Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Pics, Really!

OK,
pic 1:
Me in my hooch, the chicken coop with 16 stalls and near no privacy! You can see my ever-present hat, my military-style haircut, my green mosquito-netting (didn't use it), my dusty shoes, and worn-out self, among other things. Camp Anaconda
Pic 2:
A hazy sunset at camp Victory North at the Baghdad airport, more or less. See the dust on the ground and in the air. This was a transfer-point on my way to camp Warrior. Yes, that is where I am now.

Living quarters Anaconda Posted by Hello

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Pics, really?

ok! Maybe we're back in business here. If this works you should see the first picture of Bill-American, Masi-from north India, Myself, and Kumar--very genteel, I will spell it so you get the right meaning, from South India. Behind us the trailers into which I would help load mass food items for feeding of the troops. And us.
I am wearing my ever-present cowboy-type straw hat that keeps the sun off. Alas, it is falling apart due to the rough use it received at that site and I will be sad when it goes! That was at camp Anaconda with my "temporary" job.
Second pic! For those of you who have theorized that I am actually vacationing in a hotel in Houston making all of this Iraq stuff up, is a pic of a traffic sign near the Baghdad airport.......................now you may say, he got it off the internet, but do you think a pic this bad would be on the internet? Well, it is now! Anyway, more pics to come.
Ernie

Workers at Anaconda Posted by Hello

Really Here


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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Kirkuk

Flying in, it looked like flat piles of dust. A river runs through it, like every major city in Iraq, it is the source of life. This river is a tributary to the Tigris, don't know the name yet. With rivers in cities come lots of bridges. Can't think of a reason to live here.

Nonetheless, the city has densely packed housing and buildings in many places. The oil industry keeps this place alive. The city limits are eclipsed by the base so it is easier to get a mortar in here now and then but they don't shoot the rockets anymore. The military here is not hindered by an enemy-friendly media like in the more popular Baghdad. If a shell comes from your house here, the army blows it up no questions asked. That really has cut down on the frequency and accuracy of the attacks here. Most of the time I can't even hear them hit, they are so far away.

Go out at night. Orange firelight punctuates the circular horizon like points on a clock as the oil burn-off fires burn 24/7. So the night is never dark. Plus we have now a bright full moon and no clouds ever for the most part so that you can walk around at night without a flashlight it is so bright. During the day black smoke trails line the sky from those same burn-off flames. Dust makes the air almost constantly hazy. It's a hazy crazy place.

It is only my first day at work and things change daily, so I will tell you more about that later! Have a great Tuesday,
Ernie

Monday, September 27, 2004

Here Now

Hello everyone,
I have arrived in Kirkuk, as of a few hours ago. It's a dust bowl here, but I have my own room, air conditioning, mini-fridge, bed, desk, etc. Has a bathroom but water will not be hooked up for a few weeks. Full of dust, cleaning that out now.

We flew in on a turbo-prop plane just like in the old movies. Kinda fun. The worst was the long wait at the new Baghdad Airport, although it is beginning to look very nice, much nicer than when I was in there 3 weeks ago. Things are changing here very rapidly.

Very dusty here, did I mention that? And 110 today, although they say they've had "white Christmas" here last year--yes, that means snow. Or in practical terms, mud. I was assigned "add-on armor" where we put kevlar and air-conditioners on Humvees but the funding ran out and we will probably be doing typical maintenance instead. The people (in charge) are easy-going, I hear, so things should be alright but a bit dusty. Did I mention Hot and Dusty?

Anaconda was nice but living with 16 guys under the same roof in a 8'x6' booth was good to get away from. Did I mention the showers here have hot water?! So nice!! Anaconda only had cold. ok, I'm beat, more later. Give my best to Broadway.
Ernie
P.S. Everywhere I land, the first thing they say to me is, "you're the trouble-maker, aren't you". I don't think anyone has warned them, they just look at me and say that. I don't think it's the cowboy hat and Hollywood sunglasses, or is it? ??

