The Story of an American Soldier in Iraq

Life as a soldier in Baghdad, Iraq is definitely interesting and full of life changing experiences, like... being shot at and blown up! Yee haw, what fun eh?

Actually, it has its ups and downs, and as a journalist in the US Army (assigned to CJTF-7 Public Affairs) I've had the chance to see many things that others have only heard of through the news themselves - I hope you'll enjoy them too, through my eyes. ; )

Friday, July 25, 2003

July 22, 2003

Hello Everyone!!

I realized this week that it’s been almost a full MONTH since I wrote a letter!! I actually had to open up my last one to see where I’d left off… I know, I’m horrible :P Now that we’ve finally “settled in” to a semi-normal routine it’s hard to keep track of time. I have been thinking of all of you regularly though!

Well, since my last letter we moved AGAIN. Supposedly for the last time though. Now we’re living in the infamous Al Rasheed Hotel, where all those video shots of bombs and tracer rounds coming into Baghdad were filmed from. The Hotel looks exactly like something you might expect to see James Bond in - in the OLD films, not the new ones. It’s fancy for something build in the 70’s but a little grungy and worn out in places (they REALLY need new carpet for instance). But all together not bad! I room with my Sergeant, Amy Abbott (who I went to Basic and AIT with) up on the 10th floor. We’ve got a great view of the city from there, but it’s an absolute horror to climb up the stairs to the room when the power goes out. The power in the hotel goes down a few times a day (taking the water with it, since the hotel has its own pumps) but you don’t really notice it after a while (except for the elevators turning off anyway). Eating and shopping in the dark has become a bit of the norm. The water going off is a pain in the butt though – if you’re lucky enough to make it to the room before the power goes down, then you still don’t get to have a shower after sweating all day :P But I definitely can’t complain – we have a sweet life here (besides, I still have LOTS of baby wipes!).

At work, I’ve been assigned as the Combined Joint Task Force 7 web master, so I spend most of my time researching news, foreign forces, Iraqi history etc. to throw up on the web site. There’s an Air Force sergeant over me, and he’s a nice guy, but a little lazy, so I get to do everything by myself. I don’t mind at all though – it means I have full control over the site and everything on it, which I prefer. I left him take care of networking and server problems while I do all of the design and site creation. I’m enjoying the change of pace. : ) It’s also cool to be in charge of something that is at such a high level – CJTF7 is second only to CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) which is basically the interim government of Iraq. It does get frustrating at times though – we have problems with internet connection even worse than we have problems with power and water.

After work I usually wander over to the Hotel and eat in the chow hall, which is improving every day. Then, I wander through the few Iraq shops downstairs. I know almost all of the shop owners now and when I know somebody around here is looking for something in particular I take them to the right shop and help them cut a good deal – I found that helping others shop keeps me from spending too much money (though only barely…) while making the shop owners happy and getting the soldier a better deal than they would have gotten on their own. I’ve become good friends with several of the shop owners, and now get gifts from them fairly often – when one of my friends makes a big buy they often flag me down with a free ring, necklace or just to sit with them and enjoy a cup of tea. My best business friend – Ali, is very educated and runs a nice shop with some of the best silver jewelry in the building (so I take quite a few people to his shop). He asked me what soldiers wanted – I told him “DVD’s and T-shirts” and he brought a big bundle of both in. He can barely keep them in stock now! He even sells a DVD player every day – soldiers see him playing movies in the shop and beg him to sell the machine. Yesterday he even sold the TV he was using… it made me laugh. I’m just glad he’s doing good business and the soldiers are able to get what they really need now – entertainment. Of course, the movies sold are “VCD’s” (so some won’t play in American machines) and subtitled in Arabic… but he actually already has Terminator 3, XMen 2 and other movies that are JUST on the big screen… pirated, but hey, how can you complain when they’re brand new stuff and only $3 a piece right?

If I hadn’t had a full time job coming here I would have by now – two shop keepers were begging to hire me “come work on your day off!” “You come down and work, just a few hours – men come to see you.” I dunno about that, but Ali swears that I could run his shop on my own, sometimes he teases other soldiers, telling them that I’m in charge (they get a little confused looking…) and that he “just works here.” You know, I was actually thinking about maybe opening a little shop of my own down in the area and just paying a local to run it for me. The average pay for locals is $30/m, and I KNOW I could make more than that. I don’t know how they rent floor space though – Ali said he pays about $7,000 American for a year (“VERY expensive to be in this hotel!” he says) so I dunno, but they do have a few empty slots… we’ll see maybe eh? You could probably make an absolute KILLING selling nice, American brand-name clothing, accessories and “pamper me” type stuff. Every single room of the hotel is packed and most soldiers didn’t bring anything besides uniforms – you see A LOT of guys wandering around in jeans and brown issue t-shirts ‘cause they have nothing else…

Anyhoo, enough about all that… I do more than wander the shops, that’s just one of my favorite activities : ) There are also several restaurants in the hotel and a night club just opened up. I helped the Brits hold a quiz night there last week and we earned about $500 for a local orphanage, so that was fun. The night before last I borrow a movie projector from the Aussies (a REALLY fancy, $10,000 one) and did a theatre showing of “Red Dragon” for the Infantry guys that guard our building – now they all keep asking, “when’s the next movie??” but I’ve made some great friends. There’s also always the pool back at the palace of the four heads (where we were staying earlier) and a shuttle that runs back and forth, so sometimes I go swimming. A lot of nights though, I just veg out in my room, watching the huge pile of movies I’ve gotten from Ali. Me and Abbott do invite a lot of other people over to watch too though! We watched one called “The Ring” last week – oooh that’s freaky! There’s a part in the movie where the killer guy phones the victims, and so one of the guys downstairs (who’d seen it before and knew we were watching it) calls in the middle of the movie with the line : P Almost like Dad jumping in and saying “Boo!” when we were watching something scary as kids, ha ha.

So far things have been pretty calm around here – we just finished a major Ba’athis holiday that everyone was afraid would turn into another “Tet” without too many problems. A couple of the infantry guys said some bullets ricocheted past their heads a few nights ago, but they all seemed to think that it was from a firefight that was well down the road, and they’re well experienced enough that I can believe their instincts. That kinda thing still makes me nervous, but I haven’t seen even an iota of real “war” here yet – no shots my way! We did have a “suspicious package” scare the other day – they evacuated the whole building and sent somebody (unlucky)in there to poke it I guess, but nothing happened and it was just a false alert. So, we’re safe so far.

Anyhow, that’s about all I can think of for now… I do want to send a BIG “thank you” out to the cassadys – I got three packages from you this past week and they were wonderfull!! Though life is better, we’re still “trapped” in these two “safe” buildings and don’t have access to anything American. I REALLY appreciate the treats and toiletries. : )

LOTS of Love to Everyone!!!

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