November 06, 2005

Security Training

The three weapons I learned how to handle, strip, and clean were the AK-47, Bushmaster M4, and Glock 17.

This week, I was enrolled in a Security Training Program, to give me the basics in Escort Detail, Evasive Driving Techniques, Weapons Handling, and Combat Lifesaver Skills. Why does a computer guy like me need to learn all this? For starters, my "work" happens to be in one of the most dangerous places to live, and you never know when you'll be involved. Also, a good rule is to never turn down any training opportunities.

The main thing is I thought this would be a great experience, and I doubt I will ever get the chance to do this again. I rarely will have to travel on the ground, but I will be armed, so I might as well learn all this other stuff.

Our training area was the old Parade Grounds, built to honor Iraq's "victory" in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). This of course is not true - neither side won - but Saddam sure wanted his people to think so.

Beneath the crossed sabers lie hundreds of Iranian helmets, taken from the battlefield over the years. Enclosed in rope netting, they "spill" down onto the ground below.

These helmets have also been embedded into the ground entrance, so you literally have to ride over them on your way in. Very disturbing.

Located within the International Zone, this area is now used for training and practice.

We played different roles and switched off periodically. One time, I was a VIP, and other times I was a shooter. We then played out different scenarios. In this photo, the vehicle on the left has been disabled by a bomb, and the occupants have to safely traverse to the vehicle on the right.

One time, I played a driver that had been knocked unconscious from a roadside bomb. The team had to rescue me from a "burning" vehicle by dragging me over the gearshift and out the passenger door. Only problem was my pants got caught on the gearshift and ripped as they yanked me out of the truck. They then dragged me for about 30 feet before letting go.

I stood up, and my pants were ripped all the way around my leg! I had to hold them up just to keep everything covered, if you know what I mean. It sounds like the kind of thing that would happen to me, doesn't it? Luckily, we broke for lunch (or "scoff" as the Brits call it), and I ran home and changed pants. We then continued with driving exercises.

How many Brits does it take to fix a flat tire? :)

Take note, these are B-6 (Ballistic Level 6) Armored vehicles. Anyone who does a google search for B6 Armor will learn that it is very heavy-duty stuff. It still won't stop an IED (Improvised Explosive Device, aka Bomb)...well, maybe some.

We also learned how to strip weapons for cleaning and reassemble them. This is an AK-47. The AK-47 is the weapon of choice for countries around the world because it is inexpensive, durable, and easy to build. "47" refers to the year in which it was designed.

I don't know what I'm doing here, but I thought those REVA 4x4s were awesome.

The Parade Grounds are located next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This monument was also built after the Iran-Iraq war; created to honor the missing Iraqi POWs. We had some extra time, so we took a break and looked around.

The structure is quite massive.

The thing that I really love is the abstract design.

Inside the tomb are dozens of swords, lining the walls and center pillar.

We returned to the Parade Grounds, and climbed up to the main podium where Saddam himself would address his troops.

The stands had built-in air conditioning for guests. If you look closely, you can see the little black air vents for every seat.

This is where things got interesting. We paired-up and practiced administering IVs. Yes, we actually did this on Saddam's podium. IV administration is very important because these fluids keep you hydrated and your blood pressure up. I only got stabbed twice before my "medic" correctly inserted the needle and cannula. Some guys bled all over their pants. Not fun.

Here, I'm pretending to have C-Spine Injury, a potentially paralyzing condition.

We all took turns playing victim and medic, which really helped with my confidence in all this. Some of our more "graphic" scenarios included wounds that expose the lower intestine. It sounds bad, but it really is good to learn.

The week ended up with practical tests on all subjects, and closing feedback. Overall, I had a great time, learned a lot, and wish that everyone out here could have the opportunity to take something like this.

Well, now that my training is out of the way, it looks like I'll be on the road again. I will have more to talk about shortly.

In closing, I leave you with home footage of the 1000 lb. cement truck VBIED (VBIED=Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device, aka Car Bomb). This footage was taken across the Tigris River, on 24-October.



Posted by Dan at 07:58 PM | Comments (4)

November 15, 2005

Makin' A Run For The Border...

I took this pic of the sun last week during a sandstorm in Baghdad. You can actually look straight into it on days like this.

Well, I am now in the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, just for a few days. Umm Qasr is Iraq's largest sea port, and an important link to infrastructure and supply.

To get here, I had to fly via Blackhawk from the IZ over to Baghdad International Airport (formerly, Saddam International). From there, I flew down to Kuwait, where I was met by a contact from a company out here.

My contact then drove me up to the Kuwait-Iraq border, where we were "escorted" by a private security team. We linked-up, jumped in armored vehicles, and headed into Iraq. It sounds like some shady deal in a movie, huh?

I also drove up to another shipping port today; Khor Az Zubayr (KAZ for short). I'm hoping to get some cool photos before I leave, as I have to make my way back up to Baghdad soon.