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Friday, September 24, 2004

What I Like

What I like about Iraq: No shopping for food/ food is cooked and prepared for me/ Food is all you can eat/ Food is free/ no phones to answer /no bills /the girls have guns /Don't have to clean my room /If I do, my room is only 6' x 8' /Paid no matter what /Tax breaks /Everyone smiles and waves /church is real short /lots of time to read and meditate /much adventure /haircuts $3 (and it looks like it) >/is done for me (and folded) /someone else drives /exposure to interesting cultures /no alcohol (supposedly) /no billboards or commercials /I'm not the only one without fashion sense /cool war machines are always driving or flying by…and more!

I took pictures with the crew I'm leaving behind, Kumar was sad and said in his India accent, "You are the second one I am missing." I'm not good at good-byes. He believes in the after-life so I said I'd see him again then if not sooner...

This place is always buzzing with the sound of generators, air conditioners and trucks and tanks and helicopters, etc. Never really silent. 24 hours until I fly, got just a little packing to do and what the heck, shave again this week. I ran 4 miles for the first time in 4 weeks, first time in Iraq. A little dusty and warm but no sores from tightening up or anything, it felt good! Ran along the perimeter fence. The soldiers are up in towers watching and I passed Iraqi men and women working their crops right up to the wire, a few bedraggled-looking cows, and a handful of Iraqi kids jumped up and down waved and yelled "Hi!" Yes, it sounded like English to me. They must have learned that from the soldiers?

Well, I don't know how easy my access to the internet will be on the new base but if you don't hear from me for a few days, it does not mean I am dead!!! It's gonna be alright. Oh, one more thing I like about Iraq, no hurricanes! Pray for those guys in Florida...Ernie

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Different Strokes

Howdy!
Think I'll run around today and get pictures before I leave Balad this weekend. A huge convoy of Iraqi police force came through this week and plugged up the roads. They park wherever. It was interesting to see their Russian-made machine-guns mounted on their vehicles. They were very excited to be here and even waved to us civilians and smiled and we waved and smiled back. They were headed out to a combined mission with our boys (and girls).
Another Iraqi gentleman was a truck driver that pulled in on my last day of work here. I will call him Ali Baba. Ali is about 57 years old and wears those long clothes that look like sheets. Yellow ones. And wears a beard. He watched me work the pallet jack to move the crates off his truck and soon wanted to try. He was very excited to learn and for an older fellow gave it the gusto. Ali was soon all smiles as he got better at it and could do it himself. Who says you can't have fun with an Iraqi?
What is funny is to see the people from India and Iraqi nationals communicate. They both talk in their native tongue and seem to understand, probably due to the hand motions. That is largely how we all communicate. We grunt and point and make directional motions with our hands. And whether we understand or not, we say "yes, yes!" and do whatever it was we were going to do anyway. the universal word "NO!" corrects us if we guess wrong. Interestingly enough, there are Chinese working in the laundromat...
Thank you all again for your notes and wishes and prayers even though I cannot always thoroughly (or with good spelling) respond. I continue to enjoy the magnimity of this experience and the financial reward is timely and welcome indeed! I am sad not to see my friends and family for those are amongst life's most rewarding experiences, but I know many generations have had to go through separation for essential causes. It's all good, even though it strains the heart. Best to you all!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Update in Balad

Howdy!

That's how I greet people I meet here. Balad is the name of the place I'm in if you want to find it on a map of Iraq. The American name is Anaconda. Let's see, Greske moved out a week ago and I have slept well since then.

We have not had a Red Alert or a shelling in 4 days now. Eerie. Unreal. I told my near-miss tale to people who have been here forever and they yawned and said you get used to it. So no more worries about that.

I've just about settled into a routine. The weather has become pretty bearable. There is dust everywhere though. It gets everywhere. There is so little "light polution" here that at night you can see the stars so clearly, it's beautiful!

I got my haircut military style. $3 plus I threw in an equal tip. (Don't worry Tiffani, it will grow back)

And finally I got word through the grapevine that my last day/night here will be Saturday. Apparently Kirkuk is ready for me. We will fly out and spend the night in Tikrit, and then hop around until we land at my final destination. I rejoice in variety and although I hear it is pretty nice there, I wonder what it will be like to have permanent work, as it were.

