Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas in Iraq

Once again, I've been remiss in writing in my blog. Honestly it's hard to write very often because I can't really write about much of anything that goes on here. What I can write about today is Christmas in Iraq. It really has felt very little like Christmas. I was deployed two years ago at Christmas also, so I guess it has made this Christmas all that more distant feeling. Last night, there was an excellent Christmas eve service at the palace. It was very well done and definately helped reinforce what the true meaning of Christmas is.

Today my unit took a little different approach to Christmas. We went out to the range to do a little weapons training. The best way to show what this was like is with pictures so here you go - as a note - you'll see we had a little chance to "let our hair down" in some of the later pictures and we had a couple special visitors - Joe Dirt and Elvis.

The JIEDDO Iraq Field Team celebrating Christmas day.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Well, after three or so weeks I'm finally posting an update. I hope no one was too worried about me. I have excuses out the whazoo for why I haven't written. Let me get them out of the way - first, I've been sick. Yes, I know that's a lame one, after all I should have had more time to write. I was sleeping most of the time when I was in my room so I wasn't doing any writing. I was also gone again. Out seeing the wonderful sights of Iraq - plus did I mention I was sick? See, now I'm looking for sympathy. Sick and traveling at the same time was really no fun. My final excuse is bad Internet connectivity. We've had a great deal of trouble with our Internet connection and it's been down a lot lately. OK - now I have all my excuses out of the way and I'll get down to the business of updating you on what's happening.

Things have been very quiet lately. With the exception of some small arms fire a few times there hasn't been much activity - let's hope it stays that way. I'm sure you've all seen the news on how the violence has decreased around Iraq. It's true - things are getting better. Here comes the personal opinion part - now is the time for the Iraqi people to seize this moment and actually rebuild their country. Other agencies outside of DoD need to step in and do some Nation building (hello? anyone from the State Department out there?) The military is great at lots of things but I don't think it's in our arena to rebuild Iraq from the ground up. Things are lined up to go in the right direction thanks to the tireless efforts of a small group of American men and women. If this initiative isn't capitalized on things can just as easily slip back into total chaos. It would be a sad day if that were to happen.

Enough of my opinion for now. I spent a little time in a real garden spot last week. Easily the dustiest place I've ever been in my life. Here are a couple pictures to show you how bare and desolate that place was.

I traveled by CH-46 again, my new least favorite way to fly. These things are the slowest, noisiest, most hydraulic fluid leaking things imaginable. On the positive side we didn't crash or get shot down. There's something to be said for that.
As my closing thoughts for today, I'd like to reflect on something. I've been here for about 10 weeks now. This is probably the time that seems the most bleak. The newness of being here has completely worn off and time has slowed down. Looking to the future I see over 9 months ahead of me. It seems like forever. Nothing seems close and everything seems slightly out of reach. The holidays take their toll also. I miss my family. I have the best wife and greatest kids a person could ever ask for and there are many times I kick myself for asking to be sent away from them. I have comfort in the thousands around me who are in the same situation, but it's a sad and lonely comfort for all of us. I hope Americans give more than a passing thought to the people who have volunteered to fight their battles and endure the hardships (and make the ultimate sacrifice) they do so the rest don't have to. Next time you talk to someone not associated with the military either directly or through a friend or loved one, ask them if they appreciate what people do for them.
That's it for today,

Monday, November 19, 2007

Back from Another Trip

Sorry to go so long without posting. I was out traveling again and just returned last night. Like my last trip, I was checking on some equipment we have at another location and working on transferring some things from one location to another.
I thought I would describe whats involved in traveling around here - not so much from the logistics of it, but the personal side. In the picture below you can see what I packed for this trip. A few days worth of clothes and a sleeping bag inside the backpack - along with some spare ammo magazines and assorted other pieces of gear. Next to the back pack, and by far the heaviest piece of gear is my body armor. It has 6 magazines for my M-4 and 2 for my Glock, along with a first aid kit and a few other small items. My Kevlar helmet is next, of course both my weapons and some small things like a flashlight and multi-tool. It may not look like much, but for this trip the gear weighed 86 pounds. It's not too bad for a guy my size but I feel bad for the smaller guys and the guys that carry much much more gear than I do.

When it was time to head to the helipad I strapped all this stuff on and headed out. This trip I flew out and back on a CH-46. Here are a couple pictures for those of you who aren't familiar with them. Please note, these are not pictures I took - my flight was at night. The flights were interesting and much less eventful than my last trip.

