The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

NOSTOS |

September 28, 2007

NOSTOS
Name: LT Carl Goforth
Posting date: 9/28/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url: desertflier.blogspot.com

Nostos (Greek: νόστος) (pl. nostoi) Homecoming. It is a theme dealt with in many Homeric writings such as the Odyssey, in which the main character, Odysseus, strives to get home after the Trojan War.

Fishing trawler a half mile up the coast. I just walked over the berm from the cabana, and the trawler is the first thing I spy. She's slowly crawling my way, and only several hundred yards from shore. Great booms reaching out over the water like the tentacles of an octopus. But it's the birds that really nab my attention. A cloud of shorebirds lazily floating, diving, and endlessly rotating around the old trawler. The atom doesn't exist without the electrons, and the electrons have no function if it weren't for the atom. It's like that.

The surf is washing over my feet. The sun is climbing with nary a cloud in the sky. And it dawns on me: I'm here. Shorts, bare feet, and a beer. This is me, I'm doing this, and it just won't process.

Forty eight hours ago I was going through customs at Ali Al Saleem in Kuwait. We get briefed on the x-rays, screening processes, and I get to hear the same old story about the Marine that tried to smuggle two grenades just yesterday in his sea-bag. This is by far the busiest Marine ever, because he's smuggled thousands of them by now.

After carefully packing my gear, a customs officer and I dismantle the entire thing again as we look for indigenous plants, M-16 rounds, and any domestic farm animals I may have run across and decided to keep. I ask her for the list of authorized contraband, and she rolls her eyes. I was asking more for my amusement and sanity more than anything else -- and thought it was decent original material until she said, "Yeah, yeah, we've heard all the jokes before. Even that one."

After customs, we were locked into a little compound with tents and a Green Beans Coffee Cafe. Each tent was packed with units going home. We shared with an Army medical unit out of Baghdad. They were reservists out of Michigan, and the soldier sitting next to me was from Detroit. Talked about the state of the Lions and Jon Kitna this year. I gave him credit for how Barry Sanders found a way to de-construct my Bears at least once a year when he was in the league, and we laughed away an hour talking about military medicine, family, football, and all we would do when we got home.

Ten p.m. they load us into a bus caravan for the two hour drive to Kuwait International Airport. And there we sat. Ten minutes became twenty, and humorous rumors swirled around the bus about how they were tricking us. As if to prove the prediction, a customs officer hops onto the bus and tells us to get out. What?!

"Two weapons have been lost on the base, and the gates are in lock down," he tells us. A few of us offer our weapons if it gets us to our planes any faster, but the offer is politely declined. So we pile back out and sit around the customs compound another half hour. A few shouts to form up, and we get excited again. False alarm.

Midnight ticks over, and we get the go-ahead. Form it up! Head count! Get on those buses! My pleasure . . .

The second the wheels lift from the tarmac that plane erupted in shouts, laughter, and clapping. It's official: they're actually letting us go home.

Eight hours later, and it's a dash through the Shannon, Ireland terminal. Over a hundred and twenty very thirsty Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines have a fever. And the only prescription? A pint of Guinness stout is the way to cure this malady. We order our pint and extras. After the first one goes down, it's a balderdash as we mix and match the rest of the beers on our table. The last seven hours of the flight went much better than the first eight. . .

Saturday morning landing in Cherry Point, North Carolina. The cheers and clapping bring the plane to a roaring good touchdown. Flight crew laughing and clapping right along with us. After unloading and loading our gear several more times on the flight line, we board buses for the hour ride to Camp Lejune.

Families are there waiting. We coordinate to make sure new Dads get off the buses first. And there we are: exhausted, soaked in sweat, and smelling up the bus like a petting zoo.

Nobody cares. Buses roll up. Wives are holding their cheeks, crying and trembling in their beautiful summer dresses. Dads rush off first with laughing and running children jumping into their arms. Moms join the fray. A few parents make it too, and they stand patiently in the back waving little American flags. I hang back a minute or so, just taking it all in. A Rockwellian moment comes to life outside my little bus window.

And right here, right now: all somehow seems right in the world.

A few of the guys will wait before they re-unite with family. Some are from as far away as Washington state and Guam. Tim rented a cabana on the beach for Saturday and Sunday night. I finally made it out Sunday morning after finishing some paperwork. Dump the daybag, ditch the uniform, and grab a beer. It's shorts, flip-flops, and an immediate walk up the berm onto the beach. And the beach is where I stayed the entire day. The cabana was just a beer outpost. . .because I have so much to catch up on. Every second savored. And that magnificent fishing trawler is only the beginning.

THE BEST VICTIMS |

September 27, 2007

SOMETIMES THE BEST VICTIMS ARE OURSELVES
Name: SFC Toby Nunn
Posting date: 9/27/07
Stationed in: Kuwait / Iraq
Hometown: Oakland, CA via Terrace B.C. CANADA
Milblog url: tobynunn.typepad.com


It is no big secret that here in Bad Voo Doo we enjoy a good joke. We enjoy a joke at another's expense more than anything. Since the guys have been together jokes have become pretty commonplace. Friendly banter even more so. Of course there are the constant rivalries that propel the teams and squads to outdo each other, which I of course promote. The Squad Leaders are also very competitive and are constantly trying to get the best missions and crack on each other.

Ages ago men learned that the easiest way to spark a response from another, and to provoke, is to question the purity of the other male's mother. This has, for many men, lead them into an emotional response that weakened their ability to think clearly, giving the other the advantage.

The boys have enjoyed making jokes, and JP is consistently a ringleader. Mr 300, a constant victim, is considered a very business-oriented guy, and anyone who doesn't share the same rank or outrank him never messes with him. He does laugh at his own expense but very rarely strikes back, so no one expects him too.

All our vehicles are assigned a registration number, just like back home. These numbers are what allow us to get fuel anywhere outside our home base. JP is the proud recipient of a brand new, fresh-off-the-showroom-floor ASV. This vehicle is so new that it needed to get all the administrative numbers assigned as a recent mission was getting started.

One of the practices we have is to write this number in marker in certain places of convenience so that we can read it and write it on paperwork if needed. As JP was getting fuel he realized that he had not yet written the number down, and started to do so. Just as he started, Mr.300 called him on the radio and claimed to have recieved a message from higher, giving JP a different number for the vehicle. A disciplined NCO always heeds his leaders, so JP scratched out the number he had just written and told Mr. 300 he was prepared to receive the new one.

The new number came over the radio with the proper radio protocol: "Uniform, Romeo, Mike, Zero, Mike". JP wrote the new number down and instructed his driver Beeker to do likewise. In his haste and effort to do the right thing he didn't see the forest for the trees. Everyone was laughing while he focused on completing the task of writing "URMOM" all over his brand new vehicle.

JP, the best of sports, had no choice but to realize that he had fallen victim to himself.

ALMOST |

September 26, 2007

ALMOST
Name: Eddie
Posting date: 9/26/07
Stationed in: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Milblog url: airborneparainf82.blogspot.com
Email: airporneparainf82@blogspot.com

How many times can you almost get hit???

