Thursday, July 07, 2005

This is Rod Serling; you are now entering the Twilight Zone.

Hi, everybody; sorry for the long, LONG delay in updating the blog. It is now 10:10 PM our time, and this is honestly the first chance I’ve had today to sit down. I have to be up at 6:00 AM, so I’ll make this as through as I can, but I promise a longer, more complete update.

On the 2 July, we set out in convoy about 9 PM (after dark), leaving Taji and the Phoenix Academy behind. Our first convoy out into Iraq proper, destination Camp Fallujah – or more accurately, the East Fallujah Iraqi Camp (EFIC). In all honesty, we were all keyed up, all carrying a lot of ammo, and based off the constant news we’ve seen in the States, expecting something as soon as we left the base.

Nothing to report. I had trouble staying awake for the ride, but the sweat running into my eyes kept me from relaxing too much (note: all armored HUMMVs have air conditioning, believe it or not, but I don’t think it was working properly in my HUMMV). We got in about midnight on the 3rd and the folks at our Brigade headquarters (a brigade is the equivalent of a Marine regiment) greeted us with open arms, with cots ready for us in nearly over-air conditioned tents and a refrigerator of sodas and water. We were all completely, truly exhausted, and we all immediately got into “bed”.

The next morning, we got up, met the Marines with our higher headquarters, rode over to the main camp at Fallujah, and had lunch. I tried to track down my old roommate from Hawaii, LtCol Gregg Kendrick, who has already been there for five months with seven to go, but missed him by 10 minutes. It is just outside the city of Fallujah, in open desert, with everything bermed in and hardened, all quite safe. It is strange – but understandable, I guess – that the two camps of Fallujah and the EFIC are literally side by side, but wholly separate. The Iraqi camps are not considered as secure as the US forces so they are actually completely separate. Leave the gate of one camp, drive less than a mile, enter the gate of another camp.

We geared up for the second convoy for the evening of the 3rd, to move from EFIC to Camp Habbinayah. On the map (everybody get out your map), it is a short distance, but the route we took is MUCH longer. The straight, as-a-crow-flies route is apparently pretty dangerous, so instead of taking it (an hour ride), we took the safe 4.5 hour route. Again, uneventful except for having to stop an hour into it because a HUMMV blew a tire and we had to change it out. Actually, it was “we”, namely MGySgt Kistler. I was up in the front and missed it, but since the convoy commander knew that we had a Motor Transport chief AND our brand new spare with our brand new HUMMV, he called them up. Nothing like changing a tire in Indian country in the middle of the night. No pressure, really.

We rolled on and got to Habbinayah about 0130 in the morning on the 4th of July. We had finally arrived, and to quote the CO, we were nearing “the end of the beginning.”

EXHAUSTED, we crammed all 11 of us into the one available air conditioned room, and collapsed. I think we got up around 0800 or 0830, got into our filthy, disgusting cammies (two convoys, etc.) and finally gazed upon Habbinayah. Beautiful, beautiful Habbinayah. I will owe you a full description of this place later, but in short, it had been an RAF base in the 30’s I think, then went to the Iraqis, and then fell into TOTAL disrepair, and now we are rebuilding it. I am only half kidding about the Twilight Zone analogy. An entire base, much of the structural architecture intact, but totally abandoned for decades, from the look of it. I will include some pictures.

I am starting to get really tired, and just do not have the time or energy to finish the story, so I’ll close for now. We have all be unbelievably busy over the last four days, and tomorrow (8 July), Team Med-fah will be in charge for the first time. The outgoing team will be here until the 9th, when they fly by helicopter from Taqqadum (sp?) just to the south of us. We are all in our air conditioned room, and will be taking over the outgoing team’s other rooms (we’ll be three to a room then); there is a shower trailer set up just outside our building, we get to choose between the Iraqi chow hall or two American chowhalls on the other side of our base (more on that later). Everyone is in all honesty doing really well, and already leaning into their new jobs. Everyone, to a man. It is quite amazing to watch what you knew was going to be a great team actually becoming the great team in front of your eyes. We have a lot of support from the other American forces here, including an Army infantry battalion and a Navy SEAL team. Marines living with Iraqis supported (and supporting) by Army infantry and Navy SEALs. What a long, strange trip it’s been. And it just started!

Quick admin note: we do NOT have the internet in our building. We have to drive over to the American side, get in line, and compete with GI Joe at the computer next to us for bandwidth. It will take me an average of about 10 to 15 minutes to manage to check one (1) e-mail, unless I come over here in the morning when - suprise - I am busy. That is a big part of the delay in my update. I alsowon't be able to upload any pictures (of which I have quite a few) until I can get a decent connection. We are working on improving the situation, but being all the way back here in the early-20th Century, it ain't easy.

Also, hold off on mail for the next few days. I have a slight change in the address (truly slight, just one line) which will help ease the confusion of our outgoing Army battalion. I will get the change posted tomorrow.

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