Archive | November 2005

Football with the boys

While waiting for our escortees to finish off-loading their pallets of supplies and ammunition, some guys from the brigade Personal Security Detail broke out the football and started chucking it around. I took the time to brush up on my sports photography skills, which don’t see much use while deployed.

Fumbled. Whoops.

Fumbled. Whoops.

Sgt. Hedgepeth takes some time to regroup after a fumble. Better luck next time, jerky!

Could have killed the dude, geez.

Could have killed the dude, geez.

Spc. Campbell plays dirty, shoving Sgt. Ludlam during a pass. Hardcore, son. Bring it!

Almost hit Turkey.

Almost hit Turkey.

Going long! A little too long, as Lud almost gunned it outside the perimeter.

Dude can carry a Humvee.

Dude can carry a Humvee.

Sgt. Martinez is an ace with every weapon system we have. With several confirmed kills from his last deployment, he’s a good guy to have up top.

It's a celebration!

It’s a celebration!

Soldiers performing riverdance…hrrmmm. I still can’t shake it from my mind 😉

That’s all I got today. Peace, love, and all that.


On guard

Here are a few pics I was able to grab while interviewing some of the camp guards. While at first one might pity the poor schmos who are saddled with this mind-numbing undertaking, upon some inquiring, I found out that they work one eight-hour shift a day. Compared to the 10-15 hour day shifts that we deal with, I’d be the first to volunteer for some guard-tower action.

Troop keeps watch.

Troop keeps watch.

Pay no attention to the soldier peering out the top of this tower. You probably didn’t see him because of his camouflage anyway, right? Super secret stuff.

Freedom. As in freedom to be shot at.

Freedom. As in freedom to be shot at.

I thought the flag placement was interesting, you know, since we’re all about peace and liberty and all that.



Ah, the Iraqi countryside. Endless fields of mud and grime. Huts dot the landscape, some long, some short. And satellite dishes on almost every roof.



Hulks of cars and rusted piles of metal and trash are everywhere. Mounds of dirt are piled here and there for no reason. I’ve been in a lot of spots in central Iraq, and they all pretty much look like this.

He's waving now, but he might be shooting at me later.

He’s waving now, but he might be shooting at me later.

Here is an Iraqi soldier. They are very careful to cover their faces when they go out, since reprisals and acts of violence against their families are guaranteed if the public knows who they are. They work three weeks and are off one. Pretty nice setup. Well, apart from the whole “my neighbors will kill me if they knew what I did” gig.


The room

So I thought I’d post a couple of pics of my room. I’m thankful every day for it, especially since I spend a lot of time living in other camps, in tents and such. Having this place to come home to after being on mission is nice.

First post!

First post!

My roomie is Native American. His wife sends a lot of post cards. Pretty sweet stuff.

Room wide shot

Room wide shot

There it is, the room in all it’s splendor. Wide angle makes it look huge. The whole place is 10 feet by 10 feet.Notice the svelte carpet ($37.99) and lamp ($4.99).

Room with a view.

Room with a view.

There’s my view. Nice, eh?

Toss some blankets on there.

Toss some blankets on there.

Here’s the bed. I wanted a blanket to keep the dust off the covers, so I picked one up at the PX, not paying attention to the price. Waiting in line, I finally made it up to the cash register. It turned out to be $47. Ouch. It’s warm at least.

Worse than reflective belts.

Worse than reflective belts.

Ah yes, the road guard vest; my talisman of safety. We have to wear this sucker everywhere, and they’re even talking about making us wear it in our DCUs, since the peeps who stay in their offices all day are freaks about safety. Nothing says tactical like a bright orange vest. RIDICULOUS! Notice how clean it is since I’m not around very much.


A lighter side (photo)

Welder constructs some gun boxes for Iraqi trucks.

Welder constructs some gun boxes for Iraqi trucks.

A welder from one of our maintenance companies puts together a “gun box” used by the US and Iraqi Armies. The boxes are placed in the back of old US 5-ton trucks and give soldiers riding in the rear some semblance of protection against shrapnel and small-arms fire.


Keeping it real on killing

Gun trucks on overwatch during mission.

Gun trucks on overwatch during mission.

I’d count to three, then I’d end this guy’s life.

All the mental checks were done. Night aperture? Check. Round chambered? Check. Aim? Center of the chest. Clear shot? Perfect.

He was in my sector of fire, along the right side of my truck. It fell to me to shoot. It fell on me to kill.

