Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Escort to Anaconda

I wanted to write about a little trip we took a few days ago to Anaconda. Anaconda is an airfield somewhere near Balad.

Our day started at 0330 when we woke up to do our pci's on our humvee's to get them ready for an early morning mission. We were leaving around 0500. Thank goodness I had an hour and a half to get everything ready when it actually only takes about 30 minutes. We went out to observe some of our impacting mortar rounds on enemy positions. The whole mortar game we play with the terrorists reminds me of the game Battleship. On rare occasions we go out on missions knowing that the likelihood of getting anything substantial accomplished is actually quite unlikely. This was one of those missions. This isn't just me bitching, my leadership all said the same thing. I'll leave out the details, but imagine driving across the country to visit the Grand Canyon, stopping a mile short of it, and trying desperately to see its glorious grandeur. Hopefully you get the point. On a positive note, on our way back we crested the top of a hill, and I was able to look out over thousands of acres of green farmland to a beautiful sunrise on the horizon.

On the way back I'm thinking about the good breakfast I'm going to eat and the relaxing day ahead of me. We were going to have a relaxing day in order to rest up for a mission that was going to last the entire night. So we get back, take everything out of the Humvees, clean up, and start walking back to our boxes will all our gear in tow. No sooner had I gotten inside and taken off all of my body armor when someone pokes their head in and tells me we have to get back up to the humvees. Big surprise there. I've grown used to being called at a moments notice. War waits on no man. My mind instantly goes into overdrive. I must get coffee and chow, my life depends on it. I throw on my gear and jog back up to the humvees. I found out that we had to escort some big trucks to Anaconda so they could pick up some tanks. That's cool, but I still need my caffeine and chow. My driver is nowhere to be found. Turns out he was patronizing one of those wonderful port-a-johns. I found my platoon Sgt. and asked him if I could run get some coffee, leaving out the fact that I was going to get a plate of food to. I knew I had the time. No matter how much they tell you to rush, you always end up waiting an extra half hour anyway. The old hurry up and wait. I ran over to the chow hall, cleared my weapon, washed my hands, and rushed past the guard standing there with his metal detector wand. I grabbed my plastic plate and a spoon and hurry up to the serving line. Mister Pakistani is standing there with a big smile. "May I have some eggs, bacon, grits, and a biscuit please", I ask. In no time my plate is full and in my hands. Now for the coffee. I hurry over to the coffee pot, grits running over my plate into my hands and pour a cup of coffee. After throwing in six packages of sugar and two of creamer, I stir it up with my all-purpose spoon and then re-insert it back into my grits. I'm out the door and walking as fast as I can, the coffee now spilling over the sides burning my hands. I get back to see people still trying to get ready and some just standing around. I'm good. I jump up in the gunners hatch of my humvee and began inhaling my food. You just can't beat a good hardy breakfast when you've been up for hours and starving. I finish up while Thomas, now back from the port-a-john, and my platoon Sgt. sit in their seats waiting for us to leave. I sat the plate down next to my 50 cal and start adjusting the strap that will become my seat for the trip. While doing this I hit my plate with my elbow, flipping it upside down and into the humvee. Leftover runny eggs and pieces of bacon come raining down on the floor and equipment below. I want to laugh but wait on my platoon Sgt.'s reaction. You might think he would get mad and start cussing, but all he said was, "10 second rule", before picking up a piece of bacon and eating it. Damn, I have a cool platoon Sgt. I commence to laughing as Thomas tries to shake out his vest that now has scrambled eggs all over it. I guzzled down the remainder of my scalding hot coffee right before we pulled off. I'm feeling good and ready for another exciting ride.

We were supposed to be back in the early afternoon in time to go to a range and shoot our big guns. I knew before we left that it would be a long day. The trip was long but not too long, and it was uneventful as well. We get into Anaconda, a huge base with what seemed to be thousands of soldiers walking around casually, wearing nothing but there dcu's and boony cap. Are these people in Iraq or on vacation. Who cares, I figure a year of boredom living at this place seems a lot longer than a year of fast, hard living, outside of it. We followed the trucks to a big open area with huge connexes(big containers you see on trucks, trains, and ships) sitting all around. The tanks aren't going to be ready to load until 1500, giving us about two and a half hours to eat chow and go to the big PX they have. Looks like we won't be going to the range today.

