Sunday, November 30, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
I’ve mentioned Taji a number of times. Here are just a few things about it. Taji is a Coalition Force (CF) base that is north of Baghdad. Taji is huge. Right now it is one of the larger CF bases in the country both in size and occupants. Tenants there are Iraqi Security forces, Air Force (U.S. and Iraqi), U.S. Army, civilians and the list goes on. There is an air strip, several dining facilities, housing for thousands and they are building a new prison for Iraq. There is lots of activity going on there. When we do eventually leave Iraq Taji will once again be a huge hub of Iraqi military and security force activity.
You may recall that when the CF (Coalition Forces) entered Baghdad in 2003 the Iraqi military basically dissolved. They just quit fighting and went away. Well, Taji was a huge Iraqi military base at the time and it fell into CF hands. Of course we blew a few things up before we went in but basically we went in and took it over.
Fast forward to April 2004 when I first went there. I was still in awe at just having living through a trip through Baghdad when I first saw Taji. Run down buildings, roofs with bomb holes in them and piles of metal just about everywhere. Oh, and it stunk…smelled like burning trash and oily dirt. I stayed there a few weeks before I moved to a FOB (Forward Operating Base). Taji also has the dubious honor of being the location of my first eye-witness mortar attack. Ahhhhh, what a twisted memory to have of a place.
Things were very primitive in Taji’s early days. Electricity was scarce, inhabitable buildings were scarce as well but as U.S. and CF personnel rotated through there things improved. Our PX moved from an old warehouse to a decent steel building. Dining facilities were built (there are 3 or 4 now), motor pools improved and the list goes on and on. It has become a crowded, dirty base. It’s nice to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.
One unique part of Taji is the armor graveyard. After the initial push of the war the discarded and bombarded tanks, artillery pieces and instruments of war had to be put somewhere. Taji evidently seemed like a good place for a dump so the armor was dumped. You can drive by the boneyard of Iraqi armor and pass literally hundreds, if not thousands of rusting metal hulks. Of course, when fronted with such an incredible sight, what is a G.I. going to do? Spray paint a message on it and take a picture. When I was there I only took the picture because I didn’t have paint and there is hardly any room for more graffiti.
Of course, the true measure to quality of life of any military post is how good the PX is and how many franchise eateries there are. As I mentioned, the PX is pretty decent. Taji has Pizza Hut, Subway, Burger King and the real measure of how much of a ‘soft spot Taji has become is the addition of a Cinnabon franchise. Yeah, Cinnabon…just what a soldier who doesn’t do enough PT needs….sweet, fatty pastries.
One final measure of where the war is at is the anal-retentiveness that has increased over the years. Taji is pogueville (a pogue is a rear-echelon weenie who doesn’t fight or go outside the wire…combat arms guys like myself have several not-so-flattering terms for these pogues). The king of pogues is the Pogue CSM (Command Sergeant Major).
Now, I have great respect for most CSMs. They are often the most squared away, tough soldier you will ever find. They have a job to do which is important…looking out for the welfare of soldiers and enforcing the Army’s standards. I have no beef with these warriors but Taji (and other large posts such as Adder) have a very large population of CSMs with a flare for pogueness and they have too much time on their hands. These senior NCOs and their pogue underlings are also known as ‘fun haters.’
The P-CSMs are known for constantly enforcing standards that don’t really fit in a war environment. As the rockets and bullets have decreased, the P-CSMs have increased their haranguing of soldiers who’s drip pans aren’t under their vehicles, aren’t wearing reflective belts with their PT uniforms, aren’t saluting every officer they pass and, in-general, aren’t behaving in a professional pogue-ish military manner. The Pogue CSMs are just a pain-in-the ass. They’ve nailed me for a few things that I was guilty of but….ahhhh.
