4/4 — Wednesday
Today I got up at 6:00 a.m., feeling like it was Christmas Day since it is the day we finally leave for Iraq. I got the last of my stuff packed up, went to the Small Arms maintenance facility to get my M-4 looked at, went to get a haircut, and then went to an early chow. Around noon we loaded everything onto a transport truck and ourselves onto buses for the ride to the Kuwait airport. At the Kuwait airport we unloaded ourselves and palletized our bags so that we could wait for a flight. I also saw a contingent of Coalition Forces from the country of Georgia while we were waiting!
We waited around for a while in a transient tent and then were called to go to the plane around 4:30 p.m. On the way to the plane we passed several bombed-out bunkers, I am assuming damage that is left over from the first and/or second Gulf War. We loaded up on a C-17 military transport via the rear ramp. They had installed seats in the middle for us to use and then loaded our palletized bags behind us. It was a surreal ride to war, especially when they turned the lights out and we sat in the glow of the orange emergency lights. Training over, time to go.
Once we arrived at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), we unloaded ourselves and then snaked our way through a maze of temporary buildings, were processed in quickly, found our palletized bags and loaded them on a transport truck, and then our unit split off from the others that we had arrived with and were bussed to Camp Striker which is a short way from the airport. We unloaded our bags and then waited at Camp Striker in a transient area (called “The Stables”) for a long time before leaving. While waiting we got chow in a very nice facility, watched Blackhawk helicopters run to and fro in the night sky, and even heard outgoing mortar fire from a nearby Forward Operating Base (FOB).
Finally, we loaded our bags back onto a transport truck along with all the others who were waiting to go to the U.S. Embassy complex in the International Zone (Green Zone). We took a State Department armored bus (called a Rhino!) to our destination. When we arrived, many soldiers from the outgoing unit that we are replacing, 422nd CA BN, Charlie Company, were there to meet us. We unloaded our stuff, got a quick tour of the U.S. Embassy complex, and then finally found cots in transient tents at 5:30 a.m. Long day!
4/5 — Thursday
Regarding housing, the Lord answered a quiet prayer of mine which I prayed as I stood in the shade of a palm tree. He worked it out that I could switch from the area I was originally assigned to live in (Riverside) to a preferred location (Poolside). A guy in the outgoing company told me he had been trying to do that for 11 months! I am the only one in my unit in the Poolside area. I was humbled by what I KNOW the Lord worked out for me. I think everyone was jealous of my living quarters location until one of the Iraqis that works at the PRT told me he had moved far away from my area because of the frequent mortar and rocket attacks there. My trailer is directly in line between the "Red Zone" on the other side of the Tigris River and the main U.S. Embassy building!
The U.S. Embassy complex in Baghdad is the largest U.S. Embassy in the world and is surrounded by the hustle and bustle of many activities, which normally do not occur inside a U.S. Embassy complex. The main buildings are majestically nice inside and out, being the main former palace of Saddam Hussein. It comes complete with marble floors / walls, rich paintings / tile work on the ceilings, 50-foot ceilings in some rooms, chandeliers, tall wood doors, gold-plated fixtures in the bathrooms, etc.… The outside is palatial as well, made of some kind of impressive stone and has Arabic writing all around the edge of the top of the building. The palace is probably 70 feet high. Outside there are palm trees everywhere. There is even a pool about 200 yards from my trailer, and people are laying out at it! Around the pool there are pool tables, Ping-Pong tables, and a horseshoe area. I saw a horseshoe in the pool — that must have been a wild game. One group was throwing a private party around dinner time, complete with a boom box and cooking out. It will be tough to take pictures here — security is high and they are serious about it. There are military, contractors and civilians all roaming around — some are very impressive and somber-looking people. Whoever they are, I say "Hi" to them quietly as we pass in the hall or outside on the walkways to be nice, and most of them look somewhat astonished that they are being spoken to, but they usually respond and smile. I've never saluted so much in my life — even Generals are out and about!
I can’t believe that this is the war that I have been preparing for. Most of us new soldiers don't know what to fully make of it yet — we are trying to correlate the new surroundings, the danger level of being at the U.S. Embassy complex, the "Red Zone" missions that we have already started (just like the other Civil Affairs teams outside the Green Zone, they say we will run 2-4 a week), and the constant traffic of MEDEVAC helicopters overhead. It is especially challenging to sort it out when we know that Iraqis in other areas of Baghdad are living in squalor and other soldiers are out there in more danger than we are. I guess it's 1) the Green Zone, 2) impossible to fix the entire city at once (especially in the middle of a civil war and after many years of neglect), and 3) our U.S. Embassy complex needing to be safe for all who work and visit here. We have admitted to each other that we don't have a full picture of our regular job here yet (the old unit is still doing that, we are starting to overlap with them), so we are kind of withholding opinion at this point. The Green Zone is certainly a "reduced risk" area, but the U.S. Embassy complex seems to be a magnet for indirect fire, mortars and rockets as the insurgents in the "Red Zone" just across the Tigris River go after one of the highest-profile targets in Iraq. This happens daily and there is unfortunate evidence of it all around. I am keeping my M-4 carbine, M-9 pistol, and ammo for both with me at all times just in case I see a terrorist lurking in the bushes.