Ten minutes earlier our convoy had halted along a particularly prickly stretch of road on our way to deliver mail to several camps in the Baghdad metro area.

“IED,” the call went out on the radio. The first vehicle halted quickly, followed by the rest of the convoy. Dousing our lights, we draped the night around us.

“Calling EOD, everyone just sit tight.”

I would remain standing. My station on this particular romp was in the rear of an old Army 5-ton truck in what we call a “gun box” – a steel box dropped into the truck bed. It was pretty low tech, consisting simply of a few welded steel plates. At the front of the box was a pivoting turret with a mount for a .50cal, or in our case, a 240B machine gun. My gunner was assigned to cover the convoy’s left, leaving me to wander back and forth.

We were the third gun truck, behind the prior two GTs and four civilian mail trucks. Two more trucks, a bobtail, and the final GT made up the final portion of our group. I guess we were in the middle-ish.

Time in a halt ekes by. Your eyes dart in the darkness to every alley, rooftop and patio, trying to spot a possible ambush before Haji gets an RPG off.

“Insurgents will hijack a house, use it to fire a few rounds off, and then get out,” my convoy commander said – a sergeant just like me. “So don’t feel bad if you have to fire back, the people who live there usually run away.”

After a few minutes, all the shadows start to move. Every sway of leaves, every bag tumbling in the street becomes a group of bad guys. It can make you a little batty, especially since you can’t ever hear anything over the convoy’s engines idling.

But, there! Shifting shadows, coming down the road on our right. I swung my spotlight around and flipped the switch. Who would be running along an American convoy at two in the morning?

The answer was an Iraqi in a blue jacket, jeans and with an AK47.

“Here we go,” I remember saying. The gun truck behind me started shouting “Stop! Stop!” to the guy, but he kept on running.

Just then a car, hidden under an overpass a few dozen meters behind us started up and pulled forward.

Okay, now this was getting interesting. The guy made it to the passenger side of the car. What kind of car was it? We were looking for a specific description of car that had attacked a convoy earlier that night. This wasn’t it, but looked close.

He still had his rifle. I watched it carefully. Other soldiers were yelling plenty, I would focus just on his motion. Any move toward us, and I’d fire.

At the driver seat was a man with his head down and hands up. In the back was a woman with two small children, all with their heads down and hands up, perfectly still.

The man with the rifle now was very nervous. I guess he noticed about five weapons pointed directly at him and three spotlights illuminating any avenue of escape. He became very fidgety.

It was strange since the other people in the car were so calm. What was this guy’s problem? Why was he so scared? My first reaction was that this guy was the trigger man for the IED we’d stopped for. He stood around for a few minutes, saw that we weren’t going for it, and decided to try to get the heck out of there before EOD came. It was awfully suspicions how he came out of hiding like he did, and just to have a car waiting for him.

But that was all circumstantial. I’d seen enough episodes of Law and Order to know I didn’t have an outright reason to send this guy to Allah. I’d have to wait for something more.

He got in to his car and started pulling forward into our convoy. “Woah woah woah!” We all shouted, and they stopped the vehicle.

Again, the driver and rear passengers stayed still, while the jittery guy started climbing out quickly. He rounded his vehicle and started walking toward our convoy.

My hands tensed, pulling my rifle close. My aim was rock solid. I was totally calm. No adrenaline, even. Here I was, on the ragged edge, where a man has to face the possibility that instead of a kind, loving citizen, he is a killer, a harbinger of oblivion. It was strange – empty, passionless, calculated.

My trigger felt like a knife’s edge. I held my finger very carefully, poised, ready to pull back and send a shard of metal and fire streaking toward this man and wound myself at the same time. He was still a few meters away. I’d count to three. A very quick three.

On two he stopped, walked back slowly to his car, got in, and drove away very slowly.

“Dude why didn’t you fire,” some of the guys asked afterwards. “I would have totally lit him up.”

Easy to say this or that afterwards, but it’s a different story when you’ve sighted someone in.


Wish you were here

Getting dressed after wake up.

Getting dressed after wake up.

Our convoy start time was supposed to be 2230 Thursday, but we didn’t clear our gate until 0045 Friday morning.

The moon was just a couple of days past full, in the 90s percentages for illumination, which meant that we could see the enemy, but they could also see us. Sort of a so-so situation.

We were headed north to an out of the way base called Buckmaster, a few hours north of beloved Taji.

I was tagging along with soldiers from our COs personal security detail, which were never used for “personal security” since the colonel rarely left camp other than on a chopper, negating the need for heavily armed up-armored humvees. So, the hooah hooah boys were lent to cargo trucks from camp that needed some guns to see them around theater.

