Saturday, April 28, 2007


28 Apr 07
The RAF Force Protection (FP) guys came to see us today about reinforcing our hangar and office buildings with sand/concrete walls. Flight Lieutenant (pronounced “Lef-tenant”) Dave is the officer in charge of the operation so came to survey the area. After the survey we had a long talk about the COB and security within it.

Dave works in the FP Cell which is in a concrete bunker but with only a tin roof. The cell tracks incoming rockets. When a rocket is fired, the computerized radar tracking system triangulates launch points and projected impact points. The senior controller within the cell calls out, “Rocket!” Simultaneously another controller sounds the “incoming” alarm. The senior controller then calls out “Launch point: …” followed by an 8 digit map coordinate. The next phrase called out is the projected impact point; “Impact point: …” followed by another 8 digit map coordinate. The final piece of info called out is the actual location of the projected impact “Impact location: …” Meanwhile plotters gathered around a map work frantically to plot the launch location and impact location. An attack scenario would go something like this (with fictitious map coordinates): “Rocket! Launch point: 80463521. Impact point: 88657290. Impact location: Allenby Lines.” All of this happens within 10 seconds.

A few weeks ago we had a rocket launch and the controller called out (again, fictitious coordinates) “Rocket! Launch point: 80892398. Impact point: 88345343. Impact location: … [pause to recheck coordinates/location] … Impact location: my location!”

Dave said for the first time everyone in the cell looked at one another, hit the dirt, and then pulled their body armor over top of them. A 240 Katusha rocket (75 lbs warhead) landed right outside of their building. All of the ceiling tiles and lights fell out of the ceiling. Dave said there was an enormous crack! that rung in their ears for over an hour.

The work centers that surround the outside of the bunker were crowded during shift turnover so there were twice as many people about. Despite that, everyone responded appropriately (do your damnedest to melt into the earth beneath you as quickly as you can) and they suffered only two very light injuries.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Interpreter

27 Apr 07
I had a bizarre visit in the middle of the night last night. Mustafa is our squadron interpreter. The contract agent for interpreters is Nathan at the Army's Camp Bucca. Nathan said he would be down last night to give me Mustafa’s contract renewal form and to give me Mustafa’s back wages. He was coming on a convoy which seemed to me to be an exceptionally dangerous way to conduct administrative duties. I expected him around dinner time. At 2200 I went to bed thinking he must have been delayed until morning. At 0130 I heard a beat at the door. The adrenaline spiked and I jumped out of bed. It was Nathan there to do 15 min of business before jumping on the convoy headed back to Bucca. I can do without late night visitors.

Mustafa has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural and mechanical studies and is working on a masters in the same. To get accepted into the masters program he had to obtain an English certificate which is how he came to be our interpreter.

Most Iraqi marriages are arranged and the newly weds live in the groom’s parent’s home. Mustafa defies many of Iraqi societal rules in that he found his own wife and does not live with her in his parent’s home. He lives in an apartment next to his brother and his wife. I asked if the wives got along okay. He said, “Of course. They are sisters.” He explained that his brother was dating a girl and Mustafa met the girl’s sister, liked her, and the rest is interpreter history.

Mustafa has seemed sullen lately. The other day we were in the car headed to talk to a contractor. I asked him how he’s doing. He said several of his friends work for the same company he does and two of them have recently been abducted. One of them was killed. Mustafa said he believes it is only a matter of time before he is taken. We have made friends with many of these guys and it’s comparatively safe on the COB which makes it so bizarre to hear what’s happening to them when they leave the gates of the base.

Iraqi Friends

26 Apr 07
It seems to me the Iraqis form friendships on a much deeper level than the average westerner. They are always very mindful of others’ feelings and always very polite. The average Iraqi isn’t like the guys you read about in the newspaper so ready to kill westerners, Americans, or Christians. Much as we misunderstand Iraqis, the Iraqis and even the Brits misunderstand that we Americans like to use our war machine because we’re so good at it. I think the IqAF guys are figuring out that

Abdul Aziz came by my office to visit today. He said he missed me living in the IqAF camp since we don’t really go over to eat or visit with them anymore. I miss hanging out with them off duty (but I don’t miss pulling guard duty, etc.). He said he wanted a picture of us together because he wanted to show his family and friends his American friend. I appreciated the sentiment.

Abdul Aziz and Khalid are good friends both on and off duty in Basrah as well as in their hometown of Samawah. Habeeb is a very twitchy guy and both Abdul Aziz and Khalid imitate him a lot…they have it down to a T and it is hysterical but they wouldn’t let Habeeb see it or know. That said, Abdul Aziz says he respects Habeeb very much, looks up to him and wants to be like him. To them, friendships are not superficial as they can be in the west.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Rockets & British Gamecocks (pics)

22 Apr 07
Still no word on Abduhl Raheem’s neighbor though one hospital said if he died before actually being admitted in the hospital (i.e. triage) he wouldn’t have been logged in to the hospital database.

We get rocketed routinely and with the British recently handing over two other bases in the province, the insurgents have stepped up their attacks on our base. The other night I set a personal record with 5 separate attacks for a total of 14 rockets in one day. While I was in Baghdad the guys had 7 separate attacks in 24 hrs which set a camp record (previous camp record was 4 in 24 hrs). Additionally, last week before I left we caught two monster salvos of rockets within 2.5 hrs. The first salvo had 17 rockets, the second had seven and the third had one.

On my return trip from Baghdad to Basrah our plane couldn’t land because the base had been rocketed. Two rockets landed in the ammo dump but failed to explode.

When we finally landed at Basrah I went to the Iraqi restaurant to see who was in town. The Iraqis have a general here visiting and they were throwing a big feast for him but they invited me in anyway. I had a bowl of something like a garbonzo bean soup though the Iraqis assured me it was not a bean. Anyway, it was good to see all of them. Some I hadn’t seen in more than a month like Nader and Habeeb.

Pooh called in the middle of our visit so I went outside to talk with her. Just a few seconds into our conversation I heard an explosion in the distance followed a second later by a really loud explosion very close. I hit the dirt, told Pooh I’d call her back, and hung up. After a few seconds I jumped up to run to the bunker but stopped after a few steps because I couldn’t see in front of me and knew there was a wall close by. I put my hand out and hit the concrete wall just 12 inches in front of me. I would have knocked myself out!

There were two salvos back to back. The first was 5 rockets and another 5 in the second salvo. One landed in the Danish camp behind us and the other landed in Trafalgar where Mike used to live…that’s the second time in a few weeks that Trafalgar has caught rockets. Twelve rockets throughout the day. Four injuries but the only serious injury was an Iraqi at Trafalgar that failed to respond to the first round or to take cover. I called Pooh as soon as I could…I knew she would be worried sick and she was.

The insurgents fire Katusha rockets like the ones fired by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israel not long ago. There are three main types of Katushas: the 107 is the most prevalent and has a 15 lbs warhead; he 122 is the next step up and has a larger warhead but I’m not certain of the size; the largest rocket is the 240 which packs a 75 lbs warhead. It leaves a healthy crater in its wake and is noticeably louder than the smaller rockets. As frightening as the 240 is, it pails in comparison to the 500, 1000, or 2000 lbs bombs we use.

Our new commanding general came to visit us Friday. I greeted him at the acft and gave them the brief on how to respond if we are attacked. He was here for 5 hours and we showed him all around the base. Not that I wanted anything bad to happen but we all wanted him to experience an attack so he knew what we go through. As luck would have it, Friday was the first day in some 3 weeks without a single attack. Two days earlier the British had their 4-star general visiting and a 240 hit some 30 yards from the building he was in. The officers in the room with him said he was visibly shaken and pale. The event put an exclamation point on the briefs the British staff had been giving on events in Basrah. The best we could do was take our general down and get a picture of him in the crater from that rocket.

The visit was a real eye-opener for the general despite no rockets. I’m not complaining about the British base because they are treating us no better or worse than they treat their own but the American bases are much, much nicer and the general knew it. The British are here to perform a mission and there isn’t much time/room for pleasantries. They travel light and without the frills you find on American bases. There are five on our team still down here now but hundreds (more than a 1000?) under the general’s command. No others under his command have it as rough as us and he said so. That said, the base is no FOB and I know we have it better here than any of the infantry/riflemen assigned to a FOB…my point is simply that there’s a huge disparity within the general’s command.

That said, we finished moving into the British camp where it’s much safer. We live in very small hooches with no indoor plumbing but they are fortified. The entire RAF component at Basrah lives in the camp. The camp is subdivided into compounds named after RAF bases. As I mentioned ours is officially named Odiham. There are 6 hooches in the compound each with two occupants. Fortunately my roommate is in Baghdad for several months or it would be considerably more cramped. Each hooch is 7’x14’. The compound is surrounded by a 7 ft high, 3 ft wide Hesco sand wall right outside our doors. Between each hooch they’ve placed a 4 ft high, ¼ inch steel plate The roof is made of Kevlar. Additionally, there is a sunshade some 30 feet above the camp. The purpose of the sunshade is to a) provide shade of course, and b) to detonate any rockets before they land in the hooch and explode into the hooch.

Between the Kevlar roof, steel plates, Hesco walls, and individual body armor, you should be reasonably protected in an attack though there have been mild injuries in some of the camps. A rocket hit a compound at Allenby, exploded in the sunshade and sprayed shrapnel into the hooches below. Call it luck or divine intervention, but the occupants of all the hooches were on night shift so no one was home.

Yesterday at approximately 1700 we were all sitting around in front of our new hooches in the British camp. One of our team members, Dan, and I heard a rocket streak by overhead. We started to dive into our hooches and another Curtis said, “That was a fighter passing overhead.” We settled back down only to hear the attack alarm a second later.

Last night at about 0130 we had a 240 hit by the flightline followed by the attack alarm several seconds later (really?). It was the loudest explosion all of us have heard. Ten minutes later another rocket hit somewhere else on base but it was a smaller rocket.

I liked living with the Iraqis a lot and not just because I had my own room with a bathroom and shower but because I like the guys. But for the majority of the time we were in the Iraqi camp, there was no protection other than cinder blocks stacked five feet high on the the front and sides of the trailers to protect us. Additionally, they seldom had guards on duty and never had armed guards. When a guard mount was required, the Americans in the camp had to conduct it.

