Monday, December 31, 2007

Goodbye 2007!!!

Today is Dec 31st, the last day of the year 2007. This year has brought many memories, experiences and friendships and one big event in my life, that will forever be with me. On Jan 3rd of this year, we deployed to Kuwait and then finally up in to Baghdad, Iraq. Most of this year has been spent deployed, running missions, fighting a war within a concrete jungle, and just plain being bored out of my mind. But if theres one thing that this year has brought me, it would be the friends and brothers that I have been with and have come to think of as family. We have been through it all together and Im sure we will remain together for the rest of our lives.

Of all the years in my life, this will be one that I will remeber more than any. The memories I have from this place over the past year will be with me forever, and I will look back with both joy and sorrow. In the past year we have lost 2 great men from our company, men whos families did not get to spend this holiday season with the ones they love. These men made a sacrifice that no one could have asked them to make, and we will always remeber and tell the stories of these great men.

With a little time left, we will continue to make memories in this place through part of 2008, but the experiences of this year have been wide and numerous. In a land, far away from home, in a place much different than anything we have ever experienced before, we had made a life. Not the best of lives that could be lived, but we have made the best of what we have had. We will continue to do so until the day arrives that we are able to leave here, to finish our work in this land, and to head home to be with those that we love that we left behind.

For this New Years I have ended up with a nice suprise. Due to the rotations of our days off, I am ending up getting quite a few days off this time and will enjoy all of it. I plan on using this time to start packing things up and to start sending some boxes home. My goal is to minimize what I have to actually carry back with me, because the experience of carry all the gear at one time on our way here absolutely sucked ass and I will not go through that again if I don't have to. I have quite a bit of stuff that I bought here and I need to really assess what I want to keep and whats just not worth taking back. Probably over the next week I am going to get a bunch of stuff to send back and will buy a tuffbox to mail it back in.

Lastly things around here have been getting gayer and gayer by the day. There are so many stupid rules being put in place and they are enforcing them with vengence. Both of the other platoons in our company in the time that we were at the outpost ended up getting caught for "infractions" and having to post NCOs and infractors in front of the chow hall to check for other infractions. How stupid and what a way to boost the morale of the troops which has already dropped significantly after spending 12 months in this hell hole. There are so many new stupid rules and dumb shit that its not even worth listing, but it makes me wonder what they are thinking. Who in their right mind at this point in the game would want to make things even worse on us. Again I say "And they wonder why no one wants to re-enlist."


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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry COLD Christmas!

Just a quick update, I managed to avoid the pink belley and I am offically safe now! :) I know some people wondered why I would post it here when anyone can read it, but the people in my platoon DON'T read my blog, because well, they'd be reading their own lives. So yeah. Also I noticed this is my 100th post!! Wow, I can't believe I have managed that many things to say about this place. Well still should be a few more coming before I head home...

Alright well Christmas is just about finishing up in this part of the world but I wanted to give a quick update. I figured that this Christmas, being that I was in Iraq, was not going to be the best of them, but it has turned out to be much worse than I would have expected.

Our rotation out to the outpost was working out so that I was going to be out here, away from the comforts of the home FOB. I was ok with that. I was also ok with not having a good Christmas meal or anything. I was fine. I was also accepting of the fact that I would usher the transition from Christmas eve to Christmas in a guard tower, probably cold as hell. Again no problems there.

A little divergence here for a minute. Let me tell you how damn cold it has been lately. If theres one thing that I cannot stand it is the cold. I know I had talked about this before and how I was dreading the winter approaching, but now that it is actually getting cold, I realize how much I truly hate it. The thing is, its not really all that cold. Its probably dropping down in to the upper 30's at night, but after going through a 120+ degree summer, thats a huge temperature difference. Add to the fact that this rotation my squads manning the guard positions durring the coldest part of the night. It probably wouldn't be all that bad if it wern't for the simple fact that the Army is great about not allowing you to be warm, despite the fact that they issue you all these different types of cold weather gear. But God forbid that you try and keep warm you know?!?

Me trying to keep warm in the guard towerWell we've managed to make use of what items we are allowed to wear and I guess it hasn't been THAT bad. About a month ago or so I had order some skin tight winter underarmor pants and shirt which are great for keeping you warm. On top of that I wear this thick cotton shirt all under my uniform which together makes it not too bad. Ive got my gloves and a fleece cap that I wear under my helmet and late at night I use my issued poncho liner blanket and half ass wrap up in an attempt to keep warm. Normally our guard towers have these AC/Heater units in there, that last time we were here, they were functional, but somehow in the last 2 weeks that we were gone, they ALL ended up breaking. Fabulous. Also within the places we stay at the outpost, it is cold as shit, and it has been made clear that we must maintain the "standard" appearance, so no wearing jackets around or the fleece cap when not on guard. How retard!?! Theres hardly anyone here of any significance and for Christ sake were living out in the middle of Baghdad. Is this really necessary??

So enough of my bitching and complaining about the cold. Back to Christmas. So we started off on guard, cold, but anyways time passed and finally we were done. Immediately afterwords, our squad drew names for the Secret Santa that we were doing. We all bought gifts in the $10 to $20 range and drew random names and got whatever gift that person bought. Following that, we had our "Christmas Dinner" which conisted of some smoked sausage and pepperoni with some cheese and crackers. It actually wasn't too bad. Following that several of us light up some cigars and celebrate the day of Christ's birth. It wasn't turning out to be all that bad of a Christmas, until we found out that they were planning on having another platoon relieve us for a bit so we could travel to a nearby base and get some real Christmas dinner.

This doesn't sound like a bad idea right? Well you have to figure all the time of getting everything ready, getting the handover going, heading out, getting back blah blah blah. Nobody in our entire platoon wanted to do this, but we were being forced. How joyful! To make it even better for us, the time we were going to be heading out was going to be smack dab in the middle of my squads sleep time. Awesome, now we are giving up sleep to do something that we don't even want to do in the first place.

Well seeing as how we had no choice, we were woken up got ready, and then headed out. Once we got there we receieve a speech that basically stated the time that we had, and that everyone was being forced to go in to the chow hall, to grab a plate of food, sit down and eat it and enjoy it and be Merry. Wow, I'm now being ordered to have a Merry Christmas in a manner in which I don't even want to do. And they wonder why a 26 year old who doesn't like to have his life run like he's 12 doesn't want to re-enlist!! HA! The food was actually pretty good, but all we could think about was how we didn't want to be doing this in the first place. Oh well, its the Army. What can you do? And of course leave it up to them to take something and ruin it. Well thats about all that I have for now. Hope everyone back home has had a good Christmas, or whatever you celebrate!


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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

If it ain't broke, don't fix it...

Lately there have been some changes. Some changes from the squad level all the way up to the company. And with all these changes, come new ways of doing things. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. It seems with all of this new stuff, there have been many changes, and the way things are today are much different than how they were just a couple months ago. With all the changes that have been going on, the best phrase that comes to mind and had been said by many people is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Its pretty simple I think. If you come in to a system that has been working and working well, wouldn't it seem best to try and change as little as possible. Thats what you'd think but apparently that doesn't seem to be the case, and as a consequence, we suffer and things in certin ways have made a turn for the worse. I won't mention specifics but its kind of sad to see how things have changed. Several months ago when we got a new platoon leader, the guys working at the batallion headquarters told him he was taking over the best platoon in the batallion. Its just sad to know that the platoon they talked about isn't the same.

So on a lighter note, today is my 26th birthday. Exiciting I know. What a better way to spend your birthday than in a 3rd world war torn country. Awesome. Well at least I ended up having the day off simply by luck. I wasn't about to let anyone know it was my birthday (except those close to me) because my platoon has a tradition of holding down the birthday boy and pulling up their shirt and slapping the shit out of their stomach, giving you what has been referred to as a "pink belly." I don't plan on telling anyone until after New Years so I'm past the official statute of limitations for receiving a pink belly. Its the unwritten rule that if you sneak by for at least a week your officially safe. So far, 1 day down! :)

Well its been a little bit since I've posted and I've been pretty busy to be honest. We've been doing quite a bit and I probably could talk about a lot more but its late and I have to be up early so I'm just going to talk about an incident from the last patrol I went on. It was another long one, and we had our company commander out there with us so we had plenty of things to do.

The 2nd day that we were out, we ended up linking up with this guy at night that they wanted to talk to and see about maybe using him for some information. We ended up linking up with him but there were some people around so we went to move out to a more secluded location. I took my team, which was a total mix matched team. It was me, our medic, a forward observer, and squad leader from Scouts who was out with us. Anyways, we started walking along and all of a sudden these 2 kids took off running away down the alley. I thought to myself "What the hell?!" when all of a sudden 3 more came running out of a side alley I was coming up on and ran the same way the first 2 kids went. I was just coming up on the alley when this happened so I looked down the alley and thats when I saw this huge crowd of 40 people yelling and screaming!

Oh shit, whats going on now. Thats when the sound of what I figured to be a small caliber pistol rang out and some people started scattering. I immediatly stopped in place taking cover slighly behind a wall, shouldered my rifle and turned my night vision laser on to start scanning the people. Without skipping a beat the Scouts squad leader had moved up right next to me behind a car, and did the same thing. At this point people started rushing out of the homes with all sorts of stuff in their hands. Some people had boards, pipes and other things. This was getting bad when all of a sudden the Scout squad leader called out that one of them had an AK-47. This just got worse. This all happened in a matter of seconds and I yell out for everyone to stop as I begin to have my team advance on the crowd.

