Tuesday, December 28, 2004

We now have two units cramped into our building, ours and the incoming unit. I haven't been kicked out of my room yet but I now have the incoming unit's XO staying with me. I made a lot of noise this morning getting dressed at 3:15AM. I'm traveling to one of our outlying units today and had to be up early to catch the plane. It turns out now I'm not leaving until after 6. I thought my traveling days were over here, happily I was wrong . I'll get to see our Battalion Surgeon again. He volunteered for another rotation and was posted down south.

Depending on my schedule, I may get to visit an archeological site located next to the base. I'll post some pictures when I get back in a few days.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Christmas here was gray and rainy outside but we had our share of good cheer.

My Christmas present was unexpected. I logged on to Yahoo messenger and found my children were up early (before 6AM). My wife turned on the webcam and I was able to watch my children open all their presents and they could see me through my webcam. It was nice to be able to see them and chat over the computer with my wife giving the running commentary. One of the guys from my unit had a Santa Outfit and mugged for the camera and the kids.

Later in the day we had a party down at the clinic. It was good to get together with everyone and celebrate the holiday.

Thanks for all the good wishes from everyone back home. It means a lot to us here.

Merry Christmas from Iraq!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas eve here in Iraq. We have somehow acquired real Christmas Trees from a nursery in New York. I think the Air Force flew in several hundred. One of our dentists who rotated home sent some nicely wrapped presents which went under the tree in our office.

On the computer network there was a lot of traffic joking around about Santa being cleared for transiting Iraqi airspace and needing an up-armored sleigh.

We expect a spike in attacks tomorrow. We got a report of a suicide attack near the Libyan Embassy in Baghdad a few hours ago. Many Iraqi Christians are keeping things low key this year because of threats against the Churches.

Everyone is thinking about their families back home. Last year we were still at our mobilization station at Fort Drum. We all had a pass to go home for Christmas. I was home for a week because our daughter was born on Dec 23rd. Next Christmas we'll be home.

I found out that 2 of the soldiers killed and 13 injured in Mosul were with a Maine National Guard unit. The Engineer unit was our next door neighbor at Fort Drum. You could tell a soldier was from the unit anywhere on base because they all had fur lined eskimo hoods for their gortex jackets. Being from Maine they were ready for the -20Fahrenheit weather.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The attack on FOB Marez in Mosul has turned out to be caused by a suicide bomber. The details of the investigation will be released later today. Its now just after midnight on Thursday here. The Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs just had a news conference with the information.

I got my first indication this morning at a meeting. We were told that several people debriefed after the incident indicated that the explosion came from inside the chow hall not from an airburst rocket. Later I talked to one of our doctors who happened to be up in Mosul yesterday. He rushed to the hospital and helped triage and put in chest tubes. Being an experienced trauma doc it was good that he was there. While they were triaging outside the hospital, they got mortared, some landed only yards away. He said the injuries didn't look like the usual rocket or mortar injuries and it might have been a bomb carried in.

The initial reports said that a 122mm rocket was involved. I think the reason this was said was because small bb sized ball bearings were found. Certain Chinese, Russian and South African 122mm rockets have these packed inside.

This afternoon I sat down and talked to a couple of our Iraqi contractors. We talked about the security situation for them. Though it is much better for them, they still need to be very careful. One recently had a family member kidnapped in retaliation for him working with the Americans. He asked about where I live. If it was safe to go anywhere whenever I want. I told him my town was very safe, in fact we don't even have our own police. The State police cover our town. I was a little taken aback at how incredulous he was that I had absolute freedom of movement. It made me realize how lucky we are back at home. I told him that I pray for the same to be true in Iraq. He replied "inshalla" - God Willing.

I went to another civil affairs meeting. We talked about the village water treatment projects that are ongoing and plans for a regional water distribution district. The new units seem eager to get started on their projects in the surrounding communities.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

It was a black day for us today.

At lunchtime we had an attack at a FOB in Mosul hitting a dining facility. Unfortunately, there were large numbers of casualties, including over 20 killed and more than 50 injured. We mourn for our fallen comrades, pray for the recovery of the wounded and comfort for their families.

We heard about the incident soon after it happened medevac choppers scrambled from all over the area. All 4 US military hospitals got patients from Mosul. Soon we heard the choppers arriving, flying low over our building, the crew chiefs sticking their heads out to check the approach. Our hospital had choppers backed up waiting to land at the pad with some of the worst patients because we have a neurosurgeon. Several of our teams are up in the area so we anxiously waited for their sitreps. We later found out that they were not in the immediate area when the attack happened.

Its not something that we dwell on but each one of us know deep down that this could happen anywhere. It was a random tragedy. We've had our share here, thankfully they are few and far between. Earlier this year we had 3 soldiers killed and 25 injured when we were hit by a 127mm rocket. We've had other deaths and quite a few more injuries. Since we've been here our base has had over 550 rounds of mortars and rockets shot at us (we keep count). Sometimes they hit their mark, mostly they don't. Mosul has been getting indirect fire all year. We had three of our guys injured up there this spring.

We reached an important milestone today. Most of our gear was loaded into a large steel shipping container. I am officially living out of a dufflebag which could last a while. We spread out plastic sheets on the ground and emptied every footlocker and dufflebag out for the customs people to inspect. There is a large list of banned items that we are not allowed to bring home including weapons, explosives, artifacts and even rocks for fear of contaminated soil. Save a playboy magazine or two (also banned) we were good to go. Two Coast Guard guys did the HAZMAT inspection. Other than the port security guys down in Um Qasr they are probably the only Coast Guard guys in the country. I know the CG has more people working the ports in Kuwait.

Tony Blair came to Baghdad today to try to boost the election effort. Any help is welcome.
The twin bombings in Najaf and Karbala were targeting the police and civilians. The Shi'a south has been relatively quiet for a while. There are a number of bad actors around who would love to stir things up among the Shi'a among them Zarqawi, the Baathists and even Moqtada Al Sadr, who would not mind undermining Sistani's authority.

The level of intimidation, especially of anyone related to the election will most likely get worse as we approach the end of January. After witnessing the violence of the election workers being dragged out of their car and shot on Haifa Street in Baghdad, people will need very strong spines to continue on. I am hopeful that they will. My prayers are with them.

For me it was a normal day. A few meetings and lots of busy work preparing for the new unit. We had two indirect fire attacks today, but as usual it was the junior varsity team who can't get it over the fence.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The weather has really cooled off. A few mornings ago it was 18 degrees Fahrenheit in Mosul, here it got down in the 20's. This evening there was a large halo surrounding the moon caused by ice crystals in the air.

More and more new units are arriving, we'll be some of the last of our rotation to go. The new commanding unit on post have decided they own our parking lot and put a guard at the gate and won't let our trucks in.

I went to the gym this morning for the first time in a long time. Just after I finished, the alarm went off and we had to take shelter under a building. Some of the Filipino staff from the gym , were in there with me. One of the ladies opened a Christmas card that a soldier had given to her and was showing it to all her friends.

Walking back I saw some soldiers decorating a big wood and metal frame they had built in the shape of a tree. We have a giant inflatable Santa and a Christmas tree on our roof. This week we have received lots of boxes from friends and family as well as groups that want us to have something for the holidays. Its all very appreciated by us. I have gorged myself on cookies and chocolate today.

Last week we had the USO come through. Robin Williams and John Elway plus some others came and did a show and then a meet and greet. I think they continued on to Afghanistan. Throughout the year we've seen a steady stream of entertainers and stars come through to ours and other bases to support the troops. The most out of place one had to be the rapper 50 Cent giving a concert when it was 115 degrees. Everyone had to wear their helmet and body armor and carry their weapons. Not your usual rap concert. Personally, I have a lot of respect for anyone who takes time out of their schedule and visits the troops. Wayne Newton also came through with his variety show which was actually the best overall event. In our own twisted sort of thinking we almost wish for a mortar attack while they are on base, just so they can see how we live.

I continued my packing today and took a nap.

Monday, December 13, 2004

I took a nap after work this evening so I can stay up to watch the geminids meteor shower. As an added bonus a bright comet is also visible near Orion.

I'll be heading up to our roof for a few hours. My room mate is now down in Kuwait dealing with redeployment issues but he left me his 10X50 binoculars.

Another quiet day working with my replacement. We attended a weekly meeting which has been totally revamped by another incoming unit. Luckily all these guys have worked together back in the states and should have no growing pains.

The big thing we're waiting for on Wednesday is the publishing of the consolidated candidates list by the government. This is a necessary thing but will have some unfortunate side effects. For the bad guys it represents a high value target list and we are almost sure to see a surge in assassinations. You have to be a very brave person to run in this election, you are sure to make it on someone's hit list.

The Iraqi government has floated the idea of an election period instead of one discrete election day to try to increase the security of the election. Stretching things out a bit would cut down crowds and the attendant risk of a mass casualty attack. Intimidation and discrediting of the process is now highest on the insurgents agenda.