Anyway…back to Taji. Our Squadron escorts vehicles to there every night. We bring up the full trucks. Sleep, eat, refuel, then take the empty trucks back the next night. It’s what we do. Taji must have its fuel, spare parts, reflective belts and cinnamon roll ingredients. The P-CSM must have his sweet, fatty pastries.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
This was one of my last trips north because my unit is getting short. A couple of us have been wanting to get back on the road for a few weeks so we pulled a Nike and just did it. The team went with was Bandito 16, they are a convoy security company based out of Magnolia Arkansas. Bandito 16 is a pretty good collection of very capable soldiers. Their six original vehicles had the internal call signs of “RICKY BOBBY”, “CARNY”, “5-O” (the TC is a real-world police officer), “MINNIE”, “SEX PANTHER”, and “REHAB”. Obviously there is a draw to Will Farrell movies for these guys. They gave my truck the call sign of “AMTRAK”. That’s because two of my crew are Captains and since our ranks look like railroad tracks….well, there you go.
The crew of the Amtrak:
DRIVER: Staff Sergeant Shannon Eichenseer. Shannon is from Cattaraugus, New York (South of Buffalo). She normally works in our Brigade Headquarters Intelligence Section but I’ve been trying to take her out on the road for months so she can better understand the mission she supports. She finally broke free long enough to be the driver of a 40,000 pound MRAP. She and I got licensed on the vehicle just so we could go on this trip.
TC—TACTICAL VEHICLE COMMANDER: Captain Marcus Pierce from North Little Rock, AR. Marc is normally my Squadron’s Signal officer…the guy who manages all things communications-wise to include computers and radios. Marc is an avid runner (his running blog is http://runaddict.wordpress.com/2008/02/10/gi-blues-and-a-runner-reborn/ ) Marc served in the right seat as the TC and he handled all the radio business.
GUNNER: I got to do something I’ve always wanted to do….gun. I.e. the guy that pokes his head out of the top. So, Captain Lynch got to do what a Specialist or Private normally does....man an M240B machine gun for the 9 hour mission. I was the guy who operated the turret and kept the vehicle in a fighting posture for the duration of the trip. I also had the best view.
PCC/PCI (pre-combat checks and inspections): We did the normal pre-combat checks the night before the convoy rolled out. Nothing spectacular: we got the radios ready, the truck stocked with water and fuel, and made sure the vehicles and weapons were ready for a long road trip. Then we stocked up on sleep. Driving all night means having a good night’s rest.
The day of the trip we attended the Operations and Intelligence brief. This is where the crews get their latest information about road conditions, weather, and enemy activity on our routes. I’m usually on the giving end of the brief. Today I was the audience along with three other convoys going out that night . After the Intel dump we went to the staging lanes where we conduct our final PCCs/PCIs before we hit the road.
I’d like to tell you some exciting story about the journey north but it was pretty uneventful. After we linked-up with the vehicles we were escorting we pointed north and drove….and drove….and drove. We left in the afternoon and arrived at Taji in the middle of the night. Overall it was a 9 hour drive in the dark with nothing significant to report. We like it that way but it does get boring.
We spent the next day at Taji and slept, visited a couple of friends stationed there and then put the convoy back together again for the return trip south. Once again, we pointed towards COB Adder which was south and drove….and drove….and drove.
One thing you learn is how to stay awake. These convoys are about 4 miles long. We drive at speeds that vary between slow and much slower. Slow so we can find IEDs (you can’t outrun them). Staying awake is a team effort. In most cases it just involves conversation among the crew of a vehicle. We talked about everything from the election to our boss to what we would do when we get home….you name it…we talked about it.
At the end of the trip the sun was barely up and we were smoked but there was one last thing to do….eat. I don’t normally eat breakfast in the chow hall but at the end of a night of driving and staying awake a trooper gets hungry. We drove the vehicle to the chow hall and marched our stubbly faces to the dining facility and proceeded to eat an Army breakfast. Afterward we secured our weapons and vehicle for the day and proceeded to sleep. And sleep I did. Rock-type sleep…the reward for 3 long days of delivering gas and groceries.