I'll just throw up a couple pictures from this trip. I'm so limited on what I can say there's not much I can describe. There are two things I would like to point out. One is the picture with the cots and beds. This was our billeting for the trip. Not too bad really, but I needed the sleeping bag for sure. The other is the last picture. This is a shot of the new Osprey. They have just gone operational in Iraq and I thought it was interesting to see one coming in to land. As always, I'll post more pictures on my website soon.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My Slice of Paradise

After nearly 6 weeks, I've finally moved into what will be my permanent room for the duration of my deployment. To give you a better idea of exactly where I am and what my living conditions are, I have some pictures from Google Earth and some of my own I'll use to explain my setup. It helps to click on each picture so you can see better detail as I explain them.

First is the regional view. If you look closely, you'll see two red circles. One is in Turkey and the other is in Kyrgyzstan. I spent 15 months in Turkey and 4 months in Kyrgyzstan so when I'm done in Iraq I'll have spent over 2 1/2 years in this part of the world.

Next, I'll zoom in on Baghdad and you'll see the Victory Base Complex circled in yellow. As you can see, we're located on the western side of Baghdad and we're connected to the Airport. If you look at the upper right side of the circle you'll see a greenish colored lake. This is called lost lake and is near where I work.


On the next zoom you get a better view of lost lake. Looking to the west of lost lake you can see where the Al Faw Palace is located in relation to our compound. To put it in perspective, the Palace is xxxxxxx from my building. The red line is to show you where the perimeter fence is.


Here's a view of our living trailers. This picture is taken looking southeast, so the lake is on the left behind the trailers and our work building is on the right across the road. The closest open door is my room. The great thing about where I'm situated is the proximity to the bathroom and shower trailers.

This is a view out of my room door. The trailer on the left is the shower and the one on the right is the restroom. A nice close walk.

The rooms are very small, but at least they're private - sort of anyway. The walls are so thin you can hear people cough, snore, talk, everything. If someone closes their door too hard it sounds like incoming - not a good thing for us. But all that aside - it's my slice of paradise for the next 10 1/2 months.

Just so you don't think - wow, they live by a lake! Here's the view behind our trailers, blast walls and sandbags. Nice waterfront property.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Morning Wake Up

I haven't really written much specifically about the rocket attacks occuring here other than to generically mention them. Only one of them has made the news, but there have been many more in the 5 weeks I've been here. To attempt to give you an idea of what it's like to go through one, I'll describe the one we had this morning. They're all different depending on the type of munition used and how close they come to where a person is on the camp - for security reasons I won't describe the type of rocket or the exact location of the impacts.

As I've mentioned before, there are lots of explosions all the time around here. Many of these occur outside the base but they still get your attention. I mention this because it has become somewhat normal to hear these at any time of the day or night, and usually the warrant nothing more than a quick "wow" or something of the sort and then you keep doing what you were doing. Rockets are different. We have an early warning system that sometimes goes off and gives us a very small amount of time to take cover. It can't always be heard depending on what you're doing or where you're at - but it's something. In our housing trailers, we have air conditioner units running non-stop and they make it hard to hear this warning system. This morning I was sound asleep, the AC was going so there was no hearing the warning. What did wake me up was the sound of the first rocket coming in. It's hard to describe the sound - it does have a whistling noise to it and sometimes you can hear the initial launch and rocket burn depending where it comes from. This morning it was just the whistling - it brought me out of my sleep just enough to not be fully asleep when about 2 seconds later the rocket impacted close to my trailer - I promise you it's not the way you want to wake up. The explosion is a very deep earth rattling sound - literally the ground shakes - followed by strange reverberations. It's very hard to describe. The time from initial sound to impact is seconds - but let me tell you - I was instantly awake before the reverberations were over. This was by far the closest impact yet. Now - after the initial rocket comes several more. Same scenario as the first, with them coming in over a period of 5 to 7 seconds. That may not seem like a long time, but when you're sitting there listening to each whistling rocket followed by the explosion - it seems like forever. In my 5 weeks here, we've had dozens and dozens (I don't want to get too specific, but it's a lot) of rockets come in. They hit all over the place at all times of the day - people laugh them off and everybody acts tough, but I'm not afraid to say these things are kind of scary. Today was the first time I've actually grabbed my helmet and body armor and hit the floor during an attack and the adrenaline took a good 30 minutes to wear off.

This was not the best description of what a rocket attack is like, but it might just be one of those things you have to experience to understand - I for one would be happy to never experience it again.........

On a different note - while this sounds bad for us, and it is, things are actually improving very dramatically in Iraq. Here's a link to an article in the Washington Post that pretty accurately captures what's going on.



Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Al Faw Palace

Today I thought I would post a little about the building used for the Headquarters of the operation here in Iraq. It's one of Saddam's many palaces that has been converted to military use. I go to the palace a couple times a week to conduct business so I thought I would share a little about it. I've included several pictures as well as a link to an MSNBC article about the palace. When you look at the article be sure to watch the video on the right side.

Here's a description of the palace I was able to get off the web.

The Al Faw Palace (also known as the 'Water Palace') is located in Baghdad approximately 5km from the Baghdad International Airport, Iraq and was commissioned to be built by Saddam Hussein to commemorate the re-taking of the Al Faw Peninsula by Iraqi forces during the Iran-Iraq conflict. The palace is situated on a former resort complex about 8 kilometers from the 'Green Zone', which is now referred to as the 'International Zone' or 'IZ' and the complex contains numerous villas and smaller palaces and is now one of the largest US/Coalition bases in Iraq (Camp Victory/ Camp Liberty). The palace contains over 62 rooms and 29 bathrooms. Many of the rooms have now been converted to serve as offices, and since 2004 the Palace has been used as the headquarters for the Multinational Force Iraq (MNFI) along with the Joint Operations Center (JOC), which serves as 'Mission Control' for all operational aspects of Operation Iraqi Freedom. There is an artificial lake surrounding the palace that has a special breed of large bass dubbed the Saddam bass as well as large carp. Saddam formerly used the palace for duck-hunting expeditions.
Because of the very light damage to the Al Faw Palace and other structures located on what is now Camp Victory, it is widely presumed that the planners of the 2003 invasion intended that this area would be used as a headquarters and main base area following the liberation of Baghdad. The resort is surrounded by high walls with preconstructed security towers which contributes to more readily maintaining surveillance and security for the former resort.

Check out this article and video - double click this link


Here are my pictures:

Just so nobody gets the wrong idea and thinks we live in some luxurious playground, I've also included a picture I took earlier today while going to take care of some business elsewhere in camp - yes, that's a huge pile of burning trash. The picture doesn't do it justice. The garbage pile is several city blocks in size. Oh yeah - driving around the camp is an adventure in itself. I'll do a whole post on just what it's like to drive around here.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Back From My Trip

I made it back from my excursion through the country side of Iraq. I can't get really print any of what I was doing other than to say I was checking on equipment we have at another location. I flew via C-130 to get there and it felt like we traveled across half of Iraq to get to our destination. We made several stops at other camps along the way, and one unscheduled stop because we lost an engine on the last leg. While at my destination, I had the chance to do a little sight seeing. I had a chance to see the remnants of Saddam's wonderful Air Force. I'm not sure what kind of aircraft these were, but I know they were trainers of some sort. They were pretty torn up, but most of the pieces were still there including the machine guns.

We went on to explore an old munitions storage bunker. There were still remnants of stabilizing fins, chutes, and what looked like rocket launchers.

Finally, we had the chance to check out a personnel bunker. The entrance is under the tin overhang. The impressive thing about this was how nice the equipment inside was. It was all built by the Dutch through a contract with the Iraqi's many years ago, but it looked like top notch stuff. I tried something new here and I've attached a short video. It's just one I did with my camera so there's no sound and I realize it's dark and hard to see - so now you know how it was for us. At one point in the video you'll see my "Gunny". This is the Marine GySgt who was traveling with me. He's looking through night vision goggles we used to aid us during our expedition. After 4 days on the ground, Gunny and I headed back to camp Victory via Blackhawk in the middle of the night. I personally hate flying on helicopters and I'll just say, that pitch black terror fest over hostile territory managed to solidify my feelings even further.....

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Stepping Out For A Few Days

Tomorrow I'll be leaving for about 5 days of off camp travel. I won't be able to post any updates during this time but have no fear, I'll take my camera with me. I'll take pictures of anything that might be interesting and I'll post what I can about my travels around Iraq when I get back.

I also want to take this time to say hello to everyone who has sent me an e-mail or a note. I appreciate each and every message I get. I'm sorry I haven't had time to respond to each of you individually. It means a lot to hear from family and friends. I also appreciate the e-mails from strangers who stumble across my blog and take the time to read it and drop me a note. Mostly I started this as a way to keep those close to me informed about what I'm doing. It's grown a little beyond my initial intent and I have fun posting knowing I have a bit larger audience. I've started to see if I can achieve some goals. I have the ability to see what locations people have checked my blog from and I'd like to have visitors from all 50 states and at least 50 other countries. So far I've had visitors from 36 states and 27 countries. To achieve this goal I need your help. Please send a link to my blog to anyone you think may be interested in reading it. Family, friends, co-workers, whoever. I really enjoy checking to see how many people have visited each day ( I had one day last week with 100 visitors), so please help me out and send out my blog. By the way, if you want to get an e-mail letting you know when I've made an update, there's a place to put your e-mail address on the right side of my blog.