The insurgents are far from a monolithic group. The craziest and most outrageous are Zarqawi's bunch of screwballs but the greatest long term threat may be the former regime elements who have the most experience with grass root intimidation and organization.
Some have argued that the insurgency must have grass root support because of ongoing violence. I reject that idea. A relatively small group of people can cause chaos and being intimidated is not the same as support. Another trend that the average Iraqi understands fundamentally is the merging of the insurgent and the criminal element. Now so much of the insurgent activities are funded by kidnapping, robbery and shakedowns that the ideal of the noble freedom fighter has gone right down the toilet. The insurgents may still be portrayed as such in some venues outside of Iraq but the fact is undeniable here that the insurgent ranks are populated with large numbers of criminals who are in it for personal enrichment.

The greatest heroes in this fight are the Iraqi Police. They are an imperfect bunch, however every day tens of thousands of men wake up and in an incredible act of bravery show up for work. These are the guys bearing the brunt of the insurgent's fury because they are the greatest threat along with their comrades in the Iraqi Security Force. When security can be achieved at the lowest level, the great pent up ambition of the Iraqi people will come into full flower. I think they deserve so much credit, they put their hope in the future on the line every day at great personal risk.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Its 2:30 AM and for some reason I'm still up. Today's highlight was that my replacement came today. I spent a little time with the guy who will be doing my job for the next rotation. Because my job is a bit more involved than some others, he has come ahead of his unit along with a couple others in headquarters. Tomorrow I start training him. I'll actually have quite a long time to do so compared with others.

I read an interesting article on Forward Surgical Teams in the New England Journal of Medicine. It talks about how innovations in battlefield medicine have kept the mortality rate among battlefield casualties to 10%. The lowest rates ever recorded. I printed out a copy for the commander of one of the FSTs that is staying with us as they get situated. Soon they'll move out to one of the remote FOBs. Over the last year we have had 4 teams stay with us. One relocated from Iraq to Afghanistan.

I've been procrastinating finishing packing my gear. I don't relish the idea of going back to living out of my dufflebag. The big metal shipping containers have to be packed far in advance of our leaving and we probably won't see them until late spring. Anything we might need in the next months has to go in a dufflebag so we can bring it with us on the plane.

We now have a new higher headquarters. They just came in less than 2 weeks ago and are currently driving us crazy with all their new rules and requirements. I think this is a common thing. We are used to doing thing one way and they have grand ideas of how things should be. I've seen the same thing with several new OIF3 commands coming in. The new guy thinks that now they will do things the RIGHT way. Soon enough we'll reach a new equilibrium, we will find that some things they do are better and they will come to understand that some things are done as a result of time tested trial and error and changing some things is unwise. Unfortunately, hard heads and large egos have a way of slowing down this process.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Today I went to a civil affairs meeting for the post. One unit was leaving and the new unit was taking over. It was a time for the units who have been here for the last year to take stock of what we've done during our time here.

The civil affairs officer who ran the meeting is a great guy we've worked with on a number of projects. He's typically outside the wire four or more times a week, coordinating dozens of projects benefiting the people who live around our camp. He meets with the town councils, sheiks, school headmasters, religious leaders, and medical personnel trying to prioritize the needs around us.

The Army budgeted 5 million dollars for civil affairs type projects in our area for last year. Units stationed here sponsor a project and with the help of civil affairs go through the contracting process and provide soldiers when necessary to carry out the project. We spent it all except 200 bucks. Next year the budget is another 5 million dollars.

Some of the projects done included building or repairing and furnishing 15 schools serving thousands of children, building 7 clinics, providing radio equipment for a local fire department and police department, providing renovations, a new ultrasound machine and an internet cafe to the local city hospital and providing water filtration plants for 24 villages. In addition people back home have sent school supplies and clothing for the children. Soldiers, Airmen and Marines have distributed thousands of backpacks filled with school supplies sent through Operation Iraqi Children. The medical units have also run clinics with our PAs, doctors, dentists and optometrists seeing hundreds of patients.

One of the best part of these projects was to get soldiers off the base and out to meet the people we are trying to help. My missions out to the villages for medical clinics or delivering school supplies were the most satisfying of my time here.

A colonel stood up at our meeting and emphasized how important these projects are both for the local communities and for the soldiers. He recounted how he had brought members of a combat unit out to a village to distribute school supplies. The only time these guys were outside the wire before this had been 7 months of combat patrols. He said its important for the soldiers to see the smiling faces of people who genuinely are happy you are there, which by the way is most people in our part of the country. He said it had a profound effect on the soldiers and allowed them to see the bigger picture and get a better sense of why we are here. It hard to care about the local people when you spend all your time ducking mortars and getting shot at.

I've been very fortunate to have been able to travel around the country and to participate in some of these projects. Every soldier I talk to who has done the same considers it time well spent.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

I'm up all night for CQ duty. I wasted some time going through our hundreds of satellite channels, most are in Arabic. A new one I found today was Al Jazeera Children's channel....great.

In the military we have a term called IO which stands for Information Operations. Yes, this can encompass propaganda or "spin", but at its core is getting out our story in a favorable light. Ideally this shouldn't be a big problem if we believe we are doing the right thing here.

I recall a Special Forces officer I met in the Green Zone who worked with the 36th Commando of the Iraqi Army. His comment to me was that we were categorically losing the IO war, largely courtesy of the international press. The 36th Commando is a small but highly significant success story in the Iraqi Army. A special operations group composed of Shi'ia, Sunnis and Kurds it is the most professional and effective force in the Iraqi Army along with their sister special operations group. The men of this unit have been incredibly brave and performed significant missions in Najaf, Samarra and Fallujah. His frustration was that in Samarra 36 CDO secured a main mosque being used as a operating base for insurgents, arresting a couple dozen and securing a large weapons cache, causing minimal damage and denying another repeat of the Najaf Mosque standoff. A CNN camera crew was with them during and after the operation. The crew was concerned only about finding civilian casualties and what violations of the laws of war had been committed not what good work 36 CDO had done.

Now the military is doing a little something about IO. Since their story has not passed through the main stream media filter, they are providing a site where members of the media and the general public can get stories and photos directly. I think its a fantastic idea that needs to be expanded. I think the average American who gets all their Iraq news from the TV and newspapers will have a dramatically different view after reading some of the stories from Iraq. The site has links to the various newspapers that are published on posts around the theater as well as pictures and stories from Combat Camera, our front line Public Affairs people.

DVIDS -Digital Video & Imagery Distribution System

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Incredibly, we've only had two mortar rounds fired at us in the last 10 days. The locals are feeling a bit more confident turning in the bad guys resulting in the capture of some very large fish and probably the cause of the current lull.

Most likely, some of the insurgent groups will try a large scale operation before the election and continue the harassment of the population to discourage voting. Hopefully we can head them off at the pass. No doubt, someone will be unhappy with the election so post election violence is also a distinct possibility.

Zarqawi seems to have come unglued, now everyone hates him (inside Iraq). He condemned Sunni clerics for not issuing Fatwas to support the fighters in Fallujah. His group is suspected of killing three prominent Sunni Clerics. He has always shown his contempt for the Shi'ia whom he considers heretics in addition to the Kurds and the Christians. Today his group bombed a Shi'ia mosque in Baghdad. So now we have the situation that he considers no group in Iraq worthy of living. His goal is simply chaos, which every Iraqi I have spoken to sees clearly. He can't be neutralized quickly enough.

The most excitement I've had was being electrocuted at physical therapy. To strengthen the muscle supporting my knee, they decided to do something called Russian E-stim. Basically they attach two electrodes to either end of the muscle and turn up the current until I can't tolerate the pain. It looks strange as the muscle contracts while all the other stay relaxed. I get to do this 3 times a week. I suspect if I was at home I would have stopped PT a while ago, but it can't hurt (that much) to continue for a little while more.

Some of the units around post are getting into the holiday spirit. Our office is decked out in Christmas lights, I saw a big glowing inflatable Santa and the trailer in front of our building has "Peace on Earth" spelled out in white Christmas lights. We are having a Christmas bazaar coming this weekend. I'm looking forward to a ride on a camel. Somehow the vets authorized one to come on post. We've been unsuccessful getting a goat for a goat roast.

I must have told 20 different Iraqi contractors in the past six months that if they could get a camel on base they would make a huge amount of money giving rides and charging people to pose for photos. Everyone would want a picture. Anyway, these rides are free but only for one day. I may camp out.

On December 15th, the government is supposed to publish a unified of candidates for the 30 January elections. Luckily a few of the groups that called for delay have backpedaled and are now saying the vote should go ahead. This includes the Interim president Ghazi Al-Yawar, a Sunni Sheik who will be meeting with President Bush in Washington on Monday.

The weather has been beautiful this past week. The skies are a brilliant
blue with some fair weather clouds. The temperature has been in the lower sixties during the day dropping to the upper thirties at night.

I spent the evening reading some blogs written by Iraqis. A list can be found at Iraq Blog Count.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Today I spent some time with two of my Iraqi friends whom I haven't seen in a long time. They have been laying low because of the threats of kidnapping and death threats against contractors working with the Americans. One of our mutual friends was kidnapped a few months ago on the road to Baghdad. He eventually was ransomed for 40,000 dollars.

