Thursday, May 31, 2007

Private Ray

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

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

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

Rules Change

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

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

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

Missing Iraqi Soldier Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Adnan's Bull

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 21, 2007

Whiskey, Blair and Electricity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 18, 2007

Harry, Czechs & Quiz Night

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Danes & Soccer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sir Jock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Baghdad Pt II (pics)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 6, 2007

See the Sea

6 May 07
Temperatures are rising fast. Today was 101º but we’ve already had temps up to 105º…and it’s early May! It isn’t even a dry heat either. Basrah is only a 30 or so miles from the Arab/Persian Gulf so it’s very humid.

Adnan used to work at the port of Umm Qasr as a ship agent. Umm Qasr is only a few miles up the Shatt Al Arab River from the Arab/Persian Gulf. Despite that, he has never seen the Gulf. At the port he could see the mouth of the river but he never went down to see the sea up close.

The British mouse trap caught another mouse. Tally is now 7-1 in favor of the Brits. I’m going to have to modify the U.S. trap.


3 May 07
Most people know Muslims don’t eat pork. However Halal (“permissible”) food requirements are much more complicated than a simple commandment not to eat pork. We like to share our care packages with the Iraqis but whenever we give them something they thoroughly study the ingredients before they eat the contents. Much like Kosher foods, Halal foods must be prepared in a certain way. For example beef or chicken is Halal only if it has been slaughtered with a knife. It is not Halal to strangle the animal. Additionally it is not Halal to feed animals hormones, etc. Essentially, they observe the same laws spelled out in the Old Testament.

Some foods that we wouldn’t give a second thought to are not Halal like Doritos. Arab Muslims, on the other hand, read the label of all western foods and look for Yellow 5 on the label. There are several types of Yellow 5 but one form of Yellow 5 is made from pork-based oil. Yellow 5 is in thousands of processed foods/products (i.e. Tylenol, Crayola crayons, M&Ms, Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit, etc). If Yellow 5 is present in the ingredients they won’t touch/eat it. You can’t really tell the difference in the Yellow 5 family so Iraqis simply avoid all Yellow 5.

We recently learned, however, that there are several Halal/Kosher food processing inspection groups that inspect foods and label them with a Halal/Kosher inspection label if the item meets standards. Generally speaking, if a food is Kosher it is also Halal (unless the item contains alcohol as an ingredient). If you look on the label of M&Ms there is a U with a circle around it which means it means it has been inspected by the Orthodox Union and they are Halal/Kosher…there are two types of Yellow 5 and M&Ms have the Halal/Kosher type.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the labels but I know I never realized their significance. We’ve also introduced it to the Iraqis but they are still cautious of Yellow 5. Below are the most common Halal/Kosher labels:

Unfortunately for my Iraqi friends, Doritos have pork-base Yellow 5…oh well, that just means more in the world for me!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

F-16 on the Scene

1 May 07
Susan’s birthday today…happy birthday, honey!

Last night's festivities were the work of a single IDF team firing rockets at the base for just over 3 hrs. They would “shoot and scoot” firing from several locations south of the base. The Brits would fire back but by the time they fired the team would have already moved to a new location, set up a defensive perimeter (a level of professionalism not shown before) and fired their rockets. Finally the call was made for a “fast mover” to come in and assist. The closest aerial support was an F-16 some 50 min away. He showed up just as the team set up adjacent to a soccer field and was about to fire their ninth volley.

Some of our IqAF guys were nearby and said that the people gathered for the soccer game didn’t move because for three years the British would show up overhead but when they saw noncombatants in the vicinity would hold fire. Consequently, the IDF teams used the civilian populace as cover for their activities.

Both the IDF team and the locals saw the aircraft circling overhead and paid it no attention believing it was an RAF Tornado that wouldn't fire. I'm sure the locals that were nearby were shocked when a 500 lbs bomb landed just 12 meters from the IDF team. I’m sure the IDF team was horrified. The IDF team members that weren’t killed immediately were rushed to the hospital. The RAF Regiment intercepted them there. A single USAF pilot with the courage to take the shot sent a new message and set a new standard in Basrah City this week!

