Friday, August 3, 2007

Doing the Deid

3 Aug 07
Mike and I said our goodbyes the afternoon and evening of the 1st. I was surprised at the number of Brits that caught us in the halls, in the dining facility or came by to wish us well. It was a nice send off.

Several of the guys there really looked after us and we wanted to do something nice for them. Ultimately, I decided to get them an American flag and picked some up while I was on my R&R last month. We folded them up and Scifi flew them on a mission over Basrah then we made a really nice certificate stating who the flag was for, when it was flown and where.

Of course we gave one to the Grp Capt because without him we wouldn't have been living in the relative safety of the RAF camp. He commented that in his 30 yrs he's worked with the U.S. a number of times but had never been given a flag and that he would cherish it.

We also gave one to the Senior Warrant Officer who provided us with just about any piece of equipment we asked for up to and including a movie screen so we could watch movies in our corridor. He also gave me a couple of British desert uniforms for Justin and Josh to take antelope hunting in Wyoming...they'll be great in the dry grass.

We gave one to the physical trainer, Ben, who included us in every sprots tournament and was so gracious to the Iraqis...he allowed them to use the gym and even built individual physical training plans for them.

The last flag we gave to our friend Lee who provided us with hours of comic relief and, more importantly, camaraderie in addition to setting up one hell of a good time on the range.

I told each that we appreciated how they had taken care of us and likewise we knew they would also take care of the flag. They were all very touched and assured us the flag was in good hands.

Lee and Ben are roommates in Basrah. Lee planned to make it a centerpiece in his office in his house and said that he and Ben had talked about it and agreed is was the nicest thing they had ever been given. He also asked us to put comments on the back of the certificate which we did gladly.

We folded the flags in a proper triangle and explained the significance of the stars, the stripes, and the fold. I asked them how they folded their flag and they weren't really certain. Lee had never owned a flag and explained that flying a flag on their homes, et al, wasn't really something the British did though everyone knows the significance of the patterns in the Union Jack.

After our goodbyes I got a couple of hours of sleep before Mike and I pulled an all nighter to make it to Al Udeid yesterday morning (2 Aug). Our reporting time was 0200. We got up at 0100 to make it and when we arrived they said it was delayed until 0430. We just slept a bit in the terminal tent there at Basrah. We finally left at 0630.

When we arrived at Al Udeid the British collected all our information and inprocessed us into the base...all we had to do is sit there and wait for them to return which saved us quite a bit of running around. I'll miss the British.

After inprocessing we went to the travel office to check on our flights thru Germany. They rearranged our flights but mine stayed relatively consistent. Mike's on the other hand was pushed back another day so he now stays two nights in Frankfurt for some reason. We tried to get the arrangements fixed and they agreed they could fix it in a matter of about 10 minutes but their office didn't make the initial arrangements so refused to fix it. We spent 3 hours in their office trying to fix our travel arrangements but getting redirected back to Baghdad to fix it at every turn. Welcome back to the USAF!

The rest of the day I spent just wandering around the camp trying not to sleep so I would sleep last night. We catch a late night flight tonight so I'll probably try to sleep the majority of the day.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Dinner and Farewell

1 Aug 07
You may have heard by now that my departure has been moved forward. As opposed to having to extend 3 extra weeks to spend quality time with my replacement, they actually moved my replacement's report date forward by 3 weeks so I actually leave Basrah in the early morning hours tomorrow. Mike is also leaving with me.

Dan left last night and was to meet up with us in Qatar to catch a rotator back thru Europe. However, when he got to Al Udeid he checked with the Brits to see if they had anything moving to the UK (he’s stationed at RAF Mildenhall). True to form, the Brits added him to a flight this a.m. bound for London just 4 hrs after he arrived at Al Udeid…as easy as that. Mike and I will be required to wait 3 days at Al Udeid for the rotator to arrive.

Last night Grp Capt Burt invited four of us (me, Mike, Dan and Scifi) to a formal dinner. The night began with a social hour in the pub to begin the evening with “a pint.” Afterward we moved to the chow hall for dinner. The table was beautiful—for the first time in 5+ months we had table cloths, real plates and a full/formal setting of silverware. There was a nicely presented shrimp and tuna steak salad for starters followed by a personal Beef Wellington and ended with a Neapolitan mousse.

Throughout the meal white gloved waiters in black bow ties and pin striped vests circled the table with white and red wine as well as water. Following a brief intermission we rejoined the grp capt’s table and the waiters circled with wine, cheese, crackers, cookies and tea.

After tea the grp capt said a few words about everyone that had been invited to join him for dinner (some 30 guests). To us he passed his appreciation for integrating so well into their camp and for becoming a defacto part of their wing. (We were just thankful to have somewhere safe/sanitary to live.) Then he thanked us for everything we did on 19 Jul and gave us an update on each of the wounded men we helped.

Finally, he told a joke then opened the floor for anyone else to tell a joke. They circled the table several times as various career fields told jokes about one another or their service. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves and airmen/officers of all ranks stood up to tell a joke.

One of the many things that impresses me about the British is the sense of familiarity they have with one another. Though they may not know someone they’ll sit down at the table and pick up a conversation and start to laugh and joke as if they’ve known each other for years. Additionally, they have a much smaller sense of personal space. Where American airmen will leave a “man space” between them at the table the British will sit side-by-side at the table no matter how many other chairs/tables are available. Working with them has been a pleasure and truly one of the highlights of my career.

We went into work this a.m. to do some last minute laundry and say farewell to Dhiia, Col Sami, Andnan, Kaiser, Abdul Aziz and many others. I will miss them. They all asked that we send their well wishes to our families and their hopes for our future. We all agreed that we would like to come back someday when Iraq is safe so we can truly experience their culture. Until then I hope for a safe/secure Iraq for them.

Lastly, Col Sami and Abdul Raheem asked us to remember Iraq and the people serving here. Particularly they asked us to tell American people about the true Iraqi people—peace loving people including those serving in the military and the government, people who want a safe Iraq. (Their words.) They want Americans to know that the insurgents and militia do not represent Iraq.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Generals and Desertion

30 Jul 07
Adnan was a lieutenant at the end of the first Gulf War. After the war the base was summoned to the south of Iraq to help put down the Shiia uprising. Adnan was left in charge of a small contingent of maintainers. Late one afternoon some 100 villagers from a nearby town attacked “Saddam’s forces” (Adnan’s 15 maintainers). Adnan ordered the men to fire their weapons over the villagers heads to push them back. He didn’t want to shoot the villagers at the risk of angering them and starting a full attack. Adnan fired the first round then the rest followed but every villager stopped and fired on Adnan’s position. “Why me?” he thought. He ducked behind a wall and saw a huge mural of Saddam above his head. Seconds later he fell back to another position.

The next day he was ordered to abandon the base by the base general. He got into his civilian clothes and walked home. Several weeks later he was summoned to the base general’s office. There were several other generals in the office and his general demanded to know why he had abandoned the base. Adnan chuckled and said, “because you told me to.” The general disputed the claim and said he had ordered Adnan to attack the forces.

Later the general came back to Adnan and said, “Of course I told you to abandon the base. There was nothing left to defend but if you tell them that, we’ll both go down.” Adnan took the blame for abandoning the base and as punishment was sent to the base in Kirkuk far from his family for several years.

We’ve experienced this same mentality of "blame it on the junior, less experienced guy" quite a bit. At times, the Iraqis even blame a fault or error on us Americans. We don’t speak the language so we can’t contest their stories and their bosses won’t follow up on any stories their told. Losing face is a huge deal for Arabs particularly the higher up they go so no one wants to investigate contentious matters for fear of bringing shame on one another. It’s a widespread Arab phenomenon that it is simply not acceptable to shame one another with the facts. We experience it all the time.

You may remember Major Ghassan who defected to Norway some time ago. I spoke with Adnan about it. Adnan said he called and talked with Ghassan’s wife about Ghassan’s whereabouts after he didn't return to duty. She asked to meet Adnan somewhere but Adnan told her to stay put; he would come to her. She explained to Adnan that Ghassan had fled the country and would not return. He did not take his wife or any of their three children but Adnan thinks he will send for them. Hopefully, he will. There is no penalty for desertion in the Iraqi military. As a matter of fact, service members can quit or be fired at any time though it is rare that one is fired and I can’t imagine how bad one must be to get fired.

Adnan and Ghassan are good friends so I’m surprised that Adnan didn’t know anything about Ghassan leaving beforehand. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Adnan knew (if not helped him) and didn’t say anything.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Range Day

27 Jul 07
For my 5+ month tour we have tried to get to the range to fire a bunch of ammo our predecessors left for us. Today our British friend, Lee, arranged a day at the range for us alongside the RAF Regiment who was qualifying on their weapons. It was no ordinary day though. The Brits were keen to fire their heavy and light weapons also and they had a bunch of ammo from their predecessors as well.

