Sunday, July 24, 2005

A Break From The Office:3

PART IX - SCROLL DOWN TO PART I ---------------------------------------It was cool to be part of the new and improved Iraqi court system. The way they do things is very different than how we do it in the States. There was no jury but there were three judges and the defendant, the guy on trial, stands in a little wooden cage! It was funny to see the insurgent standing there behind wood bars; he already looked guilty standing there! The JAG told us that the death penalty has been used twice since his deployment and that they were executed by means of a public hanging! Crazy! He also said that those two guys were hung because they had killed other Iraqis, it hasn't been used in cases where Coalition Forces were killed. Well after we testified our little vacation went down hill fast. We kept on getting bumped off flights and it took us four days to get back to our unit. FOUR DAYS! It was miserable! We would sit out on the tarmac in 125 degree weather for an hour or so waiting for the helicopter to arrive and then when it did they would say, "Sorry no room. Maybe you can get on the next one". We started taking anything flight available, we didn't care where it was going we just wanted to keep going north! And we didn't have beds or cots or showers. We had to stay right there at the Flight Ops offices incase something opened up and we could keep going north. I started protesting the fact that we kept getting bumped because some officer wanted to go somewhere and I quit shaving! I didn't shave for four days and nobody ever said anything to me. I think it was because I had this look of, "Go ahead. Say something. I dare ya." We were so fed up with it. If we didn't have our units relying on us to keep the work going in our area we would have just given up and disappeared into the mass of 130,00 troops in Iraq. We could have done it to. No body was keeping track of where we were. It was tempting and it would have been easy. This picture was taken on our last flight that we needed to get back to Kirkuk. It is just a little village out there somewhere. I don’t' even know where it was, other than it was North of Baghdad. What a miserable four days.

PART IIX: The Green Zone is often mentioned on TV and I have wondered what makes it so special, well I found out. The Green Zone is a section of downtown Baghdad that is completly surrounded by a fifteen foot tall concrete wall. All vehicles and personnel entering the Green Zone are searched and it is very secure. While in there I didn't need to wear my kevlar helmet or carry my weapon, it was cool. To get to the Iraqi Court Building we had to leave the Green Zone by walking through this little iron door and walk a few hundred meters to the justice building. This picture was taken from the side that is considered the Red Zone. Before we crossed over we were given a briefing by an Air Force Security Force Sergeant and he told us, "When we go into the Red Zone my guys will file through the door first and when you come through it is time to be alert. The Red Zone is a dangerous place." Well SSG Mayo and I looked at him like, "Give me a break dude! You may walk a short distance in the Red Zone every once in a while, but we LIVE in the Red Zone. We eat the Red Zone for breakfast, lunch and dinner!" It was funny to see him try and get us all nervous to leave the Green Zone.

A Break From The Office:2

PART VII: During our stay in Baghdad we guest at the U.S. Embassy! The embassy building was once Saddam's Presidential Palace and it was an ominous feeling to walk down the halls and use the marble stair cases and think, "Saddam used to walk these halls and use these stairs". It helped me see first hand how big of a dirt bag Saddam was. He had complete control over all the money coming into Iraq and while he was living in dozens of palaces across Iraq the people of his country were living in the worst poverty I have ever seen. His Presidential Palace was huge! Giant chandeliers, a huge swimming pool, marble flooring, thick wool carpet, A/C, movie theatre, but my personal favorite was the pictured DFAC (Dining Facility)! I thought I had died and gone to heaven! Steak, Shrimp, Lobster Tail, Enchilada’s, Taco Bar, Burgers, Wings, Chicken Fingers, Salad Bar, Dessert Bar (blueberry cheesecake!), Baskin Robbins Ice Cream Bar for lunch and dinner. And for breakfast they had Real French Toast, Real Eggs, Fresh Fruit, Real Hash Browns, Real Pancakes, Biscuits and Gravy! (Man, I suddenly got real hungry.)