My friends seem to have a very good handle on what we call the atmospherics. That is, the mood on the street and the general security situation. They told me that the security is good again for them and they feel confident to come back. Their confidence in the future is very high.

Next week for the first time in their lives they will travel outside Iraq. Its hard to the understate the significance of this trip for these two men, roughly my age, who until recently had no chance of leaving. This will be a business trip to Germany to buy some factory equipment for a new construction material factory that they are setting up. They'll be gone for a month, but I'll keep in touch by email. It seems every Iraqi I meet has a yahoo or hotmail email address. I asked them why they chose to build a particular type of factory and they told me that they saw the future would be all about building. They are general contractors now and want to also get in on manufacturing some of the building materials. They contacted suppliers in Germany and arranged for visas. The Germans were eager to work with them. Because of guys like this who have hope in the future of their country and the ambition to help create that future, I have confidence that Iraq will succeed as a nation.

We had lunch together and chatted about a wide variety of things. One of them said that if things are calm in Najaf and Karbala in the spring, he will bring his whole extended family for the pilgrimage called Arbaeen. If there is violence only the men will go to represent the family.

We also talked about some of the positive changes in the country since Saddam fell. For one thing, marriages are way up. One of the reasons is in the former regime a couple needed to get government permission to get married. This invariably involved a significant amount of "baksheesh" or bribes. Now people simply need the approval of the family and no longer have to pay off officials or have officials prevent them from getting married.

Another interesting thing we talked about was about Yassir Arafat. He said that many people in Iraq didn't like him because he had two faces. I wonder if it has something to do with Saddam's support of Arafat and paying the families of suicide bombers. It was surprising, since I thought Arafat had widespread support throughout the Arab world.

It seems that Iraqis are more independent minded that some people give them credit for. I saw a report last week that both Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya are quickly losing marketshare to two local Iraqi TV stations. Also note that most of the calls for Jihad are coming from non-Iraqis. Like a lot of people, they don't like to be told what to think, especially from people outside Iraq. This is a good thing.

Friday, November 26, 2004

The chow halls went all out yesterday. KBR apparently brought 200,000 pounds of turkey, 45,000 pounds of stuffing and 25 tons of potatoes into Iraq.

The chow hall decorations were crazy. There was the huge 4 foot long Mayflower boat made out of bread, dozens of carved melons and pineapples, big bread cornucopias and a three foot alligator whose skin was made of pinapples and its mouth was a watermelon.

The food was good and the whole day was fairly very relaxing. It was a good sign that we didn't have an attack on the holiday. It follows the lull that we are having. We haven't had anything fired at us in 3 days, the longest we've gone for a long while.

I called my family last night and talked to my wife, my sisters, my brother, my sister in law and my brother in law all gathered at my parent's house with 10 grandchildren running around (well, not the babies). For once I think it was actually colder here than in New England.

Today was a cool blustery day, which we started early with 6AM sandbagging detail. Nothing really exciting. I saw the two Iraqi kids at physical therapy. They had a translator with them today so they were a bit more talkative. The girl actually knows quite a bit of English, but is sometime shy about using it. I spent the rest of the day preparing for and going to meetings. Dinner tonight was a little less appetizing. A corn dog, fries which I slathered with melted cheese and chili, and some tomatoes. A new thing that they are doing in our chow hall is making milkshakes. One of the guys has a few blenders next to the ice cream station where he spends a couple hours at each night making mostly strawberry shakes.

We all recently had our blood drawn for G6PD deficiency testing. We have been taking chloroquine since April for Malaria prophylaxis. We need to take primaquine at the end of the mosquito season but people with a certain enzyme deficiency can't take it because it may cause hemolytic anemia. Testing everyone in theater has proved to be a logistic challenge to say the least. The Air Force was smart and tested everyone before they deployed, the Army is doing it now with the new troops coming in, but has to catch up with us.

I broke out my Arabic CD again. The classes are now held on the other side of post at a very inconvenient time. I do want to start going again if I can fit it in.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

All the chow halls are busily preparing for Thanksgiving tomorrow. Each one tries to outdo the other in food and decorations. The base commander will award one of them the top DFAC (Dining Facility) award.

Some of the units for OIF 3 have already arrived in theater. Several units from our state are on the ground. We've actually met with some of our replacements, even though we aren't leaving for a while. Its a good feeling to know that we'll be leaving soon enough. Seeing the replacements makes it more tangible. Part of the transition is trying to transfer the knowledge of everything you've learned over the last year to the incoming unit. It takes a lot of organization and reflection on what went well and what didn't. It prevents the new unit from making the same mistakes and lets them build on our successes. For the maneuver units this is essential. The enemy invariably tests the resolve of new units in an area. We can't give them any slack.

Our push against the insurgents continued in N. Babil province today. This area has been a problem for a while and some of the guys from Fallujah ended up here. Instead of letting them regroup and reconstituted, the idea is to keep them off balance. The goal is to allow the elections at the end of January to go on. There are other hotspots and the assassinations of government officials and candidates will continue in an effort to influence who makes it into office.

There are reports that Moqtada Al-Sadr is getting very frustrated with his henchmen. While he gives the nice political face to his organization, he is furious that his orders to assassinate Allawi and other officials have come to nothing. We may see some more activity from him.

Theater-wide we are continuing to see short-term positive effects resulting from the Fallujah operation. Attacks are down significantly, and those that do occur are not causing as many casualties.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Clearing operations continue in Fallujah. Attacks are down across theater by at least 50% compared to last week. The danger exists that, as insurgents sense the situation slipping away from them, they will get increasingly outrageous in their tactics. With two months until the election it will be a rough ride.

I've been following two stories out of Fallujah. The first is the unfortunate incident with the Marine shooting the injured insurgent in the mosque, caught on film. The reaction to the incident has been bordering on hysterical. In my opinion the Marine acted in accordance with the situation as he saw it. Keep in mind several incidents that day gave proof that even dead bodies were potentially dangerous. A booby trapped body injured 5 marines and killed one and a dying insurgent reportedly pulled out a grenade as his final act. Again the tactics of the insurgents dare us to become barbarians. One gray situation becomes an international incident and a propaganda coup. More disturbing is that he may have delayed action because he felt he needed to verbally justify his actions to the news crew.

Al Jazeera showed the clip all day long interviewing people on the street whipped up into a frenzy. One guy said that this proved the Americans behavior in Fallujah was just as bad as those decapitating innocent civilians and the idiots who killed Margaret Hassan. Luckily most Iraqis know better.

The second story, again promulgated by an eager media is that of a humanitarian emergency in Fallujah. There was a story that US troops blocked a Red Crescent convoy was blocked from entering the city by US troops. The story had to be refuted by the Red Crescent itself before anyone believed it wasn't true. The ministry of health made extensive plans to take care of displaced civilians, setting up food distribution and medical support. Throughout the operation the main hospital was taking patients and two clinics stayed open in the city. The fact is that most civilians left the city for outlying areas.

The moral of the story is that mayhem and misery trump progress in the news, even if it has to be made up. The Fallujah operation will be portrayed as a dismal failure, responsible for spreading the insurgents into the far corners of Iraq to cause mischief. We will have to wait and see how this effects the insurgency but I have to think removing over 2000 insurgents and disrupting a major command and control center can't be all bad.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Here's some pictures from my trip to Baghdad earlier this week. The first picture is a busy street in Baghdad on the east side of the Tigris river. Its amazing how many satellite dishes are around, even in the poorest areas. I think this may be the edge of Sadr City (AlThawra).

D:\DCIM\102_PANA\Baghdad Street

This next picture is of the former Grand Saddam Mosque, now called the Al-Rahman (The Merciful) Mosque. Still under construction it was to be the largest mosque in the world when completed with 64 domes and 20 stories tall able to hold 30,000 worshippers. Saddam went on a Mosque building spree after the Gulf War. He wanted a grand mosque named after him in every one of the provinces. He also reportedly donated 25+ pints of his own blood for the purpose of writing the whole Koran with it. This is housed in the Mother of All Battles Mosque in Baghdad. What a nut!


The last picture, though hard to make out is a group of people, mostly children, in a field with a flock of sheep in the farmland outside of Baghdad. Everyone in the group waved to our helicopter as we passed over.

D:\DCIM\102_PANA\Flock of Sheep

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

My soccer injury has wasted a lot of my time in the past week. On the plus side I did get a helicopter ride down to the International Zone in Baghdad to visit the hospital.

The ride to Baghdad was good for sight seeing. The fields are now green from the fall rains. We came in to the International Zone from the east, flying over Sadr City and the parts of Baghdad lining the east bank of the Tigris. Crossing the Tigris we passed low over the Al-Rashid hotel and the Iraqi government offices.

We landed at the helipad and some guys from Brigade picked us up in a white chevy Tahoe. Last time I walked but it was a bit too far with crutches. I had a quick visit to the PT department at Ibn Sina Hospital where many of the car bomb victims go. Saddam even had a hernia operation there a few months ago. Now its manned by an Army hospital unit.

