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 Post subject: My Impressions of Iraq
Post Posted: Apr 22, 2005 7:37 pm 
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My Impressions of Iraq:

Some words that are used:

Hajji?s: they are the insurgents that you hear about. The word comes from the Hajji markets that are set up around BIAP, the camps and around the Palace. Think of a Hajj mart as local vendors selling their wares in a flea market atmosphere.

BIAP: Baghdad International Airport. Terminal ?C? at the airport is the only terminal being used at this time. It is used by the Royal Jordanian Airlines. The second point of entry into Iraq is via Amman, Jordan. The airport terminal area is and unsecured area even though it is considered to be part of the BIAP area.

The Palace: this is where the US Embassy is located and where Coalition HQ is.

IZ: The International Zone. The world knows it as the ?Green Zone?. The ?Green Zone? is just a color?it is by no means a secure area. The ?by lines? of the news paper articles over there (Stars and Stripes, The Scimitar, etc) all start off with ?International Zone?. The Palace is located within the IZ

RSO: Regional Security Officer. He/She is the over all federal agent in charge of State Department personnel assigned to an Embassy, Consulate or REO. As such, they have federal jurisdiction over State Department property and personnel. They are the last word concerning security issues in and around Embassy, including internet access.

REO: Regional Embassy Office. It is a branch office of the main Embassy in a country.

MWR: Morale, Recreation and Welfare. For those who have spent time in and around the military you know all about MWR. MWR was run by KBR. It provided books, games, phone service, internet access, and gym equipment for the troops. MWR also had DVD?s for rent, had small movie ?theaters? in the various camps that showed the latest movies.

KBR:

Kellogg, Brown and Root, subsidiary of Halliburton. The joke is KBR owns Iraq. KBR is everywhere you go?in each camp, compound and palace complex all over Iraq. As with any large organization, it has it good points and bad points. As a civilian, government contractor, government employee, you don?t eat, drink, sleep or travel around Iraq without KBR being involved somehow, someway. The military doesn?t get fed or have its morale programs (internet caf??s, calling centers, etc) without KBR being involved somehow, someway.

The KBR drivers of the supply convoys in my opinion don?t get paid enough. These guys supply the far flung outposts (Kirkuk, Al-Hillah, etc) around Iraq. Transiting Iraq via road is dangerous and these drivers are to be commended for volunteering for such a dangerous job. They are the real workers of KBR. While at Circle K, we went four days without supplies, the chow hall was getting a little thin on food selection. The area had a lot of hajji activity but eventually the supply trucks made it thru.

Next in line would be the KBR people who run the flight terminals for military. These people make sure you where you are suppose to be to catch the C-130 flights. They are professional and patient with the same questions that are asked of them day in and day out.

The KBR run chow halls (I know, they should be called dinning facilities) around the Iraq were excellent. We had Baskin Robbins 31 flavors, steak and lobster nights and all the fried foods you could eat?nothing is to good for our boys.

The worst KBR people were the ones at the Kuwaiti Hilton. They were bored and were put out when we asked for help in getting into Iraq. There was one guy who did nothing but hand out and inventory helmets and flak vests?.that?s all he did. We got the cold shoulder when the KBR people found out we were staying at the main hotel instead of in the villa?s that KBR keeps for transiting personnel.

Kuwait:

The Kuwait government wants the US Military out of their country. I have heard that from US contractors doing business in the country for Operation Iraqi Freedom. We also heard that at the Embassy in Kuwait City. I get the feeling that Kuwait thinks it has repaid its debt to the US for Gulf I by allowing us use of their country as a base of operations. The Kuwaiti?s are also going to start charging the US Military for the fuel it gets from Kuwait. Part of Kuwait?s participation in OIF was the free fuel it gave the US Military. Now they are going to start charging us. Watch over the coming months Kuwait?s stand towards the US presence in their country. The bottom line is that Kuwait is getting uncomfortable with the US Military presence in their country.

