Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Journey

My last post was almost a week ago, and at the time I thought I would be home by the 28th...but that was not to be. I spent the better part of 3 days feeling like I was stuck in the movie, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

After the sand storm (of which I never really saw any evidence) there were more flight problems. I never really got the whole story, but it was something to the effect of, "they forgot to schedule flights for this air base so now they are playing catch-up."

Not cool. Not cool at all.

Anyway...after a few days of purgatory the plane finally arrived and we all made our first step in the journey towards that heavenly place called home.

Into the belly of freedom

This particular step just got us from Iraq to Kuwait, but at least we were one step closer. We arrived in Kuwait early on Tuesday morning and we were all hoping that we would fly out that evening (all Freedom flights depart Kuwait in the evening). Ahhhh...but that was not to be.

We spent about another 36 hours in Kuwaut and then departed for Shannon, Ireland on Wednesday evening. After approximately 8 hours of flight time I woke to the dizzying greenery of Ireland below. I never thought the site of vegetation could be so beautiful, but after 7 months in the desert it was a symphony to the eyes. We stopped just long enough for a cup of coffee in the airport and then we were off again.

I was travelling with our unit's Physician's Assitant, CPT Felkins (aka Doc Felkins) who helped me pass the travel time (and coincidentally helped me get my sleep schedule switched over) by giving me a happy little pill that knocked me out cold. By the time I awoke we were somewhere over the Great Lakes and I knew we only had a few hours left.

At last we found ourselves over Texas air space, and I could not stop smiling with anticipation. Once we landed and taxied towards the the gate we recieved a salute from the airport by way of two fire engines spraying the plane as we rolled through.

There was also a parade of people as we came off the plane that were there for no other reason than to cheer us on, shake our hands, and offer a snack as a show of support and appreciation. A small boy stopped me, gave me some home made cookies and said, "Thank you, sir." I thanked him back and then quickly moved through the crowd for fear that if I stopped for too long I would break down emotionally. I only wish that somehow I could let all of those people know how much I appreciate their support.

We arrived in DFW earlier than expected so I made a mad dash to the ticket counter in order to get bumped to an earlier flight, which to my elation was successful. I called Amy and let her know that I would be in a few hours earlier than expected. Her response was a mixture of joy and panic as she realized that she now had much less time to get ready.

At last, the moment arrived. The moment I have dreamed about for the past 7 months. I got off the plane and dashed through the airport trying not to be rude as I made my way through the sea of travellers. I finally saw them and as we all made eye contact the tears started to flow and we all wrapped our arms around each other and hugged a hug of joy and relief. I will remember that hug and that moment for the rest of my days.

The Uppermans together again

Me and my best friend

Like I said before, blogging will be light over the next couple of weeks. Thank you all for your continued comments and emails of support.


Monday, July 25, 2005


Blogging will be light over the next couple of weeks as take some much needed R&R with my family. I am currently in a holding pattern since there is a sand strom brewing, which is preventing them from giving us a specific flight time. Once that is scheduled I will fly from here to Kuwait, then from Kuwait to Europe (probabaly either Germany or Ireland), and then to the great Republic of Texas.

Despite the current delay I am flying high as a kite and there is nothing that can bring me down right now. I figure by the time I get to the Austin airport it will have been 214 days since I last saw my beautiful family. I know the two weeks will go by all too quickly, but I plan on making the most of every moment.

I heard this song today and it pretty much sums it up:
It’s times like these you learn to live again
It’s times like these you give and give again
It’s times like these you learn to love again
It’s times like these time and time again

(Foo Fighters - "Times Like These")

I'll see ya when I get back.


Sunday, July 24, 2005

MJL Photography

Today I received an email from a Polish gentleman named Jordan, who is a photographer. He was commenting on how he liked my blog and sent me a link to his site as well. I spent at least an hour mesmerized by his photos, and I have included one of my favorites below. As you can see, Jordan has an amazing ability to see the world as it should be seen. He is able to see beauty where others looks past it, and then he captures it at just the right moment.

©2000-2005 by MJL. All Rights Reserved

Jordan also commented that he was sad due to a recent incident in which a New York photographer chose not to link to his site because of Jordan's support of the fight against terror. While we may not have the support of some of our own countrymen, it is good to know we have friends across the globe. I have interacted with some of the Polish troops fighting along side us in Iraq and they are impressive people.

So please stop by Jordan's site and let him know how much we appreciate our Polish friends.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Young Republican

Our unit's Civil Affairs team was on a mission and found this young boy sporting a handsome t-shirt. I'm not sure who has his hands around his neck...but he must be a Democrat.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Here's to you Mrs. Greyhawk

Mrs. Greyhawk (pseudonym) over at the Mudville Gazette conducts her daily "Dawn Patrol" and highlights some salient blogs of the day. I noticed my blog traffic was spiking and figured out it was because I had made the list.