They don’t have the rocket/mortar problems at Baghdad bases because they’ve installed the Phalanx Defense System. It’s a U.S. Navy designed system used on their ships but they determined they would be as useful on fixed bases. The system uses a radar controlled minigun to intercept incoming rockets/missiles/mortars. Attacks at bases with an operational Phalanx system tapered off to nothing. We will receive Phalanx here very soon.

The British recently had a big draw down (not including PM Blair’s planned 1,100-person troop reduction). They achieved the reduction by extending the duty day for the majority of their forces. They now work 16 hour days. The camp is largely empty during the day with only a few camp management personnel left in the camp. The Brits work every day up to and including the day they leave. At least four times I’ve been talking to a Brit at work. When I asked when they were leaving they replied “tonight on the Charlie-130 back to the U.K.”

The Brits had a social last night in honor of their patron saint, St Georges. It’s apparently a big deal. I chatted most of the evening with the wing executive officer, Sqdn Leader Keith Perry. I introduced him to a couple of our guys and talked about where our guys were from. Curtis is from CA and Keith said he did a year of college at USC then said “the other USC.”

I said, “Carolina?”

He asked, “yes, have you been there?”

“Once or twice.” Then I explained that I was from the Gamecock City.

He went to Carolina on an exchange program from his school in England and spent a year in 1987-88 attending USC’s International Economics program. He said people always assume Southern Cal when he tells them USC. I said, “there’s a USC in California?”

Keith said he became an avid football fan while at USC. He loved Carolina tailgating and in his limited experience he believed Gamecock fans must be some of the best tailgaters in the country (not to mention a stark contradiction to British soccer hooligans). I thought it was too ironic that Keith was an ardent Royalist but considers himself a Gamecock given the Revolutionary War origin of the name “Gamecock.” Anyway, who would think you’d meet a British Gamecock in Iraq?

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Camel

20 Apr 07
Hit the 60 day point today…only 119 days to go.

Allah has 100 names and he told 99 of them to his messenger, Mohammed. Mohammed in turn gave 99 of the names to his followers. Many Muslims name their children one of the 99 names. Allah told Mohammed he gave he whispered the 100th name into a camel’s ear for it to safeguard and explains why the camel is so contemptuous of and crass toward his human “masters.”

Missing Wounded Iraqi Soldier

18 Apr 07
Lots of rockets throughout the day. Finally at about 1600 the Brits returned fire. Seems to have quieted them down a bit.

Rockets again at 1930. Man, it was close! Sounded like a 240 just on the other side of the camp. I set a personal record with 5 separate attacks. Though only 14 rockets.

The day I returned form Baghdad I met SciFi in the terminal to do turnover. He was heading home on his R&R. He is stationed in TX but is meeting his wife in FL to go sailing in the Caribbean. He’ll be gone approximately one month.

I have been working an odd request the last few days which SciFi turned over to me. You may remember Abdul Raheem who is the Chief Warrant Officer in the squadron. (His brother was recently killed by insurgents. He had been the sole provider for his family as well as his son’s wife and children after the son was killed by insurgents.) His neighbor’s 21 year old son is serving in the Iraqi Army. The young man was wounded on/about 1 Apr in Fallujah. He had facial and head wounds and was evacuated to a Coalition hospital. Since then none of his friends in his unit or his family have heard from him and they’re not certain what hospital he was moved to. The family is wrecked with worry and is desperate to learn his status. Abdul Raheem asked us to contact Coalition headquarters to see if we can locate the young man and obtain status. I have personally contacted two Coalition hospitals with no luck.

It seems incredible to me that he could be serving in the national army and be missing within their medical system for weeks. One problem with locating the young man is the spelling of his name. For every Arabic name there are dozens of phonetic spellings and Western computer systems and databases are not designed to search for multiple spellings of the same name. His name could be spelled “Jasim,” “Yasim,” “Jasem,” etc.

Dhiaa has not left for Kansas yet. When he returned to Baghdad this week he brought me several gifts: a yasmagh (headdress), a higal (the rope for the headdress), and a dishdasha (the “man-dress” all the men wear). Tonight he taught me how to put the headdress on. At one point he looked at my Teva flip flops and realized he needed to get me some sandals. He asked what size I wear. I told him a size 13…he said “what is that maybe a 45?” (meaning metric sizes). I told him 48. He grimaced and said “I don’t think they have in Iraq.” I laughed but Dhiaa was very serious and said, “no really, I don’t think we have in all of Iraq.” I laughed harder…story of my life!

When I was in Saudi Arabia you could hear the call to prayers five times every day. I have never heard the call in Iraq. You can tell the very religious Muslims who observe the five daily prayers by the calluses on their forehead from constantly placing their head on the carpet, floor, or concrete. Abdul Raheem, Salman and Brigadier Jaffar the base commander are the only people in the IqAF I have met with the callus on their forehead.

A few weeks ago, one of our Seeker aircraft landed with a bullet hole in the wing. We found out later what happened. Over one million Shiias from all over Iraq had walked the several hundred kilometers to the city of Karbala for the Al Arbaeen Festival commemorating the assassination of the Caliph, Imam Ali. (The Caliphs were the 5, 7, or 12 leaders of Islam after the death of the Prophet Mohammed depending on what sect of Shiia Islam one believes in.). In the morning after the festival a British Merlin helicopter flew over the crowd which was now walking back to the south. During the flyover its defensive systems detected a threat and ejected several flares burning at some 4000 degrees to deceive the threat. The flares landed in the crowd and naturally upset the crowd. An hour or so later, two of our pilots flew overhead. The crowd was already primed from the Merlin incident so fired on the anything that appeared overhead. The Iraqi pilots should never have been in a position to be fired on. They had disregarded orders and descended from 4500 feet to 1000 feet to take pictures of the crowd. Col Sami was furious.

Change in Attitude?

Rocketed twice today in the middle of the day...very uncharacteristic of the insurgents.

Trip to Baghdad

16 Apr 07
Got back from Baghdad tonight. What a great experience though my security senses were heightened for the first 24 hrs. Once we landed, the acft parked some ½ mile from the passenger terminal. We grabbed our gear and walked into the open darkness of the flightline led by a UK Army corporal. We walked past what seemed like dozens of US helicopters all with motors running and taking off from all over. There were several more passing overhead. With their navigation lights turned off I strained to see them in the night sky but one attracted attention as the aircraft dispensed flares and banked hard from what seemed like only 1000 feet in the air. I’m not certain what had triggered the defensive system but I had never seen an aircraft pop flares in a real world situation.

Chet and DC were already up in Baghdad. They picked me up at the terminal and we headed to the tent. Our tent was on Sather Air Base which is a mid-sized air base and is connected to a string of larger bases including the Army camps Victory and Liberty all of which combined form a contingency operating base (COB). The bases combination of bases are massive. Our tent was just 300 yards off the flightline. No one wants to live too close to an airport. Now imagine living 300 yards from the runway…in a tent! The helicopters ran throughout the night interrupted only by heavier aircraft taking off and landing.

The next morning I got up and headed to the shower tent. There were dozens of people milling about and no one had on their body armor or helmets. As I got halfway there I heard machine gun fire that sounded within 500 yards and from several different directions. I couldn’t believe attacks were so close and everyone within the wire was just moving back and forth like they didn’t hear it. When I got back to the tent the guys told me the Iraqi Army has an enormous firing range behind us and their Special Forces use the range at all hours of the day and night. The sounds of that first night and morning were eerie but I quickly got accustomed to moving around without the armor.

I went up to Baghdad to take a test but our headquarters is up there too so I thought about stopping by to see our maintenance reps on the staff. I contacted them and they told me how to get there. It involved either taking a Blackhawk helicopter or a Rhino armored vehicle into the International Zone (“IZ”…formerly known as “the Green Zone”). The Rhino looks like a fully armored RV (Google: rhino armored vehicle pics) and the route to the IZ included several unprotected kilometers of Route Irish—at one point Route Irish was the single most dangerous road in the world. I told the staff guys I’d catch them some other time.

We went to the chow hall for lunch. I couldn’t believe how nice it was…literally, it was the nicest chow hall I’ve ever seen in my life. Unlike ordinary chow halls, the Army has contracted these chow halls out to KBR/Haliburton who operates and manages them. I had to walk around the place to see all the options before committing. I had heard the British spend about 1/3 on their food/chow halls than we do on ours. That said, their food is still nicer than anything I ate at during the first Gulf War. I have no idea what the Iraqi food budget is but it can’t be 1/30th of a U.S. chow hall. There are no options in the IqAF restaurant and not enough for seconds. Despite that they would share their last bite with you.

The chow hall at Sather was over the top and the guys said it’s the smallest on the COB. They had two main food lines, a potato bar, a salad bar, a snack bar, a specialties bar, a Mongolian BBQ line, two dessert bars and more canned/bottled drinks than you could shake a stick at. Coming from the Brit/Iraqi camps at Basrah, initially I was in awe at the magnitude of the place but then I began to feel embarrassed. It really fit the stereotype that the U.S. does everything in excess. I’ve never seen anything like it. I cringed when the guys said the chow hall serves steak and lobster every Friday.

I took my test in the afternoon then we made a run over to Camp Liberty’s BX. Like everything else on the base, it was enormous. Standing in the check out line I spoke to a young E-4 from Chicago. He was in the infantry and had been in Iraq 7 months. The focus of President Bush’s troop surge is on counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. One of the guiding principles of COIN ops is that for it to be successful the troops must live in the neighborhoods which they are defending. This kid lived at a forward operating base (FOB) which he said was nothing more than a house in the neighborhood which they have reinforced with sandbags. They are attacked incessantly by snipers. Every eight days they are allowed to come back to Liberty for a few hours to eat in the chow hall, shower, and go to the BX to buy supplies. He was a nice enough kid but he was tired of the field, tired of Iraq and tired of the Army. He didn’t hold the Iraqis in the same regard I do but I'm not certain I would given the circumstances. It sounded rough at his FOB and needless to say, steak and lobster wasn’t on the weekly menu.

