Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Akmed the red-nosed camel

This post is a re-post of a story I wrote on my first deployment. I read over it again and found it to be very applicable to this tour also. Enjoy.

Photo by: Staff Sergeant Quinton T. Burris, 1ST Combat Camera.

The little girl woke up for another day. Her dark hair was unkempt but her brown eyes were bright. The time didn't matter and she didn't have a clock if it did matter. She thought about the puppy she saw yesterday and it put a smile on her face. She picked up the rug that she had slept on and shook the dust off it. She tiptoed past where her brothers lay sleeping. The longer they slept the more time she would have to herself. Outside she took a small drink of dirty water from the jug to clear her throat. There was only one thing she was looking forward to today and she didn't want to miss it.

The soldier woke up and looked at his watch. He pulled the sleeping bag over his head to keep out the cold. It was 0400 and the date didn't matter. He lay there for a minute thinking about is family and his girlfriend back home. There was no time for homesickness though. He folded up his cot and tied it onto his truck. He tried not to wake his buddy because he liked to wake up on his own. If you had to wake him it was best done with a long pole to stay out of the range of his swinging arm. Not everyone is a morning person. He checked his chains to make sure they were tight and the oil to make sure it was full. The dusty roads are this soldier's office and he hoped it would just be another day at the office.

The little girl was outside playing with a flat soccer ball by herself. It had been quite cold recently and she ran around to keep herself warm. The thin dress she had on didn't offer much insulation. The road was about a quarter mile from her tent but she was watching it intently. Every cloud of dust in the distance was a possible chance for food or water to be thrown to her.

The soldier headed down the road with the rest of his convoy. This stretch of road had been a hot spot recently so he kept a careful watch. He felt much safer now that there were steel plates on his doors. He saw a mud hut with a thatched roof about a mile up the road and scanned the area. Every piece of trash or building was a possible source of danger.

The little girl saw the long cloud of dust in the distance that signaled a convoy and ran toward the road. The rocks and sand didn't bother her bare feet because she had never worn a pair of shoes. She knew it was only a matter of time before her brothers would hear the approaching trucks and run outside to meet them also. She wanted to be there first.

The soldier got a better look at the hut as they drew closer and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He swerved to miss an unfamiliar hole in the road. Apparently this route had been mortared since 5 days ago when he last traveled it. He made a mental note of the landmarks surrounding the hole so he would miss it in the future. He focused his attention back ahead to something running toward the convoy.

The little girl waved and gave a thumbs-up as the trucks got close to her. She watched with dismay as the first four trucks blew by her without a second thought. She coughed on the dust as the fifth truck approached. The driver of that truck has his arm out the window holding a bottle of water and something else.

The soldier saw a little girl standing alongside the road ahead. His buddy was already reaching for a bottle of water and some food out of their bag. He knew of the soft spot that the driver had for the children. The soldier took the water and food and tossed it as far from the truck as he could so the girl wouldn't run into the road. He saw the girl's face light up with a smile and thought how cute she was.

The little girl ran to the water and food to snatch them up. She saw her brothers running from the house and struggled to open the food package. She gulped down as much as she could fit in her little mouth. She took off running with her bottle of water hoping her brothers would wait by the convoy for more handouts. They did.

The soldier continued driving like he had every day for the past 11 months. His buddy said, "Well, that girl will have a Merry Christmas." The soldier looked at his watch and was surprised to see 'TH 25.12'. It was indeed Christmas day. He had completely forgotten about it until now and thoughts of his family and their traditions flooded his head. It was still Christmas Eve back home and his family was probably all gathered at his grandparent’s house after the Christmas Eve service. Hopefully the camp they were headed to would have phones that worked. He knew the lines would be long but he would wait just to call and say, "Merry Christmas. I love you."

Merry Christmas,


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Care Packages and Wish Lists

I got a care package the other day from some kids at Armstrong Middle School in Flint, MI that My Heart Supports the Troops helped them send.

I really like getting the cards from the kids because they are often hilarious. One of them had a tree drawn on the front with two “somethings” sitting in the tree. On the inside there was a Ketchup bottle with a happy face and a mustard bottle with a sad face. It said, “Ketchup & Mustard sitting in a tree. K. I. Christmas!” You aren't going to get anything like that from Hallmark.

Some people have been asking what they can send to us or what we need here. The truth is we really don’t NEED anything here. As you might imagine the military gives us everything we NEED but not everything we WANT. Here are some things that I want:

Tuna Lunch-To-Go: They have packs with tuna, mayo, relish, and crackers that are great for being on the road. Often we aren’t able to get to chow halls while we are on missions and the MRE’s get old. Really any meal that is small to pack and doesn’t require heat would be good. I just can’t think of any others except for tuna.

Hand warmer packets or gloves: The Iraqi Police, Iraqi Army, and Sons of Iraq (IP, IA, and SOI) stand outside at checkpoints all along the roads here. They do have some cold weather gear but most of them don’t have gloves. They just stand around burning tires to keep warm so these would be helpful for them.

