Friday, September 28, 2007


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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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ramadan begins...

Alright well today is officially the start of the 3rd day of Ramadan. For those of you that dont know about Ramadan, it is the holiest of holy months for Muslims. It is a very important time to them, and towards the end of the month is the supposed date when the angel Gabriel gave Muhammod the texts to the Koran.

Here's what I've learned about Ramadan, part due to what the military has put out and part of what I've learned on my own. First off, the Muslim calander is based off of a lunar year, which is 13 days shorter than the normal solar year we use. Due to this fact the start of these holidays is sooner and sooner from year to year. This year, the begining of Ramadan began on Sept 13th. For the whole month the Muslims will fast during the daylight hours. They will not eat, drink or smoke, and if they see anyone doing that, it is extremely offensive to them. A very touchy situation for us because we have to be careful and try not to offend them.

Now this is an extremely holy time and it actually bans fighting, unless there is an actual war going on. Well this is a problem for us coalition forces, because well there IS a war and so they have every "right" during this time to attack us. The additional problem is that during this time the gates of Hell are closed and the gates of Heaven are opened. Anything they due during this time is extra holy, especially on the day (I forget the name) that the texts of the Koran were delivered. On this day anything they do in the eyes of Allah (God) is multiplied 10,000 times. The only problem for them is that they are not totally sure of what day it is. All they know is it is during the last 10 days of Ramadan and that it fell on an odd numbered date. Most people celebrate the 27th day, but many practice on all the days just to be safe. The problem comes for us, because if they were to kill an infedel or an occupier or whatever, it is like they killed 10,000 on this day. Also the potential for suicide bombers and people wishing to achieve martyrdom is greately increased.

So with all of that, during this time we need to be extra careful. In the past there is usually a spike in attacks against coalition forces during this time as would be expected. So for the next month we will be extra alert and on edge, prepared for anything that they may throw our way. I'm not worried, but that won't change my mentality. Be prepared for the worse. So far it has been completely uneventful. I haven't even heard any celebratory fire at all. But theres still 28 days to go. I'll keep yall posted.

So nothing really exciting going on around here. Just the same old boring stuff. Although the other night I was doing some shooting at the range at our outpost to make sure that my laser for my rifle was still sighted in properly. After confirming that it was, me an another team leader were bored and decided we wanted to fire an AK-47. We had a mag full of ammo, and so I went to the Iraqi Army (IA) guys and asked to borrow one of their AKs. We took that down to the range and had some fun, at 3:30am!!! :)

I had never fired an AK and had no clue what to expect. In fact I've never fired a gun outside of the military. Now the AK-47 fires a 7.62mm round, which is substantially bigger than the 5.56mm round that our rifles fire. Our rounds have more velocity and are more accurate, but they lack the stopping power of larger rounds. Where as an AK and its 7.62mm round definately has the stopping power needed in combat. So add the fact that its a bigger round and the technology in the rifle is not as advanced, especially when it comes to controlling the recoil and kick. All this together had me a little nervous what it would be like.

I ended up putting it on single shot fire first to get a feel for it. After the first round I realized that it wasn't that bad and fired off a couple more before putting it on to full auto. I squeezed off a few small bursts and it was AWESOME! There nothing like shooting a gun in fully automatic fire! After going through 1/2 the magazine I traded off to the other team leader and he finished it off. We ended up getting it all on video so that was cool and now I can officially say that I have fired an AK-47. Shoot I even fired it on full-auto! The experiences here at war are truely unique to anything I have and will ever experience.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

6 years ago today...

A group of suicidal fundamentalist extremist Muslims under the control of one Osama bin Laden hijacked 4 commercial airliners with desitinations within the United States. 2 of the 4 were flown in to the North and South towers of the World Trade Center, fatally crippeling them, causing their collapse and the subsequent murder of over 3,000 unarmed American civilians. Another plan was flown in to the pentagon in Washington D.C. making this attack a truly military style attack. The members of United Flight 93 (forgive me if the flight number is not correct) heard of these other plans and decided to do something most Americans wouldn't think they could do. In order to save the lives of many more innocent people, they risked their lives to retake the plane, unfortunately leading to the crash of their flight in an open field. These passengers, the volunteers in NY/Washington, the firefighters, military, police, everyone who risked their lives (and some gave their lives) to save those that could be saved durring this horrible tradgedy are the greatest American hero's that I can think of. Today we remeber these people and the sacrifices they made, and of the vicious attacks against our nation as well as the resolve of our people to punish those responsible.

I almost forgot about it being Sept 11th today, as most days go around here. It is hard to keep track of days and dates and this one, probably one of the most significant in my life, almost passed me by. It is not just significant to myself. I work with many people that enlisted out of NY and NYC who all have very personal connections to this event. Even myself, at the time all the way in Alamogordo, NM was connected, for one of my friends father was on the plane that struct the 2nd Tower. The military has its roots today in that event, for 95% of people in the Armed Forces today, I would be willing to say, attribute Sept 11th, 2001 as one of their reasons for enlisting in the military.