I want to publicly thank Mrs. Greyhawk for the recognition, and for the work that she and Mr. Greyhawk put into such a great blog.

I also want to publicly thank all those that stop by and read the rantings of an idealist tanker stuck in the desert without his tank.



Sunday, July 17, 2005


Early yesterday morning there was an insurgent attack to the north of our base camp. This in and of itself is not unusual, but the nature of the attack serves to illustrate the level of depravity of these sumbags.

In the morning hours there was a funeral procession traveling along the main highway that eventually leads into Baghdad. As the procession was moving it came under insurgent attack, which resulted in a few dead and several wounded civillians. Subsequesntly, an Army Military Police unit was notified of the attack and moved into the area to provide support. Once they arrived and secured the area it appeared the insurgents had left the scene so the MP unit began treating the civillian wounded. Unbeknownst to them, however, the insurgents left behind a Trojan horse in the form of a car bomb. It was remotley detonated, which resulted in several more civillian and U.S. casualties.

In other words, the insurents attacked innocent civillians knowing that we would arrive to offer medical aid and then left a car bomb to attack the U.S. forces as they were treating the wounded.

This is the bile we are dealing with on a daily basis. I have a hard time referring to them as "men" becasue they are human in form only. They have no soul, no conscience, or anything else that permits them to be associated with the human race. They are an evil cancer and they need to be extracted from the body of earth.

We are here to conduct the surgery.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Shomali 2

We took another trip to Shomali the other day. This time we went to the Mayor's house for lunch where we also met the Iraqi Police Chief, his Captain, and the local sheik. The food was much the same as the meal we had at the police station, except for the addition of fish and boiled lamb. The boiled lambs head was in a bowl directly in front of me. Since it's teeth and jawbone were exposed it was if it was smirking at me the whole time. I just smirked back and stuck with the chicken.

LTC Neal sitting in front of his portion of the meal

The amount of food was more than we could have possibly finished in one sitting. When we commented on the voluminous amount the Mayor told us that they know there is no way way we could even come close to eating it all. But providing more than one can possibly eat is a sign of respect and hospitality. I have found, if anything, the Arab culture is very gracious when it comes to how they treat their guests. If they invite you into their home it is as if you have become a part of their family.

CPT Walton with the Shomali Iraqi Police Chief who is speaking to one of our interperters (a.k.a. "terp")

After lunch we settled back into the sitting room where the conversation quickly turned to "what have you done for us lately", which is remarkably similar to the one we had the other day. We understand that there are important issues they need help with. For example: Shomali only has electricity for about one hour a day, and supposedly it has been this way since the first Gulf War (this project seemed particularly important to me as I was sitting there drenching with sweat). But one of the problems we contiually run into is that they ask for something different every week. CPT Walton vehemently tried to explain that if something is really, really imporant this week, then that same something should still be really, really important next week. In other words, let's try to focus on one thing at a time until we get it done. Unfortunaltey, there are too many chiefs, or in this case sheiks, that are trying to there pet project pressed through.

Wait a minute...I just realized that sounds a lot like something we have back in the U.S.

It's called congress.

LT Colicher, yours truly, and the Shomali Iraqi Police Captain

There was a breath of fresh air in the room, however. I made acquaintances with the Shomali Police Captain. He is much younger than the rest of the power brokers and seems to be more reasonable...and honorable. He is an intelligent man and the only reason we were able to talk on even a limited basis is because his English is much better than my Arabic. We spoke about our respective families and I showed him pictures of mine that I had stored on my PDA. He was more impressed with my PDA than the pictures and is anxious for the day when that type of technology is readily available in Iraq.

We had the following picture taken and I promised to bring him a copy. I already have it printed out and look forward to meeting him again. I only hope he realizes how important men like him are to the future of this country.

I think I'll make it a point to tell him the next time we meet.

See ya'


Two contestants in the Kojak & Erik Estrada look-a-like contest

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The new me

As you can see, I'm making some changes to blog. The old template was fine, but I really wanted a third column which it would not allow me to do (at least not with my limited knowledge).

I'll be tweaking this over the next couple of days and adding some new "stuff". I also hope to have a new post up in the next day or two.


Monday, July 11, 2005


I went with my battalion commander to a local villiage the other day along and had lunch with the police chief and mayor. The experience was rather interesting. The fare was the same as every other local meal I've had here; chicken on a bed of rice, freshly made flat bread, a tomato broth with egg plant, and some freshly cut vegatables. The food is actually pretty good and is nothing incredibly out of the ordinary. I was told the chicken had seen the sunrise that morning. Obviously it was their last.