I found that the average Kuwaiti likes the Americans. When we landed on Liberation Day, the enthusiasm shown towards us was excellent. The night we spent at the apartment in Kuwait City and talking with the old guys at the Kabob shop who shared their Turkish coffee with us were friendly and they really appreciated the American presence. The mall that we visited near the Kuwaiti Hilton, the Kuwaiti?s made a point of talking to us in English and going out of their way to be helpful especially the younger Kuwaiti?s who wanted to know all about America.

Kirkuk:

Circle K as it is known. The compound was the home of Chemical Ali, a name that I think everybody knows and needs no explanation. The UN visited here many times before the war. It was at this compound where Ali made the weapons of mass destruction that were used on the Kurdish people in the 80?s. The compound hasn?t been used to make biological or chemical weapons in ten years.

The flight into Kirkuk on March 3rd was a real experience. The night sky was overcast and the landing was performed in the dark. No interior lights, wing lights or landing lights. The inside of the C-130 was total darkness. We were locked knee to knee but you couldn?t see the person sitting across from you or the person sitting next to you, if you held the palm of your hand to the tip of your nose you couldn?t even see that. In total darkness we were tossed side to side and front to back. We were all swaying to the rhythm of the plane. The pilot did everything but loops. When we landed I remember thinking ?how?d they do that?? I looked over to the flight deck and saw two yellow eyes looking around and it occurred to me that it was by night vision goggles. The C-130 never cut its engines, the ramp was lowered our luggage was taken off by fork lift and we shuffled out the ramp in total darkness.

We were met by the Marines and loaded into fully armored SUV?s (Suburban?s, Excursion?s and an armored Sienna mini van) with two Humvees. The lead vehicle is a Hummer and the follow vehicle is the other Hummer. The drive to the compound was about 20 minutes and about half way thru two vehicles tried to break into the convoy. The convoy?s always travel fast and follow very close to the vehicle in front of it. Each vehicle is equipped with an extended front grill, the kind that bumps other vehicles out of the way. Well in our case, one vehicle tried to break into the convoy and was bumped out of the way, the hajji in the vehicle rolled down his window and started firing at the mini van (the mini van carried only our luggage). The following Hummer returned fire disabling the hajji vehicle. At the same time the other vehicle drove up along side one of the Suburban?s and opened fire (this one had the US Army 1 star general and a Polish Special Forces General). The lead Hummer returned fire, shooting the engine of the vehicle and disabling it. The driver of the Suburban we were in was shouting for us to get down. Wearing a flak vest that doesn?t bend or flex very good, it was a little difficult. Besides the mind says ?hey, lets look at what is going on? and the body is saying ?hey, lets duck down behind the seat?. It is what is known as ?Duck and Cover?. Anyway, the pucker factor kicked in to say the least.

Circle K had an outer perimeter wall and an inner perimeter wall. The outer wall and compound entrance was guarded by former Sandinistas. I think everybody here remembers the guerilla wars of the 80?s in Central America. They were tough looking dudes but very friendly when we got to know them. The inner perimeter wall was guarded by the Marines. There were Polish troops, British and Australian troops at Circle K and they made our two week stay there a blast. We had a lot of fun at Circle K.

X was Amb Negroponte who was making his farewell tour of the country by visiting all Embassy offices. Everybody knows that Negroponte will be the new intelligence czar. Very nice guy?easy going manner and easy to talk to. The Palace PR people wanted Negroponte to take a walking tour of the outdoor market in downtown Kirkuk. Even though Kirkuk is a ?quiet? area, the RSO had objections because he couldn?t guarantee the safety of Negroponte and his staff. Negroponte and his staff did not take the market stroll that the Palace wanted. The RSO was reassigned two days later to the Palace for a thirty day TDY. We all guessed that the RSO was reassigned because of his refusal to the PR people at the Palace to allow Negroponte to tour the market in Kirkuk.

We were never shot at or mortared while at Circle K but we heard a lot of shooting and explosions around town. Outside of the inner perimeter wall is exposed area, it is also where the Blackhawk?s land. As I mentioned, the pilots don?t like to land at Circle K because of the exposure of sitting on the pad.