We were moving fast and I'm not going to lie I was a little worried about running in to a crowd full of angry people with all sorts of weapons ranging up to a pistol and a rifle. As we came running forward the crowd began to desperse and take off running. It was chaotic as we tried chasing people down and find those with weapons. We ended up losing the guys with weapons so we hearded up everyone that was left and began searching and talking to them. I'm not real sure what started this or why, but 2 of the fueding groups were there and even when we had them "contained" they were still arguing and yelling and getting physical. Thats where we had to step in and step up our level of agression to quell the situation and prevent it from getting out of hand. While we were dealing with all of that one of the guys pulling security noticed 2 guys dressed in all black come in to his alleyway and began walking away. Right before they turned off he noticed they had an AK-47 with them. When it was called up over the radio my awareness level went up 1000% anticipating things to go down or at least some pursuit after them, but for some reason still unknown to me now, we did no go after them.

We finally ended up calimg everything down and finsihing up what we were doing so we headed on back to link up with the rest of our guys and began telling the story of the craziness that just happened. It was pretty exciting and crazy to think about how close things had come to being really bad and getting really out of hand. The thing that worried me was if whoever had that AK within the crowd had started shooting at us, it would of been a hell of a time trying to shoot back at them without hitting all the people that were around. So what do you do in that situation?!? Hope I never find out.


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Monday, December 10, 2007

Making up for lost time...

In the past few months, I can honesty say that I have not been on any raids. It has been quite a while. Now, this is not saying that raids were not happening, it just worked out to where I didn't end up on any for quite some time. It seemed as if for me there was going to be no more kicking in doors, rushing in to homes/businesses and all the craziness and excitment that comes with them. Since it has been so long since the last time I had engaged a known enemy, raids were the last form of a rush and excitment that was left.

Well that all changed over this last week. In one of my previous posts I talked about the night time raid with the masked and armed local guards. Apparently that was to be the first in a series of raids for me and the others of my squad. The next raid was to go after some guys that we wouldn't mind capturing. These were to be the snap raids, or the ones where we get info at the last minute and head out to the target location without any real plan. This isn't a bad thing because we have been doing these for a while and everyone knows what to do as far as the little stuff. Just the major stuff usually gets hashed out between to squad leader, myself and the other team leader quick like and then we roll from there. We've gotten quite good at this and has allowed our reaction time to such info to be quick. So the first place we ended up going to was a bust so we headed out to our next location.

The next location was located in a "business" type of section and the place we entered was pretty big for the amount of guys we had. Nothing new and we quickly cleared the floors and rooms but no luck again. The roof eaisly connected to many other same level or close to the same level roofs of the adjacent buildings. There was only one occupant but there were some cups of Chai Tea (the typical Iraqi tea drink) that were out that were still warm, leading us to believe they had escaped as we were got there or just before. We wern't going to call this one quits just yet and began searching around to try and find them. While searching the home we found some vests with bodyarmor and ammunition vests. Now we really wanted these guys. At one point while searching adjacent roof tops the other team awoke a family living below and out of fear they fired a couple warning shots from their AK rifle. The sounds of the shots ringing out had us on high alert and they began carefully going in to that home. Like I said tho, it just turned out to be a man trying to protect his big family from unknown invaders. We never ended up finding the guys we were looking for, but it was good to get out there as a squad and to conduct these raids and get back in to the swing of things.

Another day we had some good info on a meeting that was taking place for some of the local militia and we decided to act on this quick. We headed out with a good amount of people for this raid and my team was to be the lead team. We ended up linking up with the leader of the local armed security guys and they went with us to the location. As we started getting close these guys began running and then sprinting around trying to get there as quick as possible and of course we had to keep up with them. The thing is I'm not sure the guys up with me knew where they were going and we began running all around this one neighborhood, but not towards the area we were supposed to go to. It was exhausting and to make matters worse, no one really brought any water because we figured this was going to be quick, in and out. Now we were echausted from sprint around all over the place and had almost no water to replenish. This was begining to suck.

We finally made it to where we were going and it ended up being a HUGE area. With the help of the security guys we secured the area and rounded up all the people that were around there for identification. This was where it got crazy because there had to of been over 100 people there and we hearded them all tightly together and begin the long process of identification. I can't recall how many we ended up getting but it turned out to be a good amount. The crazy thing was how many of these local security guards had showed up to help us out. It had to of been over 30 of them, which in many ways helps make our job easier. Like when we were on the way back with the detainees they had gotten some word from someone along the way about a possible weapons cache, so we stopped real quick and my team along with several of these guys went in to this "yard" thing and immediatly they went to working searching around like crazy and we pretty much just sat back and let them do the work. It was pretty nice, Im not even going to lie. We didn't find anything and so we headed on back finally after many hours of being out. We were all exhausted and thirsty and it was nice to finally chug a good bottle of water.

So that just about covers the major stuff out there. Its been good getting out there and doing these raids again, especially when they yeild the positive results. Hopefully this trend will continue and we can continue to be as proactive as possible until we leave here.

Well yesterday was the memorial ceremony for Reece. We had ourselves looking our best as we prepared to give our final respects to another brother, another great man. The service was done very well and it was good to be able to share in the memories of the guys that got up there to speak. I can tell it was tough for them. Its tough for everyone, even those of us who did not know him too well. Hearning about him I wish I would of had a chance to get to of known him better. In the end the memorial was a good thing, despite the rough feelings that came along with it. I know after attending Tolletts memorial that it had been a good thing to be able to express the feelings and emotions that you can't always express with one another when you are expected to pick up and continue on with your mission. I hope everyone was able to walk away from this memorial with a greater appreciation of the man Kyle Reece was and to be at peace with knowing he is in Heaven now, wathing down Im sure over all of us.


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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Never forget SPC Matthew Kyle Reece...

SPC Matthew Kyle Reece KIA 1 Dec 2007 Baghdad, Iraq
http://www.wral.com/news/state/story/2119198/

A soldier based at Fort Bragg has been killed in Iraq. The military confirmed Monday that Army Spc. Matthew K. Reece of Harrison, Ark., died Saturday from wounds sustained when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.

Reece was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. He joined the Army in 2005 and arrived at the 82nd Airborne the following year.

The military says Reece is survived by his wife, two children and his parents. A memorial service will be held in Iraq.

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It is another trying time for the soldiers of our company as another one of our brothers made the ultimate sacrafice, trying to bring peace and freedom to a nation that has not seen such a thing. His platoon was attacked by a faceless, cowardly enemy who will do anything to prevent such a bright future for their country.

I was a part of the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) that was called up immediatly after the attack. It was chaos getting up, ready and out to do what we could to help our fellow soldiers and friends. There was no hesitation, and the words struck deep in to us as we were told "They've been hit by an IED! They have casulties!"; We were in such a mode that got things happening FAST, despite the chaos, confusion and worries.

By the time we got to the scene, another unit was there and had secured the area. Our guys had already rushed off with the wounded soldiers, so we went to recover the vehicle. Once we had the truck back, myself and a couple other team leaders made sure to keep the soldiers away and began to sort through everything and recover important equipment that was left behind.

From the sight of the vehicle and the way things looked inside, I can only imagine the chaos that had fallen upon the guys in that convoy. One of my friends was the TC (Truck Commander) of that vehcile and he suffered some minor injuries. My heart goes out to him, the other guys in the truck that were hurt, as well as all the guys in that convoy and our company. We learned not too long after we had the vehicle back that SPC Reece had been killed. There was utter disbelief. Another soldier in the truck we were told they wern't sure if he was going to make it or not. Thanks to the great job of the soldiers and their medic that day, he will live.

It seemed things had been going well lately, and with the end of our deployment nearing, a lot of us had felt that we would ride the rest of the deployment out without incident. But just like that everything changed, and once again the true nature of this war and our enemy came back to haunt us. The men of Charlie company would have to endure the pain and emotions of another lost soldier. Although he may no longer be with us here physically, Reece will live on in the hearts and minds of the soldiers who were lucky enough to serve with him. May God watch over you and your family and know we are thinking of you and your sacrifice down here.


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Friday, November 30, 2007

The patrol from hell...

It is good to be back at the FOB, let me tell you. The last venture out in to the city was another long one, lasting a couple days, and my God did it suck ass. Time dragged on for what seemed like an eternity, and it was a tester on the moral of the soldier. To make matters worse, my understanding of the deployments of Vietnam have changed. I had always thought that deployments were 2 years, but apparently it was 1. The whole time I had it in my head that if they did 2 back then, well 15 months isn't bad. Now that bubble has been burst.

The patrol started off normal. Things were going alright during the day, and nothing really exciting or special had happened. After our break for a lunch MRE, we got word that the security force that we've hired and are working with in our area had found yet another weapons cache, so we moved out to their location to secure it. When we got there they had most of it uncovered and we basically set up security around the house that it was found in. Looking over at the pile of explosives they had was astonishing. I had never seen so many rounds. Shoot this was only the 2nd cache I had ever seen and this was turning out to be a big one.

