Thursday, June 30, 2005

Happy Anniversary 116th!

On June 28, I woke up and wished most of my squad, at least those who'd been with the unit since it was first called up, a 'happy anniversary'. That day marked one full year that these guys have been deployed, six months of which was training in Texas and Louisiana. If we were active duty, we'd be heading home now (albeit home would be a military base somewhere) as they are 'only' deployed for one full year. As National Guard, we get an additional six months away from our homes for the extra training that we allegedly need to 'get up to speed.' (I can tell you that about 5% of our training was excellent and the rest was practically useless.)

Because of Basic Training, I have been active duty since the end of March '04, just about four weeks after Sally and I were married. Counting those four weeks, plus five weeks after Basic, then two weeks leave in May, I've actually been married WITH Sally for a grand total of less than three months. And of course I've only personally known Lillian for two weeks. But the clock is ticking away and each day brings me closer to home.

Today for example, I actually packed a bag for home, mostly just extra gear and unnecessary items, and then packed it into a conex shipping container for its very long sea voyage home. While it's still months away, it was a special treat to actually pack something for home.

We Hate the KRAB

To be fair, the Kirkuk Regional Air Base (KRAB) is our life blood. They are the big base in town, with several thousand soldiers and we are but a tiny patrol base, the last one in the city actually (they're closing smaller bases as the Iraqi people take more and more control of their own country), with only a few hundred soldiers. The folks over there keep us in parts and fuel for our patrol base's Humvees, cook our food, make sure we're paid, make sure our weapons work properly, and generally support us in all sorts of ways. But still, we hate the KRAB.

A photo entering the bleak, desolate wasteland that is the KRAB.

For one thing, the KRAB sets many of our rules and often times these rules just don't jive with our actual living situation here. For example, they forbid any soldiers to have cell phones. This is fine for them as the KRAB has many phone centers for people to call home (all while using readily available U.S. phone cards), but we don't have any such phone center. We have two (when they both work) satellite phones that we can sign out for a whopping twenty minutes at a time and these phones often drop calls and have a significant signal delay. (But at least they're free though.)

The KRAB also originally told our patrol base leaders that we couldn't hook up to the city's power, even though our power cuts off several times per hour and theirs never does (see 'Power to The People' below). They also made a rule on their base that all weapons must be kept at the 'ready' position at all times. There were reports of Air Force officers berating Army soldiers for not carrying their weapons at 'the ready' in the chow hall. Now, how do you hold a tray full of food and your M-16 at the ready? Funniest thing is, the Air Force personnel on the KRAB don't have to carry weapons at all. Posted by Hello

Here is a photo of our battalion HQ on the left and the brightly-muraled 'Aloha Internet Cafe' in the distance. The 25th Infantry Division, our predecessors here, are based in Hawai'i and apparently cannot rub that in enough. They painted everything they could possibly paint with Hawai'i murals, maps, scenes, tribal patterns, highway signs, etc. It's like, 'Okay 25th ID, we GOT it. You're stationed in Hawai'i. Right. Thank you.'

On occasion, the KRAB vigorously enforces a 25 mph speed limit and the use of seat belts on their base, to the point that they actually set up speed traps and seat belt checkpoints. While we were freezing our butts off (now sweating our butts off) driving around sector, waiting for god knows what to hit us, they are using personnel to enforce these pathetic rules. I know safety is important, but come on. Why not send a couple of the people they use for enforcing their seat belt rule out to our base to pull guard duty for us or run a few patrols in sector?

And speaking of wasted personnel, our medic's brother works on the KRAB and he complains of intense boredom. You see, he and his team (a whole TEAM mind you) work very hard every day to compile a report that lists how many personnel are on sick call, on leave, ready to go, etc. This takes them a whole hour. Once that's done, their work for the day is done. So they work ONE HOUR PER DAY. Yikes.