After Liberty we made a run through one of Saddam’s palace villages just to the east of the airport. The village was designed to look like Venice. There were some 10-12 palaces around a lake. Several of the palaces had bomb holes in the top but none worse than Saddam’s “Victory Over America” Palace. Most of the palaces were actively being used as dorms or office complexes by Coalition forces.

The palaces surrounded a pretty lake and several canals fed out from the lake. At one canal there was a bottled water factory. The Coalition brought in a military unit that specializes in reverse osmosis water purification to produce bottled water for the forces. There were acres of bottled water.

There are checkpoints all over the COB when passing between one camp and another as well as to go off base. To depart the base you must be in a fully armored vehicle. Most of the gates were manned by soldiers from the Ugandan Army. At one checkpoint we asked the guys how they were doing. Both guy’s face erupted into huge smiles happy that we bothered to talk to them. We asked where they were from and they were proud to say Uganda and asked us if we had heard of Uganda or knew where it was. They were excited to know we had heard of it though none of us knew that Ugandans were risking their lives in Iraq with us.

I mentioned Route Irish. We passed under Route Irish at a point which it was still on the base and well within the fortified gates. There are several main and alternate supply routes (M/ASR) around the country. Each route is named after some sports team or college. There is a Route Tampa, Route Pittsburgh, Route Irish, Route Buckeye, etc. I imagined the logistical planners in a room figuring out what to name the roads and someone in the room calling out their favorite team followed by a barrage of everyone’s favorite teams. There was no Route Cougar or Gamecock but it did this proud Sandlapper’s heart good to see Route Clemson running from Tikrit to Mosul.

On return to Basrah our plane couldn’t land because the base had been rocketed. Two rockets landed in the ammo dump but failed to explode.

When we finally landed I went to the Iraqi restaurant to see who was in town. The Iraqis have a general here visiting and they were throwing a big feast for him but they invited me in anyway. I had a bowl of something like a garbonzo bean soup though the Iraqis assured me it was not a bean. Anyway, it was good to see all of them. Some I hadn’t seen in more than a month like Nader and Habeeb.

Pooh called in the middle of our visit so I went outside to talk with her. Just a few seconds into our conversation I heard an explosion in the distance followed a second later by a really loud explosion very close. I hit the dirt, told Pooh I’d call her back, and hung up. After a few seconds I jumped up to run to the bunker but stopped after a few steps because I couldn’t see in front of me and knew there was a wall close by. I put my hand out and hit the concrete wall just 12 inches in front of me. I would have knocked myself out! There were two salvos back to back. The first was about 5 rockets and another 5 in the second salvo. One landed in the Danish camp behind us and the other landed in Trafalgar where Mike used to live…that’s the second time in a few weeks that Trafalgar has caught rockets. Twelve rockets throughout the day. Four injuries but the only serious injury was an Iraqi at Trafalgar that failed to respond to the first round or to take cover. I called Pooh as soon as I could…I knew she would be worried sick and she was. I hate worrying her.


12 Apr 07
Rockets today during lunch at Allenby. We eat lunch almost exclusively at Allenby and have never been rocketed there…broke the streak today. More rockets this afternoon.

The Brits are conducting an “Operation Miller” in Trenchard lines. The goal of Op Miller is to find all the Iraqi local nationals that are squatting in the camp. It seems many local nationals may have had a valid reason to come on the base but then found unoccupied hooches and moved in aided by the cooks and other camp workers that had legitimate cabins on base. Apparently there were so many local nationals found during the first Op Miller that they had to conduct two more with equal success. The second problem is local nationals using cell phones. The British believe they may be directing fire (you think?).

I generally walk with my head down watching where I will step and ever so slightly oblivious to things around me. As I walked to prayers today I stepped into an odd pot hole that made me look up to see what had happened there. I surveyed the immediate area and realized that was where one of the rockets from last night landed. The steel conex/shipping container just 10 feet away was destroyed as were two vehicles parked next to it. About 50 feet away was a row of conexes which were pocked with holes on both sides from the shrapnel. The guys in the wing headquarters building weren’t in when the rocket went off but said all of their light fixtures were shaken out of their ceiling. A Merlin helicopter was also damaged. Our squadron building is approximately 300 feet from the blast site. We had to walk the Iraqi flightline to collect all the shrapnel from the rockets. I was at the terminal when the rocket hit which is just 300 feet past our squadron which explains why it sound like it was next door.

Still no running water in the compound. The plumbing is fixed but still no water…3 days now. Ugh!

One of the junior Iraqi officers was in the office while Adnan and I were talking maintenance issues today. He kept getting into various drawers around the two of us looking for office supplies. I didn’t mind but had to keep moving out of his way. Adnan finally snapped. I don’t know what he said but he tore the guy a new one in Arabic.

The British are sometimes difficult to understand. The Scottish, on the other hand, are impossible to understand. Whenever I speak to one of them I have to ask them over and over to repeat themselves. There’s a Scottish intel officer that gives a brief at prayers every day. I took one of our guys to prayers with me today and after the brief he said, “I wish that guy would speak English!”…aye!

No flights to Baghdad today.

Baghdad Flight Aborted

11 Apr 07
Found out the rockets yesterday were in response to a British show of force operation downtown. It sounded like well over 30 rockets but there was outgoing mixed in (we aren’t accustomed to hearing much of that).

Tried to head up to Baghdad today. Got two rocket attacks while I was at the terminal. I had just walked out of the tent when the first round exploded. Ran back inside, got my gear on as a second round hit. The second round sounded like it was next door…very loud. SciFi was back at the camp and said it sounded like close to them too. Round must have landed somewhere between the two compounds. He said the British sent a patrol down our camp road looking for the round. That’s the first time they’ve done that since I’ve been here. The surprising thing was the amount of return fire the British levied. They fired the 105mm howitzers for several minutes after the rockets.

Eventually the plane showed but broke on the ground. They got it fixed enough to limp back to Qatar so will reengage on Baghdad.

Hellacious storm yesterday. Blew our two 500 gal tanks off their tower. No water in the compound…again! Have to take bottled water showers. Winds blew up a dust storm today. The red dust hung thick in the air. All day long people kept saying it looked like Mars.

Record Day

10 Apr o7
Wow! Huge rocket salvo this afternoon at 1700…17 rockets. Second salvo at 1830…7 or so more. Sounded like a thunderstorm. Another rocket at 2030. About 30 min later they announced there would be a controlled explosion at Habaniyah/Trafalgar Lines. Radio traffic indicated a rocket must have landed there but not exploded.

Rained like a son of a gun in the late afternoon. Everything leaks here and my room flooded. Wicked wind, lightening and thunder.

Col Abduhl Hussein

9 Apr 07
Earlier I mentioned that Col Abduhl Hussein lost his 4 year old son to leukemia just 2 weeks before I arrived but still comes to work each day simply to keep his mind occupied. Today, I walked past the colonel's office and noticed he had a picture of his son displayed on his computer screen. I stopped out of sight for a second to steal a glace of the small, good looking boy. A few minutes later I was passing his office again but from a different corridor and saw the colonel himself. He was wiping tears away from his eyes.

I asked Adnan about the colonel. He said Col Abduhl Hussein has several children but had a special relationship with this son. He and the boy did everything together. The boy wouldn't eat his dinner until the colonel was there to eat with him; the colonel had to bathe him; he only went to the barber with the colonel; if the colonel wasn't on duty, the boy was with him.

They could have taken the boy to Jordan for surgery that could have saved his life, however, the surgery cost $35,000—a fortune in Iraq. The squadron commander here, Col Sami, tried to get help through the Iraqi Ministry of Defense while SciFi worked with the U.S. command and State Department but there was no help to be had. Colonel Abduhl Hussein and his family had to take their boy home and watch him pass.

Easter 10K (pic)

8 Apr 07
Windy day today and no flying. Heard an explosion at 1540 followed a second later by the “attack” alarm. Seems the warning system isn’t very reliable in the wind. Another alarm at 2150.

I ran the Basrah Easter 10K before going to the Easter service this a.m. For the first 5K I fought back and forth with two RAF blokes. Every time I would get at their shoulder they would surge ahead to keep me from passing or if I passed them they would race past me at the next corner. I kept a steady pace and likened it to the Tortoise and the Hare. After the first 5K lap, their faces were beet red. As I approached them the final time, I decided I’d strike up a conversation with them to get into their heads…“not bad weather for a run is it?” A few seconds and a couple of grumbled answers later they gave up the fight. From then on, everyone I caught up with I’d say “how’re you doing?” or some other greeting and ask them how they were feeling. They might not have thought of how they were feeling until I asked and they knew they weren’t feeling as good as me.

The route went passed our squadron and the Iraqi pilots had all come out to cheer on the runners and pass out water. As I came past they all started cheering for me. It was great and a big boost but the hardest 3K was yet to run. One long stretch was down a gravel road and was very busy with traffic. The dust and sand beat me down.

Back on the main road I finally saw the finish line and realized I had nothing left for a kick. But in the final 100M the guy behind me appeared at my shoulder pushing hard. His sudden presence startled me and I bolted for the finish line. I beat him back and even caught the guy ahead of me. Unless I missed someone not in a service issued PT uniform, I was the first American across the line. I came in 37th in a field of 110 but more importantly I beat the two British guys that came to the run dressed in full drag. (Who brings a wig into the field?)

As we gathered around for the awards ceremony after the run, the Queens Royal Lancers (QRL) passed by in convoy in their Challenger fighting vehicles and Warrior main battle tanks headed downtown on patrol which brought us back to the reality of our location.

Fire Engine Pull (pic)

7 Apr 07
Rocket alarm today at 1400 though we never heard anything…an afternoon attack is out of character for the insurgents; they should be napping.

At prayers today, Group Captain Neville asked me what I was doing at 11:00 a.m. Naturally I replied, “whatever you need me to do at eleven, sir.” He invited me to join his RAF team in a fire engine pulling challenge against the Royal Navy during lunch hour. I won’t say the RAF won because they dared to field the only American BUT there was a noticeable absence of Americans on the other team who finished 8 seconds behind us. I will say that was one heavy truck. We are running a 10K race tomorrow for Easter and I used all my “finish line kick” on the fire truck today.

