Thursday, April 28, 2005

Sand Monster

In my last post I shared my experiences with a sand storm that blew in the previous night. Unbeknownst to me what we saw was just the after effects of a much larger storm that occured to the north earlier that day. A good friend of mine, Steve Briscoe, is stationed at Al Asad Air Base as a civillian contractor. Below are some pretty amazing pictures he sent me.

This huge wall of sand came barreling in at approximately 60 miles per hour.

And you thought those scenes in "The Mummy Returns" were just Hollywood hype.

Steve described what began as a clear, sunny day becoming as dark as night within minutes of the cloud engulfing them.

Monday, April 25, 2005

I love this place!

The temperature here is now consistently hitting 100. Of course, this is mild compared to what is yet to come. In about another month we will see 110 to 120 on a regular basis, and the Joes that were here last summer say they have seen temps as high as 140.

But wait…that’s not all! This is also the season for the coveted dust storm. Yes, “dust storm” not “sand storm". The terrain here is anything but sandy. It’s mostly dirt with very little vegetation. The top layer of which is a fine dust that gets all over everything. When the winds increase it kicks all that dust around and creates a huge cloud that swallows up everything like a hungry monster.
The picture below is a view out the front windshield of my HMMWV. It had started as a sunny, clear day and then the storm blew in. The visibility was less then 50 meters, and was actually less in some areas. This lovely little event turned what would have been a 2.5 hour drive into 4.5 hours.

Another one blew in last night. I was sitting in my tent and all of sudden the canvass started flapping from the strong wind. I stepped outside, and what was previously a very bright, full moon was now just a hazy white disc in the sky. I don’t know what this dust is comprised of, but it really plays havoc with my allergies. I tried going to sleep, but my eyes were burning like somebody had just squeezed fresh lemon juice into them, I was sneezing incessantly, and I began having a difficult time breathing. My chest became very constricted, and I couldn’t take a full breathe without conjuring up an emphysema-like cough. After sitting there arguing with myself about whether I was a wimp for even considering going to the medical clinic, I finally decided to go. I wrapped a t-shirt around my mouth and nose and made my way through the wind and dust as it was pelting me in the face.

Once I arrived I tried explaining that this is something I’ve been through before, and I just needed some good drugs and I would be on my not-so-merry way. Of course, it’s 11:00 pm and the medics are bored so we have to go through the whole rigamaroll. They did all the usual vital sign checks, and then took some chest X-rays. This part was actually pretty entertaining. As I was lying there waiting to get zapped I can see the medic flipping through the X-Ray machine instruction manual. His eyes are darting between the manual and the machine as he is trying to make the proper adjustments. I thought to myself, “Great... I’m going to survive a combat zone, but get cancer ‘cuz this guy pumped me full of radiation.” None of my body parts were glowing afterwards, so I think I’ll be okay.

In the end they ended up giving me some allergy medicine and an inhaler, which is exactly what I suggested in the beginning. I can’t blame them though. They did the right thing and were very helpful. I made my way back to my hooch, got about five hours of sleep, and dreamt of home.

Like I said…”I love this place!”

Friday, April 22, 2005

A daughter's poem

This poem was written by my daughter, Jessica.

The Soldier

You are my hero
Doing what you are doing.
Leaving our family and
fighting for another
so that we may keep our freedom.
We live in the land of the free
because of the brave.
You are the brave.
You are my hero.
You are my father.

Thanks, sweetie.

I'm walking a little taller today.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Ali Baba

As I have mentioned before, part of my job here is making sure my battalion has the "stuff" it needs to function. That "stuff" includes everything from bullets for our weapons to paper for the copy machine. Think of me as "Red"; the character played by Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption. He was the inmate who knew how to get things. That's me. I know how to get things, and yes...this is a lot like prison.

One of the contacts I've made is the man I'm pictured with below. His name is Alawi, and if I ask for it there's about a 99% chance that he is able to sell it too me for a pretty handsome, cash only price. I tried negotiating a lower price with him once, and he explained to me that he travels all the way from Baghdad to bring me the goods, and that he has to change vehicles three different times because of "Ali Baba". It took me a minute to figure out what he meant, and then I remembered hearing about this nick-name the locals use to describe the bandits stalking the highways throughout the country. It stems from the old Muslim fairy tale, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Alawi is always travelling with a lot of goods, or a lot of cash so the highway robbers see him as a high-payoff target.

