Saturday, September 1, 2007

15,000 miles in 10 days

I am just back from a short trip to Iraq to survey the area my unit will be deploying to and doing some initial coordination with the unit we will be replacing. This is a standard thing, but it is still a lot of travel time compared to a relatively short time on the ground. Nonetheless, we learn a lot about our AO, the current situation and what short of equipment and facilities we will inherit.
A quick overview of the trip is that we flew from Ft Campbell to Kuwait with a stop in Europe on a chartered commercial aircraft. All the military chartered commercial trips I have been on have been with airlines I have never heard of, this time it was North American Airlines, which oddly flies to African cities. We landed at Kuwait International and were transported to an Air Force base awaiting a flight to Baghdad.

What Kuwait is like I couldn’t tell you, except for the sand and heat, because that’s all we saw. When I woke up the first morning we were there, and stepped out of our air-conditioned tent, I couldn’t see it was so blinding bright – and I had my dark WileyXs on! The heat was as bad as any I’ve felt in the summer of Arizona, like sticking your head in an oven and trying to breathe without burning your lungs. Eventually we caught a hot, sweaty flight on a C-130 in full combat gear to Baghdad International. There we rested for a few hours, then assembled at an HLZ to await birds to take us to our destination. We stood, sat, and finally laid there for hours on the tarmac, under the moon and stars of hot dusty Baghdad night while our pick up time was moved several times. Then almost without warning two birds came in fast overhead and the rotor wash blew our gear (and some of us) all over the place.

Despite all the BS and deprivation we have to put up with, we also get to do some of the coolest shit in the world – and for me the helo flights in and out of our Firebase were one of those moments. Flying over the Iraqi countryside with the doors open and lights off, all of us sitting in silence, - well it is hard to explain what that’s like. Much like my 1st jump I guess. Anyway, that’s how we got in, and pretty much the reverse of that is how we got out.

While en route we were put up in one of Saddam's old palaces, and got to visit a couple of others that are occupied by our forces. The places were so overdone with marble and chandeliers, just what you would expect from a thug-king. Opulence without a trace of elegance. And of course you could only imagine what horrors may have occurred there, especially in any of the homes used by his sadistic sons.

But the base that was our real destination was nothing like that. It reminded me very much of Camp Doboj, where I served for a while in Bosnia. Not that it looked like it at all, but in the way it was primitive - no amazing chow hall run by KBR, no PX, no movie tent, no top-notch gym. What it lacks in facilities though it makes up for in freedom, like the fact there are no Sergeants Major uniform police - the type I ran into in Baghdad who will spend 18 months in country and never leave their air conditioned office, and whose biggest concern is whether or not my boots are properly bloused.

The days spent at with the Soldiers we will replace was productive, and there was a ton of information to digest, a lot of our questions were answered, but of course, a whole new set now confronts us, and I expect there will be a lot of changes soon.

"I can't help but feel a little betrayed"

The unit we will replace is not in the current limelight of the fight against Al-Qaeda in Iraq, they are focused on the other side of the insurgency - the Shia militias, and their support networks. These folks are primarily responsible for the deadly IEDs called EFPs, for which there is really no defense. These nasty devices have killed some of their friends, and they want nothing but to take these networks apart. But our current focus on the Sunnis and our aversion to confronting al-Maliki over his support of Sadr and the Shia militias makes it very difficult to go after these guys.

So it is politically expedient to let our Soldiers and Marines die rather than to deploy the extra troops needs to shut down the Iranian border, patrol the areas the British have given up on, attack the Shia when they attack us, and force Sadr to finally decide to move into the political process or get wiped out. And why we tolerate Iranian involvement to me borders on traitorous.

I know many may believe Iranian involvement is overblown or fabricated by our current leadership, but for the Soldiers tracking these issues in Iraq there isn't any question. And that is what generated the quote above.


Jonn Lilyea said...

Welcome back, Sargeant. The digs look cushy and the mission difficult. Just remember you're always with me.

Katana said...

Thanks for the photos and the comments on Iran. It's actually a little enlightening to me because it's so hard to get one story from any news organizations. At least from mil blogs, stories are more consistent!

Terri said...

Welcome back and good luck on your upcoming deployment. For myself, I'm just counting down the days until my deployed Soldier is back home and can start his retirement out-processing.