Got mail today including two care packages. I also got a card and book from one of dad’s caregivers, Ida, at Tuomey Hospital. She’s a good soul and took great care of both dad and me during dad’s last stay at Tuomey—no request was too much.

Shiia & Sunni Islam

6 Apr 07
Most westerners know Islam is broken into two factions: Sunni and Shiia. To use a western comparison, you might equate Sunni Islam with Roman Catholicism. There is one central doctrine and they believe the rulers of Islam after Mohammed were popularly elected.

Shiia Islam is similar to Protestants in that there are several “denominations” or sects based on the number of appointed rulers that came after Mohammed called “Caliphs.” (Not to confuse the comparison, though there are several denominations Shiia Islam, their religious leadership hierarchy is similar to Roman Catholic Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, etc.) All Shiia Muslims believe there were at least five legitimate Caliphs. The first group believes there were only five Caliphs. A second group believes there were two additional Caliphs after Mohammed for a total of seven. The third and majority group believes Mohammed was succeeded by twelve Caliphs and that the last Caliph, Imam Mohammed Al-Mahdi went into the hills several hundred years ago and exists spiritually there today.

The major denominations of Shiia Islam are called, uniquely enough, Fivers, Seveners, and Twelvers. (There is also a very small and secretive denomination of Shiias called “Alawi.” The President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, is Alawi.)

Twelvers believe the last/twelfth Caliph, Imam Mohammed Al-Mahdi, will return at Allah’s command with his army when the world is in turmoil and in dire need of religious leadership. The Imam’s army is called the “Mahdi Army.” The militia leader and top thug in Iraq, Muqtada Al-Sadr, named his militia group the Mahdi Army to conjure up notions of a greater historical significance in Shiias. It might be like an ultra-radical Christian militia group calling themselves “The Four Horsemen.”

Repatriation Procession

5 Apr 07
On our way to dinner last night we happened on the repatriation procession for the two UK soldiers killed here recently. UK military police (MP) were standing in the intersection at parade rest while stopping traffic. We got out of our vehicle and stood at parade rest with them and several other vehicles followed us. As the vehicles carrying the coffins approached the MPs came to attention and again we followed suit.

From the corner of my eye I saw a runner jogging down the road toward the procession. As he closed on the procession one of the MPs shouted at the top of his lungs in a commanding, determined, and almost angry Scottish voice, “STOP! STOP RIGHT NOW! PAY RESPECT!” The runner sheepishly stopped and the MP returned to attention. A second later the MP and his counterpart saluted the passing vehicles. We also saluted. It was a humbling sight and at the aircraft 200 soldiers awaited the caskets to transport them onto the waiting aircraft—100 soldiers from each of the fallen men’s regiments.

The whole scene reminded me of my assignment at Dover AFB, DE. The DOD Mortuary is at Dover and in 2004 and 2005 we received our fallen comrades on an almost daily basis at all hours of the day and night. Operations would stop at the end of the flightline where the aircraft would park. The honor guard from the fallen service member’s branch of service would board the aircraft and transfer the casket to an awaiting hearse. One particularly cold and windy winter night a C-5 returned with 37 Marines killed in a helicopter crash. The dignified transfer ceremony of moving caskets from the aircraft to hearses lasted over 4 hours in the bitter cold as the Marine Honor Guard from Washington DC marched back and forth transporting one casket at a time to ensure all were afforded individual respect.

Dover was just minutes away from Washington DC in flying time and as such the Presidential Squadron would use the air space for training to fly approaches, patterns, etc. to maintain their currencies. It was close to DC but out of the public’s eye where they could train. Additionally, it was often the first secure refueling stop for dignitaries visiting the U.S. so we routinely had foreign heads of state pass through the base.

The first time I saw the Presidential 747 flying in the pattern was exciting. I had been home for lunch and returned via the flight line road for a closer look. As I approached the VIP tarmac I noticed a huge entourage dressed in blues and included an honor guard team. I was excited thinking Air Force One would be landing at Dover. Just then the honor guard marched out to an aircraft that was obviously not Air Force One so I waited to see who they were escorting (if not the President then surely some other dignitary). They emerged from the aircraft with a flag draped casket. It was the first dignified transfer ceremony I had seen and I was in awe as it dawned on me that every fallen service member repatriated at Dover will receive a reception fit for the President of the United States!

The British lost four soldiers again this morning at 2 a.m. to an explosively formed projectile (EFP) off base. The EFP—a military grade explosive device—was placed in the road and exploded up into a Warrior fighting vehicle as it drove over the device. A second device was placed in the most logical defensive rally point and detonated as the Brits tried to muster their force. Fortunately there were no casualties from the second blast but it demonstrates what many consider the prevailing philosophy regarding insurgents—build a better mouse trap and they’ll build a better mouse. A third device was encountered by the RAF Regiment not far from the base. They saw the device and sounded the “attack” alarm at the base followed a few seconds later by a really loud explosion. Fortunately no casualties in the last attack. Anticipate another repatriation ceremony in a couple of days.

On a lighter but related note; all the guys have these police grade Surefire flashlights that cast an exceptionally bright beam for over 100 yards. They are the brightest compact flashlights on the market and the guys wear them on their body armor. The attack alarm sounded for one of the explosive devices this a.m. at 0300. One of our guys, TSgt Curtis, rolled out of bed onto his knees and started throwing his armor on. With the gear on he laid down at exactly the same time the device exploded. When he hit the floor, his armor pressed the button on his Surefire light which flashed directly into his eyes. Curtis heard the boom and saw the bright flash simultaneously. Still 1/2 asleep, he thought the round must have gone off in his room but he didn't feel anything so figured he must be dead. A few seconds later and a little more awake he realized it still stunk like Iraq and he didn't feel any pain so maybe he wasn't dead or even injured. He collected his senses then realized where the light in his face was coming from and turned the Surefire off. We cracked up this a.m. as he recounted the "attack" in his room.

We have a bunch of ammo that previous team members have left behind for us. Additionally, we have a box of rounds for the Iraqi AK-47s. Three of us went to the range today to see if we could coordinate getting on the range to fire our M-16s, M-9s, and the AKs. The Czechs were there doing weapons familiarization with the RAF Regiment (more on the RAF Regiment some other time). I recognized their commander from prayers each day so asked him who we should coordinate with to use the range.

He gave us a phone number then said, “Would you like to come fire with us?” (Did he just ask Americans if we wanted to shoot heavy machine guns?! Wait, let me check my Greenpeace card...heck yeah we wanted to shoot!) We shot the Czech made UK‑59, the Czech version of the AK-47, and the Russian Dragunov sniper rifle. The Dragunov has an optimum range of 800 meters and is effective up to 2.2 km. The weapon packed a healthy kick. They were exceptionally generous and kept offering more and more ammo for us to fire. Not expecting to shoot, we only had our M-9 (9mm) pistols with us. We pooled our ammo and came up with seven 15-round clips for them to fire. In turn they insisted we fire their 9mm which was a great pistol. A cool way to spend the afternoon!

Rockets again tonight.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ghassan Deserts (pic)

4 Apr 07
Found out today that there were actually four rockets. One was a 240 with the 75 lb warhead. The other three were 107s with a 15 lb war head. All three 107s landed in the middle Camp Bravo. For reference the Iraqi camp butts up to Camp A which is a couple hundred yards wide. The rockets hit a sunshade above their hooches and exploded down into the hooch. There were three T3 casualties (light casualty). If the sunshade hadn’t been there, the rocket would have exploded into the hooch and likely resulted in three T1 casualties (fatalities).

The British will conduct a repatriation ceremony this evening to pay final respects to two soldiers killed in downtown Basrah before they are transported back to the UK. One was 28 years old. The other was just 18.

The top maintenance officer in the squadron is Lt Col Adnan. His second in charge is Maj Ghassan. Both live in Basrah and usually ride to work together. Ghassan went on leave and was due to return a couple of days ago but didn’t meet Adnan at their usual meeting spot. When he didn’t arrive at work the squadron leadership got concerned. After the second day, Adnan called Ghassan’s house but whoever answered said Ghassan wasn’t home. Adnan asked if the person knew where Ghassan was or when he would return. The person said he had fled Iraq and was in Norway with his family. My congratulations to him!

The other day, SciFi and I went to see Group Captain Neville, commander of the 903rd Air Expeditionary Wing. He offered us “accommodations” in Waterloo Lines which is a camp the British Army is vacating and the RAF is moving into. The RAF will rename the camp "Trenchard Lines" after a figure in British air power history and contemporary of Billy Mitchell. Within the camp there are rows of reinforced areas. Each houses between eight and twenty hooches and each is named after a different RAF base. Ours is to be officially called “Odiham” ("Ody-em") but we’ve already determined since it will only house USAF personnel that we will rename it “Langley” after our first base (and because we decided “Yorktown,” “Ticonderoga” or “Bunker Hill” were certain to offend our gracious hosts). Security will be much better in Trenchard though it will dramatically reduce the amount of off duty interaction we have with the Iraqis.

Standard Procedure

3 Apr 07
We got a new guy in a few days ago and we’ve had at one or more rockets every day he’s been here. Today we got three rockets. The first was this morning around 2 a.m. and seemed fairly benign. Two more rockets this evening shook all of us. I was in my hooch and heard what sounded like a aircraft maneuvering as he passed overhead. In actuality, the sound was the rocket passing overhead. The explosion was by far the loudest I’ve heard to date. It seemed enormous. Everyone hit the floor in their hooch and as I started throwing my gear on, the “incoming” alarm sounded (no kidding?!). Seconds later a second round impacted. All of the rounds sounded right outside our compound. Man! That startled the crap out of me!

The standing procedure is to hit the ground immediately to get below any exploding debris. After waiting 3 minutes you head to the nearest bunker. I shouted thru the walls to SciFi that the round sounded really close. A second later I heard his door open and slam shut. As he ran past he shouted he was going to the bunker. I was right behind him. The other guys were all in the bunker just a few seconds behind us. SciFi guessed that the rockets were 240s which have a 75 lbs warhead. As frightening as the round was, I can only imagine how terrifying it must be on the receiving end of a U.S. 500, 1000, or 2000 lb bomb we use. Having seen the effect these small rounds have on a building, I suspect the concussion from one of our bombs would likely rip buildings apart within hundreds of yards.