Rushing back to the helipad in the back of a humvee ambulance we managed to hitch a ride with, we arrived just in time for an afternoon ride back to our base. We flew west out of the IZ over the Baghdad Zoo, now devoid of animals. To our north were two large unfinished mosques that Saddam was building, The Saddam Mosque and the Mother of All Battles Mosque. We made a stop at another base in the Baghdad area and picked up a few more people, then flew back out over the date groves and fields to our base.

We've continued to get rocket and mortar attacks on base. In fact yesterday I woke up to a couple of loud thuds followed by the alarm siren.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Tonight is one of the most important dates during Ramadan - The night of destiny also called the night of power. The actual date seems to be different for Sunni and Shi'ia here. Usually on the 27th day of Ramadan Muslims believe that the angel Gabriel (Jabril) started to reveal the Quran to Mohammed. On the night of destiny many Moslems pray all night "one night worth a thousand months". It is also unfortunately another excuse for some to do mischief. For us this was no exception tonight. Illumination flares were lighting up the area north of our base to help troops in contact. We also had a number of mortar rounds come in an injure some of our third country national workers. Throughout the country we've had a spike in attacks.

Major combat in Fallujah should be wrapped up within 72 hours, probably less.

Today we spent time watching coverage on Yassir Arafat's death and reactions around the world.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Fallujah operation seems to be going as planned. Its a messy, dirty business. We've been receiving casualties for the last few days. Soon the civil affairs teams will be moving into Fallujah to help with restoring public services as the civilians return home. Huge amounts of reconstruction money has been allocated for reconstruction.

The elimination of a safe harbor for the insurgents in Fallujah will not be the end of the insurgency, but the momentum of success can bring a life of its own. The most important element is that the Iraqis gain confidence in their leaders and security forces. I think things are moving in the right direction.

Today we had a higher level of attacks in other areas throughout the theater as a reaction to Fallujah. We expected this and will deal with the situations as they arise or intelligence surfaces.

When I went for PT today I met two Iraqi children who come to the base twice a week for physical therapy. The children are a brother and sister who were injured in a mortar attack. The little girl is in a wheel chair and can't use her legs. Her brother had the bones of his leg fused after the injury and is in need of additional surgery. The kids were very happy to be there. I said hello and exercised my stock Arabic phrases. They both teased me because I told them I hurt my knee playing "Toba" (Soccer). While I was lying on my back getting my knee iced they both came by and tickled my feet.

On my way out I grabbed some candy from a box that said "candy for our patients-take more if we made you cry".

Monday, November 08, 2004

I've been hobbling around today. Yesterday I got a knee injury during our soccer tournament. The physical therapist thinks it is fairly serious but can be treated here. As a result I get to go to physical therapy every morning. Our soccer schedule was a little too ambitious. The tournament was crammed into 4 days. It turned out that yesterday we had to play 3 games, 2 back to back. We were all beat up the end, I couldn't walk(or at least dance a jig), we dropped 3 people off at the clinic and this morning the clinic saw 8 people from various teams. I guess if our biggest problems in Iraq are soccer injuries, we'll be lucky. The Iraqi guys who got me cleats Saturday were amused to see me with a knee brace.

In Fallujah Operation Phantom Fury has kicked off. Once again the Iraqi Army's best units are involved, specifically 36 Commando. Today they seized Fallujah General Hospital, which was used to great effect for propaganda purposes in April. The Marines and US Army troops have started to move in. We have been seeing the big Marine CASEVAC helicopters and Army Blackhawk Medevac choppers coming into the hospital here. Its always a sobering thing when the big gray twin rotor choppers pass low overhead as they approach the hospital LZ. You know that your wounded comrades are in that thing. I always say a prayer for them.

Today one of our contractors who I haven't seen in a long time stopped by. He has been staying away for a while because of threats against people working with us. He was on post to pick up one of our other contractor's son who was wounded in a mortar attack. This little boy was lucky, he got some shrapnel in his flank, was medevaced here and spent a week in the hospital. His neighbor, another child, was killed in the attack. The boy was very cute and seemed very happy to be going home. We gave him a few little gifts before he left.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

I just came back from a whirlwind aerial tour of Northern Iraq. I was up with the Stryker Brigade near Mosul on a mission yesterday and today. I caught a medevac flight up there after failing once again to find a space on the Sherpa. I came back on a Cav Blackhawk.

My return flight involved 6 stops, 2 refuels and hundreds of miles from Mosul to the outskirts of Baghdad plus a few backtracks. I really enjoy the helicopter rides, zipping over the countryside with people waving and sheep and birds scattering beneath us. The terrain up north is very different than the flat green plains of the Tigris valley. Heading north there is an east-west chain of hills a couple hundred feet high that rise up out of the flat desert. Further north near Mosul the land is hilly and very rocky. The Tigris winds through the city with lush vegetation on both sides.

On the way up we pulled some high G turns when the pilot thought he saw someone planting an IEDs and circled to investigate.

The FOB I visited was very isolated, really in the middle of nowhere. The good thing about the place is that it is so quiet. They rarely get attacked because of their remote location. The food was better than at my base. They have the same contractor as the Cav in Baghdad complete with the milkshakes to go.

On the way south from Tikrit, another of my stops, we saw huge numbers of sheep. In one location it looked like dozens of shepherd had gathered in one place with their tents, vehicles and probably 5000 sheep. I even saw a small herd of camels of three varieties (brown, black and white).

Last night I walked from the trailer I was staying to the MWR tent to send an email and watch the beginning of the election coverage. I got back to base around 10:30 and have been watching the TV throughout the day. Kerry is scheduled to give a concession speech around 9pm our time. I'm glad its over and I'm happy with the result.

My Medevac flight north

Hills north of Tikrit
hills near q-west

City of Mosul

Sunday, October 31, 2004

I just got back from a mission with the Marines in the Western Desert. It was interesting to see another part of the country. We flew less than 100 feet off the ground. Near our base we flew over big vineyards with the grapes climbing on a grid of lines attached to poles about 5 feet high. Away from the Tigris floodplain, there was dry scrub. I saw many trench wells surrounded by very green plots of corn and even rice.

We were lucky to fly over Lake Tharthar, the largest body of water in Iraq. Tharthar was created by flooding a large basin containing a much smaller salt lake with flood waters from the Tigris River. When we were out over the lake, all we could see in every direction was water. I could have been flying over the North Atlantic, the scene was the same.

West of Tharthar, the land had more relief than the plains of the east. There were deeply carved wadis and flat topped plateaus. Some of the cliffs were a couple hundred feet high. We crossed the Euphrates river as we flew west . It was a green ribbon cutting through the brown desert.

Near an old Iraqi base, the perimeter was lined with tank revetments and trench fighting positions cut into the desert floor.

Fallujah looms large in all our minds, it will be a hard fight however the outcome is sure. Luckily a majority of the civilians have left the city. Things have stepped up here with more harassing mortar and rocket fire today on our base. When major operations start in Fallujah, we can expect flareups in hotspots around the country and pile on by different groups along our supply routes. Fallujah will likely take weeks as the ground commanders calibrate their offensive.

On a different note, I was interviewed on National Public Radio on Thursday last week about my nature observations in Iraq. While I was out West the interview aired in the states. I had a lot of positive comments from people who appreciated seeing Iraq from a different perspective.

Surf's up in Iraq - Western shore of Lake Tharthar
Lake Tharthar

Trench Well in the desert
trench well

Crossing the Euphrates

Friday, October 29, 2004

There's a paper out today in the British medical journal The Lancet titled "Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion in Iraq:cluster sample survey". This paper that estimates 100,000 excess deaths in Iraq since the invasion has been getting wide play in the media and pile on play on anti-war websites.

I've read the paper and offer my opinion on the papers methodology and conclusions.

As my Epidemiology professor was fond of saying. In statistics you can never know the truth, you can only approximate it. The validity of that approximation is dependent on the quality of your data.

I'll leave it to others to analyzed the statistical specifics but I wanted to bring up the point that the much touted 100,000 deaths figure is not set in stone, even to the authors. For example a measure of the certainty is seen in the gigantic confidence interval in the excess death rate (8000-194000). In other words based on their data there is a 95% chance that the range of excess deaths could be as low as 8000 and as high as 194000.

A problem with estimating violent deaths on a country wide basis in Iraq is that violence is very focal, a neighborhood may suffer a disastrous event such as a major car bomb. If a neighborhood like this is included in the survey, representing virtually none of the population, the mortality estimates will be skewed towards being too high. Too me their sampling methodology is not as robust as it needs to be, I'm not sure given the situation there is one that could be. The numbers also fail my first statistical test, the believability test. When the statistics say something that doesn't seem right, its a good idea to look closely at the results. Sometimes a result may be correct, but chance in statistics can be a dangerous thing. Chance alone can produce spurious associations like linking a stock price to the grape harvest in Chile.

According to their data, if Fallujah is excluded as an extreme statistical outlier approximately 90000 of the excess deaths were caused by violence. This would be 6000 people a month for the last 15 months. I just don't see this magnitude of civilian deaths on the ground.

