First let me start by wishing everyone a very Happy Easter and I hope you are able to spend the time with friends and family.
Having said that, I thought I should get this update out early so that you’ll receive this as a forward greeting rather than one that gets to you after the fact.
Well, contrary to all of the news, things are relatively quiet. We do not seem to be the main focus of the attacks although I hate to see the loss of any human life whether it is American or otherwise. It’s just so damn frustrating to continue to see this turmoil and the lack of tenacity in getting things done over here on the part of the Iraqis. A prime example is the Hussein trial. It is absolutely ridiculous for this litigation to take so long. Unfortunately, the Iraqis are permitted (by State and Defense Department) to move “at their own pace” which, if they got any slower, they’d be in reverse. The evidence is there, I just wished they’d do it and be done with it. But,,, I need to keep reminding myself that they are Middle Easterners and not Americans. We move at lightning speed compared to them. We still need to be cognizant of our surroundings here even in the IZ. The IZ is shrinking and there are more Iraqis being allowed access. Consequently, the risk of infiltration is going to increase naturally.
I’m starting to see a little bigger picture that goes beyond the Iraqi borders. The Shiite’s seem to align very closely with Iran and the Sunni’s align closely with Syria. The Kurds are on their own up North and seem to be able to do just fine. Sure wish they could remain somewhat neutral but that’s just not going to happen. I don’t think the Kurds are wild about either group and would prefer to be left alone. Of course, that worries Turkey who doesn’t want them to become too powerful. Like I’ve said, nothing is ever easy here.
I know the media perception back home is that everyone here hates us and wants us out. Well, I’ll tell you, if that was actually true, we wouldn’t be here. I mean face it, look at the weaponry that’s still laying around and that could be brought it. We’ve got roughly 200,000 people here spread out in an area the size of California and there are 25 million local residents. If they really all hated us and wanted us out, how long could we defend from an all out attack and how long could we survive in these compounds without having to resort to annihilation tactics? Despite the daily attacks and assaults, there exists some semblance of order here in Iraq. But, I really don’t know how these people continue to persevere through life given their uncertainties. I think we in the US have experienced what can happen if order disappears. Consider the LA riots after the Rodney King incident. The police were basically overwhelmed and people had to resort to defending themselves as the police assumed more of a defensive posture before the National Guard and other agencies were brought in. No one was outwardly attacking the police but if they did, there were not enough police to quell such an endeavor.
Sorry to start this on such a somber tone. Okay, how about some fun stuff?
We’ve got a new agent (new? He’s my age, eligible to retire, and detailed from another agency.) He is the nicest guy. He reminds me of Gomer Pyle, USMC. He’s from Alabama, is tall, with graying dark hair, and is always smiling. He never says anything bad about anyone even when someone becomes hostile. He’s just a great Southern gentleman and he’s a good investigator. I’m sure he could get riled up but he’s pretty low key. The other thing is that he’s really hard of hearing. Unless you are looking directly at him, you have to shout to get his attention. Thank God we are just responsible for our own defense and do not have offensive type assignments.
Had several humorous incidents occur this week. One involved when I and another special agent were coming in through a check point. There are “T” walls all the way around in this checkpoint right by the Tigris River. Now you need to understand that vehicles are allowed only one at a time. There’s no jamming up at the check point. You only move when instructed to move. The alternative is not good. Well, we are waiting our turn about 50 yards out at the check point awaiting instructions to be motioned forward. Suddenly, we see one Marine take a stalking stance, raise his M-16 to eye level and move across the checkpoint through the “T”walls to the right. The only way I can further describe this would be to think of the stance of an officer with a weapon drawn ready to make entry on a place where the danger level is heightened. Anyway, the Marine disappears from view at which time we are wondering what the hell is up. The other Marine at the check point motions us forward. Now at this point he hasn’t moved nor has he raised his weapon. As we move forward, the other Marine comes back standing straight up and with his M-16 hanging from the strap on his shoulder. We arrive at the check point just as the “stalking” Marine approaches my side of the vehicle. I rolled down the window and said “Marine, you had me concerned as to the threat you were addressing.” He replies, “Sir, an unauthorized bird breached check point security, Sir.” I began to laugh and said, “Well, I’m glad you are on the alert but do you pursue birds or are you involved in big game pursuits as well.” He responds “Sir, I respond to all and there are plenty of targets.” Then he smiles kind of a boyish grin. Heck, I don’t think he was 19-20 years old. We proceeded through after wishing them well. You really have to understand that most days for these soldiers are routine, mundane, and down right boring and they are continually looking for ways to occupy their minds and stay alert. It’s a tough thing to stay alert like that. It would be like asking you to stay alert for the mailman every day including holidays.
I met a US Customs Agent who is here as an advisor to the Iraqi Customs out at the airport. We actually had a discussion along with a couple of beers. He was telling us some of the circumstances he has encountered with Iraqi Customs and shipments. He was talking about mixed cargo containers where caustic (acid) materials were shipped along side volatile fuels such as propane, gasoline, etc. He found one instance where the Iraqi Customs had directed two fuel tankers that were loaded to park the vehicles in a structure where only one side could be accessed (meaning the trucks would have to back out) while they were inspected. I guess the Iraqi Customs preferred to work in the shade. If you’re not aware, Iraqis (especially men) are like chain smokers and they do smoke on the job. The only designated smoking areas are in the U.S. Embassy Compound. The U.S. Customs Agent just wanted out of that area. The other incident involved the shipment of explosives. The boxes were marked only with a series of numbers that translate in code to explosives. Apparently the Iraqi Customs misinterpreted the numbers as shipping numbers, opened the boxes to inspect, and were actually tossing the cigar like wrapped explosive back and forth to each other trying to figure out what it was. The US Customs Agent hurriedly explained it to them upon seeing this and the playing stopped. He said the insurgency is the least of his worries here. I can understand why.
