Jake’s OIF War Journal 21: Blowed Up

So at this point in the journal I skipped about three months. That’s how exciting it was. There were good days and bad, but Tom Nacey and I spent a lot of time driving and flying around the country doing battlefield interviews with the division’s leaders and key warfighters to document it all for history. We did that mission with the New York Times’ Michael Gordon, who was collecting information for his book, Cobra II, at the time. Then I spent weeks transcribing the lion’s share of those interviews. It’s here that I’ll note this was about the first time I’d transcribed anything, so more than 24 hours of tape took a L-O-N-G time and yielded many pages. I gave plenty of it to Mr. Gordon and expected at least an acknowledgement in the book, but that never happened, so whatever.

After that, I was supposed to take over the division’s weekly in-country magazine when SGT Clarke rotated back home – which actually did happen back in the early days of the war – but I got pushed out to Fallujah in early July to work with the division’s engineers on some stories. It wasn’t the ruined town it became in later years at the time, but there had been problems out there. Both the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and a unit of the 82nd Airborne had attempted to calm tensions and been moved on before 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division came to town. My friends in the 28th Public Affairs Detachment had been in town with them the whole time, so I knew some people where I was going.

Strangely, through all of this, even during the invasion, my actual exposure to immediate danger was all but nonexistent. That all changed the last day I was in Fallujah. I was leaving the next day to go back to Baghdad International Airport, and the rumors were thick that the 3rd Infantry Division was about to head home. I went on one last mission with Col. Ed Cardon, the Engineer Brigade commander, down to the mayor’s office in town.

Quick editor’s note: I don’t recall taking a lot of pictures during my time in Fallujah, but the photos in this post are from that time, though not necessarily the day we got blown up.

22 July 03

Today started typical. The usual jerking around. Are we going home? Are we not? The question’s gotten old in the 3 months since I’ve added to this record. I’m still in Iraq, as is most of the division and, for that matter, a good portion of the Army. I’ve been in Fallujah for 3 weeks after about three mostly dull months at BIAP [Baghdad International Airport]. I could go on and on whining about how we’ve been jerked around, but I haven’t yet so why start now?

3rd Infantry Division MPs demonstrate tactics to a class of Iraqi policemen in Fallujah. Photo by me.

3rd Infantry Division MPs demonstrate tactics to a class of Iraqi policemen in Fallujah. Photo by me.

It started (and went) normal-like. Went with the engineers to the mayor’s office to write stories about all the great civic projects here. Just like the past 20 days. At about 2:30, all that changed.

I was joking with all the Iraqi translators about pop culture and cultural differences (it’s kind of my schtick here) when I heard something like a large piece of sheet metal being dropped. An explosion. It sounded far off, but a glance out the window showed Iraqi police and American security scrambling every which way. I debated grabbing my camera.

Col. Ed Cardon, commander, Engineer Brigade, and Taha Bedewi Hameed, Fallujah's mayor, inspect the new generator at the Al Shudada Water Treatment Plant in southern Fallujah. Photo by me.

Col. Ed Cardon, commander, Engineer Brigade, and Taha Bedewi Hameed, Fallujah’s mayor, inspect the new generator at the Al Shudada Water Treatment Plant in southern Fallujah. Photo by me.

“Get your shit and go guys. We got incoming.” SFC Hernandez had appeared in the office’s door out of nowhere. No time for questions. Act. Vest and kevlar on. Can’t carry my backpack. Need a gun hand. Two shoulder it. Get the camera.* Is my weapon loaded? Yes, I didn’t clear it when we arrived. Out of the office. Out the front door.

We’d left the vehicles in the northwest corner of the compound this morning, behind the building. I was running that way. Around the corner, there was confusion. Humvees moving out fast. I was running.

BOOM! Not metal this time. An explosion. Death’s possibility right in front of me, more immediate than at any time since I’ve entered this damn country. People were screaming. I didn’t see the vehicle. Carlson and I exchange glances. 1LT Elmoe, who left his gear in the truck this morning [BRILLIANT junior officer, right?], runs past us back toward the front of the building. We do the same.

Me on top of the dam in Hillah. We were there to help the Iraqis figure out how to work out water usage issues with Syria and Jordan.