I don't knock attempting to quantify the health effects of the conflict. The war is a a very messy business, everyone suffers. I would agree with the study that infant mortality, at least in some areas went up because women stayed at home to have their babies because of security concerns. Violence also has claimed thousands of civilians. There is no doubt that violent deaths have increased dramatically in some areas. The authors did what they could with the data. Here is a great statement of the obvious from the paper "In this case, the lack of precision [of the study] does not hinder the clear identification of a major public health problem in Iraq - violence" - you don't say!

The authors to their credit seemed fairly rigorous in their statistics and appropriately reported their wide confidence intervals and noted the lack of precision in their data. I cannot ascribe pure motives to the press reports. First many fringe element websites as well as CNN et al. have latched onto the 100,000 number as straight fact and attributed all these deaths directly to the coalition, forgetting the Zarqawis of the world who care nothing about wholesale slaughter. There is also the spurious argument that because only a few thousand people died a year because of Saddam's regime and more people are dying now this somehow highlights the immorality of the entire operation. Very simplistic, flawed logic and very short term thinking.

The most direct route to improved health in Iraq is the quick demise of several thousand individuals responsible for the majority of the deaths of civilians. I reject the argument that coalition military action is the primary public health problem in Iraq.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The sky in the east is orange, the sun will be up in a few minutes. I had the last glimpse of the lunar eclipse about 10 minutes ago as the moon faded into the lightening sky. We were lucky here in most of Iraq, totality came at 5:23 AM, before sunrise.

I woke up at 4:30 and went outside to see a dark bite out of the top of the moon. Over the next hour the shadow progressed, revealing a dark reddish-orange moon with an ever decreasing bright crescent until totality came.

The Blood Moon seems to be auspicious for the Red Sox at least, in the 8th inning they are up. Let it not be so for the insurgents but instead one of impending doom.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Today was an earlier than usual morning for me. I woke up at 3:30 in order to get to the flightline to try to get a seat on a plane for a mission. By 6 AM it was obvious that I was going nowhere. We will have to put in a request and get me officially manifested. Sometimes Space-A works, often it doesn't.

My roommate gave me a 9mm to carry, since its much easier to lug around. This is a good idea in the Green Zone because they have started restricting long guns from certain areas. I suspect this stems from the fact that very few senior officers carry and M-4 or an M-16. Keeping the riff-raff out. Where I'm going I felt much more comfortable carrying my M-16 and over 200 rounds as opposed to a 9mm pistol and 30 rounds.

The plane flying to where I'm going is a small flying box called a Sherpa. They fly less than 100 feet off the ground to avoid enemy fire. By the time you hear the Sherpa it has passed over. An unfortunate side effect is that the risk of bird strike is high and every pilot in theater has hit at least one flock.

On another front, National Public Radio would like to do a story about my birdwatching antics here in Iraq. I talked to the producer a few days ago and we had a nice chat. I have to arrange a good time to get interviewed. Hopefully people can hear that despite the images of chaos and destruction, one can find both peace and beauty here if you look.

In the PX this evening my roommate and I went to pick up prizes for tomorrow's Halloween Bingo. We ate diner at Burger King, the first time I've eaten there since it opened. Some of our guys seem to have reverted to an all fast food diet consisting of Burger King and Pizza Hut commodities. Paper Burger King bags and Pizza Hut boxes fill up many a garbage can around here.

In the checkout line at the PX we met an Australian doctor working in the hospital. She and I chatted about some of the same places in Indonesia where we both had visited.

I'm jealous of my sister. She is in Thailand visiting relatives. Eat some nice weird fruit for me and try some of the roasted termites please. Give some to Mr. Baby too.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

We are getting ready for the fight in Fallujah. The timeline is classified but everyone including the insurgents know its coming. It will be a symbolic fight for them and us. A successful outcome is needed to allow elections in the region.

Other than harassing fire we are fairly quiet in our area. A couple of rockets came in today.

I heard of an unfortunate thing that happened this morning. A civilian contractor in his 60's suddenly died while waiting to go home. The Air Force medics tried to use the AED to shock him but his heart wouldn't get going again.

I'm starting to think more about getting back home and getting back to my job. I still won't leave until next year but we have more days behind us than in front. This week my colleagues are attending an annual scientific meeting which we usually attend together and present some of our research findings from the last year. Next month they will be in Miami at the Tropical Medicine meeting....I'll really miss that. It is by far the most interesting meeting I go to. The get together before the meeting has the absolutely best food and drink. I also missed the Trop Med meeting last year because of my mobilization.

At home my wife is expecting our 5th child this spring. Thankfully, I'll be home for the baby. She is doing a fantastic job holding everything together, but it is very hard sometimes. Our friends and family have been very supportive and help a great deal with babysitting, food, cleaning the house, yardword and just being there. I couldn't be doing my job here without their help.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

I am sore. The Army 10 Miler went well. I managed to run it in around 90 minutes. The race was well attended with people coming in from some of the outlying FOBs and we even had a few Brits and Aussies.

At the 3 1/2 mile mark we had our first turn around. As I approached the turn the first of the runners came past me running the other way. Way out in front of everyone was a guy wearing a blue shirt with a large Superman symbol on his chest. He was running so fast I first thought he was on a relay team, I was sure he'd fade. He never slowed down, Superman won the whole thing, 10 miles in 56 minutes.

It was a good diversion for a few hours.

The turn-in in Sadr City is winding down and will soon enter the next phase, verification of disarmament by going house to house. Some of the yahoos tried to get a bit more money for removing the IEDs but no dice. In the last few days truckloads of weapons were being turned in. I think the total for anti-tank mines is around 9000, thousands of RPG rounds, mortar tubes and rounds. I've seen the list and it is huge. We know not all the weapons are gone but it is significant progress. After verification a huge public works program will try to rapidly improve the infrastructure and provide jobs to the locals. Unfortunately I have seen little positive in the press about it.

The idiots who kidnapped the CARE director on her way to work have managed to accomplish something. They have somehow got Al Jazeera to criticize them. They had a story in which insurgent leaders in Fallujah condemned the kidnapping as unjustified. I hope things turn out well for her. To date all female hostages have been released but I don't put it past them to break tradition.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The pace of work is picking up. We need to maintain operations while preparing to transition things to our replacing unit. The clinic is busy with routine things like orthopedic injuries and respiratory infections. I will hopefully leave my base a few more times in the coming months on some missions. I enjoy seeing the different parts of what's going on in the country. I'd love to get up into the north. Some of our guys drove up to the Turkish border accompanied by the Iraqi National Guard. They told me the mountains and the rivers were beautiful, a completely different landscape than we have around here.

We are back to wearing all our gear (helmet, Body Armor) when we are outside. Full battle rattle. We have been getting an increased amount of mortars and rockets coming in so the base commander thought it was a good idea.

The insurgents have been for the most part laying very low. We all expect some sort of push by them before Ramadan is over. Our operations are keeping them off balance, though they will get their shots in when they can, like the suicide bombers in the international zone.

Between now and the elections at the end of January is a pivotal period for the country. If we can maintain the momentum, we can tip the balance in the right direction.

At home in the US, the leaves have turned and are falling off the trees, my wonderful wife carries on taking care of our four children. I wish I could be with them. A few days ago the baby pulled herself up and stood for the first time. The other three children clapped and cheered. They insisted that my wife take a picture of all of them together. Its very hard missing things like that but the work we are doing here is important and I don't regret coming here.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Its CQ time again. I get to stay up all night and with my trusty CQ runners, make sure the place doesn't burn down, answer any calls during the night, make sure the generator doesn't run out of fuel, and take people who need to catch flights out down to the flightline.

We had a nice dust storm today when a cold front came through. Sand blowing, covering everything with a nice coat of light brown dust.

Our local guys have returned, there had been some specific threats against workers at the beginning of Ramadan. They are all fasting for Ramadan, as is one of our soldiers who is Muslim. During Ramadan, observant Muslims are supposed to read the entire Koran, which is split up into 30 parts, one to be read each day. There are several special days during Ramadan, some are exclusively observed by the Shi'ia and others like the night of power are recognized by all. The night of power is night they believe the Koran was revealed to Mohammed. The actual night itself is said to be hidden to encourage observance throughout the month however it is often observed on the 27th night.

Ramadan for us is considered a higher risk time because some insurgents see it as an auspicious time for attack. The Koran says the night of power is "better than a thousand months" meaning acts of charity, prayer, etc gain a better than at other times. Some also extend this to "martyrdom". We expect the risk of suicide bombers to be very high around this time at the end of Ramadan.

The push is on to get all the absentee ballots back home. Everyone was encouraged to register and request an absentee ballot and was given every opportunity to do so. I sent mine off in the second week of October. In the chow hall the post office has a notice that they will be flying all absentee ballots overnight express until November 1st. Even if someone didn't get a ballot from their district they have blank emergency ballots that can be filled out and sent in.

