Sunday, June 27, 2004

Yesterday I rode with the ambulance crew at the fire station as an extra medic. It was interesting watching the goings on. One of the working dogs came and got his bath under the fire hose.

The firemen on post are from both Air Force and Army units. They respond to all fire emergencies on post and on the airfield. The trucks are rugged looking with turrets that can fire 250 gallons of water a minute.

The fire crews spent most of the morning doing maintenance on their equipment, washing the trucks, checking out their turnout gear.

Like any firehouse, when things are slow at the station there's food, movies, and a bunkhouse to get some rest. Things can go from slow to full throttle in seconds. These guys often get calls after incoming rounds catch something on fire or someone has done some ad hoc wiring in a tent. Our medics always go with the fire crews, sometimes they have purely medical calls like gathering up a heat casualty yesterday.

I got a small taste of what is routine for them. We had a round come in starting a fire and injuring someone with shrapnel, unfortunately not all that uncommon. We pulled into the scene behind the engines. The fire crew did a great job knocking down a fairly significant fire. We picked up the casualty and brought him to the ER. His wounds were not serious, though he had quite a few little holes in him. His uniform looked like swiss cheese. He was lucky. The other medic stuck him with an IV and I told the guy soon he'd be doped up and getting a purple heart. We went back to the scene and stayed to keep an eye on the firefighters until they were finished. The temperature yesterday was 115 degrees it was much, much hotter next to the fire. All of the guys were soaked and exhausted when the fire was out.

The cleanup took a while after we got back. Hoses cleaned and hung to dry, refilling oxygen tanks, cleaning out all the trash and washing down the back of the ambulance.

After seeing everyone in action I had a much greater appreciation for the emergency crews here on post. We know we can count on them when they're needed.

The early handover seems to have been a good idea. We haven't yet seen the catastrophic attacks that were threatened for today. I'm sure we'll seen some show of force,if only to prove to themselves that they are relevant. The plans to assassinate Bremer obviously won't happen.

The new prime minister and president are making some smart moves. Appealing to the Iraqi populace to participate in their own security by denying insurgents refuge and aid seems more legitimate than coming from the Americans. Martial law in some areas is almost a given, it may lack the restraint of the coalition. The government can and will do things that the Americans won't. My opinion is that the government is making a big deal about getting control of Saddam partly as personal insurance, holding Saddam and his top henchmen hostage. The implicit threat is that if the leadership is harmed the gloves will come off. Some of the bad guys (Baathists) still care.

I think the Iraqis on the street are watching and waiting. This will be a rough summer. Everyone hopes for stability, but isn't quite sure how it will turn out.

Progress has almost reached critical mass. The average Iraqi has no desire to go backwards, they can now dare hope for tomorrow. No matter what Michael Moore says coming here was worth it and was in our national interest. To tell an Iraqi that we shouldn't have come because there weren't any weapons of mass destruction (which there were) seems foolish. "Sorry, we helped you under false pretenses please forgive us"

On our front we have had more mortar and rocket attacks lately. There were lots of car bombs in June. We call them VBIEDs (pronouced V-BIDs) or Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device.

The creature comforts continue to improve. We are getting a food court built. Coming soon is a Burger King, a Subways, Starbucks, and a few other things. I'm almost embarrassed. Living in luxury while others are in squalor in some rat and sandfly infested tent on the Iranian border.

We also have an outdoor pool being tiled. It would be a shame if one night a rocket cracked the seal after all that work.

I'm hoping that things will calm down so I can travel around a bit more. I'd love to get up to the Kurdish areas. Some of our guys are way up north. They described the mountain roads and the grasslands to me. So much different than my current home. It may be that the only way I see what I want to see from the Archeological sites to the wildlife is to come back on my own.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Today turned out to be a very bloody day here in Iraq. Car bombs all over the place. The Medevac helicopters were coming in all day to the hospital here, lots of business. Our immediate area was thankfully quiet, but its not a good feeling when you hear a chopper you know is loaded with patients (both military and civilians) fly 100 feet over our building and land just down the street. We can expect more of the same until after the transition. Zaqawi and his bunch will do all they can to distrupt, intimidate and destroy. All most Iraqis want is to have security.