I wish I could say there was something special today. That unlike all the other days, today had purpose or meaning, or that it was honored in some way deserving of this day. Unfortunately I can not. I can say that I spent the first hours of this day watching out the opening in my guard tower, trying to keep myself awake as my shift slowly passed. Once I was done, I spent the rest of my waking time picking up trash. Not just my trash, in fact the trash of the Iraqi Police (who dont understand the concept of trash cans) so that things could look nice for some VIPs that came by. Afterwords I was exhausted and passed out, waking up just a little bit ago. Again I had forgetten the significance of today, until I got online and it slapped me in the face. I feel shameless for forgetting a day of importance to our great nation. Wish I had something better to say, or more profound to announce, but I dont. I simply have my thoughts and prays for everyone, family, friends, our nation and the other nations affected by this tradegy. God bless you all and may our heros never be forgotten!!

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Friday, September 7, 2007

The troop surge IS working...

So I've heard a little bit on the news and seen online about the recent analysis of the Iraqi government and their failing to meet 11 of the 18 benchmarks that were set for them. I'm not up to date on what these benchmarks are so I wont comment about what I think about that, because I dont know if I would feel the benchmarks were realistically obtainable with the given situation or not. One thing I can comment on based on my experiences here lately is that the Presidents troop surge which went in to full effect in late June I believe, combined with the new strategies that are in place with rooting out Al Qaeda and whatnot, are in fact working!

Now granted I dont have a full view of the entire Iraq situation, and I dont even see a lot of what goes on in Baghdad. But what I see in my slice as well as what I hear in the areas in and around where the rest of my unit operates, it is very clear that the level of troops now present in this volitile city, have drastically changed the current situation here. A few months ago there were attacks by suicide car bombers against the local markets and Mosques constantly, causing unbelievable destruction and loss of life. There were snipers that would set up and shoot in to the markets and at the Iraqi Army (IA) checkpoints, killing and wounding scores of people. The retaliation of these acts carried out by Sunni against the Shiite markets and mosques, came in the form of Extra Judicial Killings (EJKs) where Sunni civilians would be found bound and executed and dumped in the streets in groups. Fighting was taking place between the Sunni and Shiite militias constantly as well as fierce firefights with American and Iraqi forces.

Now, the markets are bustling with people, who after a long period of no attacks have regained confidence in their protection and safety. The markets are overflowing with people getting back to the every day tasks of life. I can't remeber the last time I saw people running across the street at the end of the market and the occasional shot of a hidden assasin tucked away in the safety of a building within the concrete jungle we operate these days. The almost weekly car bombs have trickled down to the occasional pathetic attempt instead of constant massive attacks. The same has to be said about the EJKs. I wish I could say they have stopped, but they have definately become few and far between. The biggest difference I believe is the lack of engagements with the militias. I remember when hearing gun battles were an almost daily occurance. Now its almost something that I forget how it sounds. Another example of this is that the number of IED attacks in our sector have declined, I believe in part to the locals feeling that the US troops have improved their living conditions and the lack of desire to what that to change.

All in all the situation is much different here today. I can honestly say that my job lately has been pretty boring. There isn't much for us to do in the form of what my military job is. I am an Infantryman, and my job is to find the enemy and either kill or capture him. Well, lately there have not been many opportunities for me to perform my job. For guys like me, in a way this is a bummer, because we train for combat and thats what we are good at. But it is also good in many regards. Its good for the friends and family that worry back home, and its good from the perspective of this conflict/occupation being ended on the terms that wish it to be; mission truely completed, not quit before we get the job done.

So with that said, the only thing thing that is going to be the key factor is what the Iraqi government will be able to accomplish. If they are able to continue to progress, train their forces and have the drive to make their country a better one, then this mission can succeed. I have seen the progress that the IA and Iraqi Police (IP) have made, and though be it slow, it is progress. Its going to take time. It took decades of help in Germany and Japan to get them self-sufficient, so what makes people think Iraq, a more complex and volatile country, will be able to stand on their own feet sooner? Every last soldier, marine, airmany and naval personnel VOLUNTEERED to join our military, most of them AFTER the Iraq/Afghanistan wars began. Let us be the ones to decide when we are done with our mission.

Alright, well now that I have that stuff off my chest and out there, I will tell you a funny story from my patrol the other day. We stopped by this other base for lunch. We ended up having some extra time, so we hit up the internet, TV rooms, shops and/or slept. I was exhausted because I had very little sleep. The night before we headed out I decided to stay up because I was not tired earlier and by the time I was starting to get sleepy, I was looking at maybe 2 hours of sleep. Would of been worse having to get up after only 2 hours. I managed little catnaps here and there throughout the day but that night for some reason I had a lot on my mind and was not able to fall asleep right away. I wasn't looking at much sleep to begin with and by the time I finally fell asleep I think I only got 3 hours. Felt like I had just fallen asleep when I was awoken. So the next day any chance I got I used it to sleep.

