Monday, October 31, 2005

It’s Official Now


Large and boiling clouds obfuscate the horizon. Above me, clumps of cumulous clouds hover, like static battleships painted on azure. The sun sinks ever so gently in still and lazy leisure. It seems as if Summer will take its leave this day in a slow and silent saunter. Out walking under such a canopy, I stumble upon a unique gathering this Sunday.

Cursing my cameralessness, I try instead to soak in sights and sounds. Soldiers stand smartly at attention in numerous columns. To the right, the familiar camouflage kakis of the 116th Idahoans. To the left, the new ACU’s of the recently arrived 101st. A special delegation of Iraqi fighting forces observes the ceremony off to the side. A translator interprets the proceedings for them.

In front both American groups stand 6 solitary color guards, each with a bannered post. The colors of the 116th, unfurled and adorned with ribbons are presented by being dipped forward. Those of the 101st await restlessly in vertical storage sleeves. A sergeant hollers out gruff commands and the 116th ceremoniously lower, roll, and slide sleeves over their flags. Another officer barks out his instructions to the 101st and they remove and sharply post their colors.

It was a relatively brief occasion, as the playing of national anthems (both American and Iraqi national flags were arrayed side by side) and Battalion songs, as well and Invocation and Benedictions are omitted, much to my disappointment. But what I unwittingly came across was the official “changing of the guard” here on Camp Warrior, Kirkuk F.O.B (Forward Operating Base). Officially, the 116th has turned over command and the 101st is now in charge. May they be as magnanimous as their predecessors!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Kimbo Says…

"I really appreciate your blog. I've had a few friends come home and they just hope their families let them go back to Iraq. They loved it, and we, who believed the media to some extent, were blown away by that. One was actually a mechanic who was burned over there--he got to go back for a bit, but is once again home. I just find it so refreshing to hear things from an insider's perspective. I find the Iraqi people fascinating in their resolve to rebuild. It must be remarkable watching it all. Thanks for your updates!" KIMBO

First of all, it is remarkable, watching it! Even from my limited vantage, I find the Iraqi people can be very beautiful, motivated, and exciting. But this somewhat anonymous commenter on my blog seems to hit the nail on the head for a lot of folks: The news makes it seem so bad over here in Iraq, how come those who know say things are going so well?

Well, because it is going well, all things considered. Why then the negative? The media loves the negative. The media has political/social agendas. Everyone has experienced this, but it is still hard to change our minds when we have relied on an unbiased, watchdog-type of media for so long. Recently, even quite a few major stories have been fabricated!

I think there is an up-side to that. Instead of being passively spoon-fed information, many are becoming pro- active in seeking out truth and facts for themselves. It’s good to be proactive on important matters. But I think there is also something more powerful at work here.

Americans are a helpful, positive people in general. Give them a chance and they can fix or change almost anything, even a nation’s destiny, one heart at a time sometimes. Of course there is negative here, or anywhere. But that is not the story here…Thomas Edison is not known for 2000 failures, but the one success. (think lightbulb) Tiger Woods; not for all the shots he misses, but all the shots he makes. The REAL story in Iraq are the things working, but largely unreported. And they are HUGE. That’s my opinion, what’s yours?
Training Posted by Picasa
Protecting Posted by Picasa
Meeting Posted by Picasa
Surviving Posted by Picasa

Yes, that is ice built-up on his helmet

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chaplain Nicholson Meets the Mormons

Chaplain CPT William Nicholson is of the Moravian Church, a “Christ-centered church that believes in the entire open Bible.” He is Pastor of his own congregation in Anchorage Alaska, and is, among other things, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Theological Institute there. He has been attending our LDS meetings often for several months. He particularly enjoys the fact that Mormons are a care-free group for him--they seem to set-up and run themselves, unlike the members of other faiths that he is responsible for.

Being deployed with the unit with the largest concentration of Mormons(66%), he is writing an article about his experiences with them and so we have been under close observation! He accepted an opportunity to speak to us in Sacrament Service and encouraged us much in our faith and in the faith of Christ. He is impressed with the depth of devotion he experienced in the meetings and seems to have determined it is because the members have to prepare their own talks--and may introduce the practice to his poor, unsuspecting, home parish when he returns!