There is a new U.S. Embassy complex being built close by to the present location of the same. It is supposed to be finished while we are here, but I think it is doubtful that we would move there while we are here. We drove by it the other day. It is HUGE!
4/21 — Saturday
We had 10 mortars hit close to us here at the PRT offices inside the Green Zone today, but only 2 of them exploded and we all are ok. These were the first ones that I could hear come in (they sound like a plane coming in for a landing or a plane going by close overhead) before I heard the explosions. I guess that's a sign of them being close!
4/24 — Tuesday
This morning we saw the smoke in the distance from what we later found out were car bombings just outside the Green Zone. It is still crazy to see it live and then see it on the news. These things are happening so fast and there are so many these days. The 9 soldiers who were killed this morning were from the 82nd Airborne; it is so sad that they will be making another kind of trip home to Ft. Bragg and Fayetteville rather than the one they were probably dreaming about.
5/2 — Wednesday
When I got back to the U.S. Embassy complex I worked out, showered, grabbed chow, and then went to my Wednesday night Bible Study and Prayer Meeting. Wednesday nights are steak night in the chow hall! While I was at the Bible Study and Prayer Meeting, mortars landed in the U.S. Embassy complex, including in the trailers. Maj. Pacheco had one land 75 feet from him, destroying 2 empty trailers. We were actually in the middle of praying and heard some of them landing. Four workers from the Philippines were killed.
5/4 — Friday
I got scared out of my skin today when a British Tornado fighter plane flew about 300 feet over me at the U.S. Embassy complex. I was sitting down not paying strict attention and I heard it coming but didn't expect it to come that close. It was so close that I actually flinched when I turned my head up to see what was going on! That was crazy — such a big, fast plane flying so low. Kind of like in Top Gun, I think that pilot might be in trouble tonight.
5/12 — Saturday
They are looking for 3 soldiers who were ambushed and kidnapped today in Mahmoudiya.
5/23 — Wednesday
I got up today at 7:00 a.m. I had another trip today outside the Green Zone to see the Provincial Council. Our trip was fine but another team from the PRT got attacked at their destination, but they said the infantry guys unloaded on the attackers and that their alternative route out helped them avoid an ambush. Scary!
At night I went to Bible Study, Prayer Meeting, worked out, and then ate chow in my room. On the way to working out we had a mortar attack, so I turned and ran back to the U.S. Embassy for cover before continuing on to my workout.
They think they found the body of one of the missing kidnapped soldiers dumped in the Euphrates River. :( So, now they are still looking for the other 2 missing soldiers in Mahmoudiya.
6/4 — Monday
Fourteen soldiers have been killed in the last 3 days, so June is off to a bad start. They are still looking for the 2 missing soldiers in Mahmoudiya. A militant group released a video today which included footage of the attack/kidnapping and the 2 missing soldiers’ ID cards. It both infuriates me and brings me close to tears. They are all so young.
2/14 — Thursday
I got up at 7:00 a.m. On my way to work I came across a car sitting in the street in front of the CSH with 6 bullet holes in the windshield and blood on the trunk, reminding me that I'm not home yet! The car probably ran too far into an IZ checkpoint gate and the guards reminded them that they're to stop for a reason.
2/25 — Monday
There's a lot of sadness in me in leaving here. Great people and great work. But, obviously mixed emotions as I'm ready to come home as well. I'm secretly anxious that I will hate life in the U.S. when I get back!
2/27 — Wednesday
I got up around 8:00 a.m. My last day in the Green Zone is finally here (at least as far as this deployment is concerned!).
Here are the highlights of my time here:
- Work on spiritual life. I feel like this is the real reason that the Lord brought me here.
- Being moved to PRT-B. The work of PRTs in Iraq is very important, as they are being seen as the “way forward” on the further implementation of foreign policy (beyond the embassy level), reconstruction, and generally building sustained capacity within a country. So, it was nice to be involved in that effort.
- 10/23 ambush. What a crazy day.
- The work I did on agriculture. I got things organized, put an overall plan in place, developed many relationships, addressed an adverse relationship with the Provincial Council of Baghdad Agriculture Committee, etc.…
- The work I did on a variety of other projects. I had good opportunities to contribute to very real initiatives that affect the lives of Iraqis.
Here are the lowlights of my time here:
- This was a challenging time in the life cycle of PRTs here in Iraq and really made it difficult to get things done at times. The main PRT here in Baghdad was still being fully stood up when I got here and 9 “embedded” PRTs were being established around the Province of Baghdad, so there was noise associated with that.
- Of the 2 civilians who came in to take over Agriculture, one of them was not the right person to carry on the overall work, therefore much of what I established in the beginning kind of fell apart. I addressed this with him and the Econ Section leadership, so I’m confident that changes will be made and things will be restored to the former glory.
- Having to submit a packet for promotion to Staff Sergeant a total of 3 times. I think this is ridiculous.
- They are still looking for the 2 missing soldiers in Mahmoudiya.