I luva the women
I luva the women.
That is all.
Lost two already…sort of
We’ve had two casualties this week. Not deaths, and not combat related, but two cats already on their way back to cooler climes.
First up was a private from our motor pool, I think. Two days ago he was playing some basketball on the court right outside of our command building. Some other soldier shoved him during a shot and whipped him into the pavement, face first. Poor bastard had his teeth punched through his lip, broke the bone plate on the roof of his mouth, and split his lower lip down to his chin.
His first surgery took place in Baghdad, but I hear he’ll be heading to Germany soon. His part in the war is over.
Then yesterday a private was found unconscious, sprawled out at the entrance of his platoon leader’s door. He was also flown to Baghdad. I don’t know what was wrong with that guy.
In response to the first incident, all basketball was banned. This latest incident has prompted the unit to contemplate having a sign out/in sheet for whenever you go anywhere or do anything. Want to go to chow from your room? First, walk to the battalion sign-out roster, then walk to the dining facility. Afterward go sign back in, then return to your room. Never mind the fact that battalion is on the opposite side of our area of operation. That means a whole lot more walking than usual.
I wonder if, in response to our first combat-related death, they’ll ban all operation and send us home. If basketball is so dangerous, who knows how we’ll cope with war?
I’ve never understood the allure of having a television in an office. Sure, it shows news and all that jazz, but I’ve always found it to be too distracting.
Maybe since I don’t normally watch TV I have this strange hypersensitivity to the thing, but I can’t not watch TV if it’s on. As soon as that high-pitched screen whine powers up, my mind goes numb, my eyes glaze over, and I start drooling.
Since my public affairs shop is so small, I’m with the S1 Personnel Office. Our office doesn’t have a working phone, a working stapler, or enough desks, but by God we have a 27-inch dual-voltage television with a satellite decoder.
And any veterans out there will feel my pain when I talk about having to watch the Armed Forces Network all day.
Not that it’s terrible – normally they show normal programming from the states, especially news, which they just feed on over. It’s the advertisements that get ya.
The military has broadcasters and creative-types (of which I am supposedly a member) that sit around and wait for their respective commanders to share what messages they want the people to hear. We call them “command messages.” You know, that whole “loose lips sink ships” sort of thing. But these helpful tidbits also drift into combating the ever-present specter for service members of substance abuse, financial woes, domestic violence, and emotional distress.
Commercials on AFN are a mix of straight propaganda and PSAs to urge military personnel to seek help if they have these problems.
Problem is, it’s so damn depressing. Every other commercial tells me I’m a depressed, drunk wife-beater with a gambling problem, and that I need help. By the time the news comes back on, chiming in with more real-life woes, I’m ready to jump off a damn bridge.
Luckily I’m not inside everyday to have to hear how screwed up I am. Bring on the heat!
P.S. more photos and posts on the way. I’ve been culling a list during the interim.
Back in black…er…desert tan?
A few days ago (honestly I don’t remember if it was Friday through Sunday), we waited until nightfall, bussed over to the airfield at Anaconda, and boarded several Chinook helicopters bound for Camp Taji, our final destination.
Hurrying on to the darkened tandem-rotored chopper, we rushed down the sides of the interior and slapped ourselves next to each other, buckled in and waited for takeoff. The churning whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of the two rotors rocked the chassis back and forth like one of those cheap vibrating beds.
The crew gunners were at their stations with night-vision goggles. We could see a slight outline of green on their faces as they watched us board.
I sat and clutched the carry-on bag on my lap. Sitting across from one of the circular window ports, I had a fair view of the tilting and moving horizon once we were airborne.
The ride was smoother than I expected, hearing stories from the young captains about some hell-bent ride of death they’d been on during some summer session of their ROTC. The trip was uneventful, save for the few flares chalk two dropped as we traversed the countryside to discourage any missiles looking for targets. Each flare would light up our chopper for a second and then drift groundward, moving our illumination up the walls and to the ceiling.