Me on top of the dam in Hillah. We were there to help the Iraqis figure out how to work out water usage issues with Syria and Jordan.

At the door. SFC Hernandez tells us the trucks moved outside the SW corner of the convoy. We run for the front gate, the LT between us. People are scrambling everywhere. Get to the truck. Throw my bags in. Weapon up, eye looking through the sight post. Everyone’s ready. A quick U-turn in the awful Iraqi traffic. I point my M-16 right at a cab driver’s head to secure the maneuver. We’re in the lead, swerving past Iraqis who would never be licensed to drive in America. Heart’s pounding now. It does all the way back to the MEK [don’t remember what that stood for, but it was a forward operating base] gates.

No one was hurt, thank God. There were a lot of folks there today. It could have been real bad. Now I know, though. That was terror, but I stayed cool. I did my job. I threatened death to those in my way. My mind has never been so focused. I’ve never felt so aware. God, I needed a cigarette. Even that little bit felt like a lot. It really gives me respect for those who’ve seen more and less and what else. It gives me more respect for myself. I’ve been right there now.

A pair of Iraqi doctors performs an operation on a man's leg at Fallujah General Hospital. Photo by me.

A pair of Iraqi doctors performs an operation on a man’s leg at Fallujah General Hospital. Photo by me.

There really is nothing more terrifying than the random indirect fire. Explosions from the sky. Death from above, 3 months after it [the war] was supposed to be over]. I’m going back to BIAP tomorrow. I wish they’d hurry up and get all of us home.**

To Be Continued …

* And, for the last time, forget the notebook that had like four stories’ worth of notes in it.

** This day was pretty much the end. Within a week – give or take a day or two – of getting back to the airport, we were on a convoy back to Kuwait to get moving home.

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Jake’s OIF War Journal 20: Abu Ghraib

So obviously (I hope), this post is not about abusing prisoners in a jail in the titled town. This is more another mission, when Scott Molina and I went with 1st Battalion, 39th Air Defense Artillery Regiment into the now-infamous town for what we were told was a meeting of Iraq’s first democratically elected municipal government. There were a few firsts that day. It was the first time I worked with honest-to-God Special Forces Soldiers, which is why the story only had first names for some of the sources. It was the first time (oddly) that I ran into any combat camera personnel on the battlefield. It was also the first time another man held my hand. to this day I have to assume it was friendly, not “friendly,” but Scott got it on tape and still swears otherwise.

Mostly it was boring. We sat there while a bunch of people talked in Arabic with the occasional English interaction from teh Special Forces team members. Then we walked around in the town’s open-air market, where I realized that flies really do like meat hanging out in the open air.

A side note: This is the last regular entry in the journal. There are a few more I’ll post over the coming weeks in the interest of finishing the project, and I’ll try to fill in some blanks, but it’s obvious that after April, things started getting Groundhog Dayish. Read on …

25 April 03

An incredibly dull week has passed without so much as a peep from me in these pages. There hasn’t been a whole lot to write about. I’m begging for stories to cover just to make the days pass more quickly.

You can tell the one guy's SF because he rocks an awesome moustache. Photo by me.

You can tell the one guy’s SF because he rocks an awesome moustache. Photo by me.

One interesting, if not exciting, story this week. I went to a town called Abu Gharyib [I swear that’s how they spelled it in English on the road signs], just northwest of the airport, and got to be present as Iraq’s first-ever democratically elected city council met with its town’s department heads for the first time ever. There was a sense of history to the whole thing, even though it was at time as dull as Dad’s council meetings [my dad was a city manager before he retired]. The issues, however, were more immediate. Security for one of Baghdad’s only fully-functioning hospitals. Arresting looters. Paying police officers and other civic servants who haven’t see pay in two months. The list went on and on, with LTC Gerrell, the 1-39 ADA commander, promising to support them, but telling them they had to start doing things for themselves.

LTC Gerrell to Abu Ghraib sheikh: "You're going to have to do this yourselves." Photo by me.

LTC Gerrell to Abu Ghraib sheikh: “You’re going to have to do this yourselves.” Photo by me.

It seems simple, doesn’t it? But it’s not that easy. These people have no historical precedent for democracy. They’re learning it all for the first time after spending more than 3 decades under the Baath Party’s boot heel. Decisions have not been made by these folks in a long time, and now they’re being told it’s all up to them deciding and acting.

