Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sidecar Sidebar

And remember that motorcycle with sidecar shot that I ran in 'Getting Around Town' (below)?

Well, first of all that turned out to be a SPC Hanson photo. Second of all, I mentioned that the sidecar was being used for cargo.

Well, I never knew, until just yesterday, exactly what cargo that was... Posted by Picasa

Them's sheep in them thar sidecar! Posted by Picasa

Another Step Toward Home

The other day we had our first 'de-mobe' (de-mobilization) brief. It was essentially a dull 'no duh' kind of briefing but exciting for the fact that it was about coming home.

Once again, there was a total lack of any kind of proper plan for the event. So they tried to squeeze the entire company (around 120 guys) into the 'B-Cell', a medium-sized room near the pool that was originally intended to be a holding cell. (Instead of a holding cell it became our combination practice room for the 1st Platoon band and the sandwich shop (see 'Our Food' below).)

We got as many folks in the door as we could and then the rest just stood outside. They just signed the sign-in sheet, which is really all that matters. It's something we call 'checking the box'; making it look like something is done because someone on high deemed it important enough to make sure everyone is there (which is usually just a 'cover your butt' move on that person's part), without really worrying too much about the person actually doing it. Once again, it's style over substance. Posted by Picasa

That's the back of SGT Haylett's head as he reads the chaplain's PowerPoint slide about intimate relationships. Apparently some guys get all excited to come home, and then have a hard time, uh... performing. Most of the briefing was 'no duh' moments like this, with advice that, 'If this happens to you, be patient and keep trying.' No duh.

Other good advice included things like talk to someone before you beat your spouse. No duh.

And there were suicide warning signs such as someone saying, "I'm going to kill myself," or "I'm going to commit suicide." No duh.

However, and in all fairness to the Army, the chaplain, etc. they probably see a ton of such bad stuff (spousal abuse, suicide, etc.) that could have been solved with simple communication at the right moment. Once again, it's management to the lowest common denominator. Posted by Picasa

SPC Wilson listens in to the legal section of the briefing. We'd had a 0400 to 0900 mission the night before so I started to doze off right about here. I'm sure I didn't miss anything important. After I heard that we'd be getting a lump sum pay out of $1500-2000 upon de-mobe, which is the accrued total of our $3.00 per day deployment per diem, it was pretty much lights out for me. If I missed anything, I'm sure it was pretty much 'no duh' stuff anyway. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 24, 2005

No More Mail Please!

MANY thanks to everyone who sent us all those great packages during the last year! You have made a huge difference in our morale, often providing food for us, both for lunches here and snacks out in sector, that without would leave us choking down many a 'Meal Ready to Eat' (and that's not good).

But, all good things must come to an end. Please do not send any more packages (or mail even), as my old address will soon be the mailing address for a bunch of dudes from the 101st Air Assault Division. (And they can have it!)

Currently we are very well stocked on tuna, Pop Tarts, nuts, dried fruit, cookies, etc. and certainly have enough to last us through these last few WEEKS. (Did you notice the word 'WEEKS' there? We can now count down the WEEKS, not the months, the WEEKS that we have left here!)

And man, we are LOADED on stuffed animals right now. We have about seven big boxes of 'lahaba' to give out (thanks to recent packages from Dad, The Goddard House, mom, my sister Kari, Jonathan Smith, Zach Klotovich, etc.) plus huge bags of candy. We sort of got back-logged because we haven't run many day patrols lately and the few we did I often had other duties during. And of course it's a little tough to hand out toys to kids at midnight and 5:00 AM, especially when there's a curfew here.

Don't fret though as soon we'll be upping our 'op tempo' (operating tempo) in anticipation of the elections. I will be out in sector plenty and will be sure to give out as many toys to as many girls as I can and will post what photos I can of the kids here on the blog. So stay tuned true believers!

Did You Know?

Did you know that most people in this country don't celebrate (or even know) their date of birth? They know the year, but they don't really care about the date. Few people have birth certificates and some of their ID cards sport 20+ year old photos of them as babies.

"Yes mistah, that is me, from 25 years ago."

As we look back and forth between guy to ID and back, "Ah, okay, sure buddy."