It is a very dangerous time for people like the Iraqi police, the Iraqi National Guard and those that work with the coalition. The bravery of the police, lightly armed and lightly protected is to be commended. Their commitment to a new Iraq is total. They've put it all on the line. Imagine having to go to work under constant threat, getting threats that your family will be killed, calling you a traitor to your people and to God. That's what many of these folks have to put up with.

We are waiting for the transition. The way we do business will probably change dramatically. The whole country goes back to the Iraqis good and bad. If they want a piece of real estate back they will get it. We'll keep a lot lower profile. You will see fewer US soldiers on the news as the Iraqis try to get a handle on things themselves. We may see more chaos as the Iraqi government gets its sea legs. This has to happen and hopefully will be short-lived. We'll still be the 911 for them if they need it. We don't know what that means for us as the Iraqi government will surely need to do some things that show the people that they aren't Washington's puppet. It's a necessary thing but we may not like some of the outcomes. The president and prime minister's biggest job right now is staying alive. I wouldn't be surprised if they pulled a Dick Cheney and operated from an "undisclosed location" for a while (maybe until the general elections). There are a lot of things to do, economic development, expansion of the Iraqi security services, a census in October, registration of voters.......

Three of the Iraqi guys who work for us are getting married. This time of year, after the first harvest, the farmers have some money in their pockets. As a result its a popular time to have a wedding. Like them, most people continue with their lives. They hope and pray that the bombings and shootings stop and Iraq can get back on its feet. As they say here "In Sha'Allah" God willing.


Chopper coming in at Sunset

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Sorry about the pictures disappearing, apparently I exceeded my 200MB per month between my two blogs. I upgraded to 1.75Gigs. Lets see how that works. The pictures should reappear soon.
A great day today. Note the connection - me outside the wire doing anything = great day (so far).

I was able to participate in a MedCap or Medical outreach to a small village near our base. The Civil Affairs guys facilitated and various units contributed doctors, medics, and security.

It was comforting to see our escorts to the village were M-1 Abrams tanks. We had plenty of security. Because of the tenuous security situation these missions are unannounced. We basically just show up and set up for a few hours and leave. This reduces the chance that the bad guys setting up an ambush.

As we rolled in past a tank in a blocking position setting up at a road intersection, I wondered about what the locals thought. Right next to the tank was a truckload of grinning young men who had apparently determined that we were there for positive reasons.

The village was typical of the local area. Mud houses surrounded by mud walls. Some of the fields around the village had just been harvested. Big piles of wheat dotted the landscape. Other fields were full of sunflowers, used to make cooking oil. After the wheat harvest some farmers plant Sesame (Sim Sim).

We pulled into a school where we set up shop. We brought quite a load of equipment and supplies. The school had a big courtyard in the middle and the classrooms surrounded it.

Eventually we were ready to receive patients. The doctors and dentist set up in classrooms with lines of plastic chairs outside as an ad hoc waiting area.

First a few families came in. Mothers and Grandmothers with a few children. After a few minutes things got rolling. I started out in the pharmacy, attempting in truly pathetic Arabic and pantomime to explain how many pills to take and when. Along with the medicine, we gave out bags of little things that they could use like soap (Saboon), shampoo (Shamboo), toothpaste, toothbrushes. The kids got a bag of hard candy.

After a few minutes there was a scream from one of the exam rooms. I didn't see what happened (I think it was a child just freaking out) but it scared a little boy who started to cry. His brother said he was scared but I got the sense he was also little fractious because he needed to go home for lunch. "Anta tureed mussassa?" elicited a smile and a happier boy as I sent him home to lunch with a big bag of candy. Our dentist and dental hygienist tried to counteract my bad influence.

A group of women in their black dresses and head coverings sat and waited while their children made their rounds. I was a little surprised to see a few blonde blue-eyed kids. I was told that its fairly common up in the Kurdish north.

The children were fantastic, as usual. Charming, very cute, eager to get a little something to take home. I took some pictures of the little ones and showed them their picture on the digital camera. They seemed to enjoy it.

I spent most of the time walking back and forth between the different rooms, bringing people to the pharmacy and attempting to keep things orderly around the exam rooms. Our real translators were pretty busy so I tried a few times to get things started. One guy claimed he had an ulcer, another kidney stones.