Baseball-sized balls that bounce: We don’t throw anything out of our trucks because we aren’t allowed to… But if we were to throw something out it would be nice to have balls that fit out our windows and bounce away from the trucks. “My friend” already got a shipment of these and the kids really like them.

Beanie Babies: See above. The Beanies Babies don’t bounce but they have the extra weight for throwing. And I think we can all admit that the Beanie Baby craze is over so they are probably just taking up room in your house.

My truck buddy and I also came up with some ideas for improvements to our truck. They are as follows:

Air-Ride Suspension: The roads here are really bad so air-ride would be nice.

Extended cab: With all the gear in our cab it gets pretty cramped so it would be nice to have an extended cab for storage.

All-steel fifth wheel: Our truck has a Teflon plate on the fifth wheel which is a good idea if your whole fleet is outfitted with them. We have both kinds here so the trailers get grease on them and the Teflon gets torn up.

Keyless entry: It would be nice. I’m not sure how it would unlock and remove the padlocks on the doors though.

Remote start: It probably comes with the keyless entry anyway. 24 volt please.

Flip-down DVD player: Hey, it gets boring driving out there.

Accelerator pedal: This one isn’t technically for our truck. It’s just that I think our gun trucks must be missing this item.

Thank you.

Proper Relief

You might be wondering what the pictures above are doing on this page. This page is about Iraq right? And Iraq doesn’t have carnival rides, go cart tracks, and resort-like pools right?

Wrong. These pictures are from Iraq. Specifically a town in the northern Kurdistan region of Iraq called Irbil. We went there recently on a mission and it’s almost like a complete different Iraq. The pictures above are from an article in Details magazine. The magazine appears to be about men’s fashion so I’m a little confused why the article is there but it’s worth a read.It seems to be written from a fashion magazine perspective though.

The pictures below are mine. They have buildings in Irbil that are more than three stories tall.

They have topiaries along the roadside and sidewalks paved with bricks.

There are many sculptures around town at intersections and most of the highway bridges have murals painted on them.

The reason we went there was to pick up some equipment from a South Korean camp. Of course we took pictures with each other and tried to communicate as best we could. We also got to try some Korean food which was a first for me. Possibly also a last but it was interesting.

They painted murals on most of the barricades in their camp. I took pictures of a few of them and included one here. They must have had some really amazing artists with them.

One of the things I like the most about their camp was they either allowed dogs or had some sneaky dogs on post. This dog below had a sheep friend who followed him everywhere. When I first saw them I thought the dog was being chased around by the sheep but after some observation I think that ‘followed’ would be a better term. I gave the dog four packages of beef jerky and the sheep an apple. We see dogs all the time here but this is the first time I have been able to get up close to one.

That reminds me. Santa, if you are reading this, I would like a puppy for Christmas. And he needs to have an invisibility cloak so I don’t get in trouble for having a pet. I’ll be waiting.

I was reading US News and World Report the other day which I like to do to keep up on the news. They had an ad in there for a new book they have produced. The title of it is ‘Secrets of the Super Rich’ and it is supposed to profile how different people became rich. I didn’t order the book but I’m pretty sure the secret to their success was not a book from a news magazine.

I have included some pictures below that make me smile.

This is the entrance to the chow hall on another base. Most bases have contractors in charge of the chow hall security but this base allowed the Air Force to be in charge. There was a rocket attack on the base so the loud speakers instructed everyone to seek shelter. The Air Force thought this included the guards so they put a traffic cone in front of the entrance and took off. In the Army our first general order is, “I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.” I didn’t realize that a traffic cone was “proper relief.”

This is a sign at a test fire pit. Every base has a test fire pit on the way out so you can make sure your weapons are working properly before you get out on the road. The sign said, “Shoot below plywood!” which is obviously code for “Aim here.” They would have been better off to put the piece lower and just paint a target on it.

I saw this tent bag the other day. It is long and weighs 121 pounds so it says “6 Person Mixed Gender Lift.” I guess the Army is politically correct now. It makes me wonder if it would be possible to lift with six people of the same gender or if it can only be accomplished with mixed genders.

You might have to click on the picture and enlarge it to see this one. This is at one of the company headquarters on post here and it has a dummy ‘driving’ a large bomb. It says, “Whatever it takes.”

This is a picture of a soldier demonstrating how to check the tire pressure on your truck before you head out on a patrol.

And of course you have to check the trailer tires also.

Bob on FOB

The picture above is nothing I can take credit for. If you click on the picture it will take you to a slideshow of cartoons drawn by SGT Albert J. Merrifield called ‘Bob on the FOB. It is unrelated to my previous post At the FOB with Mr. BOB. The FOB is what they call the base we live on and he has some very good insights into the people you will find on the FOB.

Don’t be a geardo,


When you’re in Iraq, it’s very easy to quite optimistic about the future. It’s when you leave Iraq, and all you know about what’s happening is what you read in the press, that you become pessimistic.

- Feisal Istrabadi, former Iraq UN Ambassador