What's even more interesting about Alwai is that he used to be a Colonel in the Iraqi Air Force under Saddam's regime. (Don't worry...this guy is definitley not a Saddam loyalist). I explained to him the U.S. was helping to train a new Iraqi Air Force at one of the base camps, and asked if he was interested. In his strong arabic accent he politley replied, "No sir. No...this is much better."

I smiled and then thought to myself, "Man, what a dumb question. Enlist in the military of a country that is financially bankrupt, or make fist fulls of money selling stuff at a ridiculous mark-up to the U.S. military." I know which one I would pick.

Don't worry. I'm using your tax dollars wisely. At the very least you can take comfort in the fact that you are pumping money into the Iraqi economy. I do...and I actually feel pretty good about it.

Until next time.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Back from Baghdad

I've made it back from my trip to Baghdad, and as dimented as it may sound I really enjoyed it. I'm pretty sure the photos will help to explain why. We actually ended up at Camp Victory which is part of Baghdad International Airport (the Army calls is BIAP...we can create an acronym out of anything). BIAP used to be Saddam Hussein International Airport, which you probably remember hearing about during the ground war. I like the new name better

The trip us took us a little longer than expected. Usually it would only be about 90minutes, but we were forced to stop about twenty minutes out due to an explosive device that was found on the road. Any time we have to make a stop along the route, the first thing we do is dismount the vehicles and pull security around our perimeter while simultaneously checking for other explosive devices that might be in the area. We were there for about 30 minutes, and then the lead vehicle found a bypass and we got out of there. Nothing like standing out in the open in area where the people really don't like you. It was a bit nerve wracking, but thankfully uneventful.

Obviously, the airport area was one of the focal points of both the air and ground campaigns during the topple of Saddam Hussein. I saw evedince of this as soon as we got inside the compound perimter. The picture below isn't a very good one, but it is one of Saddam's many former palaces. Apparently there was some one or some thing in it that we did not like since we dropped a very large bomb on it. Of course, being the nice folks that we are the palace is being restored.

Sometimes I think we're too nice.

Right after we got in, we parked the vehicles, took off all of our "battle rattle", and chilled for a few minutes. This is one of the gunners enjoying the downtime.

As you go further north there is a lot more vegitation than the southern areas of the country. At one point I saw a field of what looked like Texas Goldenrod. Regardless of what it was, I found myself sneezing incessantly and my eyes started to burn and itch. It was just like being home in Texas during the spring time.

This is the team medic, "Doc" (every medic in the Army is affectionately referred to as "Doc" regardless of rank). He hooked me up with some good drugs that helped ease my misery. He gave me a little pink one and said, "Only take this at night, and only take one. Roger?"

I slept like a baby.

When I plan on going anywhere in this country, I always assume the worse accomodations and I'm rarely dissappointed. This time, however, I was travelling with our Battalion Command Sergeant Major, CSM Callaway who is one of the most squared away NCO's I have ever had the pleasure of serving with. Those of you familiar with Army schools will know by the badges on his chest that their are really no other qualifications he could earn. About the only schools he hasn't qualified for is Army Scuba, and Army Astronaut...and I'm sure it's only because he doesn't want to.

And, yes, he has a Ranger tab on his shoulder too.

Anyway, CSM Callaway pulled some strings and got us a room in one of Saddam's smaller palaces (to him, it was probably just a guest house). The building is now called the Joint Visitor's Bureau (JVB <---- See! We did it again!), and it is basically a hotel for distinguished guests that come through the area. Charlie Daniels had stayed there the previous night since he was there to do a concert for the troops. Below is the entrance.

Again, you have to keep in mind that this is one of the smaller edifices in the complex. But even then the extravagance this guy went to was a sight to behold. I told Amy that I found it all at once amazing and disgusting. Amazing because of the level of opulence, and disgusting because Saddam and his cronies lived like this while he sucked his country dry.

This is one of the sitting rooms.

This is SPC Edge and MSG Goode sitting in the small dining area. There was one that was probably three times this size, but it was being used as a conference room.

This is the back patio, which backs up to a small lake, or maybe it's a large pond. (Just when does a pond become a lake anyway?)

Notice the windows are now lined with sandbags...just in case.

Now this next building is called the Water Palace, and it is by far the larest one in the complex. (This photo was taken from the back patio of the JVB). This is the Command Headquarters and houses the Generals and their staff.

I din't get in their this time...but I will find a way.

Now you can see why I enjoyed the trip. It was definitely something out of the least for me. The Joes that are stationed here see this stuff all the time so I'm sure it's no big deal, but for those of us stationed in the arm pit base camps it is quite a trip.