We all met at the range at 0830 and took inventory. We Americans brought our M‑16A2s, Beretta 9mm pistols, and an Iraqi AK-47 with all the ammo we could stand to shoot. The Brits brought their General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) aka “the General”, as well as the SA80A2 with a SUSAT scope and their Browning 9mm pistols and all the ammo we could stand to shoot.

We all took firing positions with our own weapons and for the first time all of us fired our M-16A2s in “burst” mode (USAF range officials only let us fire in semiautomatic). For the second volley we started to switch around and I stayed with the M-16 briefly showing the Brits how to fire it then supervising as they fired off magazine after magazine. I was surprised at how good of a shot they were with just the iron sites (no scope). Shooter after shooter destroyed the target in both semi and burst mode. To a man, when they were done they said, “I want one!”

After several rounds supervising the M-16, Lee arranged for him and me to go to the end of the range where he had 4 x 30 round magazines of SA80 ammo for us to shoot up. We wouldn’t have paper targets so we would be shooting at rocks on the range. It was a great weapon; very compact (“bull and pup” design), smooth and exceptionally accurate. Grp Capt Burt told us later that the SUSAT takes a good shot and makes it great. I want one!

After Lee and I finished with the SAs I moved to the General. I fired some 4 belts of ammo on it. For a heavy machine gun we were surprised what a smooth action machine gun it was. It had very little kick and always came back on target for the next round. Each of us found a spot on the target to bore out a large hole…I put a 4 in hole in the target’s head. After so many people firing it, there was a large collection of ammo beneath the weapon and I rested my arm as I got up…the hot rounds all about burned the dickens out of me.

Finally, I moved to the AK-47. It fires well on semiautomatic but it’s a terrible automatic weapon. When firing on auto, the first round will take down a target but after that it simply jumps all around the place and is nearly impossible to control. The weapon's saving graces are the fact that it’s reliable (it never fails) and it’s so easy to produce. Each of us said we’d take an M-16 or an SA over the AK any day.


26 Jul 07
Lt Diya (not to be confused with my other friend Dhiaa…we call this one “Diya, Jr”) brought a cake in the other day to announce that he is getting married. A few days later one of our maintenance officers, Lt Ali (also not to be confused with my friend Major Ali), came back from his home town and announced the same. They are both in their late 20s and are very excited about getting married.

Earlier in the month we received a Bilingual/Bicultural Advisor (BBA). Ali (because three Ali's in the squadron wasn't enough) is an Iraqi who immigrated to Canada in the early 90s but recently returned to Iraq to be a BBA. Much like Mustafa, Ali found his own wife. However, his brother’s marriage was arranged…sort of.

Ali’s brother had seen the “woman of his dreams” at the university during his senior year. He followed her here and there for several weeks collecting tidbits of information about the girl including her family name, where she lived, what sort of family she came from, etc. Finally, he went to his parents and asked them to go to her family and ask for her hand.

Ali says his family is very respected in his town so no family could say no if someone from his family came to them proposing marriage so his parents went to visit hers. Once there the two mothers went off to the side to discuss the arrangement. Ali’s mother explained that she would like her son to marry the other woman’s daughter. The woman said yes but explained she had four young, single daughters so asked which daughter. Ali’s brother had collected all sorts of information about the girl but never thought to get her first name. The mothers agreed it must be the oldest daughter so settled upon her. His brother was horrified to learn it was not the girl he had dreamt of but the arrangement was made. He had never seen the older sister so went to find her. When he saw her he was satisfied that she was equally as beautiful. Years later he confessed the mix up to his wife but to this day her sister has no idea that the boy had secretly been eyeing her.

In a later discussion Ali talked about the custom of multiple wives and its popularity in Islam. At times Ali said he has become dissatisfied with his own wife but would not take another wife explaining that to bring another woman into their home would be an insult to the woman who has already given so much of her life to him. However, he explained, Shiia Islam allows for temporary/short term marriages that can last for one hour, one week, one year, etc. Both the man and woman must agree to the conditions and term limit of the marriage. Additionally, the woman cannot be a virgin. Furthermore, though the marriage can be over within hours, the woman must agree that she will not take another husband within the same menstruation cycle to ensure there is no question of paternity if the temporary marriage were to result in a pregnancy. Ali is very interested in taking a temporary wife.

Single Iraqi men are really funny when you talk to them about women…they’re actually quite immature. Lt Anees is one of the maintenance officers in the squadron. He is in his late 20s. I asked him if he had a girlfriend. He laughed and giggled like a 13 year old boy afraid of admitting that he might actually like to catch kooties from the right lady… “no, no, Bill [shaking head, looking down and smiling/giggling]. I don’t have a girlfriend.”

We talked about dating customs in Iraq, most of which I’ve already discussed. Anees is waiting for his family to find the right woman. When they do, they will approach her family and arrange the marriage. Then Anees will be allowed to court his wife-to-be. Until then he only hopes for a beautiful wife.

He followed the discussion of Arab/Iraqi customs by saying that he believed the same customs are true in the U.S. He believes the big cities are faster more free but that small towns in the U.S. observed the same customs and traditions where families arranged marriages. I tried hard to convice him that arranged marriages are an extremely rare event (I've only met one Korean-American couple whose marriage was arranged). Frankly, I'm not certain he believed me.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Caught In A Quandary

18 Jul 07
If you haven't figured it out, I’ve come to be quite good friends with many of the Iraqis and they tell me they have great respect for me and what I do for them. Not every day is a picnic working with them (some days are far from it) but we have all agreed that business is business and not to be confused with the person.

I try to help them out in small ways and, of course, I share everything sent to me with them. However, the ones I’m closest with inevitably come to me and ask for assistance in some large manner. It might be something somewhat difficult but achievable. Dhiaa asked me to help him get a used laptop computer and Susan’s family stepped up and helped a ton to get him one (he loves it!). But they often ask for something far more complicated. Abdul Aziz asked me to help get his father a job with the U.S. forces in Baghdad. I have very few contacts outside of the military and even fewer contacts in Baghdad so there was really nothing I could do. Ali also asked me to help get his nephew a job with the Coalition. His nephew was born in California back in the mid-80s while his father was a college professor there so is a U.S. citizen. He wants to improve his English and save money before immigrating to the U.S. Of course he will help the rest of his family immigrate.

None of them have asked any of us to help them immigrate to the U.S. but you can sense they want to ask us. They tell us all the time that they dream of going to the U.S. Recently the Iraqi MoD disallowed all travel outside of Iraq for all Iraqi service members because there was such a huge attrition from guys not returning.

Most of us would love to help any one of them immigrate and the ones we would help would genuinely make great Americans but we’re caught in a quandary. There is a large exodus occurring in Iraq particularly amongst educated Iraqis fleeing to other countries in the Middle East or Europe (i.e., Ghassan fleeing to Norway). Additionally, educated professionals are far more likely to support/work with the Coalition so they become targets by the militia within Iraq. Case in point is the bravery our guys show by simply serving in the Iraqi Air Force. The result, we think, is a large "brain-drain" occurring in Iraq. There are fewer and fewer educated people left in the country to take charge and build a friendly, responsible government. The quandary we perceive is that if we helped our guys immigrate who would rebuild (save?) Iraq?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Gym Time

12 Jul 07
Before I went on R&R I worked with the British to allow our IqAF members to come on the RAF camp to use their gym. First though I wanted to set some ground rules for the Iraqis to make sure they didn't abuse the RAF's generosity or get themselves hurt. Before they could use the gym they had to do a safety brief on how to use the equipment and secondly they would only come to the gym during appointed hours to ensure they didn't conflict with British workout times.

I thought the safety brief would simply be a formality but many of them were seeing gym equipment for the first time. Abdul Aziz drove the point home fore me when he and I went back to the gym in the afternoon to work out. He was obviously worried about hurting himself so did each exercise with the smallest weights he could find for the exercise (essentially the 2.5 lbs weights).

We got on the treadmills and Abdul Aziz asked me to show him again how to start the machine. After I showed him which button to push he pushed the speed button just one time to get the machine started and quickly took his finger off the button. He was at 0.8 kmh and intended to stay there (yes, point 8 kmh). Abdul Aziz is a young, fit guy and by comparison, beginning runners start at 7.5 kmh. Point 8 kmh is literally "little old lady with a walker" speed. It was really funny when Aziz began to jog on the machine at that speed.