Chow is the first order of business. The humvees shuttle everyone over to a huge building that looked like it could hold a couple of thousand of people. National Guardsmen are everywhere, looking at us with seeming disdain for tresspassing on their holy ground. Screw them and their boony hats. We look out of place with all our gear on and dirty dcu's. A couple of us noticed the fact that all of them had to clear their weapons before entering the chow hall as well. We wondered if bothered them even more than it did us, knowing that since most of them never leave the place they never have to actually chamber a round anyway. I'm not knocking NG's, it's just that a few of them said a few things to us that really pissed us off and this is my way of venting. A lot of NG's have done a lot of brave things over here that is appreciated by me.

So we finish chow and head back to the trucks, knowing that we are going to be waiting all day. Soldiers with nothing to do for a few hours can sometimes lead to trouble. There were a few guys from another unit at the site as well. They were the ones we were getting the tanks from and were going home in a couple of days. They basically told us that we could have anything that was there, including anything in the open connexes. Shouldn't have told us that. When you are about to spend a year in a place like this the simplest thing can suddenly become very valuable. The opposite can be said for those that are about to go home. Things that are very nice are discarded as if it's yesterday's garbage. We all become looters of all the abundant bounty. The guys from the other unit were hanging out in this big shed made of plywood that resembled a barn. One of them was sitting there reading a Playboy with, of all people, Darva Conger, on the cover. So we started with the barn, taking everything that we could get our hands on and fit into the humvees. I wasn't surprised to see the Playboy eventually in the hands of one of our guys as well. You can't blame them, there isn't much to look at over here for the next year, but Darva Conger, I think I'll pass. She's the same one that swore up and down that she wasn't seeking publicity, only to proceed to pose nude in Playboy. Right Darva, whatever you say.

We soon expanded our looting expedition to the connexes scattered around the area. We found all kinds of things that we will eventually use this year. You wouldn't believe the amount of batteries we found. Some guy, and I'm not making this up found an unopened board game. Guess which one it was, yep, Battleship. As we were walking out to a couple of more connexes a little farther away, we came up on a burn barrel, its singed contents blowing out and fluttering in the stiff wind. On closer inspection we realized it was full of porn mags. Imagine that, soldiers burning porn mags. A lot of the guys had a look of disbelief at the injustice of it all. I just laughed at the absurdity of the whole scene. We continued to walk towards another connex, pages of the porn mags landing around us and skidding on the sand. I thought that was bizarre enough until I reached the connex we were walking towards. The huge metal doors were already open and some of its contents had spilled outside. This connex was stacked with boxes all the way to the back and almost to the ceiling, some of them already opened. The only thing that could top the burning, windblown porn was the fact that this connex was full of feminine hygeine products. You could've literally supplied the entire army for a month with the amount of tampons and whatever else in there. Of course someone had come across this before, since they had made a point to empty a couple of the boxes outside on the ground. One of the guys I was with, just to make sure it really was all tampons, climbed up and over boxes all the way to the back, finding nothing of value to us. Of course we could use the tampons to plug bullet wounds, but our medic already has some. Burning porn and tampons, just a few of the many things you will find in an abandoned part of an airfield in Iraq.

We loaded our humvees down with as much stuff as we could fit as the night came upon us. Through the backseat window of my humvee I watched a fire burning wood and trash as the tanks finally got loaded on to the trucks. We finally left around 1900, and after another uneventful trip home, I finally got into bed at 2300.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Two Defining Scenes of This War

Yesterday I saw two familiar scenes of this war. Only one will you see on your nightly news, specifically CNN. Two days ago our day began at 0330 and didn't end until 2200. It was a day worth telling and hopefully I will get the time to tell it. We were all obviously worn out from the previous days two missions, but that didn't stop us from having an even longer day yesterday.

Yesterday we got to sleep in until 0700, late considering the times we normally get up around here. At 0930 we headed out on a route clearance mission, patrolling routes along our sector and visiting with the people of various towns along the way. What you won't see in the news, but what is a recurring scene around here, is the kindess that the vast majority of the Iraqi people have for us and the reciprocating kindness that young U.S. soldiers have for them. By far the coolest thing about being over here is the children. They make all the b.s. and all the long days worth the effort. If the children of this nation are the future of Iraq, then the U.S. can expect good relations with this country in the future. There isn't a city, town, or small community that I've been through where the children don't wave and smile enthusiastically at our presence. I never miss an opportunity to wave and smile back.

