Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Back to Iraq

Can it be? I am preparing to return to Iraq. My adventures, if I have any, will be found at my new blog, Back to Iraq

You can always link to there from here, and don't forget the great slew of stories and pics in the archives here from myself and soldiers alike. I just don't know if anything can be better than my previous experiences...but I've always been an optimist...see you at Back to Iraq!

Ernest

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Moving on, I guess

It's been over 5 months since my return from Iraq. I really thought after a needed vacation that I could return at will. Sadly for me: No such luck!

I loved my experience in Iraq, I can't explain how it was one of the greatest compilation of blessings in my life to go, do, and see. Perhaps the Lord has a greater adventure waiting for me here in America.

Please check the archives for pictures and stories from Iraq. You'll only hear the negative in the media but so many incredible, noble things go on there and that story needs to be known.

If you want to get a little taste of my current adventures, Visit us at "The Maddog Chronicles" or Insane Diesel .com
I work with Richard "Maddog" Madsen, who holds the record for fastest street-legal truck in America. Probably the world. And I'm thinking; This might have military application...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A note for my friends

What a trip. I left Baghdad Friday night at 6pm (finally) and arrived in San Diego 9pm Saturday night, which is actually 8am Sunday morning in Iraq. Bottom line? 38 hours of flying travel. Yech!

But at least I met some very nice and interesting people on the way.

I thank you for ALL your kind wishes and prayers combined with mine! I was delayed 24hrs by a sandstorm. The next day the airspace in Baghad was shut down right before we were going to board (bored?), but a window opened and we were cleared in the last hour or two before recall. In Paris (lay-over) I had to run around the whole airport and get several glitches in the ticket-swap ironed out, but it all worked out.

It's good to be home.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

What Powers that Be?

So, did you see that sandstorm today? That is why I am still in Baghdad. To see a picture of it in Kirkuk, from whence I just came, visit my friend Tamee’s Blog: Link

As a result, I was grounded and will miss my planned flight to the US. I am seeing if I can catch another tomorrow. But sometimes, good things happen when you miss something you thought was important.

Take this video. I have not had a chance to see it until this day that I missed my flight because I had the right tools and time to do so. I highly recommend you watch it. It is from Al-Jazeera TV, a fine Arab-American Psychologist woman who has some serious questions for terrorists! You will need high speed internet access. Try it by clicking here: Muslims and then click on "View Clip." WOW.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

memorial Posted by Picasa

I can't believe this (another story)

So I’m down to my last hour and a half of work. It’s been a slow final two days. I am ready to wrap it up. Now, it has been said that I am over the hill, but there is still plenty of kid left in me. So as a last memorial, I decide to wrap my old beat-up work boots over the telephone wire in front of the shop. A silly, single, solitary legacy.

Well, I’m in the squat position about to launch them eternally upwards in the waning twilight when the boss pulls up in his truck. With a few more guys. Too late! My mind is made up. Up they go, a perfect shot the first try. I sheepishly slink back into the shop to avoid a direct confrontation.

When here come ALL the “bosses”, foremen, supervisor, all the way up to the company’s site manager! Guess what? They have a surprise for me! Yes, just after my final monumental demonstration of boot-throwing professionalism!

Well, I am not done being embarrassed. All the employees from both shops are called in and I am called to the front. Words like these from TWO certificates of recognition are read (one from my company and one from the military)

Ernest L. etc etc….Is to be commended and recognized for his performance of duties as a MWO Master Mechanic for the period (blah blah blah) Mr. L. was instrumental in assisting the 426BSB, 101st ABN and the LSI/EG&G contract maintenance team at C-7 Kirkuk achieve their goals through dedication, professionalism, and a positive attitude. Mr. L. was an enormous asset to the MWO/AOA operation and is a great credit to himself, LSI/EG&G, and the US Army.

“Instrumental?”

“Enormous asset?”

“POSITIVE ATTITUDE?”

WHO IS THIS IMPOSTER??? And all this signed by the Command Sergeant-Major, the Lt.-Colonel Commander, my Regional Operations Manager, and the Site Manager!

SHEESH! How embarrassing! Although, I did try to be some of that good stuff. All I remember is giving it a good shot. But there were times, like the time I was reminded in front of the cutest soldier that I was a Master Mechanic by the boss, I discovered a whole new attitude. When the other guys would struggle with something or put the windshield wipers on upside-down, I would say something like, “Step back and learn from the Master!” At least the “attitude” part is right.

Well, I am flattered. I don’t remember anyone else being sent off like this nor honored in such a manner. I want to know which one of you sent in what was obviously a huge bribe. C’mon, ‘fess up. I still can’t believe this.

And somewhere, there is a lesson in all of this...
awarded Posted by Picasa

I've seen how to accept these on TV
incredulous Posted by Picasa

what do you say when this happens?
good-bye Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 06, 2006

born ready Posted by Picasa

The bad guys really wound up here for awhile and we actually had to hit the bunker a couple of times in the last month. Just like old times. No one usually gets hurt on those but, like in the picture, we are trained "young" to take precautions. Our boys (and girls) quickly adjusted and got things under control.

