Medicine Soldier

A View from Iraq


6.21.2005

Firefight

There we were on a typical day at camp. As usual, the power had been fluctuating because even the generators could not take the heat. After hearing some curious popping sounds, we sprang to action upon realizing one of our neighboring tents had caught on fire.

My able-bodied armor crewmen jumped to action, and we began surrounding the already engulfed tent with clouds of Halon. Despite our best efforts, the 140 degree air temperature and persistent wind did not act in our favor. It was a tug of war stand-off between us and the fire. As we exhausted the dry chemical bottles and almost put out the fire, the wind would resuscitate the smoldering canvas. Runners were dispatched to find more bottles, and the company first sergeant and I quickly realized this was only a containment job, not an extinguishing job. I quickly called on the radio to the operations center to alert them and dispatch more help and a water truck.

Luckily it was just a tent for transient convoys and was unoccupied at the time. Our biggest concern was not letting the fire spread to adjacent tents with gear and people inside. After a good workout, we spent the rest of the afternoon finding shade since they had to shut off the generator to clean up the mess.

Happy First Day of Summer

One of my jobs is to report the weather to the guys in the company. It sometimes seems trivial because it is always hot, dusty, and dry. However, changes must be reported like an extremely hot day or increased sand storms. Also, things like the amount of moon light or sunrise and sunset affect our missions. We found out the other day that the official thermometer stops reading at 118 degrees. I took a little heat for that, since everyone asks me, "How hot is it today?" Well, I had been reporting 118 degrees when it was actually closer to 138-140 degrees, already.

In case you are wondering what it is like over here, try this at home. First, get a cupful of fine dirt or sand. Find a nice cotton long-sleeve shirt and pants and throw the in the clothes dryer on high heat. Then run into the bathroom and put the cup of sand on the sink. Jump in the shower with the water as hot as you can barely stand. Then without drying off, run to the dryer and put the clothes on right out of the dryer (yes, over your wet body). Run back to the bathroom and turn the hair dryer on full hot blast and hold it a half inch from your nose. Throw the sand in the hot air. Repeat this several times and you're in Iraq. (Athlete's foot and jock itch not included.)

Poetry or Prose?

I have received many comments and praises on my writing. I had initially intended my writing to be a way to vent, express my feelings, and capture my experiences here. I also wanted to have a way to keep in touch with my family and co-workers back home. What started as a small email list grew to a website, and I have received emails and letters from Iraq to Kuwait to Europe and even back in the states.

My writings have even made their way back to the guys in my company. I had mixed feelings about this at first. Not that I am keeping anything or writing about them specifically, but I never envisioned my popularity. I saw this as more of a personal log and a way of keeping in touch with people I care about back home.

In any event, several people have commented about my writing a book, and I am flattered. Most recently, the guys were teasing me about doing a movie deal. We have not decided if it is an action film or comedy, but casting has gone out for Bruce Willis, Danny DeVito and Jack Nicholson as some of the main characters. To play me, the guys have suggested "the Rock." I think I had better hit the Gym.

If you like my prose how about a change this time?

    The Lonely Path

    I found myself in the desert.
    Alone, I stand bisected between a blue sky and tan sand.
    With feet planted firmly my gaze upward and alert
    Once again contemplating the measure of a man.

    Far away from home dust sweeps across my face.
    fettered in modern armor and sweat lingers on my brow.
    Surveying a barren horizon, salt on my lips I taste.
    Looking outward, but meditating inward, "Who am I now?"

    Fighting a war of the flesh, mind, heart and spirit,
    On a quest to become whole and holy.
    Looking for balance and reason I discover
    In the eyes of the children are lessons of mortality and humanity.

    Watching war from the inside on the news,
    learning first hand about other people's views,
    and observing how politics can abuse.
    These lessons to my own character, I have fused.

    Unyielding devotion to my comrades in arms
    To see them through the course.
    With my best effort I have done my part.
    And hope to leave this place better than worse.

    Alone in the desert, I stand
    While loved ones back home send me comfort
    I am but one small humble grain of sand
    Still, I found myself in the desert.