I thought eventually he would figure the machine out and speed up. After maybe a minute at 0.8 kmh I encouraged him to speed up...he pushed the button one more time taking him to 0.9 kmh. Again I looked at him and said "more" then reached over and pushed the speed button myself intending to at least get him to a very slow trot pace. His eyes got huge like saucers and at 4.5 kmh he became emphatic, "o....o...okay, Bill. That is enough. Please, Bill." It dawned on me that before that day he had never seen a treadmill much less been on one. Abdul Aziz would have to learn to crawl on the machine before he was confident enough to run on it.

I was pleased yesterday when I went to the gym with Abdul Aziz that he ran at 9.5 kmh. It wasn't fast but it wasn't .8 either.

I finished my run then sat on the side and talked to Lt Col Jasim. Jasim recently came to the squadron from another squadron in the IqAF. We talked about where he was from and his IqAF career. He had just become qualified in the IL-76 when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991. Of course Iraq flew most of the aircraft to Iran and never got them back so Jasim's days flying IL-76s were short lived.

Shortly after GW1 ended, Jasim's uncle was convicted of speaking out against Saddam's regime (sedition) and was subsequently hanged. Additionally, to make an example for others, Saddam had all of the dead man's family members fired if they had government jobs. Jasim was thrown out of the IqAF and made a living the next few years as a construction worker. Needless to say Jasim hated Saddam.

When Jasim came back into the IqAF it had been some 14 years since he had flown but still the IqAF brought him in as a Lt Col and placed him in the premier C-130 program. He was sent to Little Rock AFB for pilot training, however, his language skills weren't good enough and like most former IqAF pilots, his flying skills had atrophied. He struggled in the program and was eventually dropped. When I asked him about the program he was nostalgic..."I met so many good friends in Arkansas and it was so beautiful. I also spent 3 days in Charleston [SC] on my way home and I saw the ocean. It was so nice. Before, I only dream of visiting [the] United States." Of course, we had to talk more in depth about Charleston too.

Monday, July 9, 2007

R&R (pics)

9 Jul 07
Back from R&R...what a great time! I went to the Army's Camp As Sayliyah outside Doha, Qatar. It was a great time.

I took a red eye C-130 down to the USAF base Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar and arrived in the early morning hours. It was a British C-130 and of course those guys were great when I got there. To save me time running around to all the USAF agencies, the Brits offered to store all my equipment, my weapons, and ammo. They took me to billeting and when the billeting manager asked if the wanted to put me with them they said, "sure, we're much closer to the office and it will be easier for him." I love the British!...very accommodating and everything is easy with them.

I slept for a few hours then got up to go take my final test for the class I'm in but the test center was closed so I called for a ride to the R&R camp.

I arrived at As Sayliyah around 1400 and after inprocessing, headed straight for the gym. I heard they do massages there and I figured I wanted to start my R&R off right. Funny enough, there were several rough looking soldiers there getting manicures and pedicures. I signed up for the massage then joined the dudes for a manicure and pedicure (not that there's anything wrong with that). Money well spent on all three accounts!

For dinner I hit Chilis there on base...the military has been inviting bigger and bigger chains onto their overseas bases to give us a little bit of home overseas. We had Chilis in Japan and they've obviously expanded to Qatar. Some of you know I'm a Mexican food freak. I killed some fajitas and chips and salsa. Later that night I went to the pub and cashed in on my 3 beer/day ration.

I was assigned quarters in a 10 man room...5 bunk beds. Because I was the newest guy in, there were no bottom bunks left so I had to take a top bunk. The next day I met the guy in the bottom bunk. He was with another guy with a University of South Carolina shirt on. I asked the guy if he was from SC. He said he was from Eastover (30 min from Sumter?). I told him I was from Sumter and stationed at Shaw. Then my bunk mate chimed in that he was from Sumter. Capt Mike McLeod is a '94 graduate of Sumter High and is currently deployed to Kuwait. There was several 100 (maybe a 1000?) people at As Sayliyah on R&R so I had to laugh...what are the odds of two Sumter boys ending up as bunk mates in Qatar? What a small world!

Doha is the "new Dubai" of the Middle East. Qatar is a small, wealthy oil nation that has begun to secure itself a spot as a banking and trading center for the Middle East. They recently hosted the Asian Games (like our Pan American Games or a mini-Olympics) which spurred a ton of construction. There were some 30+ sky scrapers that were either newly completed or almost complete but had not even been thought of until they got the Asian Games. They are also building an island community like the ones Dubai built in the shape of a palm tree and the globe. The Doha island is called "The Pearl."

I signed up for a sponsor so I could go off base. At about 2 p.m. three USAF guys came thru the USO on As Sayliyah and picked up me and another guy for dinner on the town. We went to a gold market then a mall before a great dinner at the new Four Seasons, Doha. It was pricey but I was okay with that.

After dinner we headed back to the camp and the guys dropped me off at the USO. That night they were hosting a concert by the Atlanta band Five Star Iris ( for one of several shows planned for troops deployed all around the Middle East including some really austere camps. Any band that signs up to come out to the field and entertain the troops especially in some of the really remote locations we are nowadays is outstanding in my book and Five Star Iris put on a great show for us. The only thing missing was more beer!

The next day was the 4th of July...I took the day easy and celebrated with, well, three beers at the USO. I met up with a few guys I knew that are in the same command advising Iraqis at Kirkuk AB. We all signed up for the cultural tour the following day.

The cultural tour was a great experience. We started at the camel market where there were rows and rows of camel stalls. You won't see these camels racing around the desert though. These are eating camels and all are purchased for slaughter/consumption. Several of us commented that it reminded us of the state fair livestock show. After the camel market we went to the farmer's market. Again, it looked and smelled just like a farmer's market in the US. Next we started to press into the city and made our way to the Old Iranian Souq ("sook" It was very cool and looked like a village out of New Mexico. The highlight was a shop where they sell hawks and hawking supplies...Arabs are often very big into hawking. They work to train hawks for some 10 months to hunt other birds and return them to their masters.

We hit the Gold Souq next followed by lunch at an Iranian restaurant on the waterfront. Lunch also included stopping at a "hooka" shop to smoke hooka pipes. There a waiter took our orders and an attendant came by periodically to feed our pipes and ensure we had plenty of hooka(?) to smoke. I had apple flavor which came in a solid coal/ember but wasn't harsh at all like tobacco when you smoke it. We smoked our hookas then back onto the bus.

Our last two stops were malls. What surprised me was the contrast of styles amongst the women. Most of the women dressed in the black abbaya but some were in stylish jeans and tank tops or some top showing off their midriff. As I studied the "ninjas" (as our Jordanian guide called them) in their abbayas I noticed that many of them had on jeans or some colorful outfit underneath. I had heard the women would often wear western outfits under their abbayas but hadn't seen it first hand until now. We headed back to the base in the early evening.

The next couple of days I just flopped around the camp taking in some of the shopping on base and hanging out in the USO. The USO is exceptionally well done there and it was a really comfortable place to hang out and to be honest, I didn't want to do much more than that.

On the last day I headed back to Al Udeid to look for a flight back to Basrah with the British again. I took my final test for ACSC and put that beast behind me then headed back to Basrah in the early evening arriving in time to make dinner...chicken original.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

PSYOPS (pic)

2 Jul 07
The British Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) guys from MND-SE recently came to see us about a commercial campaign (or "advert" as the Brits call it) they have been running on the Iraqi Armed Forces called the "Sons of Iraq" series. They started with a 30 second commercial filmed in an Arabic style showcasing the Army then the Navy and Border Patrol. Scifi was on leave so I met with them about an IqAF commercial.

The Iraqis are very reluctant to be seen in uniform or to have their faces shown in pictures for western newspapers, etc. They are concerned about being associated with the Coalition and killed. The earlier commercials showed the faces of many soldiers/sailors and the intent was to do the same for the IqAF. I thought the commercial was a great idea but told the Brits I thought Col Sami and the sqdn leadership would very weary of it so they would need their best salesman to pitch the campaign. They assured me they got the same reception from all three previous commercials. I took them to see Col Sami and he echoed what I already told them but we convinced him to ask the pilots if any of them would do it.

Two weeks later the Brits came back and we met with Col Sami again. To everyone's surprise, one of the guys stepped forward and said he would do it. The Brits spent the next two days filming our guy in various scenes around the sqdn. Other guys crowded around as the shot each scene. Several other guys also got into the scenes though only showed their backs or their side. Only one other guy also showed his face.

Scifi coordinated a formation flight and the cameraman flew with him to get footage of our Iraqi pilots flying over an Iraqi Army convoy, oil fields, power lines, etc. The dialogue was to the effect of "Iraqi pilots working together with the Iraqi Army, protecting Iraq's oil wealth, and securing our infrastructure."

When they were done with the commercial the PSYOPS guys came back and showed the finished product to a room full of our officers. They all loved the commercial and clamored to get a copy. We asked the second guy if he was ok with showing his face. He was very certain in his response, "yes, I want to show my face. I am not afraid. I am proud to serve the Iraqi Air Force."

