Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Gy Ellis, one of the Iraqi areefs (sergeants), our terp Mark, and some locals on a recent patrol.
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Another good electrical picture for my Dad. This is on base across the way at TQ (Al Taqqadum Airfield, for whoever asked that question out there). Note the carefully placed skull and crossbones.
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The wily SSgt Walsh caught setting up two of our radios.
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Now why whould you send a bald man a shower cap (besides to provide a good picture for the blog)?
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...but in reality, I was looking at the trees (I shot this from the same position I was in in the picture). Thank God we are in an area with trees. Bare desert will suck your soul dry.
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Me on QRF duty. Master Guns Kistler and our terp Yousef are in the foreground. Most times, waiting on QRF involves just that: waiting. Gy Ellis thought I was sleeping...
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Believe it or not, blooming "in the wild" just outside the small chow hall here on base.
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Update - 17 Aug 05 "Patrol With A Fury"

Hi, all.

Sorry for the long delay. So much to tell about, so little time. Our operational tempo (“op tempo”) has gone through the roof this past week or two. Company 2 came home from Ramadi on the 13th, and since about then we have been increasing our number of patrols. Without giving any specifics away (it’s hardly classified info, but still…), we go “outside the wire” between two and six times a day, all still with Marines from our team both on the patrol, as well as staged with the Quick Reaction Force (QRF). The running joke is that we are “patrolling with a fury”, because that is what LtCol Majeed, the battalion CO for 3-2-1, said he would start to do when he realized he could dictate the patrolling schedule. The exact translation was, “We will patrol with a fury!” And he has, let me tell you. Of course, we now have named our planning cycle the “Circle of Fury”, and on our patrol schedule, under the date, is the header “PATROL WITH A FURY”. My left elbow and right shoulder have been aching with a fury because of this schedule, but welcome to being 38 years old.

We have been on a couple of task force operations since I last wrote. A task force op is one in which 1/110 tasks us with providing forces (usually a company) in support of one of their battalion ops. Usually, they will attach a platoon of engineers to us and we’ll chop a platoon of Iraqis to one of the US Army companies. It’s good cross-training for everybody involved (although “training” is a misnomer since we’re actually executing vice training).

This past big op, I served as gunner on one of our HUMMVs with Master Guns Kistler driving (we all rotate billets; yesterday I drove our QRF HUMMV with Top Radke gunning, this morning I walked on one of the patrols as “a-driver” to SSgt Walsh). Gunning at any time is interesting, but this op was especially so. It’s night, so we were all on NODs (Night Observation Device), which is a fascinating discussion in itself. (I have to admit, looking at the stars on a dark night through NODs is f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s. Get a night with no moon and as little man-made light as possible, you would not BELIEVE the number of stars. Watching helicopters flying by at night is absolutely fascinating as well). The Tactical Air Control Party Air Force guy is on the battalion frequency calling us to verify our Iraqi troop location (difficult even in daylight) because of activity a helo circling above is observing; on a different radio, I raise Gy Ellis who is with the Iraqis to talk via terp (interpreter) to verify where they are. All of our jundee are clear of the area, but now battalion wants us to contact a Bradley about 100m away to roll down the road to check out the activity. Master Guns Kistler drives us up to the Bradley, I dismount and now have to figure out how in the hell to safely get the crew of a buttoned-up armored vehicle to open up so I can talk to them. Older tanks used to have a “grunt phone” on the back that troops could use to talk to the crew; no such luck on a Bradley. Try knocking on the back hatch (I am not making this up); no joy. Walk around to the front (carefully positioned to the side in case they decide to roll) and flash my flashlight at the driver and commanders vision blocks; nothing. Start cursing; go back to the back. POUND the back hatch. The turret rotates a full 360; no one opens. Master Guns calls me to say they have confirmed the activity the helo was observing was friendly, so as I walk back to the HUMMV, the Bradley drives off, racing into the blackness. Back up in the turret, back behind the gun, Master Guns and I reposition the HUMMV in a blocking position, and it’s back to juggling radios, automatic weapons, and vehicles, all completely blacked out. At some point, the op ends, the Iraqis load back up, the detainees are packed into the back of an armored truck (flex-cuffed and blindfolded), and away we race down the highway in convoy, no lights, except for some of these damn IR spotlights some of the Army vehicles have (I don’t like them at all; infrared is invisible to the naked eye, but looks just like normal light in NVGs. They wash all other residual light out, which is better, if you ask me.) Pull on to base, trucks bouncing the jundee all over the place (including Gy Roche, whose big toe is now purple because of the ladder bouncing down on to his foot on this ride), pull off to the side, unload all weapons, convoy to east camp, detainees to the detention facility for processing (requiring paperwork at 0430 in the morning for Gy Ellis and the Iraqis). Time for bed around 0500, sleep until 1230, get up and start the day. Ouch.

Sorry for the run-on paragraph. Wish I had time to do the whole story justice.

Funny story of the week: Master Guns Kistler that morning goes to the porta-head and while taking care of business, the porta-head maintenance guy starts powerwashing the heads, with him in it! Out he comes soaked head to toe, with the maintenance guy apologizing profusely! I wasn’t there unfortunately, but Master Guns told me the story himself, so it is verified. I’d have paid good money to have seen it.

Strange moment of the week: Went out into Coolie Camp on an unexpected trip with the Base Defense guys (it’s a long story); while standing at a blocking position with Capt Ward, USMC, I notice this little kid about eight, wearing a ragged t-shirt with “TEXAS” across the top, and the state of Texas profile on it, with the major cities indicated. This was strange because I am from Austin now, and there I am in the “ville” at 1300, flak, helmet, M4 rifle at the ready, Marines, soldiers, and corpsmen all over, and I am looking at a kid with a shirt showing my adopted hometown, thousands of miles and light years away. Makes you wonder, don’t it.

Gotta run. Haven’t meant to gaff you gentle readers off, but my primary duty of XO / S-3 / diplomat / tea leaf reader / graphics midnight runner / patrol b—ch has kept me really busy as of late. Now that I mention it, since it seems like I start every entry with, “Sorry for not updating the blog… have been really busy… high op tempo… will try to do better… ,“ I am going to make this disclaimer permanent. I think that we are going to be day on / stay on until we get out of this lovely place, and I will save us both some time and from here on out by abbreviating this opening diatribe with “Sorry again” and get to business. Hope y’all understand.

Only one reader has asked a question, namely for some sort of glossary of terms (military and local) we use; I will put something together soon. If any other folks have questions, ask away. I’ll answer, but it may be a while.

On the HUMMVs naming project; it has gone to the back burner due to ops, but we’re still mulling it over. Master Guns Kistler thought of “Hear No Evil”, “See No Evil”, and “Speak No Evil”, which I really like, but am thinking of what picture to go with them.

More to come…