Hate to burst another media fable already, but it seems the Iraqis are pretty upset about the mile-long waiting lines at gas stations because there isn't enough of the stuff being pumped out of the ground. Some local officials complained the American forces weren't protecting the oil pipelines. It seems the Americans said something to the effect, "We're here to train your police and army, etc. You want to pump oil, YOU guard it." The bad guys have successfully targeted two other main oil sites in Iraq and Kirkuk's is now under assault. So far it has been fairly well defended.

Al-Qaeda is desperately making another flailing stab in ways like these in hopes of creating chaos, the only environment where they can hope for control. Unfortunately, even their bombing of the mosques lately in hopes of starting a schism between cultures here resulted in greater unity between them. Sorry, no civil war. (ever notice how pessimists are almost always wrong?) And as I stated before, progress here continues unabated.
tropical paradise Posted by Picasa

Isn't it lovely here in Spring? The fun part is we build our offices into some of these old bunkers. Pretty cool, eh? Yes it is. And there is plenty of parking for your favorite war vehicle.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Still Going

I can’t believe I am leaving this place. I have been “granted” (read “told’) to stay 2 extra days but that’s ok, I keep hearing the coolest things. Unfortunately for you, many times I have to be vague so as not to give away information that could be used to harm us or the Iraqis. But I will attempt what I can.

One of my fav soldiers told me today how he was distracted by a phone call right when the biggest explosion took place of which he ever was a witness. Otherwise, I would have a film of it! It was a cache of rockets that the Demolition squad was disposing of that my friend’s group had found.

But here is the interesting part. In his group is a Russian-American. Some of the missiles were Russian-made. When asked to tell what was written on them, the Russian translated the word as a term that could mean “chemical” or “medical.” The boys blowing the stuff up didn’t care but he and his buddies quickly brought their gas masks to bear!

Then there was that huge windstorm here a few weeks back, remember? I mean huge. We had TV satellite dishes down everywhere. 20 miles from here (again, due to vagueness, I won’t even tell you which direction) the boys found the sand had blown off and exposed some huge cement barriers. Underneath, Special Forces apparently found barrels of chemicals.

It makes sense when you consider Kirkuk is where the Kurds are and that is whom Saddam loved to WMD. Interesting, eh? But in truth, it is irrelevant to our purpose here. So are these neighborhood rumbles in a few key locations that are supposed to indicate a looming civil war.

Because each day, the government here gets stronger and more organized. Each day, American forces train IPs (Iraqi Police) better. Each day, bomb caches are found and destroyed. Each day criminals and insurgents (often the same) are neutralized and information gained. Each day infrastructure is built and improved. Relentlessly American and Iraqi forces move this country further along in democracy and civilization. Nothing can stop the progress. I will miss being abreast of it all.
bomb resistant? Posted by Picasa

Efforts are constantly underway to bring equipment and technology to bear on whatever the enemies of America come up with. It's amazing how quickly it is designed and deployed sometimes. Sometimes, I said! But here is a multiple-purpose vehicle, including a buffalo-thick-skinned metal body that will survive most IED blasts.
the cutest soldier Posted by Picasa

albeit shy...You would not believe the sweet little things we send to war. This fine soldier has an MOS as a mechanic, likes camping, playing sports, and knives. Now what guy wouldn't appreciate that??? It happened to be her birthday and my goal was to see her happy and laugh. I think I succeeded. (We already got her crew lots of new armor)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Laments

You know there has been an increase of bombing, specifically the common road bomb or IED here in the Kirkuk area. It seems that the cultural tensions successfully repressed by Saddam and his reign of absolute terror are now finding freedom for expression. Anyway, it breaks my heart to see both young men and older family men and even young beautiful soldier-ettes, like one who worked with us recently, so affected by this type of warfare.

Some boys came in today and their sole duty is to drive 20mph looking for these IED bombs, always wondering how bad it will be should they miss one. Each day the same thing. Can you imagine how insane that would be? And there is usually no one to finger and fight back at. They hold up extremely well under these circumstances and the value of your prayers for them cannot be overstated.

Other soldiers will have to cruise the bad parts of a town, always keeping aware out of the corner of their eye, and then on another day have to be sweet and hospitable for a meeting with local officials or a visit to a school or orphanage. The switching back and forth between killer and kinder mentalities is also very hard on our forces. Again, my job as mechanic is part “shrink” as I listen to their stories and meagerly attempt to empathize with them. They are my heroes.

And although this all may seem distressing, and it is, this does not shake my knowledge and faith that we will succeed in teaching Iraqis to be different; to learn not to settle everything by the gun or bomb, and to not just exploit freedom, but to value it. And as that happens, some will wonder how it finally did. I think even the soldiers often don’t understand either how astounding their collective examples, actions, and restraint will profoundly alter the historical volatility of the Middle East and change the future for the better for a whole race of people.