A lot of the rounds were rusted and just looked unstable and to add to the fact that there were just so damn many of them, we called up the bomb guys to come check things out for us. We ended up having to wait a couple hours for them to show up and during that time I ended up going inside the hose and seeing more of what they had in this cache. Theres was ever MORE stuff inside the house. Once I came back out in to the street we had a lot of time on our hands and there were a ton of these armed security guys around so we started talking with them. Many of them were pretty cool and I no longer believe that they are former militia guys that converted to what they are doing now. Many of them had bad things to say about JAM (the Shiite Militia) which used to have a big presence in the area.

So EOD (the bomb guys) finally showed up and came and checked the rounds and layed them all out to get a count and take some pictures. I couldn't tell you how many rounds there were, but it was a LOT!! They had mortars of all sized, from 60mm all the way to the big bad boys, the 120mm. They had RPGs and some other explosive stuff. There were weapons, tons of ammunition and wiring and all sorts of stuff to create IEDs. This was a HUGE find, and it was awesome being a part of getting this stuff off the streets. After almost 4 hours at this cahce we finally were able to get out of there. The EOD guys were probably going to be busy for quite some once they got back and got to work on all those rounds.

Later that evening we ended up swing back my the FOB for something. My squads truck had been having some power issues due to a bad pulley for the alternator and at one point we had lost power to everything electical in the truck. I'm suprised the truck was even still running. We ended up trading out and getting another truck so ours could get dropped off with the mechanics. On the way out, almost everything was going wrong with getting off the FOB. I won't go in to the details, because it makes us look fucked up, but thats not the case. It was just one of those days. Once off the FOB we started rolling down the road, when all of a sudden inside of our truck we hear as loud 'whoosh' sound that isn't stopping. My grenadier who was driving started yelling "What the hell is that? Whats going on?!?" I told him I didn't know just as smoke begins to fill the truck. I took a deep breath and was unable to breathe. I thought it was this fire suppression system we have in our truck and I started yelling "I can't breath! Its the fire supression system sucking the oxygen out! AHHH!!!" I flung the truck door open as we are still driving down the road. At this point, everyone is partially freaking out and the driver stops the truck and we all come running out, not knowing whats going on. It turns out the fire extinguisher (different than the fire supression system) randomly started shooting the chalk powder out, which was the reason no one could breathe. We got loaded back up, everyone laughing their asses off! This is not going to be a good night!

That night we ended up doing a dismounted patrol and once again I was on point and we ran in to some more armed guards. Apparently they knew where some dude was we were looking for and we ended up following them to this house. It was freaky because the 4 armed guards had black ski masks that they wore and they were hauling ass, almost running, to this house. I was up front trying to keep up with them while the rest of the guys behind me were steadily falling back. At one point I couldn't see anyone past the guy right behind me and I was getting worried. I had the gut feeling I was being led in to an ambush. These guys also had their tactics down as they pulled security down alleyways that they crossed and everything like that. Once at the house the started pulling security on the door, the roof, the other roofs and down the alleyway. I was totally shocked as I was getting my team ready to enter in to the home. We ended up storming in and clearing everything. There was a man and his wife there but it wasn't who we were looking for and they had nothing in the home. Oh well, sorry for the intrusion.

We finally got to where we were to bed down for the night and I think I was in bed at around midnight. At 0345 in the morning we get woken up to head out and check out some explosions. Awesome. As expected it was nothing and we just ended up getting up and heading out there as a waste of time.

The rest of the next day was pretty relaxed. We ended up dismounting in one of the markets to sieze some scooters. Apparently there are new rules now that forbid the scooters in the markets, but somehow they are all over the place. We ened up seizing 2 of them and putting them on the Humvees and driving them to an Iraqi police station for these people to pick up there. (insert sarcasm) Bet they really learned their lesson! I felt like such an asshole while doing this too, and you could tell we definatly wern't making friends out there that day. Glad Im doing an extra 3 months to take people scooters away from them in the markets. Yay for me!

That night we wen't on a dismounted patrol which was origionally supposed to be a short one. Well, like most plans, it ended up going to shit and turned in to a fairly decent walk with a quick snap raid thrown in the mix. The raid yielded nothing and after a bit of walking and not much to show for it, I was ready to link back up with the trucks and wait for time to slowly pass until we were to head back. Right about the time we were to head back we got word that there was some target location we were to go to in order to break up some plan for a future attack on coalition forces. Wonderful. We headed out and got everything set to do the raid. My squad was to go in and do all that fun stuff. We ended up going in 2 different houses and finding a whole lot of nothing. Sorry, nothing exciting, just another waste of time! :) Oh well, once it was over, we were on our way back to our base to finally come home. Those couple of days felt like a week and more than ever was a looking forward to being back on the FOB. Hopefully things will go a little smoother next time.


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Friday, November 23, 2007

A time to give thanks...

This Thanksgiving has a little extra meaning this year. It is a time when we give thanks for the things we have, and to remeber that some of the most important things we have are those that we have always had or will always have; our friends and family. But this year, I have a little something more to be thankful for.

To take a few steps back, I'll go back and talk about the last couple patrols I went on. These were the first couple of patrols I had done since being back in Iraq. The first one, there was nothing really special about it. I was a dismount team leader and we did the usual amount of walking around, but I discovered that my body was going to take a little bit to get used to working 20+ hours at a time again. I ended up sleeping every opportunity I had. Fortunately I would have a couple days off before the next patrol. Since the weather has cooled down a lot, I'm not trying to split my time between dismounting and driving, so I should be dismounting a lot more now.

The next patrol turned out to be a true tester of my bodys willingness to function. The day started out like most other days, but after our stop for breakfast we were to do a dismount through a couple of the markets with some folks working for Civil Affairs. These are the people that do projects and whatnot to improve infastructure and peoples lives in certin areas. I was looking forward to this because this has a completely positive purpose and makes me feel as though I'm accomplishing something, even if I'm just pulling security for the people that actually do the work. Anyways, they ended up stopping and talking to just about everyone and we did a loop that would normally take 30 minutes to walk, and it ended up taking 3 hours!!! I was exhausted and sore and sitting back in my truck felt like heaven.

It would be short lived because we were to go check out some possible car bomb factory. We dismounted for that, with the Civial Affairs Maj. for some odd reason. I'm not real sure what business she had going with us but whatever. We found nothing and ended up being out another hour searching through various buildings. Ok enough already, I NEED A BREAK! :)

I'll use this time to gripe about a new rule that is in place. Its called, No More Lunch! Yes. Durring days that we are on patrol and outside the wire we may not stop by a nearby base that we normally eat at and have chow. Breakfast and dinner are still ok (for now) but lunch is a no go. Now this is completly moronic because this base is not far at all and if we were needed in sector for anything we could get there VERY quickly. But again, some officer who never goes outside the wire, and never puts in the hours and work we do, was probably eating a cheeseburger at lunch one day and had an epiphany. "Oh you know what, I think we could be more productive if we cut out a stop of lunch for these guys! Ahh, yes I'm a genius." Thats about how it went I'm guessing, and now, we are forced to eat MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) when there is no reason that we should have to. Hey buddy, there ain't shit going on in our sector. It'll be fine if we have a damn decent meal. But they're not the one making the sacrifice, so its not an issue to them. Makes me mad.

So back to the rest of the day. After lunch it was pretty uneventful and we ended up having to make a trip to the Green Zone for something, which was nice because I was able to have Subway for dinner. We had a night dismount planned acorss sector (its not really THAT far) which we got dropped off for on our way back from the Green Zone. At this point I was totally exhausted and just wanted to chill, but now there was this patrol I needed to do. My team was to be in front, so I took up point and led us around sector. I was pretty suprised how well I still knew the alleyways.

Just before we were almost back we had gotten word that the neighborhood we were in supposodly had 10 guys with AKs walking around in it. We were also told that there was an IA (Iraqi Army) patrol in the same neighborhood looking for them. I instructed my guys to keep their eyes open, but to make sure of what they were seeing so that we wouldn't get in to an accidental confrontation with the IA guys. Oh yeah, the 2 other guys on my team were new and BRAND new. The patrol picked up and continued on.

Very near the end, I turned in to this other alleyway and noticed an older kid sitting on a desk or something in the alley and through my nightvision, it totally looked like he was wearing a training bra. I though to myself, "What the fuck is he wearing?" The nightvision sometimes messes up colors and makes stuff look weird like that, so I tilted my head up to try and look at him with my eyes, but it was kind of dark. I had just focused back on him through the nightvision and had though how weird that was, when his friend, about the same age, whom I had not seen before came out from around him, about 5 meters in front of me. I noticed he had something in his hands and made out the shape of an AK-47. My heart stopped and I lost my breath. Myself and probably my team were done for. Fortunatly my head kept working and training kicked in as I drew my rifle on him, shining my tac-light on him and putting my visible green laser on his chest. Not taking any chances, I flipped my rifle to FIRE. I yelled for him to stop and to drop the weapon. The boy froze in place still holding his rifle. It seemed like an eternity, just waiting to see what he was going to do. Any movement other than a downward motion would of immediately triggered myself, as well as the guys on my team who at this point were now aimed at him as well, to unload on him, filling his body with 5.56mm holes. He made the right move and laid down the AK. I continued to pull security on him and his friend as the guys on my team moved up to search them. The other kid had an AK-47 that I had not seen, and together they had 5 full magazines of ammo. Both these kids couldn't of been more than 16 or 17, but apparently they were part of some security force that we, the US military, have been paying to keep things under control in some neighborhoods. I don't see why we would allow them to carry weapons, and personally I don't think they are, but beyond my control we gave them their weapons back and left to head back and link up with our trucks. My mind was still racing, thinking of all the other different ways that situation could of ended up. I'm thankful that, due to quick thinking and control on my part as well as both the new guys, we did not end up having to waste 2 kids that night.