The KRAB has softball and touch football leagues. A recent softball tournament had to be capped at 16 teams, because too many tried to sign up. We barely have room to throw a football around, unless you do it on the cracked basketball court, which until recently only had one hoop, until we stole one from another, closing patrol base.

They have numerous bathroom and shower trailers that never run out of power, or have their water cut off, and get cleaned daily by contractors. We have two toilets for about 36 men and two showers (see below), one of which has a plywood wall. Hey at least we have roaches and, occasionally, rats. They sure don't have that on the KRAB. Posted by Hello

Our lovely showers, two for 36 guys.

They have a PX. They have a carpet shop, jewelry store, hairdresser/nail shop, and Moral, Welfare, and Recreation buildings with video games, pool tables, and smoothie machines. They get USO shows. When we finally get to the PX, all the good stuff, and usually most of the stuff we want, is long gone. Posted by Hello

The lads saddle up to some Pizza Hut.

Their chow hall is fully air-conditioned, has several widescreen tv's, and serves FOUR meals a day (including midnight rations or 'midrats'). We have a plywood shed-like structure filled with flies and scoop warmish food out of mermites. Posted by Hello

Our 'chow shed'.

Their chow hall has four different lines with usually at least three entree options, plus additional 'fast food' lines with burgers, hot dogs, chicken wings, and cheesesteaks, all served by cute little female Pilipino contractors. We have one entee per night. That is to say we have one entree when the chow hall contractors get our dinner right. Numerous times we've received ample amounts of spaghetti with no sauce, or vice versa, and sometimes the entree is just so bad, that we end up having something like salted noodles for dinner. And I've stopped eating most of the meat, since it's either red meat or so oily as to sicken me, so my dinners are often a few potatoes.

The KRAB's chow hall has a salad bar. We get one marmite per day of nutritionally useless iceberg lettuce. They also have a potato bar, pizza bar, spaghetti bar, taco bar, sandwich bar, and ice cream bar. They have electric cooler upon cooler filled with Gatorade, juices, sodas, and water. We get a couple of cases of warm soda for dinner and some juices with breakfast. When we're lucky a case of Gatorade shows up here and it disappears faster than a snowball on a Kirkuk sidewalk. Posted by Hello

The KRAB's ice cream bar.

But my biggest pet peeve is the gym situation. They have two massive gyms with loads of beautiful, new workout equipment. The one gym I've seen has several benches (including incline and decline), squat racks, entire lines of cybex machines (like nautilus but with free weights), numerous cardio machines, nice and neat piles of plates all in pounds, and bars and collars that all actually fit together. They even have a neck machine (a neck machine!) and the building has more AC units than you can shake a stick at.

Our little blockhouse of a weight room has one sputtering AC unit that cuts off several times per workout. One bench is held together with duct tape, the squat rack wiggles from side to side (not good when you have 250 pounds on your back), there is one exercise bike and one elliptical machine, the leg extension bench's seat is made of plywood scavenged cushions, and the lat pull-down machine was welded together from scavenged parts of other broken machines left by our predecessors. Posted by Hello

SPC Wilson, SPC Smith, and our Medic, SPC Mackenzie get ready to chow down at the KRAB's chow hall. Occasionally we drop in from a patrol to refuel and will grab some lunch or dinner. The potato and salad bars can be seen in the background. Also note the sweat on Wilson's uniform. Hey, it's hot here. Posted by Hello

The Frankenstein-like lat pull-down machine.

Most frustrating though, the weights are a mix of pounds and kilos, and few of the bars, weights, and collars actually fit together as they are all different widths. The other day I spent twenty minutes in the stagnant, sweaty heat trying to just put some plates on a bar and then put some collars on them that would stay and protect me from the weights sliding off. Posted by Hello

One big mess of kilo and pound plates and dumbells and a whole lot of useless collars on the floor.