As I've said before, I'll happily answer any questions I get - that I can answer.
Here are the only two questions I've really gotten so far - Jimmy, I haven't seen any spiders yet so I don't know how big they are. Little Rodger, I haven't seen any Iraqi women so I don't know what they look like. I'll be happy if I make it the entire year without seeing either one.

On a completely different note - Here's a little comedy sketch I think is hilarious. Check it out.


Funny Link - Achmed the Dead Terrorist

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Little Sight Seeing

I had the opportunity to go see some of the interesting things around the Victory Base Complex today. Specifically I, along with a few of the guys from work, went to Camp Slayer and looked around the Abu Ghurayb Presidential Grounds. This was the former home to the Republican Guard and the Iraqi Military Academy. I was able to look through Saddam's "Victory over America" Palace (The Abu Ghurayb Palace) which Saddam had built starting in 1996 to commemorate his "victory" over the U.S. in the gulf war.
It was built against the back side of the "Victory over Iran" palace (with the palm tree in front of it) creating a very large and impressive structure. The palace was still under construction in 2003 when we invaded Iraq, which is why there are still cranes around it. Of course, no construction is occurring now - we bombed it during the war as shown by the twisted metal and broken concrete from inside the palace. I also went through the Ba'ath Party Convention Center (the building sitting on the water). This is the building Dan Rather interviewed Hussein in just prior to the start of the war in 2003. It was used as a meeting place for political and military leadership of Iraq. Just as a quick refresher on the history of the war, President Bush gave a public address in early 2003 and told Saddam he had 48 hours to surrender for failing to comply with UN sanctions. The next day President Bush again addressed the nation stating the attacks had started early because there was reason to believe a large gathering of the top leaders in Iraq was taking place, giving us an opportunity to strike at their leadership. This gathering was in the Ba'ath Party Convention Center. A gathering of over 200 of the leaders was struck with Tomahawk cruise missiles and guided weapons dropped from Air Force fighter jets. There were no survivors.
These pictures show the conference room from the outside and from the inside. If you look at the bottom of the interior picture you can make out chairs that made up the stadium style seating in the room. Of the over 200 people in the room, only 50 remains have been retrieved. It was rather unnerving to be in that room knowing what had taken place there. To keep things in the proper perspective with reference to the loss of life that occurred at this location, the picture below came from the same building. While most everyone would agree it looks like it used to be a nice swimming pool, it was used as an execution chamber to dispose of whomever Saddam felt was a threat to him. He was a dictator and the top people in his government were his henchmen. They were a group of thieves, thugs, and murderers. As big, expensive and wasteful as this particular palace was, Saddam had 98 others like it. All these were built by looting money from the people of Iraq. These were not public buildings - they were for the private use of Saddam and those closest to him.

As always, there are many more pictures on my website.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What does JIEDDO do?

For those of you who still may be a bit confused about the role of the Joint IED Defeat Organization, here's a link to a 4 part article titled "Left of Boom" from the Washington Post that discusses the IED problem and JIEDDO. I won't say I agree with everything in the article, or the way it's written, but it gives an idea of what's going on.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Things have been pretty calm the last few days - at least when it comes to rocket and mortar attacks. The evenings and nights are still filled with the sound of machine gun fire and large explosions, but the machine gun fire is not too close to our section of the camp and the explosions are from in Baghdad. I'm getting settled into a routine now, although I need to increase the amount of time I excercise and decrease the amount I eat. I've had a chance to see much more of the Victory Base complex comprised of many different camps and I'm still amazed at the amount of military hardware we have here. The complexity of the logistics and the ability of the people here to make it work day in and day out is truly impressive.

Tomorrow I head to the range to zero in my M-4 for my first excursion off the camp. I'm heading to a different camp to take stock of some resources my organization is accountable for. Here are a couple pictures of some of the things around the base.

This is the largest lake with some of the villas visible around it.

A very small example of some of the hardware here.
This is an Iraqi hardened aircraft shelter they used to house their aircraft in. What's not easily visible in this picture is the large hole in the top made by one of our guided bombs. The other picture is a very nice looking building I have no clue about, but I thought it looked cool.