Speaking of his experience with the LDS in Kirkuk, he says “It did not take me long to find out that LDS soldiers are thought of highly by LTC Russell Johnson, the Commander of the 1-148th field artillery Battalion. He says they have high ethical standards.” Furthermore Nicholson says, “I find the soldiers of the 1-148th Field Artillery unit are very motivated and professional. They are soldiers that love what they do. The love one thing more: their families and their church. One thing we will always agree on is that salvation is in no other than in and through Jesus Christ.”

He is not wrong.

Captain Burt of the 148th B-Battery concurs, indicating that the military is well aware of the integrity of LDS soldiers and sends them where ethics are being abused and trust is needed most. Chaplain Nicholson also notes that LDS soldiers handle themselves better under pressures, not needing the counseling that other soldiers do, for example, when a comrade has fallen in action.

We are honored by our shared devotion with Chaplain Nicholson. How lucky his congregation at home will be to get him back, and we are proud to call this Eskimo, “Brother.”
a few remaining LDS after their last meeting, largely from the 148th  Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 23, 2005

You Can Be Proud

What perhaps has gone unnoted publicly for the most part is the excellence of the American soldier. As a whole, they are true to their duty; performing well and with honor in critical circumstances. I must surmise that in most ways they are all these things because of their devotion to God and Country. They obey with exactness, honor life, and serve even those that may be their enemies.

In general they return home with honor, with clean consciences, hoping and believing they have performed their duties well, and freed millions, as their fathers in previous wars have done. Some, of course, indulge in imaginable vices, but there are no mass desertions, tides of crimes, or mutinies. The absence of negative and failure is as extraordinary as their triumphs.

In having their departing reveries, they lament at significant home events missed: birth of a child, graduation of a teenager, death of a parent. They have found it difficult, but rewarding, to serve the people of Iraq, noting the gratitude and graciousness of the local citizens--at least in the Kirkuk area. They don’t rave as conquering victors, but instead, humbly and with resolve enforce their directives. They want to be seen as having done a good thing, and I’m certain they have.

Their deployment to them has been a blessing and a curse. And they wear their pride almost secretly inside that they have endured so much to bring relief and liberty to a people that have known so much pain and tragedy for so long at the hands of a most cruel oppressor. Victory shouts are not politically prudent and there is still work to do. But more is the shame--for they have served well. As a whole they have done and are doing what they came to do. Welcome home and recognize these great and noble warriors!
Soldiers, of course, are known for the superior performance as warriors and typical war-time activities. At this burning oil well, they secure the area. But in truth, they are involved in a lot more "building" activities. Posted by Picasa
Children are attracted to the kind soldiers, often out on patrol. Sometimes, I imagine, youngsters volunteer the most honest information a soldier can get. Posted by Picasa
From humanitarian projects like handing out heaters... Posted by Picasa
...to moments of levity with locals, the soldiers have a good rapport with people in the North, which helps win the peace. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Jeremy is Special

Every once in a while the Special Forces units come into the shop with their vehicles. We always seem to have a crew member or two who is inclined to connect with these guys and do things that aren‘t exactly within our “mission parameters.” The Secret Ops guys are looking for innovative armor to meet their needs and work-in with their methods and special gear, you see. In our shop, the “go-to guy” is generally Jeremy.

Jeremy is always working a power tool, designing, re-organizing. Where I am always dinking with my word processor and internet devices, Jeremy is tinkering with the shops tools and supplies. We can never find anything because he is always seeking perfection in shop utility; moving and stacking, filing and organizing. If he were to drop dead we’d be in a heap-o-trouble. But as long as he is here, if we need anything, we just ask him where it is.

Anyway, the Special Forces, or SF (everything in the military is reduced to acronyms), come in with their knives and weapons, they look like they’ve just crawled out of the jungle, er…desert. They say they need something like this or something like that and Jeremy scratches his scruffy little goatee for a minute, then sticks his finger in the air and says, “I think I have just the thing!” When he brings it out, I invariably say, “I didn’t know we had one of those” and crawl back to my toolbox.

