Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Peetsa, anyone?

One funny thing that I’ve noticed is that the Iraqis up here try to write their own English on their signs in order to make them bilingual. They usually spell things phonetically and don’t always get it right. For example, you could take a ‘taksi’ from your ‘barraks’ to go eat a slice of ‘peetsa’ or get a ‘hamborgr’.

Thanks to EVERYONE!

Thanks to Sally (who’s just simply The Best) and her emails, I received dozens of wonderful birthday cards. A great big THANK YOU to all who wrote and/or sent packages. One day we got a stack of mail and (after several days of me getting lots of mail) our medic ("Doc" McKenzie) read off the names; "Chesak, Chesak, Chesak, Chesak, geez Chesak, CHESAK, CHESAK, CHESAK, HEY Beans! Chesak, Chesak, SHRIVER! Chesak, Chesak, and of course… Chesak." Too funny.

Things I’m happy about

1. Helping the Iraqi people. While down south you sometimes wondered if you were really helping folks, there is no doubt up here. The Kurds and most of the population of this region are genuinely appreciative of us and what we’re doing here and they show that to us on a daily basis by waving at our convoys, giving us a very American thumbs up, or putting their hands over their hearts in the Middle Eastern way of saying thank you. Some times our hands ache from all the waving we do during patrols… depending on the neighborhood though…

2. All the mail and care packages! Holy cow, I’ve been amazed at all the cards that people have sent and certainly the time and trouble so many people have gone to in order to send me and the rest of the guys food, toiletries, phone cards, and just general good wishes and thoughts. THANK YOU all again!!!

3. Iraqi kids. They just seem to genuinely love us and we definitely go out of our way for them, at least to give them candy and toys and whatnot.

4. Sleep. I’m sleeping pretty well here and am probably getting more hours sleep per night than I did at home (which will come as no surprise to any of you that know about my insomnia). [Of course the moment I wrote this, I started having trouble sleeping…]

Things I'm sick of

there are a few things that I’m already getting sick of, things that make me realize just what a looong deployment it will be. Things I’m already sick of:

1. First and foremost, of course I miss Sally, Lilli, and all my friends and family. That’s a given, but just has to be said because it’s so very true and such a part of my every moment here.

2. Second-hand smoke. So many guys here smoke and there are times when I’m patrolling in a Humvee with four other smokers. Not fun, especially since we have all the bullet-proof windows up all the time.

3. Ignorant, uneducated morons who adamantly cling to bizarre and completely unfounded world opinions (i.e. Bill and Hillary Clinton are trying to allow the U.N. to take over our country… HUH? You mean that U.N. that has no army, arms, or real power? Yeah… right. Another i.e. There are ‘hover boards’ that defy gravity but the oil companies bought out the technology because it’s a threat to the internal combustion engine…)

4. Starchy, meaty, salty, bland Army food.

5. Never knowing if you can ever really just relax for a moment because the minute you do and truly get settled into a movie, book, or email to my hot wife, a ‘we must do this right now’ detail, mission, raid, etc. will surely come up

6. Being a (virtually) powerless and (usually) insignificant Specialist (aka ‘Full Bird Private’). When things are screwed up, it’s my nature to fix them. As a peon Specialist, I can’t always do that, or even – often – do anything about it.

Our daily schedule

Here’s our basic schedule: three days of patrols and ‘logpack’ (stands for Logistics Package, basically just an early morning or afternoon run to the big base to drop off our base’s trash, fill up fuel cans for the generators, pick up breakfast or dinner chow, and do random things like pick up the chaplains for our weekly services, grab a particular vehicle/generator part, escort a State Department person to/from their base to the big base, etc.), three days of QRF (Quick Reaction Force – just generally being dressed, even while sleeping and including boots, and ready to go) which also sometimes includes a night mission, and then three days of guard duty. Then it starts all over again.