Yesterday was my first day back out on patrol after almost a week off. The way our schedule works is we rotate guys in the squads off on patrol days, and I happened to have my day come at the right time to get five days off! It was great not doing anything, but it came to bite me in the ass, as yesterday was extremely exhausting. Add to it that the air was extremely dusty, and it created an overcast, yet still hot and exhausting, dreary day.

We did our typical market guarding and before lunch they dropped us dismounts off and we conducted a foot patrol through some of the neighborhoods. Nothing really special. We pretty much just walked around, talked with some people, and generally made our presence known.

On the way back to our linkup point with the trucks (which was quite aways away), we started to cross a major road. There happened to be a lot of IA (Iraqi Army) guys there and they helped to stop the traffic as we crossed. I was the last guy, and just as I was almost across the road I see this car coming towards us. It wasn't going too fast, but I thought to myself, "This guy had better stop." Once he was close enough I could see in the car, and the driver totally was not paying attention.

It now was lining up to where his car and my body were on a collision course. Then, still without looking, the guy hits the gas and starts flying directly at me. Without hesitation, I bring my rifle up to my shoulder, pointing directly at the driver, and I yell at the top of my lungs "HOLD THE FUCK UP!!"

I guess the other occupants in the car noticed this just about the same time the driver finally decided to look forward. Every single occupant in that car, driver included, went wide-eyed as he slammed on his brakes, stopping about three feet in front of me. I was furious, and even though they didn't understand the words I was speaking, I think they knew exactly what I was yelling. I went up to their window and yelled at them for not paying attention, ya de da de da. It was funny because when I got done, and went back and fell in to the patrol, about half the guys were looking back at me wondering what the hell had happened.

We continued on and were just a couple hundred meters from our linkup point when again we had to cross a road, this one semi-major. We actually ended up walking in the road the get to where we had to go. I looked back like I usually do as the rear guy, and I see this van coming at us. OK, you've got to see us, slow down now. Nope. Dude comes right up on me all quick, and again I'm forced to stop this man in the same terrifying manner in which I stopped the last guy. Jesus! It's the middle of the day. How hard is it to see us and stop!?

For lunch we ended up stopping by a base. Once done we were waiting to leave, and I don't know how, but we ended up on the topic of one night when my SAW gunner heard the other team leader in my team, lets call him "Sally", crying. My squadleader was adament about Sally crying, but Sally claimed that he wasn't. We laughed throughout the argument, and ended up putting together a formal trial. It was hilarious, and I wish we had recorded it. We had my SAW gunner as the witness, Sally was the defendant and representing himself, I was the prosecutor, my squad leader was the Judge, and another guy from our squad was the Bailiff/Court Recorder. We would ask the witness questions, then Sally would cross-examine.

It was getting heated, and both Sally and I would contest questions with the typical court room jargon such as, "Objection, leading the witness!" or "I object, the witness is not on trial here!" The judge would decide and would also attempt to cool things off by threatening to hold one of us (usually Sally) in contempt of court with fines; of pushups. Hahaha! Several times we had to have the bailiff swear us in as witnesses and be recalled, to clarify whether or not someone had said something that another was claiming.

It was great. We still have one more witness to examine before a decision can be made, but I think the result will be that Sally in fact, did cry.

There was nothing else really exciting the rest of the day until we ended up doing our night patrol. I was second to last guy for this one, and we ended up patrolling around long enough to suck, but not really too long. About halfway through the patrol, the guy in front of me was about to cross this road when I heard a loud, high-pitched sound. For a moment I thought it was an RPG or a rocket being fired, but then I saw what it was.

A car came into view from where I was in the alley, skidding to a stop just before the guy that was about to cross. The car had been flying, and I guess didn't see us since it was night. Initially I was still on alert because I had no clue if that's what happened, or if they were about to hop out and start shooting. So for the third time, there was a close call with a car, and for the third time I had to point my rifle at the occupant. It immediately became clear what had happened, and we continued on our way.

The rest of the patrol was uneventful.

Before heading back we learned of an IED attack that had taken place on another company from my unit. Fortunately nobody was hurt, but it was the new deadly roadside bombs they have here, EFPs (Explosively Formed Projectiles). The scary thing is that it took place in an area that we have driven past on several occasions, which now makes it the first EFP to go off in an area where we could have been the recipients.

The EFPs are extremely deadly because they punch through our new uparmored Humvees as if the armor were butter. I knew they would come up eventually, but it's been so long and we were fortunate to not have had to deal with them really up to this point. Now we have to worry about this new form of faceless attack from our enemy. I pray to God that we don't see many more in the future.

KUWAIT, TAKE ONE |

September 25, 2007

KUWAIT, TAKE ONE
Name: Doc in the Box
Posting date: 9/25/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url: docinthebox.blogspot.com

This is the first video I made in 2004 while attached to HMM-764 (Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron). It covers most of the first month of deployment, my first and longest time Kuwaiting. We were the first reserve CH-46 squadron to go into Iraq, and had to unpack our helicopters and make sure they were fully ready to fly, which took a good part of a month. Be careful, it might cause a teary eye or two.

THE VERMINOMICON |

September 24, 2007

THE VERMINOMICON
Name: Adrian B.
Posting date: 9/24/07
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog url: thesatiristatwar

A lot's happened since the last time I took a couple minutes out of my day to write. Notable highlights were me getting my CIB*, a steady worsening in the me-interpreter relations, the death of my grandfather, and a steady escalation in the activities of our "friends across the border," the Taliban. People may be wondering why I don't write more about such things, or imagine that I'm not writing dashing stories of travail and adventure because I haven't experienced them. The fact is, writing about certain things makes me think about those things, and the things that you might be most interested in are things I'd rather forget. It's already hard enough not to think about it without my favorite elixir (which is to say "hootch" or "booze"). So, no dramatic epics of wartime heroism, etc. -- just more of the same inconsequential stories.

The most recent episodes here on the FOB have revolved around the introduction of animals into our habitat. Certain types (especially younger, high-school and college-aged individuals -- people that don't know any better, in other words) always make such a big fuss about us encroaching on nature, and pushing all the cute animals out of their natural habitat. What these people fail to take into consideration is how irritating it is when an animal -- and more specifically, vermin -- makes its way into your home.

As winter's started its relentless advance, here in the mountains, every field mouse, spider, centipede, and bottle fly within a 500m radius has made living in the command hallway their number one priority. The field mice have staked out the wooden walls that separate our community, whereas the spiders and centipedes contend for homes in our shoes, boots, and sleeping bags. Flies seem content to limit themselves to the hallways.

Everyone has their ideas on what constitutes the best system for keeping vermin out of one's room. My favored technique is to keep my room as cold as possible, in hopes that the vermin will prefer my neighbors' rooms to my own, a defense that has met with excellent success, though not without incurring a significant amount of animosity from my colleagues; also, I am currently writing with gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants on, all of which I will have to switch out with more appropriate attire before venturing into the 85-degree mid-day heat.

Our 1SG has taken to cleaning his room obsessively since discovering an eight-inch, poisonous centipede near his shoes; he seems to feel that keeping his room pristine will deny the vermin access to the food and shelter they seek. The Fire Support Officer and our Commander have taken a more aggressive approach to the problem, emplacing numerous sticky tent traps around their rooms, and have to date enjoyed the best success, capturing, and quickly putting to the torch, three mice.