Once we linked back up with the trucks we got word that the supervisior of the security force had found a weapons cache so we headed down there and dismounted AGAIN to go check it out. Sure as shit, they had found a cache alright. It was 8 or 9 RPGs (Rocket Propelled Gernades) and a couple mines. We gathered them up and took them out to the road and ended up having to wait forever for EOD (Explosive Ordanance Dispoal) to come out and taken them away. As bad as it is, I ended up locking my door in the back of the Humvee and racking out. I was totally exhausted, void of any energy at this point. But again, the proper handeling of those kids with AKs paid off, for I'm sure if we would of shot them, their "boss" would not have cared to help us out with the weapons cache.

So thats about it. That 2nd patrol was a LONG day and totally kicked my ass. But its ok because now any future ones won't be as bad. I now have a little extra to be thankful for this Thanksgiving as well. A potentially horrible situation was defused without incident, and I'm forever greatful that it went down the way it did. Thanksgiving was yesterday, and I didn't really do anything special. I had the day off, which was nice and for lunch they had the whole Thanksgiving day meal. It was pretty good. Nothing great, but for being in Iraq, I can't complain!


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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Baghdaddy vacation...

I sit down on a metal chair, complete with bent legs and a missing back piece, curtosey of the lack of care and extra weight of men lumbering down upon it with 60+ lbs. of gear affixed to their bodies. This chair will be my throne in this tiny castle, or should I say tomb, for the next 4 hours. I look over and see my grenadier who seems so comforable in the remnants of an officer chair stacked upon layers of sandbags, just high enough to be able to see over the machine gun and out the window of our fortified guard tower. This is going to be a long 4 hours. An hour is long in these towers, 4 hours feels like an eternity sometimes.

I reach in to my cargo pocket and pull out a half smoked pack of cigarettes. I just opened this pack not too long ago. Another consequence of mind numbingly boring guard positions. I struggle to reach the lighter in my pocket, simply because the act of arching my back and snaking my arm over the magazine pouches on my vest, extended farther out thanks to the armor piercing protective ceramic plate nestled in my kevlar body armor. I finally grab a hold of it, though be it by the tips of my fingers and retrieve it for a much need cigarette. Its been forever since my last cigarette, almost 30 minutes, and I'm dying to light up. I faithfully remeber that I can no longer smoke in the guard tower, so I prop the door open and slide my beaten chair across the sandy floor until the front two legs are resting beyond the lip of the door frame, that to me is the legal barrier between inside and outside of the guard tower. I casually sit forward putting myself more than half way beyond the legal barrier I have established. They taught me to round up in math class, so I'm rounding up to this action equating to my body being outside, not inside.

The sun is slowly begining to fall towards the horizon, giving the sky that ominous, dreary look, as oranges, reds and greys splash the sky. I sit there for a minute, with the cancer stick hanging from my lips, and relish in the moment that I am living it. The sounds of, if I had to guess, I'd say 5 Mosques blare at various volumes across the city that is my temporary home, thanks to the idea that US forces should live amungst the people they are working to protect. They should say, Infantry guys who's lives already suck at times due to the nature of their profession, shall be asked to suck some more by being forced to live within the browns and tans with little of the creature comforts that the life on even a small FOB offers. Oh well, I did sign up for it right?!?

The crisp evening air swirls around me as off in the distance the sounds of bullets flying begin to fill the air. It begins as it almost always does with a short burst or a few sucessive shots. There tends to be a silence follwing this initial fury of rage, which I assume has to do with whoever is being shot at trying to figure out where it came from. Then as expected there are more shots followed by the bellowing of a machine gun in response. A firefight has begun, and the sounds which have become so sweet to me, dance around in my ears, filling my head with pictures, memories and imaginations. Go figure, theres trouble in that neightborhood again. I finally bring my lighter to the cigarette which has been begging to be smoked, flick the switch and another destructive force, this one under my control, begins to burn away at the dried tobacco leaves containing the precious nicotine my body desires. How surrel is this? The sky, the sun, the lights, the chill, the calming (i know its crazy) effect of the sounds of a firefight just right up the road, the prayers being broadcast across the city praising Allah, and my sitting in my rinky dink chair, trying to absorb it all in. Yup, this is my slice of Baghdad; my home.

So that was my attempt at some "poetic" ramblings. Figured I'd try something new for a change. So yeah, as you can see its been a little bit since I last posted, but you can thank my vaccation at the 82nd Airborne Resort I had the privledge of living in and protecting for sometime. They blocked access to blogger at the outpost, so I am forced to survive in reading comments that get forwarded to my email and watching the counter on my page rise with each visitor. Speaking of, the counter a few days ago passed 50,000! Wow, that absolutely blows my mind. I would of never through when I put that thing on my page that it would get even remotly close to that. Still crazy to think about.

This trip to the outpost was the first time I ventured out in to the city since I got back from leave. Welcome home, goodbye "home" for a while. See you soon enough, or not soon enough. We ended up doing several patrols while out there, and those tended to be while it was dark out. Sometimes I like going out when its dark, because we can see pretty well and we are able to sneak around and its kind of fun. Othertimes, the green image of the nightvision gets annoying as shit. For these patrols, we were trying some new things and new ways of doing some tactics and got a nice system down for doing random vechicle searches. The purpose of which is to hopefully get "lucky" and to find someone transporting weapons, or bombs or whatever. So far no luck, but we have a great system now that works well, and its nice to do something differnt from just walking around. The first night we did this, I stepped out in to the road to stop the first car, but for some reason he didn't notice the flashing tac-light or the green laser beaming in to his front windshield. I tried yelling, but this proved futile since he had his windows up. He wasn't stopping and I was forced to quickly move out of the middle of the road and to test my rifle to ensure it still fired, by shooting a warning shot in to the air. The car screeched to a halt. Yup, she works just fine! :)

Also durring this time at the outpost, I got together enough guys to swing by the Ministry of Agriculture and talk to someone about getting shots for Charlie, a necessary step in getting him home to the US. I'll post more on this story on the website I have up dedicated to getting him back (link in the sidebar), but basically I was able to coordinate having the guy get the shots and swing by and administer them to him. He recieved a rabies vaccine and two others which I can't remeber what they were. Next time out I have to swing by and pick up the health certificate and that will leave the last step being getting him out of Iraq! I'm stoked that we were finally able to make this happen and I'm feeling very good about getting him home.

That about covers anything, exciting, fun or new that went on this time at the outpost. Pretty mundane as usually, and I'm sure as hell to be back on the FOB. Sometimes I wish I was a fobbit. Yeah that feeling usually passes quickly. I must admit time goes by quicker I think when we are going out and doing things all the time. Shoot we even had one of the desk guys come out with us for the week and a day of patrol. He enjoyed himself, but decided that he would enjoy his desk job more. I can't blame him!


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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Welcome back to Iraq!

So yup, here I am, back in Iraq. Exciting times! My trip back was not too bad. Although on the plane ride from Dallas all the way until Kuwait I had an isle seat. Let me tell you, I HATE isle seats. To make matters worse, this plane had even less room than the normal coach seating so it was pretty awful, but I just slept most of the time and before I knew it I was in Kuwait. It was pretty sobering to be back and I had a good bit of time to reflect on how my life was going to be sucking again very soon. Well, so far it hasn't been too bad.

As a welcoming home present, the Iraqi insurgents decided to launch a rocket at our base the night I got back. Thanks guys! I've already got used to hearing the occassional gun shot or burst, and in fact as I type this some rockets are flying overhead and impacting somewhere. Guess I'll be here for a little longer than expected!

I didn't end up having to go out on this last patrol which was nice. I've just been kicking back, relaxing and "reintegrating" in to the Iraq lifestyle. So yeah thats about it. Know that I have arrived safely and soon enough will be back in to the swing of things.

One side note, while I was gone not much happened except for a single incident that involved my platoon and a couple guys that popped out and fired a few well placed bursts at them. It was short lived, just a quick response from our guys, but nobody hurt on either side and just as quickly as it started it ended and that was that. Hmm, well although I am partially jelous that I missed a chance to shoot my baby, I am honestly not too jelous, for if the remainder of my deployment is quiet and nothing happens, I will be totally OK with that!


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Friday, November 2, 2007

A video slideshow to enjoy!

Ok, for the past 3 months or so I have been creating a really long video/picture slideshow with Windows Movie Maker. I'm pretty impressed in how well it has turned out so I decided to put part of it online for your viewing pleasure. Many of the stories I talk about, at least from several months ago, are shown in this video. Only thing is you have to try and figure it out yourself. Maybe one day I will get around to making up a guide for the video with links to the stories. Who knows. Anyways, enjoy!


