 5.16.2005
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When I was young, I never thought I would ever find myself in the back of a police car, much less a police car in Iraq. This was the second time I had to sit in the back of a cruiser. I remember my mother's face the first time I climbed out of the back seat. I had hydroplaned off the road shortly after receiving my license and got the family car stuck in a small ditch off the side of the road. Much to her relief, a helpful policeman just offered me a ride home to get some recovery tools.
I can only imagine what my mom is thinking this time. As it turns out, we have been working with the Iraqi police to clean up the streets for the kids. There are much better things to play with than leftover ammunition and projectiles. I volunteered to be the security and middleman between the police chief, the interpreter, and our patrol. So I found myself sitting in the back of the cruiser in my body armor and Kevlar. There was not much room to move, nor was there much small talk. I have only mastered a handful of words in Arabic. We ended up discussing the sandstorms and fleas.
Overall it was a good experience working with the police. I still feel a sense of their residual distrust and uncertainty, as they were reluctant to divulge certain details of their operations. I understand they want ownership of their district, which is good for us that they can be independent, but we just need to make sure we are leaving reliable people in charge that will take care of the people first and not themselves first.
Gifts from the Desert
The dry heat is not the only gift of the desert. The temperature change from day to night is extreme enough to cause great sand storms. I was able to catch one rolling in on my camera. I am not sure it will upload well. I thought the sand storm scenes in the Mummy or Hidalgo were a great special effect, until I stood in one.
It was eerie. It came from the west, a silent tan/orange cloud that was growing in size and momentum. The mass overtook the waning daylight so the ambient light was orangey and grey. The mass of dust seemed to be swallowing everything. Then the silence was broken by a sudden rush of wind. I thought it is best to seek shelter, yet in the two minutes I watched filming, I realized it was too late and made a mad dash for the tent. I was able to capture more footage of the storm from the shelter of the breezeway in the tent. The whole airspace above the earth was as if painted orange, except it was coarse like sand paper. It was like a gritty fog. Unfortunately my tent is not completely sealed, and the foot of my bed and some of my clothes and things were covered in a thick layer of fine sand. It took a few rounds with the broom and mop to restore the floor of my tent to pre-storm conditions.
The sand storm does well for getting rid of the flies that have been pestering us in the chow hall, portajohns, and while on patrol; however, the sandstorms bring fleas. I thought I was wearing my belt too tight and my hips were itchy, so I started to scratch. Later on in the shower I realized I had bumps on my belt line just forward of my iliac crests. The flies are also enjoying our arms from our elbows and wrists and especially below our inner biceps. I have been using bug spray and flea collars around my boots. Hopefully this will just be mildly uncomfortable and not aggravating. Looks like the only blood I will be able to give now will be to the sand fleas.
I think I may have my first battle scar. We went out to the range to reconfirm our weapons sights and to train on some mounted engagements. It is nice having ranges in the middle of the desert. There is plenty of maneuver space and nowhere to hide. We were conducting a simultaneous engagement with multiple weapons. The metal weapons already get hot enough from just sitting in the sun, so we must wear gloves. Moreover, the barrels become hotter while firing. I happened to be sitting in the right spot, and out of the corner of my eye I saw brass heading in my direction. Although with my cat-like reflexes I could have caught the brass, my body armor prevented me from reaching across far enough to cover my neck. Two rifle casings from a hot gun flopped in between my neck and my body armor, resulting in second degree burns. I am not sure if the blistering was assisted by the sun or the salt residue from my sweat rubbing against my clothes and skin. In any event, it is just another irritation that looks more like a hickie now. You know after five months, I think I would rather prefer having a hickie than being teased for having something that looks like a hickie.
Speaking of sweat and salt, the arid desert and profuse sweating (and drinking water) cause our body salt to precipitate on our clothes. Even after taking a shower on the morning, putting on a clean uniform, and changing socks and t-shirt during the day, at the end of the day it feels like we have been wearing our clothes for a week. I find the patterns of salt lines on everyone's armpits, collars, and hats interesting. I wonder if you can read them the way you read palms or tea leaves. They probably just say, "Take a bath!"
Boots on the Ground
After five months, I finally got my second and third pair of boots. I have been wearing the same pair of Gore-Tex winter boots since we got here. It got to the point where I my feet would hurt for the first 45 minutes I had my boots on and I would have to change my socks a few times a day. In 100+ degrees, having summer boots and boots to swap out made huge difference.
We also received more upgrades to our body armor. They are pads for our armpits and kidneys worn under the vest and shoulder pads for outside the vest. It is interesting the cycles of history. In Roman and medieval times, armor was worn to protect the soldier, and with the advent of gunpowder even the horses were fitted with protective armor. Then in the time of Napoleon, the American civil war, and even the World Wars, armor was not widely used on the individual soldier. Now we are back in a period where body armor is required on the soldiers and the vehicles. With my helmet, vest, and crotch protector, I feel more like I am wearing samurai armor. Unfortunately, survivability and mobility are inversely proportional. The more crap we put on, the less we can move or want to move in the heat. It is not terrible, but it takes some time to break in and get used to before it becomes familiar and fluid. I think the tenants of Bushido have gone the way of the sword. Just a decorative conversation pieces more than a warrior ethos.
There is a distinct division between being a soldier and being a warrior. Although soldiering involves performing a job with a great deal of sacrifice, being a warrior really internalizes a commitment of mind, body, heart, and spirit. I really don't think many people really understand why we are here or why we want to or should be here. It's not really for the combat patch, medals, CCB/CIB, oil, economy, et cetera. We hear there are still people home protesting the war and voting at town meetings for us to come home. We are not fighting Iraqis. We are fighting corruption and fear. I have talked to several Iraqis at different occasions and in different positions of authority. They all say the insurgents are either non-Iraqi Muslims who fear democracy and American influence and think our presence here weakens the Muslim/tribal culture, or they are people who were in Saddam's back pocket and are upset because they no longer have power and riches. The Iraqis seem to want us here not to help rebuild and bring them out of poverty.
I wish the war protestors could see into the eyes of the children here. Don't just support the troops but support the people. After all, we are all related. Maybe the global economy has much to do with it and greed, abuse, and corruption cause ripples that affect people in another part of the world. For example, after World War I, an economic balance was established to help rebuild England, France, and Germany. It was American stock traders that upset this balance and the world; not just America experienced a depression in the 1930s. Hitler used this depression to gain popularity, and World War II ensued. Americans then did not want to get involved until Pearl Harbor.
Maybe I am an idealist. But I am here. I do not want to go home early because of the way people feel back home. I am not giving up my seat so someone can die in my place or absence. We have to finish what we start. Close the loop. Although I volunteered almost ten years ago, this is something that we are all told to prepare for. We do not get to pick the time, place, or circumstances; that is up to fate or whom you chose to pray to. I am here to do my job. In fact, it is not a job. I am here to make a difference. It may be to influence a handful of Iraqis and their children, so they do not grow up to hate Americans or become terrorists, or it may be to keep the guys in my unit alive. In any event this is my path, I have to do the best I can, but I could use some help along the way.posted by Scott | 12:18 Baghdad time | © 5.02.2005
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we are sending school supplies and clothing for iraqi children thru a church here in colchester, vt. we just need to have more contacts to send them to. right now we have a soldier that is working with iraqi civilian authorities that we mail packages to. if you have more addresses, i will send more packages. my e-mail is email@example.com. i am so proud of all of you over there. we have been sending packages,phone cards, and clothing since april of 2003 and will continue to do so as long as a soldier asks. keep up the good work!
Posted by 2/5/05 23:48|