Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Sweet (but dusty) Taste of Victory

My vacation to Germany was delayed in Baghdad for a day. I went out to see the sights of Camp Victory. The temperature was somewhere between Wacky and Insane (125+/- degrees) during the heat of the day. I toured around the Base earlier in the day when it was a tame 110 F.

As I viewed the beautiful buildings and waterways, I thought what an amazing man, this Saddam. Harnessing this blasting wilderness and the wealth beneath the sands he was able to bring forth such noble works. Just this one man caused all this in the wilderness to bloom.

Too bad he was a sadistic and brutal butcher. If you really want to know, when the soldiers pulled that scruffy rat of his little hole in the ground, they found Iraq’s largest Weapon of Mass Destruction. His tools, the chemicals he destroyed whole villages with and the rape and torture rooms, etc. etc. are now just fodder for museum’s and history’s retellings.

These buildings are now occupied by those who care. Here in Camp Victory you’ll find soldiers from Turkey, Estonia, Australia and other members of the coalition in addition to Americans. They eat at the same tables and shop at the same places. (But if you ask me, no put-down intended, the uniforms of the Estonians look like pajamas with gentle patterns and soft pastel beiges and browns--I thought they just didn’t change when they came to breakfast)

Now compare South Korea to North Korea. Compare the former East Germany to the West. Puerto Rico and Cuba. Where America goes, freedom goes. Where freedom goes, economies thrive and people smile and terror is unwelcome. That’s the night and day difference from the starving, abusive butcheries of communism and dictatorship. America will make that difference in Iraq too. A bold presumption on my part, you might think at this point in time. But history seems to back me up on this. The price is not pleasant, but it makes a world of difference to those rescued. And now everyone can use these nice buildings.
your oil money hard at work here Posted by Hello

The Austrailians have a very nice pool under tower on the left!
Hey, I found Saddam's power boat! Posted by Hello
Mosk at Victory Posted by Hello
hello from Saddam's back yard Posted by Hello

Friday, June 17, 2005

Mini Stories

So the 148th Brigade, B battery, 1st battalion has gone out to hundreds and hundreds of outlying villages. They patrol the areas, they see if the villagers are in need of generators, water supply, medical care, school supplies. North and particularly East of Kirkuk, out to the Iranian border about 6 hours away over mountainous roads they are found scattered everywhere.

In these Kurdish areas Americans are almost exclusively and warmly received as liberators from Saddam. Many of the villagers have never seen an American before the soldiers came through, but due to the gracious nature of the people, a warm rapport is easily born between both parties.

Although the Arabs are more wary or even more antagonistic than the Kurds towards the soldiers, our boys in uniform report that there is no such differentiation with the children. They are all equally beautiful and equally friendly and one surmises again that the true change in Iraq may come in a generation when these kids grow into a freer and more prosperous environment.

The soldiers and children seem equally enamored by each other. Bringing shoes to one group of village children, an older “special needs” teenager found none his size. A soldier, moved by the need dug $10 out of his own pocket in hopes the youth could buy some the next time the family was town. In these villages the soldiers will sometimes safely overnight and move on in the morning, practically free from the worry of harm and given hope by this surprising part of Iraq.

Another time, after a sweep--where they cordon off a city and enter several homes where informants have reported something illegal present--they came across an older woman in need of medical help. She receives it and medical supplies are given to a local clinic that has practically nothing. Any damage to property during the raid is generously reimbursed in American cash.

My brother mentioned that during his stay in Italy, he was warmly received by citizens whose parents and Grandparents had told them of the generosity and kindness of American soldiers to them after World War II. Stories here of connections between Iraqis and us, that, in a way my brother pointed out, will quite possibly be told for generations. Another great Legacy of the American soldier in addition to freedom: Kindness.
water project Posted by Hello
happy school Posted by Hello

Operation School Supplies brings bags of paper, rulers, writing utensils, etc to kids all over Iraq. They love it and the friendly soldiers that come to exchange smiles, handshakes, and thumbs up!
desert girl Posted by Hello
doing the dishes Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Building 610

--Or, No Such Thing as Chance...

So I’m sitting in Church listening to this guy and he sits down. I read his name tag and smiling, I reach over and introduce myself. “Hi Burt, I’m Ernie!” My levity is not equally returned as he notifies me that I may refer to him as CAPTAIN Burt. (I’m an army idiot) Oh, “SORRY SIR YES SIR!” I felt like yelling, except we were still at church. He nonetheless pleasantly agrees to let me “interview” him later in the week at Building 610.

So I go. He is a busy man. Twice I go, twice I wait. The subordinate soldiers and I start talking. They are from Utah. They are from Logan, Utah. A whole building/brigade of ’em! We recognize that we have seen each other before, some of us. After all, I went to Utah State University in Logan for many, many more years than it takes to graduate. Also, I had fixed their cars, or visited their single’s group, or in the case of Captain Burt, bought car insurance from him. We have, to me at least, a very interesting chat.

Needless to say, I am among friends. We talk. What do you guys do out there, I ask, and how is it going? For almost 3 hours we converse and then the base alarm goes off, unwittingly marking the end of the discussions. Ahhh, but the things I learned.

