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, January 30, 2004

I feel a real mix of feelings today - both happiness and a little sadness - as I prepare to head home and leave Iraq behind. I'm happy to be leaving this war torn area and heading back to an American base where I can walk the streets without fearing for my life, but I'm sad because I have made so many very close life-long friends while I've been here.
During my stay in Baghdad I have met an amazing array of American soldiers, Nepalese Gurkhas, Aussies, Brits and contract workers from accross the globe. I think that in one year here, I've met more high-quality people than in all my previous 23 years!
Every day when I head to chow, the smiling faces of over a dozen hard working Indian and Pakistani contractors greet me and these men who slave so hard to feed my belly have also fed my soul with their jokes, laughter and friendship.
WhenI visit the Al Rasheed or the CPA Palace, and during the month I spent pulling guard there, I get to chat with the highly skilled Gurkha soldiers of Nepal. I'd never thought of going to Nepal before, but after meeting such a fine section of their population - extremely polite and honorable men - it is at the top of my list for future travels. I was even lucky enough to learn the traditional game "back-chaul" from a good gurkha friend that I teasingly called "Jackie Chan II" for his simularity to the star.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Well I've finally calmed down from a case of the shakes that a mortar hit (a little too close to home) gave me last night.
I was sitting in our office on the phone talking to my dad when a huge boom sounded and the building shook. "Oh SHIT!!!"
We all dived for cover and I said a very hurried 'bye' to my dad. It only took a few seconds to throw on our gear.
When no more blasts followed after a few minutes, I retreated to a safer spot away from the big windows of the office (that I had been sitting right beside).
The blast had sounded to me like it hit the check point right out the front of the building, and one of our other soldiers, Christine Andreu, ran in with tears streaming down her face. "Oh my God! They hit check point 2!!" she screamed.
I grabbed the small medical bag I keep in the office and bolted for the door - the guys on check point two are MY boys - the 2/124th Infantry, Florida National Guard, and check point two has a number of guys on duty at any given time.
At the bottom of the stairs other guys from the unit were heading for the door too, including two of the medics. They looked alarmed and my heart jumped further into my throat. "Were'd it hit?" I asked as we ran toward the building's back doors (I figured an extra pair of hands never hurts, especially if many people were hurt).
"Check point three, out back" he replied.
Just outside the doors we met with the unit's third medic, Larkin, who was headed back towards the building. "What happened - anyone hit?" the others asked.
"I don't know," Larkin replied, visibly upset. "They wouldn't let me out there!"
The rest of us just looked at each other puzzled, but before we could do anything, everyone was ordered back inside the building. The medics were riled - not being able to react, but after a few minutes they were told that though one of the guys had taken a head dive out of the guard tower (he had seen the mortar coming towards him), no one was injured, and they headed back upstairs.
I myself went for a bit of a walk around the building - the idea my "family" here could have been hurt had really upset me. My hands were shaking pretty good from the sudden fright and the adrenaline. I knew I might have to deal with friends being hurt or killed out here, but I always prayed that I wouldn't have to. And to lose one of my guys only days before they were to return home... no.
Christine was in one of the lobbies calming down too.
"Do you know what happened?" she asked.
I told her that a mortar had landed near the check point, but just outside the compound wall and that it had protected the guys from being hit. "I can't believe I lost it like that," she said. "The idea of losing one of these guys... you know."
"Yeah. I know," I said. "They're family. Like brothers."
She sighed and walked back into the office. I waited for a few more minutes, watching the guys below the balcony trying to unwind from 'instant reaction' mode too.
After about an hour I headed home to bed but I had trouble sleeping. I couldn't stop thinking about what could have happened and flashing back to the Rasheed. One explosion like that is enough - I don't want to go through another. And yet, I feel like I might be able to make a difference if I happened to be involved again. Who knows... hopefully there won't be any more bombings to find out.

Monday, January 19, 2004

This morning as I was finishing up a guard shift (had just been released) at the Palace of the Four Heads (now the Coalition Provisional Authority HQ) I felt the building rumble. A major blast had occured somewhere - it felt like maybe right in the CPA parking lot - but no more blasts followed so I didn't think too much of it. I headed to the "JOC," (an area that houses representatives from all the major sections and reports to the general) to report my early duty release and pick up some mail, but didn't end up getting to do either - the JOC was a bustle of activity.
It turned out the blast was a little bigger than I thought - a car bomb near a check point known as "Assassin's Gate." I was shocked - the gate is quite a ways away from the palace and we really felt that blast!
I left the JOC asap so I wouldn't be blocking things up and headed back home - wishing that there was more I could do for the poor people out there. Assassin's Gate is a major thoroughfare for Iraqis.
One the walk home I ran into a medic on guard at one of our compounds who filled me in a bit on what was coming over the radio, and a civilian contractor who'd been waiting for workers near the gate (inside far enough to be safe - just barely) and had seen the damage. I felt like I should be over there making a difference, but I knew that the best soldiers for the job were already there - the JOC had instantaneously deployed first aid and security troops. There is very little that makes a soldier feel helpless, but incidents like this do it. All I could do was pray for all the people working so hard on the scene and for all the innocent people and their families.
I felt bad that I hadn't thought much about the initial blast - they happen ALL the time around here, and sadly, people are often hurt, but usually not too many and it's a fact of life in war. But when I heard how big the bomb was and how many people were hit I was shocked. The fact that someone would set one off at the Gate is awful in and of itself - the Gate is always crowded with local people, most heading in and out of the Green Zone for work or projects with humans rights groups. It's absolutely disgusting for these people to attack the innocent like this - they don't care whether they hit soldiers or not... actually they prefer NOT to - the innoccent can't shoot back like we can. This attack made my stomach roll - it's about as disgusting and cowardly as their attack on the Red Cross a few months ago. : ( The only other prayer I can throw in is that all these sick bastards die along with or building their damn bombs and that we'll run out of them some day...

CNN story on the blast:

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