And it is hard for me to “give up” my little portion and influence here on their behalf, especially when armor has never been more important in the peace process and their protection. Yet, I feel it is the right thing for me to do now. The Lord only knows why.
a "soldier-ette" Posted by Picasa
Special Posted by Picasa

The work of Special Forces has really been stepped up over here. They require custum armor for their unique needs and methods. Where normally we are not allowed to alter armor, this is one such vehicle where I helped install some "creative" armor work.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sunset Rising Posted by Picasa

Sunset this week. And isn't it true, that when the sun is setting, it is also rising somewhere else?

The Sun sets on my career

I can't believe my career in Iraq is drawing to a close. I have come to admire, respect, and love, yes, LOVE the American forces. They are everything I had hoped they would be and more. It has been an honor to live and work amongst them while they faithfully fulfill their duties to God, country, and their fellowman. From the basic infantryman up through the ranks and yes, even to our Chief Commander, we are in good shape. And so are the people of Iraq. Can you imagine them being in better hands?

I understand how imbedded reporters move from skeptics to fans, much to the horror of their compatriots. I understand why children swarm to meet soldiers. I understand why they are both feared and revered everywhere in the world. They come in all kinds, from conservative and quiet to wild and crazy heathens. But seemingly rooted in their cells is honor, duty, and the spirit of freedom. That is why even the most basic soldier can be sent out to do anything from fight to lead to direct to train the people of Iraq. By virtue of being born into liberty, we by instinct know what is foreign to Iraqis and teach them how to become a thriving democracy.

As for me, I gave my 30-days notice a few weeks back. (I am on month-to-month contract now that my initial year contract was fulfilled) When I leave here March 6th, I will have worked here 18 months. I have loved it. I have learned so much. It has been blessing after blessing. It is a sorrow/joy thing to leave. Sad that this chapter in my experiences is closing, glad to hob-knob among loved friends and family again. And the beach and snowboarding won't hurt either. Glad to look to see what the next chapter in my life will hold.

I hope to return, but for now, I can't believe my time here is done. I want to thank all of you for being interested in my stories and pictures, for sharing your thoughts and prayers, and for passing some good news along to others and back to me. It has meant so much to me! Wow, just hate to see it end. I will post a few more stories and photos if I can, but maybe check back every couple of months for a link to "Return to Iraq" or some such future blog? Talk to you soon...
windshield work Posted by Picasa

Good-bye windshield work, armor work. I'm going to miss like crazy putting the vehicles back together for the soldiers after they "git blowed up." Yup, most of the soldiers that go outside the wire have been hit several times. We send them back out with new armor and a prayer.
Good-bye to my shop Posted by Picasa

Good-bye shop. I labored to build windows, shelves, internet, and more in here. And all the cool things that went in and out. And I heard the final battle for the Kirkuk air-base took place between our building and the next, it is good-bye to significant place and history. There are still huge pock-marks in the cement wall from all the shrapnel.
chopper in sunset Posted by Picasa

Good-bye good guys flying over all the time, protecting us. I will miss all the machines and watch-tools of liberty and the power and purpose they represent.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Recognized for Valor Posted by Picasa

I just mentioned how this band of brothers look out for each other and low and behold, I come across an awards ceremony this sunny Sunday afternoon. Each of these soldiers had an award pinned on for rescuing their brothers-in-arms under fire or similar meritorious acts.
allies attend Posted by Picasa

American forces and their local counterparts and allies build a close relationship and attend joint ceremonies like this presentation of awards Sunday.
protected Posted by Picasa

soldiers examine a fragment of a bullet meant for them. Standing outside their vehicle, this projectile from a sniper passed between them and lodged in the armor, which we replaced afterwards. They stared at it for quite a while.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Best

Perhaps I am now finding out why Bastogne, the 101st, is so highly regarded. There has been an increase in road and car bombs in Kirkuk over the last several months. Today, I found out why. The Idaho National Guard crew that was here got along very well with the people and did a lot of training, building, and built some solid relationships of trust here. But the 101st group here has brought in many times more perpetrators on the "blacklist" than the last crew, and it is very difficult to do. This is not a nebulous list of suspects, it is a careful rendering of known bombers and anti-freedom fighters. In retaliation for bringing so many of them in, they propagate more attacks on Americans and Iraqi security forces.

But this helps them little. While their attacks change nothing about the progress in Iraq, it increases their exposure to capture and elimination and many are. Much information is gained from them and they are being rounded up or taken out by snipers in increasing numbers. Bastogne is here taking care of business while Iraq continues to improve.

The bombers are very ingenious, and although so many attacks are prevented by American technology (they have the coolest toys) the Iraqi insurgents are quick to react, adjust, learn, and change. I imagine this same intensity and ability Iraqis have will benefit them in their own future. I would not be surprised if they set a whole new standard of development and achievement in the next few decades for the Middle-East. On my most recent return to Iraq, I saw at the airport for the first time Iraqi Airways jets back in service. The changes are coming quickly.

And it is the outstanding commitment of soldiers like that of the 101st that will help propel this process forward.