It was a little chilly that night, most of us put on the new black silk winter stuff we were given before leaving the states. Warm. I liked it.

I was in the lead gun truck, tucked in behind the driver. The seat behind the truck commander was our piling zone — our gunner had free foot reign of the center to pivot his turret. He did so liberally since he had full command of the forward arc of the convoy. Usually gunners were assigned to one side or another to keep from pumping rounds into the truck in front, but the first and last gunners had 180 degrees of .50cal goodness, so they were always in a good mood.

Our “guests” were brand newbies from the Alabama National Guard. For most, this was their first time on the road. We were a little nervous since their trucks were loaded down with max weight, and they had just had a rollover the night before. Reminding them that they needed to take things easy on the turns, we headed out our gate and headed north — way north.

I had my night vision goggles and scanned the sides of the passing mud fields. Through the monochrome glow, everything went from drab brown to drab green. Only spots of distant light came through the scattered mounds of dirt and bushes — the houses close to the road were usually darkened.

Back and forth I tracked shadows and glints of light, looking for signs of movement in the night. Every darting fox, flapping bird or occasional street light reflecting off a window gave me a start. After an hour or so, even the shadows started to move.

Then the fog hit. There was haze in the weather forecast, but not like this. It draped across the road in small bands at first, but eventually washed across the road.

“Take it down to 30,” Staff Sgt. L said when we hit the first of it. Then, just a few seconds later.

“Take it down to 20. Now 10. Shit…”

He started calling higher on the radio, asking for updates on the road conditions. We couldn’t see a damn thing — no road, no lights, only the white cloud that stuck to the front headlights as they tried in vain to punch through the shroud.

So there we were, crawling along a main supply route in Iraq at 10 miles an hour. The Alabama boys started to get on edge. A couple trucks kept panicking every time they lost sight of the brake lights in front of them. We’d try to calm them down, letting them know that we hadn’t made any turns off the road. They’d be fine. But it was important not to get too bunched up.

“God help us if these guys all get on our ass,” Sgt. H, our driver kept saying. A line of slow, heavy trucks plodding along with headlights shining in heavy fog was definitely an inviting target, to say the least.

After sitting a while your butt goes numb, and then there’s a while when your legs are on fire from being so cramped. Still you have to do your best to stay still and watch your side, cloudy as things were. We were on point for the whole line of trucks, so we’d be the first to spot anything.

There’d be a break in the fog every now and then, but as soon as we’d speed up to 30 or 40, we’d slam into another wave of mist.

Things got really interesting as we crossed a bridge. I’d have to look up the route on the map, but it had to be the Tigris or something, because it was big. Maybe it was just the slow pace that we crossed it, but it seemed to take forever to get over the blasted thing.

The guard rail was rarely intact, usually scorched or blown to mangled bits. Every so often there’d be some skid marks that careened off the bridge through wrecked barrier into the black. God knows what happened to make those, but talk from our cargo trucks told us the boys were imagining the not-so-friendly possibilities.

The street lights on the bridge were dark, and came out of the thick milky fog like things out of a cheesy Halloween movie. Everything came at you like that – including the tell-tale signs of IEDs.

“God, pothole — Another one!” our driver would say. We’d have to speed up, in case there was a bomb set inside, but where could we race off to? It was a strange feeling, being trapped in the fog, running into all the things we’d normally speed by, unable to move any faster.

The headlights from the truck behind us would light up my side view every now and then, meaning the boys behind us were getting too close.

“Stay back!” our TC would call back. “You’ll be fine. Don’t bunch up.”

Too close, and a single bomb would take out several trucks. On the bridge, who knew how far of a drop down it was, or if we were still over water. It was all too eerie.

Finally we cleared the bridge and kept plodding through the soup.

Our TC had asked higher to call the roads black, meaning they would relay to forces in the area not to send out any more missions along the same route we were on. For us, though, we were out of luck — too far along to turn around. We’d have to keep going.

Another fun moment came when a flare fired off above us.

“What the hell is that?” I said, not expecting flares to say the least.

“Dunno,” Staff Sgt. L came back. “Who’s firing off flares?”

As the first faded, another popped off, casting out this large orange bubble of reflected light in the fog bank. Someone was shining a whole lot of light in our general direction, and it was tripping me out.

