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. ; )

Monday, July 28, 2003

Well, Saturday was enjoyable, until it was almost over...

I had the day off from work (my one day a week) and slept in until almost noon. Then one of my infantry friends, Shane, from downstairs came up and we watched a few movies - about half of "Daddy Daycare" before the skipping (pirated disks remember...) drove us insane, then "Daredevil". I was always into comics as a kid, but never really Daredevil - I had no idea he was supposed to be blind, and I thought that part was pretty cool. I got a chance to talk to Shane a bit more too, he's a great guy and really interesting but seems a little shy - no, that's the wrong term... reserved? Quiet. Maybe nervous? I dunno, guess it's possible. Great company though!

My friend Litten stopped by for a quick 'hello' too - I enjoy his company a lot too. He's really upbeat and laid-back at the same time. He makes me laugh too - who else might I meet out here who's more concerned with ruining his tan than getting shot? Ha ha. It's a nice change. I let him sneak in to use the bath tub - it's a rare treat to find a bath tub anywhere in the Army, let alone in the "field", and highly prized.

Anyhoo, my day was going pretty well - nice and relaxing, just a "veg" day. Then in the evening I wasn't tired (after sleeping 'til noon it's no great surprise...) but I didn't want to keep my roommate awake so I headed up to the club (the hotel opened a small one). A bunch of friends were up there and somehow they talked me into dancing (I'm a horrible clutz so I usually avoid dance floors...) and I didn't get to sit down very often after that! When you're the only girl with a dozen guys who all want to dance, but are afraid of looking like 'dorks' alone out there, you end up dancing with everybody. After a while we were kind of in groups because nobody wanted to just sit out. It was a lot of fun - they all treated me like a queen and made me feel really good about myself : ) They ALMOST have me convinced I can dance - hee hee.

We were all having a blast until it was time to go, when we discovered that someone had raided our table, which was interesting considering there was someone there almost every minute (everybody got up during the last few songs of the night). Someone had stole a folder of CD's one of the guys brought and my WALLET!!! Now, having your wallet taken is never "fun", but in a war zone it's DISASTER. Everything that proves I'm an American soldier was in there - without it I could (theoretically) get stuck out in the middle of Baghdad with no support! It had my Army ID, my ORHA pass badge and my SECURITY CLEARANCE too!!! I TOTALLY freaked out. The guys were total sweeties - they turned the place upside down - literally crawling under all the tables looking. They searched every bag in the group (just in case someone mistakingly grabbes it) and asked all over the hotel. We didn't find it, but we looked EVERYWHERE. They even looked in the trashcans on the way out, in case someone just grabbed my cash and dropped the rest. So, I went to bed without finding it :( It took me forever to get to sleep because I was worried.

Luckily, Sunday afternoon my "boys" found it! Apparently, someone finally turned it into the gate where they work and they made a beeline for my office to give it back. I gotta say - I just love these guys! I definetly have to arrange another movie or something to say "thanks". Of course, they DID make me promise to keep coming with them to the club ;) What a 'chore' eh?

Well - time (actually, well PAST time) to go home.... I'll write again soon.


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!!!

May 24, 2003

Hello everyone!
Okay, it’s been a while since I’ve written, but as things calm down there is less and less to write about.

I guess at the top of my ‘news’ would be that one of the stories I wrote has caused a little bit of a media explosion. I wrote a story about 2 brothers who were reunited here by accident after more than four years apart. It turned out really well and everyone was giving me kudos, and it hit our Corps homepage’s front page. AFN Europe (military network TV) caught a hold of it and started chasing these guys for a story of their own and my sergeant mailed the story to a few papers in Puerto Rico (where the brothers are from) and apparently now the mom, who’s still there, has like 20 news crews banging on her door daily. Sgt. Abbott also said that they’re just waiting for the youngest brother to get home in a week or two so that they can treat him like a regular home-ton hero! That made me feel pretty good I must say J Sgt. Abbott even thinks I have a good chance of winning a Department of Defense award for writing for this story! That would sure be nice!

Other than that, things have pretty much settled into routine. I’ve been assigned as our colonel’s driver, so I spend most of my days driving him all over base or reading while he’s in meetings, which isn’t so bad. I spend a lot of time while he’s in meetings out exploring the post and helping wherever I can. I helped the two ladies sent here to open a PX and have a pretty good relationship with them now. They actually scrounged me a bed!! It’s an Iraqi bed, which is like a big bench with a crib mattress on it. I just have to wait for the new mattresses to come in and I should be able to move on to that off my Army cot, which will be VERY nice!