My friends who have served in the military will enjoy this next little story and it is the honest to God’s truth. I did not embellish on the way it was told to me. A certain senior executive service agent for an agency that will remain nameless apparently really got himself in a pickle for his conduct here. Now I introduced myself to this guy when he first arrived about 6 months ago. He ensured that I was aware that he was the attaché and country director for his agency. The unique thing about this guy is that he would never be the first to initiate eye contact or greet you. If you said hello to him, then he’d acknowledge you but he would never initiate. Moreover, if he was with someone (usually in a suit that looked important, i.e. State Department I’m sure,,, they all are important!!!), he would tend to ignore you even if you said hello. Well, most of you know how I feel about someone with this attitude. Shortly before I left to come home on R&R, I see this guy in the dining facility dressed in full military BDU’s but without any insignia whatsoever except for three stars on each collar of his blouse. He was seated so I didn’t know if I had missed something so I purposely went by him again and said hello. He said hello but nothing more but I was able to observe that the BDUs contained nothing but the three stars on each side of the collar. One of our agents is a retired USMC Warrant Officer and had also seen this guy. I said that I had seen U.S. uniformed law enforcement personnel with rank insignia wherein the BDU contained a patched badge, the America Flag, the person’s name, the agency, and the rank. I asked about the propriety of this and he said the BDU was totally inappropriate and the three stars would indicate the rank of a three star general. I didn’t think much of it until this last week as I hadn’t seen this guy around. We’ve become very close friends with one of his subordinates here who is a great guy and can’t stand the attaché or should I now say former attaché. Apparently, this attaché compares himself as an SES (senior executive service) officer as being equivalent to the general rank and thus felt justified in wearing a BDU with the three stars. As I was informed nobody said anything to him here in the Embassy Compound when he had the BDUs on with the three stars on each collar, but then he decides to make a trip south. He is manifested on a Blackhawk to travel south to an area controlled by the British. He shows up at the landing zone for his flight. The military in charge of the flights take one look at him (he has a full beard, trimmed but still not GI) and the three stars on his collars and asked him what he was doing. He explains that he is an SES civilian but that he is so high in stature that he is deserving of the equivalent rank and treatment of a three star general. I could just hear this guy saying this and I could imagine the reception that it got. The next thing that happens is that the Blackhawk has suddenly “developed” mechanical problems and his flight was cancelled. But now here’s where it gets good. He still wants to go south so he takes it upon himself to check with the Brits to arrange for transportation. Well, some Brits are not as familiar with our uniforms and facial hair requirement. Although he explains that he’s a civilian three star equivalent, they figure he’s some type of military. Now understand there’s only one four star in theater. That’s General Casey. There are only a handful of three stars here and the rest are two and one stars. Apparently as the word trickles down, the Brits down south are informed that a U.S. three star is coming down for a visit. The Brits commit a C-130 just for him and this trip. Now that’s like someone working for Intel Corporation and having the company’s private jet reserved just for you to make a routine trip. Common sense would tell you that something is very wrong with this picture and that further explanation is warranted. Bottom line: I would not have stepped foot on that plane without clearing up why I was getting such preferential treatment and making sure that everyone understood who I am and what I was doing. Apparently, our attaché didn’t think the same way. He gets on the flight and rides it south. Well, when he gets to his destination, there is quite a contingent of British Military personnel to greet him. When the British General sees who actually gets off the plane and sees nothing but three stars on his BDUs, he is incensed and outraged by all of this. Now this attaché is trying to explain how he is justified in wearing what he’s wearing and thought that the plane was just available, etc., etc,. The Brits took their complaint all the way to Washington, D.C. The undersecretary of this agency had to personally tender an apology directly to the Brits. Our SES friend now has a letter of reprimand and is forbidden to wear the BDU’s or the stars. I’m told his days are numbered here. I hate to be real mean but I am so tempted just to salute him once. I mean he’s got an ego the size of Texas but lacks a bit on common sense.
I wanted to end this by saying that I just met another young married couple who are here working. They are not highly skilled, just highly motivated. One supervises an office cleaning crew and her husband is an equipment operator. You know, I hear people say that the American Dream of homeownership is out of reach. However, here are these two young people both in probably their mid to late 20’s working here and socking everything away in order to buy and pay off a house. It’s a sacrifice for them being here but they are maximizing on an opportunity to have a home and be literally debt free. There are a lot of people here doing exactly that and they range predominantly between 25-35 years of age. The more I see of this motivation and desire the more I have great confidence in at least some of today’s American youth to go the extra mile to achieve their dreams and goals.
Well, I think I’m going to kick back and relax a little today. I wish you all the best and thank you as always for the e-mails, the thoughts, and especially the prayers. I keep thinking I’m going to run out of things to tell you but new things just keep popping up. Hope you find them enjoyable. Bless. Bob