September 02, 2004

The Lost City of Babylon

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August 1st, Fernando and I took a convoy to Al Hilla Camp Babylon, along with the 711th SIG Bn Co D (Signal Battalion, Delta Company), to pick up mail and supplies. This would only be a day trip, but I tried to make the most of my time by exploring the remains of the world's most famous city.

If you would like to see photos from the convoy, click here.

The picture above was taken from inside the camp, looking towards the outer walls of the archaeological site. Unfortunately, I do not know enough about what I saw, so I can't really explain much.

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This is the entrance to the dig site. It is a 1/3 size replica of the original Ishtar's Gate, which was destroyed, and pieces are on display in a reproduction in Germany.

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Walking towards the innards of the city. I believe these were the inner walls of Ishtar's Gate.

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Fernando and I walked through this corridor and noticed three-dimensional carvings of animals on the walls.

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Some are oxen. This one is of the ancient Babylonian god, Marduk. Marduk's headpiece is printed on the new 25,000 Iraqi Dinar.

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Now we're lost in a brick maze...

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A better view of where we just came from.

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This city is thousands of years old and has been through so many wars, it is amazing to see that anything survived.

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This statue is one of a few relics still in good shape. It is a famous sculpture of a lion devouring a man (although it looks like something else to me). The lion represents the Babylonians, and the man is their ancient enemy, the Ethiopians. I believe this is correct, but am not positive.

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This building was across the way, on the other side of the camp. I don't know what it is, but it looks cool.

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Speaking of cool, it was so hot out here that Fernando and I thought we were going to pass out. If you ever get a chance to visit Babylon, don't go in August, and don't go at 2 in the afternoon!

In the picture, behind me, is yet another of Saddam's many palaces. One side looks like it has been scorched, possibly from a bombing or fire of some kind.

I wish I could tell you more about what I have seen, but if you would like to know a little history on Babylon, check the "About Iraq" section on my site. I need to rewrite some of the things on that page, however. Some of that stuff is very dry, and my intentions were to be interesting, not boring.

Well, that's all for now...

Posted by Dan at 03:54 PM | Comments (5)

September 07, 2004

Wheels

I thought it would be neat to show y'all what kinds of wheels we've got out here, since some of you have asked what conditions are like. When we first arrived, we didn't have any means of transportation, and we were lucky enough to borrow a HUMMVEE until we got settled in.

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Here's the Hummer. This is yet another of my now-famous tough guy poses. hahaha.

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And this is our new SUV, parked at the DFAC next to one of the Ukrainian armored vehicles. We've had it for about a week now, and boy is it nice to have. Originally, simple things like laundry involved walking about 3/4 mile in the heat with the dust blowing in your face, while slinging your laundry bag over your shoulder. Fun stuff. Now it's a breeze. Shoot, we've even got a CD player.

And since we're on the topic of wheels, here's a couple other mentionables I've seen while out here.

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These cars are for the new generation of trained Iraqi Police, since after all, we're out here to rebuild this country. I wonder who's paying for all this stuff......hmmmmm.

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This is a Ukrainian BTR-80. My new friend, Vitaly, is a machine gunner in one of these. They patrol all over Iraq, especially along the Iran border, to keep insurgents from entering Iraq and causing trouble.

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This is a Polish MP vehicle (Miltary Police). MPs are responsible for safety on base, so you can see them all over. We also have Ukrainian MPs, although I don't have a picture for ya.

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This is a Ukrainian Jeep. These aren't tactical vehicles; they are just for getting around base. The MPs look like this too.

Here's some updates from my trip to Babylon. Thanks to my friend Scott up in Baghdad for the helpful info.

The blue structure is a rebuilt model of Ishtar's Gate. The orignial was destroyed and the blue tiles that decorated it were taken to Berlin (by the Archaeologist that first uncovered Babylon). The creature picture is on the original foundation, decorated with dragons and bulls. The mythological creature is "Marduk's Dragon." Marduk was one of the gods that the ancient Babylonians worshipped along with Ishtar. The head of the dragon is depicted on the new 25K Iraqi Dinar.

The sculpture of the Lion on top of the man is possibly a portrayal of an Ethiopian. The Babylonians warred with them, and the Lion is supposed to have been ridden by Ishtar.

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And in closing, here's a photo of last night's sunset. 'Nuff said.

Posted by Dan at 05:07 PM | Comments (4)

September 14, 2004

Mmm Mmm MREs

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I always like starting my posts with a sunset picture. I think that I will never forget the way the sun always seems to burn into everything before setting over Iraq.

The weather has been very hot lately. I've heard that at times it has been over 145F. At night, however, it's starting to get cold. I still can't imagine what winter will be like.