Upon arrival to Taji, we were taken to a basketball court for our initial welcome briefings and room assignments. The first bout of good news was that we didn’t have to wear our body armor everywhere. That will keep the ol’ body temperature down. The second lucky draw for ol’ Salmons was that I got a two-man trailer instead of an open bay. While I feel a little bad for the poor jokers that are living in the old crumbling, bombed out buildings, I can’t let that let me not enjoy what would have been their bragging right had the tables been turned.
So I’m back, and with Internet access! More later friends. I’m off to bed.
The Good Life: Anaconda Living
We’ve been spoiled these past few days in Camp Anaconda, waiting for our rides to our final spot.
Our unit, which normally has three to six formations a day to put out every impulsive scrap of information, no longer can have large groups of people standing out in the open. It’s sort of a mortar risk.
So, our leadership is in a state of shock, it seems, with no formations to organize or information to put out, they’ve snapped from their usual “fill every waking second of soldiers’ time” and have left us alone.
That means days spent in the MWR center, sipping on free water and watching TV, checking email, or playing Playstation. Good stuff.
Our rides to our final leg were initially going to be helicopters, but there have been some SNAFUs with that, hence our delayed departure.
Yesterday, the word got out that we might have to *gasp* convoy over to camp, which would only take an hour or so…no biggie.
It wasn’t the soldiers that started to freak out, but our senior enlisted and several officers. Wide eyed, some came up to me, “Did you hear we might have to convoy over?”
“Well, yeah, that’s usually what happens if we don’t have wings,” I replied.
“But it’s dangerous.”
Really? Iraq? Dangerous? It’s not charging a machine-gun nest or anything, but, yeah, it’s a tad more risky than visiting grandma.
I guess I was just surprised at how quickly the mood changed. Over the past few months, our seniors have been freaking our soldiers out with “how serious all this training is.”
Every waking second, they’d pump the guys full of fear that they’d kill half the damn Army if their boots weren’t shined enough or if they forgot the seventy-seven steps to reacting to an IED attack. All of it was to try to keep the soldiers awake during classes and training. And it worked. Aside from the normal “dumb private” moments, the soldiers have behaved themselves, and are in as good of spirits as you can be while breathing sand.
It’s just too bad that the pillars we have to look up to shake so easily. Officers are officers — they are their own world, but NCOs are supposed to be the steady hand that guides the young soldiers, and when their attitude consists of “I ain’t leaving the base. I’m just here to get paid. You go on the convoys.” It makes my job of encouraging the young guns a lot harder.
Such is life. I imagine it’s always been that way.
…sitting in the belly of a C-130 with 54 other soldiers, side by side, idling at the end of a runway in Kuwait at three in the afternoon.
Your butt hurts because of all the gear, your legs hurt because you’re packed so tight against the cargo pallet that you can’t move anything, and your head is about to explode because of the scorching unbearable heat. Another five minutes and I would have gone for my ammunition, but probably wouldn’t have been able to reach it.
After takeoff things cool down and your stomach settles. Not being able to see out windows makes me more sensitive to motion sickness, I guess.
Now I had heard of “tactical landings” several times before. When enemy fire is expected in a landing zone, an aircraft will conduct random evasive maneuvers before screaming toward the ground in an effort to frustrate any bad guys trying to get a missile lock. It involves a lot of banking, climbing, and diving.
What I hadn’t expected was how crazy all this plays out when you’re locked in the dark underbelly of a cargo plane, nor how nimble those damn planes were! Yikes. I almost puked, but managed to keep it down, much to the relief of the 20 or so in my spray area.
The ramp opened and I noticed that it was dark — well, I noticed after a construction vehicle had pulled up to the aircraft and unloaded the pallet, giving us our first glance at Iraq.
The air was more humid than Kuwait, and it was still pretty warm, even though the sun had set. There were no lights on the airfield, save for the headlights of a couple of vehicles moving in the distance.
A civilian man in an armored vest appeared out of the night, “Get your gear and get on the bus, you all are here at a bad place and at a bad time. Move it!”
Jumping down from the ramp, the props blew away the motion-sickness bag I was going to keep as a souvenir. Damn, I thought, and kept huffing it to the buses, waiting just outside the light shining from the rear of the plane.