They also took still photos for use on billboards and posters. Our guy's face will be pasted all around the south of Iraq.

Scifi took a copy of the commercial and several posters with us to the Baghdad conference we attended. Our leadership loved the campaign and they all wanted copies of both the commercial and posters. They are working to get the commercial shown nation-wide.

The second guy only appears in the TV commercial. He is a maintainer so I had regular contact with him. I didn't have much contact with the central character prior to the commercial but I was genuinely proud of both guys. They are literally risking their lives by appearing in this commercial so my hat is off to them. The commercial started airing while we were in Baghdad. Scifi and I were relieved to see both guys still alive when we got back.

4th of July (pics)

1 Jul 07
Several weeks ago the British Entertainment Committee approached us and asked us if they could throw us a 4th of July party. Of course we said yes but I was surprised and had to ask "you do know the significance of the 4th of July, don't you?" They assured us they knew but that it would be a good theme for a party. The only catch was the Brits are allowed to have two beers once a week on Saturday nights. Since the 4th falls on a Wed they asked if we minded having the party on the 30th of June so they could have a beer in our honor (they know we aren't allowed to drink so they were going to have one for us). Of course we were delighted.

As word of the party started to spread, one of the Brits kidded us at dinner one night that they were all going to come to the party with red coats and muskets. I couldn't resist asking, "how'd that work out for you last time?"

He said, "yeah, but you're out numbered."

I replied, "we were then too."

In the late afternoon they organized a "softball" tournament which only resembled softball but was more like a cross between cricket and another game they play called "rounders." We showed up expecting softball so had to watch a bit to understand the game. There were four bases and a home plate. Instead of a 4-sided infield like American softball, they play rounders with a 5-sided infield. It was odd asking who would be our "fourth baseman" as we took the field.

There wasn't much rhyme or reason to the batting and everything was considered a hit. When a batter hit the ball he/she may or may not choose to run to first base. If he ran he risked being thrown out but if he remained in the batter's box he could continue hitting unless he hit a pop fly into the outfield which was caught in the air. There was no foul ball territory so every ball hit could be considered in play. Several times guys intentionally hit the ball into the parking lot to score a homerun or would safely run to first base on a foul tip that went behind the catcher and out into traffic on the main road. It was their game so we played along.

Of course the Brits are huge on soccer ("football") and it permeates into every sport they play. They were more likely to stop ground balls with a quick kick than to use their gloves. As a matter of fact, most of them abandoned the gloves and played barehanded.

Later in the evening they hosted a cookout and served burgers, brats, coleslaw, etc. They decorated the pub in red, white and blue bunting, streamers, balloons, top hats and all sorts of 4th decorations including a huge U.S. flag. It was really well done. One of our guys is collecting the stuff to reuse at American hosted event on the 4th.

Later we went around to each Entertainment Committee member as well as the Group Captain to personally thank them for putting the party together. We told them how much we genuinely appreciated the gesture and that they had done far more than we expected. It was a really fun event.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Baghdad Finale (pics)

29 Jun 07
Just back from what should be my last trip to Baghdad. This one was a bit different from all the others in that I was actually there for work vice professional education. Scifi and I attended a conference in the International Zone (the “IZ”…aka the “Green Zone”).

We had to take a helicopter ride over from Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) to a landing zone in the IZ near the US Embassy. It was an interesting ride but it was over entirely too quickly. From the air, it looks like any city anywhere in the world; people were walking and driving everywhere. I only saw large concentrations of people at checkpoints.

Scifi pointed out a massive mosque that was under construction and it was encouraging to see large scale construction in the city. When we landed, however, he explained that Saddam began the mosque during the regime and intended it to be the largest mosque in the world. They were well into the project when Saddam learned another Arab country was building a larger mosque so Saddam simply canceled all construction on the Baghdad mosque. It looked like it would have been amazing but obviously was being built for the wrong reason.

We stayed in tents at the Embassy which was Saddam’s Presidential Palace in Baghdad. We were allowed to roam the Embassy grounds freely. I expected gaudy and over the top but the compound was actually very nice. We even took advantage of the opportunity to swim in Saddam’s pool.

The IZ is in the middle of Baghdad and is simply a section of the city that has more stringent security than the rest of Baghdad to ensure security for Coalition personnel. There are apartment complexes within the IZ which house everyday Iraqis that come and go thru the checkpoints.

The security checkpoints were interesting. At first glance the guards look like Iraqis but when they speak to you it’s in Spanish. All of the checkpoints are managed by USMC personnel but are actually manned by the firm Triple Canopy which hired an army of Peruvians to man the gates. At one point we needed directions to our destination. It was another of those surreal moments when, in downtown Baghdad, I asked for and received directions in Spanish from the Peruvian guard.

As we left the guard post we walked past the bombed out hulk of Believer’s Palace. It was across the street from Saddam’s Palace and looked like a palace on the outside but it was actually a chemical protection shelter Saddam had built to protect him against a chemical attack from Iran. The Coalition supposedly named it “Believer’s Palace” when someone saw the palace and proclaimed “I believe one more JDAM/bomb would have finished it.”

There were civilians everywhere and at dinner one night I sat across from a State Dept employee. I asked if the majority of civilians were State Dept employees (considering it was the Embassy it seemed obvious). He said the majority were actually, Dept of Agriculture, FBI, and Dept of Interior and that there were relatively few State Dept folks.

Scifi had an additional day for the conference so several of us had the day off and took advantage to shop a little. One of the guys and I ran a 5K that was scheduled for the day after we left but the sports director said he’d give us the T-shirt if we ran the race. The route was from the Embassy down to the gravel road along the Tigris/Dijila River. The T-wall is some 20 feet high there so there was no chance of seeing the river.

The last night we were scheduled out on a Blackhawk helicopter but got weather canceled so we walked down to the Rhino Runner terminal to see if we could get a ride back to BIAP via the Rhino Runner (essentially a super armored vehicle). The Rhino ride was interesting and we rode past the Iraqi Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Victory Over Iran monument which is the avenue with the crossed sabers you often see from the regime when Saddam would review military parades. Once we left the IZ we headed down Route Irish to BIAP and arrived in the wee hours.

The following day I got up early and caught an IqAF C-130 down to Basrah. Enroute we stopped at Talil AB to pick up some Iraqi passengers. As we took back off I saw the Great Ziggurat of Ur built by the Sumerians over 4000 years ago. At one time, Ur was the oldest know city in the world (and may well still be).

Back in Basrah by 1500…great trip.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sather 5K

23 Jun 07
Got up and ran the Sather AB 5K today. It was mostly gravel so the dust was bothersome but it was a good way to start the day.

One point on the course took us by the flightline. I noticed a C-17 parked backwards on the ramp and several Stryker fighting vehicles assembled not far behind it with their company flag unfurled. In front of the Strykers were several white bread trucks. As I got closer I noticed and American flag in the window then realized what the scene was—a repatriation ceremony that was about to begin. Though they hadn’t formed up yet I remembered the guy at Basrah that ran past the procession and how disrespectful it seemed so I stopped at the nose of the vehicle, came to attention, saluted then carried on with the race.

The guy behind me told me later that he thought I was giving up when I passed the hearse and that he would pass me when he realized what was happening. He said at that point I gained the spiritual edge and he knew he wouldn’t catch me. I didn’t ask what he had done but it didn’t matter; it just seemed disrespectful to not show respect in some way. I ended up winning the race with a time of 21:45…obviously there weren’t a lot of serious runners. The guy behind me thought I was a 20-something and that he would win the over-30 category…he was disappointed to hear I was two years older than him.

For winning the race they gave me a T-shirt but the only sizes they had were 2XL…I haven’t seen a lot of 2XL runners win races but I took the shirt anyway. I also bench pressed 225 lbs while I was there an they gave away T-shirts for that as well.

Trip to Kirkuk (pics)

21 Jun 07
On the road again this time traveling with Scifi. We caught a ride up to Baghdad with the British then hopped on the Iraqi Cessna Caravan headed to Kirkuk. Scifi was going up to attend a squadron activation ceremony there and needed a travel partner. He and I have to attend a conference in the International Zone ("the IZ") in downtown Baghdad in a few days so it made sense for me to accompany him to Kirkuk. Our sister advisory team at Kirkuk has grown to the point of achieving squadron status so we went for that ceremony. We're back in Baghdad now.

Kirkuk is in Kurdistan and is a USAF base with a huge Army presence and some IqAF. There is quite a bit of fighting that goes on in the region but there are few attacks against the base itself. One night Scifi and I heard what we learned later was a car bomb in the distance in the city followed by emergency vehicle sirens. Several times a day automatic weapons fire is heard on base as US Army convoys preparing to depart the base fire their weapons into berms at the base checkpoints just before leaving the base. They fire a couple of bursts to ensure their weapons are working properly before heading off base.