Apparently when we first got here, our Executive Officer ordered a number of new weight benches and weights. When it arrived at the KRAB, they reportedly just kept it, saying that we were going to move to the KRAB soon anyway so they might as well. That was about five months ago. We're still here, with our crappy weights.

To add insult to injury, recently the KRAB sent over a 'bunch of weights for us.' Well, they did nothing but clean out their closet, sending us a few Sears-quality benches (laughably bad, to this point still completely unused by anyone here, and left outside as we have no room for them in the small building), yet more metric weights and bars that don't fit each other, some truly pathetic collars that are so rusted as to be nearly unusable (I had to beat one with a pipe to get it off a bar I'd put it on), and just generally a load of crap. Posted by Hello

One useless bench that the KRAB sent over (on the right) alongside the homemade, half-plywood leg extension bench.

So why is there this inequity? Why do they get things so much better? Why do the REMF's (Rear Echelon Mothers) and POG's (Persons Other than Grunt) get it so much better? It's simple: we're combat arms troops. To put it simply, the guys on the front lines get screwed. It's far from fair but and that's the way life, and the Army, goes.

During our training in Louisiana, one of our Observer/Controllers (what used to be called a 'referee' in military war games) said to us, "You guys are combat arms and because of that, you are going to get shafted. Just be ready for this. You will know that you are combat arms when you return from some crazy twelve-hour mission and all you want is something to eat and the chow hall will be closed and all that's left at the PX is bags of those nasty Funions [little puffed onion-ring like things], and I don't mean the big bags either, but just those little tiny bags. Why? Because all the POG's will, after stuffing their face at the chow hall, have bought up all the good stuff while you were out busting your butt all day. Be prepared to deal with this. It's your fate for being combat arms. Which, even when you're getting screwed and there's no hot water for you shower and you're trying to choke down some nasty Funions, beats being some nine-to-five, office-working [several expletives deleted] POG any day."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves. Posted by Hello

Go Dog Go!

So Sally once suggested that I try everyday to find the positive in my situation here. It's a tall order but also a great exercise in positive thinking.

One positive moment came the other day. I was up early running, when I ran by the two puppies that DO NOT live on our base (see photo below). So they (I've taken to calling them Will & Grace, but I think each guy in the company has a different name for them) started running with me, or trying to. The lopped and flopped along as puppies do, all full of energy but nearly devoid of any coordination. They kept running up my heels and I think I accidentally kicked each in the jaw a few times as they couldn't help but follow too close. They kept running though, often cutting back and forth in front of me and I was reminded of dolphins swimming alongside ocean vessels.

For a little while, Will was running alongside me when he came to the small garden planted by another soldier. He kept running along, darting between the cornstalks and following me around the one straight part of our running track, along the so-called Berlin Wall. Luckily he tired and stopped before the end of the wall area, because that's where Mitch, our one-winged golden eagle, lives. I think that a young puppy would have made quite a satisfying and relatively easy meal for Mitch. Posted by Hello

Small World

The other night a videographer from Stars & Strips/Armed Forces Network came into our squad bay. He's doing a little human interest story on SPC Ohlensehlen, a friend of ours from second squad. As the camera guy was wiring 'Ohllie' for sound, he said, "Yah, Ohllie he-yah is going to be the stah of our program."

Noting his accent, I asked where he was from and of course he was from Boston. Then he mentioned he went to Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. My high school buddy Neil Curtin went to Assumption and this Sgt looked a little older, like my age, so I asked when he graduated. He graduated in '93 and knows Neil, although they ran in different circles.

He said, "Oh yeah, I knew Neil. Quartahback for the football team right? Great athlete and a real straight arrow, right?"

Incredulous, I asked, "Straight arrow?"

"Yeah, wasn't he?"

"Uh, sure… except for all the booze… and girls… and whatever else he could get himself into."

Sgt Mike O'Brien admitted that he hung with the 'druggie crowd' back then and I said that Neil was probably hanging with the drinkin' crowd. So they weren't good buddies or anything but the fact that he went to college with Neil is still pretty random and certainly funny.