While we have no actual days ‘off’, the schedule isn’t bad at all, since much of the duties are split up between four squads. So while a patrol day might be two patrols and two logpacks, we might only have to do one or two of any of them. Guard duty is just eight hours long, with 16 hours off. Over all, it isn’t bad at all, although occasionally you can get hammered with a bunch of stuff at once, like just finishing a long patrol, then having to do a logpack, then quickly rolling into a night mission if you’re transitioning to QRF, and perhaps having a week of being ‘duty squad’ (cleaning our latrines, taking out trash, etc.)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

No Electron Tuesdays

Yesterday was a pretty good day. We were on the last day of a three-day QRF (Quick Reaction Force – basically just standing by in case any of the patrols were to get in trouble at all) rotation and it was the first day of ‘No Electron Tuesdays’.

We (almost) all have our laptops, in addition to DVD players, PlayStations and Xboxes and I noticed that we spend an inordinate amount of time staring at screens (yeah, this is not exactly The Battle of the Bulge or Vietnam). So I suggested No Electron Tuesdays, where we can’t use any electronics for the day and actually have to interact with each other. It was funny but the old guys in our squad (29 and up) immediately loved the idea while the other guys (24 and under) immediately hated it. It was an optional thing anyways so we went forward.

A bunch of us started playing a dice game called ‘10,000’, which was fun, and then we jumped into a card game called ‘Skip-Bo’, which I think Sally or our friend Laura bought for me. We had a great time playing that. We started with about seven of us (including guys from other squads) and played for a while, and started to use various chants, yells, and other stupid stuff. Example: whenever someone would play a Skip-Bo card, we’d all yell, ‘SKIP-BO!’ then start singing a song (just doing ‘nah-nah-nah’) then finish up with, ‘Oy, oy, oy!’, then Sgt Carter would finish it by yelling, "LOUD NOISES!" (Which is a line from the movie Anchorman.) It was great fun and just about everyone seemed to like the idea of No Electron Tuesdays, including a number of guys from the rest of the platoon that stopped by or joined in with us.

During all this, our Battalion commander, Major General Gayhart, came to our little fire base for a visit. We never saw him, but as QRF, got to convoy him back to the main Air Force Base on the other side of town.

First though, he had to visit the local police commander, and we spent a few hours visiting with the local cops. As always, the Iraqis first asked about our families, since they’re so family-focused here. This usually starts off with them asking, "Madame? Babies?" and then we tell them about our wives and kids and they do the same. One cop, who was 24, has four wives and ten kids! We talked, as best we could, about how good it is for us all to work together against ‘Ali Babba’, the universal name for insurgents or just plain ‘bad guys.’

As we sat at the station, it was warm and sunny after about ten days of overcast, rainy skies. A local kid sold us candy bars and banana-filled cupcake things while we watched the sprawling ruins of the citadel (where Daniel from the Bible is supposed to be buried) across the river. SPC Smith, who’s a nurse in real life, showed the police our first aid bag, discussed techniques, and gave them some of the new ‘one-handed’ tourniquets that we recently received. The cops played us music off their truck’s radios and everyone took pictures.

Then talk turned to weapons, they being enamored by Sgt. Dmitrov’s shotgun, and our guys interested in their Glock pistols. Apparently a 9mm Glock, which goes for $500 in the States, is only $100 here. However, they can only afford a few bullets per man so many of the police only had two rounds per guy. Sgt. Stewart, who is a full-time Military Policeman back in Idaho and who was already taking the time to teach them various cop tactics, started to hand out what 9mm ammo he could. They reciprocated with what they could, giving us now outdated ‘Vote Iraq’ buttons and lighters. They also awarded Sgt. Stewart a delicious falafel sandwich on fresh local bread. We passed it around the Humvee as we drove off, finally bringing the general back to the main base.