The commander was lucky enough to catch a fourth mouse with his boot the other day, bringing the total number of mice killed to four. Using poison is not a viable option with the mice, because they'd just crawl into a corner, die, then bring pestilence to our abodes with their rapidly-decomposing bodies.

*Combat Infantryman Badge

ASK A VETERAN |

September 21, 2007

ASK A VETERAN
Name: SPC Ian Wolfe
Posting date: 9/21/07
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

I'm finally home after 22 months gone, 16 of those in Iraq. While over there I didn't really think much of it, I just did the job I was given. But it has been a strange experience. I try to be good about talking to people when they ask what I think. I try to tell them what most of us talked about: how the media is failing us and the public, how the news shows and papers are irresponsible in their reporting and presentation, the positive things we did and the people we met. 

The first few weeks home were so surreal. I kept thinking, "How could a place this nice exist?" I was in awe. I had forgotten how nice this country is.

I did find it hard to talk about the wounded Americans I saw while I was working in the ICU. That affected me more when I got home than I thought it would. I think mostly that had to do with coming home and seeing people with such strong opinions, people who have never even left the country. Don't get me wrong, the "Thank you's" and the handshakes are plentiful. It's just that I live in the city, so it's mixed. I don't usually tell people where I was because some people get awkward and others don't know what to say. Mostly I think this is because they have never met a Soldier who has been there, and they are caught off guard.

When I hear people bitch about the war and give their views on it I can't help but think of those wounded guys, and think of what they would say. I have read some nasty things about the war and us, and I don't understand it sometimes. It's funny how nothing here is really affected by it.

Of course, some friends had to ask the token questions: "Did you kill anybody?" "Did you get hit?" I was in a medical unit. We typically aren't the ones shooting. When I went out, we were with a gun truck team. I wasn't running convoys, but I was around the villages for quite a bit of time. Thankfully I didn't get hit with anything. Sitting around with some comrades we were discussing what people must think it is like over there. I guess if all you see is the stock footage from the news media, you would think it to be a constant explosion. I almost get tired of trying to explain things, but I try to inform people as best as I can using the experiences I had. I always appreciate people who want to know.

I refuse to get an antenna for my TV, or cable. I just can't take it anymore. The politics drive me nuts. I feel so disgruntled with these presidential candidates and the talk of the war.

I have talked with friends who were in different situations over there -- Marines, Infantry, etc. -- and the funny thing is that all of us in our own way were mad at the media. Liberal and conservative, we all felt the same. None of us have agreed to do interviews because of this, though quite a few of us have been asked. The problem with this is that the media will find someone to interview, and it may not be the best person to represent us. So I am now encouraging vets to talk with the media, but to be cautious about how the media will spin it.

The other issue for me has been the Iraq War Vet license plates. I like to stay incognito, not to advertise. After telling someone my logic on the interviews, they pointed out to me that it is the same with the plates. So I am getting them. I have been walking around school trying to hide the fact of where I was. If people ask, I tell them, but there's that initial awkwardness.

Overall the transition home has been good, with a few bumps here and there. There are some images that I will never forget, and I don't think I want to. I went back to work and school after a month, and it's been good getting into a routine. It's still hard to see all this discussion of the war, and I do get upset and angry at times. There are other times where I am so overcome with happiness I almost get teary.

There was one moment that really caught me off guard. The day we were bussing back home we stopped to pick up the Patriot Guard riders. One of them came over to shake my hand, and did, and then he grabbed my shoulder and I saw he was tearing up. I thought to myself that I didn't deserve this, that he was a Vietnam Vet, and yet he was so emotional about us stepping off that bus. I know I couldn't have done as much as he did, or had it as hard as he did, but here he was shaking my hand and thanking me.

I understand it now. Past whatever you did, whether it was kicking down doors, patching people up, answering radios, or whatever, there is a common understanding of being in the military during something like that. It's everything involved, and when I talk to other Veterans from WW2, or Vietnam, there is that understanding that we all share. This is one of those things that people who haven't served in a war will never understand.

So while people discuss these wars they should remember that there is so much more that goes into it, and just watching the news or a movie does not help you understand. If you want to know, ask a Veteran.

BY THE NUMBERS |

September 20, 2007

BY THE NUMBERS
Name: Teflon Don
Posting date: 9/20/07
Returning from: Ramadi, Iraq
Milblog url: acutepolitics.blogspot.com

In the early hours of the morning, the last soldiers of our task force caught their flights out of Camp Taqqadum and left our work in Iraq to others. Badger 6 has a post up over at Badgers Forward summarizing the year for our company. I'll do a post of my own sometime in the next few weeks with more detail.

Here are the stats, from B6:

Missions Performed -- 647
Improvised Explosive Devices Reduced -- 458
Kilometers Traveled -- 51,135

To put those numbers in perspective:

Our missions lasted anywhere from two to 60 hours, but were commonly around eight (not including two hours prep time for each mission). The longest mission any platoon conducted without stopping for rest was somewhere around 24 hours. Those kilometers rolled by at a glacial pace that rarely exceeded 30 kilometers per hour and was often much slower. Most importantly, we believe that each bomb we found potentially saved between one and five American or Iraqi lives. That means that our company alone could easily have saved over 2,000 lives.

We brought 102 men to war, if my memory serves. Among those, 97 experienced at least one attack by the enemy and earned the Combat Action Badge. All three of our medics earned the Combat Medical Badge, for giving medical aid in combat. Those same medics helped save the lives of several of our soldiers -- 35 of 102 received a Purple Heart for wounds received during an engagement with the enemy.

Sadly, three of our best were killed in action.

We are going home.

Editor's note: A Sandbox salute to frequent contributors Teflon Don and  LT Carl Goforth, who are headed stateside, and Eric Coulson, who has volunteered to stay in Iraq for another 10 months with a different unit. Thank you for your service and for all your great posts -- please keep 'em coming.

BBQ WITH THE WEEKLY STANDARD |

September 19, 2007

BBQ WITH THE WEEKLY STANDARD
Name: LT Carl Goforth
Posting date: 9/19/07
Stationed in: Anbar Province, Iraq
Milblog url: desertflier.blogspot.com

Teflon Don and I are swapping stories around the BBQ in front of Charlie Medical. Missions have been completed, and within days we begin the long journey home to friends and family and pick up the pieces we left off 8-12 months ago. The Army medical staff are throwing one last BBQ before the old surgical team gets replaced and heads out later this week.

A civilian walks out from the dark where TD and I are standing, and asks "Hey guys, what's going on. How much are you charging for some steak?"

"Well, it's only 10 bucks a plate. These are really good steaks! Been marinating them all afternoon."

"Uh, right then. I was walking by and was just curious," as he starts walking away.

"Whoa, wait a minute. Just kidding on the entry fee. Who are you with?"

"I'm a journalist."

"Really? With who?"

"Weekly Standard."

Teflon Don and I look at each other at the same time and think "Wait a minute, we know this guy!"

"As in The Weekly Standard?" I start coaxing him back with the promise of mouthwatering steak. Right now, Teflon Don and I know a lot more about him than he does of us. "What's your name?"

"Matthew Sanchez."

"Yo, man. You were the one sending out emails to the milbloggers about the notorious Baghdad Diarist, right."