Monday, June 27, 2005

A Teddy for Alanis

Just a quick shot of a little Iraqi girl, of Turkoman descent, I think (we really still can't tell the difference yet, but she was in a Turkoman neighborhood). I gave her a little teddy bear that someone sent me. We called her 'Little Alanis Morrisette,' after the pop singer. Posted by Hello

Care Package List

I hate to keep on posting this but it keeps changing. More importantly, people are still kind enough to ask what to send and generous enough to pack it up and ship it over here. THANK YOU all for everything you've already sent!!! You've made many soldiers (especially me) and lots of Iraqi kids very, very happy (and healthy too, you should see the stuff we get for dinners here – UGH).

• Soy milk (so I can eat all the cereal that we have here) – very important to my happiness and well being. Low-fat, non-fat, full-fat, vanilla, unflavored, even a few chocolate, I don't care. I can't drink the cow milk to soy is key for eating and snacking on cereals!

• Progresso soups (especially heartier ones with pasta in them – but no red meat please). These are great for me to eat for meals. I eat them cold and usually in lieu of the crud they have at the chow hall. Also very important to my happiness and well being.

• A few cans or pouches of tuna, especially with some squeeze bottles of mayo and/or relish are always popular here. We blew through our stock of nearly 60 cans faster than I would have ever imagined.

• Peanut butter and peanut butter and crackers packages (but not the orange-colored crackers please - ick)

• Bite-sized snickers bars for the lads here – they love ‘em

• Popular movie DVD’s (for the guys – Caddy Shack, The Siege, Rocketman, I Married an Axe Murderer, Three Amigos) and artsy, independent, Independent Film Channel/ Sundance/Cannes-type movie DVD’s (for me – Bottle Rocket, Whale Rider, The Pianist, The Notebook). Please don’t spend any real money though, just get used ones or those on sale. Better yet, send old ones you don’t like or don’t watch any more.

• Stuff for Iraqi kids: individually wrapped candies (preferably heavier, throw-able stuff like Starbursts, Jolly Ranchers, Jaw Breakers, etc.), pens or pencils (clean out that jar of random pens in your kitchen!), or just a few toys or stuffed animals (SMALL ones that we can toss from vehicles).

• PLEASE surprise us! Life here is pretty routine (not dull, just repetitive). So go crazy, send some new entrée or lunch thing (no red meat please though), various types of cookies, and just generally different stuff. Don’t worry about sending the ‘wrong’ thing because while I won’t eat pecan sandies or oysters in oil, I bet I can find guys that will!


Prior to my going home on leave, our schedule was pretty crazy. We rarely ever received a day off and our days on used to entail up to three three-hour (or longer) missions. Since returning though, things have been quite a bit nicer.

Since we have X number of guys on leave at any given time now, we don't mount all the patrols that we used to. So it's not uncommon for us to now occasionally get days off, thank goodness. While it's been far too hot to hit the climbing wall, I've been working out more (still trying to lose some pounds… but with not much luck yet), actually getting in an occasional nap, and reading lots.

Curled up near our AC unit, I finished the excellent book Kite Runner (about a well-to-do Afghani child who emigrates to the U.S. then returns to the country during the time of the Taliban to find an old friend), then tore through Barbara Kingsolver's also excellent Animal Dreams, and now just started America's Secret War, which thus far is a fascinating break-down of what led us to our current involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan (thanks to Josh for sending me that one). Prior to those books, I burned through Black Hawk Down (which was surprisingly even more intense than the film) and also tore though Brendan DuBois' New England-based thriller Betrayed (Brendan is a friend of my buddies Mike and Lynn Thornton and he was kind enough to send me a signed copy – not to mention several great care packages!). I've put aside Dante's Inferno as it's just too damn hot out for reading that.

