Friday, December 31, 2004

You Should Know

This is a file of news that you really ought to know. For those of you who have confessed you want to hear the good news and for those of you who would like to also but just haven't said, please go to this link!

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,142872,00.html

Go soon, before it expires!

Thanks,
Ernie

Curiosity Did It

Today we baptized one Carrasco. It was a humble little gathering at the pool here. The water was cold but fairly clear considering all the dust that flies around here. The ordinance was performed by the one I call Nephi. Carrasco is being transferred along with some of the other soldiers to another base and so the priesthood was bestowed on him this soon as well. Carrasco used to be a youth minister in his “previous life” and wants to be a further light for Christ in his new church. I was honored to be there and participate. He was set apart in a little grove of trees.

In other news, Ratchet the loveable cat has unfortunately gone on to the Great Garage in the Sky. Yes, sadly he was hit by a vehicle Thursday. In his teenage cat years he had been venturing further and further out of the garage this last week. Finding out what was on the other side of the road turned out to be his doom. He is resting beneath a cross in the backyard and soldiers are showing up to copy pictures and movies of him, of which I have many. Interesting that the phenomena of his gift was taken so soon; I like to think he might have gone to comfort the Tsunami victims in Heaven since he did that so well here. Condolences to the rest of you who have become a bit attached to him too, he had a place in our hearts.

Finally we got some boom-booms lobbed in here again. I wonder if some of the bad-boys from Mosul might have made their way over here since the heat has been turned up on them over there.
Good news: The insurgents tried several attacks, 3 on the police station in Mosul, all of which were successfully repelled by the Iraqis, who stayed and fought instead of running this time. That is good news. They are changing their tactics again and the last one failed miserably too. They made a 3-wave attack at a check point coordinated with car bombs in groups of 12 or 13 insurgents. 25 were apprehended and my guess is the rest weren’t so lucky. I really wish you could listen to the news on Freedom Radio over here, we are getting good reports. It seems the training given to the local Iraqi forces is paying off. The Kurds specifically are especially effective with their special-forces training, I’ve told you of their enthusiasm.

Following are the pics of baptism:
Pic A is a soldier whose middle name is Nephi, and Carrasco. Our recent and the new group leaders look on. I’m sure what you have is acceptable if white is not available.
Pic B is right before the opening prayer--ever see guns at a baptism? Most of the men neglected to remove their helmets….at first.
Pic C Carrasco and friends in the grove by the pool where he was set apart and received the priesthood.
Pic D, most of the group that was able to stay and finally a pic with the “photographer.” Carrasco is right behind me smiling.
I’ve met some youth ministers before and I’ve always liked them. They are souls who really care about helping others, going a step further than perhaps regular church-goers. Carrasco remarked that of most he hopes his family will come around to find what he has. I hope that as well. This could very well be the first LDS baptism in Kirkuk and we may have another soon, a female interpreter I mentioned earlier. We are blessed.
Ernie out.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Larry King Live with President Hinckley transcript

For those who didn't get to see Larry King Live on Sunday, December 26, here is the link to the transcript:

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0412/26/lkl.01.html

Tough Guys and Ratchet

They just stop by, not even needing work many times. They pretend to be friendly, uh-huh, but it comes out pretty quickly:

"Where's the cat?"

This group of soldiers had one particularly large member. He was smitten by the kitten, you could say. In-between the two pictures of the cat and him, he kissed the kitty. Yes, I held the camera in disbelief. They come for the love. Hope you find this as amusing as myself.

As far as work, AoA has become so popular and we are getting all the parts we need now and so we don't even do engines and transmissions or any other repairs any more, just armor. I see more and more vehicles come in hit by IED's and the cool thing is: they DROVE back in with everyone intact! The armor makes a difference.

Sometimes I have particular fun in this crude environment. Where it normally takes a little patience with a pry-bar and hammer, I open the crates quickly with a sledgehammer. I grind and punch out old bolts instead of toiling with a wrench, spit dust out on the floor, and use the large cardboard pieces as Frisbees or boomerangs. I jump onto and off of the vehicles to grab power tools. When I want the guy's attention, I grunt or just nod. It's great.