    —April 23, 2005 from Iraq

posted by Scott | 19:15 Baghdad time | © 6.21.2005
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Feedback from readers: 4


Bravo, (No pun intended) Scott!
Think about that book.

Posted by Anonymous Sue Marshall | 22/6/05 15:02  


I am glad you are finding your voice. I'm sending white light your way, hoping for your safety and well being.

Posted by Blogger Carol Gee | 25/6/05 18:18  


You have a wonderful way with words. Very moving

Posted by Blogger justme88 | 26/6/05 08:32  


You have a beautiful way with words. You are very talented. I thank you for being where you are and I pray for your safe return soon!
Sincerely,
Katie Flannery

Posted by Anonymous Katie | 6/7/05 23:52  


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6.06.2005

Third Time Is a Charm

My third time in a police car, I was able to drive. We received a bunch of vehicles for the Iraqi Security Forces that we had to deliver. We had close to 30 vehicles, not including our HMMWVs and truck, to bring back all the drivers. It took most of our company. The convoy was impressive, and although we could not use the sirens or lights, we still got quite the reception from the locals. It must have been a sight seeing all the Iraqi police cars being escorted by military vehicles; on top of that, it was the soldiers driving. At first the kids were not sure about waving. Then they laughed.

Of course there was a catch—I ended up getting tied up handing out keys and lining up vehicles, and I did not realize the last car left for me was a "hooptie" police car with manual transmission. Being from Boston with traffic, I had not seen the benefit of having a manual transmission, and my total stick time equated to about 30 minutes in a minivan in Kuwait, about an hour in South Dakota, and a couple hours in my high school parking lot with my then little brothers getting seasick in the back seat.

So here I am in a police car, in Iraq, the 32nd vehicle in a 34 vehicle convoy, locked and loaded for battle and trying to "look good in front of the guys." Don't get me wrong, I paid attention in physics and shop class, I just never developed the patience for the clutch pedal. Aside from stalling once when the convoy bottlenecked in the entrance to our destination and pulling a NASCAR maneuver on a turn where we leapfrogged the "gun trucks" to block traffic, I think I did well.

Power

Life is not too bad on the camp. We have ten man tents with power running in them and most of the comforts of home, except the bathrooms. (I heard a rumor there are work orders to put seat belts in the porta johns. Something about sweating so much at 160 degrees that you slide right off the seat.) Our tents also have fans and A/C. The problem is that the canvas radiates heat. Our electricity is powered by diesel generators that are frequently breaking.

So let's do the math. It is 140 degrees outside, diesel burns at 800+ degrees, and the electrical load on the generators all cause the generators to overheat and shut down. When? The middle of the day, of course. Solution: Don't run the A/C during the day, according to the officers running the camp. That might make sense if you work in an office that is not your tent from 9-5 and can come back to your tent and cool it off in the evening; however, my tent is the office, and we do patrols at all hours of the day and some times sleep during the day. It is amazing how fast your body can produce sweat going from 140 outside to 160 inside a tent. Instant saturation. We are working on a few solutions, like multiple generators that cycle on and off to allow cooling. There are also 18-wheel trailers that are supposed to be full of ice for us to keep water cold on patrol. We were joking about it today: "If the Vermonters disappear, just look in the ice trailers; we will be in there playing cards in T-shirts."

Saddam's Picture

I guess Saddam made the paper recently. Someone took photos of him bathing in his underwear and published a story about it. Well as I mentioned before, everything is related. I am sure the intent of the photos is to contrast Saddam as a dictator to his life now. Unfortunately, many Muslims see this as Americans humiliating Muslims. In addition, the false reports of mishandling of the Qu'ran in Guantanamo and the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prison abuses all affect us here. We spend hours trying to gain trust and support of the local people, who have been under a corrupt dictatorship and told lies about Americans, all to be undone by some media spin. I enjoyed having the media representation here last month where we were able to give our personal account of what is going on, but sometimes I question the motivations of the media and hope they understand the impact.

Difficult Negotiations

I had very difficult and stressful negotiations the other day. I was trying to work a few angles with the ladies. But I got the cold shoulder and was worn down by relentless requests for goods. We were trying to negotiate the release of soccer balls and toys in exchange for getting the kids to eat granola bars and brush their teeth.