So, pretty much a snoozer here this week for once! My new address will be slightly different.

APO AE 09392

Yup, that's it. If you already sent something, don't worry it will be forwarded...sooner or later. Please start sending all things to the new address. We'll pretend that I will actually get there, although you never know until you go. That is all, for now.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Sunday Funnies

Good Morning!

Today's delightful experience is the MRE, or Meals Ready to Eat. This will be pre-formed in a southern or hillbilly accent. OK. MRE is a bit deceptive ‘cuz when you open this brown plastic package that looks like a brick, all you see is more smaller brown, plastic, square packages.

But here's where the fun begins. You take the main course package, which, in this case, is Beef Enchilada in Sauce, and put it in the green plastic bag. In the green plastic bag there is a little package that looks like it has coffee grounds in it. So you add a few table spoons of water, fold the end of the plastic bag over and slide it in to a cardboard cover. And, as I learned, you put it down fast. In seconds the water begins to boil. Even the cardboard starts to smoke. It's amazing!

OK, while that is going on you explore the other brown plastic squares. We got Spanish Rice! So I tear a corner off and suck out a few cold mouthfuls. Not bad! Probably should have put that in with the heater.

Also, a square of vegetable crackers! Tastes a lot like saltines but more like cardboard. However, if you are hungrily waiting for the enchiladas to cool, they can be quite satisfying.

We now try the main dish. Remove it (carefully!) from the still hot heater bag. Cut it open with a pocket-knife (plastic spoon supplied not adequate) and say, it's pretty good! Mmmmmmm. But use the handy rolled-up napkin provided; the jalapeno cheese sauce will make your nose drip.

There are many convenient condiments in a clear plastic square, including salt, sugar, coffee, breath mints, and a moist towelette. Also, a tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce which makes a good conversational piece.

Time to open another package, this one with lemon-lime drink mix. Poor it into your water bottle, shake and drink for a quick pucker. Otherwise, wait for the sugar to completely dissolve for a thirst-quenching smile! As you can see, it takes some practice to use the MRE correctly.

Finally, open the last package for 2 chocolate-chip cookies! They are crispy and not chewy. Also tasty! My only regret is I failed to have a cup of milk (not provided) nearby. Lemon-lime it is!

So there you have it. It takes a little effort, but really tastes better than most fast food. Be careful when you throw the used bags away, that darn green bag is STILL hot! Amazing!

Ernie

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Kumar

One day they are dropping bombs on your head over here and next day you get served Lobster tails, mmmmmm! It's a strange world after all. Speaking of which, today I had more chats with Kumar, my friend from India. What a different world! His India employment company told him they would pay him $600/month but they only pay him $340/month. These guys do a 14-hour day 7 days a week. That comes to less than $1 an hour!!!

But things are cheap in India. His parents live with his wife and 2 boys and their monthly expenses come to $133 for food and education, etc. That means he saves $220/month or so toward his goal of 1 million Rubees--he'll be able to retire in about 9 years if he continues to work like this. His wife works as a "housekeeper" (I think that means "homemaker") and therefore makes no money. He has an arranged marriage and firmly believes it is a good idea. Divorce is not allowed by the government unless you have a very good reason and no one ever does.

Kumar thinks that is a great idea too. Males must marry between ages 25 and 30 and females between ages 18 and 22 or the government won't give you a license. He thinks Americans will do anything for money. But we are both over here.... He says the purpose of life is to be surrounded by family and enjoy that. Whenever he needs to be happy, he thinks of his family at home. All his brothers and sisters and their spouses some to visit every week. So I don't think of Kumar as poor, in fact, he is doing very well. But it goes to show you what a strange world this is.

For example, one of my bags was not delivered. It had all my NBC (nuclear/biological/chemical) gear in it. However, I took some out and replaced it with my skateboard, binoculars, leatherman, and, well, several pairs of dirty underwear. Needless to say, I am short in the shorts, if you know what I mean. I miss the other stuff too, but nothing REALLY important was lost, and the gas mask and helmet I put in my other bags are still with me. So that's the latest from Ernie, reporting from Iraq. Have a lovely evening this morning... Ernie

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Watch Out

Hello Americans! So I spend my days at the DFAC 1 where we eat, that is, we feed the soldiers and all. In the kitchen and around the back where we load and store the food I work with a bunch of people from India and Pakistan. They wear white shirts with aprons and black pants and little black bowties. Along with cooking, they can be seen warmly hugging each other, sitting on each others laps, and so forth. I don't know if they are gay or just really happy. Iraqi men kiss each cheek and are known to hold hands in public while waiting for things. A little different than we USA-ers, don't you think?