The British at Basrah are great but we've noticed that within the base, very few carry weapons. Everyone on our team carries a weapon everywhere we go. At Kirkuk every American is carrying at least one weapon and many carry two or three depeding on their weapon cofiguration and scarcely an Iraqi can be found. There is no jeopardy to our Second Amendment here.

We had quite a bit of time off while I was there so one of the Kirkuk advisors took me on a tour. I had seen what I thought was an O-2 Vietnam-era observation plane when we flew in so I asked to go see them. I found out it was actually the a Cessna 337--the civilian version of the O-2. The Army has contracted out one aspect of airborne reconnaissance to a civil company. The Florida company, AirScan Inc, put an MX-15 forward looking infrared sensor on the aircraft and provides an airborne eye in the sky for their troops on the ground.

Scifi and I also took advantage of the opportunity to go to the pool while we were there. The lifeguards on duty at the pool were civilian contractors. One was working on a masters degree via distance learning and was saving huge money for the return home.

I'm always surprised by the number of civilians here and one of the Airscan pilots remarked that the civlian companies fighting in this war would be here long after the US military pulls out. He cited Kosovo as an example. I was deployed to France and Italy during the build up for and initial phase of that conflict back in 1998-1999. As far as I was aware, only a few NATO troops were in the area. He said the civilian companies were only recently leaving the doubt headed to Iraq.

As we were leaving Kirkuk today the USAF leadership in the advisory sqdn was discussing an event which occured earlier in the day. Two of the Iraqi-Arab pilots were driving to the base from Baghdad and stopped at a checkpoint. The checkpoint was manned by the Pesh Merga (the Kurdish militia) and the militiamen told the two pilots the region was only for Kurds and told them to turn back. The two pilots protested and the scene got heated. Eventually shots were exchanged from both sides and apparently both pilots were injured and taken to a hospital.

In an USAF sqdn, the sqdn commander of those two guys would have spent the rest of the evening at the hospital sitting vigil for his troops and doing whatever he could for their families. As it was, the Iraqi sqdn commander came out to the acft and flew Scifi and I down to Baghdad. I don't think that's indicative of Iraqis or their IqAF leadership and I'm absolutely certain our IqAF sqdn commander, Col Sami, would have been at the hospital with his troops.

I pass a lot of care package stuff along to Adnan to give the maintainers and he recently brought me a gift to thank me. It was a laser figurine of the Malwiyah...the Great Mosque of Samarra. It is very nice and I appreciate the gesture. As luck would have it, today on the flight back to Baghdad we flew right over the Malwiyah at about 8000 feet. Several of the guys asked the Iraqi pilot if he knew what the tower was but he had no idea until I told him it was the Malwiyah of Samarra then he told us briefly about the tower. Essentially, Malwiyah means spiral and it was one of their caliphs attempts to get closer to God. It was very cool to see in person.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Manners & Mustaches (pics)

11 Jun 07
Off in Baghdad again. Got to fly up in the Iraqi Air Force’s newest aircraft--a modified Cessna Caravan. It’s a great little aircraft and has a large forward looking infrared and video pod the Iraqis will use for reconnaissance. It came down from the Kurdish north to pick up one of our colonels. Two of us needed to go to Baghdad so we asked him if we could get a ride. We took a longer route to get to Baghdad this time so the colonel could play with some of the gizmos. Very cool way to see the country.

I came back today on an Iraqi C-130. Our first stop was the U.S. base at Habbaniyah on the edge of Lake Habbaniyah outside Fallujah. Habbaniyah was the old British garrison established in Iraq after World War I to protect the provincial government. It was the largest of several bases in Iraq and was key to protecting the country.

Scifi returned from his R&R in the Caribbean some weeks ago and when he came back he had shaved the caterpillar that had inhabited his lip for the first half of his tour. The Iraqis are big on mustaches. At our training prior to deploying they advise us to grow a mustache if we can…that it projects “machismo” and respect to Arabs.

When he got back Scifi looked 15 yrs younger and several of us didn’t recognize him. Adnan commented that the American advisors always grow a mustache when they come to Iraq but shave it when they go home to visit their families. He said he thinks American women must not like mustaches. He went on to ask why they bother at all to grow a mustache…in short, why don’t we just “be ourselves” while we’re here?

Someone asked about manners and Arabs (i.e., it’s disrespectful to show them the bottoms of your feet, don’t use your left hand when eating, etc.) and I think peculiarities in and sensitivity to Arab manners/mannerisms is very much exaggerated. I’ve seen them sit in all sorts of positions and have seen them eat with their left hands.

In my travels all around the world and living in Japan, I believe good manners are universal. Say please, thank you, yes/no sir. Be respectful of your hosts...get to know them and try to understand their customs/courtesies. They will recognize that you are being respectful and they will overlook petty transgressions like where your foot is pointed.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

"Dead People Walking"

5 Jun 07
Our sqdn interpreter, Mustafa, didn’t come to work today. He called Adnan to say that his cousin had been killed and he was going to see the family. Adnan described the country as a lawless place where people kill one another and no questions are asked and no one is prosecuted. He said a friend of his family described Iraqis as dead people walking around…they all expect to die soon.

Adnan said the U.S. needs to leave Iraq and let the thugs have the place and eventually one of them will wrestle power and put all of the other parties into submission. I asked him, “would you leave with us and come to the U.S. if we left?”

He said, “I am Iraqi, where would I go?”

“You’ve been working with the Coalition. You will be a target.” I explained.

Resolved to this fate he said, “Yes and I must die.”

“Just like that? You are willing to stay here and die?” I asked.

“I have to die and so will many people who have been working with the Coalition. But we must die for Iraq to get better. We need someone strong to kill all of the other bad guys and to take over the country. Then we will have peace.” He said.

It was one of the more depressing discussions we’ve had.

Irish Whiskey

4 Jun 07
Whiskey invited us to another cook out Saturday night. I think claims of British cooking being bland and uninteresting are very exaggerated (though a curry dish is on the menu every night). Those guys cooked up some of the best burgers, chicken, and bratwursts I’ve ever had. But not just that, we eat very well each meal in the chow hall. We joke that they couldn't mess up chicken if they tried.

Anyway, it’s always interesting to listen to the accents at these gatherings to figure out where someone is from. We spoke with one girl whose accent was different from the others but I was thinking too confined to the main British homeland and guessed she was from Scotland but she said she was from “the north of Ireland” (when there are that many accents in one place it’s hard to single them out).

I asked, “The Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland?”

With a Cheshire grin she said, “I’m from Belfast in the north of Ireland.”

I had a quizzical look and was thinking through the geography of the island. She could see the confusion and added “I’ve just given you a lot of information there.”

Then it dawned on me what her point was. In 1921 the British partitioned Ireland into two parts and granted the Republic of Ireland sovereignty in the south. The Irish in Northern Ireland have never truly accepted British rule, however, because of the large Protestant/British population in Northern Ireland, the British refuse to give back the entire island. The British have only recently agreed to share power with the leading Irish party and former terrorist network Sinn Fein (“Sh-en Fain”) whose ultimate goal is a unified Irish nation.

I also thought Whiskey was Scottish but when I asked him he said “I’m from Northern Ireland…Belfast.” In light of the previous discussion I figured Whiskey had also given me a lot of information but in a far less intentional manner.

Sometime later in the evening the Irish girl asked me where I was from. I couldn’t resist, “I’m from the south of Carolina”…touché!

Whiskey told us about one of his “mates” that was killed in Afghanistan. It is a Royal Marine tradition to throw a party for their fallen comrades. The entire unit gets dressed in their service dress uniform for the party and they auction off all of his military items for exorbitant amounts. Whiskey bought the man’s service dress neck tie for £350 (about $700). All told, they raised £30,000 ($60,000) to give the man’s family in addition to the insurance and any other claims afforded to them.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Baghdad Pt III

31 May 07
Back from my third trip to Baghdad to take another test. One of the Dans and I went up Sunday. Dan is replacing Curtis who has been at our Baghdad operation for a month. Dan will spend a month there then back here. We were set up to fly in a RAF C-130 up there and reported to the terminal tent at 1815 (6:15 pm). When the acft landed they had maintenance problems and had to send for maintenance to fix the acft. The problem was all of their maintenance is down in Qatar so they had to fly the guy up to fix the acft. We didn’t take off out of Basrah until 0315 (3:15 a.m.).

On climb out after takeoff the pilots did a rapid ascent to quickly gain altitude. We pulled 1-2 G’s (gravitational force which pushes you into your seat and makes you feel heavy) getting up there followed immediately by him leveling the acft off in which we pulled 1-2 negative G’s (you become weightless and try to rise out of your seat).