Speaking of Baghdad, I must be lucky. The day I left, a mortar landed about 10 meters from my desk - but it didn't detonate. EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) came to remove the round, but it was burried so deep that they couldn't extract the ordnance and decided to leave it! So now there is a buried explosive in the courtyard next to my office! Coooooool. (that was sarcasm in case you couldn't tell)

That's it for now. I don't have any photos to post. This was from my flight to Kuwait. With all the attacks in Baghdad lately, I just wanted to let everyone know that all is well (or at least that I'm safe).

In closing, I leave you with this random photo, taken at an Iraqi restaurant in Baghdad. Doesn't the drawing look like Eric Cartman from Southpark?


Hahaha. Cheers!

Posted by Dan at 09:25 PM | Comments (3)

November 26, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! This was my second "Turkey Day" out here in the Middle East, and again, it's always difficult being away from family. The local DFAC (Dining Facility) did its best to serve up some of that home cooking, but man, I'm starting to miss home.

Anyhow, I made it back to Baghdad once again. I was down in southern Iraq for a few days, working at Umm Qasr and Khor Az Zubayr. Like I had mentioned in my previous post, it is easier to fly from Baghdad to Kuwait; then drive up over the border, back into Iraq (see map above).

And the pace has picked up around here. Car bombs seem to be the trick du jour, although they rarely get close enough to the IZ. But you do hear them. And every day or two, a couple of mortars land nearby, as a reminder that this isn't the nicest place on the planet...well, maybe better than France right now. OK, bad joke.

This is our back yard, complete with modern-day contemporary art. I am refering to the mortar round that buried itself here about a week ago. Fortunately, it didn't explode, and it remains a permanent part of our compound now. Crazy.

Actually, it would be more dangerous to remove the round, as it is buried so deep, it probably won't hurt anyone. Let's just hope the neighborhood cats don't go digging!

Speaking of the cats, one of the mommas just had a litter of four. Here are three of them, pretending to be trapped in a Baghdad jail cell.

Back to reality; This is the way to Umm Qasr. Once again, I am on MSR Tampa (the Main Supply Road that spans the length of Iraq). I have been on this road quite a few times now.

Because the roads are a bit dangerous out here, I drove with a Security Escort Team. On this trip, the guards were all Fijian - really cool guys. They have great, easy-going attitudes, and we listened to Bob Marley on the drive. Music really does change the atmosphere. Kinda makes you forget that there are little bombs hidden in the road.

On a side note, this photo was from a party with a different team of Fijians, back in Baghdad a month ago. Their traditional songs are reminiscent of Hawaiian music - very mellow. That white tub on the table is filled with a drink made from the root of the Kava plant. A couple sips of this, and you are one happy camper.

And again, back to the trip. This is the seaport of Umm Qasr. The weather turned rather quickly, and rained all day, so I didn't get many photos.

Another angle of the port. These ships are massive.

After my work was done, I had to drive back down to Kuwait. I'm looking a bit scruffy there!

I made it back to Kuwait City just in time for this sunset photo. This is close to my old neighborhood of Salwa, from the when I used to live there.

Later that night, I met up with my old boss, and a Kuwaiti friend. they took us out to a hole in-the-wall restaurant near Hawalli - in the old Souk district.

We had fresh-caught fish, and the largest shrimp I've ever eaten! On the side, we had all the good fixins, like hummus, flatbread, and lettuce sticks.

I can't believe I ate that whole tray!

Kuwait at night: A very busy place.

Compared to some of my other gigs, this new job is plush. I get to stay at the Hilton whenever passing through Kuwait. The resort is right on the beach, overlooking the Persian Gulf. Nice, eh?

The next day, I was on a C-130 to Baghdad, and lucky me, I caught a helicopter ride from Baghdad Airport to the Green Zone within an hour of landing. That's almost unheard-of. Must be karma from past experiences.

Other news...

Like I said, I'm back in Baghdad. Winter is definitely coming, and it's a getting nippy outside. In a few days, I'll be traveling up to Tikrit (Saddam's home town). After that, I'll fly even farther north, to the city of Mosul. This old settlement borders a part of Iraq known as Kurdistan. Kurds are an ethnic minority here, concentrated mostly in Turkey and Northern Iraq, and we often see ethnic violence and fighting in Mosul as a result of its proximity.

As usual, I will bring my camera, and my warped sense of adventure :)

Until then...

Posted by Dan at 09:04 PM | Comments (3)

November 30, 2005

FOB Speicher

There really is not a lot to see out here...

I made the 170 km journey north to Tikrit, and am now camped out at FOB Speicher (Forward Operating Base). FOBs are almost the same as Camps - little differences like quality-of-life are probably the most noticable. But they still have a DFAC and PX here (Dining Facility and Post Exchange/General Store). Well, they do have a Taco Bell here, so I guess it can't be that rough.

I'm only here for a few days, which is a shame because I really wanted to see Saddam's über-palaces here. Remember, Tikrit is Saddam's home town. His tribe is from here, and his most extravagant palaces are here as well. A lot of the Oil for Food money went into these places.

I am probably flying out of here tomorrow, headed even further north to the town of Mosul. My journey started yesterday in downtown Baghdad - eventually flying to Balad Air Base (aka LSA Anaconda), and today ending up at FOB Speicher in Tikrit. What a trip.

This was just a short update. More to follow...

Posted by Dan at 07:10 PM | Comments (3)