We first stopped by an Iraqi Army compound to pick up a squad of men to accompany us on our mission. While waiting on them to join our convoy kids and grown ups of all ages greeted us with smiles. Two 14 year old boys in particular started my morning off on a positive note. From my seat atop the Humvee I carried on a 20 minute conversation with these two boys about life and the weather. Their command of the English language was impressive and their uncanny ablility to predict the days weather was more accurate that any meteorologist back home. It was more fun to see my younger driver, Thomas, talk to them from the drivers side window. He talked to them like they had known each other for years. It's these soldiers, some of them not long out of high school, that are spreading American goodwill throughout this nation.

After about 30 minutes the Iraqi Army guys were ready to go and we started the days long drive. The first town we came to was a small community surrounded by farmland. Everyone except the drivers and gunners got out on the ground to walk and talk with the locals and pass out leaflets of information. Kids and grown ups of all ages were crowding around the humvees and the guys on the ground. Even the Iraqi Army guys were busy laughing with the locals. The kids, most of them on their way home from school, could hardly contain themselves in their desire to talk to us. The little girls, with beautiful smiles that reminded me of my niece, would wave and try desperately to talk to us in English. The more outgoing boys, with arms full of textbooks, weren't as shy. They would walk right up to the humvee and stick their heads in the window to talk to the cool American soldiers. Besides asking questions, and wanting us to give them pens, I could here them on more than one occasion telling my driver and me that America was good, Saddam bad. I don't know what it is with pens, but they love them. Unfortunately I only had one, which was soon in the possesion of a young boy. I also had a little video camera and they all wanted to be filmed. Even the little girls loved waving and talking in to the camera. Once again my driver, an all-American guy from the Midwest, displayed the kindness and humor that is ever present in young soldiers. I was also pleased to see some of the older teen boys and some men approach the vehicle with smiles and questions. Even more remarkably, the usually reserved women of this land, waved and smiled with enthusiasm. In this place and others we visited, the scene was the same. It was hardly the type of footage you would see on your nightly news. Watching CNN back home, you would think that this whole nation is on fire, chaos and death all around.

Once we got back in the late afternoon, we thought we were going to be able to rest the remainder of the evening to get ready for our late-night mission. Ten minutes after returning we were once again told to get the humvees ready, we were heading back out the gate. An IED had gone off in a town in our sector. Some MP's on the scene had reportedly received small arms fire. Since the MP's didn't want to search the homes in the area where they had received the fire they waited on the infantry to show up to take care of business. What exactly the MP's do over here I couldn't tell you. When we show up a couple of trucks could be seen smashed up and burning. The IED had ripped through one and the other had plowed into it in the resulting crash. Unfortunately two Iraqis, a man and a woman, had been killed. We turned our attention to the houses adjacent to the road, the ones the MP's were now surrounding from a more than safe distance. We gathered a plan and took off, driving right up to the houses. The Iragi Army, impressing me with their discipline, went in to the homes first with our guys following in behind them. Those of us in the humvees surrounded the homes to provide support by fire. When we had first pulled up the MP's got out of the way, looking like they didn't want any of the action. The search was done in no time with no enemy to be found. Once this was apparent the MP's once again pulled up closer, braver now that they knew there was no threat. This really pissed me off, especially since one idiot pulled his humvee right in front of mine, blocking my line of fire. I'm yelling at this idiot to get out of my way but with no success. I finally tell Thomas to back up and go around when another MP humvee pulled right up to our rear right. Are these guys kidding! What the hell were they doing. They didn't want anything to do with this ten minutes earlier and now all they are doing is getting in our way. I was yelling and cussing(something I'm trying not to do) at them to get out of my way. Finally my platoon sgt. comes back to our humvee and sees what is happening. He turns red and starts cussing at them as well and within earshot of their CO. Our Lt. tells him and me to calm down, that there CO is standing right there. Well, my platoon sgt. and I couldn't care less if their CO is right there. As far as I'm concerned their actions dangered the lives of themselves and us. How am I supposed to react to enemy gunfire if some damn MP is blocking my line of fire. And this genius wasn't even looking towards the targeted homes. I made sure the CO of the MP's could here my bitching, and I wish he would have said something. What's he going to do, send me to Iraq? I'm already here and having fun. Maybe he could reprimand me and give me an Article 15. Like I would lose a second of sleep over it. Screw the MP's and their CO, get the hell out of our way if you can't handle it. Not only did they do this but they refused to stay around and help us direct all the traffic that had backed up on both sides of the destroyed trucks. They said that isn't their job. Then what the hell is their job, especially since they can't write tickets to G.I.'s for speeding on post.