PART VI: This is, or was, the headquarters for the Baath Party. The Baath Party was Saddam's political party, like a Democrat or Republican. Bunker Buster Bombs hit this building and as you can see it destroyed the part of the building that was above ground, however the subterranean bunker below it wasn't even scratched! I was told that by a reliable source that a German company built the bunker. No wonder Germany didn't want to go to war with Iraq.

PART V: This is a nifty looking bridge in Baghdad. I was surprised to see some decent engineered structures because all I see in my area of operations are mud huts or shabby looking cinder block houses. This bridge allows traffic to cross Tigris River. Cool, eh?

PART IV: This is a cool looking island palace that sits on a lake in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit. During the initial push into Iraq most of Saddam's wealthy supporters fled and left palaces vacant. Once abandoned, palaces were gutted by the poorer class, occupied by locals or turned into a FOB by Coalition Forces, which was the case here.

A Break From The Office:1

PART III: Here is a picture of our FOB from the air. Our FOB is the dark tree line that you can see way out in the distance. From up at this viewpoint it was clear to me why our FOB has more rocket and mortar attacks than any of the other FOBs in our area. It sticks out like a sore thumb from the surrounding brown desert! The insurgents can launch the mortars from two miles away, which gives them plenty of time to drive away unseen before we can get out of the base. Why did I agree to come over here again? Oh yah, freedom, evil dictators and all that stuff.

PART II: This is Captain Kessinger. He is the JAG Officer that accompanied us to the trial. This picture was taken onboard a Chinook helicopter. The Chinook is the largest helicopter in the US Army but thanks to its dual rotor design it is also the fastest!

PART I: Staff Sergeant Mayo and I were called upon to go to Baghdad and testify against an insurgent that our platoon captured back in March. We were excited to get away from the daily grind and welcomed the idea of a little vacation to the infamous Green Zone. We traveled via Black Hawk Helicopter and this picture was snapped in mid-flight somewhere over Kirkuk. It was my first helicopter ride ever and it was pretty cool for the first hour or so, but I had had my fill by the time we reached Baghdad six hours later.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Base D Philosophy

This week I am pulling Base Defense where I stare at a barren Iraqi landscape making sure insurgents don't try to infiltrate our FOB. An all out attack on our base cannot be ruled out as impossible, but the probability would be one-tenth of one percent. So our main purpose of sitting out in 114-degree weather is to keep an eye on the roads and villages close to out FOB. From our watch towers we can see out into the distance and spot insurgents trying to place roadside bombs. This is a good thing because roadside bombs are nobody's friends. I like to pass my time out on Base D talking with whomever I get paired up with for that shift. During those few hours we talk about everything under the sun. Family, religion, current events, politics, women, sports, high school memories and why we are in Iraq are all possible topics. Today I spent an hour debating with Specialist Mennor trying to help him understand that NASCAR is not a sport. In this picture I am sitting on the tower at one of the gates. You can see the cement barriers in the road, which were put in place to slowdown traffic and further out you can see what we call Back Gate Village. Back Gate Village probably has the fattest kids in Iraq living there because as we cruise through this village we usually throw out the remainder of our candy that we didn't hand out while on our mission. We are working with this village to improve their school and build a water treatment facility.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