The weather here is QUICKLY picking up pace – the temperatures are soaring with the average being about 100*F and hot days being about 10* higher :P You sweat like a dang dog, and a lot of people are starting to have problems with breakouts and rashes because it’s impossible to stay clean. I haven’t had too many problems yet, luckily, but wearing a helmet most of the time is making my scalp go crazy from the sweat – yuk! It’s not too bad though – it’s a nice dry heat, with just enough moisture in the air that your lips don’t crack and stuff, and I’d much rather be in dry heat than the humidity I endured in Georgia! We’ve had a couple of ‘sand storms’ here now too, though they don’t come anywhere close to what we went through out in the desert. Mostly they’re days where the air is just full of dust – it looks like it’s foggy out – and sand gets into everything, but you don’t have to wear goggles and face masks and everything.

Life is half way between the field and normal here. We’re living in a building, but on cots and using cardboard boxes for shelves. We have water, but not running out of taps, and showers are taken by standing in one spot and dumping cups of water over your head. Since it’s so hot, you have to wash LOTS, which means we’re still using lots of baby wipes too, as any water we use has to be lugged here in 5-gallon jugs. We still do laundry by hand but only undies now, drying it on cords stretched between the building’s pillars. A once a week laundry service does our DCU’s – they will do the undies too, but in Poland the buggers ruined two expensive bras so I’m not trusting them with that stuff anymore! We just got port-o-potties, which will replace the jimmy-rigged toilets we had before, and should (hopefully) be a little more bearable since there are two assigned to our office instead of to the entire area. Bugs are still a problem, but I’ve put up my mosquito netting around my cot and don’t get chewed much anymore. Our rat problem is pretty much over – they killed nine in the first few days we had the snap traps and now the ratties don’t come around. We have TV now too – only 5 channels, and pretty much all news, but it’s still nice, and sometimes there are movies in the evenings.

I’ve been off post a few times now, to run the colonel to meetings at the military headquarters down town in Saddam’s main palace complex. It definitely looks like a war zone out there, but things are constantly getting better as everyone is working to clean things up. I got a photo in front of a really cool monument Saddam built for their Iran-Iraq war – two huge arms holding crossed sabers. Around the bases are big piles of Iranian helmets with a bunch sunk into the concrete so that you drive over them when you go down the road. If I can get photo attachments to work I’ll send a bunch of photos with this letter!

Photos –
MeMonument- the crossed sabers photo
BombedPalace – one of the bombed out palace building on the lake where we are. Soldiers are actually living and working in parts of this one too!
Ceiling – all the palace buildings here have really intricate plaster reliefs. This is our buildings – some of the others are MUCH fancier!
GuardTower – a guard tower with a Bradley a few hundred feet from us
Kitchen – the kitchen with my jimmy-rigged box shelves. Notice our pic of saddam!
Our Palace – the building – a island in and of itself in the middle of a lake
OurRoom – the ladies room here – I’m in the corner with the white netting.
PalaceRug – one of the rugs we scrounged. Some of them are GORGEOUS silk rugs, this one is pretty nice (but dirty)

Um, other than that I don’t have a whole lot to yak about right now I’m afraid. Things have been pretty slow and calm lately and life itself isn’t too much different than before. I’ll try to write again before too long! J

LOTS of Love for Everyone!!!!


April 11, 2003

Hello everyone!

It's been a few days so I figured I better write again. :)

At last report, we were supposed to be heading forward (again) but thisn morning we heard that plans have changed (again). Now we are again unsure when we'll actually move - rumors say anywhere from 1 week to a month, with 2 weeks looking like the most likely.

Anyhoo - not much too new. The pain in my hand and arm was diagnosed as carpal tonal (don't know how it's spelled...) and my hand is all wrapped up in a make-shift brace (that's already driving me up the was 'cause it tightens up on its own...). Hopefully the pain will subside, but until I can take it off please forgive any typos!
As nothing much is new, I figure I'll tell y'all about some of my fellow PAO soldiers ;) I've sent pics of most of them too!

First and foremost in my life here is Sgt. Amy Abbott. We went to basic and AIT together and met back up when I we were both assigned to Heidelberg. She's a wonderful girl - honest, trustworthy and wonderfully frank (telling it like it is). She's also about the best darned sgt I've ever had, as she will stand up to anyone who's threatening her soldiers and is dedicated to taking care of us too. She's from Alabama and Florida (moved back and forth) and has two brothers - ages 6 and 17 I think - that she absolutely adores.

