Iraq’s Enduring Image

29 11 2009

A lot of you may wonder why I haven’t given a few more insights into what is going on in Iraq.  I purposely don’t give out a whole lot of information or opinions due to the fact that I am in the military.  Typically I fill the screen with funny anecdotes that give you a glimpse into the life of a modern soldier.  However l will now try to provide you with a little glimpse of Iraq from my perspective.  I don’t have a lot of expertise into what is going on in Iraq as a whole, just a glimpse into who they are as a people, what is going on in a little corner of northeastern Baghdad and where that little area is going.

The security situation in Iraq has undoubtedly improved remarkably over the past few years.  The Iraq I heard stories about before my deployment is not at all the Iraq I saw.  Most people did not want to kill us, most people were not afraid of the American soldier.  Walking down the street giving people the warm greeting ‘Salaam Alaikum’, (I have no clue how to spell that Arabic phrase properly) which literally means the peace of God be with you, I often received kind smiles and offers to come in and drink some chai with them.  However in many eyes were not merely kind smiles but hungry eyes.  Americans have come to represent money and power to the impoverished people of northeastern Baghdad.  Local shop keepers eye you greedly hoping for another round of free handouts of foreign money.  The  little children, covered in dirt and flith from the playing in the garbage that is everywhere, have learned well from their parents and driving past them in up armored HMMWVs they line up by the dozens, raise their hands in the air and shout, “Mister, Mister, Ball, Ball!”  Unfortunately we have no balls to give the children and a few of the bolder ones, irate that they aren’t getting any free handouts, heave large rocks at our vehicles.  And so it is, the Iraqi people want to use us for our power and money, but when we don’t cave to their greed, or some get nothing they attack our soldiers out of greed and anger.

The Iraqi people have some admirable qualities.  They are usually warm and hospitable, family oriented.   However in addition to greedy they are also lazy as a people.  They literally have trash laying around all over their streets, flowing over parks and soccer fields, everywhere imaginable.  They are quite enterprising when it comes to making a quick buck, but for the most part the protestant work ethic is the unthinkable to the Iraqi man.  They keep their women indoors hidden behind veils, jealous that a stranger might so much as receive a kind smile from their daughters.  As a people the Iraqis are amazingly resilient.  Not very long ago a couple of car bombs went off at a traffic circle in Baghdad and killed over 150 innocent men, women and children.  The Iraqis just took it in stride, it was as big of news in Baghdad as a major traffic jam is back in the states.   However suffering through years of coups, followed by nearly three decades of Saddam Hussein, who from the many anecdotes I heard was a man evil on the order of Adolf Hitler, and now a brutal sectarian violence and insurgency has also made them extremely defeatist.  The people are not concerned if their government is corrupt, after all what is so bad about a little corruption provided you get food on your table and you live to see another day?

Commonly when you try to schedule any sort of business with an Iraqi you hear the word, “Inshallah” which means if Allah wills it.  That is the Iraqi people’s mindset and thus they are primarily reactive rather than proactive.  They reason, “What use is it trying to stop the inevitable?”  Yet as one of the principles of counter insurgency states, “sometimes their good enough is better than your perfectly executed operation” they have primarily taken over the security role in the part of Baghdad where I operated.  They definitely aren’t perfect by our standards but they seem to be just barely good enough.  When the security agreement went into effect that required us to stop actively operating within the city limits violence did not appreciably increase.  Iraq will never be what I would consider a nice place, but for the Iraqi people, after six long years it seems that they have arrived at the point where they are good enough.  Saddam is gone, the sectarian bloodshed has stopped, and now there is no use in our trying to Americanize their security forces or government anymore.  Let them be Iraqi, whatever it is that that means. 