So where can I find a fly-encrusted calf? Goat? Anything? Photo by me.

So where can I find a fly-encrusted calf? Goat? Anything? Photo by me.

That’s big.

This is all big. I’ll never be part of something like this again, and history is unfolding around me. Imagine this place in 10 years.* 20. 30. It won’t be recognizable, all because of the seeds that are planted daily in this land’s fertile soil and fertile hearts and minds.

To Be Continued …

* Well, it’s been 10 years, how great IS it genius?

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Jake’s OIF War Journal 19: The Ghosts of Jihad Future?

This is a weird one, mostly in far hindsight. The really kinetic, armor-on-armor phase of the war was pretty much over, but there were still missions that looked like they were the last bits. This was one of them. We went out to cover what I still think is the only actual former surrender/capitulation of an Iraqi general. The guy saluted our colonel, turned all his tanks and people over, and went on to probably lead a Sunni jihad. Who knows? We then spent the day disabling a whole lot of T-72s, which near as I could tell consisted of cutting their fuel lines and smashing their lights. I guess it worked, because I don’t think al-Qaida in Iraq ever attacked our forces with armored columns.

We spent the day mostly in two areas: the outskirts of Fallujah and Ramadi. Both were new names to me at the time, but they obviously would become infamous over time as flashpoints in the Sunni Triangle. In Fallujah we mostly saw cows and old families, but we never really went close to the city. In Ramadi, what seemed like a friendly visit escalated quickly, and I remember seeing what looked like the entire town coming out to meet us. Still not sure if it was a greeting or an attempt to rob us of our humvees. I just know it was chaotic, and edgy, and probably a glimpse of the future.

16 April 03

Yesterday was weird. Like something out of a movie. The throng pressed against me, begging for food, begging for anything. What to do? The humvee to my back. I can’t go forward.

Let’s take it from the top.

The day started at the early hour of 4:30. I hurriedly dressed and got the truck ready for a convoy to what I thought would be a capitulation ceremony involving COL Potts and some Iraqi generals. Found out that was wrong right away. We were going to a FARP [forward arming and refueling point] where we’d wait for everybody to get back from the ceremony, and then we’d go destroy the generals’ tanks.

We took the News Hound because it had "armor" and a crew-served weapon mount. The armor was the old tin-can style, and Muma mounted her SAW - a far cry from a .50-cal - on top. Photo by me.

We took the News Hound because it had “armor” and a crew-served weapon mount. The armor was the old tin-can style, and Muma mounted her SAW – a far cry from a .50-cal – on top. Photo by me.

The FARP was roughly 90 km west of Baghdad, on the side of the same highway we originally used to get to the airport. [SPC] Muma, SSG Freeman, and I passed the time talking and waiting for the helicopters. Around about 11 o’clock they arrived and we all set off, with Romeo [Gacad] and Dan [Wiltshire], for the tanks.

Dan Wiltshire lugs his old Beta camera past a T-72. Photo by me.

Dan Wiltshire lugs his old Beta camera past a T-72. Photo by me.

It was a long, slow drive down a raised road in a green, lush neighborhood on the banks of the Euphrates. Adults and children waited along the road to wave, cheer and beg for candy. Muma and I sat ready with our weapons, but everybody kept a respectful distance.

This is NOT as dangerous for this kid as it looks. Photo by me.

This is NOT as dangerous for this kid as it looks. Photo by me.

Stop. Go. Stop. Go. Stop. Destroy tanks.* Take pictures. Finally, we get to the end before turning back around to return to the highway.

This might be the world's sickliest cow. Photo by me.

This might be the world’s sickliest cow. Photo by me.

We drove farther down the road until we turned off again. This neighborhood had nothing green or lush about it. Wasteland is the first word that comes to mind. Dirty people. Little water. Dead chickens everywhere.**

This is what happens when you surrender. We WILL smash your lights! Photo by me.

This is what happens when you surrender. We WILL smash your lights! Photo by me.

When we run out of lights, we will cut the crap out of your fuel lines! Photo by me.

When we run out of lights, we will cut the crap out of your fuel lines! That is most likely Romeo Gacad in the back, as always taking a better picture than me, Photo by me.