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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Goodbye America...

Yup, that time is here. This will be the last posting that I will make for the good old US of A for a while. I have thourougly enjoyed myself while I've been home, and as sad as I am to leave this place, my family and my friends, I am eager to get back and see my boys and to finish this up and be back for good. I have many great memories to take with me to get me through the remaining few months left so that is good.

Yesterday for Halloween I ended up getting a chance to swing by the Arizona State Fair, and had a BLAST! We arrived just in time to walk in to the Stadium right as Alice Cooper was coming on stage! OMG it was an awesome concert and he put on an amazing show. The music was fantastic and we just went crazy for an hour and a half while he played to the crowd of oh maybe 8000 if I had to guess! Good times.

After the show we went out and decided to ride the rides. They had a special deal that night, being Halloween and so we ended up getting 10 rides for a really cheap price. Of course I felt it nessicary to use all the free rides on the crazy, badass and scary rides! I wasn't going to waste my free rides ya know. I wont go in to each of the rides but they were awesome and many of them got my heart going. I love the fair rides because they always feel so rickety and you never know if its going to break down! Hahah, ok Im sure thats NOT going to happen but they were fun and scary.

We ended up riding this one that is the "featured" ride and you have to pay per ride. It was $50 for the 2 of us! Basically you both sit in this caged ball thing and its attached to these cables that run to the top of these cranes probably 80 or so feet in the air. Once you are strapped in and everything they charge the machine up and then once they release you, you are rocketed HIGH into the sky, well above the tops of the cranes. They you come plumeting back down and the back up and so on. It was amazing! It was short lived and once we were down the guy started to unstrap us when I said "Hey I heard it was buy one get one free tonight!" He asked me who said that and I said something to the effect of "thats just what I heard the deal was for all soldiers who just got back from Iraq." My friend threw in that I was actually leaving to go back in 2 days. They guy asked if I was serious and we were talking with him for a minute, when all of a sudden he started strapping us back in and we got to go again for free!!! That guy so rocks! It was awesome. Fortunately it was a slow night and there really wasn't anyone else in line, otherwise I dont think we would of gotten to do that!

So yeah, thats really about it. Im finishing up my packing and cleaning up my hotel room and Im just going to stay up all night. Since my flight is early, I still have to check out of the hotel and drop off the rental car so there really is no point in going to sleep. Ill just sleep on all the flights! Im sad to have to leave, but this is just another step in finishing up this deployment. Before I know it it will be over and I will be back in America once again, with a renewed appreciation of all that is great here!


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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Wonderful memories in an amazing land...

The last week that it has been since I last posted has been pretty eventful for me. I have been quite busy with friends and family and just truly having a great time while being back home. As expected the time has been going by quicker and quicker, but as the time draws near I feel I am more mentally prepared to leave again than when I first arrived on leave. In many ways I'm actually looking forward to it. My close friends with whom I have spent all day every day with in some of the most trying days of my life are where I will be heading and I do miss them. I am looking forward to being able to swap stories, to share with them all that I have done, and to hear the stories of life as it went on in Iraq. It will be difficult to say goodbye to many people that love and care for me here, but they understand that it will not be too much longer until all of this madness is over and I can return to this wonderful land for good.

One thing that I was able to to while on leave was to get a new tattoo that I have been looking at getting for several months now. The last tattoo I got was a couple days after I turned 18. I won't even bother putting up a picture of that one because, well, its pretty pathetic, especially now with this new tattoo. I had a design that I liked and a buddy of mine, Redd, took that design and redid it and I think he did an amazing job. This new tattoo, a sweet tribal design, stretches from my shoulder, down my arm, to just above my elbow. It took the better part of 5 hours, and YES, in some parts it did hurt, or well stung really bad. But once it was done I was stoked about it and I couldn't of asked for much better! I've uploaded a picture of it, so please forgive the farmers tan. ;)

Friday evening I ended up heading to a local elementry school with a friend of mine to help out with their Halloween Open House thing they had setup. Everyone was dressed up and so I went with the lazy man outfit and I dressed up as an "Overworked Underpaid Government Worker." Or as some would ask by my outfit, "Are you in the Army?" Hahaha, ok I thought I would just have some fun with it. Anyways I had finally just adjusted to wearning civilian clothers and so wearing the military uniform was a little different, but it felt good too. I had the chance to talk with many people and received a lot of support from complete strangers. It was also an amazing experience to be able to help out with these kids. I was having a blast joking around with them and just enjoying the evening. It was extremely crowded but it surely hit home with me the beauty and opportunity that we have available to us in our country. Quite a change from the last holiday I came from in Iraq, Ramadan.

This morning I had a chance to go to church with one of my friends and her family. I have attended this church service on many occassions and they have always made me feel at home. They have been a huge support during my entire military tour, especially during this deployment. I have received many letters from members of the congregation and to be able to see many of the people who have been offering thier support and prayers while I was home was a great feeling. I cannot wait to attend again once I am back for good. I know with the amount of prayers that they are sending that we definatly have Gods attention on us, and that gives me comfort.

So on the subject of Iraq, I had noticed that for pretty much the first week of being home I hadn't heard a single thing on the news or radio about Iraq. Now granted I wasn't sitting and watching the news all the time, but I figured I would of heard something in that time. I guess the fact that things have quieted down, there is no "news worthy" stories. How sad. Unfortunatly yesterday I finally heard some news on, well, Afghanistan actually. It pains me to think about it, but a soldier with his home in Phoenix, AZ was killed durring combat along with another soldier from Oregon. This news report came after a quick story on the return of 150 AZ National Guard soldiers. It hit home when they reported on and showed the reactions of the soldiers to the fact that one of their own would not be returning with them. I felt for them as myself and the guys in my unit know all too well what this is like. I'm just glad that so many of them DID make it through. I can only hope for the same with my unit as well as all the guys that are serving overseas right now.

I have read of others experiences of being back home and I wondered how frequent the common questions I hear people get asked truly come about. You know, the "What is Iraq like?" or "Have you killed anyone?" I've managed to answer the first one with just as vague of an answer that seems to satisfy people. I simply say, "Well, Iraq is.... Iraq!" But its the second of these questions that I have had a difficult time dealing with. I made the mistake of sharing from a story that pertains from this exact question, and well, as expected the reactions were not something that I was used to dealing with. I have decided that I will no longer tell many people, at least face to face, about this experience. The hardest thing though now is how to answer that question. I mean, do you REALLY want to know? I don't want people to look at me differntly for experiences that I've had in Iraq, but I have a feeling it is something that I am going to have to accept. No one that has been there will truly be able to completely understand many of the experiences from that place. I can totally see where others in the past have talked about only being able to truly share completely with those who have experienced the hell that is war.

Durring the past week and a half I have had several experiences that had me take a step back and think about how spending the last 10 months of my life in Iraq, a place unlike anywhere or anything I have ever done before, has affected my perceptions and my mentality while here at home. The first of these occured the other day while I was sitting in my hotel room. It was the middle of the afternoon and I was sitting in my bed watching TV when all of a sudden I heard two successive gun shots from somewhere out my window, a little ways off. I immediately jumped up and ran to the side of the window and pushed the curtain out of the way. I began immediately scanning the business district behind the hotel I am staying in. I was scanning the typical places, rooftops, windows, near vechicles, and people that I saw moving around. I realized that I was unarmed and in the moment that I was about to grab for my gun, it slapped me in the face that I was NOT in Iraq. I continued to scanning for a few more seconds before I pulled myself away from the window and took the time to reflect on what the hell was going on inside of my head. I knew by looking that I wasn't in Iraq, but for those brief moments that I was initially scanning out the window, I felt almost as if I was in that type of enviroment. I figure this is to be expected initially, but it was a surreal feeling. Its amazing how your brain can become conditioned to something so well that it immediately snaps into what it has been trained to deal with.

Another of these incidents was after seeing the horror movie "30 Days of Night." I won't tell you about the movie, because I think if you enjoy horror movies you should definatly see this one. It was an intense movie. By far one of the bloodiest, gorey and thrilling movies I've seen. The thing was that this movie really had me on edge. Just as most horror movies do, they build things up, set the scene where you have the feeling and knowing that something is about to happen, and then just like that they hit you with the right music and extremly loud shocking sounds and instantly you are terrified for a brief period of time. Then it goes on you begin to calm down and the process begins again. This movie did this over and over and over again, and by the end it had really gotten inside of my head and I was partially terrified and totally on edge. I was talking with the girl I went with on the way back to the car and on the ride home and I was trying to explain to her about why I was so on edge because of it. I feel it has to do with how similar the horror movie experience is to combat. When things go bad, its just the same, you feel it and you know it, and then just like that, still totally taken by suprise you are in a totally fearful situation. And it goes in waves, just like the movie. I think being put in a similar type of experience as that just put my brain in a combat like mentality and there wasn't much I could do about it. It took me some time, but I finally came back from being so on edge. It was quite the experience, and I decided that as much as I love horror movies, I may stay away from them for a brief period of time once I return!