Abdul Raheem

2 Apr 07
The squadron’s chief warrant officer, Abdul Raheem, returned from leave yesterday. We found out that it wasn’t his nephew that was recently killed as was reported to us earlier; it was his brother. According to Abdul Raheem, his brother was driving his car when an insurgent who didn’t know him “assassinated him.” His brother’s son had been killed by insurgents 2 years earlier and Abdul Raheem’s brother had been the sole financial support for the young man’s widow and two children. He left behind his own widow, his widowed daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. Abdul Raheem looked weak from grief and said he hadn’t been able to eat in several days. He has now inherited financial responsibility for the two families.

There’s a really interesting web-video documentary (Google: “Shadow Company”) that details the emergence of private security specialists in modern warfare. The film traces the roots of several firms from the end of Apartheid in South Africa to their assistance in civil wars around Africa and ultimately their involvement in Iraq. South Africa has been widely criticized by other nations for supporting “mercenaries” and, under international pressure; they issued a statement expressing their concern and embarrassment that South Africans are found wherever claims of mercenaries are raised. We have a large population of South African civilian security specialists that live on and operate from the base.

Emergency Vehicles

31 Mar 07
In our hangar we have a brand new ambulance that was delivered to us from Kuwait. However, during the overland trip up from Kuwait the truck that was carrying the ambulance was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED). We were told the driver was killed. The ambulance was damaged extensively and rendered useless. It has been sitting in the hangar for months. Likewise, we have two Iraqi Air Force fire trucks sitting beside the hangar. Both vehicles were flown in and are destined for one of the bases in Baghdad. Unfortunately, they can't find anyone willing to deliver a big red truck with "Iraqi Air Force" stenciled on the side in English. The Iraqis consider it a suicide mission.

Ali's Imprisonment & Depleted Uranium

30 Mar o7
Tonight is daylight savings in Iraq.
At dinner last night Ali told me that his 10 year old son called him from Baghdad to say he had gotten “a very good mark in mathematics.” Ali asked him what he would like as a reward. His son replied simply, "an American pencil." He said his son thinks American pencils must be better than pencils made in China simply because they come from America. But it seems such a simple request to ask of a father as a reward for good grades. I gave Ali an American mechanical pencil with a pack of refill lead to take to his son.

Ali is a guy after my own heart—he hates to miss a party. In 1990 he was in France learning to fly the Mirage F-1 when Saddam invaded Kuwait. As tension mounted with the west, Saddam rounded up all westerners and moved them to a controlled area in Baghdad. France retaliated by rounding up all the Iraqis and putting them in prison…including Ali. There were two types of cells, one held 6 people and the other was for one person. Ali was put in a cell by himself. After the first day he got lonely and wanted company. One of the guys in the 6-man cell did not speak French so Ali told him when the guard came to talk to him just answer “oui.” Ali told the guard he wanted to trade cells with the other guy. The guard asked the other guy if he wanted to trade. The guy replied, “oui.” Once in the cell, the guy asked Ali when the guard would move him back…Ali broke the news then enjoyed the company of his fellow captives.

After three days in jail, Ali and crew were taken to a hotel and held for a month before being returned to Iraq through Amman, Jordan. Once back in Iraq they were sent to school in Tikrit then, as the war became imminent, they were sent home and told to wait for the end of the war. Like Dhiaa, he told his commander, “Thank you!” and promptly went home.

Iraqis from Basrah are sensitive to discussions of depleted uranium (DU) weapons used by Coalition aircraft, tanks and fighting vehicles. (Google depleted uranium weapons and Basrah, to better understand why.) Basrah is in the south of the country where the bulk of the fighting occurred during GW1 so there was a higher concentration of DU and high amounts of DU dust particles in the air. Additionally, the Basrah region was cast under a sky of smoke from the burning oil fields in Kuwait. I was 30 miles south of the border in Saudi at the time; for as far as you could see the sky looked like there would be a torrential downpour at any time but it was smoke from the oil fields.

Basrah doctors have reported a 400+ percent spike in leukemia and 600+ percent spike in birth defects since the end of GW1. Iraqis believe the large amounts of DU weapons used in the region are to blame though some other theories suggest smoke from the oil fields have created the spike. Abdul Hussein is a colonel in the sqdn. He lost his four year old son to leukemia just two weeks before I arrived. He has refused to stop working/flying. The Iraqis said he needs something to keep his mind occupied.

Many of us have heard people say, “We should just nuke the place.” regarding the Middle East. Many Iraqis believe we’ve already done that.

Two Rivers

29 Mar 07
There are two very ancient and famous rivers in Iraq that eventually become one river. The rivers are called the Al‑Farat River and the Dijila River. Once they merge it’s called the Shatt Al Arab River and flows through Basrah at which point it forms the border between Iran and Iraq. However, neither river is known by its Arabic name outside of Arab countries. They are the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

It’s at the mouth of the Shatt Al Arab River that the 15 British sailors and marines were taken hostage by Iran.

Adnan asked why the U.S. makes so many wars followed by what we think would happen if we just went home from around the world and let various governments govern themselves (though he did say Iraq was too unstable for us to leave here and it would create a massive terrorist stronghold). I told him about our old foreign policy of Isolationism and how that got us into two world wars and asked who would prevent that sort of escalation if we were not engaged in the world.

I asked him why Muslim countries weren’t more aggressive against Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah and why Muslims are at war with seemingly every religion with which they border (Jews, Catholics, Orthodox, Hindus, Buddhists, etc). He said there are ancient rivalries but they are no excuse. There was a great Doonesbury comic that ran on 18 Feb 07 that makes fun of that mindset.

He explained that the Pope created many wars in Europe and even sent the Crusaders to war with Islam. Eventually, however, European nations told the Pope to stay out of national/government affairs—they created a separation between church and state. Iraq had a separation of church and state but the U.S. misunderstood the relationship between Islam and the state in Iraq and created a strong relationship between church and state. He said politically we set them back to the time of the Crusades when there was no separation between church and state.

Many believe that the Koran dictates the law in Islamic countries and therefore religious leaders must lead Islamic nations. The fact is governments create laws/policy which abide by the Koran but religious leaders are not required to make law. In essence, the Grand Ayatollahs are similar to the judicial branch of our government. The legislative and executive branches make and carry out law while the judicial branch determines whether laws are constitutional. The Grand Ayatollahs determine whether laws are Koranic. They do not make and carry out law.


28 Mar 07
Two more rockets this morning around 0400 both landed just outside the wire by Waterloo Lines.

The other day we were playing volleyball with the Iraqis. As we were leaving one of the older Iraqi maintainers, Abdullah, was ribbing one of our guys. Our guy returned the rib and said something to the effect of “We’ll get you next time, Alibabba.” Abdullah rushed over and pretended to wrestle with our guy in a jovial manner. Afterwards, he gave him a very stern look and told him you must never call someone “Alibabba” in Iraq. The word means “thief” and is a major insult. Several other Iraqis had heard what our guy said and throughout the evening they went by his room to tell him his behavior was not acceptable. Our guy felt so bad he eventually went to Abdullah’s room and gave him a gift as an apology. At dinner they asked me if I had heard the exchange and even explained to me why it was unacceptable.

RAF Technology

27 Mar 07
I attend the British wing staff meeting almost every day. Both at home station and while deployed the British call the wing meeting “prayers” though no one is certain why…“it’s just always been called that.”

I sit next to Squadron Leader Charlie Allen (RAF major equivalent) at prayers. When we first met he introduced himself as an engineer. I figured out later that they call their aircraft maintenance officers “engineers.” Today we were talking about the different aircraft the two of us have worked. He began his Royal Air Force career in 1989 on the Lancaster, a British airborne early warning aircraft. I immediately thought of Britain’s Lancaster bomber of World War II fame and assumed they must have named a later aircraft in its honor. After prayers we went to his office to look at pictures of Charlie’s aircraft. In the stack was a picture of the Lancaster Charlie had worked and to my astonishment it wasn’t named after the Lancaster bomber—it was the Lancaster bomber! Similar to our B-17 Flying Fortress, the British modified the World War II-era Lancaster for use as an airborne early warning platform finally retiring it in 1992 after they purchased a version of our E-3 AWACS.

Two rockets tonight at 1830. First rockets we’ve had in several days (week?). It’s been relatively quiet since the Al Arbaeen festival when nearly all of Basrah walked to Karbala to the Imam Ali Mosque for a large Shiia religious festival.

We were driving back from MND headquarters. I was driving with my window down. As I made a turn, I heard the rockets explode followed immediately by the “incoming” alarm which sounded three times. The rockets sounded like they were within 100 yards. In accordance with procedure, I immediately stopped the truck, we bailed out and hit the ground. After the 3 minute soak period, we moved to a bunker down the road. I found out later that the rounds landed just inside the wire near Waterloo.

Coaxing a Date Tree

24 Mar 07
Before discovering oil in Iraq, dates were one of Iraq’s principal exports. In Basrah they have several date palm forests. During the Iran-Iraq war, many of the forests were destroyed. Adnan explained that the date palm is a very delicate tree. If you shoot it with one bullet, the tree will die.

Apparently it is also an emotional tree. Adnan said it is a well known fact among date farmers that if a date palm does not produce dates, he must threaten the tree. In the spring the farmer will build a bon fire next to the tree and will yell at the tree threatening to burn it down and swear at the tree. Adnan assures me that in the coming June-July the tree will produce dates without fail.

My brother-in-law lives and works in Kuwait. He said Arabs are very superstitious and it’s common to read in the newspaper where someone taken to court by someone else claiming they placed a curse upon them.

Hooters, Kaiser or King?