Camp Striker:

BIAP is the all encompassing word for Baghdad International Airport which covers the four major Army camps in the area. Camp Striker, Camp Slayer, Camp Liberty and Camp Victory. The area of BIAP is nearly the size of Rhode Island. James ?Dick? Aldrich who is the area engineer for BIAP took me into areas that the public doesn?t get to see. I saw the court complex (took pictures of it) where Saddam and his henchmen will be tried later this year and he also took me by the small palace where Saddam is in prison. This small building sits on a small lake with a dirt road to the entrance. There are Bradley vehicles, Striker vehicles and Hummers all around the palace. I couldn?t take pictures of the place of course but it was pretty neat that I got to see the area and building where Saddam was being held.

The roads and land between the camps are ?owned? by the military during the day but become ?hajji? territory at night. There is shuttle bus service between the camps but it is recommended that if you ride the shuttle bus at twilight hours to have soldiers, who are always carrying their weapons, to be on the bus also. When Dick returned me to Camp Striker in the evening we drove pretty fast down the road from Victory to Striker then he made sure to put his armor plated vest on for his return to Camp Victory. During day light hours this would not have been necessary. When he was driving me around the area during the day we felt safe.

The military maintains a small building on the opposite side of the airport?across from the main terminal building?that serves as the terminus for transiting personnel in Iraq. So when you hear about Baghdad International Airport, the military maintains a small building on the opposite side of the airport from the main terminal.

We did hear incoming mortar rounds each morning while in camp. The hajji?s set up the tube, fire off rounds and take off. Camp Striker is spread out so the mortar rounds rarely hit anything of value?it is more like harassing fire.

The elements of the 3rd ID, 101st Airborne, 2/8 Marines and Navy Seabees are in residence at Camp Striker.

Al-Hillah:

The Embassy office is in a three story hotel and the compound is smaller than Circle K. Our hooch?s were right up against the outer perimeter wall. Most of the coalition forces were represented at Al-Hillah. The guards were from the Honduras and Chile. Al-Hillah was a ?quiet? compound?but again we did hear explosions or shooting in the area. There is a wet bar on the third floor of the hotel and is open after ?work? hours. Our last night there the bar went dry?ran out of beer and strong spirits. Beer was a dollar a bottle and two dollars for a shot.

We did take Blackhawk?s out of Al-Hillah which was a thrill. We did chopper into Al-Hillah as the road from Baghdad has been closed by the Army because of a lot of hajji activity along the route. The crew of the Blackhawk?s that came to pick us up were easy going and fun to be around. When they landed, the pilot ordered potty breaks for all?which got a laugh out of all of us. The lead pilot gave his two crews a half hour break before we took off. We sat in the shade with them comparing hometowns, sports teams, laughing and joking. The Blackhawk we rode in had two female door gunners, I was impressed with their demeanor during the flight?joking and laughing before we took off and deadly serious the next. The pilot of the Blackhawk gave us a thrill ride during the flight north to Baghdad, juking the chopper left and right and up and down, kind of a zero gravity feeling and I thought here is a pilot who is confident of his abilities in a combat zone to give a us roller coaster ride?that was alright.

The Palace:

What can I say? The Iraqi?s want the Palace back. The State Dept is in the planning stages of building a new Embassy complex complete with schools, housing and recreation facilities. I would say in the next five to eight years you will see families of State Dept employees living in Baghdad.

There are only four things to do if you are assigned to the Palace?eat, sleep, work and exercise at the gym. The complex is HUGE and the inside of the Palace is beautiful. All of the coalition forces are represented here. The outdoor pool at the Palace is the central meeting point after hours.

We met up with the Marine Colonel in the hallway of the palace, who got the Ambassador?s Blackhawk?s for us on March 24th. We thanked him for his help. I should also mention that the day we left the terminal for Al-Hillah, he did come out and wait on the tarmac making sure that our luggage, equipment and us got onto the choppers. As we lifted off, only then did he head back to the terminal. Anyway, he invited us to lunch saying ?he would buy?. We got a good laugh out of that. The Dining facility is set up inside the palace and is in one of the large reception halls that Saddam used.