From a medical standpoint these missions are often frustrating for the doctors and PAs. In three hours you can't really do much. Acute things like infections can be treated but chronic conditions require more long term followup which we can't do. Several new clinics are being built in the area. This should help. The clinics will have Iraqi doctors who will be able to do things like treat TB which require long term followup and monitoring. Infant and Maternal services will also be better delivered from a permanent clinic. In the future I think our focus will be on helping with the clinics.

Lots of the things that will improve the local population's health are preventive in nature. Its better not to get something than to try to get rid of it. The invention of the toilet saved more lives than any medicine ever did. Latrines, safe water, and bednets will go a long way.

In addition to the military folks, we had some journalist with us. I was surprised to find out that they were based in Iran. We chatted for a couple minutes. One guy I talked to is from Chicago. He's of Iranian decent and now lives in Tehran using it as a base to cover Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia. He gave me his card as did another Dutch journalist named Thomas who also lives in Iran and is a correspondent for NRC Handelsblad. Borzou, the guy from Chicago has his own website. I was impressed with his pictures from Afghanistan and Iran. I also enjoyed some of his letters from the field.

Waiting for the Doctor.
waiting for the Doc

Village Girl
Village Girl

Mother asking me about seeing the dentist. I'm asking her to open her mouth.
dental question

Me with the Kids
Me with Kiddies


Sunday, June 20, 2004

I went down to the clinic today and took a CPR recertification class. We had an indirect fire attack during the class so we put on the body armor and continued.

The clinic was slow. It seems like the patient numbers drop when we have to wear the body armor all the time. The same is true in the chow halls. Many people
don't want to put on an extra 30 to 40 pounds in 110 degree heat and walk anywhere.

I attended a meeting today where I met a doctor from a unit stationed in Germany. It turns out he's from the same town I grew up in and he graduated from the same High School 4 years before me. His sister was in my class.

Yesterday I went to the movies. The Air Force apparently misplaced the Harry Potter movie that I thought I was going to see. I found out we were seeing another movie when it started and it wasn't Harry Potter. Some guy is probably bootlegging it right now. Shrek II also went MIA but eventually showed up.

The picture below is a bunch of our Ambulances parked near the clinic.


Thursday, June 17, 2004

I went over to Civil Affairs today. We split into pairs and the instuctor made us have a conversation with eachother infront of the class.

Hello (peace be upon you): As Salamu Alaykum
Response (and upon you peace): Wa Alaykum as salam
How's it going: Shlonik?
Well, thanks be to God: Zeyn, Al Hamdu lilla
What is your name?: Ma Howa Esmak?
My name is ....: Ana Esmi...
What do you want?: Matha tureed?
I want a water buffalo: Ana ureed jamoosa
I don't have a water buffalo: Ana ma aindi jamoosa
I have to go now:Ana yajib an uchadir
Bye: Fim'allah

The instructor gave us a score of 7/9 whatever the hell that means.

Gotta Go,

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I spoke too soon....More rocket attacks, back to wearing body armor again, even to the shower. Can't go outside without it. I think we're condemned again to kickboxing with an African twist for PT.

...better safe than sorry

Well, it was nice being out of it for a little while.

I checked out the new gym this morning, a possible alternative to kickboxing. It was incredible how fast it went up. The building is a membrane stretched over a metal frame( on a concrete pad. There's a basketball court, a raquetball court ,weights, stairmaster, etc.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Things continue to be quiet for us. The bad boys have calmed down a bit. It seems they are more interested in killing Iraqis and breaking things like pipelines.

The new government will transition in a couple weeks. Already many of the ministries are in Iraqi hands. The new prime minister Allawi seems to be well recieved by the Iraqis I've spoken to. He's well respected, he was born in Mosul in the Kurdish areas even though he is a member of a large Sunni tribe. I saw a few interviews with him, he seems to know that the new government will be tested by the insurgents.

We'll just have to wait and see how things work out on the ground. Hopefully Iraq will soon reach the critical mass necessary to move forward.