23 Mar 07
Dhiaa has been invited to go to Ft Riley, KS for nearly all of April. He’s just waiting on his visa now. He has only ever traveled outside of Iraq once to Turkey. He only wants to spend the time required at Ft Riley and intends to spend all of his free time experiencing American culture. Before Gary left, he convinced Dhiaa that he absolutely had to eat at Hooters. Dhiaa has no idea what kind of restaurant this place is but is determined that he must eat there—I would give anything to be a fly on the wall! He also wants to see skyscrapers…do they have those in Kansas?

At breakfast, Dhiaa asked me about “mara-guana” in the U.S. They had no drugs during the regime. He said it is slowly gaining foot in Iraq but is mostly trafficked thru the country enroute to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Knowing how intolerant Saudi is, I’m astounded. After all, beheadings are still commonplace there! Anyway, he wanted to know how it is smoked, etc. “Mara-guana”…too funny.

Ali’s English is very good. Nonetheless, he and several others are in English class. None in that group have begun flying in the squadron yet. For the last week, all of them have been on leave so it has been very quiet around the squadron and compound. They got back tonight and it was good to see them—it livened the place up. I went indij for dinner and we spent the evening catching up.

Several of the guys told me about what they had done on their vacations. Lieutenant Abdul Aziz worked on his house in Baghdad during his vacation. A father of two, his house has three rooms including the bathroom. There is no kitchen. I asked where his wife did the cooking. “On the roof” he replied as if I should have known that.

I asked Kaiser about his name and he said, “It is Arabic for ‘Caesar’ which is Italian for ‘king’.” I told him that my mother’s family name is Kiser and that it is also German for “king” (along the way her family dropped/lost the “a” in “Kaiser” but there was no point going into that level of detail with Kaiser). Very politely, he said “Yes but my name is the just the Italian word ‘Caesar.’ I think this other word is different.” I pleaded my case for the German word but he was sure his name only translated to “Caesar.” I did my best but I’m saddened to report that the Kaisers/Kisers of German descent have been relegated to obscurity in Iraq.


22 Mar 07
Adnan decided I needed to learn more Arabic. Today we covered the Arabic alphabet and I learned to write my name. Dhiaa came to the same conclusion and decided he was going to give me 20 words per week to memorize. I can think of at least one Spanish teacher and a high school chemistry teacher who would tell them they’d have better luck teaching a rock!

I was watching the news tonight with Dhiaa in the restaurant. He interprets for me. You may have seen the video of the new UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, visiting Baghdad. He was sitting next to PM Noori Al Maliki when a car bomb exploded outside their conference. The Secretary General ducked down and you could tell he wanted to crawl out of the room. Everyone in the room just looked at him and all cameras zoomed in on him. The fear was evident and his look said “aren’t you going to hit the floor.” The guys in the restaurant thought it was hilarious. Dhiaa said, “What? He is scared? This is every day in Iraq.”

Balad Air Base was dubbed “Mortaritaville” in the press because they get hit with so many mortars and rockets. Basrah AS trails Balad by only one or two rockets per month. However, I’m told Balad is about 5 times bigger than Basrah so the insurgents are firing a lot more rockets into a smaller area at catching fish in a barrel. Despite that fact, we’ve been lucky—there have only been two injuries from rocket/mortar attacks in the last 6 months and both of them were minor injuries. A couple of weeks ago one of the British camps (Allenby Lines) took a direct hit. The rocket hit the sunshades that cover all the hooches and exploded into the hooches below spraying them with shrapnel. Fortunately, the residents of the hooches were night shifters and not a soul was around. Events like that are enough to keep us scrambling for our gear whenever we hear the incoming alarm.

The Iraqis react much differently during an attack. For years they were violently oppressed by the regime. Additionally, we bombed them heavily during the GW1 and periodically bombed them throughout the years up to 2003. Since 2003 the bombings have been endless. All of this contributes to their “en’sha Allah” (“God Willing”) attitude. If God wills it, they will die in/survive the attack so they stand put and count the explosions. Whenever an Iraqi joins us in the bunker it is only their leadership.

Dhiaa graduated from the Iraqi Air Force Academy in 1989. He was in pilot training in 1990 and 1991. In the days prior to the start of GW1 all of the student pilots were sent home and told to wait for the war to end. He told his commander, “Thank you!” and promptly went home.

"Axis of Evil"

21 Mar 07
Adnan has mentioned several times that Iraqi insurgents come from outside of the country (principally, Syria and Iran). I asked why the two countries want to see Iraq so unstable—their next door neighbor and a brother country in Islam. He said it’s because of President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” list. Both Iran and Syria are currently on the list so believe that if Iraq stabilizes then the U.S. can turn its attention (and military) on them. Consequently, they feed the insurgency to keep us tied up with Iraq so we don’t have time to focus on Iraq’s “Evil” neighbors.

I was watching an Iraqi soccer team play a Qatari team in the restaurant with Dhiaa and Salman (in English/Christianity he is named for “Solomon”). Salman got very animated jumping up, yelling and shaking his fist at the television throughout the game. It was hilarious. Iraq won 4-0.
They said the Iraqi team is scheduled to play Kuwait next week. It will be the first time an Iraqi team has played any Kuwaiti team since before the first Gulf War (GW1). Dhiaa said the Iraqis and Kuwaitis don’t like each other (really?). I’ll be in the restaurant to watch.

Merlins & The Deputy PM

19 Mar 07
We got a tour of a Royal Air Force Merlin helicopter the other day. It’s a great helicopter and the Brits are exceptionally proud of it. The aircraft was recently selected by the USMC as the replacement helicopter for the helicopters currently used to fly the President. The Brits are very proud of that fact and when they speak of it they sound like they’ve pulled off a massive coup—the American President flying around in a British helicopter! One guy said he visited the depot where the Presidential fleet is being produced. He said there are Secret Service agents everywhere and it’s impossible to get close the helicopters.

We sent Senior Master Sergeant Mike and Master Sergeant Pat up to Baghdad today. They were supposed to travel via an Iraqi AF C-130. The C-130 called in that it would land in 15 minutes so we got their stuff loaded up and headed to the airport. Knowing Iraqi time we assumed they would be on the ground for 3 hours. Just 20 minutes after getting the initial call we arrived on the parking ramp to see the aircraft taxiing back out to the runway for take off…our guys had missed their ride.

I noticed a USAF C-130 parked on the ramp as well and decided I’d ask them where they were going. The aircraft commander met us at the door and confirmed they were headed to Baghdad but said he was already overbooked. I asked if we could hang out and see if any seats opened up. He explained he was waiting on the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister and his entourage which included a US Army Lieutenant General and wouldn’t have room. Nevertheless, we waited off to the side and within 2 minutes the load master told us the pilot had told them to make room for our guys. I couldn’t imagine walking out to Air Force Two carrying our Vice President and asking the pilot if he would take a couple GIs based on nothing more than the uniforms they were wearing.

The C-130 aircraft commander had the attitude you see a lot of over here—“okay, let’s help each other out and get it done.” Not to say you don’t get that stateside but it’s taken to another level here. Guys are quick to weed through and cut out the bureaucracy that can create so much additional work when stateside. It’s great!


16 Mar 07
Went two days without running water in the compound. We only had water for 3 hours today. Hate that. To top it off, we had a dust storm all day and into tonight. Visibility was less than ½ mile.

A US Marine captain stopped by to visit us the other day. He is embedded in the Iraqi Army performing the same mission we are—training and building up their Army. He was traveling to the prison at Camp Bucca to do a “health and welfare visit” of some detainees there. Traveling with him was an Iraqi-born Canadian immigrant who was his interpreter and an Iraqi soldier. The base would house the captain and the interpreter but wouldn’t take the Iraqi soldier. The lodging office recommended us to him. We put the soldier, Yasser, up in one of the hooches.

A few days later they came through the compound at about 2030 (8:30 p.m.) looking to do the same thing on their way back to northern Iraq. As I’ve mentioned, the guys here are exceptionally gracious and offered to cook dinner for the three despite the fact that the restaurant had closed more than an hour earlier.

Over dinner we talked about our missions at length. The captain has been here 6 months already and has two more months to go. He got called out early after his predecessor was wounded during a patrol and sent home. There’s something you don’t want to have to tell the wife: “honey, I have to deploy to Iraq earlier than expected and for longer because the guy I’m replacing just got shot.”

The captain had the opportunity to speak with the Iraqis in our squadron during dinner and he could tell by the way we talked about our counterparts that there was a marked difference between our guys and the guys he deals with in his own brigade. He said he’s been considerably frustrated in his unit because the average Iraqi soldier doesn’t have much formal education, much less motivation for the mission, and even less enthusiasm for exchanging machine gun rounds with insurgents.

We had visitors again tonight. A US Air Force major, an IqAF colonel and an IqAF lieutenant colonel. The two Iraqis were somewhat unexpected so we gave it to the Iraqis to find room for them. The major was a woman and later in the night Nader asked me if we found a room for her. I said “we are putting her in Nader’s room.”

With a quizzical look he said “I am Nader.”

As I turned away I said, “Yes, I know.”

He smiled, raised his hands and said, “Yes, send her to me. I am ready for the attack.”

We laughed.

Several of our guys are still in Baghdad. Late in the evening the “giant voice” was broadcasting a stream of messages we couldn’t make out. I called the Force Protection Cell and they said they were conducting an “Operation Roundup” and we were to lock down our camp, conduct a thorough search then not let anyone on/off. The five of us remaining in the compound performed the search then implemented guard duty and set up shifts. SciFi and I took the first shift.

Earlier in the day there were stories in the news of 12 prisoners escaping from Coalition custody at Basrah. There are several Coalition prisons in Basrah including here at the Air Station so we thought it must have been here. I learned the next day that a patrol team discovered evidence of someone digging under the fence; the fence was pulled up and there were marking devices extending from the fence line giving the impression that someone was marking distances for mortar teams. It turned out to be a contractor working on the fence that hadn’t coordinated with the Force Protection Cell. Thankfully they figured out the disconnect before too long. Surely got the adrenalin pumping though.


15 Mar 07
Got rocketed tonight. Explosions from two sounded fairly close. Listening to the force protection radio, I heard there was a third rocket near the air traffic control tower that didn’t explode. Their building is just a block and a half from our squadron building. SciFi was right next door when all that was going on.