Although it is the most exciting and rewarding thing we do here, it is also one of the more challenging things, trying to constructively hand out toys, food, water, and supplies to the kids in town. It is hard to not get caught up in the moment and lose sight of our security, trying to balance talking (or trying to talk) with the kids, taking pictures, ensuring security, and keeping the kids from climbing in and around the vehicles. It is also sad—the more we give out things, the more they expect us to give things. We have even had boys throw rocks at us when we ran out of things to give. The kids have caused fights over balls, and other kids will run and hide things and come back empty-handed as if they never got anything.

I feel for these people living in such poverty, corruption, and oppression, and now in a period of instability. I wonder if the habits of the kids extend to the adults. I fear we may be creating a welfare state and end up throwing more and more money into the country, only for them to expect more and more. We are trying to reconstruct Iraq, maintain cultural sensitivity, and minimize use of force and collateral damage—all under the watchful eye of the media. Unfortunately, if we do the right thing, our presence here goes unnoticed, but if we do the wrong thing, then we end up an international incident via a court martial for a "bad shoot" or via another improvised explosive statistic.

Windows

The view here is amazing. The way the tan sand and blue sky contrast each other and being able to see for miles puts things in proportion, reminding me how small we are and how big the earth is. There are no windows to look through. Open air outside and no windows in the tents. Sometimes I lose track of time while I am working in my tent or when we watch movies. Walking out of the tent and stepping back into reality hits you just as bad as the heat. Having to remember where we are and why we are here. I lose track of time because it is the same thing everyday. We may run different missions at different times, but the task and purpose are the same. The days and weeks run together. I find myself intentionally finding ways to break up the day or week by doing something different or changing eating habits, going on more missions than usual, or not sleeping the same hours.

In fact, the only window I have to look through is on my laptop. My "digital looking glass" helps keep me in touch with the "real world." I am really not fond of the phones here, maybe because of the satellite delay, but I think I am afraid someone will hear loneliness in my voice. So I rely on my laptop to stay connected. Listening to music, watching movies, or even writing email and stories helps pass the time. Being able to reach across time and space instantly through email and instant message reminds me of how small the earth is, going "through the looking glass" to touch people back home.

posted by Scott | 20:43 Baghdad time | © 6.06.2005
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Feedback from readers: 1


nice to see your weblog.i,m a physician from iran.would u send me more photos from iraq and its people?
your weblog is very iteresting.
i will introduce it to my readers.
my e.mail:
alirezamajidi@gmail.com

Posted by Anonymous alireza | 1/7/05 00:53  


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6.01.2005

Thank You, Again

It has been a busy week. I am hoping we will soon move back south to Kuwait. Unfortunately we still have to make it through summer. I turned my calendar today and laughed. The first day of summer is the 21st, yet it has been consistently between 110 and 130 the last few weeks. It cools off to about 85-90 at night. I am working on another update with some more stories.

However, I am really writing today to thank everyone again for sending me packages and letters. I consistently get between two and several packages in the mail when it is delivered. Although the guys tease me, I let them watch me go through the packages and I make three piles: one pile for the kids in town, one pile for the soldiers in my unit and the camp, and a smaller pile for myself. Everyone's generosity is a reflection on my character and I appreciate it. They are calling me the "Iraqi Wal-Mart." My tent is beginning to look like a CVS or Walgreens. I have a section of toiletries and personal needs, a section of goodies, and a section of toys and school supplies for the kids. I am due for another trip in my camp golf cart to drop off stuff, and we are planning another trip in town to visit the kids.

Things in our area have been thus far relatively quiet. However, there are three major operations going on up north: Matador, New Market, and Lightning. Although these three are publicized in the news, there are other smaller operations going on and one of our concerns is the activity in the north pushing the insurgents farther south. In turn, we have been pushing out guys to get back to basics and continue their training. We also expect longer and more frequent patrols to monitor changes in the area as well as prepare for the elections here in September.

Once again, I thank you all. I could not do this without you.

posted by Scott | 14:25 Baghdad time | © 6.01.2005
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