Well this is turning in to quite the long post so I will finish up with this last experience. Just a short time ago the Boston Red Soxs defeated the Colorado Rockies to sweep the World Series. At the begin they began as they always do by singing the Star Spangeled Banner. I don't know what it was about it, but it had me completely emotional. It wasn't that the singing was that fantastic (although it was very good) but I believe as I was listening to the words, I began really thinking about things. About my life for the past 10 months, about my life for the next 4 or so when I return to Iraq and also I was thinking about the beauty that is America. We have such an amazing country and it is something that I have had my eyes opened to even more than before. I love our country, what it stands for and what we do as a people. I am so greatful to be able to live in such a great nation. As I thought about all, heard the beautiful singing, the roar of the crowd and saw the HUGE American flag, it all hit me at once and thankfully I was alone, because I was on the verge of tearing up. So many emotions that I just hold back during the normal course of my life lately all came up to attack me at once. Emotions that let me know I am so proud to be an American!


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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Being home is..... different

I have to start off by saying that I am loving being back home. I've been having a great time so far, and I still have much more fun stuff planned in the next week or so that I will be back. Shoot, the Arizona State Fair is in town and I still have yet to go to that! I can't wait, because I hear that they have 14 new rides, bringing the grand total to sowhere around 75. I haven't had the chance to go to the fair in years, because the time when it is normally in town I had been stuck in NC thanks to the Army. So its a nice suprise to have the fair in town and I will definatly be hitting that up here soon.

Time at first was going VERY slow. The first 4 days seemed like over a week to me and I was excited at the possibility that my leave would take so long to pass. Now things seem to be going by quicker and with the different plans that I am trying to juggle and make work with the limited number of days I have left, it feels like there is just not enough time. The past 3 days have flown by and I dont like that. I don't know if its a shift in my perception or attitude or what, but I want things to be back how they were; taking forever!

I won't go in to all the little details of everything I've done while I've been back so far, but just know that I am truly have a great time. This is by far the best leave that I have ever had while in the Army and I'm stoked that things are going so well. One thing of note is that I ended up buying a handgun a few days ago. I'll throw up a picture, but it sure is a sweet peice of work. Ironically the state of Arizona put me on a delayed hold to get my gun, so it took 4 or 5 days until I was actually able to pick it up. In case anyone is wondering what kind it is, its a Sig Saur 229 .40 S&W!! Its funny because I had never fired a handgun, not even with the Army and so when I went to test fire it, I was pretty much figuring things out as I went. I had them explain some things to me quickly, but I didn't want them to think that I had never done this because I was afraid they would not let me shoot off some ammo on the range. Anyways, once I got everything figured out I had a blast with it and much to my suprise my shooting was pretty dead on. This was also the first time that I had ever fired any gun outside of the Army, and this purchase was my first firearm purchase. I definatly think I made a great first purchase though and I'm loving it! Its just too bad I can't bring that bad boy back to Iraq with me! :)

Sig Saur 229 .40 S&W

Being on leave I've had a lot of time to appreciate all the little things in life and about being back home that I took for granted before in my life. The place looks so beautiful and clean and safe and its just such a change from where I have been living for almost the past year. It is absolutely amazing to be back in such a wonderful place again you have no idea. But one thing that I had thought might bother me when I thought about coming home has in a way done just that. What I figured before I left to come home was that seeing everyone going about their daily lives, with not a care in the world might irk me a little bit. And to be honest it has.

Now don't get me wrong, I dont have any feelings of hatred or anything like that, but I guess it kind of bugs me that the general public has "turned the channel" on the Iraq war. The war has been going on for almost 5 years, and even longer for the war in Afghanistan, and I believe with the attitudes of a lot of the people in Congress and the Main Stream Media, that people have had plenty of reason to feel the way they do towards this war. The problem for me is that life over there is hell at times. We do what we do thinking about back home, and thinking about the difference it makes for the people in Iraq, back home, and around the world, and to come back and see people going about their daily lives, tuned out to the war that is going on, well, it just puts a knot in my stomach sometimes. I mean, I guess I should be happy, that people are able to go about their lives in such a manner, to where they don't have to "worry" about the war, but I think the complete general disconnect between the American people's lives and the lives of those fighting to protect just that is what gets to me.

Trust me too in that I know not everone is like this. I mean, those of you who are even reading this right now show me that there are people, lots of people who do care and who are truly thankful and interested in what the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are doing over there. I don't want to wrap up everyone within the blanket of feelings that I have from the previous paragraph, but I do feel that those people are the vast majority of the people in America today. I've even heard some very hateful things coming from the mouths of people in positions to influence the masses that just truly pisses me off.

It makes me wonder sometimes. But thinking back, I guess I should be thankful. I read about and see video and pictures from the 60's and 70's and the things that the soldiers of that time and that war had to deal with when coming home was 100,000 times worse. I have to tip my hat to those guys for they are great men to of come through all of that. I can only imagine how tough that must of been, and in retrospect maybe its really not all that bad now. We do have the support of most Americans, as soldiers, even if they do not support George Bush or the war. But something about it still just sits weird with me.


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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Welcome Home!!!

WOW! Let me start off by saying how awesome it is being home. I can't believe how much I missed "normal" life and all that comes with it. I have to admit that it is still a little weird being back. I look at myself in civilian clothes and it feels like I'm dressing up for Halloween or something. Getting used to traffic, and just being in civilized world is definatly an experience.

The Shower of AffectionArriving in the United States after hours upon hours of flying was a great feeling. When we landed at Dallas Ft Worth Airport we received a welcoming that I would not of expected. First as our plane was taxiing from the runway to our gate the Dallas Fire Deparetment was out there and wanted to show their appreciation for the troops returning home. What they did was something amazing and unique. It is called the "Shower of Affection." They brought 2 fire trucks out there that shoot the jets of water out the front and sprayed towards each other creating this arch of water that our plane drove through. We were all amazed on the plane and it was an awesome show they put on! If anyone from the Dallas fire department happens to read this, I want to say thank you for that!!

Once we got to our gate and we got off the plane as we came out in to the airport there were a couple hundread people cheering for us with signs of appreciation! It was almost overwhelming! There were so many people and it sent tingles down my spine to hear the cheers as we walked by. There were many many vets there to shake our hands and say thank you. I couldn't believe it. It was awesome to have them there I must say. I wanted to thank them instead of them thanking me but they wouldn't have it. And there were just SO many of them. They had "welcome home" type of care packages and everything. People with lighters and cigarettes and food and water and cellphones for guys to call home. It was amazing. I didn't expect anything like that for our return home and it was wonderful!

I had about 6 hour layover before I could go home to Phoenix. I tried getting an earlier flight but they were all booked. I linked up with a guy from the 3rd ID that was going to Phoenix as well and we just chilled until our flight time. About an hour before our boarding time we ran in to this awesome man and woman and they invited us in to the First Class Lounge which was very nice of them. We sat in there and enjoyed the ammenities before we finally boarded our flight home. Once home, we both rented rentals cars and got amazing deals on them from the people working there. I rented a 07 Chevy Trailblazer and I'm loving it! :)

So far the past 3 days that I have been back have been truly amazing! I've had a great time and have had the opportunity to spent time with my family and some amazing people so far. Im absolutly loving it. One of my friends from Bragg and Iraq came to Vegas for a few days of his leave to visit some family, so I said screw it and made the 5 hour drive up here and currently I am in Las Vegas!!! My is this place amazing and a culture shock from what we just came from. We went down the strip last night and all the lights and people and energy was intense. Its crazy to think that just over a week ago I was walking through the streets of Baghdad, and now I'm walking down one of the most famous, high energy, amzing streets in the world. Its all still so crazy to me!

The Stratosphere in Las VegasWe ended up heading to the stratosphere which looks just like the seatle space needle and went to the top to ride the thrill rides up there. I'll include some pictures (i didn't take them) of the rides we rode in order of the ones I talk about. We did them late at night so just imagine some of these pictures at night with all the lights of Vegas and just the added fear of night! It was awesome and some of them definately scared me. The first one we rode was called the "Big Shot" which basically shoots you about 100 feet in the air and then immediately drops you down almost the same, giving you a good couple seconds of weightless, gut in mouth feeling! It then bounces up and down giving you similiar feelings, but not as intense as the first shot. What makes all these crazier is they are already on top of the stratosphere which is already I believe, 109 stroies high!! The second ride we did was called "Insanity" and it is just that. It has these arms that at the end of each seat two people, 5 arms total on the ride. Once everyone is in, the railing on the side of the structure goes down and this contraption roates off the side of the building suspending you high above Vegas. It then begins spinning and as it spins the arms move outward so that you are facing straight down at the ground 110 stories below spinning around. It was so scary yet so much fun! The thrid and final ride we went on was called "Xscream!" I thought this would be scarrier but it wasn't as bad as I though. Basically you get in this roller coaster looking thing and it shoots you off the side of the building on this short track and stops you rapidly creating the feeling like your flying off the side of the building. Me and my buddy got to sit in the very front seats so it was quite the experience and view. All three rides were awesome and I enjoyed them much. Again see below for the pictures.


