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 ordinary...at 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,

j

13 Comments:

Anonymous ashlynn blessing said...

These pics are great! Alot of beautiful places! thank you so much for sharing

~~God bless~~
Ashlynn blessing

4:48 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

WOW !!!
This totally gives me some perfect decorating ideas for our house while you're gone. Don't worry it'll be great. ;-)

Although it really stinks that we are away from each other, you are really getting to experience some unbelievable and life changing things over there. Take it all in, and know you ARE making a difference in the lives of those precious people.

I am so proud of you.

Love always,
Amy

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

GRRRRR! LUCKY!!!!!! That is so cool. And I completely understand from those pictures (which are amazing) why you were amazed yet disgusted. It is heartbreaking to think someone could be so heartless toward human beings. I'm gonna have to brag on you at school and tell everyone that my daddy stayed in a palace! (tee-hee) Well, I will talk to you later. I love you so much, and I miss you more than anything in the world.
I'll see you soon.

Love,
Jessica

P.S I'll keep an eye on Mama While she decorates, to make sure it's not too over the top.

5:40 PM  
Blogger Rob Gutkowski said...

Too bad that BIAP/Victory is turning into a real garrison with post details, rock painting and all the other HQ B$.

Someday, someone is going to publish a coffee-table book about Saddams Palaces.

5:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello. You don't know me, and I don't know why I'm posting this, but I wanted to tell you that I'm very glad to see you're back.

I'm just a 30 yo wife and mother of two (one girl 7 & one boy 5). I live near Reno, NV and until recently, I had no personal connection to the war.

My husband and I have built a wishing well life over the past dozen years. But I've never been so AWARE of how lucky we are.

Yesterday I found your Blog. First, I enjoyed your photos and learned from your words.
And then I met your people...

BUT I can't explain why I felt so relieved to see your new photos this afternoon.
Or why I cried when I read the posts from your baby girls.
Or why I pray that Amy's not chewing her nails off to stop missing you.
(I mean, who am I to hope Justus HURRIES UP and gives the girl the ring already!?)

I'm just an American Stranger, but I guess I think of you as family because you're risking all that you are for mine.

So thank you, John, and the men and women that do what you do, from me and my family.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous James Carroll said...

John,

Great pictures, I'm glad you made the trip to Baghdad safely. It must be quite an experience. I was happy to see the Hummer in your picture looks like it got the armor package. Hopefully all of the ones you're using do! Next time you get stopped on the road, don't forget to call in some of my F-18 Hornet buddies to do a few circles overhead. It always seems to keep the bad guys from coming to visit! Take care and be safe.

James

5:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to see your trip has been safe! At least you get to enjoy the fruits of Sadaams labor. These are some amazing pics. Keep Safe and keep the blogs coming. We keep you in our prayers.
Crystal

6:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey John,

Clint here from across the street; Local tournament angler and lake guide. Thought I'd help you out with the Lake vs Pond question. :-)

Lakes and ponds are defined not by size, but characteristics.

Lakes are to deep to support vegetation in the middle, but have vegetation around the edges. Have varied water temperature from surface to bottom, sometimes produce waves and sometimes affect local climate.

Ponds are shallow and support vegetation at all depts. with mud bottoms, have a uniform temperature from surface to bottom, do not support waves, and are greatly affected by local climate, sometimes freezing solid in the winter.

Hope that clears things up a bit. :-)

The pictures are awesome... keep them coming. I get a few pics from guys over there that are catching fish out of the palace lakes and ponds. My bass club shipped over a bunch of fishing tackle last year, so that soldiers could fish on their off time.


Later,
Clint Bridges

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi John, It's just your Mom. I'm so elated and glad you made it back safely. The pictures are beyond words, but the best one is the one with you all safe and handsome. You continue to amaze me with your words and pictures. Like Amy said, WOW!!! So, so proud of you. Much love and prayers! Momma

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See John, you are sharing with a vast audience. I've got to stop reading these blogs @ school 'cause a sit and tear up (surprise-surprise) every time I read one. ,ie. the gal from Reno. How touching and patriotic! And Clint with the facts on lake vs pond.(didn't tear up@ that one} John I may be sharing "my" POND (thanks Clint) with you on your return. Explain later. Amy, isn't it amazing how "right on" your decorating ideas were after seeing those pics? Who would have dreamed those drapes would match like they do! just unreal..Well, will say bye for now, but remember we luv u Ps91

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See John, you are sharing with a vast audience. I've got to stop reading these blogs @ school 'cause a sit and tear up (surprise-surprise) every time I read one. ,ie. the gal from Reno. How touching and patriotic! And Clint with the facts on lake vs pond.(didn't tear up@ that one} John I may be sharing "my" POND (thanks Clint) with you on your return. Explain later. Amy, isn't it amazing how "right on" your decorating ideas were after seeing those pics? Who would have dreamed those drapes would match like they do! just unreal..Well, will say bye for now, but remember we luv u Ps91

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi honey

1:36 PM  
Blogger Jen and Kaleigh said...

Hi John, I just saw your story on Keye tv. I just wanted to tell you that I am looking forward to reading all the things you wanted to share with your family, friends and the world.
My step-brother served with Texas Army Nat. Guard and was in Iraq for almost a year.
This blog was such a great idea and I feel so honored to share in your experience!
God Bless and it's great to hear you are back home!
Jen

8:19 AM  

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