One of my duties is picking up a little trash now and then. That gives me an opportunity to examine the dirt. I noticed this cute little delicate fern-type plant growing here and there and I marveled at the tender fern-types ability to stay gentle in this harsh environment and I reached down to remove some trash from around it when BANGO, it got me!! It grows these little super thorny but colored the same as the sand so you don't see it. A lesson from the wilderness.

Well last night was a thriller when 2 mortars landed 50 or 60 feet from the bus I was in, just about back to my hooch. I was in disbelief....that close to being blown up!??! Such is the life over here.

The mortars are small in range and damage and very hard to aim if at all but those confounded terrorists try them every day. Just to put it in perspective, a year or so ago someone ran the red light just as I was leaving my neighborhood and slammed into me going 50 miles per hour or so. Her engine hit my engine and both cars were totaled. If she had hit me 4 feet over her bumper and engine would have hit the drivers door and probably have taken me out. That is the third time someone ran a stop signal and hurt me in my life! So that was closer than the mortar... I have supreme confidence in the Good Lord and that He won't let me go before my time and it doesn't matter where I am I will not escape.

I thank you for all of your prayers and ask you not to worry too much! My Father blessed me to have faith and fear not and I believe! Be safe in America, and watch out for cute little fern-type plants... Ernie out!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Tonight was the Night

I hesitate to send this...I have to think about it. Don't read this if you are afraid of reality.... Well folks, tonight was a doosy. Hard day of work, temperatures lately have been a cool 100 during the heat of the day, Fall is here. Worn out from work and wearing the heavy flack gear, I was headed to the hooch--have to catch two buses. The second one, it had gotten dark and we were in the last quarter mile when "BOOM!" It sounded like the rear tire of the bus had blown out!

But I was in the aisle on my knees looking out. Everyone else was in the window when "BOOM!" this time we saw it, the mortar hit 50 feet away, I am not kidding you. Everyone was still at the window. I was low, waiting for the glass to break but no shrapnel hit the window or the bus as far as I could tell. The bus driver exceeded the speed limit and had already left the road we were to take, and that is where the second one had hit so it doesn't get much closer than that. Well, that was very interesting and a bit sobering.

I tried to get back and take some pictures after the all-clear had sounded but a truck's diesel tank has taken a hole and leaked out a lot of fuel. The potential for disaster was amazing. I don't hesitate to say that all your prayers have paid off, I would say. I received a blessing before I went and it was repeated to me over and over "fear not" and "have faith." That doesn't mean a bomb won't fall on my head, it just means I'm not to fear what ever does or may happen. 50 feet away, that is close!!

Monday, September 13, 2004

Sunday/Monday

Howdy! Sunday was great, ah, a day of rest! Found the Mormons meeting in a air/conditioned tent, about 15 or 20 of us, one female. We had SS and Sacrament meeting. I like a two-hour meeting! And of course, I am giving a talk next week. On Agency, I preadventure. It's too small to be a branch so it's a "group." Group leader Moore presided. I dug it.

Then off to a "Gospel" congregation that meets at the theater. Large group, typical black southern style with a band and lots of hand-holding and head-shakin'. I dug it. We hug and say "God bless you!" The message was the story of Daniel, very well done, very well done. Again I think, the Lord has some great people over here and America is full of believers and those who are going in the right direction. There was one white-guy with no rhythm. It wasn't me. Then came the "Delta" Alert. Never had one of those before, first in my companies history. Still don't know what it means except that we are very restricted. Saddam's trial begins today and schmuck is flying. Saw a tank whippin' thru here for the first time and heavier than usual air activity. We are not allowed to work anymore but still get lots of stand-by pay; wish I had gotten more things to read!