"That was me," as he gives us the oddest look.

I point to TD "Your talking to Acute Politics, and I'm Desert Flier. You emailed us!"

Matthew, just shaking his head: "Again and again: what a small world it is."

I've never mentioned the Baghdad Diarist before. Didn't want to give the soldier any more exposure, since he deserved none. His name is Scott Beauchamp, and he was submitting some disturbing and far-fetched stories to the New Republic several months ago. Matthew Sanchez with The Weekly Standard was one of the first to contact the New Republic and openly question the authenticity of the stories being published.

After getting the run-around, Matt went to Camp Falcon, where supposedly Scott was operating out of, and contacted the public affairs officer and other base officials. It was Matt's inquiries that lead to a full blown investigation, CNN and Fox news coverage of the Baghdad Diarist, and exposing the outlandish stories for what they were: lies that directly affect public perception of our professional organization. (Read about it here.)

We spent the evening talking about the state of Anbar, the EFP threat in and around Baghdad, and IED hunting (TD's specialty) in Ramadi and Fallujah.

You may have heard EFPs (explosively formed penetrators) mentioned in the media over the past few months as the newest armor-penetrating weapons used by the insurgents. They have a specific design that allows maximum armor penetration of molten copper upon impact, and can be fired from a stand-off distance, or be placed in IED's.

Also discussed at length were the casualty rates from IED blasts. Matt was under the impression the rates were around 30%, and said general perception back in the U.S. is that vehicles hit with IED's usually result in fatalities. TD and I both dispute the statistic, and I would like to dispel the misperception. It's a highly variable and ever changing number depending on tactics, type of vehicle, exact location of the IED (underneath vs. offset on the roadside).

Here is a typical scenario: route clearing engineers are the ones who find the IED's. They are driving heavily up-armored vehicles that have V-shaped bodies specifically designed to deflect undercarriage blasts. The blast, more often than not, is going to disable the vehicle. However, having said that, most of the time the riders escape with only concussions and feeling a little banged up. Armor penetration and fatalities usually result if 1) the vehicle is a humvee (even the up-armored humvees are highly vulnerable), or 2) a secondary IED is hidden next to the first, detonated as the disabled vehicle's occupants spill out.

Standard procedure is for them to stay in place until the entire scene has been secured by the rest of the combat engineers.

Time marches to the beat of a slower drummer the closer we get to home. I leave you with Teflon Don's memorable quote of the night: "None of the fun of missions; all of the suck of Iraq." My sentiments exactly.

THE END TIMES |

September 18, 2007

THE END TIMES
Name: Teflon Don
Posting date: 9/18/07
Stationed in: Ramadi, Iraq
Milblog url
: acutepolitics.blogspot.com

We're living in them. No, not those end times...I don't know anything about those. Our time here will soon be up. It doesn't seem that way; no matter how much gear I pack up and turn in, this desert still feels normal, still feels like home. A year doesn't seem that long -- twelve months, less than five percent of my life to date -- but I barely recall what "normal" life is like. It feels so distant to me now that it might as well be a second lifetime, an earlier incarnation of myself. Leave wasn't that long ago, of course, but that was only two weeks, lived under the specter of impending return.

Before I left for Iraq, before I even boarded the plane that would take me to my pre-deployment training, I worried that my friends would leave me behind. I thought it might be a little like excusing one's self from a party, coming back minutes later to find the party a year gone and the merrymakers scattered. That mind picture skirted the truth, but as usual, analogy is suspect. When I left, most of my friends were in college. Now, most have indeed graduated and scattered -- they range in domicile from Austria to China and many places in between. The difference is the time. Rather than a year for them and seeming minutes for me, a year has passed for my friends. A lifetime has passed for me.

It seems like it's been forever since I lived that "normal" life -- the normalcy that I know I'll never quite grasp again. Paradoxically, the last year blends and runs together into one long, blurred day. It doesn't feel like a year. It feels longer and shorter all at the same time. I want to leave, to go home, to take things for granted again. I also can't stand the thought of leaving now, of turning my back on so many things left undone.

CHARLIE AND THE DEMON DOG |

September 17, 2007

CHARLIE AND THE DEMON DOG
Name: Eddie
Posting date: 9/17/07
Stationed in: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Milblog url: airborneparainf82.blogspot.com
Email: airporneparainf82@blogspot.com

This is the story of two dogs.

First let me say that I am truly an animal lover, and the one thing I have missed more than anything being in the military as a single soldier, is the fact that while living in the barracks I was not able to have any pet, even something like a fish. Shoot, I don't even think I could have a live plant. As a kid, when I'd go out playing with my BB gun, I could never bring myself to shoot even a bird or a squirrel. The one time I almost did I lined it up in my sights and at the last second raised my rifle and fired just above it. How ironic that the first life I removed from this planet was that of another human being. Anyway...

We have a dog that stays at our combat outpost. A few months ago my old squad was out on patrol at night and this cute little black and white puppy began following them. They didn't pay much attention to it at first, but he kept following them and, well, he was just so damn cute they brought him back that night.

I was on guard shift and happened to be sitting on the desk inside when they brought the little guy in. He was pathetic looking. He couldn't have been more than a couple weeks old and looked like he could have died any minute. But he was so cute. They gave him a couple baths to clean him up and tried to get him to drink as much clean water as he could.

They had him wrapped in a blanket and left him at the desk I was at. He was throughly exhausted and his body was so hot. He was shivering while he slept, and honestly from the looks of it I didn't think he was going to live for more than a few days. Even after the bath he still had fleas, so one of the guys went and dipped him in JP8 (diesel fuel). We thought this was crazy, but it worked and he was flea free.

The only appropriate name for a dog for guys of Charlie Company was "Charlie". As the days went by Charlie began doing much better. He slowly began eating MREs and as time went on he began filling out. He became more active, and was even cuter than before. He was the center of attention and got everyone's affection. This is where Charlie and I truly began to bond, especially after the first time I did my best to comfort him and keep him warm. I really started getting attached to him, and I began thinking about him and his life after we leave. Nothing good...

After we rotated out of there the other platoons that would rotate in would take care of him just as well as we had, and by the time we were there again he had grown so much and was acting like a normal energetic puppy. We used to keep him inside and we'd take him out to pee and poop and up on the roof and to the guard towers to get him outside some.

Well one day our Battalion Command Sergeant Major (CSM) told us that Charlie was not to be allowed inside, and that we technically shouldn't even have him at all. So from that point forward he was an outdoor dog, living downstairs in the courtyard area of the compound. This did nothing to lessen the attention and affection he received from all of us, and gave him a lot of room to run around and play.

Time continued to pass and he grew and grew, learned to bark and bite and all the typical puppy stuff. Every time we'd come back to a new rotation he seemed so much bigger. One time we came back and he remembered me and came hauling ass towards me. I was shocked because I'd never seen him really run before, and it caught me off guard.Framed_eddie_dog_running

I knew I was totally attached to this dog now, and it was horrible thinking about having to leave him behind. The Iraqis don't have dogs as pets. There are dogs everywhere, but they are all wild. They roam the streets in packs and somehow manage to live, but are nothing like the "dog" that Americans are used to. Generation after generation they survive on their own, a natural existence in an unnatural world.