In the photo with Sgt. Abbott is Sgt. Major McSpadden, our boss here and back in Heidelberg. He comes across as a big grump most of the time, but is actually very concerned for all of us (like your classic quiet, tough guy). Me and Abbott get in a lot of arguments with him though, cause we're all horribly bull-headed and stubborn ;) He's running day-to-day operations here and keeping order - kinda like a PAO mayor ;)

Another one of my favorite people (unfortunetly, no pic of her yet, but soon!) is Spc. nicci Trent. She's with then 319th Mobile Pubilc Affairs Detatchment (Army Reserves) from south Carolina. Back in the US, she's a psychology student working towards her masters. Here, she's exactly what I would imagine Ramona Quimby (from the Beverly Cleary stories) would be like once she grew up. Short and skinny, with blond hair and glasses, she can always make me laugh. Even when she says she's 'grumpy' I think she's about the cheeriest one here. Back at home she's got a very devoted fiance (they call each other EVERY night - a HUGE task here!) and two doggies that she dotes on hand and foot :)

Spc's Jennifer Nelson, Jenny Parsons and Christine Andreu are the rest of the girls.

Nelson is the daughter of a reverend and an 8th grade school teacher, which goes perfectly with her sweet personality. She's a real sweety who is always willing to give a hand, and some of her 'classic country' sayings with a slight southern twang make me giggle in and of themselves. :) Though I hate to say it (as she's only 28 now) I could TOTALLY see her being a classic 'mammy' figure from one of those old movies about southern bells once she gets older ;)

Parsons,is also a college student. A tall red head with green eyes, she reminds me (for some reason) of a classic country girl in a checkered shirt, braids and cut-off shorts. She does photography for weddings and such in her spare time back at home, but hasn't really spoken much of any family. She's a sweet, caring girl (usually the first to think of anyone who is ill). She comes across easily as being a little slow, but I'm still not sure if that's true or if it's just cause she's fairly quiet most of the time.

Andreu (photo called "chocolate") is from Puerto Rico and has a classic fiery latino attitude, being very supportive of good ideas, and very vocal about bad ones (but still VERY sweet and respectful to everyone!). She tends to stand out as the 'leader' of the 319th lower enlisted - not bossy, but not afraid to keep things how they should be either. She has a large adoring family back in Puerto Rico and a fiance in S.C. who's every word she dotes on. She makes me giggle a lot, not always purposefully - sometimes just 'cause she comes across as "cute" so often ;)

All the 319th girls come to me and Abbott for help on a lot of things, and it's making me feel a lot mre comfortable about the idea of becoming a sgt (maybe even while we're out here!). I get to be the 'leader' in a lot of situations here, when oftenI get stuck in the background among active army people (especially if they're really outgoing).

Besides photos of the girls, I've thrown in one of Sgt. Slaughter and SFC "kangaroo"Jansens. I've already written about sgt Jsnsons in one of my other letters home (if it ever got there in the mail anyways). Sgt. Slaughter is the only other person who can drive my 5-ton so he's my co-driver for most missions. Today's he's pretty grumpy (slept badly I guess) but usually he's a real joker. He's the kind of guy who is really quiet until he knows you and then gets out going. I was shooting photos of everyone out checking over their vehicles and he was cleaning out an air filter with my 5-ton's air hose. When he saw me taking his photo he 'posed' - what a goof eh? ;) He gets a lot of 'fan mail' from back home - his wife I believe, but hasn't gotten any packages yet (he blames it one me as the mail clerk - teasingly of course).

There are a bunch of others too, but I don't them quite as well yet, so maybe I'l talk about them some other day :)

Anyhoo, not much else to say, just wanted to shoot off a few pics. The last few are of me doing my laundry(fun, fun) and of the "nose art" girl I painted on my truck - she was almost done when an officer saw it and made me paint over it again :( Looked great though! The SGM thought it was a great idea, but our Colonel didn't agree. You can still see her sillouette there though, so I feel a little better.

So, I guess I'll sign off for tonight. Without us hitting the road after all, y'all can breathe a little easier I guess, but truthfully - things are starting to get a little boring here! Oh well, just start praying it stays cool too!! ;)

Love and miss you all SOOOO much!!!


PS - Mom - please, please send me one of those wrist brace things for carpal tonal as quick as you can! Envelopes seem to get here pretty quick and this will probably keep bothering me :( It's my right hand too!! Thanks ;) Love, Becky.

April 7, 2003

Hello Everyone!!!

I finally got email again - I just hope it lasts! They say that Army Knowlefge Online is the only email account that we can access at all out here (when we DO have internet!) so this will be the one to write for the duration of my stay here. At the most I'll only get to it every few days, but it's better than the once a month satallite phone calls huh?

Anyhoo, it's gotten hot as Hades here. The average day is in the low 100's range :P And we've been having a bit of a water shortage that doesn't make it much better. The once-every-few-days showers have become even more sought after as by the end of each day we all smell like barn yard animals - yuk! All the baby wipes help A LOT though!!

