August 02, 2004

Convoy to Babylon

Crossing over the Tigris River, on the way to Camp Babylon.

Sunday, I took a trip to Camp Babylon, located near the town of Al Hilla, about 100 miles west of Al Kut. I went with Fernando, another co-worker here, along with members from our Signal Battalion (SIG Bn), on a day trip to pick up our mail, and take care of some business. I also wanted to check out the ruins of Babylon, one of civilization's most well-known cities. What wasn't so well-known to me was that it was located right in the middle of Iraq! Since there is too much for one post, I'm only going to talk about the ride over in this one.

We got into our HUMVEES, I rode with the Convoy Commander, and Fernando rode with some MI guys (Military Intelligence), and we left for a 2 1/2 hour drive.

You can barely see a soldier out the top of the HUMVEE in front. Gunner vehicles oversee everything, and are divided between every other vehicle. They have heavy assault rifles, like a 50 cal. or other machine gun.

Anybody who carries a weapon has them at the ready, pointed out their windows. Most of the people in Iraq do not want any trouble, but you have to keep an eye out and be prepared, just in case.

On the way to Al Hilla, we had to drive through several small towns. This is where things got a little tense. Nothing bad happened, but I've never felt more vulnerable than driving through a small street and stopping next to dozens of locals, not more than 10 feet away.

I did get to take some amazing pictures, so close up. This is one of many produce stands throughout all the towns in this part of Iraq. Agriculture is one of Iraq's many commodities.

Our convoy, crossing a small river on a make-shift bridge.

We finally made it to one of the main highways in Iraq, known to the Armed Forces as MSR Tampa (MSR = Main Supply Route). MSR Tampa runs from Kuwait all the way up to Baghdad, Iraq, and I believe even goes over to Syria.

A shepard and some children waved to us as we sped past. Children are the same everywhere you go. They are very curious, and excited about seeing strangers. They also wave because they know that the soldiers throw them candies from the convoys as they pass through.

On the way back, we had to stop at another camp to drop off some soldiers. On the way there, we joined up with this Hungarian convoy, and followed them all the way into their base. As you can see in this photo, I was riding in the first vehicle of our convoy. Scary, but I always had a pretty cool view.

I really like this picture. As we crossed another bridge, I snapped a photo of an Iraqi man sitting in the shade, next to a small mud hut.

Alrighty, that was a lot of pictures. And I still haven't covered the actual visit to Camp Babylon. That'll have to be in another post.

In other news, lots has been going on here. We are supposed to get our living trailer soon (with it's own shower and toilet), and we might get our personal vehicle soon (a Trailblazer instead of the Hummer). Stay tuned...

Posted by Dan at 03:17 PM | Comments (3)

August 11, 2004

Quick Update

This is a Hungarian APC/UAV (Armored Personnel Carrier/Urban Assault Vehicle).

I haven't had good internet access lately, so I have not yet posted pictures from my trip to Babylon. I will do this as soon as things calm down.

We have been under attack for the past several days. Sadr's militia have been mortaring our base and attacking the gates, though with little success.

As I write this, our Coalition Forces are in the town of Al Kut, along with our Army and Marines, lending their manpower to the new Iraqi Government as they fight them off. For the past few days, our F-18s have been flying overhead. This morning, it was possible that one of the F-18s launched missiles at something, though I didn't see it.

I'm guessing all this has not even made the news back home, but that is probably because there are no reporters in Al Kut. They are all focusing on Najaf.

Also, we have been waiting for our internet installers to come, so we could finally get high speed access. They drove down from Baghdad, but they were stopped by insurgents and were told to turn around or they would be killed. The poor guys were pretty freaked out.

It has been very interresting out here, to say the least.

I will try to get another post up here soon...

Posted by Dan at 06:59 PM | Comments (8)

August 16, 2004

Beyond Thunderdome

It's like Mad Max out here! Where's Tina Turner? This was part of a fuel convoy that had to stay here until things calmed down. They already left a few days ago.

Well it looks like Al Kut finally made the news (also called Kut for those who haven't figured it out yet) . The media only talked about the 70 or so deaths in the town, but didn't mention the attacks on the base, or the insurgents taking over the police station or the town hall. Must not have been important...hmmm.

The attacks have thinned out but I doubt the insurgents are finished. A whole bunch of troops stopped by in the past few days, so I'm not worried about safety or anything.

These bad boys are the military's new Stryker, a mobile, light-artillery vehicle, and they probably cost us tax-payers mucho dinero!

Now, on to some personal thoughts...

I've been stuck in an internal argument, about what makes it so hard out here. Honestly, I'm not having too much trouble adapting. Well it isn't anything specific to Iraq, but something still bothers me.

The most difficult thing about being out here isn't living in a hostile, third-world country, it isn't sleeping on a cot or even having to use a porta-john every day.

I think the hardest thing has been thinking about my past and wanting to hold on to certain things, when I should be letting go and moving on with my life. Most of you probably think I'm losing it, but I know what I mean.

Maybe I am going a little crazy. I miss home right about now. I especially miss playing in the punk band back home. It's gotten to the point where I can't listen to punk or even frigging ska without going nuts.

Oh well, I'll be fine. I've got about another month and then I get to enjoy a few weeks back in the States.