For this reason Iraqis view dogs as wild animals with diseases, and are either afraid of them or hate them. This included Charlie, even though he was obviously domesticated, and some Iraqis abused him. They would chase him and kick him. Anytime we'd catch them we'd yell at them and be on the verge of kicking their asses. This attitude of theirs is why, to this day, Charlie does not like Iraqis. It doesn't matter if it's Iraqi police, Army, or even our interpreters; he barks at them like crazy and acts all tough. I don't even bother trying to stop him anymore. The thing is, if we leave, his life is in their hands.

Charlie is  still a puppy in many ways -- his puppy bark, his constant need to chew on things, his enless supply of puppy energy -- but he's grown a lot and he's really starting to look like a dog. He normally finds trash or water bottles to chew on, so one day I decided to pay an Iraqi to get me a bunch of cow bones, and now he has some real bones to chew on. Any chance I get I spend down with him, and despite what some may think, I let him lick me and crawl all over me. We've totally bonded and it's awesome.

Framed_eddie_dog_closeupI decided there has got to be a way to get him out of Iraq, and after reading a book about a Marine getting a dog to the States, called From Baghdad with Love, I learned about an organization called Military Mascots, which specializes in that. I want to secure Charlie a way to the land of the free, to give him an opportunity to enjoy his life to the fullest. I'd love to see his reaction to a giant field of green grass for the first time! So hopefully we can make this happen, and if you are interested in the project please go to Operation Bring Charlie Home.

OK, so now that I've told you about Charlie, let me tell you about the demon dog...

A few days ago I was to be on guard with the trucks outside. I like this spot, even though it's hot and it sucks being outside during the day, because I get to spend a lot of time with Charlie. Well the guy on shift before me told me there was some stray dog underneath one of the trucks. We joked around saying Charlie was finally going to get some ass, or that it was his long lost mom coming to find him, but once I saw her it was obvious that it wasn't. I don't know how or why this dog came in here, but there it was, chilling under a Humvee.

One of the squad leaders decided to have a guy move the truck, in hopes of getting the dog to run out and hopefully away. Well, the dog came out, but it went after the squad leader and tried to bite him. They kicked the dog and it scurried off somewhere else, but not away.

I was a little concerned because Charlie has not had any shots, and I'd hate for him to get bit by a diseased dog and get rabies. I wanted this dog to leave, but Charlie had no fear and was all up in the other dog's face, barking away like Mr. Toughguy. I have to give him credit for trying.

The dog ended up finding a spot in a lounge chair, and we were trying to get it to leave but it wasn't having it. I even went so far as to grab a metal sign frame and was pushing its head around. Nothing other than a quick snap at me for a reaction. We were in the process of getting some more people to help get the dog out when it hopped up and ran around the side of the building, from which there is no escape.

It was back behind these metal lockers, and I came up with what I thought at the time was a genius idea. I grabbed a broom and went up behind the lockers. I was going to hit the lockers really hard, scare the dog, and it would come running out and hopefully take off.

Charlie decided to come with me, unafraid, and continued his barking. Well, I hit the locker with the broom handle, and as expected it scared the dog and it came running out.

What I neglected to factor in was the possibility of what happened next. Since Charlie was basically blocking the way, the dog ran into him, stopping it from flying past. Once it stopped, it looked at me and immediately knew I was the cause of all its problems, and got this look on its face that only a true rabies-infested, ravenous demon dog could have.

It snarled its black dirty teeth, as white foam seeped out its mouth and it took all its hate and aggression out on me as it lunged at me. I was panicked at this point, no longer afraid about Charlie getting infected but afraid of getting bit myself. My first reaction was to quickly kick the dog in the head. This stopped the attack and for a second I thought the dog was done. But nope, it shook that off, looked at me again with even more hate, and lunged again. I took the broom handle and swung hard, making contact this time with the top of the dog's head.

Again, another unexpected reaction took place. After being belted in the head, the dog somehow latched onto the broom handle with its rabid mouth and began growling and snarling, as if possessed by Lucifer himself. After a couple quick tugs in an attempt to retrieve my self-defense stick, I said fuck it and began running -- somewhere, anywhere away from this devilish dog.

I took a quick glance back, and sure enough the dog was in pursuit. I quickened my pace, thinking it was only a matter or time until it caught up with me, and the first thing I saw to get away from it was to get on top of the hood of a nearby Humvee. I hopped up there and escaped, but the dog proceeded to go chill underneath the Humvee.

There were other people around, and they were laughing their asses off. But did the dog attack them?? NO!!

I was pissed at this point, and I told a guy to give me the radio and I called up that there were going to be a couple shots fired but for no one to be alarmed. This dog was going to die, and preferably by my hands, or should I say my gun. My squad leader immediately told me not to do it.

God damnit. Well, I won't now, but if this thing comes at me again you can sure as hell bet I'm going to pump this dog's body full of 5.56mm lead...

After a couple minutes of the dog not showing its face, I decided to get down to get said rifle. Wouldn't you know, the second my boots touched the ground Satan himself came lunging out again at me and I was forced to immediately climb a sandbag wall just a few feet away. Now I was feeling like an ass, and the thought of ending this dog's life became sweeter and sweeter to me. Well, I don't know why what happened next happened, but I'm guessing maybe the dog sensed trouble. On its own, it decided to run back out the entrance and all the way out into the street and just like that, this whole ordeal was over. Holy shit!

I figured that would be the last time I had to see this dog, but that night we ended up going out to do something, and as we turned onto this road just outside our outpost I heard a couple dogs barking away, like all dogs do to us in Iraq. Just as I'm passing them, one of them stops barking and just begins staring at me. I take a closer look, and sure as shit it's that damn dog, and I would swear it was deciding whether or not to come after me. I began waving my arms and pointing, signalling to the guys on my team. I don't know if they knew what I was getting at, but I knew, and that dog knew. I had my rifle ready and trained in case it decided to act on its thoughts, but fortunately it didn't.

Hopefully that will be the last time we ever come face to face.

ALIVE DAY |

September 14, 2007

ALIVE DAY
Name: CAPT Benjamin Tupper
Posting date: 9/14/07
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown
: Syracuse, NY

I recently watched an HBO special titled Alive Day Memories. This documentary focused on Iraq and Afghan veterans, each telling of the day they almost died in combat -- their "Alive Day". I had never heard Alive Day used before this program, but I was very familiar with the concept.

One of the first things I did when I came home from Afghanistan on leave was tattoo the date 26 June 2006 on my right forearm. On this date, in a small village in Ghazni Province, I had my Alive Day. In the midst of an ambush by Taliban forces on our patrol, I heard the distinctive blast of an RPG behind me. I turned my head to see the football shaped warhead searing through the air towards me.

It may sound like a cliché, but for the first time in my life time did slow down. Some part of my brain hit the slow motion button and turned off the volume. The RPG landed in front of me. A ball of silent fire and dirt clumps filled my field of vision. I felt like I was watching it on TV with the mute button on.

The eardrum-shattering explosion and the concussion were nonexistent. Don't get me wrong, they were there, but I didn't feel them or hear them. That's how I know this day was my Alive Day. Reality was suspended momentarily. Normal physical rules of life (sound, sensation) were paused, and in the process, my life was extended.

