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?

1 comment:

emitch1 said...

I think I drank beer with Keith at the quad while Hootie and the Blowfish were playing! Send him regards from a Manchester United fan! Go ManU!