Overall it was an exciting and productive day. It was also a reminder of the constant threat we have of being hit with an IED. I'm sorry for the loss of those two lives, and even more sorry that we couldn't find the assholes that did it. We stayed around until 2300, finally heading back to our FOB. Our original mission planned for that night and early morning was nixed. We were all looking forward to it, since it might have proved deadly for the bad guys. It's ok though, there will be more days and nights to deal with them. We finally got back after midnight, hungry and tired. After getting back to my box I ate some Ramen noodles, my second night in a row I've had noodles for dinner. I went to bed thinking that If a reporter had been with us, the only thing he would have reported would have been the burning trucks hit by an IED.

Friday, February 18, 2005

No Time

It's 10:25 and I have to get up in five hours. Unfortunately I only have 30 minutes on this computer and it's slow as hell and blogger is even slower. If I wanted to stay busy this year then I came to the right place. I'm doubting whether or not I will have time to do anything besides sleep, eat, and go on missions. Oh well, I didn't come over here for the cuisine. The past two days have been spent working manual labor in the motor pool changing the track shoes on our platoon's Bradley's. You know, you would think since we aren't on patrol cycle these last few days that I would have a nice relaxing evening in my home that is a box. Not a chance. Today, as I was on here in the midst of an email to my wife I here my name yelled and to hurry and get out to the Humvees. What do you know, another mission. The same thing happened last night, which I don't have the time to bore you with. Let's concentrate on the one this evening, it's almost as comical as the one last night. So there is an important piece of communications equipment that is unaccounted for and no one knows where it is. The one place that everyone thinks it's at is the river, meaning the Tigris. There is a bridge there and I'm assuming other bridges that cross this great river that is an EPA nightmare. We radio the bridge asking if they have it and if they will look for it. They radio back saying they don't have it, but they looked anyway. So it's time to go out and see for ourselves. This isn't a matter of just jumping in a car and riding out there, you have to get an entire convoy ready for Armorgeddon(sp) to go out there. It's kind of a security thing, since there are asshole terrorists that want to kill us crazy Americans. So I run to my box, grab a Mountain Dew and a snack, stick in some nicotine saturated dip and Im ready to roll. We gear up and load up and I get in my perch atop the humvee with my trusty .50 cal. We're driving like madmen down the center of the road breaking every traffic law known to those of you back home, but which don't seem to exist in this land, certainly not for us. Speeding and weaving in and out of traffic, dodging guys riding donkeys, and shepherds herding their sheep along the road. I notice three different soccer games going on on my way out there, one of which the two teams had pastel color jerseys that looked cool against the setting sun. People walking all along the road, every vehicle from every decade crowd the road, and Iraqi Army guys posted along the route with AK's thrown over their shoulders. I even passed a truck with a sheep in the back that was BAAAAAAHING away like he knew he might become dinner tonight. Right when we pull up to the bridge, before we even get out, someone comes over the radio and tells us that someone out there has the piece of equipment back in their room. Imagine that. Dodging IED's for nothing. My platoon Sgt. is pissed and cussing up a storm. I'm to busy laughing and hoping we get back soon so I don't miss chow for a second night in a row. As soon as we get there we're heading back with nothing to show for our trip, except an adrenaline fueled highspeed ride with caffeine and nicotine coursing through my veins. Hey, at least I made it back for some greasy fried chicken cooked by some Pakistani's. Nothing like home cookin' from the Pakistani's.