Oh sure, there will be a time for manners and social frilliness--all in good time. It's just fun to be a boy and not be socially impugned for awhile. In fact, the guys give me due respect (or even seem a little frightened) cuz I'm a tough guy in my own mind. So are they in theirs. But don't worry, when we return home, they to their wives and children, we will act like we were docile Mr. Manners the whole time. And if we ever see each other again, we will wink and smile when the wives ask...
Who wrote this letter, anyway? Surely not...

Ernie

P.S. Check this out--read it on Foxnews.com:

Christmas Past:
And just to make clear how much things have changed, an e-mail from a viewer pointed to FDR's Christmas message in 1944. Roosevelt began by saying it wasn't easy to say Merry Christmas in a time of war, "Nor can I say Merry Christmas lightly," he continued, "to our armed forces at their battle stations..."

Then he said, "Here, at home, we will celebrate this Christmas Day in our traditional American way because of its deep spiritual meaning to us; because the teachings of Christ are fundamental in our lives; and because we want our youngest generation to grow up knowing the significance of this tradition and the story of the coming of the immortal Prince of Peace and Good Will."

Oh, how times have changed.
interesting, eh?

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Monday, December 27, 2004

New Group

Here we go again

OK, a new military group, a new address. That is how this military works. So the Hawaiian group that we’ve been supporting has been replaced by this group from Idaho and they get to pick a new base name (probably won’t be Camp Warrior anymore) and new zip code. So, my new address is:

Ernest
KBR/LSI
Camp Warrior
APO AE 09359

Effective immediately! I will repeat it for a while. Thanks for all the lovely emails and packages so far!

Pic of the front of our shop attached

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Saturday, December 25, 2004

Stocking Stuffers

Hope you are having a very Merry Christmas! I am having a good time in Iraq, if not a time of luxury! (Contrary to my sister’s sentiments) I feel it a privilege and opportunity to be here--what a great experience! For Christmas we sent two (armored) boxes to the military and an armored windshield. Then the boys played a garage version of baseball with a slender wooden plank and a duck-tape ball while I studied and wrote my Sunday talk on the Birth of Christ. There is a steady rain and temperatures up around 45 or 50 (cold spell is over).

Christmas is just about over here, sort-of. Tomorrow after church I think the Mormons are going to hang out and sing some carols and watch a movie. They’re mostly from Idaho and Hawaii so I think the chances of there being food are pretty good. I’ll have to check it out, even though traversing through the mud is challenging if you don’t want to go to the laundry and shower right after. It has pretty much been raining steadily for 24 hours.

So here is a pic of "Ed" installing shields for the turrets and of the AoA (Add-on Armor) sign I made for the outside of the shop, before it was hung out there. Styro-foam, a little paint, and wham-0 we hung out a tile. Business is good.
Ernie

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Friday, December 24, 2004

'Twas the Night Before...

So, it turned out to be an inside job in Mosul, that explains the accuracy and effectiveness. Sure enough, when we went to lunch there were guards at the doors and even a bomb-sniffing dog. He was cute. Things were a bit lax lately and sure enough, the terrorists found a new way. Good news is, now the method is known and will be much better guarded against.

Our Add-on Armor (AoA) shop has become more popular, as you can imagine. We had been putting on mostly upgraded windshields and doors, and a few turrets. Now we are doing a lot of box-kits for the rear bed where soldiers often ride and many more turrets, among other things. I even designed a sign for the shop so it has more than a number out front.

Our shop is popular for more reasons. Once again, kitty Ratchet is “in the news.” The strangest thing happens to these rifle-toting soldiers when they see the cat. They bend over, pick him up, scratch behind his ears, and….stay that way. They love it. They just hold the kitty. Sometimes Ratchet is obliging, sometimes he gets antsy if there isn’t food involved or would rather swat at their bootlaces. But there is some kind of hole filled by a soft, warm, fuzzy thing. I think it has a psychological effect almost as calming as getting your vehicle armored up! Whatever we can do to help the client!