Well, it's late and I am back on the road tomorrow for about three days. I'm going south this time, which is really no big deal. It is much less dangerous, but not real exciting. I already have a few more stoires qued up, so I'll be blogging as soon as I get back.

Until then,


Saturday, April 09, 2005

Soldier Silhouette

Soldier Silhouette
Originally uploaded by jupperman.

This is just a cool photo I wanted to share. It was sunrise, and we were getting ready to push out on a mission.

I guess you could say that this kid is helping to create a new sunrise for an entire nation.


Baghdad or bust

I'll be making my first trip to Baghdad on 10 April (that'll be the evening of 9 April for those of you in the U.S.).

I'm looking forward to the trip. There is not any particular operational need for me to go, but the opportunity presented itself so I jumped on it. I hope to make some contacts there and do a little sight seeing. I plan on taking plenty of photos, and hopefully I'll be able to post them when I get back.

I'll be out of the electronic loop for a few days. So if you send me an email or post to the blog, there will be a slight delay before I can respond.

Until then,

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Hail to the Chief

Today was a momentous day in the history of Iraq. Today, the first freely elected President in 50 years was sworn in and a new Prime Minister was appointed. The newly elected President is the Kurdish, Jalal Talabani and the PM is Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who is a Shiite.

As I write this I can hear what you're thinking, "Shiite...Kurd...Sunni, what the heck does all that mean?" Trust me, I follow this stuff pretty closely and I still find it confusing. So in an effort to expand your geo-political knowledge from the persepctive of someone on the ground I'll give you a quick lesson. (I promise to keep it simple so I don't lose your attention. Especially you, Amy. Don't go surf'n over to Ebay before you read all the way through.)

Shiite (also referred to as Shia): Are the largest ethnic group in Iraq. They tend to live in more rural areas and practice a more conservative form of Islam. When I'm on the road and see sheep and camel herders outside of small villages, they are most likely Shiities.

Kurds: The second largest ethnic group in Iraq, and the hardest to categorize. They are considered Sunni Muslim, but because of their nomadic, non-Arab past they have a completely different heritage and dialect. They have been oppressed for centuries, and with the fall of the Ottoman Empire after WWI they were promised an independent state, which was never fullfilled. They have been striving for their independence ever since, and this strife contributed to Saddam's murderous chemical attack on the city of Halabja in 1988.

Sunnis: The etnic minority in Iraq, but the ruling power under Saddam. Saddam was a Sunni, so they have had all the power for the last 30 years. They have a minority of seats in the National Assembly largely due to the fact that most of them boycotted the elections.

Now that all of this is as clear as mud, maybe some of the news will make a little more sense to you.

I'm sure the news of the newly elected officials taking office may not be very exciting to everyone back home, and the story was probably buried beneath coverage of the Pope's funeral, and the Michael Jackson trial. To those of us here, however, it means we are one step closer to handing this country back to the Iraqi people, which means we are that much closer to getting everyone home. other thing that was pretty cool about today's proceedings...Sadaam watched the whole thing from his prison cell.

I love it when a good plan comes together.

Monday, April 04, 2005


I attended my first memorial service today. I hope it was my last.

The fallen soldier was not a member of my unit, nor did I know him. He belonged to an Artillery unit that is right next to us and conducts the same type of missions we do, so I felt an obligation to attend. On March 30th his squad was running a conoy north of here when a vehicle packed with explosives pulled up next to them and detonated. Two other soldiers in the squad were wounded.

I'm not sharing this story for the shock value, but rather I wanted to quickly record the memory I have of attending the service. One that will be forever etched in my mind. I will always remember the display. At the foot of an M16 rifle standing on its barrel end was a pair of desert combat boots filled only by the memory of the soldier that once wore them. Mounted on the buttstock of the weapon was the soldier's combat helmet with his name still afixed; a tradtion that stems from how the location of a fallen soldier was marked on the battlefield. Hanging from the M16 were the deceased's dog tags blowing in the wind like a wind chime singing the hopes and aspirations of a 21 year old man that will never come to pass. I'll never forget the haunting sound of a single bugle playing Taps, or the jolting report of a 21 gun salute. All of this was like a kick in the gut reality check of the price that is being paid here.

I find myself somewhat conflicted after an experience like this. I firmly believe in what we are doing here, and I know we will succeed. On the other hand, however, I question the cost and whether it is worth it. Don't get me worong, I'm not here to question or debate the war in Iraq. I just know this guy wanted to go home some day just as much as I do...but he won't.

"The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war."

- General Douglas MacArthur