Two sets of headlights appeared in front of us. Whether they had just turned on, or their light just made it to us through the fog wasn’t clear, but seeing traffic on the roads during this time of night was very rare. The Iraqis usually stayed in their homes at night, it was just too dangerous to be out and around.

“O, you on that!” L called out to our gunner.

“Yeah, on em,” he said from the turret.

“I see civilian trucks,” I reported as the forms of the vehicles became clear through the fog. “AKs! There are guys in the back with AKs!”

“O, stay on ’em!” L shouted. “Lay into ’em if they come close.”

All of this took just a couple of seconds and the civilian trucks passed by us, heading south. Although they hadn’t taken any hostile action toward us, they sure as hell scared the living crap outta me, jumping out of the fog like that. Had Pvt. O not been as cool-headed, there might have been some shot-up Iraqis and a whole lot of paperwork to deal with. Gotta love the new Army.

There were several other fun little run-ins, including one with an American tank that nearly blew us to kingdom come, but I won’t go on and on about them now. My time at the computer terminal is almost up, and this post is long enough. Needless to say, it gets crazy out there. But we all made it there and back.

God is good.


Talks cease as skirmishes continue


Salmons gives his opinion.

Salmons gives his opinion.

CAMP TAJI, Iraq – Hopes for peaceful cooperation had all but evaporated today as further skirmishes broke out along the Sgt. Joshua Salmons and Commanding Officer’s border.

A recent envoy sent by Salmons returned this morning bloodied and beaten, citing abuses by the CO’s policies.

“That’s it! No more words,” a Salmons spokesperson said at a press conference this afternoon. “We have done so much for CO to be answered with so little.”

The envoy incident was the latest episode of aggression by CO forces against the sovereign mission of Salmons presence in the region.

Although initially chartered by major powers in theater to support CO interests, Salmons efforts were to also have a far larger effect by relaying news and soldier accomplishments to those on the home front.

However, they have made little to no progress in recent weeks due to hostile action from several “allied decisions.”

“Everything we’ve pushed for has been destroyed,” a top military official said. “We’ve been hemmed in. We are to just survive, and that is unacceptable for our larger mission.”

Two major Salmons operations have been frustrated so far in November.

One was to coordinate the filming of an episode of “Monster Garage” in CO-Salmons territory, allowing the celebrity Jesse James to visit and interact with CO soldiers.

The other was to begin construction on a joint-owned brigade newsletter, to serve as a sounding board for CO messages and soldier concerns.

“Our operations were to make the CO’s life better – to bring recognition to his unit,” Salmons officials said. “Moreover, they were actions expected of us from mutual higher allies to continue the war.”

Calls to CO liaisons went unanswered as of press time, but memorandums from CO correspondence bearing the short message “Stop!” were provided to SNS by Salmons offices.

“That was it, weeks of work down the tubes with one word,” a Salmons soldier said. “If we don’t show progress soon, we’ll be relegated to scut work and sent home in shame.”

Rumors abound as to why allies have become enemies in the face of wartime operation. With no reasons given from CO, there’s little to counter the hearsay explanations.

Now, with little to do other than organize stacks of paper and check email, Salmons professional development is at an all time low, clouding forecasts of future promotion or achievement.

How all of this will play out as the deployment continues is still unclear, but if trends continue, the meager forces of Salmons may see themselves locked in a desperate battle against the much stronger CO war-machine to support the cause for which they were brought to war to achieve.

“We will not allow our legacy to be dictated by the short-sightedness of this regime,” Salmons officials said.

“We will find a way to do our job.”


When all is right

Salmons when not on mission.

Salmons when not on mission.

“Item 46 is red for the moment, sir–”

“We working on that?”

“Yes–yes sir, we’re on it.”

“Okay, next slide. Good. Okay. Okay. Next. What’s that there?”

“The red item?”

“Yeah, what’s the deal?”

“We’re working through that issue.”

“Okay, it better be at least amber by tomorrow.”

“That concludes my update if you don’t have any questions.”

“No, that’s a good update Jeff, thanks.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good evening, sir, I’ll be giving your <blaaaaaaaaaah> update.”


“No changes on this slide.”


“As you can see here, we’ve moved up to green on items three and seven, and moved up to amber on item 14 and 23.”

“Good. Okay. Okay. Got it. What’s that there, why is that still red?”

“Our guy reported one down today, sir.”

“He getting it?”

“Yes sir, should be green by tomorrow.”

“Good. Okay. Okay…”

And so it goes, for hour after unending hour. Three colors exist in our world: green, amber and red. Green, of course, means all is good with whatever line on a chart means whatever. Amber means all sorts of things that fall short of green–working on it, en route, almost done, etc. People in charge get all bent out of shape since amber is not quite green. Green is good.