So in the near future I hope to share pictures and stories of an Iraq you might not recognize. An Iraq that even I have only caught glimpses of until now. It is mostly about Northern Iraq, the Kurds. Stories of thriving cities and friendly villages, of snow-covered mountains and springs of water. Safe haven for Americans and a very warm, family-oriented culture.

HA! You think I’ve finally lost it, haven’t you? The Sun has fried poor Ernie’s brain, you are saying! The grains of sand have settled between his ears! Well, we’ll see…
always know the way home Posted by Hello
148th at night Posted by Hello
snowy vistas Posted by Hello
beautiful mountain and water landscapes Posted by Hello
"things we have to offer" Posted by Hello

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Lunch with Kurds and a Way

There are so many signs of progress despite the recent violence in Northern Iraq. And certainly that can be expected: There is a stark contrast between the rule of Saddam, the takers and destroyers, and the American lead Coalition: builders and givers. And where good presumes to, it prevails and finds a way.

In the past the soldiers would go in and organize city councils, decide what project was most urgent, and point a finger at the local contractor that was chosen to do it. Now the soldiers attend the meetings, where the city councils discuss their needs, pick the project, let local contractors bid for it, and collect payment from the Americans at its conclusion. They are learning democracy.

There are still frustrations. The soldiers have remarked sometimes it’s like trying to shovel a hole in water--it just fills right back in. The contractors are still prone to bribing the council to pick them, for example. But I think it‘s true that good things also take time and enduring effort.

The help of the Americans is not lost on the Kurds at least. Sometimes all they have to thank the Americans for all the help and the release from their former homicidal oppressor is some lunch, and perhaps the greatest treasures of all: Trust and Friendship. You can see such expressions of appreciation in the “picnic” below.
Picnic Posted by Hello
cute admirers Posted by Hello
take-home from picnic Posted by Hello
a most triumphant picnic Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Birds

Our garage has turned into a little wildlife sanctuary as birds mostly come in and roost in the rafters. It’s like walking out into a forest for all the chirping and cheeping. They like picking up the scraps of materials for their nests and scraps of our snacks for dinners. And they are becoming less and less intimidated by us humans. Recently a baby bird learning to fly glided down across the garage and landed from behind on Nick’s shoulder, scaring him witless (actually too late for that) (just kidding Nick). Nick tried to send the young fellow back towards the nest but it kept heading for the break room to hang out with the guys.

Then this pigeon-like bird kept flapping at a side window so that Earl had to grab him and show him the way out. There is other wildlife in here, but you probably don’t want to hear about the crawling ones…
Earl expains the way out to a pigeon Posted by Hello
The bird that landed on Nick Posted by Hello

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Heat is On

Today the wind blew from the South like a furnace. I don’t know how hot it was today, maybe 110, but it blasted your skin dry. For a similar experience, go into a sauna and turn a blower dryer on your face. I’m not kidding. The kicker? It’s not even hot yet! Right now there is a sandstorm and even in my container taste the dust in my mouth and feel it in my eyes as it blows around in desert craziness.

The heat has been turned up in other ways as well. More mortars are flying into camp. More of them are actually exploding. They are still ineffectual for the most part, but in the city the IED and the VBIED’s are becoming more deadly. The enemy is becoming more sinister and clever, I am sorry to report. Intel shows Zarqawi was successful in funneling great funds from over the border Syria. Probably the Bin Laden family.

Anyway, I can’t believe these soldiers ride around in these conditions still doing their thing. We have taken some significant casualties recently. These are National Guardsmen that have left jobs, families, comforts, and some sanity to sacrifice for both friend and foe. Literally. They pray for the Iraqi people in the same breath that they seek protection for themselves and for their families left home without them. Many of them believe their wives suffer more than they do. Where in the world do you find men like that?


It has been a sobering but inspirational time here recently in Kirkuk. Today, Sunday, I have heard these men mourn, weep, sigh, express their faith in God and His purposes, and have felt their resolve to keep at it. My greatest fear, honestly, is that the price they pay and the good they do may pass largely unknown and unappreciated outside these quarters. Stay tuned as I share more in word and image about some these positive effects they have here.

For starters check this tip out: a particularly articulate story about the Kurds, which are the group I’ve shown pictures of most recently here. Please click on the link at the right from Michael Yon for a GREAT story. If I could have my dream job for the next year or two, it would probably be his! He goes around with the soldiers and experiences what they experience, reporting with word and picture.

For now, I wish you a happy and safe Sunday; your representatives here are doing you proud!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Feel the Love

Here are some more pics showing more of the warm relationship between those that serve and those who are served. Although perhaps the bulk of time the soldier spends interacting with Iraqis is on the leadership and Iraqi Police level, you can see how villagers also bond quickly with these good guys. See the blog “Pixelated” below for more detail and scan down the page for many more pictures.
Hello! Posted by Hello
heaters keep feelings warm Posted by Hello
good friends Posted by Hello
hangin' out Posted by Hello