We turned this bullet-ridden warehouse full of garbage into a slightly fixed-up warehouse with a few little tools to a shop that is the envy of the army. (They want it now) (But they can’t have it) (and they usually get what they want) I’ve even ordered tools from Sears and had them shipped here so we could be more productive. In back, damaged vehicles are parked for parts. And we have this break-room with heat, food, fridge, TV, and cots. Soldiers will sometimes sneak away and come rest in there. Paint is peeling off the walls and dust gets everywhere, but it’s almost as good as having an indoor bathroom, as far as luxury over here goes.

Well, perhaps I’ve taken a little pride in our fledgling shop, but I think we all do a better job when we feel better about what we have to offer. The guys have done a (literally) bang-up job of fixing the place up and I think our leader was a bit inspired and passed it on to us. We had no place and little work waiting for us when we got here and it looked like our group might be dispersed. But Nick bartered for this neglected warehouse and finagled some tools and held on with his fingernails. Now his vision is paying off--he built it, and they came! It really works! If you do quality, demand for it will increase. And then fate stepped in with the news frenzy about armor. Is there a connection….?

I’m blessed to be in Kirkuk with a good crew and it really is also one of the safest bases in Iraq. Now it is Christmas Eve here, and I will celebrate simply by…..pressing SEND.

Merry Christmas!

Ernie

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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Very Sad

What a sad day. My heart broke for the fallen and wounded in Mosul. I don’t know why I feel a connection to those involved in this bombing today of the dining facility. Perhaps because I know what it’s like to be in one of those and hear the bombs fly over. Even though the casualties in this war have been statistically unusually low, for which I am very grateful, 24 or so dead and almost 3 times as many wounded is still very terrible.

In the Dining Facility troops, contractors like myself, the local help, and others that serve from other countries all come together. I can tell you there is politeness and “thank-you”s and door-holding, and smiles even when spoken language is a barrier. It’s a resting and “safe” feeling place. Now I’ve been here 3 months and all the bombs coming over the wire have been quite random and usually useless. But this time 3 hit the right place at the right time. That is way too much for coincidence, there had to be some inside information. Mosul suddenly picked up some real bad guys lately and it looks like they finally got through.

Today we pulled the doors off a HumVee that had survived a car-bomb. The car apparently was parked and as the HumVee went by it was set off. The HumVee had the Add-On-Armor doors and I’m proud to say they did the trick. No one was even hurt even though the thing caught on fire except for the driver who in his haste to get out of the burning vehicle was hit by traffic and received a broken leg. But otherwise everyone survived quite well. If you can see in the picture, the sand-colored doors are pocked by shrapnel. But the holes are only found in the original green auto-body parts. This drove home to me again how significant our work at AOA is to help put this armor on. We do as much as we can so we took these doors to add-on to another HumVee for which there was not enough up-armor parts. Obviously, they work!

I also got to talk very briefly with some Kurds from the East (which seems like the North from here). They were dressed in black, driving Toyota SuV’s and we smiled and shook hands. They told me they were working with Special Forces and the younger enthusiastic ones seemed quite proud and wanted to communicate. But I had to talk through the older interpreter. When they told me they were in an Hour and a half from the East, I asked him if there were large mountains with snow there, because none of my co-workers believed they were there when I told them I saw Huge Mountains covered with snow on Sunday. I’ve only seen hills before and haven’t seen them since but the interpreter smiled and said, to my laughing dis-belief, “yes, very good for snowboarding” and something to the effect that I should come. I needed no encouraging! All I needed, I thought, was a helicopter to drop me off at the top and a coffin to pick me up at the bottom. Yes, there will be no snowboarding for me outside the wire. But it was fun to talk to those men and it was as if he read my mind. So they know about snow-boarding in Iraq! I got a good feeling from them and thought that we do indeed have friends here.