As usual, I stayed on Sather AB with the guys deployed up there from Basrah. Sather is named after the first USAF airman killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Staff Sergeant Scott Sather was an Air Force combat controller (one of our special forces components) who had already completed successful tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan was killed in Iraq in Apr 2003.

I went to take the third test for this class we have to do as a major. The system for ordering the test is kind of screwy so when I accessed the system it let me request the wrong test…test 4. At the end of each test I’ve taken I’ve wondered where the material I was just tested on came from and this test was no different. I told the proctor that was not at all the material I was expecting and we accessed the system again to confirm it was the right test. After several minutes we figured out I had requested, taken, and passed test 4 as opposed to test 3. So I sat back down and took another test…bad thing is now I have NO motivation to study for tests 5 and 6.

After the tests I made a run over to the BX at Camp Liberty. We follow the perimeter road around the base past Abu Graib and several smaller camps. All of the camps including Liberty are flooded with troops for the ongoing troop surge. In addition to the troops there are motor pools everywhere filled to capacity with vehicles. Many of the vehicles have attachments for disarming IEDs, retrieving other disabled vehicles, plowing thru terrain, busting thru walls, etc. Most of the vehicles are armored but everything that wasn’t armored got armored added on. Some had designed armor while others had improvised plates to put on doors or fencing to cover windshields. So many vehicles had crude, add-on armor it reminded me of something out of The Road Warrior.

I flew back home with the IqAF again. They were coming down to do a troop rotation from Basrah to Baghdad. Col Abdul Hussein was also on the flight. He had been in Baghdad flying with our operation there. He was returning to Basrah with the monthly salaries for the guys in Basrah. He had a trash bag full of Iraqi dinars…it looked like something from a Hollywood drug operation.

Abdul Hussein has a very unique style. He wears a white scarf with his uniform and wears his flight suit pants legs tucked into his boot. He looks like a Kamikaze pilot. I asked him about his appearance and he explained that he admired the courage of Japanese pilots of World War II and had fashioned his look after them.

Ali met me at the acft when we landed. He had finally been paid and was like a kid bouncing around the flightline. I’m sure that was an immense relief to him after no pay for several months. And not only did he get paid but he got a ride back to Baghdad on the IqAF C-130 that night so didn’t have to make the 12 hour overland drive to Baghdad and navigate the 40 some checkpoints along the road.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Private Ray

29 May 07
20 years ago today my dad drove me over to the Military Entry Processing Station at Ft Jackson, SC and spent the day with me as I enlisted in the U.S. Army. I was excited but scared...seems like a million years ago now!

You might know that I'm a proud Sandlapper. It really bothered me that I had been to Baghdad twice before but didn't have my camera to get my picture taken in front of the SC flag. I wasn't going to miss it a third time!

Nor was I going to leave without adding my John Hancock to the list of South Carolinians that had already served in Baghdad!

Rules Change

27 May 07
Happy Anniversary, honey! I’m off to Baghdad today.

The militia has been caught off guard by lots of changes in the Coalition/British rules of engagement and increased capabilities. As I mentioned earlier, after Abu Khadir was killed the insurgents attempted to retaliate against numerous MNF targets. We found out later that 26 British soldiers had been surrounded and in jeopardy of being overrun by over 100 militants when the F-16 I mentioned strafed their attackers and saved the trapped soldiers. Additionally, the Basrahwis are accustomed to seeing remote controlled/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in the skies over Basrah. However, the aircraft they are accustomed to seeing don't fire missiles so they’ve never seen a UAV fire missiles before. I’m sure the militia must have been shocked/horrified when an MQ-1 Predator UAV fired several Hellfire missiles into their vehicle.

What makes the Predator kills even more incredible is that the crews controlling the aircraft are connected via satellite from their control center back in Las Vegas. These guys from Basrah have no idea that some guy in Las Vegas, NV, just reached out and touched them before he went home for dinner with the family!

Missing Iraqi Soldier Part 2

26 May 07
Abdul Raheem returned from Baghdad today. He was with our deployed operation up there. I asked him about Jasim, the missing Iraqi Army soldier and son of his neighbor. He said the young man’s family went to Baghdad’s Medical City based on the info I gave them but was unable to find him. They believe he is dead. I called all around the Coalition hospital system and found no information about him. I also believe he is dead.

It’s been a bad few weeks for the guys in our squadron. While he was on his time off after the deployment Abdul Raheem’s cousin was killed so he had to go back to Baghdad.

One of the pilots, Saad, recently lost three of his brothers—two in a car bomb and the third was shot and killed. Saad inherited responsibility for their families. He moved them from Baghdad to Basrah so he could care for them and recently took all the kids tubing on the Shatt Al Arab. Not many people go outside for recreation but Saad said the kids needed to get their minds off of their fathers.

Faras is a maintainer in the squadron. His father was recently abducted in Baghdad. He has been on leave for over a month now searching the city trying to find him. Sami gave him time off but is now concerned that he has been gone so long. He reported his absence to MoD.

Exceptionally interesting 24 hrs for us with Abu Khadir, the local head of the Mahdi Army, being eliminated. They retaliated against the base and paid a heavy toll. Everyone on our team was proud of the USAF guys working so hard to protect us and were relieved to hear there were so many teams eliminated.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Adnan's Bull

23 May 07
Adnan is from Basrah but was stationed in Baghdad in the years before he married his wife. After the marriage was arranged his parents were obliged to throw a party. They called him in Baghdad and told him to bring a bull home to slaughter for the party. He went to a local farm and bought a bull. He intended to transport the bull in the back of his Toyota pick up truck so loaded the bull in the truck and tied it to the roll bar behind the cab. The bull went in easily enough but throughout the ride the bull bucked around in the back of the truck. About halfway to Basrah the truck tipped up on two wheels. Adnan looked in the mirror and saw that the bull had jumped out of the truck but had not immediately come loose. He dragged the bull for some 40 yards before it broke free.

The bull had been hurt in the accident but not seriously. However, the bull ran like a mad cow deep into the field beside the highway with Adnan in pursuit.

A crowd gathered to watch as Adnan spent the next 5 hours chasing the bull around the fields. Try as he may to catch the bull it never let him get within 35 yards. Finally, he decided he needed to wound the animal to slow it down. He shot the animal in the leg with his pistol but it didn’t slow the bull. He chased the animal for another hour and shot it 3 more times in the same leg without any affect. He saved the last bullet to shoot the animal in the head intending to kill it and butcher it on the spot.

Just as he was about to shoot the animal in the head a small boy, maybe 8 yrs old, walked out in the field and said he would catch the bull for 5 dinars (about 5 cents nowadays but big money in those days). Adnan shooed the boy away but another adult said the boy could do it. Adnan agreed and the boy walked away. A few minutes later the boy returned to the field herding several cows, sheep, goats, and other barnyard animals. He walked out to the bull, let the animals circle around the bull and then herded all the animals plus the bull back to the barnyard without ever laying a hand on the bull. Adnan paid the boy 25 dinars and set off to get married.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Whiskey, Blair and Electricity

21 May 07
We had a great evening Saturday night. Mike met some guys from the next camp over who invited us over for a cookout. Whiskey is a very likeable Royal Marine. He was wearing a USMC t-shirt and refered to his American cousins all night. He’s stationed with a UK Army engineer company next door at the Turner Camp. They have quite the oasis over there. We had a great time and had a great time watching the British Football Association finals. Manchester United lost to Chelsea in overtime. It was a great escape…like being at a cookout back home.

I was visiting some U.S. guys up at division Saturday and one of them had received a care package from an anonymous patriot in Monterey, CA. The pkg included some 25 really nice Churchill cigars from the Dominican Republic. He offered some to me so I grabbed a couple and gave one to Mike and one to Whiskey. The Brits do everything in moderation (except maybe drink) so everyone that saw the cigars were astounded by how “massive” it was. Both guys loved the cigars. I think they lasted some 2.5 hrs.

Coincidently, PM Tony Blair was on base Saturday and at division the same time I was there nabbing cigars. I didn’t get to see him and left before him but we did see his entourage all over base.

Mick was one of Whiskey’s “mates.” He’s Scottish and they are notoriously difficult to understand. At one point I complimented him on how easy to understand he was. He said, he was speaking incredibly slowly so all of us could understand him. He said he’s used to doing that for all the third country nationals (TCNs) that work in the Turner Camp. Funny that he equated English speaking Americans with TCNs from Pakistan, India and Bosnia but he knew we also struggled to understand the Scottish.

I met two really nice TCNs at the cookout, Jimmy and Alex. Jimmy was an alias for the guy’s real name which was some huge Pakistani name. He told me his name several times but it was impossible…good to know you Jimmy. Alex was from Bosnia. I didn’t get to speak long with Alex but I’m anxious to hear his story.