When we do get a day off, I try to get up at 0630, before anyone else is up yet (most often all our squads have different night schedules so someone is almost always sleeping at any given time) and first write a bit (when I can, on those rare but glorious days when I have a little quiet time) and then do some cardio before things get too hot. After a late night guard shift the other night, I tried running at 1100 and it was already 95 degrees – in the shade. I ran for 30 minutes and that almost did me in. I then usually shower, shave, eat, and then email Sally or read. In the late morning, I do some more abs then hit the weights. If I'm lucky, I might watch a movie on my laptop after that. Those days off are wonderful.

All that being said though, our company still patrols every day and night. We still load live ammo and still roll outside the wire into sector, looking for bad guys, or at least letting the bad guys know we're here, in case they were dumb enough to actually try something.

The Question.

And speaking of rolling outside the wire, the question most people are wondering but are too kind to ask is, 'Have I seen combat?' The answer is a definite NO, and will hopefully stay that way too, knock on wood. (Then again, if I had/do actually seen some, I would/will probably not tell you, at least until I get home.) I can say though that I've come close enough and see the effects of it, and that's plenty for me. But that sure doesn't stop us from faking it once in a while. In the photo, SPC Jake Smith and SPC David Wilson engage... a couple of rocks.
Posted by Hello

Hi. I'm in a guard tower.

Sally said there aren't enough pictures of me on the blog (hey, it's tough to be in your own photos), so here's a little self-portrait. I think the look on my face pretty much says, "Hi. I'm in a guard tower." And that's it. Sally also said she doesn't have enough shots of me where I'm NOT making a goofy face, so I tried not to be goofy, which is sometimes hard after several hours of guard duty. Posted by Hello


So our new wireless Internet (which I couldn't sign up for because I was away on leave when 'the guy' came) requires a big, fat satellite dish on the roof of our command post building. The problem is that they placed the dish right behind an Observation Post that we man continuously during our guard shifts, each one of us spending at least an hour per day at that post.

Now, I believe that those dishes send/receive using lots of microwaves, don't they? If that's true, does anyone know if there would be any real danger standing in front of or even nearby one for extended periods of time? I have to ask because just using a standard microwave makes me nervous, much less standing in front of a satellite dish receiver for an hour.
Posted by Hello

Power to the People

Whether political, military, energy, or monetary, power in Iraq is currently a fickle and unsteady thing. But perhaps no power is more unreliable than the electric power on our base.

Our power is supplied by two, VW-sized generators (see pic above) that run day and night. The fuel for these suckers all comes from the KRAB, and picking up jerry cans of it is all part of our company's daily 'logistical package' (aka 'LOGPAK') runs to the airbase.

During the winter, these generators ran without a problem (especially since we don't have electric heat... actually we don't have any heat at all). But as summer started to approach, we started to add a few air conditioners, or try to. We originally had two AC units for over 30 guys in our four-squad bay area. By contrast, the Command Post, where the Commanding Officer (CO) and his support guys stay, had just about one AC unit per room, as did our squad leader's area. We started to ask for more AC units, only to be told that the KRAB wouldn't give us any, even though the KRAB is LOADED with AC units for the personnel that actually live there.

One day a general came to visit, came right into our bay and said hello. I greeted him and thanked him for his compliment on our homemade digs. I then added that our next step was adding AC, wink, wink, nudge, nudge (as in, 'Hello, help us out here'). He said that he was sure we would be able to get it done or something like that and strode off with our CO. I heard the CO say that our two AC units should be more than adequate, if we hadn't erected all these plywood walls. First of all, that's just not true as two window units would certainly not cool all 30 of us, particularly when it's hitting 115 outside. Second, I guess that he thinks that we should have to choose between privacy or AC. Funny though, he and the rest of the guys in the CP and our platoon's leadership doesn't. Huh. Go figure.