Whenever we detain someone, they have to enter a birthdate, any birthdate, into the computer. The vast majority are listed as "Jan. 1"

Oh Glorious Day!!!

Mark this day in your calendars as September 24th gave us a landmark moment: the first day that we spotted double-digit highs in the weather forecast for Kirkuk. (Yeah, it's almost October and we still haven't yet hit even 99-degree highs yet, although the website tells us that it will be soon.)

Needless to say, there was much rejoicing and back-slapping in the bay tonight. We were keeping an eye on the website daily, waiting for this auspicious moment. It was an even nicer surprise to have not one but TWO 99-degree days pop-up. This is an important milestone and a day that will live in our hearts for a long time. Hoist a beer and hoist it high for us as soon it will be 'comfortable' here.

It was so exciting for us that I even saved in my computer a shot of the website with the 99-degree days forecasted on it.

Alas though, we also hear that this country doesn't really have a fall season. We joke that one morning we'll wake up and it will be 40-degrees out and raining, just like our months down south at Camp Scunion. Even if the change isn't that severe, it will be a tough time dealing with 50's and rainy when we finally reach the blessed land of Fort Lewis. We'll look silly in our silk long johns, polypros, fleece, and hats and we will not give one single damn.


Speaking of the Iraqi people, I can't forget the allies in our efforts, the Iraqi Police (IP) and Iraqi Army (IA).

Here are some of the local IP, posing with SSG Attebery and SGT Todd. Just about anyone armed in this country will carry an AK-47, although the cops usually also carry a Glock pistol. Unfortunately, they usually don't have a lot of ammo. Most guys only carry one magazine for their weapons and often don't have much in their magazine. The cops have to buy their own ammo and, for some reason, 9mm rounds for their Glocks go for $1 per bullet. Whenever we had extra 9mm ammo, we'd give them ours and they were very happy to take it. Posted by Picasa

SPC Smith tries on one of the IP trucks for size. While this style truck, four-door with a short bed, is a relatively recent phenomenon in the States, they've been the truck of choice here for years. Posted by Picasa

The ESU (I have no idea what that stands for) are sort of the special cops, a tier up from regular IP. They are paramilitary and wear green fatigues like this guy, who led a team of ESU on one of our raids. Posted by Picasa

The ESU use regular IP-style trucks like this one. While debate raged back home about how many up-armored Humvees the U.S. Army had here, these guys continued to cruise around in regular pick-up trucks. It's no wonder that the bad guys switched to targeting these guys instead of us as it's just a much 'softer,' certainly easier target than an armored Humvee. Posted by Picasa

As I said, AK-47's like this are the nearly ubiquitous weapon of choice for Iraqis. Most aren't actually Soviet- or Russian-made but cheaper knock off's from former Eastern Bloc countries. This one, like many here, has plastic hand grips and stock. Most of them are pretty well worn and I have doubts as to how accurate their barrels are at this point. Posted by Picasa

The young ESU guy on the right was cracking us up during our last raid. He kept playing the Sean Paul dance club hit "Shake Your Thing" on his cell phone and sometimes signing it. When he would knock on people's doors, he would shout out in English, "Hell-ooo, good morning!"

Always working the inside joke, we opted for yelling out the Simpson's line, "Uh yeah, hired goons."  Posted by Picasa

SGT Stewart (standing), SGT Shriver, our 'terp, and our ESU team from the last 'knock and search' mission. Posted by Picasa

This guy is not posing. This is actually how many of the IP/ESU drive around town when they're in an SUV like this. Since they don't have a turret or any way for someone to gun from the top of the vehicle, they just hang out the back like this, one foot wedged under the door hinge. Needless to say, if the vehicle were to get into an accident, this cat would be toast. Posted by Picasa

For vehicles, the IA don't fare any better than the IP. They currently have no armored vehicles as they were all either destroyed during the ground war or confiscated by us. So they make do with pick-up trucks like this (this one with an RPK light machine gun mounted on it, sort of their version of the SAW)... Posted by Picasa

...or larger flatbed trucks like this one near a polling site. Posted by Picasa

Here are a couple of IA that we taught to climb a bit on our wall (may it rest in peace), with 'Doc' McKenzie in the background. Almost all of them stood between 5'6" and 5'8" and had a slight build. I attributed their smaller size to a much smaller, less diverse, certainly less protein-rich diet than that of an American. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Wedding Crashers

Bonuses for reenlisting the in Guard these days have risen up to $15,000 for six more years of service. When you sign-up while deployed, that money is tax free. Needless to say, this money has swayed quite a few guys into reenlisting.