Fatherhood & Adultery

14 Mar 07
The guys that stay here in the compound come down from Baghdad, Fallujah, Najaf and other areas and stay several weeks then go home. They said they enjoy staying on the compound because we always have electricity and water (usually). In Baghdad they said they only have electricity for 2 hours a day. They cook by propane and those that can afford it have generators to power a lamps or the television in their homes. I thought about the aftermath of Hurricanes Hugo or Katrina except it’s 4 years after the invasion and still no reliable utilities.

The guys ask about American culture and customs all the time. Nearly all of them would immigrate to the U.S. given the opportunity. We had a discussion about bread over dinner and they wanted to know how to ask for their type of bread in an American grocery store. It’s a large flat bread similar to pita bread or a thick tortilla. Anyway, they wanted to know why they couldn’t just ask for “bread” and get Iraqi bread. They’ve never experienced it so they have no idea of the options we have. We tried to explain how many types of bread there were but it was pointless. I asked them how many types of bread they have in Iraq. Nader said “two—Iraqi bread and Kurdish bread.”

They had heard rumors that we could not take multiple wives in the U.S. I confirmed that for them then asked “besides, who wants two wives?” They cited cultural and religious reasons for having more than one wife. We talked about children and they mentioned children born out of wedlock. They asked what we would put on the birth certificate if the mother did not know the father’s name. I told them they would likely put “unknown.”

They asked, “can this child go to school?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“To college?” They asked.


“Even the Air Force Academy?”

Again, “Yes.”

Each answer seemed more incredulous to them.

“And become an officer?”


“Can he marry?”


There look said “Unbelievable!” But I was increasingly surprised by their reactions to my answers. I was equally surprised that women have children out of wedlock in Iraq and that the children would be so shunned. I had to ask how could this happen given the focus on protecting a woman’s virtue that Adnan explained. They explained that there are only a few conditions and prostitution seemed to be the most prevalent and culturally recognizable. (Call me naive but I had to contain my surprise at the fact that there are Iraqi prostitutes.)

Regarding the children, Khalid explained that in such instances the child will be left in the streets and the authorities will take the child to an orphanage. The child will not be educated or make anything of himself. Likewise, he will never be allowed to marry. That’s one reason amongst many reasons why men can take multiple wives—to offset the bastard population that is not allowed to marry.

They asked about adultery. “Does the woman cheat on the man in the United States?”

Not wanting to play into the “Baywatch” stereotype they have of us I said, “as in any other society in the world, yes, it happens. Does it happen in Iraq?” They said yes and that it was not common but also not uncommon. They explained it was usually the result of some “biological condition” in the woman. I was surprised and asked what would happen in such instances. They said the husband could divorce her but 90 percent of the time he will simply kill her. They explained that killing her was well within the man’s legal rights. You’d think there would be less adultery if that were the case.

Night Flying

13 Mar 07
We have cell phones at work but they get limited reception so far away from town. We were night flying but Colonel Sami came in at his normal time intending to stay all day and into the evening. However, he forgot to tell his wife that he would be home late. Throughout the day he tried to call tell her but could not get reception. It was late at night before he could finally get through. He said she was “very, very worried” about him and that she thought the “bad guys” had gotten him. I’m sure she must have been worried sick.

Hatfields & McCoys

12 Mar 07
While preparing one of the Seekers for flight today, one of the IqAF maintainers noticed a hole in the armpit of the right wing. We investigated the damage and I found a damaged spar where the round must of pierced. Luckily it was a dry bay. Twelve inches forward and it would have found one of the inner wing fuel tanks. The damage apparently happened yesterday during flight but neither pilot nor maintenance saw the damage until today.

The British have at least two compounds in down town Basrah. One is called Basrah Palace and the other is the Shaat Al Arab Hotel. Both are attacked throughout the day and night. Sometimes they’ll receive dozens of rocket propelled grenades and mortars. Their army units rotate from here at Basrah Station to the other two locations and dread the downtown rotation. One sniper rotating through the station told us he was kept exceptionally busy each night.

SciFi returned from Baghdad this evening. We were discussing his trip when we heard thumping noises outside. We went out to investigate and heard a considerable amount of ground fire in the distance. It sounded like a fairly large battle and we could make out large and small caliber weapons. At times the fire was extremely intense. SciFi and DC said it was “the Hatfields and McCoys.” They explained that there are supposedly two families in Basrah that store up ammunition and periodically face off with one another. Given the intensity I was certain it must involve dozens of casualties. According to the locals it seldom involves any casualties. According to Adnan, there are casualties regularly and they hope the two sides eliminate each other to bring some calm to the city. I hope last night’s festivities didn’t include any British or Iraqi Air Force personnel.

No running water or internet in the compound. The only water we have is bottled.

Iraqi Travels

11 Mar 07
We currently only have three guys on station from our team. Everyone else is in Baghdad supporting missions up there. Of the three of us, only DC and I live in the IqAF compound. Mike lives in the British compound “Trafalgar.” Trafalgar has its own exercise tent, dining facility, etc so he stays put most evenings. DC doesn’t like to leave our compound so we eat most evenings with the Iraqis now.

The subject of television came up at dinner last night. Under the Saddam regime they only had 6 channels that were regulated by the regime. Satellite is everywhere now and they can’t believe how many channels they have to choose from. The same goes for cell phones and internet. Both were nonexistent under Saddam but are ubiquitous now.

Our officers estimated 90% of the population has never left the country. Those that have traveled usually only went to neighboring Syria, Jordan or across the Shaat Al Arab River to Iranian border towns. Considering their proximity to Saudi Arabia and the significance Islam places on the holy pilgrimage to Mecca called the “Haj,” I figured all of them would have made the Haj. They had a quizzical look when I asked that said “why would you think that?” None of them have earned the name “Haji”…a term of utmost respect reserved for “one who has made the Haj.”

They were curious how much Americans travel and wanted to know where all I have traveled. I listed some 12 countries but they keyed in on Saudi Arabia. They asked if I was on vacation. “No, I was with the military.” They asked what years. I tiptoed around the question but they pressed for the years. I counted back, “2001…1997.” Ali asked what year was my first visit. I answered, “1990-91.” A look of understanding came over his face. He explained to the others in Arabic with the same result.

They wanted to know what I thought of Saudis and we discussed the two cultures. I told them that I find the Iraqis to be much friendlier and more hospitable…I genuinely mean that. Ali said there are many differences between Iraqis and their neighbors to the south but the biggest difference is wealth. He said the southern nations are rich and the people are rich. Iraq is rich and the people are poor. Another guy said Iraq’s wealth “is like the smoke…we see it so we know it exists, but we cannot touch it or have any of it…it just disappears.”

Iraqi men look old beyond their years. One guy asked me how old I thought he was. I guessed low to flatter him but guessed 5 years too high. I thought another guy was in his late 40s/early 50; he was 35! They asked how old I was. I told them 37 and their mouths dropped; they said I looked 27. I’m sure I don’t by American standards but these guys are living hard lives so they age more quickly and it shows on them. Like most Americans, I have lived a comparatively easy life.

The Zionist Movement

9 Mar 07
Discussed prejudices and racism today with Ali. We covered racism in the U.S., Iraq, and the rest of the world and agreed that it exists universally and is unacceptable. I couldn’t resist asking about Israel and why it is such a source of animosity to so many leaders in the Middle East. He said, the people he knows don’t care about Israel. I was surprised. Given the present situation 1) their safety in Iraq is too questionable to be distracted by Israel so they must focus on their own personal safety and 2) the people of Iraq are entirely too poor to worry about the “Zionist Movement”—the upper middle class makes approx $1000/month. They can’t afford the luxury of caring about Israel.

He asked me to look into whether or not IqAF pilots could take a coalition C-130 to return to their homes in Baghdad during their leave. He would rather fly than make the dangerous 8 hr drive from Basrah to Baghdad. Aside from the hazards of insurgent attacks and the danger of working with the coalition, he said there is an additional concern for pilots from the Saddam regime that flew against Iran in the Iran-Iraq War. He said the Iranians have offered rewards to kill pilots that participated in the war. Ali was not in the IqAF during the war but thinks that minor detail will be of little consequence to a killer seeking reward/revenge.

Asked SciFi for some ESL material. I’d like to teach some ESL classes in the afternoon to help pass the time. Hope that comes through. I play so much Pictionary trying to explain what I’m talking about that I may as well start giving them some formal instruction.

Contract Hunter

8 Mar 07
A cold encounter today. We were at the terminal waiting for mail and struck up a conversation with three foreign troops. We talked their national politics, cultural dynamics, et al for a while. Anyway, all three work in K-9/police dog units. One of the guys is a reservist in their country's army but in his civilian life he is a contract hunter in Africa who works for various national governments helping to thin animal populations. Some of our guys are hunters so we talked guns and sport. He had a photo album of some of his hunts that included some 8-10 cape buffalo, 2 hippos, a number of gazelles, and antelope and other smaller animals. As their aircraft taxied up, he asked about us. I told him that we lived and worked with the Iraqis here on Basrah. He started toward the aircraft, looked back, grinned and said, “Right. I bagged a couple of them the last time I was here!” In his final words, our friendly exchange turned cold and ominous.

Dhiaa left today for a week of leave in Baghdad. I’ll pray for his safety.

Islam & Christianity

7 Mar 07
One rocket today…not certain where.

I played volleyball with the Iraqis today. Much like soccer, they use some of the same terminology (“out,” “in,” “spike it,” etc.). It was fun but everyone wanted to teach me the numbers in Arabic. I had 4 instructors on the court each of them making sure I had the correct pronunciation. It was difficult to keep track of and I only remember one word.

Afterwards, I joined them in the restaurant for dinner and had a fascinating discussion with Maj Habeeb and Maj Ali H. As is customary, they asked about my family and kids. I told them about Mary Elizabeth, William and Matthew and then explained that Mary and Matthew are both from the Bible. I was surprised when both of them said, “yes, we know these names.” Ali Hassem explained that “Mariam” (as Mary is known in Islam) is the mother of Izu (Jesus).