Then there’s red. Red means bad, off line, doesn’t work, pretty much anything that is the antithesis of green. Heads roll at the sight of red. Red is unacceptable. Lord knows what item 342 on slide 9983, 12-hour tab, S3 operations is; but by God it’s red, and that’s not cool.

A full public-affairs shop has an officer who goes to these things and keeps the administrative monkey off of the enlisted backs. That way, the journalists can focus on journalising rather than aligning the stars of heaven above to squeeze out a green dot next to each item on someone’s PowerPoint presentation.

But we don’t have a full shop, we don’t even have half a shop, we have two people: my section sergeant and myself. Thus, there’s a better than nil chance that one of us is at every one of these sorts of daily update / briefing / presentation things.

It takes time away from our actual work, standing in line to say “all green” 40 minutes into a briefing, just to sit down for another 40, and then to get ready to repeat the process at the next meeting an hour after that.

Yet, our lack of manpower falls on deaf ears. No biggie, we survive. Our unit motto is “Just get it done.” So you can see how the highers feel about requests for assistance in trying circumstances.

“Just get it done!”

“Sir, we can’t–”

“Just get it done!”

“Sir, in the physical universe that we live in, it is impossible to–”

“Just get it done!”

“Hooah! Good training. On it.”

I find the whole thing comical, and take it in good spirits. Seeing the field-grade officers stutter and scramble for notes at the slightest behest or request from the big man is hilarious. When it comes time for the little ol’ enlisted man to give the CO his info, there’s no quivering.

Hell, I’ve been on the streets of Iraq in a cloth-top humvee, what’s a PowerPoint presentation compared to that?


Spoils of war

Salmons with his kill.

Salmons with his kill.

You can’t have it. I shot it. I killed it. It’s MINE!



Yesterday I met some military journalists.

They were out of our higher headquarters and part of a reserve unit out of Denver.

Three sergeants and a captain. Smiling. Friendly. Not in that sappy, fake religion kind of happy, but in a way that showed satisfaction in their work.

Having hopped on a convoy to get here, they were scheduled to spend a couple of days with us, covering this and that, and allowing soldiers to record holiday “Hi Mom”s to be sent home to the states.

Naturally our command wasn’t too keen on them showing up at all. By all accounts, they care little for the media, and listen to the counsel of our intelligence section that says we are all liars and spies.

There were ground rules laid out on where they could and couldn’t go. As the servant of the unit, it was my duty to enforce those rules.

“Wow, your unit is awfully sad and tired-looking,” said the visiting staff sergeant after I explained the restrictions. Although her Hungarian accent colored her words, she spoke clearly enough that it was more of a unique flourish than a distraction.

“Really? I guess I didn’t notice,” I said back.

Living with the constant pile of things to do, I didn’t look around very much. But there they were, downcast faces, grumpy responses to salutations, sighs and moans, all the signs of a unit too long deployed…and we had only just begun.

It was late in the afternoon, and our guests were eyeing dinner. My section sergeant and I said we’d join them, but would have to get back to work afterwards.

“Wow, how long do you work?” one asked.

I told her it changed often, but was between 10 and 15 hours a day.

“Doing what?” she continued.

That was a good question. There were PowerPoint slides that needed to be submitted, a myriad of meetings that required our attendance, some one was always reenlisting – photos had to be taken…always a glut of small, trite tasks.

The captain called it “combat envy” – the way that units that didn’t have a war to fight filled their days with office drivel to look hardcore. He was right.

After talking with them, I grew more and more jealous of their position. They traveled around the country, visiting all of their subordinate units. Their command allowed them free reign of the theater, hopping from camp to camp, looking for stories to tell. They had seen palaces, ruins, bombs, units doing well, and units struggling. They were journalists.

They were doing what I thought I was signing up to do. I guess it made me wonder what I was contributing to the whole mess.

I know the whole “everyone serves in their own way” story, and it’s true. Even the admin people who process awards, leave, promotions and all that get to help out…but what about the guy who takes pictures of the admin people? Really. I’m about as essential as a fifth thumb.

Our visitors will leave tomorrow to head north. They don’t know what they’ll find, but there are some people they haven’t visited in a while. Sounded like quite an adventure.

I have halls to clean and dust to sweep for a general who’s visiting in a few days. They even sent the temperature she wants her room in the dining facility to be. What am I doing here?


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