Also got a case of hay-fever, I think. I was fine for a week but that dust storm yesterday and after all, it's desert palm pollination season, so I hear. But I gots some medication and my nose should stop running any minute now. So for now we hunker down and be bored--fortunately, they opened back up internet privileges. hence, this note. Thanks again for all of yours, I enjoy little tidbits now and then of what's up for you. Thanks! Ernie
Anaconda Mormons and their church-tent Posted by Hello

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Day after 9/11

Hi y'all (seems like everyone is from the South here) Well, it's Sunday here in the am. Yesterday was an important date and apparently the terrorists remember pretty darn well. We had a total of 4 Red alerts (incoming) after averaging about one a day previously. Spent a lot of time in the bunker. As far as I know, there was one wounded but no loss of life in the attacks.

Mercifully, the weather has been so cool the last four days!!! Hitting a high of only about 105 during the day, the evenings are warm but nice with a cool breeze blowing and the mornings are downright shirt weather!! It has been very nice-a cool breeze instead of an oven blast of air. Found out yesterday in a special meeting that half of our 10 will be flying to Tikrit for some AOA (add on armor) training. After two weeks, we will meet in Kirkuk and pair up so that those trained train the untrained. We add armor and air conditioning and bigger alternators to keep up with the greater power requirements. When we get there in about three weeks we may at first be in tents but the buildings for us are very near being done so that should be indoors quickly. However, everything is always taken with a grain of salt, when it happens, THEN you believe it.

Meanwhile it's a day off to go find church. So far I found a Catholic meeting and a Baptist meeting. Things may not be the same but maybe it's time to rock-out in church. I had a long talk with Walter the Bus driver, he thanked me for reminding him church was today. Seems everyday is like Monday here. From the bible belt, Louisiana, Walter knew his bible. I think the USA will be in good shape as long as there is a bible belt and people like Walter. I'm still intrigued by the paradox of the coarseness of the language and personalities but how civil and thoughtful everyone is around here. We watch each other's backs and make sure we all get where we need to go and there is a lot of courtesy for each other, the national Iraqis and other nationals that work here. I can't help but think they will be moved by the respect and help represented by the Americans here. Something good is going on....over and out for now, thanks for all your kind letters and efforts on my behalf. It means a lot to me.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Greske

Good Morning!! Today’s word is Greske. Gress-key. Rhymes with Pesky. Anyway, tonight I am awakened by two large explosions that rattle our roof. That's another code Red. Turns out a convoy on the way in about 1am triggered an IED...Improvised Explosive Device. Luckily the convoy and its personnel are unhurt and because the explosion was "outside the wire" we quickly return to code Green.

However, Greske is just getting going. Greske snores like King Kong, bless his heart, he looks like Cro-Magnon man complete with Fred Flintstone-like build and hair like a mini-Black Forest growing ON TOP of the end of his somewhat large nose. He can do it while sitting up in class and we are constantly kicking his chair to relieve our embarrassment. I was just getting over jet-lag and lack of sleep and being less intimidated by the environment when our chicken-coop (the name of our type of trailer-like hooch we reside in that I couldn't remember yesterday) was invaded by a bunch of the other guys. Guess we were the "cool" hooch?

Well, that's when Greske moved in and my dreams were literally shattered this night by his thunderous roar. Bored and unable to sleep, I grabbed a camera, shone a flashlight full on his face and FILMED. Propped up on an arm like he was eating popcorn and watching a movie that wasn't there, he proceeded to hurl forth sounds that I thought would for sure expel parts of his lungs while lurching about to the rhythm of the wheezes. I wish I could get you the video clip!

Meanwhile, I picked up a radio w/headphones that I used to use for jogging and blissfully listened to something that could have been Baghdad Top-40. The oscillating Middle-Eastern chord sounded strangely wonderful as I found peace at last from hurricane-force Greske. Well, out of time for now, stay tuned for the continuing Saga.... Ernest
P.S. Obviously I have way too much time at 5 in the morning....