The Big Shot
Insanity
X-Scream


Well, I'll go ahead and wrap this up for now. I should be heading back to Phoenix tomorrow or the next day, but know that I am doing good. The only thing I don't like about being home is the fact that now I don't want to go back to Iraq. I don't like thinking like that, but its how I feel. I don't know if I can speak for other people on this, but this is how I looked at things. While over there, its not that I persay forgot about home and what its like, but I definatly held it in lesser of a reality than it is right now. The greatness of America and all that we have seemed so foreign to me, and in a way it allowed me to be able to do my job effectively. I had no problem going in to dangerous situations because it was if I felt that Iraq was all I had at that present time and the idea of not making it home was no all that horrible to me. If you've seen the HBO series "Band of Brothers" theres a part where this one LT says the best fighters are able to do what they do because "they realize that they are already dead" and thats what allows them to fight the way they do. I pretty much held that idea in my own head and it made me not fearful of the situations in which I was entering. But now, after being home, I see all of what I would be missing out on and I realize that I don't want to loose all that. I want to be able to come home to it all and enjoy it for many many more years of my life. I want that for everyone!


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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What a wonderful day...

Well today started off with me waking up at 0700 in the morning. Considering I have not been working and have nothing to due but waste away on the internet or playing games or watching movies, my sleep schedule has been all wacked and I have been staying up late. This is no suprise to me though. Well late last night/this morning my old squad leader came back in off of leave. The reason I refer to him as my old squad leader is due to some shifting and changes that came about within our company within the past couple weeks while he was on leave. Ill talk about that another time. Anyways, he ended up stopping by and we ended up talking and whatnot for a while and by the time I finally went to bed I believe it was somewhere around 0300. Needless to say I was pretty tired when it came time to get up.

We woke up and I had to get a nice uniform ready because the reason we were getting up is so that we could attend a ceremony to receive our CIB or Combat Infantrymans Badge. The CIB is a distinctive combat badge that is of course only worn by Infantry soldiers. It is something that every Infantryman looks forward to receiving one day for it means that you have been through the ultimate test in your profession; to handle yourself while under enemy fire. What the CIB represents an experience that all owners will take with them for the rest of their lives, as combat proven Infantryman. Others that see the CIB will know that you've probably seen some shit that they wouldn't care to, yet you volunteered to do.

The thing is that when I get to thinking about it, and I think back to the soldiers of WWII and Vietnam, I realize that in retrospect I really haven't done shit compared to what they have. To them a CIB meant fiercing fighting for days and weeks on end. Countless lost friends, soldiers and years of their lives fighting a determined and tough enemy. My experiences here are nothing like that. Although according to the criteria for the award, I have earned it in every respect. Something that is not always true for many people that come over here. I have been shot at on countless occassions and had the opportunity to fire back and engage the enemy on most of those. I've spent the past 9 months in a hostile combat zone, with an active enemy, living and working everyday in harms way.

But am I really a trial by fire tested combat Infantryman. Would I of handled myself in the same way that those that had come before me would of. I would like to think so, but I will probably never know. This is probably a good thing, and I should be thankful that I don't have to experience that, but it just gets me thinking about the meaning of the badge I will be wearnig. Don't get me wrong. I will wear my CIB proudly and am honored to of been able to serve my country and to help in what ways I could to the Iraqi people. For that I am forever greatful to of been given that opportunity, and will carry those memories with me for the rest of my life.

So with that said, we have official been given our CIBs. Now its just a matter of paperwork to get to us, but after all these years of waiting and wondering if I would get mine, I finally have. As an added bonus to the days celebrations, I got word that my flight out of our FOB here and my 1st leg of my journey home will begin a day early, and in not too long from now, if all goes well, I should be on my way out of here! I still haven't packed tho. I am incredibly lazy I know. Im going to go do that as soon as I finish here actually.

I was watching a movie earlier, and 1/2 way through I paused it to go have a smoke when all of a sudden like a ton of bricks it hit me and I got butterflies and a very giddy feeling. I AM FINALLY GOING HOME!! For the longest time it had been something that seemed so far off, and even as it got close it really didn't feel like it was close. After 9 months, 1 week, and 1 day straight in this place, I am finally getting a much needed break. I can't wait. Just know that I probably will not have much to post for the next few days, but I do plan to keep a few posts coming while I am home. So wish me luck!!


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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The sky is falling!!!

Well, after almost 6 months (sorry I'm not exactly sure of the last day this happened) a miraculous event has happened, it finally "rained" again. Now, I wouldn't quite call it a rain, but there were definately water droplets falling from the sky. Everyone was excited to finally see some rain again. After the months of dry, dusty weather; suffering through 120+ degree days, this rain on top of the cooler weather is the final sign that we have survived the brutal summer here. Fall is quickly approaching and along with it, beautiful weather. Unfortunately I will be back in the US during most of the great weather, but thats ok, I'll be enjoying myself there. By the time I get back here to Iraq, the weather will probably still be good, but will be on its way towards something I hate even more than 120 degree days; COLD! And in Iraq, the rainy season takes place during the winter, so it will be quite miserable for me. Fortunately the winter shouldn't last near as long as the summer, so it will be a short lived torture.

One thing with the last patrol that I went on is that we ended up having to swing by the Green Zone for something, but this time we headed to a different area that we hadn't been before. As we were driving along, all of a sudden off in the distance we saw the famous Crossed Swords statues from Sadaams war with Iran. We had no clue they were actually this close and after we did what we did, we ended up swinging on by to snap a few pictures. Man, if theres one thing about American soldiers, we sure love to take our pictures, even during times when the last thing you would think someone would do is take a picture! I put up a funny one of me as my new picture on the left side of this page, and I'll throw up one more of me and my team standing beneath the swords.

B Team 2nd Squad

(Left to Right) Rifleman, ME, Automatic Rifleman, Grenadier


So this last rotation to our combat outpost was not the most pleasant. One thing that is pretty noteworthy is the fact that the one bad area that I always talk about, which has been erily quiet for the past couple months, has erupted during the end of Ramadan. Almost every day or night that we were out at the outpost, we could hear firefights raging in that wasteland of a neighborhood, including one which unfortunately involved guys from our company. I know in my previous posting I didn't give much detail, but just know that everyone is alive, and those injuried are recovering well, at least from the progress reports I've received from other people.

The sad thing about all of this is that I was actually starting to believe that maybe the whole peace process that had been going on in that area was working. Apparently I was wrong, although during the early stages of this process, I had felt it was a waste of time and that these people did not want peace. I should of stayed with that initial intuition, because that is obviously how these people feel. And now, not only are they full of hate and religious preachings to compel them to martyrdom, but they seem to be freshly stocked up on everything they need to make our lives a living hell. The most worrisom of these are the seemingly endless supply of gernades they have available. The other night guys from our company were in there they were "throwing gernades like rice at a wedding" as one of my buddies was telling me. Even another night, when another firefight broke out that didn't involve any Coalition Forces, you could hear the explosions from the gernades one after another after another. All I can hope is that we find a good way to rid these people of their hate or to get rid of the ones that hate. I, as well as others, have our suggestions, but unfortunately our solutions wouldn't be quite the "politically correct" answers that for some god forsaken reason our Army is forced to obide by.

On another note, the Ramadan season has seemed to bring mortars and rocket attacks against our base with it. Just about every day they have been launching attacks. I really hate the rocket attacks because there is such a terrifying screech that comes just as the rocket is about to impact. So now, not only are you running for your life to try to find some cover, but your doing it with heavy shit filled pants. OK not really, but it definately is a scary sound. As far as I'm aware, there have not been any injuries due to any of these attacks. Lets hope the trend continues.

Well Ramadan, thank god, should be just about over here shortly. The 13th of October is the last day of Ramadan, and fortunately for me, I have no more patrols left to go on before I go on leave. Today, is actually the single worst day to be in Iraq because it is the 27th day of Ramadan. If you don't remeber me explaining this before, basically it is the day that most Iraqi's celebrate as being the holiest of holy days, the day that anything they do is magnified 10,000 times in Gods eyes. I technically could of gone out on patrol today since my flight for leave still isnt for a couple days, but that wasn't going to happen. There was no way that the last patrol I would go on before I was to go home on leave would be on the WORST day to go out. Fuck that. So here I am, chilling out, relaxing and trying to enjoy my time off, getting all of my stuff ready so I can come back to the good old US of A!


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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Fucking Ramadan! My rant...

Fuck this stupid "holiday" and the stupid belief that Allah, or God will bless those whole kill in their name. Screw their belief that there is some holy day, or holy month for that fact, where things they do are magnified 10,000 fold. What kind of religion has a holiday in which they encourage kids to carry around real looking toy guns and the pretend to shoot at Americans. These people are seriously wacked out.

Fuck feeling usless and helpless when right down the road your friends and fellow soldiers are in a fight for, literally their lives, yet theres nothing you can do about it. Sitting around with my thumb up my ass hearing about casualties here and someone killed here, yet continuing to sit on your ass. Why you might ask? Because we are not "needed." Because the battlespace is too crowded with vechicles that belong to huge elements for Majors and other S-Shop working people that have no fucking business being outside the wire, yet alone in a fierce gun battle. I'm sorry you didn't get your CIB in Desert Storm or working in the TOC, but now your risking the lives of people by taking up space when more real soldiers should be out there.