And I finally put something up in the About Iraq section. I got so caught up in research that it took longer than expected. I may have screwed some things up, so I apologize in advance, but I will double-check the info over the next week, and it should be finalized by then.

Posted by Dan at 06:38 AM | Comments (5)

August 24, 2004

Ukraine Independence Day

Today, August 24th, is Ukraine Independence Day. Most of the guys here will be celebrating their freedom today as an independent nation, after the collapse of the Soviet Union some 13 years ago.

So If you run into a Ukrainian today, say to them, "Slava Ukrainia!" I know that is not how you spell it, since their alphabet is Cyrillic and looks all crazy (like in my logo). But now at least you can read that out loud to them. It sort of means, "Long Live Ukraine."

And just a couple days ago I celebrated my own birthday. The Ukrainians gave me a little ceremony, and sang me their version of the "Happy Birthday" song, of course in their native language. That just about made my week. What a crack-up!

So I am now 24, though I feel about the same. But I do think it is so weird how quickly things can change in one year.

When I found out about this job, it only took one week for my entire life to turn upside down. I moved out of my house in San Diego, quit the punk band (temporarily), and am now working as a Network Administrator for the Ukraine Armed Forces in Iraq. Crazy.

Here's a recent picture of myself, now 24. Chillin' like a Villain! Gellin' like a felon!

What's that, you say? Enough with this crap? Ok, Ok, I'll calm down. Here's something more useful...updates on what has happened recently.

Iraq made the semifinals in Olympic Football, or Soccer as we yanks call it. When the game was over and Iraq won, locals filled the streets of Al Kut, shooting their AK-47s in the air to celebrate. An Iraqi friend of mine (who lives in town) thought that the insurgents were attacking again, so he took off in his car to find safety! Then he heard that Iraq made the semifinals, and he started laughing his ass off.

Speaking of the Olympics, I have been watching almost every day. I don't think I've ever really cared about them as much until now. It may have come from all these new experiences of mine, meeting people from so many amazing countries. The rest of the world has more meaning to me now. For example, hearing about Qatar competing in the 100m run, or Uzbekistan, or Hungary and Poland. And I have really been paying attention to Ukraine and Iraq, and even Kazakhstan. Yes, I am proud of America's athletes, but now I can also relate to the other countries. And I think their medals mean more.

In local news, one of the guys here found a scorpion, a black one, instead of the brown one like last time. Here's a picture of it, coming after my toes. Yes, it was really small (the scorpion), yes, that was stupid letting it come that close, and no, it didn't get me. But what really freaked me out was that this little guy was on our living room floor!

And while we're looking at small stuff, here's another Camel Spider we found. This one was just a baby, so I put my thumb out for size reference.

Yep, that's all for now. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, our internet connection is retarded. I will post pictures from my trip to Babylon soon as the connection improves...

Posted by Dan at 11:39 PM | Comments (5)

August 31, 2004

Pivo? Ni Pivo!

Yesterday's sunset in Al Kut, taken from the air strip...

Ok, I need to stop messing around with Mother Nature. I took that scorpion that we caught, and I put it in the cage with our pet camel spider. Come next morning, the scorpion is missing, and the spider is dead. Uh, I think I'm going to stop collecting creatures for a little while.

On the topic of scorpions, my new Ukrainian friends made a present for me...

They said they caught these scorpions out in the city of Al Kut, while they were on patrol, and they made me a little memento, so I will always remember Ukraine and Iraq. This has to be the coolest gift I have ever received.

Here is a photo of me and my Ukrainian friends, hanging out in their living quarters. Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm always a stud. Anyhow, these guys were originally assigned to "The Fort," probably the most remote site out here in Iraq. They are here now because they no longer need to be out there.

The Fort was essentially an outpost on the Iran/Iraq border, with no perimeter and no facilities. No perimeter meant you got all the Cowboys and Indians you could take. No facilities meant you had to eat MREs all day (which I should explain in another post), and you had to dig your own toilet. Talk about fun! Makes me appreciate even what I've got out here.

They told me that "Pivo" means "Beer" in Ukrainian. While this is always good to know, there is still no booze allowed out here. And if you're wondering, I have not yet learned how to say, "That sucks," though now would be a good time, eh?

Yesterday, I was invited to the Kazakhstan Headquarters to hang out with their soldiers. They showed me photos from their country, and played songs for me on an instrument like a guitar but with only two strings. It sounds similar to a mandolin. The picture above is a Kazakh soldier, playing a local folk song for me. I filmed this as a video, which is why the photo is fuzzy.

Kazakhstan is a very large country, and was previously under Soviet control, just like Ukraine, but is now free. The people vary from Caucasian-Russians to Mongol-Turks. After all, Kazakhs originally were a combination of Mongols and Turks. Interesting, eh? The Kazakh soldiers out here look Asian, like this guy, my new friend here.

On to local/personal news, we now have a "living room" in our house, so we can relax and watch tv, or take a nap. Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention that we FINALLY got our vehicle. Our company gave us an SUV, which the Ukrainians call "Jeeps," even if the vehicle is not the Jeep brand. So now I am happy happy. I can go cruising around the base in style!

This was last night's moon, rising behind several coalition flags. Very cool photo. I now have so many pictures and stories, it is simply a matter of posting them. Until next time...

Posted by Dan at 12:01 AM | Comments (4)