Thursday, January 31, 2008

March of the Iman...

Well, I'm going back in time a little bit to talk about a few events that happened several patrols ago. The reason for this is the damn internet is down in my building again, and ever since I got internet in my room it is almost like getting the motivation to go to the dentist when it comes to heading down to the MWR computers. But now the internet has been down for a while and I have no clue when it will be getting fixed so I'm finally putting together a post to take down to the computers and upload. From what I hear the computers are running really slow so I may or may not get to put up pictures that I am wanting to include with this. Guess we'll see.

The first significant event deals with the CLC or civilian armed guards that we have in some of the neighborhoods in our sector. I've talked about them many times, especially when it deals with running in to one of their armed dismount patrols at night or the weapons caches that these guys find for us from time to time. Although I disagree with the decision to allow them to have free roam, especially with weapons, they have actually proven to be a big help in assisting us in finding these caches and catching some of the bad guys around the area.

What basically happened, in a brief, as much as I know telling of this, there was some argument between two of the guys over some shooting incident that they were involved in and one was demanding the arrest of another. I don't know what escalated the situation but in the end the guy who was wanting to other arrested was not getting his way, so he let loose with his AK-47. He ended up shooting the leader, his son and I believe another person before he was shot and detained. I don't believe he was killed, but the wounds that the leader of the group sustained proved to be fatal. It's kind of weird because we have worked with them many times and I have met and talked with the leader of this group on many occassions. Again, although I do not agree with his group running around with guns, I did think that he was a genuinly good guy and it sucks to think that he's dead now. And it wasn't even a member of the local militia that did it. Now I guess we will see how these guys end up doing with a new leader.

The next event was a pretty big one to be a part of. There was a Muslim religious holiday recently, and infact it may even still be going on, in honor of a fallen Iman, Hussein. One of the days, was the biggest celebration days and apparently on that day, the people come to the streets by the thousands and parade around and punish themselves by whipping themselves in the back with these chain whip type of things. We knew they were going to be going on, but we wern't really sure where. Also, during these kinds of celebrations we try to keep our distance and not interfere with what they are doing. At one point we had turned on to this street and started heading down it, when we noticed a HUGE procession of people coming down the road. We couldn't turn around and so in an attempt to stay out of the way as best as possible, we pulled off to the side of the road and waited for them to pass.

Not the best of situations to be in!There were thousands of men, women and childern that were marching, some of them playing music, some dancing and signing, others dressed up in costume and the rest just walking along with it all. We all locked our doors because we were in a situation that was not the best of ones to be in. We were surrounded big thousands of people and in the event they wanted to get to us, it would of been a lot easier than any other time without all those people. It took almost 30-40 minutes for the procession to pass and the whole time we just sat in our seats and watched the people go by, ocassionally waving to the people when they waved at us. It was pretty surreal because normally we try to keep people away from our trucks as best we can when we are out there. Every now and again a group of kids will form by one of the windows but even they aren't right up on the vehicle. But with the huge amounts of people out there, there was nothing we could do and our trucks were completly surrounded with people putting their faces right up to the windows. Once the crowd thinned and we could drive off without interfering we did so.

We had a basic idea of what the holiday was about, but we wanted to know more so I went to our interperator and asked him. I guess the story behind it deals with the split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam, and this was a Shiite holiday. There was an Iman, Hussein, who a big group of the Muslims felt should be the next to run all of Islam, but on his way to Iraq from Mecca in Saudia Arabia, in which he was to talk with the people who were calling for him to be in charge, an Army was sent out after his caravan to kill him. His caravan consisted of mostly women and childer so he did not have much of a fighting force. When he learned of this, he went in to the nearby city and called out for people to join him and help him fight, but no one came out and in the end he was slaughtered, had his head cut off and brough back to the king to prove he was dead. This is why the Iraqi people come out in the steets and whip themselves, to show their support now which they did not do before and to punish themselves for what they had done to him. I find it pretty interesting to learn about these holidays and to learn about the Muslim religion, but one thing I have noticed is that there seems to be much violence in the history and holidays of their religion. Maybe that is why, things are the way they are for us in that region.