Dinner was good enough and I maintained the ‘No Electron Tuesday’ by reconfiguring my gear (adding large ammo pouches to my new thigh-rig panels, which allows me to carry ammo off my already overloaded, and heavy, body armor in a more accessible spot on my legs) and then reading a great book by lamp light… until the power surged and the bulb blew out (we lose power here about four to ten times a day, at least momentarily).

Finally, I finished off the good day with my first shower in almost a week (thankfully over that time we had a TON of baby wipes that we used to clean up with). A city water project meant we had no water for several days and we did our best, when we could, to flush our two toilets (for 38 guys) with cans of water we refilled off a water trailer. But the water is back on now, sporadically (actually it’s been off most of the day), and my shower was really warm, almost hot, and I hard a hard time getting out.

Then I walked back to our dark little, plywood hovel in the midst of our platoon bay area, joked with the guys a bit, then slept for almost a full eight hours. Not bad at all.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Chris' article about Iraq elections

Chris' third Idaho Statesman article was in the paper on Sunday, February 13, on the front page of the main section! He wrote about his experiences during the elections in Iraq. The article is entitled "We were truly a part of history..." Follow the link to read the story: http://www.idahostatesman.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050213/NEWS01/502130329/1002

Cheap, flat-rate shipping to Chris

Hi everyone - this is Sally, writing with a side note of useful information. The post office now has flat-rate shipping boxes that cost $7.70 to ship regardless of the destination or the package's weight. They are a little bigger than the average shoebox, and you can get them (for free) at any post office. The boxes are saving me a TON of money on the packages I'm sending to Chris.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Slippers and Climbing Shoes

We are now stationed in a city environment, versus the agrarian region we were in down south. It’s quite a change and there is little space between our little fire base and the neighbor’s homes. Things in general are much more congested and just city-like, which is a tough adjustment for some of these Idaho boys who are studs at driving off-road but rookies when it comes to city driving (once again, my Boston driving skills will come in handy).

The area is much more metropolitan and there are actual stores, hotels, and other discernable businesses. Down south it seemed like the only merchants were guys on the side of the road selling gasoline from big plastic jugs, farmer stands, and these shanty-sort of roadside ‘convenience stores’ that stocked pop, cigarettes, and that’s about it.

One of the benefits of a more ‘metro’ environment is that we can occasionally order take-out food from the interpreters. The other day we had big $3 burgers (no cheese, but great local bread and some fresh veggies). Unfortunately they, uh… didn’t agree with our stomachs too much. The 25th ID guys that we replaced said that the first time you eat local food you have troubles so it’s best to just get it over with. We also order pizzas on occasion, not to mention twice weekly live rabbits or chickens for Mitch (the golden eagle) to eat.

Speaking of Mitch, I emailed the folks at Idaho’s Birds of Prey center to see if we can get more info on how to better care for Mitch.

Since we’re now up north, most of the city is Kurdish (so much so that a local TV station’s call sign is apparently ‘KURD’ but also with two neighborhoods of Arabs and Turkmen) and they are much happier to see us than the folks down south, who just apparently viewed us with a sort of distant indifference. We would wave to people passing by the base down south and occasionally get a wave or two. Here, people wave at us, even just passing by the base they honk, smile and wave (or give a big ‘thumbs up’) without provocation.

And this is Mesopotamia. That was sort of brought home the other night as we patrolled around this ancient looking castle. We’ve been told that it’s The Citadel (as in THE Citadel) and is where Daniel is buried… as in THE Daniel… like the first one… like from the Bible. Crazy.

And in much more mundane news, the last conex of our gear finally caught up with us. This was primarily comfort items that we couldn’t have with us down south, since our space was so limited. Most guys were overjoyed to pull out sheets and immediately put them on their bunks, swearing to never again use their sleeping bags. Me, I was psyched to whip out some treaded slippers that my dear wife (it’s still fun to just say ‘wife’) got for me for Christmas one year. I’ve been using them like crazy already and they’re just so much more convenient (and obviously comfortable) than combat boots for around our quarters.