I stepped on the bus to see a Vietnam-era man, with long, gray hair, and an American flag for a bandana. “Howdy,” he said, smiling.
We all hurried in, tucked our rifles in between our legs and packs as best we could, and sped away from the C-130 as it started down the runway again, eager to get off the vulnerable ground.
Fires burned across several blocks of the area beyond the airfield. For all I know, it could have been a big trash fire, but it seemed awfully close to the airport. I didn’t have time to ask what was going on. Tracer fire flickered at the other end of the runway, random fire into the sky by insurgents, trying to hit some of our aircraft, someone said. “They usually don’t hit anything — or it could just be a wedding or something.”
“Now when we get to the processing center, you’ll need to get your people in to the tents as quickly as possible,” the civilian worker said to our plane commander. “They’ve got that place zeroed in as well.”
We drove down the streets, turning enough times to make me lose all my points of reference.
Concrete barriers were everywhere, surrounding buildings, trailers, perimeters, everything. Bits and chunks were missing from a lot of them, evidence of the “continued random mortaring” that this place has endured for the past several years.
As we pulled in to a fortified series of tents, the civilian went on. “Just last night we had a rocket hit between tents A and B. There are 120 people in those two tents. It’s a goddamned miracle that thing didn’t go off. I caught some Filipino lady with a GPS in here about a month ago, so they know what the coordinates are. Keep your helmets on and get inside. Good luck.”
Once we were off the buses, things didn’t seem that bad. Several units used this place as a staging area for leaving and coming, whether just on leave or leaving for good. Many didn’t have any armor on at all, and the order for us to keep everything on made us seem like daisy-fresh rookies, which we were.
So the year starts.
Hurray I’m 25!
Happy birthday me! 25 and still ticking.
Damn, out of time already…these 15-minute blocks go quick when you’re trying to pay bills and stuff. More later 😦
How we do in Kuwait
…And then I found out I had guard duty tonight in our operations center, which just so happens to have an Internet-capable computer. Sweetness.
Here is that entry I promised:
And so it came to pass that we should have training while in Kuwait. Announcements were made to prepare us for what was to come.
“We have a convoy live-fire range on the 28 and 29th. Pack a bag to stay overnight.”
Overnight? Pack what bag? I’m living out of my bags.
I made do with a pouch that normally attaches to a ruck sack. I threw in the essentials and one pair of undies. It was just one night, I could “rough it,” no problem.
So the 28th came…
“Formation at 0830 in full battle.”
We woke up and went out.
“Ok…the next formation will be at 1130. Dismissed.”
Turning around back to the tent, I wondered how we’d be able to be at lunch (they started serving at 1100), fight through the normal crowds, eat, walk the distance back, gear up, and be in formation at 1130. Hrmm, looks like I was skipping lunch.
“Ok…the busses leave at noon. Everybody line up and wait to get on.”
We boarded the stuffy busses in our armored regalia and, once on our way, sat through the 20-minute rerun of the “Kuwait Landscape Show.”
Arriving at the staging area outside of our camp, we hopped off our transports.
“Get in formation so we can split you up into your convoy vehicles.”
Standing in the desert afternoon with our sleeping gear, weapons and armor, we waited a good 15 minutes before all of the “Oh, she’s with your group?” glitches were worked out.
Properly soaked, I took my seat behind the driver of vehicle number three and readied my camera for whatever scene was to come.
Although I had time to look around, the only picture opportunities involved soldiers standing still. A little dry.
So, I returned to my vehicle and sat in the heat.
All in all, two hours passed before our fuel was topped off and we started down the road.
We pulled in to our training site around 1630-ish. The sun was settling into the bosom of the normal sandy haze at the bottom of the Kuwait sky.
“Get your shit, download it in tent six, and form up outside.”
Walking toward the two rows of four tents (the only feature inside of the sand perimeter) one of our sergeants major intercepted us.
“Get into tent seven and get ready for class.”
I spoke up, “Sergeant major, we’re still holding all of our sleeping gear and packs. Can we download them in our sleeping tent first?”