We stop to destroy a few T-72s [Iraqi armor via the Soviet Union]. this crowd doesn’t maintain a respectful distance. They’re in our faces, shaking our hands, smiles all around. They’re amazed to see a female Soldier (Muma). They want American dollars. They want whiskey. Out of smokes, I trade a Jolly Rancher for a cigarette. Chaos.

They look trustworthy. I will by all means smoke their crappy state-produced tobacco. It's their thousands of friends over in the city we should be concerned about. Also? One of these men took my newest copy of US News. Photo by me.

They look trustworthy. I will by all means smoke their crappy state-produced tobacco. It’s their thousands of friends over in the city we should be concerned about. Also? One of these men took my newest copy of US News. Photo by me.

I guess my niceness unleashed theirs. They all want food. Now they want my Rolling Stone, they take a US News. I’m all but pushed into the truck. SSG Freeman has to get them to back up. We get some space and move on.

We love Michael Jackson! And George Boosh! Photo by me.

We love Michael Jackson! And George Boosh! Photo by me.

But they follow, the crowd becoming a mob, with the situation appearing hairier each mile we travel. These people appear desperate, but the thread of violence is thick in the air. Now all the faces aren’t smiling. All the thumbs aren’t up either.

He was saying something. It might have been in Arabic. Who knows? Surely it wasn't important. Photo by me.

He was saying something. It might have been in Arabic. Who knows? Surely it wasn’t important. Photo by me.

COL Potts finally decides the situation is getting out of control. We turn around and begin the long trip back to the airport. One stop and a broken track^ later, we arrive at 11 p.m. The day is over.

These people are so poor they’ve become desperate. It’s sad. But it makes me glad to know I’ve been part of making their lives better. Bush may have had his reasons for this war, but God had another plan entirely.

To Be Continued …

* As stated in the photos, “destroying” tanks meant mostly cutting their fuel lines and smashing their lights. I guess that made them unusable? I think the point was to save them so the Free Iraqi Army or whatever it was going to be would have crappy tanks.

** How I neglected to take a picture of a single dead chicken escapes me. They were everywhere! They kind of put us on edge at first, because dead wildlife, especially birds all over the ground is one of those things you look for in a biological or chemical attack. Fortunately, it appeared they were part of a chicken truck wreck. At least I hope so, because we all know how long it takes Uncle Sam to get around to admitting troops were exposed to something.

^ Broken track is what armored vehicles have to do when something goes wrong. Basically a link in that big track gets broken or lost, so they have to roll it all the way out, replace the broken link, then roll it back over the wheels and attach it. It’s time consuming, and we were tired, and the fireworks we saw driving down the road were likely pissed-off Sunnis telling their buddies where we were, but you don’t leave the armor behind after a day like that.

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Jake’s OIF War Journal 18: A Moment for the Fallen

Fortunately, this post was long before Groundhog Day Syndrome had settled in, but it was a sad couple of days nevertheless. With everything becoming more and more static at Baghdad International Airport, 3rd Aviation Brigade stopped and had a proper memorial for its fallen. We began looking  at what was around us in the massive complex of palaces that later would be known to the world as the Victory Base Complex. I got a first look at a building I’d spend a lot of time in the second time I went to Iraq. Read on …

14 April 03

Life continues its dull pace, but there have been notable events since I last wrote. On Saturday, a memorial was held for the men who died on the Blackhawk two weeks ago. They set up the proper display, a picture, boots, a rifle, and a flight helmet, for each one, and words of remembrance were said for all. It was a sad event. All six I had known, some better than others, but I’ll never know any of them any better. With the sun going down outside the hangar, we all said our goodbyes.

Soldiers from the 3rd Aviation Brigade pay their respects to six of their own who were killed in a Blackhawk crash south of the outside of Karbala. The memorial ceremony was held in the big hangar at Baghdad International Airport. I couldn't use a flash, so this was the best shot I got.

Soldiers from the 3rd Aviation Brigade pay their respects to six of their own who were killed in a Blackhawk crash south of the outside of Karbala. The memorial ceremony was held in the big hangar at Baghdad International Airport. I couldn’t use a flash, so this was the best shot I got.