Several of us were also happy to pull out rock climbing gear. Thanks to some contacts of mine at climbing companies Metolius and Nicros and Corporal Wing, and a former Marine and general all-around contractor guy, we’re going to build us a big ole’ climbing wall on the fire base. Too cool!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Patriots' Nest

So we’re finally settling into our permanent quarters. We took a Chinook helicopter ride up here and that was a trip. The choppers flew low, but then had to pull up to clear obstacles (power lines and all) and it was a real roller coaster of a ride. We were definitely whoopin’ and laughing a lot and we crossed the Euphrates River, which was certainly impressive (and extremely wide).

Then we spent a few days at a large Air Force base down the road, living in tents inside old Iraqi Air Force reinforced concrete hangers. When we finally convoyed to our ‘fire base’ here, there wasn’t quite yet room enough for us. So I spent two nights sleeping out by our pool, under an overhang. Of course it rained, and then started to blow under the overhang. So I slept part of one night in the gym.

When we finally could take possession of our space, we first had to clear it out. The 25th Infantry Division guys that left only had three squads here and we have four. So we had to disassemble their plywood walls (which were just sort of slapped together) and rearrange the whole space. Now we have about 28 guys living in about 2000 square feet of space. My squad’s area is about the size of my living room, yet we have seven guys living in it, with all our stuff. Fun.

One of our first tasks was to name our fire base, sometimes called a ‘Forward Operating Base’ or ‘FOB’. Now, the military always opts for tough sounding cool names. For example, when using a streamer to mark something, it’s never just a ‘streamer’, it’s a ‘wolf’s tail.’ (Yeah. Can you say too much testosterone?) Well, we were kicking around non-military names for the FOB, like FOB Chipmunk, FOB Day Lilly, FOB Pansy, FOB Spud, FOB-ulous, FOB-ulicious. I finally suggested FOB E. O. … pronounced ‘Fobio’. Alas, they didn’t go for any of our suggestions. So we’re FOB Barbarian. Ah well.

With all our moving around and all, I hadn’t slept much. The two nights poolside allowed me only a few hours actual sleep per night. Then our first night inside I had the pleasure of sleeping a foot or so (and one thin plywood wall away) from one of the nicest guys in the platoon, who is also known as ‘The Chainsaw’, due to his amazing loud snoring. I got maybe three hours sleep that night. The fourth night… I still couldn’t sleep. You see, there was this thing called the Super Bowl…

After a late night (and cold, rainy, blowing) patrol, we returned here, grabbed what food we could, cleaned our weapons, and I went to sleep at around 11:45 PM. The alarm went off at 1:45 AM, and I got up and had the pleasure of watching the entire game (while munching on some Twizzlers from a care package). So sweet to have the Patriots actually create… dare I say… a pro football dynasty.

And speaking of military jargon, my platoon has been on guard duty for the past few days. The guard location on the roof of our headquarters building is known as ‘The Eagle’s Nest.’ Well since the Patriots just beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl, I had to rename it ‘The Patriots’ Nest.’ I would actually (and often) call in, "SOG [Sergeant of the Guard], this is Patriots Nest, radio check, over." What can I say, I’m a hoot.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Moved to permanent quarters

So we’re finally here in our permanent quarters. We were told that it was a palace, ‘Chemical Ali’s’ summer home, I believe, and it’s all that… in a Third World sort of way; molded plastic ceilings, a few cheap chandeliers, and lots of broken tile (then again, maybe it was much nicer before two years of occupation by Army guys). Essentially, the whole country looks like a construction zone, at least the nice parts, and our ‘palace’ is no exception. Everything here and in Iraq in general is in a permanent state of decay and building, all at the same time. ‘Rustic’ doesn’t do it justice.