“What do the Special Forces do,” you may ask? We’ll if everybody knew, it wouldn’t be Special, now would it? Suffice it to say that they have, and do, really cool stuff. At least, that is what I think. And it’s special guys like Jeremy that help keep them going.

Late Note: Due to company growth, our talent is being split up. Sadly, Jeremy has been sent away, along with quite a few of the other guys, to seed groups of new mechanics on other bases. Dang! Incidentally, I received a promotion (read: nice raise) due to my “new” status as experienced. Ernest, signing out for now. That’s Armor Master-Mechanic Ernest…
Super Tech Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 16, 2005

“Just doing our job, Sir!”

This Sunday morning Lt-Colonel Lytle, XO under the Base's General of the 116th Brigade, came to present us with an award of recognition. We were surprised and honored! Bringing with him the S-4 (don't know what that means either) Major Etcheverry, Sergeant-Major Boren, and a small entourage.

Our sub-contractor group (LSI) is split into two groups: one does lubricating maintenance and service, and my group, which does add-on armor. Together we serviced, armored, and repaired well over a thousand fleet vehicles for the 116th Brigade, bringing them from way behind right up to date and combat readiness. When the 116th came in, they were so far behind they thought they’d never catch up. Together, Lieutenant-Colonel Lytle said of us, in part:

…you guys did that for us which was something we never really thought we could accomplish--what ended up happening was we were able to accomplish that; we were able to keep vehicle fleets in this brigade on the road, and a large part of that has been through your efforts.

This is a unique presentation for contractors. To his knowledge, Lt.-Colonel Lytle said,

Of all the contract arrangements we’ve dealt with never once has ever been issued a praise about how well you guys were able to help us. Believe me, nobody’s gotten that.

He conclude by handing us the 116th Calvary Brigade Commanding General’s Coin, a keepsake in recognition of excellence! It is pictured below, front and back. We were each handed this award in a handshake---I’ve got mine in my hot little hands now---right after his final words:

“…just wanted to recognize you and thank you….What we’d like to do is give you all a token of our thanks and hope you hang on to it--”

Sergeant-Major Boren, who is directly in charge of the Brigade’s vehicle fleets worked directly with us and was responsible for tracking down all the armor, equipment, and parts that we needed to do our job for them. Cutting through typical military red-tape, he procured the hard-to-get supplies needed to protect his troops. In front of us, he was also presented with an award, a “Meritorious Unit Certificate” for bringing the fleets up to speed for the benefit of the troops and their operations.

We, again, have been honored to work for, with, and be honored by, the 116th Calvary Brigade of Idaho. The awards were a formal and unexpected surprise, but the accomplishments and friendships and we forged with these good gentlemen in achieving our common goals in Iraq is to me of equal or greater importance. Combined with election successes: It is a good day in Iraq.
Both sides of Commanding General's award coin Posted by Picasa
Lt-Colonel Lytle shakes hands and presents a coin to everyone Posted by Picasa
LSI (both groups) with Sergeant-Major Boren and coins Posted by Picasa
The Lt-Colonel's entourage checks examples of armor effectiveness Posted by Picasa

Election Elation (Success!)

The election commissioner of Iraq stated that the elections went off very well. I concur with my local observations: it was a quiet, uneventful election day indeed. This is in contrast to last year where we saw numerous columns of smoke, heard gunfire and explosions, and reports of worse. This is a great victory for the Iraqi people; simple control of anti-law elements!

Yes, this has to be a great blow to the terrorists hoping to turn Iraq into a fundamentalist Islamic state. Hoping that they could turn it into another Vietnam and the US would leave, allowing them to establish their extremist doctrine, giving them an army to take over the rest of the Middle-East with. (All this from a captured communication from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Zarqawi. See link: Plot Exposed) Victories like this peaceful election continue to accrue and terrorism is struck another deadly blow!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

incredulous Posted by Picasa

This shows my incredulousness that it has been so quiet before this election (knock on wood). In fact, is seems to me that it has been much more quiet in Iraq since Zarqawi's number 2 guy, the finance dude, was nullified about a month ago. That happened here in Kirkuk, quiet for a month when they got the bombing financers. Ok, actually, my co-worker just caught me making a face...