The actual reenlistment ceremony is pretty short and simple. But some guys like to have them in more interesting places. The eternal flame is very popular for the ceremonies, some guys chose 'Freedom Tank' (see the last photo in 'Public Art and Signage'), and one guy, our medic SPC McKenzie, even chose the animal market.

Recently one of our sergeants chose to walk right across the street to a local restaurant, or what we thought was a restaurant. This brings me to the story about our crashing a wedding, which I mentioned previously.

For the ceremony, we donned all our gear, loaded our weapons, walked out the front gate, and crossed a major road to the building. First of course we had to pull security. That's our First Sergeant under the sign for the place. Posted by Picasa

Upon entering though, we realized it was more a beer garden than a restaurant, which was certainly fine by us. I wanted to order a table for twenty, but our leadership disagreed for some reason (like for numerous good, safe reasons, like not letting us get 'happy' out in sector, especially when we're not supposed to have any alcohol at all for the whole deployment).  Posted by Picasa

Smith poses in front of the beer garden's centerpiece. Posted by Picasa

And we couldn't help but stare...

But our leadership decided that having us in a beer garden is probably a bad thing (for good reason). So, after asking permission from the people at the establishment next store, we all passed through a doorway in the hedge. Posted by Picasa

Unfortunately, there was a wedding going on. While our leadership asked permission from the bride and groom and they said yes (what else could they say, really?), several of us felt that we should not intrude on their wedding day. Posted by Picasa

Regardless, the quick ceremony went on, with two guys holding a U.S. flag up in front of the wedding couple. Several of us preferred to pull security along the river side of the wedding place, instead of intrude further upon the ceremony. Posted by Picasa

Fortunately though, we at least were thankful to them and collected $140 for a wedding gift. I put in $20. Posted by Picasa

Latest Article

The Idaho Statesman just posted my latest article at http://www.idahostatesman.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050917/NEWS01/509170312/1002. It's what I thought was a harmless little story about what we do with our 'non-mission' days.

Ironically, after all the other articles that I've written - most of which have gone completely unnoticed and most of which are about our missions, I've actually already started to receive some flak for this one. Apparently some of our less secure soldiers here feel that it will make 'everyone back home think all we do here is play video games.' I was a little miffed to be confronted about it by two meaty sergeants the first thing this morning, but, after getting in a yelling match with both of them, I'm starting to laugh it off. However, I also expect more to come and am (sadly) steadfastly prepared to defend the very simple truth of this tiny little story...

Saturday, September 17, 2005


Thus far, it looks like things are still on-track for us to be home by Thanksgiving. I can't discuss actual dates but I could even be back in the States, at Fort Lewis for our de-mobilization, by early November. Much depends on the constitutional elections though.

Oh, and speaking of the elections, that large sign downtown (the one shown in 'Public Art and Signage') said, "One Country/One People/One Constitution."

Remember the 'Buffalo' EOD truck that I had photos in July (under 'Unique Truck')? You can get a little more info on it at http://www.defensetech.org/archives/001801.html.

Another Long Day

About a week ago, we were on QRF ('Quick Reaction Force' – just basically sitting around, staying in uniform and ready, in case something happens and they need someone to react to it), when we're told that we're going to have to roll out on a mission. Normally on QRF we only have a night mission but on this day we were told we had to go out and check the polling sites for the upcoming constitutional election.

We'd only checked a couple of sites (we have nearly 100 we have to check in our sectors) when we got a call over the radio of shots fired at the 3,000+ year-old Citadel. Since we were the QRF, we had to respond.

At first we pull up to the building and I'm trying to cover it with my 240B machine gun. Gazing up at the thick stone walls and the multitudes of firing ports I think, 'Yeah, this works. It's a friggin' fortress!' Posted by Picasa

We cut the lock on the gate and actually drove up into the Citadel, which we'd never done before. Posted by Picasa

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