The stories told during the HBO documentary were very moving, but they focused more on the injuries sustained than the Alive Day concept. I was hoping for more reflection on the emotional implications of the day. Perhaps this is because I wasn't physically injured on my Alive Day. Perhaps it was because these soldiers have more pressing issues to deal with (missing arms and legs) than to wax philosophic about it.
 
Regardless, 26 June 2006 has had some good and bad effects on me. It has shown itself to be both a therapeutic tool and a dangerous outlet. The downside is that I treat every day since my Alive Day as bonus time. It's easy to rationalize doing dumb or risky things because I'm playing with house money. I've heard many stories from my Afghan comrades -- all with their own Alive Days -- that involved an admission of engaging in high risk behavior.Their stories all end with, "Yeah, it was dumb for me to do that, but I should be dead anyways, so what the f*ck."

The positive side of the Alive Day for me is that whenever I am depressed, or hosting  a one-man pity party, I catch a glimpse of the date tattooed on my arm, and I remember that even a bad day being alive is better than a good day being dead.   

DILEMMA |

September 13, 2007

DILEMMA
Name: LT Carl Goforth
Posting date: 9/13/07
Stationed in: Anbar Province, Iraq
Milblog url: desertflier.blogspot.com

"Just what am I supposed to do with this patient?"

"It's not my call to make. Don't know what I can tell you beyond circumstance and treatment."

"Well, was he doing anything before he was intubated?"

"He came in intubated, so we don't have much of a baseline to go on. He seemed to have some upper extremity movement and looked like he was miming a fish's mouth when we lightened anesthesia to attempt to wake him up. I think he's got some outside chance of a recovery, so we wanted to give him that chance."

"Alright. Well I know it's not your fault. I just wonder what we are going to do with this guy."

This was part of the conversation I had last night with an ER physician in Balad. Our patient was an Iraqi civilian who decided to gun towards an IP checkpoint, holding heavily armed men in low regard. For some reason, this is a common occurence. Civilians really like to speed close to convoys, get their vehicles lodged into convoys, and just plain not pay attention to big signs that read "STOP, CHECKPOINT AHEAD" or "STAY BACK, DEADLY FORCE AUTHORIZED" in Arabic.

From what I gathered from our interpreter, this guy was unarmed, not suspected of being an insurgent, and just wasn't very good at following instructions while wielding a two-ton weapon on wheels.

As he barreled towards the checkpoint, he was shot in the neck and subdued. We heard about him when it happened, because he was originally supposed to come to Charlie Medical. We aren't really sure what transpired over the course of the afternoon, but we knew that instead he was bound for  Ramadi General. Case closed. Or so we thought...

We had commandeered an entire table for dinner, and the surgical team was sitting down to chow. Up runs one of the surgical techs looking for us. He was told by Charlie Medical that indeed the patient was again coming to us, but Ramadi General had him in surgery. Well, this didn't make much sense. But we'll roll with whatever comes, so we finished up and started back to medical to wait for his arrival.

Our detachment commander gets a call on his cell. The patient just arrived, is intubated with gastric contents in the breathing tube, and he is obtunded (not arousable). Bob sprints ahead now to assess the airway situation and find out why a previously stable and "in surgery" patient has mysteriously shown up at the door a sudden train wreck.

He quickly assesses that somehow the patient was improperly intubated. The breathing tube was inadvertently introduced down his esophagus instead of the trachea. However this happened, we now have a patient with a stomach and bowels filled with a whole lot of air, and none to very little in his lungs. How did it happen? Don't know. How long has he been deprived of oxygen? Don't know.

He still has the gunshot wound to the neck that hasn't been explored or repaired yet, so we rush him to the OR. All major structures are intact except some cervial vertebra damage. Martin does the exploration, cleanout, and is closing the wound within an hour.

Which now leaves us with a huge dilemma to sort out. With a superficial and seemingly easily recoverable neck wound, we now have a patient on our hands who is one big question mark. He seems to have been deprived of oxygen for some length of time. It is obvious that he currently has deficits; we tried to wake him up after surgery, but it wasn't happening. With these types of injuries, it is impossible to know what the outcome will be. What function and cognitive ability will he regain? 50% ? 80% ?

The only way to realize what the outcome will be is to give it time. Weeks to months of time. And that is why we made the decision that I would fly him to a bigger hospital. Somewhere with CT scanners and a neurosurgeon on staff. The only place in the Country where he has any chance whatsoever. So we were asking a lot of Balad last night, asking them to accept the burden of initial and secondary care, giving up limited resources, to a patient that may or may not recover. They accepted, as all of the caregivers out here would, and have the patience to see him through, no matter the outcome. Like us, every day they press the "I believe" button and just go with it.

Like my patient, Iraq is a wounded Country. As with a brain injury, there's no quick prognosis and no quick fix for Iraq, either. Standing where we stand, there is no crystal ball to gaze into and get all the answers. You'd be better off looking for starfish in the Mississippi River.

So we have to ask ourselves, what will give us the best chance for a secure Iraq? Citizens free to go to the marketplace without wondering if they just palmed their last pomegranate, waiting for the place to go up in a fireball. Without Iran and Syria squeezing it from the borders, like a nerfball in a vice. I don't purport to have all the answers, but I'm intimately aware of how all wounds heal. With time and patient support.

LIKE A ROCK |

September 12, 2007

LIKE A ROCK
Name: Eric Coulson
Posting date: 9/12/07
Stationed in: Ramadi, Iraq
Milblog url: badgersforward.blogspot.com
Email: badger.six@gmail.com

Here's a new slide show from our Operations Officer, with lots of photos of our Team Badger soldiers:

I REMEMBER |

September 11, 2007

I REMEMBER
Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 9/11/07
Stationed in: a military hospital in the U.S.
Email: clarahart2@yahoo.com

I walked two miles today. Walked alongside a warrior injured in service to our country. I walked the September 11th Freedom Walk and I remembered. I remembered the day people ran down streets, terror on their faces and fear coursing through their bodies. I remembered the day the thick black smoke and the rolling dark clouds of death made us realize we were no longer safe. I remembered the attack on our country that forever changed the course of many of our lives.

I walked today to honor family and friends lost. I walked to honor the service members who give their all. I walked today to be near people who have not forgotten, who still have the ache in their hearts when the calendar shows us this particular date. I walked to share stories, happy memories and trying times with people who remember.Framed_nurse_freedom_walk_crowds1_4

I stood next to a Marine, and in response to his query talked about what that day was like. When my voice trailed off in sorrow I listened as he spoke. Waving his hands toward the rows of head stones surrounding the September 11th Memorial he said, “People always ask me why, after three tours I want to go back to Afghanistan and Iraq. This is the reason why.” We stood and contemplated the sea of white tombstones in section 64 at Arlington National Cemetery as our minds clouded with memories. I remember. Do you? I can never forget. Can you?Framed_nurse_freedom_walk_memorial2

CELL PHONES FOR SOLDIERS |

September 10, 2007

CELL PHONES FOR SOLDIERS
Name: Josie Salzman
Posting date: 9/10/07
Husband
: returned from Iraq
Hometown: Menomenie, WS
Milblog url: lifeinacrackerbox.blogspot.com

There is no greater mental challenge than trying to blot out the worry for a loved one overseas. Never knowing where your soldier is at, and wondering if they are safe, can cause some serious headaches. Oftentimes just hearing their voice on the phone is enough to ease the stress. If only for a few short minutes you can let your guard down, breathe a little deeper, and laugh a little longer knowing that your soldier is still OK.