I believe I've gotten all the package y'all sent so far - four boxes from mom and dad, five from Aunty Ginny and Uncle Lee and one from Jenkins, as well as a stack of fat envelopes and lots of letters from everybody! I must say, thanks to y'all we'll be very well supplied with TP, baby wipes and tear drops for some time, and I've gotten enough goggles to provide a pair to dang near everybody who's here - thanks soooo much!! The TREATS - both munchable and pampering - are VERY appreciated too! I've gotten enough in the last little bit for us all to enjoy some, to make some 'treat baggies' for our eventual convoy north, and to pack away for once we get there (until the mail catches up at least ;) I must also thank Jenkins, as thanks in part to her and mom all the girls had a mini-slumber party the other night and enjoyed painting our toenails and slathering ourselves with nice smelling stuff (the small things go a LONG way!!). Everyone has been enjoying the news clippings too - with relatives from all over, no matter where my co-workers are from, they get a little bit of home. Oh - Aunty Ginny, please send a BIG thank you to all those girl scouts, EVERYONE has enjoyed smiles and giggles over their lovely notes, cards and pictures :) Everyone here has been shocked by y'all support - I got 6 BIG boxes in one night!! It means a lot to our poor reservists who came without knowing what they were getting into too - all these health items have been a blessing for those who didn't pack anything.

Though the mail is a BIG part of our lives (being the mail clerk for the office it's about all I hear about ;) we've been awefully busy.

I've spent many of my days going through my 5-ton truck and making sure that everything is good to go. I'm so picky that the motorpool guys have picked me up as an 'adoptee' member - which is a good thing because they've supplied us with over ten fuel cans, ten water cans and a fuel nozzle (that has a VERY embarrasing nick name for a female to ask a room full of males for...but I don't want to be crude and tell you ;) They've also allowed me to use their power tools (after much hemming and hawing about giving sharp items to a 'girl') allowing me to spend many afternoons building extra supports and protection panels to fit inside the Humvees.

One afternoon I swiped the 'girls' - Spc Christine Andreau, SPC Jennifer Nelson and SPC Jenny Parsons - to do a very heavy-duty job. We did what's called "hardening" one of the humvees to prepare it for a load of soldiers and media people to fide in the rear. Basically, we had to find and fill enough sand bags (over 100) to line the floor and build walls around the rear of the humvee. We all came back a little sore from all the lifting, but proud of our work (which also made some of the males swallow some nasty comments about women). Besides that, we had fun ;) An odd 'girls day out' to be sure, but with just us and Jimi Hendrix playing on my radio, we were able to "get away".

We have, unfortunetly, been hit by a bit of bad luck. Some virus or flu that caused pneumonia in about half of it's sufferers hit our sleep tent and followed us to the office, hitting us hard. It knocked Sgt. Abbott, my 'sister' in arms from my office in Heidelberg, out for about a week and then flowed thru the rest of us one at a time (luckily, only forming into pneumonia again in SPC Nikki Trent, who's still in bed healing). Mine was compounded by a 'lovely' sinus infection that still hasn't gone away - but, it only stayed with me a few days (a blessing for sure!) and limited me to bed for only one. We were all worried they'd call us to move forward while under the weather, but as of now we still haven't heard a date or time.

Other than the few excitements, that you all probably heard in the news before I ever did, things have been nice and quiet here. We haven't had a Scud alarm in quite a long time (another blessing!) and they've even been getting a little better at keeping the porta-potties clean (either that, or I'm getting used to the filth :P ). Chow has improved, but they've had a few cases of undercooked hamburgers here (from hurrying to fast to provide for angry soldiers waiting in line I'm sure!) so we still have to be a little careful about what we eat. In the chow line, some of the locals who help serve have even taken up trying to teach soldiers a few arabic words - which brings giggles on both sides. I'm afraid I usually forget the new words as soon as I leave :( Oh well...

Right now we're doing pretty well with supplies (thanks to all of you!) so I can't think of much we need right now :) The SGM did suggest that maybe a few camp showers - you know the ones that are like black bags with shower heads or hoses - would come in handy though! Other than that, any suggestions or ways to stay cool are in high demand ;) The heat will only get worse and we're already starting to melt!! :P

Well, I'm about talked out, but I hope I'll be able to write again in a few days (if God wills that the internet stays running!). All of my love goes out to EVERYONE - I SO appreciate the boxes and packages and pretty cards (I loved yours too Aunty Glenys! ;) They really prove to me how very blessed I am!!!

LOTS of Love, Kisses and Hugs - you're all on my mind every day!


PS - Aunty Ginny - SPC Trent says hello to your two puppies!! She misses her 'babies' at home and cooed over the photo of yours in your newsletter ;)

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