Monday, February 21, 2005

Like last year, the Ashura was a target of opportunity for the bad guys to kill some more innocent people. It was also another opportunity for the Iraqi populace to see the insurgents true colors. Since the plan to derail the election obviously failed, the insurgents have returned to a previous idea, trying to foment a civil war. The problem with this plan is that it failed several times before and the truth of what they are doing is obvious to the majority of Shia.

Ashura is the commemoration of the the death of Hussein near Karbala at the hands of Yazid's Army. Ashura is characterized by mourning and we often see pictures of men marching through the streets with chains or swords.

I've talked to quite a few people since I got back home. The number one question is "what is it really like there?". I think behind this is a fundamental distrust of the picture being painted here in the US. On one side the "sky is falling" commentariat who seem a little less strident after the elections and on the other side the rosy optimists. I would put myself among the optimists and think that there are good reasons for doing so.

I think many people were struck by the turnout and character of the elections. After being treated to almost two years of the out of control chaos theory of Iraq, a fairly orderly and largely successful election created a good bit of cognitive dissonance. Maybe Iraq is not the deadend basket case it is portrayed as.

The newly elected body now needs to get down to business and write a constitution and the government needs to continue building capacity and control in all their functional areas, especially security and infrastructure. In December there will be another election. Between now and then the insurgency needs to either reinvent itself, a skill they seem to be lacking, or accelerate their downward spiral of declining operational ability and legitimacy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Saturday was my last day of active duty. Most of us will take a few weeks of terminal leave before we return to what we do as civilians. For me that means returning to being a husband and Father and getting back to the Connecticut region of the American Red Cross Blood Services as a researcher in their Epidemiology and Surveillance program.

Even though I was technically allowed to say where I was and who I was as long as I didn't discuss operational details, felt it was better not to. Now that I'm back I'll let you know that I was the Battalion Intelligence Sergeant for the 118th Medical Battalion out of Newington, Connecticut. We were stationed at LSA Anaconda in the Sunni Triangle. I had the opportunity to travel around the country, maybe not as much as I would have liked to, but probably more than the average soldier. My day job in Iraq was to provide the Commander with situational awareness for our areas of operation, which was one of the largest for any Battalion sized element in Iraq (from the Turkish to the Kuwaiti border). I went to Intel and Force Protection meetings and spent most of the time reading and digesting the huge number of intel products that are put out every day by everyone from the CIA to company commanders of maneuver units. For the people who wondered why a medic should know about anything other than my tiny slice of Iraq, it was my job to see the big picture and keep my Commander in the know.

My flight home from Kuwait took us north over Iraq again. I recognized a few places, the result of a year of staring at maps. I saw a familiar bend in the Tigris river and in the early morning haze I could see a plume of smoke coming from the burn pit on Anaconda. Further north I saw snow covered mountains near the Turkish border, then larger ones in Turkey itself.

Flying over Wales I could see Mount Snowdon rising out of the cloud deck.

The first part of North America I saw was Newfoundland and a few hours later we landed at Fort Drum.

Our week at Fort Drum went slowly. I stayed in the BOQ so I had my own room. Of all the things we did, medical checks, turn in of equipment, paperwork, demob briefings. I'm pretty sure it could have been compressed a bit. One of our docs outprocessed in 36 hours when he came through in May.

The weather at Fort Drum was incredibly warm compared to when we left, it stayed in the 30's all week.

Being at home has been wonderful. All my kids have grown so much. My baby, Jennifer, just started walking a week or so before I got home. It was hard missing her first year but my wife did a great job of sending me pictures and keeping me updated on her progress.

I'll probably go into my kid's school this week and talk to them about Iraq. Next week is February vacation so we'll be busy.

As for this blog, I'll still be writing, though less frequently. I still have many friends and comrades in Iraq and I'll always feel like I have a stake in what goes on there.

Thanks for everyone's support during this last 15 months.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

I just had my dufflebags inspected by customs and loaded to go to the airport later today. All I have left is my backpack.

The time in the camp flew by. I entertained myself yesterday hunting giant gerbils.

I've been talking to some of the incoming guys. Lots of Hawaii National Guard guys. Some of the companies came from American Samoa and Guam.

Well I'm running low on Internet minutes. I'll write more from Fort Drum.

Thanks for everyone's support. It encouraged me a lot during my time here.

Looking forward to Home.

Signing off from Operation Iraqi Freedom II.