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.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

We Had a Bad Day

People die here. We strive to achieve some day to day normalcy in our routines and the infrastructure we build around the base. We work, we eat, and we socialize in ways to enhance that normalcy. There are familiar comforts from home like Burger King and Taco Bell. We have a large exchange stocked with familiar items from home. We do these things to try and bring comfort and security to what is truly an unnerving and dangerous place. Sometimes these things can bring a false sense of security for those of us fortunate enough to not leave the camp on a daily basis. Sure, stray rounds fly around and the occasional mortar or rocket flies in and hits in the middle of a field. We all laugh it off, make a couple of jokes and press on. Last night proves how thin our veil of normalcy is. People die here, and it happens without warning and with no regard to who you are, or what your role on the camp is. The person with the least dangerous job on base is as vulnerable as anyone else while eating, showering, watching T.V. or sleeping. This is truly a dangerous place....


For details please check this link.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Just a quick update

I hadn't planned on writing anything today, but I wanted to give a little update on the events of the last couple days. We've had a series of attacks of different sorts over the last two days. I'm not going into any detail on most of these specific incidents for security reasons, but one piece of what happened illustrates a point I made in an earlier post. I've mentioned stray rounds as a result of incoming fire and the potential danger they represent. Last evening we had some fire coming in, and the result was a soldier who took a round to the face. Luckily for this individual, the round had little velocity at the point of impact and the injuries were not serious. I will say, this individual was not somewhere one would expect to get hit by any stray rounds. It shows the danger every person here faces whether or not they are directly involved in combat operations.

I'll work up another post with more pictures soon.


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sunday Morning in Iraq

After falling asleep to the sound of sporadic gunfire, I was very rudely awoken by a very close, very loud exchange this morning. I'm not sure what weapons were shooting, I'm still trying to learn the difference in the sound. Some of it was return fire from our towers, some was AK-47 fire coming in, and then there was something else, very loud, that sounded like it was being fired very close to us (it wasn't too close, just loud). Not a pleasant way to wake up, but I'm secure in the safety of our 12 foot concrete blast walls around our compound - just not so sure about the 1/16 inch of tin roof over my head. While I'm sure this sounds dramatic, it's really not. We're not diving for the ground or cowering behind cover. These shots are coming at us indirectly. The bad guys are shooting at the perimeter towers along the fence line. Our compound is in a rather unique location on the camp and we're lined on three sides by perimeter fence - in some places only a few hundred yards away. There are a couple towers on either side of us (here's a picture of one I took from our roof) and the stray rounds directed at those towers come at us. As long as we stay smart and keep off the roof and out of the street during these firefights we're relatively safe. Of course, a stray bullet will kill you just like a well aimed bullet, but there's some security in knowing they're not being aimed right at us. There are some interesting things to see on the other side of the fence including many large Mosques. Here's a picture of the closest one to us - all I can think is it looks like a good place for a sniper to shoot from (I don't know if that's ever happened from this one).

I've been here a week and I finally feel adjusted to the time difference and I'm over the shock of waking up each morning and thinking "holy crap, I'm in Baghdad". I think I can now write at least somewhat coherently, so I'll give a generalized description of my impressions on what it's like to be here. I'll just say I'm sure this will change as time goes by, so no looking back at this months from now and giving me grief after I've said something different.

First thing, it's pretty warm. The days are around 100F. That's not really hot for here so I'm not looking forward to next summer. There's a constant haze of dust and smoke in the air. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth as you breath this stuff in. It's something easy to ignore, but if you think about it it's there. There is a fine covering of dust on everything, everywhere. It's like brown talcum powder and it's insidious - creeping into everything, including our lungs, wreaking all kinds of havoc. There's always some kind of garbage burning off the camp and large plumes of smoke can be seen drifting across the sky as seen in the next picture.