As I have stated before, there is still very much a welfare mentality here. The discussion largely revolved around "we need this or that" and "how can you help us with this or that situation." After 30 years of Saddam's regime a majority of the people do not know how to take initiative to solve their own problems. This is why it is so crucial that we continually hand more and more responsibility to the Iraqi people so they can learn to look to themselves to develop solutions. I believe it will take an entire generation before there is real change in the general population. I fear most of the current adult generation are too set in their ways. However I have hope that the younger generation, with the proper influences, will grow to be more independent and productive.

Here are a few photos I took that day. The villiage has a population of approximately 30,000 people, is largely agricultural, and as you can see is in pretty poor condition. If you took down the Arabic and replaced it with Spanish you would feel like you were in a Mexican border town.

This is one of me standing on top of the police station making a good sniper target.

And here is the commander's personal securty team pulling security while we were inside.

Just another day in paradise.


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Trouble sleeping...

We received some intel last night that our base was going to be mortared (a mortar is an indirect fire weapon which has a range of approximately 3 to 7 kilometers depending on the size). Our area has been relatively quiet for a while now. We've had a few incidences outside the wire, but there has not been a direct attack on this base for about 10 months. However, we have seen increased activity since the commencement of some of the major operations in the Baghdad area to crack down on enemy activity. The insurgents are just like cockroaches that scatter when you turn on the lights and come looking for them, and it appears some of them may have scattered into our area. We immediately launched our Quick Reaction Force (QRF) and some combat patrols who were out all night looking for suspicious activity.

I'm happy to report that nothing happened. This was our first interaction with this particular informant, but when linked to some other activity his story seemed credible. Given that nothing occurred there are only a few possibilities:
  1. He concocted the story in order to make himself look like a good guy and will later try to get something in return (job, money, ...etc).
  2. He was telling the truth, but our QRF and combat patrols scared the bad guys (i.e. cockroaches) away.
  3. The cockroaches intentionally fed this informant bad information just to see how we would react and thus gain insight into our tactics and procedures.

Only time will tell which of these is right.

Needless to say, it's a bit difficult to sleep when you have this kind of info looming over your head. I stayed up until about 12:30 a.m. and then realized there was little I could do (too many cooks spoil the broth). I tried to lie down and get some shut-eye but found myself bolting upright every time I heard a HMMWV roll by or any other strange noise. I felt like such a wuss since I know there are soldiers in other parts of Iraq that get mortared on a regular basis.

As I was lying there I began to reflect on all the times I had restless nights back home over such insignificant things.

"Please God, let me get that promotion."

"Man, I wish I made more money."

"What am I going to do about these bills?"

"How can I afford to get that new car...or some new 'thing'?"

"Man, am I ticked off right now...ummm...what where we fighting about?"

All of those restless nights seem so trivial now that I almost start to laugh. I look at how most Iraqis live and realize that once I'm back home I should sleep like a baby. I am blessed with the love a wonderful woman. My children are all healthy, beautiful, and smart. I have great friends, a good job, and I live in a country that offers freedom and safety like none other in the world. What do I have to lose sleep over?

God is teaching me so much while I'm over here, and I have promised myself that I will not forget it after I get back home.



Friday, July 01, 2005

Wounded Warriors

There have been almost 13,000 service members wounded in action during the war in Iraq. The thought of this may make some of you grimace, but there is actuallly a good side to this story. One of the reasons this number is so large is because of the military's improved ability to treat wounded on the battlefield. New technologies such as coagulants (a chemical that causes the blood to clot more quickly) and improved battlefield tourniquets are giving injured soldiers the precious, extra few minutes they need to get to a crtical care facility. Whereas in the past, many of these wounded would have been fatalaties.

Of course, because of this increased survivability many of these men and women will carry their scars and wounds with them for the rest of there lives, and they will be forever changed due to lost limbs or eyesight. While tragic, there are also stories of inspiration as some of these wounded soliders tackle this new adversity head on with no remorse and no regrets. While no one would blame them for feeling self-pity, they do just the opposite and show us all the true heroes that they are. You can read some of these stories at the Wounded Warrior Project. This is an organization that has dedicated itself to helping these brave men and women assimilate to their new way of life.

I truly admire these people who have given so much of themselves and continue to be an inspiration. I wanted to share this project with as many people as possible, and ask that you contribute to their cause. Many of you have asked what you can do to help soldiers in need. I can think of no better way to spend your resources than helping people like these. Get the word out by sending this to as many people as you know, and let's lend a helping hand to some true American heroes.