All the Red Sox and Yankees fans woke up at 3 AM this morning to watch the 7th game in the series. There were a lot of happy Red Sox fans by the time I got up because of a Red Alert. One of our subordinate units is from Massachusetts and there was undoubtedly mayhem in the clinic this morning.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Yesterday was a pretty relaxing day for me. I slept late and then read Isaac Asimov's I, Robot a collection of short stories revolving around his 3 laws of robotics. I finished that book in a day. In contrast, I've been slowly digesting another book that is considerably denser called Nabokov's Blues. It examines the second passion of literary giant Vladimir Nabokov of Lolita fame. He was a very serious amateur lepidopterist specializing in a group of small butterflies referred to collectively as the Blues. I remember visiting the insect collections at Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) several times and seeing a small framed photo of Nabokov sorting butterflies over one of the benches where he worked in the 1940's. Its interesting putting more context in that photo and learning about his contributions to butterfly systematics.

Our Jamaican soldiers, of which we have quite a few, have been cooking some good food. One of the guys came back from leave with all sorts of goodies. We had jerk chicken on Friday along with corn meal dumplings and fried plantain, I had some little fruit in the lychee family that somewhat resembled longan which they called guinep. Today they cooked salt fish and akee Jamaica's national dish.

As expected, there has been an increase in attacks since Ramadan started. These attacks continue to be ineffective potshots on our base. Today we had 3 Red Alerts, all the rounds landed outside the wire. To me this means that they are having trouble getting close enough to the fence because of our patrols.

The amounts of weaponry turned over to the police in Sadr City is astounding. We are talking about hundreds of mortar tubes, thousands of mortar rounds and antipersonnel mines and a gigantic array of everytype of other weapon you can imagine from AK-47s to RPGs up to a 500 pound bombs, hundreds of 155mm artillery rounds and hundreds of thousands of rounds of rifle ammo. At first I was skeptical because Sadr has pulled this trick before, using it as an opportunity to rearm. In the past turn-ins we only got a few hundred inoperable old rifles, this time we are getting far more than expected. Its proved so effective that the amnesty program and weapons buy back is likely to be expanded to other parts of Iraq. This is another sign that the locals are sick of the destruction and willing to help clean up the problem.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

There has been a theater wide lull in enemy activity for the past week. Attacks are significantly below norms. The conventional wisdom is that there will be a surge during Ramadan as happened last year. Ramadan starts tomorrow.

The insurgents see Ramadan as an all or nothing chance to prove that the Iraqis and coalition cannot maintain security. They will go all out because they know that time is not on their side.
The winter rains will limit their freedom of movement and they know if they can't bring massive destabilization and, more importantly, massive doubt in world public opinion they will fail. If they fail, the momentum of the government and the new security forces coming on line may leave them fatally weakened. We have started an major offensive of our own leading up to Ramadan to blunt their efforts.

Ramadan also happens occur at the same time as the US elections and the start of voter registration in Iraq.

In our neighborhood the bad boys have not been successful in their attacks, it seems that they are having difficulty even getting shots over the wire. The maneuver elements have been sweeping up a large number of weapons caches which appears to be putting a serious dent in the bad guys supplies. To me just the fact we are finding the caches is a positive sign. It means the locals are now more willing to tell us where they are. My guess is like in Samarra and Fallujah they see the insurgency as only affecting them negatively and are acting accordingly.

Today two suicide bombers got into the International Zone for the first time, places that I walked by less than a week ago. It was not totally unexpected. One was the Bazaar area and the other was the Green Zone Cafe. Both areas were off limits to US personnel since a bomb was found at the Cafe by a sniffer dog on October 5.

On our camp, the amenities keep coming. This week both Burger King and Pizza Hut opened on post. The place was swarmed. Personally my favorite place to eat is the Iraqi National Guard chow hall, which is only open for lunch. Last week I had lamb, hummus and Iraqi flatbread along with some excellent Basmati rice cooked by some of the Indian KBR workers. Very few US soldiers eat there.

The weather has been getting milder. Today it only got to 97 degrees. The mornings are in the high sixties, which is perfect. There are a lot more clouds these days. During the Summer there were no clouds for weeks at a time.

This evening we pulled the tables and chairs out on our patio and played bingo with some people from the Air Force.

Monday, October 11, 2004

I've just come back from a short visit to the Green Zone in Baghdad. We now call it the International Zone. I needed to go down for a meeting at Brigade.

Early Friday morning I hopped on a Blackhawk with a few other soldiers heading to the IZ. This time we flew without the windows, which made for a windy ride. The fields on the way to Baghdad now are filled with corn. Most of it is just flowering. We also passed over a huge expanse of date palms, probably a couple square miles worth.

As we passed over the Baghdad suburbs there were big differences between the neighborhoods. Some were slums with little huts made of sheet metal and garbage everywhere, others had large houses with neat gardens and clean streets with Mercedes and land rovers parked outside.

As we approached the International Zone and the Tigris River that bisects the city I saw the first large buildings I had seen in Iraq. The unfinished Saddam the Great Mosque rose like a huge grey monolith out of the city. There were also the highrise hotels, the Al-Rasheed, the Mansoor, and the Sheraton. We passed over the hands of victory monument with the huge crossed swords and the Monument to the Unknown Soldier that looked like a squat flying saucer.

We piled out of the helicopter and made our way to the US embassy, the former Republican Palace. Civilians and military were eating breakfast in one of the hallways made into a dining area. We checked in with some of our folks working there and then took a twenty minute walk up to the place where we were staying.

The building where we stayed was part of a complex of little villas set in a park like area with ponds, green lawns, flowering shrubs, luxurious trees. This area used to be the stomping grounds of some of Saddam's closest cronies.

The IZ is an area of several square miles with controlled access, making it a bit safer than some other parts of Baghdad. Unlike other Bases where we operate, over 10,000 Iraqis live in the International Zone. Street crime is sometimes a problem. One guy working at the hospital was recently stabbed and barely made it. It is recommended that people travel in groups, have a magazine in their weapon and avoid traveling at night. Private security guards are everywhere checking IDs and controlling access to compounds.

I spent an hour wandering around the gardens and the ponds. There was a small palace I visited overlooking the Tigris. The ponds had a resident flock of domestic geese that made a racket when I walked by them.

My stay was not without incident. During one of my meetings we heard an explosion and the entire building shook violently. We all moved to an internal hallway. The lobby of the building was filled with local women in colorful pastel headscarves taking cover. People said they thought it was a car bomb, but we later found out that a 107mm rocket had impacted on the otherside of the building within our compound. The explosion killed 3 Iraqi security guards and injured a soldier. Unfortunately the bad guys still sometimes fire into the area.

When I was not at my meetings I walked around a saw some bombed out palaces and ornate gates. At the end of one road was a checkpoint called "Assassins Gate" where multiple car bombs have gone off trying to run the barriers. The area I was walking around was the target of the "shock and awe" bombing at the beginning of the war.

Early one morning I made the mile or so walk out to the Monument to the Unknown Soldier and to the Hands of Victory parade grounds. An Iraqi policeman gave myself and another soldier a private tour of the monument. The structure is like a big pancake with metal ribs and a clamshell sheltering a glass and metal box containing a stainless steel sarcophagus of an unidentified soldier from the Iran-Iraq War. From the top of the monument we had good views of the city, still shrouded in morning fog.

We flew out of the IZ at night. As we walked to the landing zone there was a lot of small arms fire on the far side of the Tigris. We waited a while at the LZ and chatted with an SF officer who agreed that the International media is a big problem and seems bent on seeing only the bad. In Samarra they took a news crew into the mosque after the Iraqi Special Forces secured it, showing all the weapons captured and the fact that they hadn't done any damage to the structure. The news crew apparently had other plans for their story about collateral damage and Coalition Forces overkill. Mayhem sells.

The weather was weird and we had a little rain and a lot of lightning. Flying out of Baghdad was visually impressive. The lights of the city spread out beneath me in every direction. A couple times a minute the city would be lit up by a flash of lightning.

It was good to get back to my home base. Its a little bit less claustrophobic than the International Zone.

Corn Fields

Baghdad Suburbs

Park behind my house

Gate on the road to Monuments

Monument to the Unknown Soldier

Closeup of clamshell and sculpture containing the sarcophagus

Hands of Victory parade grounds

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

This morning we had our PT test. Its not a requirement in a combat zone but since we have the opportunity we took one. As we were waiting to start the run I was watching 3 white storks circling above us. We heard a loud boom and the red alert siren so we all sprinted to the motor pool building and hung out until we went green. Afterward we finished the run. I came in a minute slower than last time, but I also had a few less red blood cells.

The temperature is still getting up over 100 during the day. Yesterday was a bit weird weather wise. The morning was overcast and cool. It even sprinkled a few drops.

I've noticed some Samarra spin regarding civilian carnage and the locals not wanting us there. I know some civil affairs guys going up to Samarra for a couple of weeks so I'll have first hand accounts. They are very annoyed at the international press on the coverage of what they consider a very successful operation that the locals welcomed. As usual the press is for the most part staying bunkered up in Baghdad and sending local stringers up to get the story, mostly short on objectivity.