So we found another under-utilized unit (it was in the band room, where first platoon keeps all their electric guitars, amps, and electric drums - yes, it's true) and asked for that. We were told we'd have that unit installed within a day or two and then I went on leave. 20+ days later, I returned and there was still no AC in my squad bay.

We asked, and no one knew what was up. Suddenly two AC units showed up one day on a truck. No one told us that one was supposed to be for us and ours disappeared. Poof! Then another showed up. We installed it ourselves (the process of trying to cut the 1/2-inch think Iraqi glass was definitely NOT pretty) and it didn't work. So we installed another, which we had to wire into a power strip. That didn't work. One of our sergeants is an electrician, so he hardwired a plug onto the unit and an Iraqi electrician put in an outlet. We plugged it in and it worked, for a night. The next morning, as I sat at my desk typing away, it burst into flame (not a good thing when all your walls, shelves, roof, etc. are made of plywood). So then another Iraqi electrician wired it into a power source. That worked for a little while and then started tripping the breaker every 15 minutes or so. Trying to trip it back on would result in a shower of sparks from the breaker and somewhere above it as well (there is nothing QUITE like Iraqi wiring to keep you on your toes). So a day or two later the fuse was replaced. And that burnt out. Finally we all realized that the electrician had wired our power into the power of another squad's AC unit, just sliced open the cord, spliced the two thick copper wires together, and covered it all with a wad of electrical tape. A third, and finally apparently competent, Iraqi electrician showed up t he next day, rewired the unit to its own power, installed new breakers right in our bay, and then the thing finally freakin' worked, after about ten days and three different electricians. (Continued below.)
Posted by Hello

The coveted AC unit, right near my bunk. It not only keep us cool but drowns out the ambient chit-chat, music, and other squad's racket with white noise.

New AC units sprung up all over suddenly, contrary to what we'd been told about not being able to get any at all (typical). (And thankfully an additional AC unit was installed in the gym too.) But with all this added power drain, the generators started to fail. One of them, after probably two years of continuous use, blew out some of its piston rings. We picked up a replacement from the patrol base that closed down (the base in Chemical Ali's old pad - see photos below) but that one is just as old and nearly as worn out. The power started going off two to four times every HOUR, sometimes for up to an hour and a half. The Iraqi 'generator repair guy' became a regular fixture on our base.

Our leadership talked to the city power guys and found out that for a mere $700, we could have a dedicated power line, much like the hospital here has, for continuous city power (although who knows how reliable that might be, at least it's another option and might give the generators a rest). So they decided to move forward. First they were going to use our unit's pool of money for it. Then they apparently found out they couldn't so the NCO's pitched in to actually raise the money themselves and they came up with more than $700, cash in hand, ready to go. A trench was dug, a line was laid. Then the CO realized that the line could provide enough power to also power the houses in our neighborhood, which is certainly a nice gesture. The project was again delayed to put that part in place. Then the KRAB found out about the power line.

Since we didn't go through 'proper channels', they told us we couldn't get the power line. All this time, our power continued to constantly fluctuate (thank goodness laptops have internal batteries), infuriating all those who were watching movies on DVD players, guys playing on X-Boxes, people trying to read in the john, shave, post photos on blogs, chat with loved ones via Internet instant messenger, etc. The KRAB nixed the project, yet they have generators (some the size of tractor trailer trucks) and power to spare and never, to the best of my knowledge, have an outage.

The XO (Executive Officer, second in charge) went around the entire base and found breakers that weren't being utilized, asked everyone to turn down their AC to low, and cut what power he could. This included our hot water heater. In the middle of the day, this is no big deal as you'd probably want a cold shower anyway. And later in the day, the baking 110+ degree sun heat up the tank on the roof enough that you could have a warm shower. But cold morning showers are certainly no fun, as is trying to shave with cold water. But the outages started to get shorter at least.

