Another great note from our favorite soldier in Iraq…..Kevin.
Sunday, 4 Feb 07
I received two great packages in the mail today (yes, our mail comes seven days a week). One came from the 4th/5th/6th grade class of Emily’s school, and the second came from Emily’s class. Both were filled with homemade Valentines. They were awesome. I had to go out and buy some tape so I can start putting them up on the walls of my room.
Monday, 5 Feb 07
Today I had the strangest experience. I was leaving a building on the east side of Anaconda and a smell stopped me in my tracks. I looked around and then down at the ground. There, under my feet, was a two-foot square patch of grass that had been freshly cut. I stood there for another minute just taking in the aroma. It was fabulous. It was home, if only for a moment. It is neat how a simple smell, sound, or other stimulation to our senses can trigger a happy (or sad) emotion. At that moment I had been transported 10 thousand miles through the wonderful smell of new mown grass. What was strange is that that was the only patch of grass in sight.
That small parcel of grass was just a small reminder of what we take for granted in our every day lives. A reminder of what we cherish most. At that moment a flood of memories came to me. Some people complain that they have to mow the grass, others are glad that they have grass to mow.
Tuesday, 6 Feb 07
For the past four days I have put in a full day’s work at the ECP and then left to spend seven hours in classroom learning about some new equipment we will be fielding at the ECP’s here on Anaconda. It has made for a few very long days. Today we took our new equipment to the North ECP to try it out. That ECP is much different because it is where most of the Local Nationals (Iraqis) enter if they have a job on camp or if they have a medical appointment at out hospital. It was truly a sobering experience. Many of the people who came through had been injured, and their scars were clearly evident. Yet they had a smile on their face and showed a sincere gratitude for our help.
Wednesday, 7 Feb 07
Today I was once again at the North ECP for a few hours. Up until now I can say I had been shielded from the sights of the war here in Iraq. All that ended this morning when I observed a car carrying two Iraqis come into the gate. They came to pick up the remains of their brother who had been brought to the hospital here on Anaconda the day before. Their brother’s life could not be saved. He became another victim of violence because of his association with us Americans. The two men respectfully took their brother out of the Army truck and placed him in their car, and after they told us “thank you” numerous times they headed out the gate. It was a sobering reminder of why we are here.
Sunday, 11 Feb 07
Today was an interesting day at the ECP. Nothing exciting really happens there, but today was an exception. Shortly after the start of shift a convoy of Army trucks was coming in the lane that takes them through without having to wait behind TCN convoys (because we don’t have to inspect the Army drivers or their cargo). One truck with a flat bed trailer hauling a fuel tanker trailer hit one of our speed bumps a little too fast and caused the fuel trailer’s landing gear to break through the wood planking of the flatbed, causing the trailer to buck and nearly flip the tractor and trailer on its side. The sound we heard was like a small explosion, which to us on the ECP we didn’t think too much of because we hear that all the time. But when one of my soldiers ran in and told me what had happened we went into damage control and taking every effort to get the lanes clear as soon as possible so it would not affect our work. The cargo was quickly righted and within an hour and a half the truck was on its way and we were back in business. Luckily it was a slow night.
One group of men who work at the ECP that I don’t think I have mentioned is our Ugandans. During the overnight shift we have nine men from Uganda who work for a security contractor to do security work here on Anaconda. Our guys are great! All of them are former soldiers in the Ugandan Army and bring a spirit that is just awesome. Tonight ended up being a slow night, so after our last convoy some of us were talking with the Ugandans about being in their Army. They were asking about our equipment and they were telling us about theirs. At one point one of them told me about one of their vehicles that they had gotten from Russia and asked me if we also used it. With as straight a face I could manage I said, ”we prefer to use American equipment.” It took him a moment to realize what he just asked, and then the whole group busted out in laughter. The lesson that I learned here is that many people from other nations don’t know a lot about us, but really want to understand us better. The arrogance that some Americans may show to those of other nations can tarnish their innocence, and that every American becomes an Ambassador, for good or bad. After the sun came up I had my guys take the Ugandans for a ride in an Armored Personnel Carrier that we have in the inspection area for “emergencies.” When the APC came back the Ugandans all had a smile a mile wide.
Tuesday, 20 Feb 07
The past few days have been busy. We lost a good number of our platoon due to change of mission. They are now conducting convoy escorts. The remainder of the platoon are still at the ECP and we have received a group of soldiers from another unit who have come off escort duty. So I and three of my soldiers have been giving our new soldiers a crash course in ECP inspection area operations. Luckily yesterday was a slow day, which allowed us to ease them into several of the positions. Today though was another story. It was a very busy day. When they ran escorts they used to ask me why it took so long to inspect a convoy, now they are looking at the other side of the operation and are amazed at how my old team got a convoy through. After their first real day of operations they did great, which will be good for us. The sooner we get them trained, the sooner we get a day off. Its been three weeks for me and it will probably be another three weeks before I get one of the Sergeants ready to solo in my shoes, if only for one day.
My roommate is another Staff Sergeant who came as a replacement with us. He is one of the soldiers in our platoon who is now assigned to conduct convoy escorts. It is kind of odd seeing him leave knowing he is heading into harm’s way and I expect to see him return in a few hours through the ECP inspection area. One positive note is that there has not been a convoy escort soldier from Anaconda severally injured by IEDs in over 6 months. Much is due to the improved vehicles they are using and many of the high tech detection and disabling equipment that we use. In addition there is always the training and professionalism of the soldiers on the missions.
Thursday, 22 Feb 07
Today’s shift started on a somber note. We learned when we gathered for our Pre-Combat Checks (inspection) prior to work that one of our platoon convoy escort trucks hit an IED and one of the soldiers in it was to be flown to Germany to remove shrapnel in his leg. Last word is that he lost all feeling in his leg and they hope the surgeons in Germany can remove it without damaging the nerves.
The initiation device for the IED was a string of Christmas lights. When the bulbs are crushed they complete the circuit, setting off the charge. (It gives me a whole new feeling to those quaint decorations that us Americans take for granted.) Word was that the whole front of the HMMWV (pronounced Hum-V) was blown off, but the crew compartment protected the crew with the exception of one small area that the blast penetrated, sending a dime-sized piece of metal into the crew area, hitting our soldier.
It was a really busy night on the ECP, which helped us all keep our mind off of our injured friend.
Friday, 23 Feb 07
Today I had the displeasure of taking one of the soldiers on my team to a military judicial hearing called an Article 15. He made a minor mistake of a major infraction of the prohibitions we have as guests in this country. I hated to see him go through the process, but I was impressed that he accepted the responsibility for his actions and did not complain of his punishment. He received a hard lesson for his actions, but earned the respect of his leadership.
Our platoon ended the day doing manly-man work. We built a deck between a set of our housing units so we wouldn’t have to walk through mud on our way to the latrine and shower. It was a beautiful sight, men swinging pick-axes, saws buzzing, and drills spinning, all to the sounds of classic rock, grunge, alternative rock, and heavy metal music. An interesting mix of music that was a testament to the interesting mix of soldiers who were hard at work.