Well, that’s a convoy. 600 miles, 3 days, no incidents. I’ve done it 6 times so far. Our regular escort teams do it once every 5 days. Escorting convoys is our primary mission and it’s what we have done every day since my Squadron has been in-country. This might have been my last mission through Baghdad ever. We’ll see about that. If I never see it again I will be okay but if I do….well, at least I know the way.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Today marks another one. Another one I have missed. It’s one of those things that we’ve never really got too wrapped up about. I mean, being home on an anniversary is nice. But being absent from one is nothing new.
This is 16. Of the sixteen I think I’ve been gone 5 of them. You’ve always been understanding and I really appreciate that. One of the many things we miss when we are overseas are all the special days. The birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations and holidays. We miss them a lot but we never forget them. As always, I’ll try to make up for it when I get home.
One more major holiday away from home and then I’ll be on my way home.
I Love you and I miss you.
Happy Anniversary Sherrie.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
(to view a larger version of these panels just click on them)
Veteran's day comes and goes. Take a minute to think what others have done to make this a free and strong country. For the Veterans that I have the honor to serve with, I am sharing with you their faces and names. They are all truly great Americans.
A Salute on this
Friday, November 7, 2008
Back home most of us have cars or trucks that we can get in anytime we like. Its something unique to Americans to have so many sets of wheels on demand. Here in Iraq few of us have that luxury. Usually someone whose job requires a vehicle or if their rank is high enough to warrant one actually gets a 'Victor'.
Let me address nomenclature right now. In typical Army fashion we have abbreviated and slanganated terminology to describe the various forms of transportation. Let me explain. A Victor is a vehicle. Victor is the phonetic word for the letter V. V is short for Vehicle, translated to Army-nese it is ‘Victor.’ That’s really more confusing and not any shorter than saying vehicle but we are mostly guys and it sounds cool so anytime we see a car on the road we say, “there is a Victor on the road.” Don’t try to understand it, just accept it. Its just the way we are.
More, less-confusing terms: The NTV is a non-tactical vehicle (a pickup or SUV). A Tactical Vehicle is the heavier armored vehicle we use on combat missions. A few of the TAC-Vs are the MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected), the ASV (Armored Security Vehicle) and the famous HUMM-V (the work horse of the bunch).
We have “FOB Runners” that are old Humm-Vs not adequately armored for missions. There are Rangers or ATVs (like you see off-road or at the deer camp). Our ‘public transportation’ consists of Scooby-busses (bigger than a van but smaller than a full size bus). And there are a host of others but those mentioned are generally what we use.
For those who walk we have LPCs…Leather Personnel Carriers (otherwise known as shoes).
You average Iraqi doesn’t have a car. There are lots of vehicles here but usually a family in the city will have one. Rarely does a family have two or more. Most Iraqi citizens rely on taxis, buses or feet. They are not as mobile as Americans. Most of everything an Iraqi citizen needs is in their neighborhood and their families aren’t as spread out as our American families are so the need for vehicles is not as great.
Here in southern Iraq transportation often involves a tractor, a donkey or a camel. More often than not they get around on a good old fashioned pair of sandals (LPCs). Dirty feet are the norm.
Back to Adder...
We have a bus system that is operated by KBR (the contracting company that provides logistical support for us). The KBR busses are what we call ‘Scooby Busses.” These Scoobies run along routes throughout Adder. Their times vary. Their seats are small but it beats walking…usually. The bus routes can be frustrating because there isn’t a set time for them to arrive at a bus stop. We often have to wait 20 or 30 minutes for a ride.
Guys who have an assigned tactical vehicle use them to run around Adder. Its not always easy because these victors are cumbersome but once again…it beats walking.
Other forms of getting around involve bicycles (I have one) ATVs or Polaris Rangers and a variety of small European style vehicles.
If the mission requires it we will walk a dozen miles with a pack on our back in full gear. We are trained to do it and we do it well. But, when the mission doesn’t require it and we just want to get to the chow hall, by golly we are gonna wait for the Scooby or maybe hitch a ride on a camel. It beats walkin’.