Looking back on the time I spent in Baghdad the enduring mental image that I will take with me of the Iraqi people is one from a few weeks ago.  We were driving through the dirty streets of one of the muhallahs (neighborhoods) we were responsible for just before sunset when the whole world takes on that golden glow.  There was trash, shin deep, piled for six or seven feet along the mud walls that kept each families courtyard private.  There were a few streams of mud flowing across the dirt streets because there was no sewer.  An old man, in a tattered and dirty brown dishdasha (man dress) with a disheveled black checkered headdress was tending a dozen of the filthiest sheep ever seen and waiting for night to fall.  He struck at bags of trash with his staff and strew the trash a little more so his sheep could find the choicest rotting vegetables because there was no pasture for them.  As we passed him he glanced up, his brow furrowed with the wrinkles wrought by years of poverty and strife, and gazed at us with his tired brown eyes while we simply passed on by.  And so is Iraq, a tired disheveled old man doing just enough to survive while we pass on by.



13 11 2009

If you have ever spent a night in a barracks or in a military tent with at least ten other men in it you’ll have some idea of what I am talking about.  The night is never silent, there is always someone snoring softly or someone rustling about. 

Last night those soft but ever present sounds was a noisy din, a cacophony conspiring to keep me awake.   The calm of the night outside the tents thin canvas walls is perforated by the sharp staccato of machine gun fire at random intervals on some range or test fire pit.  Occasionally convoys of MRAPs or other heavy equipment roar down the road their engines sounding like jets.  Then there is the actual Air Force cargo jets landing and taking off.  A little piece of advice, if you ever have the opportunity to purchase a piece of property for cheap near a military runway pass it up.  These things start off  sounding like a jet and then right before these behemoth jumbo jets take off or land they kick their jets into high gear and it sounds like a space shuttle is blasting off right outside your tent. 

Thats just the noises outside the tent, inside the tent there is a guy sleeping five or six cots down from me who sounds like he has the swine flu, every couple minutes he coughs or wheezes reminding me that I could get sick before making it home.  The tent I am staying in has twenty soldiers sleeping in it, everyone on a different sleep schedule so there is always someone rustling about.  I drew the unlucky straw and the guy sleeping on the cot next to mine in the tent I am sleeping in snored.  I say snored but that is actually an understatement, he sounded like someone with a misfiring chain saw trying to cut down an entire forest.  A few times I became concerned that he might actually drown in his own nostrils, but I never got that lucky.  His snoring was so loud that it actually drowned out the roar of the jets landing and taking off.

Needless to say sleep did not come to me easily last night.  Finally after an hour I fished around in the bottom of my rucksack until I found my ear plugs, even with them in I could still hear the ragged snoring of the man next to me.  Eventually the night took mercy on my and I drifted off into the land of winking, blinking and nod…

Never Trust a Skinny Cook

8 11 2009

You know that something is wrong if a soldier isn’t complaining, so here’s my little take on chow.  The chow we’ve been eating here at the little JSS I’ve been at for nearly a half a year now will keep you alive, but it won’t do too much more than that.  There is junk food (i.e. potato chips, packaged cookies, and sodas) aplenty so you won’t starve, but the actual chow they serve won’t do too much more.  It consists mainly of just add boiling water Chicken Alfredo Pasta (which I will never order again in my life) very well done cuts of Standard (yes the grade beneath Select) beef, and powdered eggs.  I thought it was the supply system simply not being able to get us the ingredients for healthy eating but turns out it was just lazy cooks.

I hadn’t eaten a salad in over four months, early in the deployment we’d get fresh fruit and vegetables on a regular basis, but suddenly the flow of fresh greens shut off entirely.  Our cooks, who were all pencil thin because they would barely touch their own cooking, were replaced with a new crew of cooks headed up by a pleasantly plump NCO and within three days I had a fresh romaine lettuce salad, delicious.  They made burgers, much as the previous cooks did but they sauted onions and peppers to top the burger with.  Tonight they made delicious deep fried turkey wings and the best prime rib I’ve had all deployment including at the big chow halls on major FOBs.  Things are looking up for the soldiers manning this little outpost on  the outskirts of Baghdad.  Why?  All because the skinny cooks were replaced by a fat one.

Risks of Serving Your Country

2 11 2009

Some of my soldiers are taking creatine or other supplements to help turn them into ridiculously muscled ogres.  To counteract the effects of all of the low grade horse steroids they are on they have to drink a lot of water to prevent them from growing dehydrated.  Add into this the heat of Iraq and some of them were drinking ridiculous quantities of water to ensure they wouldn’t become heat casualties. 