Yesterday, Dan and I toured one of Saddam’s palaces* with MAJ Wince and some other 4th BDE [Brigade] officers. It was amazing, especially when one considers it’s one of more than a handful. Flowers everywhere. Marble everywhere. GOLD everywhere. The man had entirely too much money. One room was destroyed by our bombs. It tore through the roof and two floors before detonating on the ground floor, turning everything to twisted steel, shattered marble, and black ash.

Seeing the way he lived, when his people were in such poverty, makes me even gladder we’re doing what we’re doing. These people need us, and we let them down 12 years ago. Now it’s time to even out the ledger.

To Be Continued …

* It turns out that the palace was Al Faw Palace, better known to most later as the headquarters of Multinational Corps-Iraq, the ground combat command for the ongoing war. When I went for my second tour from ’06-’08, we were attached to III Corps, which acted as MNC-I during the surge, and I spent a lot of time in that palace, which was massively cleaned up by then.

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Jake’s OIF War Journal 17: The War is Over!

Wow, and everyone said George W. Bush called it too early. I think I was just being hopeful. I wrote this three days after Saddam’s statue came down in Firdos Square and I had been at Baghdad International Airport for nearly a week. Even the Iraqi antiaircraft batteries were getting quiet. I think by this point we were actually taking single-truck “convoys” back to LSA Dogwood south of Baghdad for mail calls and the like, which was cool, because it got you off the airfield and into the population. That sure seemed like a good idea at the time. God knows what things were crawling in my stomach from drinking orange Fanta out of recycled glass Iraqi bottles.

12 April 03

It’s been a few days. We’re all settled in here. Got moved up to the 4th floor of the office building. Dan’s back and moved in as well. Life’s been busy, but I haven’t gotten much of my work done this week. Now I have a ton of stories [including this one that eventually ran in Soldiers magazine] to work on, though. Just gotta find my notebook again.*

Soldiers sitting outside of one of the lakehouses around Al Faw Palace on April 12. By the time I came back from my second tour, I got really tired of seeing this building. Photo by me.

Soldiers sitting outside of one of the lake houses around Al Faw Palace on April 12. By the time I came back from my second tour, I got really tired of seeing this building. Photo by me.

The war is just about over. Only Tikrit remains from what I hear. Now the stabilization of this country can begin.** Hopefully that means the new guys will get here soon and the rest of us can go home. The sooner the better. Everyone finally seems to be able to look that way now. It may be 2 months away, but it seems closer than it has in a long time.

BIAP, particularly our part of the airfield, was a magnet for every kind of helicopter in the early weeks. Photo by me.

BIAP, particularly our part of the airfield, was a magnet for every kind of helicopter in the early weeks. Photo by me.

Will we go back resembling ourselves though? A lot of people have done and seen things they never imagined this past month. I’ve carried dead and wounded. I’ve lost friends. I’ve seen the empty look on a thousand faces beat down by years under a terrible regime and shocked by the short weeks of a war to free them. I really did finally realize what this is all about last week. Tom said the other night that in this case, no matter what our country’s reasons for going to war, the ends justify the means.^ He’s right I think.

Blown-up airplanes were also scattered around the airfield. I first thought they'd been bombed, but later found out they'd been hit by tank rounds when a young staff sergeant from Chattanooga I'd met months earlier thought he saw motion inside the fuselage. I got to record his story about it during a history project a month or so later and still laugh about it. Wish I had the tape. Photo by me.

Blown-up airplanes were also scattered around the airfield. I first thought they’d been bombed, but later found out they’d been hit by tank rounds when a young staff sergeant from Chattanooga I’d met months earlier thought he saw motion inside the fuselage. I got to record his story about it during a history project a month or so later and still laugh about it. Wish I had the tape. Photo by me.

But we’ll all go back with a different worldview. At least I hope we will. Some will have trouble adapting back to a quiet life. Others won’t miss a beat. I’ll probably slide right back into my own skin again, if past performance is any indicator. But grown, a man in every way I wasn’t before. God knows what Josh has done and seen. We’ll talk again soon I think.

Josh Thumbs Up

I swear this will be the last time this picture of Cpl. Josh Boyer shows up in this blog. If I’m wrong, too bad. I only have one picture of him from then! This pic ran in the LA Times.

