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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