Wow, another week down with lots of stuff to talk about. Hopefully you won’t find this boring but there are some funny things and some not so funny things that have occurred.
First, some of our agents returned from the trip to the Turkish border on a case. They traveled through Mosul and still found it to be a very dangerous place with IED’s and rockets. They made it through without incident even though they had a flat tire. The PSD team changed it in record time and they were on their way. The last time there was a flat, the jack collapsed and it took extra time which allowed a suicide bomber to attack. They lost an American member of the team who didn’t open fire until it was too late. The cars actually prevented more shrapnel from hurting the rest of the team. The Turkish border is controlled by the Kurd Militia (Peshmerga) which is intolerant of a lot of this inter tribal nonsense. Basically, there are Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, and they want their own country. In fact the Iraqi flag up there is different than the flag down here. There are Arabs in the area that have come up to work and live but the word is if “you step out of line, they will hang you.” Consequently, it is peaceful compared to what’s going on here. The police up there saw the badges on the agents and were delighted to have their pictures taken with our guys. There are some new buildings up there but there is still a lot of run down areas. Overall, one agent described it as the Tijuana of the Middle East.
The boss and I were gone for two days on a trip to FOB Shield. I had a short interview to conduct with an Iraqi general, the one that was solicited for a bribe by an American in the case that I have. I had coordinated to convoy out with the military and I thought we’d be using an American Military convoy. Typically you see them running with Humvees with .50 cals mounted on turrets. We ended up going in up armored SUV’s and our convoy unit was an Iraqi major general’s personal body guards. We almost were going to leave the M-4’s at home figuring we’d be riding with our military so there wouldn’t be a need. I was certainly glad we carried our own weaponry. Actually we were almost better armed than our soldiers that we were riding with. Of course, they are fairly high ranking officers that are advisors to the Iraqi military operating their command centers so they don’t carry a lot of hardware. Needless to say there was plenty of protection but instead of having up armored Humvees with .50 cals on them, we end up with Iraqi personal security detail assets in Mitsubishi pick up trucks with PKM machine guns mounted in the bed of the trucks. In addition to the machine gunner, there are two other soldiers with AKs and one additional shooter on the passenger side of the truck. There is no doubt that they did a good job getting traffic out of their way and keeping the convoy moving. As a practical matter, all the weaponry doesn’t do much good against an IED or VBIED. If one survives the detonation, the weaponry assists in protecting yourself until an extraction team arrives.
We went to the Ministry of Interior building and were shown around. There are a lot of Iraqis in plain clothes and uniforms running around with guns all over the place. The outside of the building looks pretty good but it’s got some battle damage. The inside is an armpit and the rest rooms are just disgusting. I pity the poor women that had to use those facilities. The elevators are outrageous. They were about three feet wide at the most and maybe eight feet long. There weren’t very reliable either. The building went through three power outages while we were there. Thank God we didn’t get stuck in the elevator. I used it once and after that said I’ll walk the 11 flights up no matter how warm it was. We had to spend the night at FOB Shield which borders the Ministry of Interior and the Baghdad Police Academy because there was no travel back to the “land of IZ” as it’s called out there. (IZ stands for International Zone.) The soldiers like FOB Shield because there is very little military brass there and they are left alone. However, it is definitely not a pleasant place. The mosquitoes are horrible and there’s one television station ----- in Arabic --- no subtitles. They have a gym but it’s not very big and that’s it. You can tell that FOB Shield becomes a real mud hole in the rainy season. You could see the mud on the vehicles and the ruts in the roads reveal what a real mess it must be. The soldiers told us that they would shed their uniform boots for rubber boots just to walk to the gym, the DFAC, and to work. We were issued billeting for the night and were just thankful we didn’t have to sleep in a tent. However, they issued us bedding that, if you combined the two packages together, you could have enough for one bed. We each got a blanket but I got a pillow and what looked like an oversize dish cloth for a sheet. My boss had no pillow but had a pillow case, one fitted sheet, and one oversize dish cloth. I traded him my pillow for his fitted sheet. I used my back pack as a pillow. We learned that there was not a lot of work in this FOB and there are a lot of police instructors --- a job I had applied for. If the police academy isn’t running, there’s nothing for the instructors to do but they can’t leave either. There is very minimal internet. I don’t understand how they don’t go crazy from being bored over there. On our return trip to the IZ, the convoy was the same except my boss and I became the primary shooters in our vehicle. I was planning to try and get some video of our “run” because it’s really quite something to experience and a verbal description just doesn’t do it justice. I started taking pictures but had to stop when we hit a traffic jam and then came to a complete stop. Our drive, a Navy Chief Petty Officer, said “this isn’t looking too good.” At that point, I put the camera down and focused on being a shooter and watching for attack potential. We went through without incident but I didn’t get the pictures that I wanted. The other thing is that when the military “makes a run,” they play music. We were told that when they have music on, they don’t get hit so they keep it on. Sounds good to me. We played R&B going both ways.
I’m sure you’re aware that Condi Rice and Don Rumsfeld paid a visit to us. Timing is always everything. Their visits are unannounced for security purposes but you know things are happening by the movement in the Palace Rotunda and all of the Department of State employees all dressed up, running around trying to look important, and positioning themselves to get close to the celebrities. Wouldn’t you know that that’s the day I had to escort an Iraqi informant in from the Red Zone? I escorted him in all the way to our office without incident but when it was time to leave, I’m escorting him out through the Rotunda and here comes Condi Rice not more than 5 feet from me. Her security detail is trying to clear a path and is trying to separate me from the Iraqi I’m supposed to escort. Now when you sign as an escort that means you need to stay with this person wherever he/she may go. I basically grabbed the Iraqi and pulled him my way telling the security officer, he stays with me. He must not have noticed the Iraqi’s visitor badge that indicates he is to be escorted. What an incident that would have caused if he got us separated with the Iraqi on one side of Ms. Rice and me on the other and someone finally noticing that the Iraqi should have an escort. With all the press around there, that’s the last thing I needed.