But we don’t care too much, because we have internet access and even cable. The food is trucked in twice a day from an Air Force base down the road in marmite containers. There’s even a pool, in the summer, and ‘a guy’ to maintain it. There’s also a running track that looks like something someone set down between the east and west borders of the Berlin Wall.
But we’re just happy to finally be at our home and to settle down and stop living out of duffle bags. Ironically though, we’re living out of duffles more than ever, at least for the next few days. The guys from the 25th Infantry Division are still here and won’t leave for a while yet. (They’re moving to the Air Force base while we continue to work together during the transition time.) So my platoon has 28 of our guys in a room about 12x60 because that’s the only place we can put them. Worse still, there was NO room for five of us, who find ourselves outside, poolside actually, in cots under an overhang. And wouldn’t it just figure that it would rain, New England style, with blowing cold winds.

In the midst of all this, I was feeling pretty blue. But then I met Mitch and things started to get better. Anyone meeting his penetrating gaze couldn’t help but be struck by how majestic and stunning he is. Mitch is, we think, a golden eagle. I hear that he flew into our compound and got stuck in the concertina wire. The medic from the 25th ID had to cut away much of his wing, so much so that he can no longer fly, and now we pay the local kids a few bucks to bring us a live rabbit for Mitch twice a week. He’s just so cool. I’ll try to get a few pictures of him sometime.

New Care Package list

Okay, so it’s a little weird for me to put this list out, as if I’m actually expecting people to send me stuff. And people have already been so kind and thoughtful – it’s been wonderful! But, if you are interested in helping feed me, and my mates, here are just some ideas (basically folks, I’m lookin’ for groceries):

• Summer sausage (and other such stuff that would make the trip), or turkey or salmon jerkey, cans of tuna
• Hard cheeses (if they would make the trip?)
• Progresso soups
• Crackers (Triscuits, Wheat Thins, or Ritz are always good)
• Cookies (chocolate chip, peanut butter, Nutter Butters, Fig Newtons, etc.) or brownies – heck, any kind of baked good won’t go to waste around here
• Granola/breakfast bars like Nature Valley (Peanut Butter is always a favorite but others are good too)
• Flavored oatmeal
• Luna bars (Key Lime Pie, Peppermint Stick, Dulce Duleche [sp?], Carmel Apple, S’mores, Lemon Zest, etc.)
• Individual drink boxes of low fat soy milk
• Pop tarts (Brown Sugar is always a favorite but variety is nice too)
• Chips (but chips don’t travel well, Pringles usually fair better), and pretzels
• Snack foods like packaged peanut butter and crackers
• A little candy? (Snickers, Twizzlers, gummy bears or cola bottles, Lifesavers or Crème Savers)
• Trail mix like Target’s Monster Mix
• Root beer
• Cheap (old) DVD’s – classic movies (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, 2001, etc.), light popular comedies, stand-up comedy, full seasons of shows (Simpsons, Arrested Development, Northern Exposure, The Family Guy etc.), science fiction, History Channel/PBS documentaries, music videos, Looney Tunes Warner Brothers cartoons. Prefer no war stuff as there is plenty of that around the barracks – except Band of Brothers.
• Cleaning stuff for laptop and weapons (especially Q-tips, pipe cleaners, canned air, etc.)
• Bags of cheap candy or toys for us to toss to Iraqi kids
• Beer (yeah, I WISH…)

Things not to send:
• Lip balm (I’m LOADED with lip balm)
• Books (I have a ton!)
• Baby wipes (these are great for when we’re in the field or like when the Army was constantly moving during the actual ground war, but we’re living in a permanent structure and have showers and all that stuff – thank goodness!)
• Disposable cameras – people have been super-generous and have already sent about a dozen (thank you!!!) so I have plenty and also can just share images from all the guys who have digital cameras)
• Calling cards – people again have been super-generous and sent quite a few. But we don’t have a phone system here that allows us to use them (doh!) so can only use them occasionally when we make trips to the big base down the road.
• Plastic ziplock bags

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?