The Little Things

I've checked my January 2005 archives <Link> and things were popping and smoking for the election back then! Now, I’ve seen a column of smoke here and there recently, but explosions and attacks and even the base alarm all have been remarkably quiet, almost too quiet! My perceptions of things being better here match very well with this report in the news of just how well local security forces are doing, check it out! <Link> In short, the Iraqi forces are becoming very competent in confounding suicide attackers. They are becoming very well trained and are more proficient in spotting when someone is acting suspicious or is a foreigner.

Another sign of progress: It’s Ramadan and an election in two days and someone has only tried to bomb us once this month! Also, when we first got into our new building a year ago, we one day noticed a new spot of sunlight on the floor. Looking up, we saw a little hole up there and we wondered, did someone throw a screwdriver at the ceiling? But upon closer inspection (walking up on the roof) it was clear something, probably a bullet, had fallen from the sky and through our tin roof.

Twice more, a month or two inbetween, a new hole would appear. It seemed to happen during the night but we always wondered; would a bullet someday hit one of us in the cranium? Well, time has passed, I don’t think we’ve seen a new hole for 6 months. If we make it through the month of Ramadan/election with no more little holes, it will be a good sign indeed (and we’re grateful not to have to wonder about wearing our helmets at work).

I find this all to be happy news. I mean, I really want these guys to succeed. So far, so good.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

So Long…

Well it’s time here in Kirkuk to wave good-bye to the 116th Brigade Combat Team. It’s been a pleasure to work with them for a year or so. Now they are getting ready to snake their way back to their favorite rivers and such famous cities as Boise, Preston, and Weston, which is West of Preston. I kid you not. And let’s not forget that Hollywood blockbuster “Napoleon Dynamite” was filmed in such humble areas. They will be leaving all this Iraq desert, sand, and rock for the desert, dust, and rock of Idaho. A welcome change, I’m sure--although some are heading back to Utah or so far away as Southern California.

You could say we’ve gotten to know these fine country folk who have protected America, ourselves, and served the people of Iraq so well with just the training of 1 weekend a month and 2 weeks during the Summer. Having applied almost 500 armor kits to their vehicles and replaced or repaired armor on another 460 or so of their vehicles, we have come to appreciate their easy going manner and vibrant patriotism. In fact we’ve become downright good friends with many of them, and what’s not to like? Especially when they enjoy BBQing so much. They have been generous with the Army’s, I mean, their stuff, and we have been proud to serve them. We wish you a safe return to your families and life, and hey, we’ll keep the light on for ya…

Of note, this exiting group has been the largest deployment of Mormons since the historical “Mormon Battalion” of the mid-1800‘s and has been named the “Mormon Brigade,” according to local and general LDS church leaders. The National Guard crew (60% LDS), with its Snake River designation, is being replaced by the renowned 101st. Many have already arrived with their newer digitally designed green fatigues and bear the leaner look of the younger and career-vintage crew that they are. It’s no coincidence that their arrival overlaps the soon-to-depart Idahoans during this election month. And I’m sure the Iraqis will appreciate the extra protection as they vote.

For us it means longer lunch lines (the cafeteria didn’t grow overnight like the numbers of soldiers did) but alas, we will still miss our stout Intermountain-West spud buds and their warmer demeanor, when they leave. (Those 101st-types seem so serious, having to maintain a reputation and all. More on them later) But for now; “Farewell, saints and soldiers!”
Handing over the keys... Posted by Picasa

As a departing gift, reminiscent of the friendship we’ve developed with these boys, the “Super Trike” keys were turned over in an informal ceremony which included tearing up and down the street at full throttle with the trike’s newer, more open, and throatier exhaust announcing our revelry.
The new guys like it too! Posted by Picasa

True admiration means trying it out. You can contrast the new uniforms with the old in the picture above this one.
Snake River Insignia Posted by Picasa