He stared at me — well right through me, really, and barked an order.
“Sergeant first class Jackson, direct this traffic into tent seven.”
“Yes sergeant major,” he replied.
“Well? Why am I still out here doing this?” Sergeant major said before storming off.
For a few bewildering minutes we stood outside, clutching our things. Personnel from the 101st Airborne Division were in our tents already, having arrived earlier, and there was no place for us to go.
“Drop your bags outside and wait,” someone eventually said.
Our leadership had disappeared to some meeting. We were on our own for the moment.
Many started to eat the “Jimmy Deans” we had been issued for dinner. These meals were sealed Styrofoam plates with a can of juice, potted meat, ham salad, Oreos, and a vacuum-sealed bun.
I normally drank the juice and gnawed on the bread for a while, but otherwise avoided the processed contents.
Some time passed but the cool of the early evening made it easy. Our numbers had dwindled as the leaders realized they brought too many to training. The extras boarded another bus to return didn’the other 3/5ths of the unit that didn’t even come.
The 101st guys eventually left, and we filed in to tent six — the sergeant major had gone back with the extras, so he didn’t care anymore. All was well for the moment.
“Well, you all were late, so no training tonight,” the civilian instructor told us when our remaining few had been seated. “We’ll start tomorrow.”
We did have enough for two groups — or “serials” as they call them in convoy-ese. One serial would sleep in tent six, the other in number seven.
And so at 1830, with the approaching night gathering to ambush the remaining light, we started to claim spots on the classroom tent floor to sleep on.
I got a wooden bench. My bag with toothbrush and underwear was my pillow.
“You have guard duty at 2000 to 2100.”
“Ok,” I answered, but then remembered, “Don’t the civilians have a security force out here?”
“Yes, but we ain’t trusting our .50cals to them jokers.”
“Fair enough. We gettin'” ammo?”
“Of course not.”
“What, we supposed to cuss at the bad guys if they come?”
“Be there 10 minutes before your shift,” the sergeant first class said curtly.
Reporting for guard, I noticed something and asked one of the soldiers we were relieving, “Hey, where are the .50cals?”
“Why are we out here, outside the perimeter, with no ammo, to guard stuff that’s not here?”
“Goodnight,” the soldier said in that ‘Ha ha, sucker!’ tone.
My shift wasn’t so bad, but others’ were. Many of the soldiers were a little tired the next morning. The seniors were fine, they didn’t pull things like guard, but the rest of us were a little drowsy.
“It’s 0400, wake up!”
Wow, two hours to sit up, put on my boots and walk six feet to my bench for class. Thanks.
Class was three hours of decent training. Any time our unit is not involved in events, they go pretty well. Let our unit handle things, though, and watch out!
Then came time for the live fire. Our four .50cals were cut to two since we only had two soldiers qualified to fire the damn things. Windows would be closed, so no love for the rest of us. We would just observe and help simulate injures and the like.
Walking out to our vehicles, I saw something was out of place, “Hey, where’s our truck?”
“Oh, I think the other serial took some of them — they had extra people.”
So for ten minutes of the big day, I handed out water to vehicles as they pulled up to the supply truck.
“Ok…you and these others are extra, go back to the tent and wait for everybody to get back.”
Walking back with my new squad, I noticed the Mitsubishi SUVs parked in a pretty line. Our commanders had come to see the glorious training.
Someone yelled, “Oh shit! We only have enough ammo for the .50cals to have 100 rounds.”
That’s about 20 seconds of firing. Not nearly enough for two runs through the 12-mile course.
Making it back to the tent, brushing past the flies and sand, I sat on my bench and thought of that cute Michigan girl I’ll eventually meet, and how I’ll split a beer with some friends down the road, remembering the exasperating futility of my time trying to live as a rational man in the military.
ack, quick quick…dang nevermind
I had some photos and a nice, long entry all typed out for you guys, but the Internet stations here don’t take data sticks, so no dice 😦
Only three mintues left before I get kicked off. Nooooooooooooo.
We move north in a few days. No more Salemonz until we get settled in Iraq.