A few weeks ago I mentioned I ran in the Easter 10K. The guy that won the race was a British Army major. He won the men’s veteran category (over 40) and the men’s overall. We found out later he was a triathlete and we regularly saw him in the gym at Allenby Lines riding his bike. This morning he was struck and killed by a bus on the COB while riding his bike...Maj Nicholas Bateson of the Royal Signals died of his injuries this morning.

Mice & Men

30 Apr 07
There are lots of mice in the Iraqi squadron. Some time ago Susan sent me a bunch of mouse traps. Adnan saw them and asked for a couple. He had them in his car and forgot about them until yesterday when his wife saw a mouse. He hunted through his car to find them, set them in his house, then left to go to the market. When he returned his wife was locked in their bedroom and the boys came out to tell Adnan the trap had caught a mouse. With mocked disgust he said, “I was so embarrassed of this Iraqi mouse to get caught in an American trap! I was sure this trap would never catch an Iraqi mouse. I think this mouse deserved to die!”

We have two guys named Dan on our team. One is stationed at RAF Mildenhall in England and the other came here from Scott AFB, IL. The Dan stationed at RAF Mildenhall also asked his wife to send him some mouse traps. She sent British traps while the traps Susan sent me are U.S. We’ve been keeping a running tab of whose trap has caught more mice. The British trap has six kills; the U.S. trap has just one.

The RAF Regiment is an army infantry style regiment within the Royal Air Force. They train with the British Army and use their tactics but they are RAF. They are charged with protecting the base from attack and employ heavy machine guns, mortars, snipers, fast attack vehicles, and a range of other weapons to protect the base. They can be employed either offensively or defensively. They jokingly call themselves “the military branch of the RAF.”

Three rockets this morning just before sunrise. A 240 hit the Norwegian Lines, went thru the sun shade, thru the Kevlar roof over one of the cabins, thru the cabin and lodged over 12m deep beneath the Hesco outside the cabin…all without exploding. The occupant was in the room and had been sleeping until the attack alarm. He escaped alive/unscathed.

Two British guards at Basrah Palace have been killed in the last week by a sniper. One was 18 and I heard the other was 19. When the palace closes, I suspect those rifles will be turned on the only remaining Coalition base in Basrah province. I’ve placed the perimeter roads off limits to our team. My next door neighbors, Tim and John, are RAF police. They work the front gate here on the COB.

Leaving work I noticed gray skies and a brown, dust cloud on the horizon towards Basrah. I was giving Ali a ride home and pointed at the horizon. I told him that it was good weather for shooting rockets…we have had some seven separate attacks within the last two hours. The entire COB is currently on lock down and no one is to go outside until further notice.

Ten attacks today so far…the previous record was seven. The first attack caught me outside with my door locked. I rushed back and dove into one of the other guys' hooches. I think it will be a long night. I’ll be sleeping on the floor. None of us dared to take a shower tonight.

Eleven attacks as of 2130. Twelve attacks as of record!

Personal Weapons

29 Apr 07
Ali is back from his time off. He came to see me today and said the IqAF had issued him a pistol to take back and forth to his house for personal protection. It was a really nice Walther PPK 9mm pistol. He asked if I had any bullets I could give him. The sqdn gave him the pistol but they had no money for bullets. I commented that it was a nice pistol and he replied, “yes but without bullets, it is just a club.”

Ali said he was very worried about being in Baghdad without a firearm. He was going to the store to buy cigarettes the other day and passed by two guys sitting on a motorcycle. He said they raced up beside him and one reached for what Ali believes is a pistol then the other guy said “it’s not him.” The other guy pulled his hand back. With the pistol he was issued he can at least defend himself and his family in their home. He feels particularly threatened because he had been a pilot under the regime and regime service members have been targeted by locals as well as the Iranians as I mentioned earlier.