I am thankful that both of us came this far physically unscathed. I saw my brother’s face for the first time in 6 months yesterday and I barely recognized him.^^ We’ve both gone and lived through the things we played at as children. And we did it together in a disjointed kind of way. Our reunion will be happy after all that’s happened in the last year.

Sunday drive around the palace complex that surrounds BIAP. Photo by me.

Sunday drive around the palace complex that surrounds BIAP. Photo by me.

What a year it’s been. One year now since Donna left me. One year of upside-down madness. All that time in the bottle. The fights. The beach. Buffalo. California. Kings Dominion. Kuwait. The war. The realizations. The redemption of a soul that was going nowhere fast. The new friendships. The old companions. The mountains. the airplanes. The new car. The new life. I think that when all is said and done, my 25th year on this Earth was about as crazy a 12 months as I’ve had, and when I get home I’ll be ready to settle in a little and prepare for whatever curveballs life wants to toss me next. Now I am a man. Strange how it all happened right under my nose.

* For some reason, this was an ongoing problem of mine all the way through the first part of the war, right up to my last days in country. I know I didn’t write in the journal about it, so a story: I covered about four stories in Fallujah the last couple days I was there. We were having lunch at the Mayor’s office on what I knew was my last day in the city when a mortar attack started. In the rush to get to the trucks, I lost the notebook. I never went back.

** Yeah, Bush, Rumsfeld and Bremer got nothing on me. I called the war and said we were well on our way to stability a full month before that carrier landing!

^ Tom, if you’re reading this and I put words in your mouth, I apologize, but it’s what the journal says you said!

^^ The first day I had access to my personal email in Baghdad, I logged in in a services warehouse on BIAP. After sifting through tons of email, I found a thread that included many of my female family members trying to decide if that picture was of Josh. It’s a bad angle, but you can clearly see his tattoo sticking out, so I got to definitively drop that on them. It was really good to see his face, even though it was another eight months or so before we got to actually have a beer together.

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Jake’s OIF War Journal 16: They Say It’s Your Birthday!

Now it’s time for the massively delayed birthday post! This was my second birthday in uniform, and probably the most surreal. The day before, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division completed its second Thunder Run through southern Baghdad and had moved into the palace complex, soon to be known as the Green Zone and later to be known as the International Zone. The day after, Marines pulled down Saddam’s statue in one of the famous images of the war. And me? I was at the airport.

Highlights I didn’t include were the brigade commander, Col. Potts, giving me a cigar in the morning as we watched an Air Force A-10 rain hell on some Iraqis in our vicinity and Phil Ittner letting me make a couple calls home from the CBS satellite phone. I won’t lie: I’ve had better birthdays, but I’ve also had worse.

8 April 03

Today I’m 25, and life is surreal. We’re at the airport, and we shouldn’t be leaving any time soon. I found a place to sleep, up on the 4th floor of an office building on the back of one of the hangars here.* Got moved in, got a balcony, got music playing. Surreal, but much better than it’s been.

Tom Nacey enjoys the opulence of the Hotel California. This was taken inside the room I shared with six or seven other guys there. We had shelves for the multitude of supplies I got in care packages from my friends and family and a balcony from which to watch the last few Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries get destroyed. Photo by me.

Tom Nacey enjoys the opulence of the Hotel California. This was taken inside the room I shared with six or seven other guys there. We had shelves for the multitude of supplies I got in care packages from my friends and family and a balcony from which to watch the last few Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries get destroyed. Photo by me.

Woke up to the sound of an A-10 shooting at an AA [anti-aircraft] position this morning. It sounds like a really loud fart when the 30 mm cannon lets go. Went and hung out with Tom and MSG Krouser for a while, had a couple meals and then ran to find SGT Clarke and the DMAIN [Division Headquarters-Main] crew. … Finally got all my pics centralized on my computer.** Searched through the office building for some souvenirs with Phil. It was pretty fun. Went back to BDE HQ [brigade headquarters] and set up some workspace. … Overall, it wasn’t a bad birthday for being at war and all. Even though I forgot it was most of the day. Just the way it goes, I guess.