I had just woken up and was getting my stuff together to head back to the trucks to head out. I walked outside the building to the sounds of a warning system. "... incoming rounds in the vicinity of the DFAC!! WARNING!!" Oh shit. I was very near the DFAC and was actually walking in that direction when I stopped. You'd think I would of taken off for the mortar bunker but I didnt. I just stood there, frozen, not in fear, but frozen, maybe in lack of care, I dont know. Thats when the message continued "This is a test! All personel get to the nearest bunker! This is a test!" Oh my God! You have got to be kidding me. Screw that. That warning had just scared me slightly, and now you want me to play your little mortar game? Thanks but no thanks. I continued on my way to the trucks. Along the way I saw a mortar bunker with this guy hundeling inside. He almost look terrified. I got a kick out of it.

As to be expected the rest of our guys were just hanging around the trucks getting ready to go. They asked me if I heard the announcement and I told them what it said. They all laughed as well at the idea of going to the bunker durring this practice mortar attack. Next thing I know, the PL comes over and tells us that we need to get in the trucks until this test is over. Seriously? WOW! That's when I saw this pissed off Marine. Dont know what rank he was and to be honest I didn't really care. Apparently he saw my squad leader just standing around and began yelling out him "Eh Sergeant! HEY SERGEANT!" My squad leader knew he was yelling at him but just laughed and headed back to the trucks. Apparently this pissed this Marine off and he came over to our Platoon Leader (PL) and told him that if we didn't comply with the test he would report us to the Mayor Cell (th guys in charge of the base). I dont know if this is what the PL actually said, but its what I heard and it would of been awesome if he did. I heard that he asked if "this was highschool we were in or what?" I could totally see him saying that, and I hope to God he did. That would be awesome.

Once the test was over we headed out and those of us in our truck came to the conclusion that this Marines job was probably soley about the practice incoming tests and drills. To him, it was probably a slap in the face to see us standing there ignoring it, after the last month of hard work he put in to get this test going. Oh well. We came from a base that sometimes gets more mortar rounds in a single attack than this other base probably receives all year. I'm pretty sure we know what to do. Don't have an aneurism man. Its OK!

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Sunday, September 2, 2007

Death and destruction...

If there's one thing about being in a war zone it is this... the level and intensity of the carnage that I've see is unparallel to anything I will ever experience again in my life. Before I came to Iraq, I had never experienced much of what I would come to see. The only time I had seen a dead body (other than 2 occasions at open casket funerals) was in New Orleans when we deployed there after Hurricane Katrina. Now, I have seen more dead bodies than I wish to even try to count. And its not your typical, died of natural causes or from the heat or anything like that. Its been the worst of the worst. Gun shots, explosions, burned to death. Stuff that would make even some trauma nurses cringe.

No matter where you go or what you do, while here in Iraq you will see this kind of stuff more than anyone ever should. God forbid should you have to create some of it yourself. It truely is an ugly aspect of human nature. But like all things in life, you become desensitized and used to what you see. That is sadly the point in my life where I am. Seeing another dead body, or executed Iraqi or whatever no long has an effect on me. Nothing... cold nothingness.

What got me thinking about this was from when I was out the other day. We ended up having to swing by our outpost for something and as we were pulling in we saw an Iraqi Police (IP) pickup truck pulling in before us with probably 30 IP's walking behind it chanting and screaming. My initial reaction was that they were pissed about something and was preparing to have to deal with that. But as we continued pulling in I looked to the side of the road and noticed two IPs sitting down holding each other. When they looked my way I saw the stream of tears on their faces and I immediately knew what this was about.

Once we pulled in the IP truck had turned around and thats when I saw it. There was a plywood box coffin in the back draped in an Iraqi flag. I was relieved that there wasn't a body just lying in the back of the truck like I have seen so many times, but then I began to wonder if it is any of the IPs that I have come to know. There aren't many that I would say I'm friendly with, but theres definately a few who, so long as Im not in a bad mood, I enjoy talking with and bullshitting with. The thing is even though they have told me their names, I dont remeber them. And I realizied that even if I could remeber their name, its only their first name which are all common. If one of them were to be killed I'd never know. The only clue I might have is if I don't see them anymore.

I came to find out later from some of the MPs (Military Police) that we work with that indeed one of the IPs from our outpost had been killed. Apparently they were driving around out in Baghdad and their vechicle was hit by an IED. A couple more were wounded but from my understanding, it was nothing serious. So now I wonder when we go back out there, if I will notice anyone is missing. And if I do, I'll never really know the answer to the question that is in my mind...

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