The Cell Phones for Soldiers program was started in April of 2004 by 13-year-old Brittany Bergquist and her 12-year-old brother Robbie of Norwell, Massachusetts. Their goal is to help our soldiers serving overseas call home by providing prepaid phone cards. They have raised over a million dollars and sent over 75,000 calling cards to our troops! Now with the help of AT&T we can all do a little bit to help Cell Phones for Soldiers. All 1,800 company-owned AT&T wireless stores nationwide are now collecting recycled cell phones to support the cause. Please help! A phone call means the world to all of our military families.Framed_salzman_phones_3

FAITH ON A SHOESTRING |

September 07, 2007

FAITH ON A SHOESTRING
Name: Anne Freeman
Posting date: 9/7/07
Spouse
: Stationed in Iraq
Milblog url: calmbeforethesand.blogspot.com

While Milo's been toiling away in the sand and heat, I spent most of this weekend at a unit family retreat in the mountains. I feel guilty sometimes, having fun while he's away, but I needed this break. I spent the weekend hiking, biking, swimming, getting massaged, and attending mandatory seminars on how to build a healthy marriage. As much fun as I had, I came to dread those seminar sessions. They were helpful sometimes, but I take offense at being subjected to extensive Biblical teaching and group prayer at mandatory, government-funded information sessions. I take offense at being taught how to "achieve victory in Christ," and told that "those who belong to Christ are already victorious." If I don't belong to Christ, am I not victorious then?

I was raised in an Evangelical Baptist family, and as I grew up I began to chafe at the hypocrisy inherent in the beliefs I was raised with. I questioned, I learned, and I left the church for another path. It's a real point of contention with my family, so we just don't talk about it. I wonder if we ever will, or if it's just better this way. Family issues aside, I've run into even more problems as a "non-Christian" in the military. I know the Chaplain's office is supposed to meet the needs of all, but I can't help feeling like Christian traditions are being jammed down my throat at almost every turn. How is it appropriate to recite Bible verses and lead group prayers at mandatory information briefings? The worst part is that when I express my discomfort over being placed in such situations, the response of my Christian counterparts is so often, "Oh please, it's not hurting you any."

What they don't understand is that it is.

As I mulled these issues over in the travel journal I keep for my mother-in-law, I wondered how any devout Christian woman would feel in my shoes. What follows is the best I could do to share my situation.

Let me try to explain where I'm coming from here. You're a military spouse -- imagine your family has been stationed in a country where your religion is not welcome. The only comparison I can come up with is Islam. Imagine being stationed in a Muslim country; one where the constitution defines Islam as the state religion, and a portion of every paycheck is paid to the Church of Islam. Imagine that a large portion of those Muslims believe that your religion is the product of Satan, and that you "worship the devil".

Kind of Uncomfortable, huh?

Now imagine that there are no other Christians in your new community, and no Christian services. The Chaplain's office promises to include everyone, but they offer only Muslim services because there just aren't enough Christians in the community to warrant your own service. What's more, they read the Koran to you at nearly every public event. They spend more time trying to convert you than helping provide you with spiritual support.

Maybe you consider trying to find other Christians and start a prayer group. So you ask the Chaplain's office and they promise to email you with info, but they don't. While you're waiting for your email, you see a vitriolic letter in Stars and Stripes. Apparently, some Christians in the next community started a prayer group at their chapel, and the community is protesting. Imagine that Muslims in that community refuse to use the same building as someone of your faith. The letter writer goes on to call Christianity the product of Satan, and Christians unfit for service in the Army and the community.

Lonely yet? 'Cause I sure am.

I am living in a community with no other members of my faith. I am surrounded by people who think my beliefs are either evil or illegitimate. There are no services, no spiritual support groups, no sympathy. The worst part of it all is that my husband is no better off than I am. He is a soldier with no spiritual support network, no spiritual counsel, and no guidance. He is on his own to deal with his family troubles or his existential crises. The very people who promise to support him make it abundantly clear that they support only those whose faith mirrors their own.

I totally understand that Milo and I are in the minority in this community, and that the chaplaincy has limitations. I can deal with all of that. What I cannot deal with is all that plus being forced to partake in a religion that I walked away from long ago. I think the chaplaincy serves an important purpose, and I take comfort in the ability of others to practice their religion freely. What I take offense at is being required to practice with them.

All I ask is the same consideration afforded to everyone else

HERE COMES THE BOOM |

September 06, 2007

HERE COMES THE BOOM
Name: Eddie
Posting date: 9/6/07
Stationed in: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Milblog url: airborneparainf82.blogspot.com
Email: airborneparainf82@blogspot.com

Yesterday was going to be a pretty chill day, because at night we had a raid to go on. To start the day off we were to go around to some of the banks in our sector and talk with them and assess their situation. I was among the dismounts that day, and at each bank I'd hop out with a few other guys and we'd go with the Squad Leader in charge while he did his talking. There weren't many banks in our sector, so this was to be a pretty quick assignment.

At one of the banks we happened to go inside, and I started to get bored. I decided I wanted to open a bank account, and went up to one of the ladies working one of the teller windows. I was trying to explain to her, but she spoke practically no English and my level of Arabic is far below adequate for such a conversation.

I pulled out my debit card and tried using that to explain, but I was still getting nowhere. That's when an older gentleman a little ways back noticed and heard me, and he called out that they did not offer credit cards. He rose from his desk and came over to me and another team leader who at this point was interested in the same thing. We proceeded to talk with him for a while since he spoke pretty damn good English. Come to find out, it is not possible for an American to open an account, at least at that bank. Well damn, that sucks. Apparently there is a bank somewhere else that offers this, but I'm pretty sure it's not anywhere near where I can go. Oh well, it was worth the try. I really had no intention of using it. I just thought it would be cool to say I had a bank account in Iraq.

At our last bank, we rolled up in front and stopped the trucks. Just as the call came for the dismounts to get out and I was reaching for the handle to open the door, we heard a fairly loud explosion. Everyone kind of gave the same look, like "What was that?", but I was on my way out the door and on to the bank. We set up outside the bank and that's when I saw the people next to me making the face and hand signals for something tragic happening. I looked down the alley that they were facing, and that's when I saw the smoke. It wasn't a lot of smoke, so I wasn't sure if it was just a fire or what.

We turned back to the people and asked if it was a "Qumbola", or bomb, and they said yes and made the hand gesture of an explosion. I looked back towards the smoke and it was becoming a thick, black cloud, associated with only one thing; a car bomb.

The guys were moving inside and I made my way back out the vehicles to let my squad leader know that the explosion was a VBIED. Just after telling him that, a couple shots rang out. They were close but not directed at us, and I believe they were warning shots from a passing emergency vechicle. I looked down in the direction of the shots and saw people in the area begin to scatter on foot. OK, well standing in the middle of the road was not a good thing right then, so I moved my way to the side and into the bank. I let the dismount squad leader know about the shots and the VBIED, which was just a couple hundred meters down the road, and we loaded back up and headed down there.