The British have been in Bosnia and Kosovo since the end of that war in 1999. As a matter of fact, lots of their vehicles here have “KFOR” written on the side which stood for “Kosovo Force.” Naturally, they had contractors helping to maintain their bases and the contractors hired local civilians. Alex was hired on by Turner. The British have slowly been leaving Kosovo for Aghanistan and here and subsequently many of the Bosnians they hired have been coming with them. Sting said Bosnian-Serbs have been flooding the U.S. truck industry. The same is happening here.

At one point Alex complimented me on my English and how easy I was to understand. I told him I was speaking incredibly slowly so the Scottish guys could understand me. ;)

We recently received two IqAF doctors in the squadron, Dr. Adel and Dr. Salman. Both are decent guys but before coming into the IqAF they hadn’t been practicing medicine for some time. Salman was working in the port at Umm Qasr (“Um kaSAR”) as a welder. About a week ago I coordinated with the head RAF clinic, Dr. Leskevitch, to do an exchange visit. Dr. L spent several hours with the guys. They took a lot of great ideas back to the IqAF camp but having lived in their camp, knowing what they have for facilities, and knowing how badly Brigadier Jaffar will treat the troops (since he lives here in Basrah and goes home each night he won’t spend a dime on protecting them), I know they are fighting an uphill battle to receive any equipment or medicines.

The power has been out in Basrah for 3 days now. Temps have reached as high as 110º during the days. At prayers today they briefed that the temps in the British armored vehicles are as high as 140º. Adnan said when it is this hot and they have no electricity, the Iraqis move their beds outside onto their rooftops and all Iraqis will sleep under the stars. There have been several large battles downtown lately so venturing outside is quite dangerous, even to find a cool wind in which to sleep. School has been canceled for several days as a result of all the violence in town. Everyone from Basrah looks very tired from a combination of the heat and violence.

Yesterday, the British had a large operation downtown. We took some 15 Multinational Force (MNF) casualties though most of them were very light. MNF leaders reported dozens of contacts but no known outcome to the contact.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Harry, Czechs & Quiz Night

16 May 07
Just saw the news that the British Army Chief of Staff has decided not to allow Prince Harry to deploy to Basrah. As expected, it would be too dangerous for him here.

18 May 07
So we figured out why the Czechs talked so much trash about soccer…that’s because they’re very good. They beat us 4-1. The Iraqis got really frustrated and it showed on the field. They had several penalties that resulted in penalty kicks against them and I saw them throw a couple of elbows. I was disappointed for them but also disappointed how they let their frustration manifest itself. At the end of the game they didn’t come over to shake hands (to be fair, the Czechs didn’t go to them either, though). I’ll have to talk to them about that.

Bad dust storm yesterday that lasted into the night. Despite that, temp still hit 100º.

On Fridays, the British have Quiz Night in the pub (no, no alcohol is served). Next week our team is hosting the event. They have kidded us about not screwing it up with a bunch of questions only we would know and they bashed us a lot about a U.S. History category… “Oh, that should only last for a minute,” etc. I fired back that they don’t have to know much about U.S. History but they better danged-well know what country surrendered at the Battle of Yorktown!

Nonetheless, we decided to pick on a much easier and mutually disliked target…the French! Yeah, we know…it’s kind of like picking on a retarded kid just shouldn't do it. And we felt bad for a second then we started having some fun with it. We’ll have a whole category on French bashing. I.e., What famous Simpson said, “So are we just going to stand here like the French or are we going to do something about it?”…Marge Simpson. We’ve also included the defeat at Waterloo to the British and that bit of strategic genius known as the Maginot Line. But we’re still looking for any fun/trivia facts any of you might have to bash on the French. Appreciate your help. Send e-mails to

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Danes & Soccer

15 May 07
The Danish got into quite a fight yesterday in downtown Basrah. It wasn’t clear in the briefing how the fight began other than three of their platoons were operating in northern Basrah when they were contacted by the insurgents.

Early in the fight they had one member critically wounded and called for medical evacuation. When the aircraft arrived on the scene they were expecting one critically wounded casualty but were loaded with four lesser casualties. They evac’ed them back to our base where the RAF medical team caught them at the helicopter landing station (HLS).

In what must have been a heartbreaking scene, the critically wounded soldier the helicopter was originally sent for was trapped in a building at the center of the heaviest fighting. His comrades were unable to evacuate him to the helicopter because the fighting had simply gotten to intense. The Danish warrior passed away in a stranger’s home in southern Iraq.

In all there were some seven casualties but because the helicopters were able to respond so quickly they were able to save all but one. Four RAF Regiment troops were with the Danes during the fight and their commander briefed at prayers this a.m. that his men found a new respect for the Danish and their fighting abilities.

Our bldg is just two doors down from the HLS. When the ambulance took off out of the HLS he hit the siren and we all dove to the floor and started wrestling on our gear. A second later Adnan told us it was an ambulance and not the attack alarm.

Today was a fun day with the Iraqis. I signed them up to play soccer in the multinational force intramural league. They played their first game today. They were late (they were on "ensha Allah time") so had no time to warm up. They took the field and the game began almost immediately. The British team scored two goals within the first two minutes of the game.

The Iraqis LOVE western women. There were two girls on the British team and it distracted the Iraqis. At one point one of the girls took Khalid down. He later said to me, “I was very happy for this accident”…too funny.

Our guys looked hapless and it seemed like the game would be a rout but after the second goal our guys collected themselves, found their footing and pressed the attack. Nader scored two goals followed by Hyder who scored the third goal.

In the final two minutes the British pressed hard but came up short. The Iraqis won the game 3-2. All of the USAF guys were there to cheer them on. We genuinely wanted to see them win. It was good for them. Next up: the Czechs. I met them today…surprisingly they talked a lot of trash.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sir Jock

14 May 07
We had quite the dog and pony show today. As the Chief of Defence Staff (they spell defense with a “c”), Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup is the top military man in the UK; a post equivalent to our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He came to Basrah to visit the British troops and asked specifically to come see 70 Sqdn. I suspect part of the visit was to assess whether Prince Harry will come to Basrah. Prince Andrew was here two months ago. I suspect he was doing the same.

With Scifi just getting back from his R&R at 0430 this a.m., I was the daddy-rabbit for the visit. Col Sami gave him a capabilities brief then we went out to the hangar to see the aircraft. Of course we showed him the damage to our ramp, aircraft and hangar from recent rocket attacks. The British have been great in helping/performing whatever repairs are beyond 70 sqdn’s capability.

Sir Stirrup was on loan to the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force in the early 70’s conducting a mission very similar to the one we are performing now in Basrah. He flew Strikemaster aircraft for their air force during their Dhofar War.

I’ve never met a knight before and I have to say he was a really nice, down to earth guy. For the briefing we put a welcome slide up that said simply “Welcome Air Chief Marshal Sir Stirrup.” The new 903rd Expeditionary Air Wing Commander, Group Captain Burt, recommended we put his full name and all of his “post nominals.” (I’d never heard of “post nominals” or such a long name/title.) Anyway his full title is :

“Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup GCB AFC DSc FRAeS FCMI RAF”

GCB = The Most Honourable Order of the Bath
AFC = Air Force Cross
DSc = Doctor of Science
FRAeS = Royal Aeronautical Society
FCMI = something to do with India
RAF = Royal Air Force

After the brief Col Sami invited Sir Jock to go flying with him. The Brits in the room held their breath for a second until Sir Jock politely declined saying he was too pressed for time. One of them later said that was polite to ask but would we really go flying with Iraqis? I told them I already had.

Much like the Brits call their operations in Iraq “Operation Telic” they didn’t call GW1 Operation Desert Shield/Storm. They called it “Operation Granby.” And Sir Jock commanded a an RAF wing then.

I was shocked to learn recently that British officers aren’t required to have a college degree to become an officer. Grp Capt Burt and I were discussing that today and he commented that, in fact, he was 17 when he received his officer commission and by 18 was commanding a platoon in Northern Ireland. He reckoned that some 40 percent of officers don’t have a degree—a good many of them are pilots. One of the only positions in the RAF that requires a degree is aircraft maintenance officer. They must have an engineering degree.

Grp Capt Burt later obtained both a master’s and a bachelor’s degree…in that order. He was sent to a military academy masters program where he earned a masters. A year later he finished his bachelor’s degree.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Baghdad Pt II (pics)

9 May 07
I just got back from another interesting trip to Baghdad. I went up Sunday to take another test and got back Tuesday evening. I know it isn’t like this for all our forces in Baghdad but visiting the US bases at Baghdad is a nice break from the day to day happenings at Basrah. It’s just nice to move around without your body armor.