Ok, I've wanted to talk about MREs for a while now, and I figure I've mentioned the term enough times without explaining what an MRE is. I know a lot of you are going to think I'm a total nerd for posting all this crap, but people who have never been in a situation like this, or never been in the military, will never have had the privilege of eating MREs.

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And in case you haven't figured it out by now, MRE = Meal, Ready-to-Eat.

Yes, our base does have a Dining Facility (DFAC). But sometimes you may have to skip a meal, or maybe you went on a convoy for the day. Even worse, maybe your camp is so small that you don't even have a DFAC, and your only choice is MREs. I guess they're not that bad. At least there are many different types of meals, but only a handful are worth mentioning.

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A case holds twelve MREs, and each MRE is individually sealed. After a while you memorize the meal numbers. For example, No. 11 (Pasta in Vegetable sauce) is good, No. 2 (Jamaican Pork Chops in Noodles) is gross, and No. 10 (Chili Mac) is okay.

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Inside the bag are smaller pouches for snacks, drink mix, condiments, and the main dish. The cardboard box is the main meal. This MRE also has potato sticks and a pound cake for dessert.

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The wheat bread is squished but doesn't taste too bad. Sometimes MREs come with peanut butter, cheese spread, or jam (for the bread).

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You also get this neat little bag with a charcoal activated heater inside. You add water and put the main course into this bag, and let it cook.

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After a few minutes, it's really hot. Just like home cookin'!

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Enjoy. haha.

Well wasn't that a hoot? Anyhow, I'm glad I got that over with. Some of you have asked me to write about MREs, so now it's done.

In other news, it seems like the insurgents just won't quit. There have been more attacks in this region the past few weeks, though nothing on base. Lots of trouble in Baghdad as always, and Karbala constantly has problems.

One of our guys just got back from vacation, so now I guess I should start planning the escape for my vacation. I have to get down to Kuwait to fly home in a couple weeks. I'll post more before I go, so until then...

Posted by Dan at 08:15 PM | Comments (11)

September 19, 2004

I'm Outta Here

Dang, I should have written another post up before I left Al Kut. I'm about to hitch a ride with our MEDEVAC guys (Medical Emergency Evacuation) up to Baghdad, and from there I will have to figure out a ride down to Kuwait. It shouldn't be too difficult, but our company doesn't exactly help us out with this sort of thing.

I'm hoping I can post again once I'm up there. This is the start of my adventure to get down to Kuwait so I can go home for vacation.

I wil post a few more times, and again once I'm back in San Diego, my home town. I'm definitely looking forward to getting out of here for a few weeks. Dosvidania. Adios. Ma-ah Salaam-eh. Aufweidersehen. (you get the picture)

Posted by Dan at 10:30 AM | Comments (4)

September 21, 2004

Back in Doha (yee-haw!)

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Here's another great Al Kut sunset picture. What can I say? I'm a sucker for effect.

Well I finally made it down to Camp Doha, Kuwait. I will be hanging out here for the next few days and then I'll catch a commercial plane to the States for my vacation. And it's about time! I think I was starting to go crazy out there in Al Kut.

Well, anyway, here's some pictures from the flight to Balad Air Base, also known as LSA Anaconda (LSA: Logistics Support Activity...thanks to Loyd for the correction!). I stayed at Anaconda for two days and caught a C-130 down to Kuwait.

Balad/Anaconda is one of the largest facilities out in Iraq, with two extremely large air strips running the length of the site. The Air Base/LSA is about 65 kilometers north of Baghdad, which puts it inside what our wacky news people have affectionately named the Sunni Triangle. So I guess Anaconda has been through tough times...Sort of like all the other bases out here.

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Now leaving Al Kut. This was the MEDEVAC Helo that I caught a ride with up to Balad. Blackhawks look pretty damn cool, eh?

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On the way over, we flew across some real dry desert.

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Wherever there is water, quality of life is uh, sustainable. Out here, there are real cities and towns, and then there are also small mud villages like this one. They are mostly homes of farmers and shepards.

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This was one of Iraq's many waterways that feed off the Tigris or Euphrates river.

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And this is how exciting Balad (Anaconda) really is. Yep, what a hoot. On the plus side, they do have a pool and a huge movie theatre, but I was glad to leave for Kuwait.

I stayed up until 03:30 to catch a flight down to Kuwait. An hour prior to our flight manifest, one of the agents called our attention and said that there will be some HR (Human Remains) travelling on the plane with us, and if that makes any of us uncomfortable, we can ask for another flight out.