To Be Continued …

* Side note: It was the Iraqi Airways building, the tallest thing on the airport. One of the majors liked to call it Khobar Towers, because he was convinced it would be a missile magnet like the buildings in Saudi Arabia. We dubbed it the Hotel California and hung a sign saying such over the large metal sign with Saddam’s face on the front of the building. When I went back to Iraq three years later, Iraqi Airways had its building again, but there was still an area called the Hotel California on part of the Victory Base Complex, which all but surrounded the airport.

** Looking back, I’m kind of glad I did that, because this would just be a bunch of text otherwise. I wish I’d had the space on my computer to keep more.

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Jake’s OIF War Journal 15: Arrival in Baghdad

Okay, so I had to take a week or so off to give my time to the Army. I thought I’d be able to stay on top of this blog but inevitably fell behind, so no more day-of posts, but I will finish this project nevertheless.

Where were we? Right, we were on our way to Baghdad. I didn’t write in here for a few days because we were up and down getting to Saddam International Airport, now known as Baghdad International Airport. Those were a couple long days, but they took place in the middle of a lot of commotion, trucks going back and forth down the road, crossing the river, and driving into BIAP under cover of darkness along Route Red Sox (I believe that’s what it was called.

7 April 03

Been working my tail off the last few days. We spent all day yesterday in a convoy driving to our final destination: Baghdad International Airport, formerly known as Saddam Int’l. It’s been crazy since then.

Typical view around BIAP: Bradleys and airplanes. There were a bunch of Iraqi Airways planes scattered about. Two got blown up by a staff sergeant from Chattanooga when 1st Brigade took the airfield.

Typical view around BIAP: Bradleys and airplanes. There were a bunch of Iraqi Airways planes scattered about. Two got blown up by a staff sergeant from Chattanooga when 1st Brigade took the airfield. Photo by me.

The convoy yesterday was the usual: a whole lot of waiting. But we drove through some Iraqi towns and saw the people up close for the first time. They were all standing at the road, waving and smiling for the most part. They seemed generally happy to see us. The kids would smile and pose for pictures. Some begged for food, which was heart wrenching. There was one little boy who was walking down the road motioning toward his mouth. After seeing the sheer opulence of Kuwait it’s a real eye opener to see the poverty these people live in. I feel really good about what we’re doing now.

This picture stays in my mind to this day. She got pulled back behind the gate as we drove by. Photo by me.

This picture stays in my mind to this day. She got pulled back behind the gate as we drove by. Photo by me.

Got to the airport just in time for quite a fireworks show. Incoming and outgoing artillery lit up the sky, and thunder was heard everywhere throughout the night. It was a bit scary here at first. We saw Iraqi anti-aircraft fire going up at our fast movers. It’s definitely the closest I’ve been to this war yet.

I guess he wanted to make sure we knew he'd surrendered. Photo by me.

I guess he wanted to make sure we knew he’d surrendered. Photo by me.

I linked up with MSG Krouser, MAJ Birmingham and Tom today, which was gret. Seeing familiar faces after so long is definitely nice.

We’ve all moved into building around the airport now. We spent the day cleaning and setting up. Broken glass was everywhere. But we got the building clean and I’m sleeping under a roof for the first time in 5 months.

I spent my first night in Baghdad in this hangar. I remember getting yelled at for using my red light. I guess I had stuff to learn. Photo by me.

I spent my first night in Baghdad in this hangar. I remember getting yelled at for using my red light. I guess I had stuff to learn. Photo by me.

Got to see a lot of my buddies with the DTAC [Division Headquarters-Tactical] today, as everybody is not pulling together here.

Two firsts today: I saw my first dead body and hot-wired my first car. The dead guy was an Iraqi who’d been shot and was all bloated.* At this point it didn’t really faze me, though.

The bus. The bloated body was at the bottom of that hill. Photo by me.

The bus. The bloated body was at the bottom of that hill. Photo by me.

We’ve been hot-wiring vehicles all over the place here, and now soldiers are driving a strange conglomeration of military vehicles, baggage movers, buses and firetrucks.** It’s really strange, just like everything else out here.

To Be Continued …

* He was at the bottom of a hill, where it looked like he’d run from a burning bus before being shot. He had a bad day.

** I drove one of those things they use to help airplanes push back from the gate at an airport. It had crazy wheels and a cab that raised and lowered. I drove it for about two or three days until I popped a tire and had to leave it.

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