Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lost In Downtown Baghdad

For the past couple of days I've been remembering a particular convoy in Iraq that I was a part of in 2007. I have no idea why my brain has been focused on this one trip but probably because it became so absurd.

It was some time after 3-2 SBCT had moved down from Mosul to Baghdad and the brigade had been assigned as the Corps reserve. We were clearing different neighborhoods in the city and my battalion, the brigade support battalion (BSB) had created a "support package" that would base itself at whatever FOB or COP was nearest the neighborhood being cleared (preferably in the same neighborhood). This was done so we didn't have support vehicles and soldiers travelling everyday from our "home" base at Camp Striker at the airport to whichever neighborhood was being cleared, they would be pre-positioned and quicker to react.

If I recall correctly 3-2 was clearing the Rusafa neighborhood and our support package was stationed at a FOB in the middle of the city in the same compound as the Ministry of Oil, across from the Martyr's Memorial.

This crazy looking place
On the day of this particular incident I had hopped onto a convoy consisting of 4 HMMWVs that were taking either the battalion commander or the battalion command sergeant major (it's been awhile, I forget) to see our soldiers who were at this base. I joined the convoy to get myself away from the office for awhile and check out the routes in Baghdad that our soldiers were using which is something I tried to do as often as possible. This was the first trip to this particular base by these soldiers...a key piece of information that will become relevant in a bit.
It should have been a simple trip. Leave Camp Striker and head down The Airport Road (Route Irish, at one time one of the most dangerous roads in Iraq), head straight into the Green Zone, make a few turns and then turn right onto the Jumiriyah Bridge, head straight through a large traffic circle and then continue on straight to our destination. Simple right? One problem...Iraqi security forces had thrown up roadblocks and entry control points everywhere and it was often impossible to know where they were unless you drove the route.
Everything went smoothly until we reached the Mohamed Al-Qasim Expressway. After passing under the freeway it appeared that the road was blocked by barriers and the Iraqi Army. Having no idea where to go the convoy commander in the lead vehicle (where I happened to be) decided to hang a quick left...which due to barriers forced us onto the freeway on-ramp.
All of us in the HMMWV became concerned with being on the freeway, mostly because we had no idea where the next exit was and whether or not it was blocked off. The traffic ahead of us began to speed up to avoid the usual mess that was created by a convoy of US forces showing up and the traffic behind slowed down to give us the space we demanded so as to not be perceived as a threat. The convoy commander made the quick decision to turn around and head back down the on-ramp...
...which was now filled with cars trying to get on the freeway. We had no where to go. Going against traffic would just be stupid and there wasn't room; turning around and going with traffic would just put us back in the same position of not knowing where we were going; and as I stated the on-ramp was filled with cars. We did the only logical and yet insane maneuver a group of heavily armed HMMWVs can do in this situation.
We started driving in circles.
I kid you not. There we are, 4 American HMMWVs driving in circles on some Iraqi freeway as we try to figure out what to do. I kept looking out at the Iraqi drivers and the looks we were getting were something between bewilderment (what the hell are they doing?) and frustration (great, I'm now stuck here because these Americans just want to drive around in circles).
After 2 or 3 loops we decided to just force our way down the on-ramp. Luckily the Iraqis on the on-ramp figured out what we needed to do and did their best to move over. The Iraqi soldiers at the bottom who were manning the barriers also saw what we were doing and started blocking traffic for us. It took some time but we eventually made it off the freeway and the Iraqi soldiers then directed us to the entry control point that we had missed when we first drove by (hidden by some T-walls).
That day wasn't my most absurd but it ranks up there. I still wonder what the Iraqis who we encountered that day were thinking about us and if they realize we were just a lost group of Americans who didn't mean to screw up their commute. At least they now have a humorous story to tell about HMMWVs driving around in circles on a freeway.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

UPDATE: If It Gets Bad Enough Maybe I'll Get To Go Back

While the world watches Syria, Gaza, and Black Friday insanity who is watching Iraq (other than Joel Wing of course)? I bring this up because I've noticed a disturbing set of events currently ongoing...events that could lead to civil war between Iraqis and Kurds.