A few weeks ago my platoon got tasked with a patrol that we needed to conduct at night.  It wasn’t anything spectacularly long, but part of the way into it one of the guys riding in my truck started complaining about needing to piss.  We weren’t about to stop so after a little scrounging around we found an empty water bottle for him to use, not an easy task in the dark being jostled around some bumpy roads, and he let nature take its course. 

As we got to a Joint Security Station we needed to stop at he decided he was thirsty and took a big gulp out of his water bottle, he stopped puzzled for a moment and then proceeded to blast all the water out of his mouth and immediately started hacking and gagging and asking me for a fresh water bottle.  In the dark he mistook his piss bottle for water bottle, took a gulp puzzled at the slightly salty flavor wondering if he had put a Gatorade packet into his water bottle and then realized his mistake in horror.   Everyone in the platoon proceeded to rag on him for the next few days not allowing him to live down his mistake anonymously.  Definitely one of the funniest events of the entire deployment.


29 10 2009

I’ve been remiss in not posting for a while. Sorry I haven’t kept you updated better. Ordinarily I’d make up some lame excuse about how I’ve been too busy leading my platoon in a war zone to write, however the simple truth of the matter is I lost my muse. That, I suppose, is liable to happen when you spend four months living in a prison that you have to guard yourself.
The past few months have been an exercise in patience. I’ve read some good books, pumped some iron, watched movies on my laptop and generally figured out how to make my three to four hours of real tasks a day take twice as long in an attempt to seem like I am really doing something. I even stooped as low as carving a wooden horse out of a two by four. (whose incarceration experience would be complete without carving something out of the few materials around) However now that my time over here is growing short sheer mind numbing boredom is giving way to optimism and I spend my time daydreaming about how great life will be on the outside savoring planning everything from where I will go trout fishing come spring. to a climbing trip to Ecuador over block leave, even agonizing over mundane details like which cell phone plan I’ll get on upon returning and what sort of a place should I rent upon returning.  The last four months have turned out, much to my chagrin to be a prison experience to rival the “Shawshank Redemption” even with a bit of danger and violence sprinkled in here and there for added realism.

Paratrooper Baptized

21 07 2009

For those of you following my blog who are brothers and sisters in Christ you will be glad to know that one of my paratroopers was baptized a few days ago.  It came as a surprise to me, but it definitely lifted the spirits of the Christian brethren here at tiny COP 763.  It was quite the baptism performed by our battalion chaplain, overcoming the obstacle of not having a baptismal in true innovative paratrooper fashion.  We filled a deep freezer with water.  Quite the scene for a baptism.  The paratrooper who was baptized is a big boy, probably 6’4″, and barely fit in the freezer.  It was truly a baptism to remember.  

Thanks for your continuing prayers for saftey and spiritual well being of the soldiers who are serving over here with me.  Your prayers are both appreciated and needed.

Rude Awakening

16 07 2009

This morning I woke up still tired (due to the shift I work times rotating 6 hours every three days I live in a perpetual state of jet lag, in fact because the shift is 6 on 6 off and it changes opposite every three days it is like going from the US to Japan and back every week) ready to face my shift in the Joint Tactical Operations Center, hopefully in relative silence.  I wanted nothing more than an uneventful morning sipping a few cups of freshly brewed French Roast coffee and, once I woke up, to do a little reading if all was quiet.

Once I got to the Joint Tactical Operations Center and sat down ready to sip my coffee the delicious and strong brew was immediately overwhelmed by the nauseating stench of the few Iraqis in the room with me.  *Note: they do not all smell this bad but some certainly do, so don’t start accusing me of racism until you’ve been over here nose to pit with some of the worst offenders*  It was a typical smell for them.  The powerful aroma of , ‘never heard of deodorant and live in one of the world’s hottest climates’ B.O., cheap cigarettes chain smoked indoors and a couple of burnt headache inducing incense sticks mingled together and assaulted my nostrils.  It utterly overwhelmed the good of my coffee.  I lost all desire to drink it I was too disgusted.  All I could do is hold my pounding head and think of the millions to be made by some Procter and Gamble or Unilever when they make deodorant main stream in Iraq.  What a glorious day that will be.