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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. ; )
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
I know it’s been a horribly long time since I last wrote a nice long letter, but there wasn’t much to talk about! I had to wait until a few things ‘piled up’ ; )
A few weeks ago the Al Rasheed Hotel,l where I’m staying in Baghdad was hit by mortars. The ‘bad guys’ set up seven in some scrub a ways away and only three fired – two hitting the Rasheed and one flying into an empty lot. Luckily, the bad guys were really lousy shot – they just barely hit the very corner of the building on the very top floor. It surprised those living in that section of the hotel of course (luckily the closest hit rooms were empty at the time). I, myself, slept right through the whole mess! I guess if anyone every says ‘You could sleep through a bomb going off,’ I could answer ‘I have!!’ The mortars knocked a few tiles of the building but really didn’t do much damage – the engineers here say the building was built to withstand American bombs, so there’s really not much these pitifully supplied bad guys can do (thankfully!).
Then, fairly recently, the Baghdad Hotel (across the river from where we are, about 5 miles away) was hit with a car bomb. We felt the blast come through the building – it rattled all the windows – but nothing here was damaged. That hotel is right downtown (among lots of shops and businesses) so there’s not much they can do for security. All over the city they’ve dropped these huge cement barrier walls, and apparently the hotel was surrounded too – that’s what the car hit when it blew up. The blast actually knocked a bunch of those over – they’re like 10-feet tall and 4’ wide!! Other than the barriers they didn’t have much down there, so I guess it was a fairly easy target, just like the UN building (that’s been hit twice now).
All in all though, we’re safer than ever here. The convention center and hotel are probably the two best defended places in the country, so there’s no where safer for me to be.
Things here have been fairly quiet – I continue to keep the web site running, and though we had some problems with a virus (not our systems, but the people who provide our internet’s) things are good now. We’re tucked away in a corner of the office so we aren’t bugged too much, and I like it that way.
I got a break of sorts recently when I was sent to Camp Dogwood (about and hour south of here) to cover a story about a unit that adopted a school. Me and the photographers they sent got eaten alive by bugs, but it was fun to go out to see the kids in one of the little Iraqi back-woods (or back-desert?) towns. The school was a tiny little hole in the wall – like a mini storage facility with the doors pulled off. Each room was MAYBE 12 or 14-feet square and held about 30 kids in old “Laura Ingalls” type desks. Still, it’s a LOT better than what they had, so they’re all VERY pleased. The kids run up and want to shake hands and know your name and some will kiss their hands and pat the American flags on our shoulders. It was really nice – just to see really happy kids who are PLEASED that we’re there. I swear, superman landing in the courtyard wouldn’t have gotten as much attention as we did : ) That’s the stuff that makes the rest of the crap worth it you know!
Outside of work things have been pretty good. I hang out with all my infantry boys and a bunch of the civilians who work with KBR and MCI here. I play poker at least twice a week and watch plenty of movies… and that’s about all there is to do. Boredom is king in Baghdad! You’d be amazed how often you wander stores and parks or go for drives in the US – you just don’t realize how often you do it until you CAN’T! There’s so little to do that entertainment tops the lists of “needs” now. Now that a lot of us are in ‘bases’ that have the basics, it’s just keeping sane that’s the challenge. Can you imagine living in a single building with no ability to leave for a full year? Even a week? Imagine being stuck in an airport for a week and you’ll get the general feeling : P I’m NOT complaining – there are still people out in the dirt, it’s just mind numbing. Stiff like games, puzzles, craft kits and books get passed around like crazy. You know, one of the infantry boy’s had a little bead jewelry kit that his wife sent him and he was actually sitting there making all sorts of necklaces for her – it was something to do! I just thought it was funny – along the same lines as the big tough, fully armored guy melting at the idea of a bubble bath – here’s a fully equipped guy sitting there asking his buddy if this bead will coordinate okay with that other bead and making little flowery seed bead rings. It’s just different : )
I actually spend a lot of time just working to keep spirits up, entertaining or talking to guys who need to get stuff off their minds. “My boys,” the Floridian infantrymen downstairs from where I work (2/124th Inf.) were officially extended another five months and morale has hit dirt bottom. I think the idea of spending Christmas over here instead of at home with their families hits hardest. I’m hoping to be able to scrounge up some Christmas decorations and maybe some treats to try to make Christmas better around here. What with being in a Muslim country, there won’t be any “Christmas in the air” but only what we’re able to work up for ourselves. I’ve written a few internet companies asking for donations, but at least half of those who have answered basically said they’re a reseller who drop-ships so they never actually touch the merchandise and didn’t have anything to donate. I wrote the VFW and USO too but haven’t heard back. If anyone wants to chip in at all stuff would be appreciated – nothing fancy, just the cheap stuff from the dollar store kind of stuff. Things like garlands, simple decorations and maybe scented packets (the SMELL of Christmas was always special to me). If anyone has an old artificial tree sitting around that would be a God send! There aren’t any pine trees here, and though decorating a palm tree back home might be ‘cute’ it sucks when you see them all the time and really just want to be home with the ‘same old’! We’ll make do with whatever we can get of course, I mean if we can’t get a tree I’ll make something out of cardboard – anything to make everybody feel a little better : ) My boys have really made me feel like I’m worth something over here, and I’ll do anything I can to make life better for them.
One of the other projects I just started helping out with here is the opening of a bar in the hotel. There’s already a ‘club’ but it’s quite expensive and VERY arab-styled (no offense – we just get tired of everything being foreign and miss home!) So MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) fronted money to rebuild one of the rooms in the hotel to create a sports bar hang out. They’re also donating two pool tables, a foosball table and dart boards. I KNOW it’ll be a HUGE hit – probably down right over-run. I’m helping with the other aspect of the project – making it feel like an AMERICAN sports bar. Right now all the walls are bare and we want to do the usual American poster collage type thing in there. So I’m spending a lot of free time writing beer companies, NASCAR, Harley, sports teams, etc. asking for posters or banners or stuff to hang up. If anyone has any old posters of sports stars or beer adds or whatever like that that they don’t want I’ll take them!
Whenever I actually get a little leave I’ll try to get some donations (or maybe just buy cheap stuff on my own) for both projects, but we’ll see. I might feel really ‘lost’ once I’m at home and ‘free’ again – it’s been 8 months since I was able to go where and do what I want. You know we had an Iraqi bazaar here and one seller had a corner set up just like a corner store… an I almost went into shock! “You mean, I actually get to CHOOSE what I want??” It’s just strange… You never really realize how nice it is to be able to get whatever you want at any time. I mean, if you want a bottle of hair dye, for example, you just walk out and buy it anywhere. You can’t do that over here – at best you can mail order and get your stuff in a few weeks, and that’s only if you happen to have internet access (we do, but most don’t). I don’t think I’ll ever look at things back home quite the same way again.
I guess a lot of this coming out negative – I really don’t mean it to! Things haven’t been bad, I’m just spending a lot of time trying to improve conditions for other guys, and enjoying the challenge : )
Anyhoo, I don’t have much else to say right now. I do have more stories and stuff so I WILL write again soon ; )
I miss and love ALL of you! I hope I’ll hear from everyone soon, and I know school pics for the kids came out recently, so I better get copies of any of the kiddies ; )
LOTS of Love,