Lastly I had hoped on Google the other day and looked up the area of Baghdad that we are in and was learning about the history of this area. Basically the area we are in is the oldest part of Baghdad, and when Baghdad was initially founded, many many years BC, where our sector is, thats where Baghdad began. Its kind of crazy to know that probably some of the same streets and alleyways that I patrol around, have been some of the some paths people have taken for thousands of years.

So thats about all for now. I have some more I want to talk about but I will get to that with another post. Hopefully it won't be as long for the next one, but the way the internet is going around here, you never know.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

I didn't know it got THIS cold here...

Alright, well it has been a little bit since my last post and that is partially due to a little bit of laziness on my part compounded with the inability to access my Blogger account from the outpost. I was going to put a post up right before I left, but I figured, no I'll just do it once I get to the outpost. Well, as I've talked about before the people who control the firewall that prevents us from going to many websites, I have noticed are very bi-polar when it comes to allowing/denying access to Blogger. Sometimes they do and others they dont. One day I may be able to get on and the next I wont and then the next day again I can't. It's pretty crazy and it can get quite annoying sometimes. Gets my hopes up.

Charlie doing what he does best!The first thing that I wanted to post about was some updates on our situation with our adopted dog at the outpost, Charlie. As many of you know that have been reading my blog for a while, or even those of you that have noticed the sidebar link to a website I have up dedicated to this cause, is that I have been working my ass off trying to take care of things and figured things out as for a way to get Charlie back to the US. Myself along with many others have gotten attached to him and the thought of leaving him behind when we re-deploy makes my stomach turn. He's such an awesome dog, and so began my mission of trying to get him home.

I won't break it all down here (just visit Charlie site or read the first post about Charlie to learn more) but basically I've gotten him shots here in Iraq, food, a travel cage as well as coordinated everything for his travel and return home, all except how to get him out of Iraq. With the end of our deployment approaching, I was begining to worry as a few options that I was working had not worked out. Fortunatly just about a week and a half ago I received some additional help in this area, and was put in touch with someone that will be able to get him out of Iraq and on his way home to the US! I had to talk with some other people to work out some minor details and some coordination stuff, but at this point just about everything is in place to make this happen, just waiting on an exact date!! Hopefully should be happening within the next couple of weeks. It still doesn't seem real, but I'm so excited that this will be finally happening. I can't wait for his journey to begin!

This latest rotation out to the outpost wasn't quite as bad as the last one I talked about. Of course, being deeper in to the winter, the average temperatures were lower, but this time both the heaters in the guard towers were working, although one much better than the other. Our shack thing that we chill in while working the gate didn't have heat most of the time, but towards the end guys came in fixing and adding heaters all over the place so we got a semi-functial one out there. Overall, it wasn't all that bad, despite still have a cold shift. I ended up getting decently sick for a couple days, but fortunatly that was it. I still have a lagging cough, but for the most part I'm over it. I hate being sick and lately I seem to be getting at least a little sick each time we head out there. Quite unusual considering that I normally get sick maybe once or twice a year.

Speaking of the cold, a story of amazement needs to be told. I wish I was telling this from a first hand experience but I can't say that I was there. It ended up happening while I was a asleep and I'm a little bummed that I wasn't woken up. Anyways, the day before we headed out to the outpost it had been raining. Nothing crazy, just a slow steady rain, which in its own part sucked because it turned pretty much most of our base and a lot of Baghdad in to a giant mudpit. Anyways, the temperatures had been dropping and apparently in the night the temps dropped below freezing and coming early morning, the steady slight rain turned to snow!!

Gives new meaning to, must be a cold day in hell!I know it sounds crazy, and I didn't believe it at first. I had to get a 2nd person to verify this story and sure enough. My first reaction was, "Since when does it snow in hell?!?" I then realized how much more it sucked here than Phoenix. Not only does it get slighly hotter in the summer but even colder in the winter. I have NEVER seen snow in Phoenix and it blows my mind to think that it happened here in Baghdad.