I met some people from a forward surgical team today. The poor guys have been here for 9 months and now have been ordered directly to Afghanistan. The FSTs or Fast Teams as we call them are unique small units that bring Trauma Surgery and ICU capability to the battlefield. They set up operating sites in remote areas and stabilize patients unit they can be evacuated.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Around midnight last night a blood call came over the radio. Since I was the type they needed I went over to the field hospital and gave a pint. Because platelets only have a shelf life of 5 days the blood bank doesn't stock any. When a patient needs platelets on our base they are given fresh whole blood. Not the ideal situation, but better than nothing. Other higher level facilities have plateletpheresis machines that can separate out platelets.

Because I have been in an area endemic for both Malaria and Leishmaniasis I will be deferred from donating blood for a year after I leave, as will all the military personnel in Iraq. The reason I was allowed to donate here is because everyone is exposed here and finding a non-exposed donor is impossible. Most of the packed red cells and plasma we use here are collected in the US and shipped. Local donors are just used when platelets are needed or in the event blood bank stocks are depleted. This happened in April when the hospital had 100 traumas in 24 hours.

I have a PT test on Wednesday. We'll see how I do on my run. I'm not expecting any world records. Yesterday I ran 7 miles so I'm not too worried. At the end of the month I'll be running in the Army 10 miler.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Statements made by myself and others about Samarra are being taken to task by some in light of the new combat operations there. I will make some clarifying remarks because some people like Kos have characterized positive statements as blatant propaganda with no basis in fact.

I said that Samarra was a symbol of progress because we had been expecting for months that the place would be another Fallujah-like stronghold. The insurgents had free reign from May until September because our focus was elsewhere and they were relatively contained. The fact is that we were pleasantly surprised when it became apparent that large numbers of the insurgents, including foreign fighters were drummed out of town or at least laid very low because the residents were fed up.

The 1st ID did roll unopposed into the middle of the city and met with the new city government. This does not happen in a city under the control of insurgents. Facts on the ground started to change in the past 10 days. There were indications that some of the insurgents were returning. We knew that there were a few die-hards remaining and laying low who would need to be kicked out by force, the time was deemed right to carry out a large scale city wide sweeping operation, planned months ago. The characterization of progress in Samarra still holds. There are pockets of resistance that do need to be eliminated. I expect less than a week of fighting. The government reported over 80% of the city under control by this afternoon. Not exactly massive resistance. Then again, the Iraqi army commandos stormed the famous Golden Mosque early on, precluding another protracted Najaf-like standoff at a Shi'ia holy site. We learn, we adapt.

The real story remains that the people of Samarra chose to take things into their own hands and make the insurgents at the very least unwelcome, many did leave. The Samarrans chose and we are more than happy to help them. To use the clearing operation of a few hundred insurgents in a city of over 100,000 as a rallying cry for some peoples beloved idea of our descent into chaos is based largely on corrupt wishful thinking. The situation is not static, nor do we expect it to be. We have setbacks and disappointments, like the return of some insurgents, but my assessment of Samarra is much more success than failure. I think the maneuver element commanders would agree.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

The moon was a pumpkin orange as I walked back from chow this evening. It must be all the dust in the air. The dust has been blowing for the last few days. We wash the tables on the patio in the morning and half an hour later the have a layer of fine brown talc. Keeping things clean is impossible.

Here's my day today. We were all up early filling sandbags, still working on sandbagging all the trailers. The Sergeant Major decided we needed to clean up the outside of the building so I spent an hour doing that. At work I spent 5 hours finishing up a mind numbing project. I picked up a couple groups of people coming in on aircraft, then I went to listen to a VIP give a pep talk to the troops. In between we had 3 Red Alerts. It looks like the indirect fire hiatus is over. The good news is they are not hitting anything. Last week the bad boys did dumb things around here like trying to fire a mortar round without a tube and firing rockets from tubes that were too small and sheared off the stabilizing fins. Needless to say the varsity team has either been killed or has moved to another area. Unfortunately the JV will probably learn fast if we don't get them.

Tomorrow we change the time back an hour, I'm not sure why we're doing it so long before everyone else. We are now 8 hours ahead of the East Coast. Tomorrow, and for a few weeks, we will be 7 hours ahead.

In Baghdad there were some horrific bombings that killed and injured scores of children who were gathered for the inauguration of a sewage plant. Our hearts go out to all their families and we pray with them for peace. The terrorists lack basic humanity and must be neutralized. Their goal is to spread fear and paralyze the population, grinding the rebuilding to a halt. My prediction is that this will steel the hearts of Iraqis to fight against the rot of terror with a firmer resolve, it will do the same for us.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Though we won't leave until next year, the wheels are already in motion planning for our exit and our replacements arrival. We all like thinking about going home but there is a lot of work between now and then. The job of moving one unit is gigantic, every detail must be worked out far in advance to make sure every person and every piece of equipment makes it back in an orderly manner. All the while you need to continue with your mission until your replacements take the reigns. On the other end hundreds of units need to be identified, in the case of the reserves and National Guard, called up. They need to be paired up with a unit to replace and resources realigned so there will be no operational gaps during the transition. Details like the timing and coordination of convoys, how to turn in and redistribute equipment staying in theater, finding housing for transient troops, performing customs inspections, washing vehicles with detergent before going on the supercargo ships, settling finance issues plus a million other things must be done.

Now try doing that with over 200,000 troops in a short amount of time going in both directions. Food, medicine, fuel, water, repair parts for vehicles, ammunition.......As someone recently said Logistics is combat power. Without a good logistics system the military is useless. During the first part of the war, fuel trucks refueled tanks and convoys as they raced toward Baghdad, cargo trucks were right behind with food and water. Now stockpiles of food, water and fuel allow bases to operate without resupply for weeks on end if necessary. The Loggies never rest.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Not much excitement today. We got rocketed for the first time in 5 days. It was just a single potshot that hit nothing. This is the longest break since June. Enemy activity has been very low for the last few weeks. This probably won't last, the bad guys need to prove that they are still viable. Also with the upcoming elections in both Iraq and the US, there is a need on their side to cause as much havoc as they can.

I read Allawi's speech and agreed with the assessment, despite the problems there is tangible progress.

Monday, September 20, 2004

It looks like we are entering another media feeding frenzy based on reports on the contents of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. This document was produced by the National Intelligence Council which serves as a senior advisory group to the Director of Central Intelligence.

The report from July lays out several scenarios for the coming year ranging from a tenuous peace to full blown civil war. Its important to take the report in context. Because it was published in July the estimate lacks the input of the last 3 months of actual experience on the ground. More importantly it was most likely written during and immediately after the April uprising, which looming large in the analysts mind might have somewhat colored the analysis.

My observations on the situation here on the ground are not in agreement with the assessment that things are flying apart and quickly becoming untenable. I've noticed a trend that those individuals here with access to classified theaterwide tactical intelligence seem to be more positive about the outlook for Iraq than those with more limited or local access. The media fall into the latter group. It is easy and natural to focus on and extrapolate horrific, yet localized events (car bombings, kidnappings, assassinations). The danger, which I think the media has fallen into, is drawing conclusions about the country as a whole with relatively few data points. Being locked up in the Al-Rasheed hotel and the immediate area really is not conducive to getting a handle on what's going on the rest of the country.

Two cases in point arguing that the situation is moving in a favorable direction. Najaf and Samarra. A Marine Major at MNC-I HQ wrote a very good letter, summarized here describing what's happening.

Despite all the self-imposed operational constraints in the Najaf operation, it was a very successful operation that in addition to destroying large parts of the Mehdi Army, turned the public sentiment against him and furthered the position of the Interim government. Iraqis responded positively to the IIG actions and various units of the Iraqi army performed in an exceptional manner. Najaf, no longer a hotbed of insurgency has become peaceful again and infrastructure projects are proceeding full bore. In the south attacks have been reduced to a negligible level. Simply put the threat of a Shiia uprising, always remote, is now gone. Splinter groups will still cause problems but the populace will increasingly distance themselves.

In Samarra, foreign fighters and Al-Qaeda have been operating relatively unmolested since the spring, a result of the sequential nature of our operations. The residents sensing an impending Najaf-like assault basically kicked the insurgents out of town. The 1st ID rolled into the middle of this "no-go" area without a shot fired. It is a model that will most likely repeat itself, perhaps not as peacefully. The locals realized that they were being left behind in the reconstruction because some yahoos wanted to bring back the dark ages. The people decided which side they were on and acted accordingly.

As I've written before, this is not easy nor will everything go well all the time. Ethnic tensions in the Kurdish and Turkomen areas will need resolution and several hotspots like Fallujah and parts of Baghdad need to be dealt with. Zarqawi's thugs will still try and sometimes succeed in inflicting mass casualties. Its a battle that demands patience and determination. There are many agendas out there both to paint a rosier picture or a bleaker picture regardless of the facts.

From my window we are making slow, sometime painfully slow, progress. From a strategic standpoint we cannot fail nor, in my opinion, will we.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

I didn't need to be at work today, but its gravitational pull sucked me in for 2 1/2 hours anyway.

I spent much of the day reading and writing. I also took a short trip to the laundry pond to check out the birds. The next few days I have a lot of work to do.