First, on November 19 Iraqi military units moved from Baghdad and Tikrit to the Tuz Khurmato area in response to increasing violence and clashes between the Kurdish Peshmerga militia and government security forces. Where is Tuz exactly? Glad you asked...

It just happens to be near Kirkuk and in the Kurd/Arab disputed zone

The next day, 500 Peshmerga were sent to Kirkuk in response to Baghdad's movement of troops.

Now Baghdad has moved tanks and artillery into the "Hamrin Mountains"...whatever that means. The Hamrin Mountains run for miles in north-central Iraq but I suspect they mean the part of the Hamrin Mountains near Tuz.

Are we witnessing the first sparks of an Iraqi-Kurdish civil war or will cooler heads prevail as they typically have in the past? If fighting does occur I suspect the Iraqi Army will wipe the floor with the Peshmerga and easily take Kirkuk, but won't chase the Pesh farther than the mountains of Kurdistan.

As my old XO used to say, "even a troop of Girl Scouts can hold mountain passes against the Iraqis."

UPDATE: Well shoot, looks like the Kurds are withdrawing. No civil war for now.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Another "Combat Zone" Thanksgiving

As I spend yet another Thanksgiving in a combat zone here are some of the things I am currently thankful for:

1. I have a job.

2. My job is not on an austere combat outpost dealing with one major who had anger issues and another major who was slowly losing his mind.

3. All the people who have sent me care packages in the past. You kept me going.

Happy Thanksgiving 2012 everyone!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mali Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better...If It Gets Better

I'm going to take a quick break from blogging about all my crazy new experiences in Afghanistan (I feel like such a noob!) and discuss the wonderfulness that is Mali right now. The last time I discussed Mali was back in June. At that time it appeared that a split had occured between the Tuareg seperatists who called themselves the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and their Al Qaida In the Islamic Maghreb affiliated Ansar Dine allies.

For those who have forgotten and want to read up on the whole Mali situation, here's a timeline. If you don't want to click the link...

- Qaddafi's regime falls in Libya.

- A whole bunch of Tuareg tribal mercenaries hired by Qaddafi come back home to Mali.

- Soldiers in the Malinese capital of Bamako stage a coup as a protest over the ineffective government handling of the ongoing rebellion in the northern part of the country.

- Tuaregs and Ansar Dine fighters pretty much take over all of Northern Mali...whoops.

- Tuaregs and Ansar Dine form an alliance. Tuaregs (largely secular) quickly rethink that alliance after they realize Ansar Dine is one of those annoyingly religious fundamentalist groups who like to stone people to death, deface cultural sites, and ban alcohol among other things.

-Tuaregs and Ansar Dine start fighting.

So where are we at now?

Well, Ansar Dine have called in their AQIM buddies and the AQIM have sent reinforcements to help fight the Tuaregs. The Tuaregs are now basically getting their asses kicked. Just to add some confusion to all of this, there is a fourth organization: Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) involved. MUJAO is an offshoot of AQIM who didn't like the fact that AQIM was led by a bunch of Algerians. MUJAO broke off from AQIM and started assisting Ansar Dine.

And what about those 3,300 soldiers that African leaders have stated will head to Mali to help retake the country? They probably won't be ready until March...

In the meantime, northern Mali could become the next Afghanistan.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

So Many Lawyers In One Location...Nuke the Site From Orbit?

Remember back at the beginning of the year when the military nearly burned some Korans? I just found out it was at the base I'm currently at. Hooray for controversy.

It's actually quite fascinating working in a prison so far. The office I work in is a joint environment meaning there are Navy, Air Force, and Army personnel, most of them individual augmentees...which means they were plucked from their units to serve time over here. I've even seen a Marine or two. No coasties yet though. As for deployment experience amongst this group it runs the gamut from the first timers who freak out every time the big voice goes off to the "lucky" few on their upteenth deployment....and those individuals are usually jaded and/or bitter so are easy to spot.

And most of the people I work with and around are lawyers or other legal specialists. Apparently they make some "interesting" command decisions.

In the long walkway from the entrance to the prison to my work area one can experience multiple languages and cultures. There are American soldiers speaking English and Spanish (Puerto Rican National Guard) as well as the Afghan soldiers speaking various languages including Pashto and Dari. The Afghans actually have linguists for their own military so soldiers can communicate with eachother.