So there it was, a coffin covered in the US flag. Just sitting there in our cabin like a decorated piece of cargo: strapped down on the floorboards of the C-130 so it wouldn't come loose during the flight. It's not that it freaked me out seeing that coffin. But it definitely is very sobering. People are dying out here. This isn't like Cowboys and Indians on TV or something. Well anyway, I was thinking about it a lot last night.

We arrived in Kuwait at roughly 06:00 (05:00 with the one hour time difference), and it was already morning, so I stayed up and caught a bus ride to Camp Doha, where I am now. I'm back in the same open bay I slept in on my first day out here six months ago. Needless to say, I'm a little tired now, so I'm going to pass out for a few hours, and I'll post again in a couple days. Good night.

Posted by Dan at 02:08 PM | Comments (4)

September 23, 2004

Six Months Down

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Camp Doha, in one of the open bays. This is where I sleep until I catch my flight home.

So I've comfortably settled in to Doha, and again I'm surrounded by folks who have just arrived, fresh from CRC. But it's different this time. Now I'm the so-called "veteran," who's been all over Iraq and is back to the safety of Kuwait. It's like Luke in Return of the Jedi, where he's all grown up and...ah nevermind.

I'm now at the halfway point, the six month mark, and it went by really fast. I thought it would be cool and helpful to summarize what I've done over the past six months.

I completed CRC at Ft Bliss, TX in March, and flew to Kuwait where I stayed at Camp Wolverine, Camp Doha, and Camp Arifjan. I had a great time exploring Kuwait, including riding ATVs, visiting the shops and bazaars, and eating great food. Camp Arifjan is where I worked for three months before I entered Iraq.

In June, I flew via C-130 into Baghdad International Airport (formerly Saddam International Airport), and stayed at Camp Victory for two weeks. There I was able to explore some of Saddam's Palaces as well as his pools.

I then flew via Blackhawk to Al Kut Camp Delta, my new permanent job site in Iraq. There I was to operate and maintain a data and voice communications for the Coalition Forces in the area. For Al Kut, our Coalition was led by the Ukraine Armed Forces, with Kazakhstan, Romania, and Poland performing additional duties. We didn't have a place to live so we found an abandoned building and called it our home.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Babylon (via convoy), and explore what's left of the world's most famous city.

I have made some great friends, most of whom I will stay in touch with via email, and I will hopefully visit their own countries. These new friends come from all over, like Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and even Iraq. One particular Iraqi challenges me to table tennis (ping pong) almost every day, and in trade he is teaching me Arabic/Iraqi dialect.

Before I left San Diego, I thought I was pretty open-minded, but that was only half of the picture. You must see the world in order to make an opinion of it. You can't get that experience on CNN or Fox News. I now know there is a lot that I don't know about. :)

I am definitely looking forward to my vacation. I can't wait to eat some real food, including In-N-Out Burger, and Fillipi's Pizza. Oh, and sleep in a real bed (versus military cots), and take a real shower! But I will also be glad to return to Iraq, so I can continue to see and learn without the sterility of a television screen...

Posted by Dan at 05:18 PM | Comments (5)

September 27, 2004

Cheers!

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I've got one day left and then I fly home. Man, I can't wait. Although I really can't complain right now. I've been staying in an apartment overlooking Kuwait, and the view is awesome. Here's a picture of the area, right along the coast of the Persian Gulf. The apartment belongs to some friends I met when I was staying in Kuwait several months ago, and they have been so kind as to hook me up with what I would consider a nice pad!

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Just for fun I wanted to show you this photo. Satellite TV is the biggest thing out here, and the rooftops are literally covered with dishes pointing off into the sky. See if you can count how many there are in this photo. haha, right.

Oh, and before I forget, I wanted to post the concept flag for Iraq...

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The crescent moon is the symbol of Islam, Iraq's main religion. The two blue stripes represent the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and the one gold stripe honors the Kurdish minority in Iraq.

This concept was designed by an Iraqi, and its look is very different from other neighboring countries, supposedly to indicate a new and different nation. But many Iraqis do not like this design, and they would rather keep their old flag. I say they should get what they want, so what's the big deal?

Ok, back to my letter...

This will be my last entry for a while. I will drop a short post once I've gotten home (in sunny San Diego), but I need to take a break from the blog and enjoy my R&R.

This has actually been a really cool experience, posting my travels and having people comment or email me. Thanks for checking in, and things'll pick up again in a few weeks.

Cheers,

Dan

Posted by Dan at 03:50 PM | Comments (2)

September 29, 2004

Back in La Jolla

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I'm back in beautiful La Jolla, part of San Diego county of course. So, yeah, it feels great to be here.

Let the party begin!

(so I probably won't post until I return to the Middle East in two weeks)

Posted by Dan at 11:27 PM | Comments (6)