Mosul:

This is our Northern most out post in the country. The Striker brigade here calls itself the tip of the sword. The Embassy complex consists of eight one story buildings. That 21 ton armored personnel carrier that the Strikers are known for is a kick to be in.

The Palace complex on the hill was the residence of Saddam?s son?s Uday and Qusay. The building that MWR uses has murals of Saddam of which I took some pictures. There was also a small hajji mart inside the building. The vendors sold everything from t-shirts, caps, and patches, to jewelry and trinkets and you could even order motorcycle leather clothes for when you got back to the USA.

The Mosul airfield has the 101st Air Assault Division in residence. The incoming mortar rounds that landed in the afternoon of the day I left were known as ?five o?clock Charlie?

The Iraqi Reconstruction:

All of our Embassy offices, Kirkuk, Basra, Al-Hillah and Mosul, are powered by the local power grid in the areas where they are located. We do have gas generators and such for back up but while working at the REO?s only four times did the power go out in the local area. This told me that the local electrical grid in the areas where I was at were working. We pay the local electrical co-op each month for our electrical usage.

In each of the REO?s where we were at Iraqi?s were working and reconstruction dollars were being spent on schools, hospitals, roads, and water and sewage plants. Local government officials regularly meet at the REO?s. While at Circle K, the local attorneys, prosecutors, and two Iraqi Supreme Court justices from Baghdad met two times. Roads were being paved, bridges repaired. I can?t say about other parts of the country but where I was at Kirkuk, Al-Hillah and Mosul all lit up at night like any small town or city in the US. Street lights all worked, houses all had electricity and running water. The oil pipe lines and facilities in and around Kirkuk were going 24 hours a day. I heard of no attacks on the pipe line or oil facilities while at Kirkuk and did manage to read some of the Intel reports that stated no threats to oil facilities around Kirkuk.

I saw completed projects on the boards and the projects that were that were in progress. Each REO had an office dedicated to local projects.

While at Al-Hillah, I met one of the few Iraqi women working on the compound. Alicia, spoke with an English accent. I met her when I gave a demonstration on how to use voicemail (how to set it up, how to use the features, etc) and I mentioned that she spoke very good English. She said that her family had escaped Iraq in the early 80?s and moved to the UK. She is Oxford educated. Her family is still in the UK but she came back to Al-Hillah (her hometown) when she felt it was safe. She is working on many projects one of which is getting the local high school set up with a curriculum. She did have a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the work ahead.

At the Palace, a new medical training facility opened.

These are the links to the two main papers in Iraq, the both have excellent coverage of the reconstruction effort in Iraq:

www.mnf-iraq.com
this is the Multi National Force-Iraq an excellent newspaper

www.stripesonline.com
this of course is the venerable Stars and Stipes.

Overall, what we are doing in Iraq is a good thing?the country is slowly pulling itself up by its boot straps. Getting the Iraqi government and military on line will go along way towards getting our troops home. The local governments that are being elected and set up will take over a lot of the reconstruction putting an Iraqi face on things. I don?t think that our military presence will completely go away in Iraq until the hajji?s are taken care of. In the end, it will be the Iraqi?s who will take care of the hajji?s. There are hot lines set up through out the country now for the Iraqi?s to call in to report known hajji hideouts, IED?s, and other problems.

Troop Morale:

To say that I mingled with the troops would be an understatement.

I have had conversations with them while standing in line waiting my turn for a PC at the internet caf??s, standing line with them at the chow halls, breaking bread with them at the different chow halls around the Iraq, over hearing their conversations when riding the shuttle bus with them from Camp Striker to the main PX at Camp Liberty.

I never at any time heard any grumbling from the troops about ?why are we here?? or ?How come we are doing this??