Then we heard the power line would go through. Then it was stopped by the XO for some reason. Then it was going through and the NCO's again collected up money to pay for it. Then it was stopped. Then the NCO's were told they won't have to pay for it as the KRAB realized what public relations black eye that would result in. So it's a 'go', yet it's not. No wait, it's being put in tomorrow, no next week now, no wait, it's been cancelled again, no wait... As I type this, power continues to cut on/off, although the outages are usually are no more than ten minutes long now.
As for the dedicated city power, who knows? After all, I am but a mere Specialist 'Gun Monkey.' Now, I better hurry up and get this posted on the blog before the power cuts out again.
Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Life in Humvees

In this photo, three Humvees clear weapons after entering the KRAB (Kirkuk Regional Airbase). Note the 'Avalanche' style Humvee in the center.

A Humvee is, to quote one Staff Sgt from our time down south at Camp Scunion, "one tough truck." They are big, beefy, and drive over just about anything. It's actually sort of an adjustment when you start driving them (compared to civilian cars), having to change the way you think about what obstacles to avoid and what to just drive over. We routinely hop curbs, bounce through ditches, and scale berms that would stymie a regular car or even many trucks. They are fifteen feet long and just over seven feet wide. They can climb slopes up to 60% grade and ford five-feet deep water (with a kit).

One day we were in the foothills outside of the city, searching for old ammo caches, when we came upon a dirt road that wasn't much more than a Billy goat trail. It must have been over a 50-degree incline. While our Iraqi police (IP) escort's Nissan SUV's slipped and skidded on up, we powered up without a problem. On the way down, the IP's SUV followed on our bumper, in case their brakes gave away (ours certainly wouldn't have).

However, there are many different variations of Humvees. (Warning, you are about to enter a military jargon zone!!! Please remain calm.) The base unit is the M998 and that's a stripped down, no frills, no armor, plain Jane vehicle. When you add an armored kit to that vehicle, including armored doors, floor, 'transparent armor' (aka bullet-proof glass), it becomes an M1025. If you add a winch to that, you get an M1026. There are versions that look like pick-up trucks, with a cab for two people and a flat cargo bed in the back, what we call 'Avalanche' versions with seating for four and a very small cargo bed in the back (sort of like the Chevy Avalanche truck), versions that look like they have camper shells on the back, and then numerous specialized versions outfitted to be ambulances (M997), psychological operations trucks (outfitted with big giant speakers), TOW missile carriers (M1045), and many more. You get the idea.

The original Humvee was not armored at all, because it was supposed to be in the rear while armored vehicles like tanks would be up front. During peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, armored kits were added (creating the M1025 version) to help against landmines and small arms fire. The problem with these kits is that they add about 2000 extra pounds to the vehicle, straining its suspension and its engine. While traveling behind a fully-loaded M1025, you can actually see the rear wheels slant out at the bottom due to all the extra weight. And this makes them pretty sluggish when you try to hit the gas.
Posted by Hello

The newest and best armored version is the M1114, and we mostly have these vehicles. That's me in the gunner's turret of a 1114. Don't mind my 'Ghengis Chez' 'snow leopard' faux fur vest I have on, that's another story...

These have been redesigned to be completely armored, have a much stronger suspension, and a more powerful engine. Considering that with all that extra armor they weigh about 9,800 pounds, this is important. They also have a much better AC system too, which is nice, and spring-loaded bullet-proof windows built into the doors. (By contrast, the 1025's had some gaps in between their plates of added-on, thinner armor, and their side windows, which swung open, are like thick portholes and much harder to see out of. Their AC system was added-on like the armor and apparently just not as powerful or durable.) However, they also come with a hefty price tag. While the baseline M998 costs about $50,000 to build, a M114 cost around a quarter of a million dollars. By now, there should be about 4,500 M1114's in theater and another 8,000 Humvees with armored kits. Your tax dollars at work.