And I Thought California Drivers Were Bad

The peace and quiet of Sunday morning was shattered with a monstrous explosion just outside our FOB (Forward Operating Base). G Troop was sent to investigate and find the cause of the explosion. As the convoy approached an Iraqi Police checkpoint in close proximity to our FOB the mystery of the explosion quickly vanished. It was obvious that a suicide car bomber had just attempted to kill off a few IP at the checkpoint. The Iraqi Police on the checkpoint said that the man driving the vehicle tried to takeout one of their police trucks but only managed to kill himself, wound three Iraqi civilians and do moderate damage to the police truck. This picture (courtesy of Staff Sergeant Mayo, 3rd Platoon, G Troop) shows what was left of the insurgent�s car. We refer to these car bombs as VBIEDs (Vehicle Bourne Improvised Explosive Devices) and they have become more and more popular during the past 60 days. They have driven VBIEDs into military convoys but their main targets have been Iraqi Police and Army checkpoints. Coalition Forces seem to have become secondary targets to Iraq�s own people. It is my hope that no more Iraqi police or soldiers will need to die for the Iraqi citizens to wake up and start reporting insurgent activity in their villages which will save the lives of their own people. We are here to help; all they have to do is ask.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I Hate That Guy!

If not for the mortar attacks on our base this would have been a quiet, peaceful week. Heaven forbid that should ever happen. The retard that thinks it is cool to shoot 82mm mortars at us is really starting to upset me. Thankfully G Troop has not taken any casualties from his attacks, but I don't like being someone's target. Know what I mean? Today while we were out on a patrol we searched a little unoccupied shack and we found a bunch of little clay figurines and toys made out of mud. In this picture I am holding a little toy car. There were little people, bears, cows and even little cups and bowls. It reminded me of a little kids "hidden treasure". I am amazed at how simple life is to an Iraqi. It is good for me to think about this from time to time because it reminds me that the majority of the people here are not the ones trying to kill me. Most of them want peace and stability in their country and a better future for their kids. This is hard for me to keep in mind sometimes.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

One day back in Iraq and the insurgents were anxious to see me again. Qubbah is a large village in our area and the IA (Iraqi Army) reported that about thirty insurgents had ambushed them there. That kind of intel will get G Troop fired up and rolling out without argument. When we rolled into the village I was certain that a battle was afoot. Usually when we roll into a village I see people out and about walking places or working, and there are always a few curious individuals who come out to the street to look at the Americans. But when we pulled into Qubbah I didn't see a soul. I thought, "Everybody is indoors because they know something is about to go down." A truck with loud speakers started driving around telling all adult males to come to the center of the village. I said to the driver of our truck, "There's no way that they are going to just come walking out here." To my surprise and relief the men came out and we searched the village without incident. We didn't find any insurgents, but we found some evidence that they had been there. Our biggest obstacle in stabilizing Iraq is getting the people to trust and help us. Some people do help us out by giving us tips on insurgent activity, but most people do not. They are afraid of what the insurgents’ will do to them if they are discovered helping the Coalition Forces, or they are related to the insurgents and in Iraq family always comes first.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

I'm Back!

Well, R&R is over and I am glad to be back.

May 22nd thru June 6th were the best days of my life. I didn't do much other than hang out with Erika and the kids and visit with family and friends. I loved it, every minute of it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

G Troop To The Rescue

A gun battle broke out in Hawayja, a city outside of our Area of Operations, and G Troop was called in to help sweep trough the city and neutralize any opposition. Here is a picture of yours truly rolling through the city. By the time we got there the fighting was over, but we stayed in the city for six hours going from house to house in search of insurgents. G Troop made it back to our FOB after dark and extremely tired, but with everyone present and accounted for.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Browning Rules the Night

Specialist John Browning of Oregon mans a .50 Cal while scaning for any trouble on a night mission where we inserted a sniper team near a village. Our Night Vision equipment allows us to rule the night! When US Forces first arrived in our Area of Operations the local Iraqi's thought we were Vampires because we wore dark glasses during the day and we could apparently see at night as we drove through the villages in the dark without using our headlights.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Surrounded By Greatness

I am surrounded by greatness. These two gentlemen were visiting FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) in Iraq because they support us and believe in fighting to protect freedom. These two heroes received the Medal of Honor for their heroic actions during the war in Vietnam. The Medal of Honor is the highest honor given to men and women of the US Armed Forces. After his plane was shot down the North Vietnamese held the gentleman on the right as a POW for six years. His story of survival during those torturous six years is heart wrenching and inspiring.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