The temperature has been cooling down. The highs this week have been in the nineties. At night it has dropped down to the 60's. By December we will have highs in the 60's and lows down to the 30's.

The thing I'm not looking forward to is the mud. The rain in the late fall and winter is unpredictible. Last year several of the bases flooded when they had several inches of rain in less than 24 hours. The dust here is the consisency of talcum powder and in some places is 6 inches deep. It makes nice mud that sticks to everything.

College football has started which means that the TV in the chow hall is always on a football game. This evening I was stuck in the chow hall because of a red alert and ended up watching West Virginia play Maryland.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Sometimes I need a shot of optimism from outside to counter dark feelings that things are going to hell fast. Last week some of my fellow soldiers in another unit were injured in a car bomb attack, some of them I know fairly well. God was with them. They were pulling security outside the vehicle when a guy broke out of a line of civilian cars and started heading for them, if the 50 cal gunner had hesitated, everyone could have easily been killed. The suicide bomber blew the car up about 40 feet from them. Their vehicle was completely destroyed. One described to me seeing the orange flash, feeling the heat and being lifted off the ground and thrown through the air. Several Iraqis were burned alive in their car right next to them. One of the guys said he'll never forget the screams and the smell of burning flesh. A few of the soldiers have pretty significant injuries but they all should recover. I was happy to get to see the group getting evacuated to Germany. They were banged up, covered with shrapnel wounds and burns, but thank God they were alive. The incredible thing is their desire to return to their jobs here in Iraq. Its not always this way, many would jump at any opportunity to get out of here. These guys have made our mission here their own, they see the purpose and importance. They take seriously their responsibility to their fellow soldiers. I am honored to serve with such men. Reflecting on this encourages me to do some attitude adjustment on myself.

Two AP photos of their vehicle
car bomb1

car bomb2

I get a renewed sense of purpose when I read things like this from an Iraqi blogger named Ali from Iraq the Model

"I don’t want to predict anything here but I want to say that if America decided to get out of Iraq before the job is finished, that will be not only disastrous but will be (in my opinion) the worst thing America ever did. Freeing Iraq (again in my opinion) was the best thing America ever did. It gave oppressed people everywhere a hope and a belief that the mightiest power on earth, the symbols of freedom is on their side and that it will help them in one way or another to get their freedom. Their misery has stopped looking eternal. Retreating now will prove some people’s theory that America is an imperialistic power that only care for its interests, and although there’s nothing wrong with caring about one’s own interests, most Iraqis and millions of oppressed people in Darfur, Iran, Syria...etc. like to think more than that of America. Keeping the course will turn this thought into a firm belief. We understand perfectly that sacrificing lives and hard earned money for the sake of others (although there IS a personal interest here but it maybe not so clear) is a very difficult thing to do, and we know that it’s too much to ask, but tens of Millions of oppressed people around the world with brutal sadistic regimes laying their heavy boots on their chests preventing them from even breathing freely, not to mention speaking out or doing something about it, all these people have no one else but you, Americans, to turn to. You are our/their only hope".-By Ali.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Things up in Baghdad have been a little crazy for the last few days. Sunday our guys had half a dozen car bombs along with a couple dozen rockets and mortars. Since then there were several other mass casualty events. We are now in a race with the insurgents. Don't be surprised when more of the same comes. Both the coalition and the insurgents will pull out the stops leading up to the election.

On the plus side, Moqtada Al-Sadr is now out of the picture. He has completely alienated himself from the people with the behavior of his militia in Najaf and Kufa.

We were at high alert for a few days as a precaution but things have calmed down now. The PX, Gym and all other MWR facilities were shut down during the alert. People were getting stir crazy, running low on cigarettes and chewing tobacco. When the PX reopened there was a run on the place.

We've been here for over 6 months. The monotony is getting to some people. Most people read, exercise or play video games to pass the time. The pool has reopened and is also a popular spot.

Some units are getting ready to redeploy back home, it will still be a while before we get to do the same. The Air Force deploys for 120 days and the Navy and Marines for 180. The Army still wants 365. Hey, lets spread the wealth.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

It seems so long ago, September 11, 2001. Without it I would most likely not be here in Iraq. I have little substantive to say other than I remember. I remember listening to an EMS feed over the internet from New Jersey as they planned to set up mass casualty collection points at Liberty State Park for 2000 people each, I remember 400 people showing up at the local Red Cross to donate blood, I remember the silent skies for days afterwards and of course the images of the towers and the people, the fire fighters and the collective grief, the heartbreaking picture strewn streets of lower Manhattan.

It was a beautiful clear New England day for me. I dropped my son off at his school giving him the usual ride on my back as we crossed the field to where his class lined up outside. I jumped into my car and turned on WCBS, Newsradio 88 in New York City as I always did on my way to work. A few minutes later an announcer came on and said a small plane had hit one of the towers. A reporter was at the scene describing what he saw when the second plane hit. By this time they had determined the planes were passenger jets. I knew then that it was a terrorist attack. The panic, the disbelief of the reporter was disturbing. The rest of the day and in fact the next week passed as a blur for me.

That morning we saw clearly the enemy and though time passes, we can't forget. We are at war.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Sometimes you know that someone's looking out for you. Last night at one of our higher headquarters a 107mm rocket came right through the roof of the operation center. It bounced off the floor and then the wall and came to rest unexploded on the floor. They quickly relocated operations and let EOD take care of the round. This morning they were back in the Op Center cleaning up with a gaping hole in the ceiling.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Sleep was not in the cards after duty this morning. As I was getting in bed we had a red alert. I got back to bed about 9AM only to be woken up 2 hours later by our preventive med officer cutting wood with a circular saw right outside my window. I didn't get back to sleep until 6:30 this evening after my briefings were done. An hour later I was up again because we had more incoming rounds.

Fighting has erupted again in Sadr City and we've had a lot of US casualties in the last 24 hours. 7 Marines and 3 Iraqi National Guard Soldiers died in one vehicle bomb incident near Fallujah.
Another all nighter on CQ. Not much happening. That's the usual for night duty. Its usually not good when you get a call after midnight. Other than the people coming in on late flights needing to be picked up, they are usually emergency calls. A Red Cross message for someone, casualties or a theater-wide accountability check because some soldier is reported missing or captured.

My runner will clean the building, we'll do radio checks with the defense operation center and brigade HQ. I will do a security check around our area. I will drink at least 5 or 6 cups of tea and then at 8AM I'll get to go to sleep. Unfortunately tomorrow I have to prepare some powerpoint slides for a battalion briefing so I'll be up around 11AM.

This is the first CQ duty I've had to do since I came back. Because of promotions we have a bigger pool now so I do it less often. I will have to cover for my roommate in a few days.

I had a long phone call with my family this evening. The internet phone was working better than before. There were 11 kids running around my parent's house, 8 grandchildren, one of my sister's nieces and two neighbors.

Yesterday we had our Labor Day picnic. It was a pot luck and we had a great variety of food. Our section did the Jerk Chicken on the barbecue.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

The news this week was depressing. The attack in Russia was very disturbing, the images were heartbreaking. Its a dark thing that the terrorists have passed the last psychological barrier between humanity and acting like rabid dogs.

In Najaf and Kufa there were reports of Moqtada Al-Sadr's guys having an unauthorized Sharia Courts inside the mosques. When the police went in they found several dozen multilated bodies they brought local tribal members as witnesses. Sadr is spinning it as people killed by the coalition, however local tribal members see it differently and have started hunting down key Sadr Lieutenants. Two have already been killed.

We are in a definite lull period. After their setbacks from the last few weeks, the bad guys are trying to figure out their next move.

Kidnapping remains a favorite activity for them. Last week I found out one of my Iraqi friends was kidnapped and held for ransom. Thankfully someone payed and he was let go. On one hand we are happy he wasn't harmed, on the other hand the kidnappers are encouraged to do more of the same. A majority of the kidnappings seem to end that way, though some go very badly and people end up dead. One of the guys in a local village was kidnapped about a month ago and the people in the village raised 100,000 dollars to get him back. Kidnapping serves two purposes, intimidation and raising cash to buy weapons. Sometimes people know who's responsible, but they are too intimidated to say or do anything about it.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

My buddies brought me some more figs and dates today. There are dozens of varieties of dates. They brought me a selection of orange, yellow and even red ones. I also had a little Arabic lesson which consisted of me pointing at dozens of objects and asking what the Arabic word was for it.

One of our contractors just got married and just came back from his honeymoon up in the north. His bride is 16. Its pretty routine here for women to marry so young. He negotiated for quite a while with her family on the terms of the marriage (the brideprice).

He is Shi'ia and is happy that Moqtada Al Sadr is out of Najaf. Though he wouldn't have minded Moqtada getting his final reckoning. Soon he and his family will travel to Najaf, to visit the Shrine and to visit the graves of his relatives buried there.

Things have calmed down considerably since things resolved in Najaf. Moqtadas guys have gone to ground at least for now. I expect him to surface again. Reports of mutilated bodies being found in his ad hoc Sharia court inside the mosque have turned many people against him. Some people are also mad at Sistani for letting Moqtada avoid a final reckoning.