The Snake River Chapel bears the insignia of the 116th Idahoan Brigade. When the 225th from Hawaii was here, it was the “Aloha Chapel.” The new 101st can rename streets, housing areas, etc. We wonder; what will they name this spiritual edifice?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Commotion equals Preparation

As the Iraqi constitutional election nears (Oct 15) the apache helicopters flit through the skies like angry wasps, keeping an eye out for trouble and protecting the patrols on the ground. In the evening huge “Ka-booms” momentarily command our complete attention--then we smile with relief and mutter to each other, “Outgoing!“ Indeed, the boys are firing great flares from the base high into the air to light up suspicious activities in the dark. These amazing flares tinge the night’s canopy with bright yellow arcs that drift slowly down, like the lingering refrains of Summertime fireworks.

All part of an orchestrated plan of protection. Combined with the recent attacks on known terrorist camps that funnel in trouble-makers from cross the Western border, it is clear that proactive steps are being taken to help ensure a more peaceful voting process. It worked last time with a relatively quiet election day last January and you must conclude: American military leaders know what they are doing and they do it well. We of course hope that the Iraqis will give themselves a new constitutional government.
I guess you could say we're in fly-over country Posted by Picasa
scouring the area Posted by Picasa
cruising Kirkuk Posted by Picasa

notice the friendly pedestrian on the left as the soldiers pass...
not un-typical security measures outside Kirkuk Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Change in the Season

Cooler weather brought with it a bellowing fury during the night. At 2:30am the increasing buffetings on my trailer shot the dust backwards through my air-conditioner and window cracks. I looked out the door and the air was orange with dirt. Mercifully, I had the ever-usable duct tape nearby and in a few minutes my wall was airtight.

Too late. A fine dust film coated everything in my room that was face up, desk, toothbrush, pillowcase, floor, etc. But even as I stood pondering in a still-somewhat sleep-like stupor, the first heavy raindrops began to fall. Soon torrents removed the orange tint from the air, leaving the air in my room the dustier, compared to the air being cleansed outside by the rainfall as I watched from my door.

I left the door open and went back to sleep, hoping the dust in the air would decide to join the rest of the elements outside. When I left for work in the morning, I could already feel the plants contemplating a good pollen season motivated by this overnight deluge, and the air in my room was clean.

Can you imagine the soldiers that are out in the towers along the wire, or even worse perhaps, out on patrol? The turret on top of the humvees remains open just about no matter what the weather. The guys manning the guns literally eat a lot of dust for us. On the good side, I’m sure the bad guys weren’t able to pull anything off either…anyway, that’s life in the desert.
Picture from a War-pictures Disk of a typical dust/sand storm Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A Note

Sorry about being out of touch for awhile. My primary internet sources are out right now. Hopefully, I will be able to catch up in about a week! Thanks for your patience.

Ernest

Back to Iraq, or Evolution

I remember when the guards at the Iraqi airport paced nervously back and forth, eyes alert. Then, a few months later, next time I went through, they were casually walking about and laughing. Now, they look bored.

Again, at first, the Iraqi airport was a defunct, silent edifice upon my first arrival, shaken often by explosions. Last few times through I saw one or two advertisements popping up. Now there are several more ads, including one announcing a new business expo in “Kurdistan,” to talk about business advantages in the new Iraq.

And now our airline rides in take longer approaches instead of spiraling madly in until right at the end and are manned by Arabs instead of Russians. Which is a shame because the Russian crews fed us a whole meal instead of a snack. Nonetheless, signs of change. With Ramadan and an election approaching in two weeks things may spark back up, but clearly things are better overall.

Interestingly, I hear rumors about a huge oil reserve in Western Iraq, yet untapped, as well as a gigantic natural gas reserve! If you haven’t invested in Iraq, your window of opportunity may not last much longer! If we can just get a government here, Iraq may be unrecognizable in a few years for its new prosperity.
Heckuva Trike Posted by Picasa

With things fairly stable in most places in Iraq, the soldiers often have quite a bit more "down time." Our mechanic-ing military counterparts came up with this interesting concoction welded together from different scraps and vehicle parts. They brought it over for us to admire. We did.
another view Posted by Picasa