Our TV is working again. All it needed was the receiver to be unplugged and reset. We had it up to watch all the Reagan funeral coverage. I was glad I did. Reagan was president when I joined the Army in 1986. He did a lot of good for the country, especially the military. It thought all the tributes were fitting.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

I started reading an interesting book yesterday that my sister sent me. Its called Guest of the Sheik, an ethnography of an Iraqi village. By Elizabeth W. Fernea it describes her experience living two years during the mid 1960's in a small Shi'ite village in southern iraq with her anthropologist husband. It gives a very interesting look into the life of the women of the village.

I had another chat with one of our contractor supervisors. He's applying for a Fulbright scholarship to get his PhD in the US.

We talked mostly about farming. He told me the water buffalo are kept for milking and that their milk is higher in fat content. There are more water buffalo kept in the southern part of the country. The farmers use the milk to make yogurt. He also said that the small yellow apples that are being harvested now are used to make vinegar.

Throughout the day yesterday I went out on the patio and watched the transit of venus by projecting an image of the sun on the pavement with a pair of binoculars.

In the evening we caught another bat in the building. My bug net was very useful for catching it.

bat june 8

Monday, June 07, 2004

I've been away since Friday on a mission and got back early this morning. Again, it was good to have a change of pace. This was the first time I spent an overnight away from our base.

The farmland around our base is very active now. Just outside the gate, people tended their fields. It seems like the women do a large part of the work. Even when its over 110 degrees in the blazing sun, they are out there picking cucumbers, tomatoes and other veggies. The women wear heavy dresses and their heads and faces are completely covered up. Some wear all black and others wear colorful dresses. Usually there is a group of children running around.

One of the fields was very picturesque. The field was filled with blooming sunflowers, between the sunflowers women with bright orange and green dresses picked cucumbers with small children helping. Large white sacks filled with cucumbers lined the field and children helped. The Iraqis are crazy about cucumbers. It seems to be a mandatory item for lunch. They say it quenches your thirst. They tend to eat a whole cucumber sprinkling salt on it as they munch away.

As you're driving around the countryside. Seeing women and children is a good sign. If they are nowhere to be found it may mean the locals have got word of a planned ambush.

While I was out and about I saw how lush the river valley can be. In amongst the houses in one village people were growing bananas. Not exactly a crop I thought would be growing here. I saw some fig trees and stands of mulberry trees. In one area near the Tigris there were fruit trees with tiny yellow apples.

Another thing I didn't expect to see were water buffalo. I saw a few small herds by the side of the road in some flooded fields.

As always the little kids wave and give the thumbs up. On the road people pack into all types of vehicles from donkey carts to new BMWs. Some cars have a man driving with completely veiled women in the back seat, some have women driving wearing more western clothes, in our part of the country, all the women do wear head covering. The reactions of the drivers to American soldiers vary too. Some people stare straight ahead, which is a good idea if you're the driver, since its easy to run off the narrow roads when a 5 ton truck is coming the other way. Some take furtive glances. Young girls often are seen giggling, no doubt after making some comment about the soldiers they see riding by. Young men often wave and quickly flash a smile if you show any sign of being friendly.

I enjoyed getting off post and tried to absorb the scenery. The experience is tempered when you pass by an area where a sniper was set up last week, or an IED blew up a few days before or a soldier was killed a few months ago. In time this will change.

A few pictures below.
The first two are field by the side of the road. The last is a small town I passed with the traditional walled courtyards.

sunflower 2


town east of tigris

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

We finally got out of our "battle rattle", at least for the moment. Everyone was happy to get out of the body armor. The number of attacks for May were much less than April but still significantly higher than March.

We all had PT early this morning. I must be getting sick or something, my 2 mile run was very slow.

There's not much new to report here. Operations seem to be going smoothly, the Battalion is seeing lots of patients, thankfully its mostly routine things.

My project for this week is to write a letter to my children's classes. Their teachers have been very supportive and I wanted to get a message to the kids before they leave for the summer. Before I left I went in and talked with the children about what I was doing and where I was going.

Our Satellite TV finally went out completely a couple days ago. Getting service on your dish is a little complicated, but not impossible. We had Orbit TV, based in the Middle East with over 100 channels, 80% in Arabic, but also CNN, SkyNews, ESPN, Animal Planet, MSNBC, BBC and other English language stations. I think we may just need to pay our subscription fee (about 40 bucks a month). We inherited the system from our predecessor unit so we're a little unclear about what the deal is.

I'm looking forward to my Arabic class tomorrow.