I have slept and lived in the same conditions that they do (yes, I know for only a short time while at Camp Striker and FOB Freedom), I have endured one of those infamous sandstorms with them. Not once did I hear the troops complain about their lot in life. We all had a job to do, mine just happened to be installing phone systems in our Regional Embassy Offices.

I have eaten my far share of MRE?s with the troops. The MRE?s are pretty good; I think that if I had to eat MRE?s all the time I could easily lose more weight though. I did bring home two packages of MRE?s for the kids to try.

The one morale booster overall is the internet?sending and receiving emails and the chat rooms and for that I commend KBR for maintaining a link home for the troops via the internet. Everything else was second best. The troops looked forward to the ?internet time? with family and friends. I know that their girlfriends and wife?s send them sexy pictures of themselves to the troop?s email accounts. :D . I was sitting next to a trooper at the internet caf? at Camp Striker, the PC?s being close together so I couldn?t help but see what he was looking at, and he pulled up pictures of his girlfriend?woo wee?he was one proud trooper when the whistles and chiding from the other troops sounded out!. Others had their loved ones on internet cams?20 minutes on the internet was never long enough. It was frustrating when I was on Starchat and my 20 minutes was up. I would go out and put my name on the list and wait in line again.

I have taken just about all the modes of transportation around Iraq?armored SUV?s, the 21 ton Striker personnel carrier, the Blackhawk and the venerable C-130. I wish that I could thank each of the men and women who took me to where I needed to go around Iraq, especially the major who was the pilot of the C-130 that took us out of Baghdad International the last day when the hajji?s were shooting at us he kept his cool in time of stress, all I kept thinking during this time was ?can I go home now?? the feeling of being totally helpless because you are strapped into a cargo seat with no where to go and some hajji is trying to make a name for himself.

The troops were polite, courteous and quick of wit...from the loadmasters and air crew on the C-130?s to the door gunners and crews on the Blackhawk?s, the troopers of the Striker Brigade in Mosul who took me out to the airfield, to the Marines who convoyed us into and out of Circle K via Hummers and armored Suburban?s, God bless you all and may he keep you all safe.

I don?t think that I will have the opportunity to return to Iraq as my next duty station will be Ft. Lauderdale Florida this summer and I will be traveling the southern hemisphere.

This trip has made a big impression on me as it is my first in a war/combat zone knowing that a mortar round or stray shot could happen at anytime. Being an unarmed civilian in Iraq I felt totally safe in and around the military?they took really good care of us at every turn and at the end of day, these young men and women of our military are taking care of this country.

I also want to thank the people of Pinecam for letting me post to the forum ?Yellow Ribbon Lounge?. I hope that I didn?t bore to many people?I?ve been told that I am not a very interesting or funny story teller?my main goal was to give a little insight into Iraq and my humble experience there.

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Post Posted: Apr 22, 2005 7:55 pm 
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Patriot thanks for posting always better to hear from someone that been there done that

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Post Posted: Apr 22, 2005 9:16 pm 
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i didn't/don't find it boring in the least. thanks.

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Post Posted: Apr 22, 2005 9:56 pm 
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[I hope that I didn?t bore to many people?I?ve been told that I am not a very interesting or funny story teller?my main goal was to give a little insight into Iraq and my humble experience there.]



I have enjoyed reading your up-dates of you experience's in Iraq I found them to be VERY interesting. :D I'm glad your home, but I will miss the up-dates of what you found over there.
PAW.

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Post Posted: Apr 23, 2005 7:15 am 
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Not a bit of boredom here Patriot. I appreciate the observations of a person who can be relied on. Thanks.

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Post Posted: Apr 23, 2005 7:19 am 
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Patriot, thank you so much for taking the time and effort to share you Iraq experiences with us. I found them to be very interesting. What a wonderful experience for you and I'm really glad you made it back home safe and sound!


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Post Posted: Apr 23, 2005 8:36 am 
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Patriot, Thanks for posting. I wasn't bored, it was very interesting. It's amazing that you can remember all that stuff (names of places, things, areas, etc) when you are under stress. Thanks again.


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