Thats about all for now. I have a couple more stories I want to tell but I'm tired and I'll just wait until tomorrow and put them in another posting. Plus theres a couple pictures I wan't to throw up for that, so I need to get those as well. Maybe give me 2 days, knowing my level of laziness on my days off! :)

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

"Laughter is an instant vacation." -Milton Berle

Theres many things that we have experienced here, some of them good, some of them bad and some of them, well, just there. But theres one thing about being with a group of guys that have become like brothers to you, and thats the ability to just have a good time despite the situation that you find yourself in. That is one of the greatest things I've noticed durring this deployment, is that we can be in a horrible situation (combat related or not) and just make the best of it. The last 2 days, I can honestly say I have had some of the best times here in Iraq, not by anything that we have done mission wise, but just having a good laugh at the expense of myself and others in our platoon.

It all started on the last patrol that I went on. We had our First Sergeant that headed out with us, and his driver, a mortar guy, used to go out with our platoon alot back in the day. He's a great guy and a part of me misses the good times when he was along! *tear* Hahah. Anyways, he's a smoker and normally smokes Marlboro #27 cigarettes. I smoke Marlboro Lights and while we were smoking he gave me a pack saying he didn't like smoking lights. I thought it was an awesome gesture, and of course I took the free pack! I lit up a cigarette from the pack and immediatly there was a semi-loud snap as the end of my cigarette exploded. I'm not going to lie, it scared the piss out of me for a second, and for some stupid reason the first thought in my head was sniper. I know, its dumb, but thats what I thought, but that passed quickly. After everyone got their laugh, he proceeded to tell me that every single cigarette in there has been rigged to explode. Alright, well now IM going to have some fun with this.

My grenadiers exploded cigarette!It became my personal mission to get as many people with one of the exploding cigarettes as I could. I managed to get a few people while we were still at the outpost but eventually everyone knew that I had them, so I couldn't give them away. Thats when I decided to give one to one of the Iraqi Army guys. It was pretty funny and he refused to smoke the rest of it! It was in good fun, so dont worry. We both were having a good laugh from it. Later while out on a dismounted patrol, when we finished up we were waiting around for the trucks to come back and pick us up when one of the guys in my squad wanted a smoke, but left his in the truck. Here ya go, I've got one for ya! He totally forgot I had those, and when he lit it up, he was startled by the pop like everyone else. The best part was there were about 15 Iraqi kids that were around us. All of us start laughing and pointing and ALL the kids start doing the same. He must of felt like an ass! Always great to see others suffer! I can't recall how many people I got, but it was pretty close to every one that was in the pack. And just now as I'm writing this, my grenadier finally smoked the one I snuck in to his pack on a cigarette break we just took. GOOD TIMES!!

Once we finally came back in, I was viewing a video in a bulletin sent to me on MySpace and it was one of those that out of nowhere this Exorcist looking chic pops out and theres a loud screeching and it scares the piss out of you. I showed it to my good buddy, but before doing so I hooked up my sound system and cranked it up. Lets just say it scared the piss out of him. He yelled and jumped up punching in front of him. Another guy introduced me to this maze, that as you go through it, it gets hard and you really have to concentrate and then out of nowhere that Exorcist creature scares you. Well, we then began tricking everyone telling them that we'd give them $20 if they could beat this certin level and talk it up and it was just hilarious. We ended up getting 4 or 5 people good and the last one was my grenadier in my team and there was probably about 15 people around him watching him. Again, another great laugh at someone elses expense! I can honestly say I haven't laughed that hard in a long while.

The last bit of fun has come from something that we have come up with now refered to as the "Cornbread Challenge." It started off as a punishment from my grenadier to my automatic rifleman because he had secretly ashed a whole cigarette on his head. To make up for it, he had to eat 5 pieces of cornbread from the chowhall. Well I figured that he couldn't do it and so he bet me he could. We gave him 20 mins to do so, and he couldn't throw up until it was all down. He could drink or do whatever he wanted to the pieces tho. On the day of, he ended up making another $20 bet with another guy so we started the challenge. He almost made it, 4 1/2 pieces but he finally ended up running out of the chowhall puking as he barely made it out of the door!! After that, people began saying they could do it and the Cornbread Challenge was born. For the next contestant we changed the rules a little and if he could do it in 10 minutes my grenadier would give him $60. This was a big guy and I actually thought he'd do it, but at 4 1/4 the cornbread got the best of him and he went to the trash can and began regurgatating the cornbread through his mouth and nose! He had done this on a non-empty stomach so we amended a final change to the challenge. 6 pieces in 11 minutes, $60. We wrote the challenge up on our platoon board, and listed the failures so far and put up a signup list. We had our first taker that night.