Screw the idea of peace with a group of people that love hate and love to fight. Fuck them for turning against us and taking the perfect opportunity to try to take us out. Screw those that put our guys in a situation like this, and sent them in not fully prepared to deal with what would come. Screw anyone who will sit back after this and not fucking respond swiftly and decisivly. These people are a cancer and they need to be removed. There is no hope for the people of this area; they have proven that time and time again. How long will we continue to sit on our asses and let these sick excuses for human beings exist right under our noses.


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Friday, September 28, 2007

Paranoia...

OK so with my leave coming up just right around the corner, I figured I would talk about a phenominon of paranoia that seems to go around right before people get ready to head home on leave. Its something that I always laughed about, and even though I know its wrong, slightly played on peoples fear during this time! I know, Im a horrible person, but I guess Karma is a bitch and has come to stake its claim on me.

Basically heres the deal. Right before people are about to go on leave they try everything they possibly can to get out of heading outside the wire. The reason for this is due to a variation of short timers paranoia. They are worried that something might happen right before they are getting ready to head home. For this reason people tend to snake out of patrols and missions that take place in the last few days before they are to turn in their weapons and go on leave.

The thing is this is not a totally unfounded idea. See there is a perfect example of this fear being manifested in to reality in an incident that I was involved with many months ago earlier in this deployment. This was back when I was in my old squad and during the time when we still had the one bad area I used to talk about a lot. I'll make this a quick story, but you can follow this link to read about it more. We were on this mission to provide security for some engineers as they did some work. I was the TC (truck commander) for a vechicle with my automatic rifleman as a driver and a grenadier from the other team in my squad as the gunner of the truck. Anyways, the gunner was to be going on leave in like 2 days and this was his last mission to do. He had the paranoia that something was going to happen, and sure as shit it did. We had someone hop out of an alleyway and throw a gernade at our truck. Fortunately it did not go off for some reason, but it just solidified the reasons behind peoples paranoia.

Well like I said in the past few months when my friends would be getting ready to go on leave and would be experiencing the paranoia I would play on their fears and give them a hard time about everything. The content of our humor is not normal so I will not go in to the details. (those of you deployed now or in the past know what Im talking about!!) Anyways, I used to take pleasure in seeing them suffer in agony. I think there is a clinical disease for this, but whatever. :)

Well like I said, Karma has come back with avengence! Now as my time approaches, I still must say I'm really not worried. Definately not like some people have been. But the thing I realized is this, the last 10 days of Ramadan, which are the potentially the worst 10 days to be in Iraq as a US Soldier just so happen to be the last 10 days I have left before I go on leave!!! Hahaha, how awesome!?!? So yeah, now I've got the worry warts. Not a lot, but enough for me to be like damn, this sucks, what luck. Guess there really is a force that balances out the good and evil in this universe!


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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Welcome to Baghdad!

So theres one thing that I could never imagine and thats being straight out of basic training and coming right to Iraq. For me, it took almost 2 years in the 82nd before I finally deployed. Something that is almost unheard of, but thats to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I ended up getting caught up in restructuring the division, and went places that kept me from deploying sooner. I was always bitter about this. One of my good friends from basic and airborne school got to Ft Bragg and 30 days later he was on his way to Afghanistan for 5 months.

Well the reason I mention this is because over the past several months we have had a few new guys come in to our company here and there. Our platoon had only received 1, but the other day we ended up getting 3 new guys. WOW! Well, time to start getting these guys up to par. My squad didn't end up getting anyone new, so most of the work of getting these guys trained up would be within their perspective squads.

They ended up heading out with us for their first time for 2 days outside the wire. For this patrol I was filling in for my squad leader who is on leave, so I was the TC (Truck Commander) which is always fun. Also when we dismounted I was to be one of the dismount team leaders. Well because the new guys don't know how to drive a Humvee yet or how to gun a machine gun properly, they ended up as extra passengers and thus became a part of the dismount team. This would be fun.

The first dismount these guys even went on would be a night dismount. I had one of the guys from my normal team and one of the new guys. I knew he would need extra attention so I would have to make sure and keep an eye on him. We ended up dismounting and heading back into the alleyways. It was more packed than normal since Ramadan is in full swing and during the day people can't eat or anything, so the night becomes the time for eating, praying and socializing. Fortunately for us, thats all it has consisted of, at least at this point almost 1/2 way through.

Anyways, we were walking through this one busy alley when all of a sudden I see this kid that couldn't of been more than 6 years old come out of another alleyway with a gun in his hand. He wasn't pointing it at us or anything, but the second I saw it my heart skipped a beat. He saw me notice him and ran back in to the alley he came out of, but then stopped a few meters in and turned back to look at me. Now I wasn't sure if it was a real handgun or a toy, but all I know is it looked pretty damn real. Once he stopped I began yelling at him to get away and go inside. Its not safe for him to run around like that, and I was giving him the benefit of the doubt that it was a toy. This is also common for all the kids to have toy guns at this time. Well new guy, this is Baghdad, you have to be ready to make split second decisions and be prepared for anything. I was thinking later that I don't know what I would of done if he would of fire the thing. I don't want to think about it.

We continued on and at one point we came to a road to cross. My team was in the back of the patrol and everyone in front began running across the street. I remeber thinking before we got to the road that there was going to be a car that wasn't going to stop. I dont know why I thought that, but sure enough once I began running across I noticed a car on the far side comming at us. I gave him a second but he wasn't slowing down, so I raised my rifle and clicked my tac-light on. For some reason it didn't look like it went on to me and I remeber thinking "Well damn what a great time for my batteries to die on me!" I guess it did actually go on, but I was oblivious to this. The car still was not slowing down so I shouldered my rifle and yelled at the top of my lungs. The car was getting close and I had just flipped my safety off and was a split second away from firing a warning shot when all of a sudden they slammed on the brakes screaching to a halt. Sheeew. All of this happened as the new guy was 1/2 way across the street and I can only imagine what he was thinking!

The rest of the patrol was uneventful and we ended up linking back up with the trucks tired and sweaty. The next night we ended up doing another dismounted patrol in a different area. Overall the patrol went pretty smoothly with the exception of constantly being told different directions on where to go. My team was up front this time and I was leading and we ended up stopping several times to turn around and go a different way. It wasn't that I was lost, because I knew exactly where I was going. Apparently those in charge kept changing their mind about where they wanted to go. Oh well.

Once we got back, myself and the dismount squad leader sat down with the new guys to go over the patrols and some other information. We explained a lot to them about what its like, what to expect and how to be. They seemed to be taking to it pretty well. They all mentioned that the first night they were overwhealmed and nervous, but the 2nd patrol it wasn't as bad for them. Thats good. Over time you will eventually figure out where to look and what to do and it wont be such an overwhelming experience. Overall they did good, better than I would of expected for a patrol of a bunch of new guys. Hopefully they continue to take to this quick and can integrate in to how we do things quickly.

We ended up coming back in, dirty, exhausted and ready to crash. It was a long couple days and my combined sleep for the previous 2 nights was about 8 hours. Thank God for 'Monster' engergy drinks!!


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Friday, September 21, 2007

I so can't wait to go home!

Alright well it has been a few days since I've last made an entry, but know that is because I haven't really had much to write about. Lately things around here have been, well, completely quiet. Our lives have been completely boring and consist of nothing out side of our routines we do on a daily basis. Its mundane, but at least time seems to be passing fast. That I cannot complain about.

So today has been a very exciting day for me. The reason for this is that I have finally found out when I will be heading out on leave!! Its so close just a few weeks away and I'm so excited. I'm totally ready for a break from here and to go home and see my friends and family. The thing is lately I have not been able to stop thinking about being home and being on leave. I'm usually pretty good about not thinking about home much, but for the past week I have not been able to shake it from my mind.

It all started when we were still at the outpost. I was on guard shift up in one of the towers when another team leader who was on shift with me decided to stop on in. He happened to casually ask me "Do you ever think about home?" I proceeded to tell him that I didn't do so often, and we started talking about home and things that we missed. Well that on top of the fact that I knew my leave was coming up in the next month just added to me not being able to clear my head. It has been relentless ever since. I have been thinking about all the things I want to do and all the people I want to see, and places I want to go. So many things and so many ideas running through my head. I wish I could get them out. I don't like thinking about home all the time. I mean don't get me wrong, I like to think about people and home and whatnot, but it makes this place even worse. I've managed to get by with creating this false reality here that I live in. In my false reality, I've accepted in my head that this is my life and that it is not going to change. I have trained myself to believe that this is my life as I know it and for that fact it makes this place tolerable. Now that I am thinking about my life beyond here, it makes me see the bad in being in Iraq. I don't like that.

So I'm hoping that I can limit the amount that I think about home until I actually go on leave. Its so close thought that at this point I can almost taste it! I figure going back with be a nice break. It will allow me to recharge my emotions and mentality of being here and get me through the last 5 months that I will have here upon my return. In that regard it is a well timed leave I believe.

That's really about it lately. I haven't been outside on any mission since we returned from the outpost so nothing really exciting to talk about. I haven't been outside because I have been taking a "train the trainer" class here for a new system that we are getting for a few of our Humvees. It's been a pretty laid back class, the only dowside being I have had to do it during a few of my days off. Oh well, but its almost over and soon I will venture back in to the city of love! :)


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