And speaking of transparent armor, we had to help the mechanics dispose of a pane of the bullet-proof glass at Camp Scunion. It had been cracked by something but they had to ensure it was completely useless before discarding. So they let us take it to the range. Four guys pumped about 50 rounds of 5.56mm rounds from their M4's into the glass from only 25 meters away and not a single round made it through. In a few places, were multiple rounds had hit, the glass was clearly starting to give way, but that was it.

And speaking of armor in general, each door on the 1114 is about 200+ pounds of armor, probably about two inches thick. (The armor on the 1025's is about a quarter-inch or so.) There have been numerous instances where an IED (roadside bomb) has completely demolished and/or shorn off the engine of a 1114, yet the armored crew compartment is intact and the crew often walked away from the attack with only a ringing in their ears.
Posted by Hello

A view from the driver's seat of an M1114 as we approach an IP checkpoint. Posted by Hello

We do have a few 1025's still with us but they are used only when we don't have enough 1114's to go around. We also have what we call 'cargos' or 'bait trucks' (see photo). These are Humvees with 1025-like add-on kit armor but with a pick-up truck cargo bed, for holding troops. We don't like riding in these at all. After all, we call them 'bait trucks' for a reason. Fully loaded with dismount troops, you have about nine guys in there with not much armor.

Note the bait truck in the photo has both kit armor (the yellowish plates on the seats and seatbacks) and 'hillbilly armor' added on top of that (the black plates with handles at the top that sit over the yellowish kit armor and are sort strapped on). Also note the AC unit mounted on top of the roof of the cab.
Posted by Hello

A front view of a 1025-style Humvee (although this one is actually a pick-up style 'bait truck'). Note the porthole-like windows on the doors and the nice, new (fiberglass) hood. Posted by Hello

A view into an 1114, from the right rear 'JAFO' seat. Note my SAW in the middle of the photo and the limited leg/foot room. The gunner's legs are in the center of the shot, ammo for his 240 machine gun behind his feet. Note also the wood and foam homemade seat hanging on the strap behind his knees calves. That's what he gets to sit on when we drive around. Not comfy.

But for all their ability and toughness, Humvees are certainly not comfortable. They can carry up to five, including driver, a gunner who alternately stands/squats up in the armored copula, TC or 'truck commander', and two dismounted guys or JAFO's (Just Another Freakin' Observer). And when you load up a truck with five guys, their gear, sometimes a cooler for water (crucial when it's 110+ degrees out), a combat load of ammo for whatever machine gun is mounted on the truck (often a .50 caliber heavy machine gun), two large radios, often a Blue Force Tracker system (like a GPS on steroids that maps out the local terrain and pinpoints other friendly forces for you), and the occasional bag of toys and candy to throw to Iraqi kids, and it can get real cramped real quick.

Passenger comfort is last on the list of things they build into the Humvee and getting in/out while wearing sometimes up to 80-pounds of gear and weapon (especially my SAW and more so at night when you have your Night Observation Device mounted on your helmet) is tough. What padding the seats have is thin, there is little leg (or even foot) room in the back, and often there are components near by that get very hot. The TC, for example, actually sits on top of where the two batteries go, so his seat actually heats up. His left leg and the driver's right leg are right next to hot components too, so they get hot. Not good in a hot environment like this. One good idea on paper was to put mounts for M16's throughout the vehicle. This was a good idea on paper only though because the M4 carbines that we now carry are too short to fit into the mounts (and my SAW is too long and fat) so the metal plates that make up the mounts just get in the way of your feet as you try to step in/out of the truck.

In the end though, we spend many hours in the trucks (a few times we even had to sleep in them) and while definitely not comfortable and not about to win any awards for aesthetic design, they have earned our utmost respect and prove time and time again that they are 'one tough truck.'
Posted by Hello

Back at base, Sgt Shriver takes a break in the gunner's turret of an M1114 Humvee after a long (and very early) patrol. Posted by Hello

Monday, June 20, 2005

Coming soon: Life in Humvees! Posted by Hello

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