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

New in Camp Anaconda

A few more seminars this morning for local orientation. The usual; environmental, health (drink lots of water!!!) but the security briefing was very interesting! We are here so the soldiers can stop doing what we'll be doing (maintenance) and go visit their families at home. In other words, we are here to support our client--the army. Incredible people come out here and success depends on working together, not thinking selfishly.
It's a small "town" here about 1000M x 2000M and trouble starts with not thinking about those who are "behind, in front, and the left and on the right." Basically, everything we are taught in church about thinking about others, conservatism in dress, word of wisdom, etc. are in force here. So I'm already well trained. Plus, there is already a lot of comradery, others have been kind and looking out for me, making sure I get info for meetings, supplies, etc. We give tips to each other. They say it will take about a month "to get our groove on"--get used to the place, the drills, heat, etc.
Where we live is called a "hooch". An aluminum box is a "cheese-box' and my trailer is a---dang, I forgot but there are names for everything. The bathroom is, of course, "the head." I am assigned, at this point, to Kirkuk. They are not ready for me for awhile so I will be here in camp Anaconda (vicinity Baghdad) for a few weeks or longer (knowing government efficiency). The preliminary list actually has me on small-arms maintenance, interestingly enough, but nothing's for sure. I wish I could think of away to get pics to you but for now I’ve only words to describe.
Safety is the first concern of my employers and we are protected by the military, safety standards, and there are health support, medical, etc. For example, there are different levels of heat for working, the worst, which is the case most of the day, we work 20 minutes and cool for 10. We wear flack jackets when out-doors and most buildings are protected by bunker-like sand-bags and big cement slabs. Indoors our gear is right next to us. Ok, that's the latest. It's the middle of the day and the stock market isn't even open, actually, you probably just went to bed. later! Ernie
Hangin' at Camp Anaconda Posted by Hello

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Insanity

So I landed at the Baghdad airport after a very brief stay in Dubai, that's in the United Arab Emirates. Resort town/country. Anyway, that was interesting enough. But to be in the Baghdad airport...like we saw on TV during the war, was wild! I have been temporarily positioned in a camp to the north a little ways. Can I just say...WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?!?!

People do die here from time to time, mortar attacks and dehydration. Today it is only 110F, down 10 or so from yesterday. They say you get acclimated in a month. It is SO WILD to be here I can't believe it. To drop us off this jet comes spiraling down instead of the long, slow runs you are used to at the typical airport. Take off is the same, you go ripping up in a spiral...I can't believe how fast you can gain high altitude in a 737, those things rip!!!

I have pictures you won't believe but right now I don't know if I can upload them, stuff you saw on TV during the war and what not all. So I'm in a little cubicle with a tiny cot. there is about 20 of us in a trailer or tent. My 30 minuets on the internet is about up so can I just say again; it is so insane here!!! I kinda like it but so far we are just going through orientation. I was going to bring a lock-box but I never got around to shopping, now they say it is a very good idea. OK, so to sum up: This is so insane!! I can't believe I'm in the Middle East, in Baghdad, I got pics of some of Saddam’s palaces as we were landing. It's a desert.

There is so much going on here and Freedom Radio (.com?) broadcasts reminding us that we are to be on our best behavior and to keep our spirits up because we are the Iraqi liberators and are here on their behalf. That is so cool. There are insane amounts of resources coming here to enable them to set up their own government. Well, gotta wait for the shock to wear off before I can think of anything else. Ta-ta and thank you for your prayers!!! Ernest

Friday, September 03, 2004


Blast Resistant Posted by Hello

NBC Suit, Suite! Posted by Hello

Many Hats Posted by Hello

The Adventure Begins...

Houston, TX: Week long training before departure to Iraq:

Well, we had a full day of very serious NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) training and the serious threats over there. But, it didn't stay serious after I got back to my room.

Well, today is a fun day since the flight was pushed to tomorrow. Pray for my brother and his family instead--he is in Miami and the [Hurricane] wind is beginning to blow! I'm heading downtown Houston tonight for some baseball and fun with the local single saints. Why not? You only live twice.

I'm looking forward to the continued adventure! My biggest fear, really, is when redundancy sets in, same old same old. But maybe the learning will never stop? gotta go, love--Ernie