Water is scarce yet plentiful. As I've mentioned before, this area used to be Saddam's recreation area. He built many lakes and canals and put nice villas and palaces around them. We have drained many of the lakes to make areas to use for various things, and the plant life has mostly died. There are still many lakes, but the water is murky and funny looking and it no longer resembles any kind of recreation area I've ever seen. We have a water source that produces drinking water on camp so we have bottled water everywhere. It that sense it's plentiful, but when it comes to showers it's different. There is no utility infrastructure for everything that's been placed here, so it's all self contained. We have trailers for showers and toilets and they work off of very large non-potable water tanks. The water in these tanks does not last very long. These tanks must constantly be refilled. Showers work like this - turn the water on and get wet. Turn it off and lather up. Turn it on and rinse off. Now, get out so the next guy can get in. There's no lounging and relaxing in a nice hot shower. If the entire process takes more than 3 or 4 minutes it's too long. So in that sense, water is scarce. Of course, we also have to walk from our little sleeping trailers to the bathroom and showers. So I ask you to imagine this - it's 2:00am and you have to use the restroom. Get up, get dressed, walk out into the pitch black and make your way to the bathroom, then reverse course and head back. How sleepy are you now? Same thing with the shower. Gather up all your stuff, put on some PT gear and head out to the shower - three minutes to clean off and then get out and shave in the sink. Then pack up all your stuff and head back to the trailer to change into a uniform. Why do I bring this up? I want people to understand that in many places around the world, we have men and women doing this day in and day out for 6 months, a year, 15 months - or longer (and we're the lucky ones who get a shower everyday). This is something small that most people here don't even talk about, but it's something that almost every American takes for granted each day. It's a small sacrifice people make here, but it's one of many many small sacrifices that pile up into large sacrifices.

One thing that is not a sacrifice of any sort here is the food. We have two large dining facilities run by contractors and they go way over the top to provide a large variety and quantity of food. It's good - a little too good. I need to cut back and work out more or I'm going to gain weight while I'm here.

I'll end here for today. If there's anyone who you think might enjoy this blog please send out the link. Also, if there's something specific you would like to know about, let me know and if I can answer the question I will.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Home Away From Home

As promised in my last update - here are some pictures of the compound I'm in. One shot is of the trailer I live in (temporarily, until I get my permanent room in the same kind of trailer), and the other two are of the building I work in. The trailers and the building are right next to each other so I don't have a long walk to work. We have a bathroom trailer with 8 stalls and a shower trailer with 8 showers, both located right next to the living trailers. It's all very small, but it's convenient. There are a couple dining facilities to choose from which are just a short drive from our compound. We're lucky to have our living accommodations next to where we work. Most everybody else here lives in several centralized trailer complexes away from where they work. There are palaces, and many lakeside villas where Saddam's closest relatives and friends lived. It's not such a nice place now. As I get more pictures I'll put them up.

Monday, October 1, 2007

First 24 hours in Iraq

After what has seemed an eternity, I've finally made it to Iraq. I had very long flights from Ft. Benning to Kuwait - via Ireland - and then a long drive from Kuwait city to Ali Al Salem Air Base. From there, it was an hour and 20 minute flight via C130 into Baghdad. This was a HOT HOT flight. We sat on the runway for 25 of the longest minutes of my life. Full body armor packed in with lots of other people in the blazing sun sitting in a tin can. Not fun. Once here, LT JG Bob and I were greeted by a member of JIEDDO and driven to our compound. As far as living conditions, it's not too bad. I'll put up some pictures soon. The interesting part was the large fire fight that took place a few hours after we got here. The bad guys decided they wanted to shoot something in our general direction and it was a full on shoot fest with the base security guys. These bullets were whizzing by within feet of us. I've attached a picture of a light pole sitting about 25 feet from where my bed is. The bullet I'm holding did not make that large upper hole - a larger caliber round did. I could see tracer rounds flying feet over head before I quickly retreated to my trailer, and someone with a different angle said they could see the sparks from rounds bouncing off the street in front of us. Lucky for us we have 12 foot concrete barriers around our sleeping quarters. (you can see one of the barriers in the background) The round I'm holding is from an AK47 and I found it this morning on the roof of the building we use for offices. This morning, as several of us were standing outside discussing the previous evenings firefight, two large rockets flew overhead and impacted our base. These landed a long distance from us, but the explosions were very loud and unnerving. In the picture, you can see the smoke from the larger impact (this is a couple minutes after it hit).

This may sound a bit strange, but people didn't really get very worked up by any of this. It was just business as usual. It wasn't really scary - just strange. I'm not sure how to explain it.