In the Koran Mohammed proclaims that Jesus is the Soul from Allah and he must be embraced by Muslims. Not enough people know that Abraham is the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Ali H. said many people believe Islam and Christianity are like two fists opposed to one another but educated people understand that Islam and Christianity are like hands with the fingers laced together. To educated Muslims, Islam and Christianity are intertwined and inseparable.

He also noted that many Muslims name their kids Biblical names like “Mosu,” “Sarah,” Yakub,” “Ytzak,” “Ishmael,” “Yusef,” “Jibriel,” Mariam,” and “Jezu” (or "Aysa"). They also said there are many Christians in Iraq and that they make great neighbors. We addressed Judaism briefly and the fact that Abraham is also the father of Judaism and that the Old Testament is essentially the Torah. They agreed but they are also aware that the Jews betrayed Jesus and that the Jews also betrayed Mohammed at the battle of Mecca or Medina(?) which in their eyes brings Christians and Muslims even closer together. Furthermore, they said in the Koran Mohammed said that there is only a thin line separating Islam and Christianity and if I understood Ali H. correctly, the two religions are two halves of the line.

As has been pointed out in several news magazines I believe the problem is in the madrasas or religious schools in extremely poor countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan where none of the lower classes can read. The students memorize the Koran in Arabic but no one understands it because they don’t speak Arabic. That leaves the door open for the imams to spread any sort of hate he wants in the name of Allah and the imams grew up in the same madrasa. The cycle becomes a self fulfilling hatred.

We also talked about the current situation in Iraq. Ali H. said many Arabic nations such as Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are holding up Iraq as an example of democracy. They ask their people if they want democracy or do they want safety? If they want the sort of mayhem that exists in Iraq, they can have democracy. They don’t understand how we came here so prepared prosecute a war but completely unprepared to help rebuild the country afterwards. The impression I got is that they believe it was personal and racially motivated.

Ali H. is a Sunni Muslim and Habeeb is Shiite. They agreed that amongst the educated classes, religion is not a problem in Iraq. That contradicts what I understood about President Talibani so I have some more research to do before I understand the true nature of the relationship.

I finished the evening in a lengthy discussion with Dhiaa and Ali. They like to practice their English and ask why I don’t correct them when they say something improperly—they won’t get better if I don’t correct them. Anyway, the discussion of “the surge” came up and I asked what they thought was best for Iraq: should the U.S. stay or should we leave? They both agreed that they don’t want us to stay for long but that they need us right now to protect them from foreign evildoers who will ransack the country and kill the innocent if we leave. They also agree that these foreigners know about the surge and so they will lie low for 6 months. Ali believes they need more firepower in their army to adequately conduct ground operations and in their air force to provide close air support and ground attack. Currently they fly the Jordanian made CH2000 and Seeker Ali Hassem both of which are exceptionally light, 4-cylinder propeller driven aircraft made for flight training and screening.

Both Ali and Dhiaa echoed Habeeb and Ali H.’s comments that the U.S. failed in 2003 to prepare for rebuilding Iraq. They said the Iraqi people hated Saddam and hailed U.S. forces as they entered Baghdad and did so for months afterwards. During the invasion 90% of the army went home to allow our forces to take over the country. The only opposition was the Fedayeen which they discounted as Saddam’s uneducated goons and said the word translated loosely as a patriot ready to kill himself for Saddam/Iraq. The majority of the population believed the U.S. would take Iraq’s oil profits and employ the Iraqi people to help rebuild the nation, the infrastructure and that we would create a much better Iraq. After a year, most of them still didn’t have jobs so they became frustrated with the U.S. The soldiers who went home a year earlier had spent all their savings and had no work. They believed profits from oil were siphoned off and so they began to take up arms against us. Dhiaa himself was interviewed for the Washington Post in 2003. They asked him how long would the U.S. forces be here? What was the outlook for Iraq? Etc. He said he believed they would need to be here just one year to 18 months and that Iraq was going to be a wonderful new country.

Near the end of our conversation Dhiaa became disappointed. He said he had so many things to describe for me in his mind but that he didn’t have the words in English to describe the events. He told me if I could see what the average Iraqi went through during the war and since I “would cry to them.”

I was surprised when I mentioned CNN that Dhiaa and Ali did not understand so I tried the Arabic equivalent and mentioned Al Jazeera. Both rolled their eyes. They said this news channel is so bad in the Middle East. They said the channel tells half truths and lies in order to make the situation worse in Iraq and to inspire insurgents to come to Iraq. I assumed all Arabs liked Al Jazeera.

There isn’t an easy solution to this situation here in Iraq but I assure you, these guys love their country, they believe in Iraq, and by and large they can’t afford to leave it so they have to make it better. Until they are ready to stand on their own to feet, they need U.S. support.

Safety & Soccer

5 Mar 07
Woke up to the alarm this a.m. Huge explosion sounded close…shook my trailer. Radio said several Iraqi police cars at the terminal received shrapnel damage/broken windows and the fence at their compound was knocked down. Master Sergeant Gary leaves today…I think this is their send off for him.

Adnan and I discussed living conditions under the Saddam regime. Like many here in Iraq, they yearn for the safety during the Saddam regime. So long as you didn’t oppose the regime, life was good…there was no crime, the streets were safe, there were no drugs, ultra-radical Islamists, etc. All of those things have changed. Kidnappings happen routinely and don’t always cross over to other sects of Islam (Sunni or Shiia) as I would assume but is aimed at obtaining a ransom. We both agreed that some countries are destined to live under dictatorial rule and that Iraq is one of those. Not certain what the future holds for the country but I agree with Colin Powell who said “if you break it, you have to fix it.”

I played soccer with the Iraqi Air Force tonight. I was terrible and they knew it right away…my left leg is barely suitable for doing anything more than walking/running on. The Iraqis are very gracious and they continuously put me in key plays so I could score a goal. Over and over again they fed the ball to me but I’m so bad it took 30 min for me to score. Worse yet, I scored a goal for the other team not long after my first goal. Finally, Uday came across the field and said, “we are finish now.” I replied, “well, I think I was finished about 10 minutes ago.” Dhiaa heard that and very politely said, “I think maybe you finish more than 10 minutes.” You have to know yourself and your strong suits.

Britain introduced soccer here during their occupation after World War I so the Iraqis use a number of English terms during play like “cross it,” “goal,” “header,” “out” and “foul.”

Went indij again for dinner. The alarm sounded in the middle of dinner. The Iraqis all sat still as if no big deal. Ali said “it is just a mortar.” They are very fatalistic by nature but I think numbed even more by years of war with us and now the insurgency. I sat calmly with them but DC jumped up, tossed on his body armor and helmet and started telling me to do the same. Everyone stopped to look at him while he kept insisting I put my stuff on. I walked over and put my gear on but immediately felt terrible—these guys have no body armor. There were 6 at our table. When DC and I went back there was only the two of us. After a few minutes a new guy came back and asked “you are frightened?” Slowly the others returned to the table.

Several guys were asking about my family so I went back to my trailer to get the photo album Susan and the kids packed for me. There were pictures of us at home, on vacation at the beach, Christmas, or on vacation at Disney World. About half way through, the new Lieutenant joked that my neighborhood looked like a neighborhood in Iraq. All of them laughed and Dhiaa said there are no neighborhoods that safe anymore in Iraq. Then unexpectedly, one of them asked, “why would you leave this beautiful and safe place to come to Iraq?” I stumbled for words then belatedly mustered, “because I want to see Iraq safe again.”

I love the entire photo album but in that moment the pictures seemed to go on forever as it sank in on the Iraqis that the U.S .is the richest and safest place in the world and that we have no understanding of the safety challenges they face simply to go to work each day or grocery shopping for food and essentials.

Earlier in the day one of our team members joked that he wanted to go to a café on the Shaat Al Arab River for lunch. An Iraqi officer scoffed at him and said, “this is our dream…not yours!” Adnan explained that there used to be many cafés along the river but since 2003 it is much too dangerous to go to a restaurant.


4 Mar 07
Night flying tonight.

Adnan was telling me about his aunt’s family who lives out on the marsh. They built a home on poles above the water. They have strung net pens around the house and eat fish from the nets for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

In the early 80’s Basrah flooded. They built sandbag levies around the city but the desert became an ocean. Adnan and his father went to the flood plain on his father’s bicycle with their cast net and caught hundreds of fish and gave them to everyone around. They had so many fish they flopped out the box on the back of the bike and left a trail of fish behind them.

He commented that Basrah used to be a lot of fun until the Americans came in and brought to power the religious groups. They closed all the bars, started forcing everyone to prayers, etc. He said the religious groups are too stringent and he can’t understand why we aligned ourselves with them.

I mentioned that I am part of the 9-man Coalition Air Force Transition Team (CAFTT) here at Basrah. Everyone knows we’ve been rebuilding their army and police force—the Iraqi Army is at some 130,000 members now. However, there hasn’t been a big priority place on the Iraqi Air Force before now. The Iraqi Air Force is only 1,000-ish strong and they have only 3 C-130s and a small number of very, very light acft. The CAFTT is here to help rebuild the Iraqi Air Force to an end state of some 4,000. There is a much larger team in Taji helping to build the entire AF “pipeline” from entering the AF, attending basic military trng, technical trng/pilot trng, and fielding trained forces to operational units like Basrah. We were briefed that the mission is so important that Central Air Forces Commander, Lt General North made it the number one U.S. Air Force priority in the theater. I’m not certain how true that is but it certainly motivated the team.

Attacked 2 times today…once at 1400 then 8 rockets at around 1900; all in quick succession.

Contrary to the common myth that most Arabs how multiple wives and dozens of kids, only one of the maintenance technicians has two wives. The pilots explained that for most men, one wife with whom he is committed should be enough for a man. Furthermore most of them only have 3 or 4 kids. For example, tonight we were talking about how many kids we have tonight and Capt Ali said he had many kids. I thought 10 or 12 but it was only 5. Senior Master Sergeant Mike commented that one of his brothers has 12 kids. Mohsim said, “I think he is Iraqi.” Mike said his aunt had 23 kids…without ever cracking a smile, Asaad said “I think she is cat!” That cracked me up.

Went indij again…don’t know what it was, but it was good.