Given the popularity of the challenge now, people were beginging to want to watch in hopes of seeing someone fail and puke their guts out. Our in house video guru was around for the next challenger, along with 8 of us that were not on patrol. We were now going to video record each attempt in hopes of catching more and more desctructive failures! The next participant was someone that was going to give this challenge a run for its money (literally... $60) and we were a little worried he might do it. He went to town, but again just like the rest, just after finishing the 5th piece and with 1 minute left on the clock he couldn't handle it anymore and the cornbread came back up! The best part was another guy made a $10 bet with me that he would do it and of course he lost. So this is now $30 I've made off side bets due to the Cornbread Challenge. As it stands, 3 men have entered, and none have come out a victor. The challenge still stands, and we may have contestant #4 tomorrow. Hopefully loser number 4!!!

The last bit of hilarity came while we were eating at the chowhall. Just before we were about to finish up, the warning sirens came on for incoming mortar rounds/rockets. Well, we have this new unit that is here in large numbers and I don't know if its what they've been told or trained on, but when that siren went off 1/2 the chowhall dove for the ground and were laying on the ground and hiding under tables. The rest of us just kind of sat there. This was my cue to get up and casually walk over to where the togo boxes were and grab one to put the rest of my food up so I could take it back with me. As Im walking there, people are diving in the front door hitting the ground as I'm trying to step over and around those huddled on the floor. I got a good kick out of it. Afterwords we headed out and back to our rooms laughing most of the way at what we had just experienced.

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

One year anniversary...

Today is Jan 3rd, 2008. It is a significant milestone for us today. Exactly 1 year ago, 365 days ago, 8760 hours ago, 525600 minutes ago and 31536000 seconds ago (wow) we left American soil to begin our journey to Iraq, not knowing what exactly we would be doing, where we were going to be going, and when we would do it. All we knew was that President Bush was getting ready to "officially" announce the troop surge and that we were the 1st ones to deploy as a part of this new change in strategy in Iraq.

The best part about all of this was that we had just finished up Christmas of 2006. We had not been given leave due to a certin readiness cycle we were on at Ft Bragg, being Americas Strategic Reserve Force, the 82nd Airborne. 4 days later, they brought rumors began circling of a deployment. No one believe it until later that day our CO brought us in to officially announce our upcoming deployment. There was a mix of excitment, worry and a few people that just did not want to do it. Most of us were eager to go and all we wanted to know is when.... well.... 6 DAYS!! Wow, you have got to be kidding me?! Happy New Years, good bye America! And just like that we left. We were under the impression that this was to be a 6 month deployment, but once in country we began to learn that wasn't going to be the case. We just didn't know exactly how long. I really don't remeber when exactly we found out, but after a while we learned that we had been scooped up in to this 15 month tour extension thing. So just like that, people left loved ones, families and friends for almost a year and a half, on 6 days notice.

So with that all said, it has now been one full year. Had this been a "normal" deployment. We would be back in America soil. Shoot had this been what we expected, we would of been back a LONG time ago. Could of even done 2 of those in this time. But, this is no problem now because we have known about 15 months for a while and mentally prepared ourselves. The nice thing is that we are entering the final streach of this deployment. It seriously felt like this time would never come, but we are coming so close to being done with this hellish nightmare of a deployment. I along with many others, cannot WAIT for this to be done. Again I'm glad that I came, but Im ready to finish up, get the t-shirt and go home.

So being 3 days in to the new year of 2008, I have started a new program. It really wasn't a "New Years Resolution" because it all just has to do with the timinig of the deployment, but it has worked out that this began on Jan 1st for me. For most of the deployment, since we had been working our asses off, I had decided to take it easy on working out. I agreed with myself that I would take it easy and then the last 3 months I would hit the gym hard and get well in to shape. Well, I'm on day 3 now, and I'm not going to lie, Im hurting! But its my own damn fault, and it should only be temporary. As soon as I get in to the swing of things, it should be fine. But one interesting suprise is that I figured over the past year of not eating a lot and not working out all that much, that I would of lost a good amount of weight, but in fact I had actually gained weight! Not much, but it was a nice suprise. So I'm already ahead of the game. I'll keep yall posted on future gains and goals achieved!

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