Anyway, this is quite sobering before Christmas but I ask again for your prayers for those families and wounded involved at Mosul. There lot to bear for Christmas will be unfairly heavy. Again I will tell you that prayers work and many many miracles have kept the casualties relatively low, but the cost is always too high even at a minimum. But I know for a fact that prayer saves lives, and those that are taken are taken home to God in wisdom for His purposes. Thanks for your ear, Ernie out.

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Sunday, December 19, 2004

Like That One Movie

Anyway, the temperature, according to a weather station near here, just hit 1. That's one degree F. At night, in my imitation wood-panel room, I pretend that I am at a ski-resort and that the heater is a fire-place and I get really happy.

I'm just realized I wish I had my Christmas music CDs, especially since Christmas is becoming more illegal every year. The Evil One must be salivating.

Other than that, everyday seems like Groundhog day. Alarm goes off. Go out in the cold dark and get on the bus. Wait for the guy who is always late. Go to the shop. Wait for the heater to make it possible to work. Work. Go home. That’s it. That’s all there is! Even having some professional wrestlers come here and put on a show failed to generate sufficient variety to break up my perpetual replay every day. I do regret missing Donald Rumsfeld. He drove by the shop one Sunday on his tour of the base, Sunday is when I miss work. But that was about two months ago. I could have told you then but I would have had to ....Just kidding.

But there are changes. The lunch-line is longer! The arriving activated National Guard may double or triple the activity on the base. The resident Army moved out of their places and into tents to make room for the new crew. It feels like we may become noticeable, no longer tucked away in insignificance in Northern Iraq.

Then there is all the media attention about up-armored vehicles. Well, that’s what we do, up-armor the older vehicles to match the new ones, so we may get more work after all. They are recruiting new supervisors already, I’m working under the vehicles trying not to be noticed: I hate paperwork.

Also, we have spent very little time in the bunkers lately, I think I noticed an increase in patrols, especially at night. The military takes very good care of us. All of us.

Also, this is Sunday, a day of revelation. Here’s the one I got: there’s a huge mountain range off to the East! I never saw it before, even on clear days. But I did today, because those huge mountains were….covered in snow!!! It was amazing! I could have been on the Wasatch Front, the view was so similar, albeit much farther away. Along with the Christmas carols today in church, it seems like Christmas is right around the corner…so Merry Christmas!! Also, a young man that came in with the Idaho group is taking the discussions. Merry Christmas! The Lord works in mysterious ways. I say, Have a great Christmas Holiday!

Ernie

Sunday Extra

Here are some pics:

The first is a view of the new guys. Some don't know where all the ditches are, some walk down the middle of the street--but they do most things right. It looks like they all brought their black goggles too. We had standing room only at church today, what a change! Somehow, I don't think one mess-hall is going to be enough.

Pic 2: they brought so many vehicles--well look! This used to be an empty field but now it is a parking lot. See the lovely chilled moisture hanging in the air?

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Sundat 12-12

We can talk about……the weather, but first: I guess this email didn't get out last week. I'm sorry to those of you who thought I might be dead. Not yet, please don't worry.

Now, I tried to optimistic about “the situation” over here but the rebels are truly getting totally desperate to stop the elections. You may recall the Afghanistan elections went off successfully and the country is free now, so we can still have hope that things will go reasonably well. You may also have seen the email that has been going around sometime now of the first baptism over there. So the heat is really being turned up here, I am sorry to say.

The terrorists are now going with VBIEDs or Vehicle-Bourne Improvised Explosive Devices, or what you and I would call car bombs. This involves of course a suicide driver, but somehow I think they will come up with enough of those. As a result, we have quite a few more seriously wounded soldiers here in Kirkuk than in a long time. One soldier that just came back from seeing his newborn was killed last week by an IED. Very sad and a time for mourning and prayer.

Just as Kuwait and Afghanistan became free though, just as surely the U.S. will succeed here as well. But it looks like it certainly won’t be a smooth experience, but no less necessary. In the Stars and Stripes paper here though we are reading the successes of clean-up operations and also how the drivers are becoming so familiar with the roads that they drive that they can tell when something is out of place and many IEDs are discovered before they do damage. Some of these truck-drivers have logged 100 to 200 safe trips up and down Iraq. That is amazing. I wish you all could see the news I get over here, it really is better.