I flew up to Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) Sunday evening via an RAF C-130. Coincidentally Ali and Saad, another pilot from the squadron, were going home on vacation so I escorted them on the flight (all Iraqis require an escort to fly on RAF aircraft). It worked out nicely that I needed to go up when I did so I could get them on the flight. I was glad to do it and it saved them a 12 hour taxi ride to Baghdad during which they would have to navigate some 40+ checkpoints.

Ali wasn’t his typical self and I found out later that salaries had arrived in the squadron that day and he had not received a pay check again for the third straight month. Ali has five kids and has been living on his savings for almost a year. He didn’t know how he would explain to his wife that he hadn’t been paid again.

We landed around 1600 and Chet met us at the aircraft. We dropped Ali and Saad off at the Iraqi camp. Dhiaa was also up there flying missions with Chet so I saw him and shot the bull with him for a bit before heading off to Sather AB.

Monday I spent the day studying for my test then took the test in the late afternoon. That night I was pretty pumped from putting another test behind me. Because I’d been studying all day and hadn’t been used up much energy I had a hard time getting to sleep. Additionally, I had to get up at 0500 to catch an early morning flight back to Basrah so I slept very poorly when I finally did get to sleep.

As I mentioned after my last trip, they can move up there without body armor because 1) the BIAP complex with all its bases is massive and 2) they have the Phalanx Close-In-Weapon-System (CIWS). The Phalanx system is the radar controlled minigun that fires some 4,000 rounds per minute at inbound rockets or mortars to destroy them. The rounds are barometrically and time fused so they explode at a certain altitude or at a certain distance to ensure they don’t fall on the civilian population.

The helicopters and fixed wing aircraft were as busy as ever at BIAP. While I was more prepared for the sounds around the base I was still caught off guard my last night there when at 0300 they test fired the Phalanx system. There was a long, loud “brrrrrrrrrrpppp!” followed a few seconds later by a crackling noise as the rounds exploded. They fired the gun three times after which I had a heck of a time getting back to sleep.

To get back to Basrah I was offered a ride by our IqAF sister squadron at BIAP who was flying down to Basrah in one of their C-130s. The U.S. advisors assigned to their squadron were flying with them and the crew was certified by the USAF C-130 School at Little Rock AFB, AR, so I was confident it was a safe ride.

When we showed up in the morning I asked the USAF colonel flying with them if I could sit on the flight deck for the flight out of BIAP and he agreed…I just wanted to see more of the country. It was too cool and the country looked completely different from the air.

Flying over BIAP you could see all of the bunkers and hardened aircraft shelters with large holes blown in their roofs from Coalition aircraft during the two wars. I was surprised by all of the date palm forests and farms on the edge of Baghdad.

Out of BIAP we headed north and followed the Dijila/Tigris River for much of the flight. The first stop on the flight was to be Erbil ("Ur-beel"), Kurdistan in northern Iraq where we were delivering two wounded Iraqi soldiers to be cared for by their families in Kurdistan. Both were recovering from gun shot wounds. During the flight they were being cared for by a medical team of U.S. and Iraqi officers.

In addition to the wounded passengers, we had some 30 passengers from the Iraqi Air Force soccer team. Given the long hair we knew immediately the guys weren’t military. I asked one of crew who explained the Iraqi Air Force sponsors a professional soccer team. I equated it to our U.S. Air Force which sponsors a NASCAR team for recruiting purposes.

I suspect most of the players had never flown before and the guys sitting in the cargo compartment with them said most of them looked sick and several of them threw up repeatedly.

In Erbil we unloaded the patients then walked around the flightline to stretch our legs. It was the first time I’d been off of a military base in my time in Iraq and it wasn’t at all unsettling like I’m sure our troops experience in the southern half of the country.

Nearly all of the soccer team walked by and thanked us in English for the ride followed by the thumbs up. One of the older guys traveling with the team walked over to talk. He explained he was one of the coaches on the team. He wanted to thank me for the ride (like I had something to do with the it?). We talked for a few minutes during which he explained they were headed to a training camp at Erbil to get ready for an upcoming tournament. I asked him if they could train in Baghdad...not so much.

The countryside around Erbil is beautiful with fields of tall green/brown grass and yellow flowers. The mountains stood out in the distance. It reminded me of the plains in Colorado just on the edge of the Rocky Mountains or the Sacramento Valley in northern California. I told the coach they had come to a beautiful place to train. He thanked me and said he was from Mosul in Kurdistan but lives in Baghdad now. He quickly added that he was a Christian. I was surprised 1) that he was compelled to add that he was a Christian and 2) that he was a Christian. He’s the first Christian I’ve met in an Arab country. He said there were many Shiias, Sunnis and Christians on the team and religion didn’t matter amongst them as peaceful Iraqis.

The head of Al Qaeda in Iraq was recently killed. After his death we got a brief regarding possible successors. The briefer said each leader of Al Qaeda/Iraq brought their own signature form of violence to the country. Al-Zarqawi introduced sectarian violence where Sunnis from outside Iraq baited and attacked Shiias. His successor introduced chlorine bombs. Al Qaeda/Iraq’s new leader will no doubt bring his own signature death card. The coach’s comment that religion didn’t matter to peaceful Iraqis echoed repeated discussions I’ve already recounted and reinforced my belief that Iraqis could easily find peace with one another if not for all the outside influences of insurgents and state actors on militia.

We walked the ramp at Erbil International Airport for some 45 minutes just enjoying the scenery and talking with whoever came by to greet us. The U.S. colonel with us pointed out all the flags flying around the airport and the fact that all were the flag of Kurdistan and that there were no Iraqi national flags. He also pointed out the amount of development and growth going on in Erbil which again reminded me of Colorado. Moreover, the Kurds are a mountain people with a fierce spirit of independence.

At the end of GW1, Kurdistan rose up against Saddam and was put down much as Basrah was put down. There was bitter fighting and in the years following the war the U.S. and U.K. provided considerable assistance to the Kurds even helping them to develop their own police force and army, the Pesh Merga. By the second Gulf War, the Kurds enjoyed a high degree of autonomy so much so that Saddam was unwilling to commit the large number of troops required to beat them back into complete submission. The result for Kurdistan as I see it is that they had a 12 year head start on the rest of Iraq to rebuild and remake themselves. Their makeover efforts were evident from the air and ground.

Taking off out of Erbil I sat in the cargo compartment. Shortly after take off the aircraft jerked left then right followed by several loud pops and I could see lights against the inside wall of the aircraft. I looked at another American traveling with me who had been looking out the window and gave him a “what was that?” look. He said the aircraft was dispensing defensive flares. Before my first visit to Baghdad I had never seen an aircraft pop flares in a real world situation. Now I was in an aircraft popping flares in a real world situation! A few minutes later I asked the USAF loadmaster/trainer onboard what had happened and he explained that they think the defensive system detected flashes from a welding machine back at the airport. The crew flies into the airport all the time and the event was an odd contradiction to the time we spent on the ground in Erbil so I’m inclined to think they were right.

I finally got some sleep during the rest of the trip to Basrah and woke up some hour and a half later as we should have been landing. I went to the flight deck again and they let me sit up front through the landing.

Just after landing we rushed over to the chow hall to eat dinner. During dinner Susan called and I told her I’d call her back. I called her back a little while later and while we were talking the “incoming” alarm sounded…welcome back to Basrah! She put on a brave face but I knew she was relieved when I called back.

Col Sami came in the office today and explained that several weeks ago a member of the IqAF stationed at BIAP had stolen some 20+ weapons from Coalition forces in BIAP. Coincidentally, the guy was from Basrah and returned here to try to sell the weapons. He and his brother were picked up today by the Iraqi Army’s 10th Division in downtown Basrah. However, since the guy was IqAF the IqArmy saw it as an IqAF problem so called Col Sami to tell him that they would deliver the prisoners to him to detain until they could get them up to Baghdad for trial.

Col Sami asked me if I could coordinate having them placed in one of the British jails on base until a flight could come from BIAP to get them. However, the British explained that the legalities are such that if the British arrest them, they must incarcerate them; if the U.S. arrests an individual me must incarcerate them and likewise for the Iraqis. With that the Iraqis set about making a makeshift jail in their compound using zip ties as hand and leg cuffs, boards over all the windows and doors and a deadbolt on the outside of the door. Without someone standing constant armed guard it still will not be enough for a determined detainee. Nader was made officer of the guard.

A few days ago I told you about the insurgents rocketing the base until an F-16 showed up to eliminate the team. Today I got to see the video of the attack taken from a small patrol plane nearby. You could see a rocket fire from the back of the truck and as they were getting ready to fire again the bomb exploded. It was awesome!

The temperature rose to 108º today…I got back to my hooch and there was no power in the RAF camp and there hadn’t been for several hours. Ugh!