I have to tell you that we have two agents over here that haven’t told their parents where they are. Now I’m talking about guys in their late 50’s. It’s so funny. One guy told his parents he’s working out of Washington, D.C. which is the truth,,,, he’s out of D.C.,,, over here!! The other agent told his parents he’s home in Las Vegas. He has to get on the Internet to check the temperature, weather, and news so he can talk with his parents and make them believe he’s home. They haven’t caught on yet that he’s here. Another thing is that he likes to have a drink and his parents won’t even go to a restaurant that offers alcohol. No, they aren’t Mormon. Anyway, we were talking about drinking tonight and one of the guys tells Kent (the fellow from Las Vegas) that alcohol kills brain cells. Kent says that he’s killed enough brain cells to lose 3 brains here already and that it’s a wonder he can even speak. Kent is leaving for home in two weeks.
The other night we had prime rib and one of the other agents who is 64 and is in pretty good shape asked for a thick piece. The server cut him a 2 inch thick piece of meat and he ate it all. We were supposed to run in the morning. He was there but he sure was running sluggish. The meat is good quality but it’s way over cooked.
Speaking of running, I ran the 5k last Friday in 25:08. I ran with a British Police Advisor that we’ve made friends with. He’s about 42 and is a really nice guy. Today I ran a 10k today in about 55 minutes. We have a 10 mile race next Sunday so I wanted to at least push a little. It’s been awhile since I’ve run a 10K so I’m a little sore right now. Hopefully, should be okay for the Sunday race.
Speaking of the Brits, our British Police Advisor friend invited us to the British Embassy for drinks and dinner. The Embassy did a real nice job on the food especially the deserts. I saw some of the British employees that I’ve worked with and went over to their table and told them their embassy had been infiltrated by a bunch of “dodgy” Americans. It’s amazing that both countries speak English but yet the expressions are so different. If someone is pissed in England, it means they are drunk. If someone tells you to “keep your pecker up,” it means to keep your chin up. Obviously, in the United States, there are way different meanings. After dinner, we got to go to the British Ambassador’s personal residence for an open house. That was really nice. The Ambassador has a great sense of humor and allowed us to take pictures with him. I met some people that had served in all different corners of the world. It made for a very interesting evening. We took a photograph under a portrait of the Queen Mum. I hope it comes out okay. My Brit friend has it on his camera as we weren’t allowed to bring cameras (or guns) in the Embassy. They don’t even allow their own soldiers in there with weapons. The Brits are lucky that their Embassy Guards are the Nepalese Gurkhas. They are a pretty feisty bunch. I haven’t decided yet but I might try and buy one of the Gurkhas knives.
It was Father Dennis’ last weekend. After mass tonight, he was presented with his combat medal. The congregation had taken up a collection and Father was presented with a large mural of St. Michael the Archangel and also a check in his honor to the Christian Relief of the Middle East for $450. I’ll bet he leaves the mural here for the church. He’s like that and besides he takes the Rhino out tomorrow and I know he can’t carry that mural out with him. The commanding officer and a Protestant Chaplain also had some real kind words especially about his ministering to the injured and dying at the CSH (Combat Surgical Hospital). Two things that Father Dennis said during his good byes really stuck with me. He mentioned about one soldier whose leg had been removed after taking a hit from an IED who was smiling at Father when he came to visit. The soldier said that God was good to him as he only lost a leg and that he could go home, be with his family, get some rehabilitation, and was hoping to be able to return to his unit to help where he could. I thought that was amazing and figured he wouldn’t want anything to do with the military after that. The sacrifice some military make is really indescribable. The other thing that Father relayed was that there were occasions when he was ministering and praying over someone who was supposed to be unconscious but he could see tears running down their faces as he prayed. There were a few people at church whose eyes were welling up as well. Fr. Dennis is going back to his home base in Dover and said if we visit, just ask the guards to tell us where the crazy priest is and they direct us to him.
You know since I’ve been here I’ve developed a whole different mindset over what it is like to be at war and also the sacrifice that really takes place with the military as well as the others that are here. We’ve got it good though in the IZ. It makes me think hard about WW II, Korea, Viet Nam, and Desert Storm and the sacrifices made. I can’t even put WWI or prior in the same group. Those poor guys had just as much chance of dying from disease as they did getting shot or blown up.
Do you remember the auditor that I told you about that was asking General Casey “just what kind of a job he had?” Well, he was asked to leave this week. In addition to this incident, the guy tries to engage an auditor in a fistfight (not a smart thing when this auditor is a former special forces officer), tries to tell new incoming auditors that someone detonated themselves in the IZ, suggests that there were 300,000 Iranians amassed at the border ready to attack, and that there were Iranian SCUD missiles pointed at the IZ. At that point, I guess management had enough. He’s on his way home to find another job. Most people here are really good but every once in awhile there is one that shows up that a few bricks short of a full load.
Well, I think I’ve rambled enough for one week. I have reports to write next week so maybe it’ll be a short update. My best to all and thank you for your continued thoughts, prayers, and e-mails. I’ll try to send more pictures.