I'm going out again twice tomorrow and in a couple of days I'm going on a really fun mission that might actually turn out to be bad for the terrorists. Loving life here in Iraq amid all it's craziness. I will try to post more often, but please know that time is limited and computers slow. Take care and thanks for the emails.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Greetings From Iraq

Sorry I haven't written sooner, but we have been busy since we finally got up to our FOB. They gave us a couple of days to acclimate and settle in before we began a whirlwind of patrols for the past four days. You think we have bad drivers back in the states, you should come over here. These people truly drive it like they stole it. Of course their driving is nothing compared to the way we drive our humvees around here. We command the road and you better not get in the way. Ive quickly learned that you drive fast and in the middle of the road to better avoid the chance of getting hit with an IED. Those people driving in the opposite direction by now realize this and are good about pulling off to the side of the road. As a gunner atop the Humvee this is fine with me, since I'm the most likely to get wounded from an IED. This point was made clear back in Kuwait when we were hearded into a tent to view an IED film. Guess what, almost everyone that got hurt was a gunner. Cool! It doesn't matter though, I still think I have the best seat in the house. I just hope that if an IED does go off that there will be someone that is clearly the culprit, so I can make use of the pretty gun I have up there with me. I would almost rather be shot at with an RPG, since you at least know the origin of the round and therefore the shooter. It sounded like I just wish to get shot at by an RPG. I promise I'm not crazy. You know what is really fun? Driving through a bustling city with hundreds of people walking all around and poking their heads out of windows and rooftops. There is so much to look for that it's nearly impossible, so you just don't worry about it. It's a very liberating experience though. Kind of like walking down the street naked with everyone laughing at you and not worrying about it. Not that I've done that, but I can imagine the laughs I would get, especially since it's really cold outside.

So far the people have seemed nice if not just indifferent to our presence. The kids are still great though, just like the last time I was here. I don't pretend to think that everyone here is enamored with us, but I think the vast majority of the people like us. In the week that I have been here I can already see a lot of the good things we are doing over here. The IA(Iraqi Army) are looking pretty well and seem to be proud of the job they have. We have already worked with once and will again tomorrow. I hope they are proud of what they are doing. I can tell that they respect the men that are in charge of them. I just pray that the men in charge are good people.

What else. Internet access in kind of limited. You have to normally wait in line and then only have a half hour to be on. If it seems I've been rambling, it's because I'm typing as fast as something comes to my mind. The FOB that we are staying at is not one of the better ones, but it's not a bad place to live for over a year. I only have to room with two other guys which isn't bad. The food is actually pretty good, a lot better than the crap we had in Kuwait. There are showers that are warm if you catch it at the right time and toilets in these little trailor like boxes. Of course we still have port-a-johns. I wouldn't know what to do without those around. It should be an interesting year. I will try to write again soon.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Camp Boring

I don't think the army could possibly be any slower getting from one place to another. I am truly amazed that I am not yet in Iraq. All of us are longing to get settled at our FOB, but we have to actually leave here first. I actually have work to do during the days, but so many of us do not and the days are increasingly becoming long and boring.

You would be amazed it you walked in my tent sometime in the early evening until lights out. There are more laptops in our tent than on the floor of the NYSE. If someone didn't bring a laptop they are inevitably watching a portable DVD player. I saw two guys the other night who had hooked up an XBOX to a portable DVD player and were playing Halo 2 against each other. People are editing slide shows on their computer and making little videos to send home to their wive's or girlfriend's. It's not just the soldiers, it's the officers as well. I think our XO has probably watched a couple of movies a day since we've been here. I enjoy movies as much as anyone, but I can't understand the desire to be watching a movie at every waking hour. I feel like telling them to read a book or write a letter home to someone they love, but it wouldn't do any good. That's the way I escape this place. Not in a movie or video game, but in a book. It's the best escape there is.

I'm praying that we really do leave soon. I've heard an actual date, but I will believe it when we are actually in the act of departing this place. The bad thing is supposedly we have to make a stop for a few days in another base in Iraq before making it to our FOB. More waiting. I wish they would just give me a humvee and let me go on my own. I would get 3 or 4 of my buddies, outfit it with a bunch of guns and ammo, and then take off on one of the greatest road trips of all time. If we tried, we could probably piss off a few terrorists on the way to our FOB. I could be there this evening.