A Little Piece of Home (Part 2)

SSG Fisher asked me if it was safe to put the flare in the back of the Humvee and get back to the FOB. I advised him against it because the flare contains a small explosive charge that shoots the parachute out and ignites the flare. SSG Fisher decided that we would try to ignite the flare by shooting it with our M4 rifles. We assembled a firing squad and after a few shots the flare burst into a brilliant yellow light that was too bright to look at. As it was burning I turned to SSG Fisher and said, "Aren't you glad we didn't put it in the Humvee?" (Note the mound of dirt on the left hand side of the picture. That is one of Iraq's largest oil pipelines running into Northern Iraq's largest oil refinery.)

A Little Piece of Home

This week a few IP's (Iraqi Police) came to our gate and said that they found a rocket in a field. Since our FOB (Forward Operating Base) had been rocketed that day we thought it might be one that had been launched at us earlier. Part of my job is to analyze craters and determine where the rocket or mortar was launched. So we loaded up into our Humvee's and followed the IP to the rocket. When we reached our destination I dismounted and walked over to the location. I looked at Staff Sergeant Fisher and said, "It's not a rocket, and it�s from Utah!" The rocket was actually an aircraft flare made by Thiokol that never ignited and fell to the ground still intact. (Read the sticker on the flare)

Saturday, March 12, 2005

A Moment At the QRF Shack

Sergeant Mangin enjoys a bowl of Cheerio's and I take in some light reading while relaxing and watching some of the guys play horseshoes. Mangin often wishes he had as much hair as I do. We are sitting on the front porch of the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) Shack. Durring our QRF shift our section eats and sleeps here and must be ready to roll out in a moments notice.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

"Step Away From the Vehicle"

Soldiers from G Troop, 1st Platoon, search a vehicle at a TCP (Traffic Control Point). TCP's are set up at random times in random places in an attempt to capture insurgents transporting weapons within our area of operations. Most Iraqi's stop and follow our instructions willingly. But then who would resist when surrounded by heavily armed soldiers and Humvee's? This picture was taken by a photographer from the Oregonian who was embedded with us for a few days. Thanks for the pictures Randy.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Only Kid On His Block To Kill an Iraqi Rat

That's my Lieutenant. 2LT Cummings, holds his trophy/victim high. This rat chose the wrong time to go looking for food, LT Cummings was in the area at the same time and was feeling froggy. What the LT may not want you to know is that it took 4 or 5 rounds to bring down this ferocious creature. Nice shootn' LT. (Picture provided by our friend Randy at the Oregonian)

Tea Time

Left to Right: A Muktar (Mayor) of a local Kurdish village visits with our interpreter, MSG Brooks and SSG Hosie. When we visit a village we ask around for the Muktar and when we find him he usually invites our platoon leaders to sit and drink Chai (tea with tons of sugar) while we try to build relationships of trust with the locals and attempt to gather info on insurgent activity in the Muktar's village. This is another picture taken by Randy of the Oregonian.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Watch & Learn

During a raid on their village these three Arab boys followed us from house to house watching us search their homes. We were searching the village for Insurgents and weapons. Each house is allowed to have one AK-47 and one magazine of ammunition but we often find homes with several weapons and dozens of magazines. In such an instance we take everything but the minimum they are allowed to keep. The search on this village ended in the seizure of five or six AK-47's, shotguns, bolt action rifles, an RPK Machine Gun and thousands of rounds of ammunition but no bad guys. Maybe next time.

Friday, December 10, 2004

There's a New Sheriff In Town!

3rd Platoon, my platoon, on their first patrol in Iraq. Oil Pipeline fires such as the ones in the background are quite common around here. In an attempt to upset Iraq's infrastructure insurgents regularly attack and blow up the pipelines. Sometimes these fires burn for months wasting thousands of barrels of oil a day until they can be put out by specialized fire fighting teams.