Other changes as well at church, a very inspiring meeting today, by the way. We’ve averaged 4 to 7 in attendance and this week we had 14. Next week, almost a hundred. We just found out we’re getting a group from ID and so a member in the Air Force found us a new building to meet in, since the army chapel will not be able to hold us anymore. Fancy that.

Also, there is a translator who started reading the Book of Mormon when she was down by Baghdad. Her member friend there promised she would meet a Mormon when she moved to Kirkuk. Turns out the top guy in her company is a Mormon and she is now being taught by one of our church-group members.

Strange thing about the weather here. It has been beautiful Fall weather but we just got a 12-hour rain and everything is muddy. But, the grass and other green things are really coming up! I guess the Summer is too much for most plants but some things really grow in the cold Fall. Who would guess. It’s really nice looking grass!

What else could possibly happen here?

Ernie

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Change in the Air

I promised you some good news, so let’s see what I can do for you. With the elections over and most political motivations gone the military is really cracking down on the anti-Iraq forces. These forces are changing their tactics to target locals instead of the coalition forces. That is really good news because it obviously means they decide that what they were doing was either futile or not working or both! You won't see this over-published on the news, although it did find mention: the number of attacks and the kill rate has been going down!

Also, the Iraqi’s were a bit nervous before the elections because a change in American leadership might have meant a change over here. So they held on to their information. Now that they see the leadership is not only not going away but is even more committed to their safety, they feel safer about telling where the bad-guys are and we are going and getting them. When they come on base and see us building and willingly doing business with them they see we are here to stay. They also see us building up their schools, repairing and improving water and electricity, and so on. This gives them great confidence in collaboration. And it’s working! The attacks on the base are becoming less effective and far more time inbetween. Recently we got intel of a new attack and…nothing! Nothing happened. The bad-guys are on the run.

Also, recently I read an article in the Stars and Stripes paper here and it was about the effect of the war on faith. It told about some soldiers that are going to church more and a few who feel less inclination to be religious than ever. But it closed with an interview from a young man who said he had always been an agnostic. But he (his vehicle) was hit by a grenade, and IED, a mortar, and a few other things and he said each time he was uninjured. That made him think and he said that there must indeed be something that is protecting himself and others because he should have been injured or killed in each instance.

That just confirms what I have noticed about somany stories I have heard and even experienced. Too many miracles to write it off to good luck or coincidence. Too many instances of protection in dire circumstances. In church others gave testimony that the Hand of God is in this land and in this effort, which I too have felt. Don’t know what it all is exactly, but you can feel much certainty that God is moving some great purpose forward.

So the other night our shop helped some boys get their vehicle armored up--that’s what we do. We put on a few turret armor plates for them and I had a little chat and picture-taking with them. One young man told me how he was a father at age 17 (he’s 22 now) and his rough up-bringing and how he was a competitive photographer at age 8! And how they wish they could talk to their families one more time, just in case. They were all preparing mentally for their mission in the morning. I noticed it was not announced on the news so I better not say more either but they were going to a very dangerous city. Again. Their battalion is the only one that has not suffered a fatality so far and I fasted this Sunday for their continued protection. Their picture, the boys with their toys, is below.

To sum it up, I think the Iraqi’s increased trust in the liberating forces is beginning to form a bond, small as it may be, and they are beginning to hope for enduring freedom and continued protection such that they are helping out more with information on the bad-guys. Who are in turn becoming more desperate, which is causing an increase in attack intensity but is exposing them more and more. Their attacks on their neighbors will also increase the desire among the locals to root them out. The country is beginning to prosper by degrees too, making peace more attractive. And certainly, there is unseen aid and purpose from on High. That is the way I see it, for what it’s worth.

That's it for this email, hope you are excited and enjoying the holidays. Please remember those who are here missing it but for very good purposes! Ever,

Ernie

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