This honestly could end up being my oddest deployment yet. Now if I can just figure out a way to get outside the wire...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

4 AM Is Generally Too Early For Anything

Two observations from my short time here at Camp Sabalu-Harrison:

1. Seeing a shooting star gives me a fraction of a second of panic before I realize that what I just saw was falling space debris of some kind and not an incoming rocket.

2. There is nothing more annoying at 4 am than the "big voice" announcing "INCOMING!" Especially when there is no incoming.

However, I will say this...hearing that sound reminds me of what a rush it can be to think you are suddenly under attack. Really reminds you of what it is to be alive.

But at 4 am? Not so much. I should send out a memo to the local insurgent group reminding them not to send indirect fire our way during my sleeping hours. It's just rude and it brings back too many NTC memories; mostly the ones of my warrant officer laughing at me when I dove out of my cot into my body armor as we got hit by The Mad Mortarman.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sifting Through the Past, Desk By Desk

After several days I finally have my badges for access to where I'll be working in the DFIP (detention facility in Parwan...yah! More acronyms to learn!) and I was even shown my desk and computers...yeah, computers, as in plural. A desk and computers you say?! No jumping from desk to desk computer to computer like at Huachuca? Hooray for small miracles. An organization that kind of gives a damn.

I don't have the access codes to actually get on the computers yet so it's not like I can actually start any work until I get those (boo for bureaucracy) but I had the opportunity to start cleaning out my desk, which from some of the items found hasn't been cleaned out for years.

Here's a small list:

- canned chicken
- candy
- unopened trail mix
- Several Hooters calendars
- "tush" wipes
- more candy
- protein bars
- Mio drink mix
- other various drink mixes
- Sand In My Bra...I might actually read this
- the greatest pair of aviators I have ever seen; I put them on and one of my coworkers told me I look like a pedophile. Yep, those are keepers.

I love how desks become odd little time capsules. Gives interesting insight into the people who previously worked there.


- toothbrush
- crossword puzzles
- popcorn
- some pills...could be candy, who knows

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Greetings from Afghanistan

After a week at Camp Atterbury, IN and a couple of miserable days in Kuwait I finally made it to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. So far (3 days) this place is pretty much what I expected. Large, overcrowded, noisy, and waaaaaaaaay too much traffic. Luckily I have found myself on a quiet part of the base, which I'll get to shortly. But at least I have internet in my room...for a price.

I had forgotten about the dust. Bagram sits in a bowl so the dust is everywhere. Thick brown stuff that gets into everything. At least the mountains are beautiful...when they aren't obscured by the dust.

Camp Sabalu-Harrison is where I will call the next year or so home. I don't have my access badges yet so I can't start work yet so I've been spending my time exploring our little corner of Bagram and figuring out the bus system. I was lucky enough that there was a spot open in one of the CHUs when I arrived here so I only had to spend my first night in transient housing.

As for what I'll be doing: I'm working as an analyst in the prison helping to build evidence packets on the detainees to help determine which detainees should remain and transfered over to Afghan custody and which ones should be released. From what I can gather it's a lot of research, which is what I'm good at so that's a plus. Unfortunately, my job may not entail a lot of knowledge of the overall happenings in Afghanistan so my posts may not be all that interesting or useful to the daily goings-on here, unlike my posts from my previous deployments.

Still, I'll post what I can and try to keep it interesting, even if it's just me griping about the horrid Afghan winter and then the horrid Afghan summer.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Kuwait tasks me. It tasks me.

Kuwait, for me, is like a small child. It has the ability to amuse and irritate me at the same time. At least the heat isn't bad this time around, hovering around 90 degrees. Quite a bit difference from a few days ago when I was tolerating 30 degree weather in Indiana.

Took five hours to fly from Germany to Kuwait...and then 5 hours to get from the airport to the transient base. 5 incredibly boring hours with no one giving us any information on why it was taking so long. Welcoming LNOs didn't have enough personnel to handle us all because it was 3 AM. Dining facility makes contractors pay...but only with the special Eagle Cash Card...and you can only get those during certain hours of the day.

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again. Kuwait is purgatory and is designed so that you want to move on to the bad place you are headed, because that place has to be better right?

See you in Bagram.