Framed_eddie_boom1At this point the smoke was thick, forming a dark ominous plume above the scene. We arrived to find an eight-story parking garage billowing black smoke and flames. Emergency workers were on the scene, and the firefighters were shooting water from below in an attempt to extinguish the fire. Things were hectic but not as hectic as the massive car bomb attack I had been at before. After going around and talking with the Iraqi police, Army, and firefighters we came to find out that if anyone was killed it was probably only a couple of people. I mean shit, it Framed_eddie_boom2went off in a parking garage! Not many people are usually in there. We ended up staying for a few hours, out in the heat, which began my exhaustion process. The Iraqi Army had a group of people they had detained, who I guess they believed had something to do with the bomb. Hopefully they caught some of these bastards. I ended up finding out later that Iraqi EOD (bomb squad) found another unexploded car bomb.

We finally left the scene, and after doing a few small things headed back to base to relax for a bit before we went out for our mission, which was going to last all night.

The mission was a raid to try to grab some dudes we have been looking for. We ended up having to park at another base that was quite a ways away, and walk through some of the bad area that we used to have. It was to be a slow deliberate walk, for we were going to be prepared for anything. Along the way some guys working at some bank began yelling "Wake up! The Americans are here!" I'm not sure why or really what happened, because I wasn't right up front, but we ended up confiscating their weapons, including a couple of machine guns. They were Iraqi police and federal guards, so we couldn't detain them for having the weapons.

While we were held up dealing with that we heard an AK burst off in the distance. My heartbeat accelerated a little, and when whoever was being shot at returned fire with a burst of their own, the adrenaline began pumping. For about a minute a little firefight broke out about 600 meters away. They were shooting down this one road that was about 300 meters from me and I could hear the bullets snapping and popping as they passed down the road. The adrenaline was going full steam at this point and I was totally awake and alert, on edge, ready for anything. Unfortunately nothing ended up coming, and the rush and excitment I had began to fade, and it was back to sucking.

We continued on our way and headed out towards our objective. Once there we began our raid, and with what little energy we had left we began kicking in doors, clearing rooms, running up stairs and overwatching from rooftops. At one point I was outside of one of the homes pulling security when I heard single shots from some kind of gun. Over the course of five minutes there were 15-20 shots fired. They sounded pretty close, but no one knew where or what it was. I guess one of the resupply convoys began taking fire, but they never returned fire. I figure it was someone taking pop shots at them, and they probably weren't able to identify where the shooter was. So we did our thing, grabbed up some people, and sooner than planned we were heading back.

Because of the long walk and how long we had been on our objectives a lot of people were out of water, so we stopped in an alleyway and took a much needed break while a resupply on water came to us. Once we filled back up we continued the trek back to the base. This time the pace was quicker and it was uneventful. I was sweating my ass off and sore as hell and all I could think of was that I just wanted to get back and get home.

We finally got back and after hours of wearing our shit we were finally able to take off our sweaty equipment and tops for a much-needed airout. It didn't last long, and before we knew it we were back in the trucks on our way home. I was tired as hell and was driving, and to be honest I don't know how we made it back safe. I fell asleep at the wheel probably 15 times. I'd nod off, and then wake up five seconds later veering towards the side of the road. No one seemed to notice because they were all half asleep too.

Thankfully I didn't hit anything and we made it back in one piece. After filling my aching stomach with some chow I lay down in bed, too tired to shower, and slept for about 12 hours straight.

BEAUTY IN THE DIRT |

September 05, 2007

BEAUTY IN THE DIRT
Name: Teflon Don
Posting date: 9/5/07
Stationed in: Ramadi, Iraq
Milblog url: actuepolitics.blogspot.com

Last night was beautiful.

Iraqi cities look something like others that I've seen, and the fertile stretches along the river are less impressive than the green farmland back home. The desert, though -- the desert is different. The sky was clear of dust and haze. We were far past the lights of the city, and the stars shone soft and brilliant. The Milky Way stretched out overhead like a band of cotton. I heard bats launch from their hiding places in the abandoned buildings, and shrill aloft on their hunt for food. Somewhere overhead and out of sight, an owl hooted and swooped for his own dinner.

There's a stark beauty in the desert. In the daytime, it seems more harsh than at night. The sun beats the dust bone dry, and the wind drives it with a force that occasionally threatens to rip the body into atoms. The night is more subtle -- the sand cools, and both the sky and ground come alive with predators.

The bats and owls are not the only ones. Once I saw what seemed to be a herd of scorpions moving blackly across the road, pinchers waving. Camel spiders emerge from holes, skittering impossibly fast in search of those same armored denizens. Scattered across the desert are moving dirt bumps that turn into hedgehogs as you approach.

The parched soil rises and falls in abstract patterns laid down over years -- the product of men with earthmovers as much as wind and winter rain. Here and there the lines of hills fall sharply where the dirt has collapsed away to form jagged cliffs; dust pools below the precipice, below the fox holes and lizard lairs.

Somehow, in the midst of the broad, bleak expanse, life continues. The harsh conditions strip away some of the layers of complexity common to other environments. It's a hot-or-cold, night-or-day, life-or-death duality of existence -- the yin-yang of the world.

I find myself enthralled by it.

SADDAM'S PLACE |

September 03, 2007

SADDAM'S PLACE
Name: LT Carl Goforth
Posting date: 9/3/07
Stationed in: Anbar Province, Iraq
Milblog url: desertflier.blogspot.com
Email: cwgoforth@gmail.com

"So, where are you from?"
"Yes."
"Funny...Is Moose your real name?"
"Yes."
"Who do you guys really work for?"
"Yes."
"You ever say anything besides yes?"
"Yes."

I've learned over the past few years how conversations usually go when you talk to an OGA. That stands for "other governmental agency". In other words, you have no idea who they work for, what they are doing, or how long they are staying. Our modern day version of government 'spooks'.

A few of us took them up on an invite to an isolated part of Ramadi along the banks of the Euphrates for some weapons range time. These guys live in a fairly nice house. It used to be an Iraqi General's house during the Saddam regime. Marble floors, top-shelf tiling in the bathroom. Was that a Viking rangetop in the kitchen? Not only do the OGA's live in top digs, they have their own cook. This was getting better by the minute! Prime rib cooked to perfection and steamed asparagus to start. Now I know how the other half lives...
Framed_goforth_sadam_2_2We went up on the roof for a better survey of the river and a little sun. When I consider how brown and tan the desert is, I am always amazed at the contrast near permanent bodies of water. The banks are teaming with vegetation, long reed beds line the river, and there are grove upon grove of date palms as far as the eye takes you.

Across the river, the OGA boss pointed out Saddam's old Ramadi palace. He had retreats tucked away anywhere he travelled, and Ramadi was no exception. It's part of an outpost called Blue Diamond, and is mostly staffed by Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police.

"You guys interested in a boat ride?"

What else could I say but "Yes!" We didn't need a second invitation to jump on the chance. I mean, who takes boat trips down the Euphrates River?

After calling in to security that there would be traffic on the river and assigning someone as "overwatch", we cruised the Euphrates in the late afternoon.

Framed_goforth_sadam_l


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