Monday, July 16, 2007

Saddam's Place

"So, where are you from?"

"Funny...Is Moose your real name?"
"Who do you guys really work for?"
"You ever say anything besides yes?"

I've learned over the past few years how conversations usually go when you talk to an OGA. That stands for "other governmental agency". In other words, you have no idea who they work for, what they are doing, or how long they are staying. Our modern day version of government 'spooks'.
A few of us took them up on an invite to an isolated part of Ramadi along the banks of the Euphrates for some weapons range time. These guys live in a fairly nice house. It used to be an Iraqi General's house during the Saddam regime. Marble floors, top shelf tiling in the bathroom. Was that a Viking rangetop in the kitchen? Not only do the OGA's live in top digs, they have their own cook. This was getting better by the minute! Prime rib cooked to perfection and steamed asparagus to start. Now I know how the other half of Iraq lives...
We went up on the roof for a better survey of the river and a little sun. When I consider how brown and tan the desert is, I am always amazed at the contrast near permanent bodies of water. The banks are teaming with vegetation, long reed beds lining the river, and grove upon grove of date palms as far as the eye takes you. Across the river, the OGA boss pointed out Saddam's old Ramadi palace. He had retreats tucked away anywhere he travelled, and Ramadi was no exception.

"You guys interested in a boat ride?"
What else could I say but......"yes". We didn't need a second invitation to jump on the chance for a trip down the Euphrates. I mean, who takes boat trips down the Euphrates River?
After calling in to security that there would be traffic on the river and assigning someone as "overwatch", we cruised the Euphrates in the late afternoon. Pictured are some close-ups we were able to get of Saddam's house. It's part of an outpost called Blue Diamond, and is mostly staffed by Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Meet Knuckles

Indigenous to Iraq and most of the Middle East, hedgehogs are occasionally found on-base and the surrounding area. "Knuckles", our resident hedgehog, was found by some KBR contractors and brought to Charlie Medical.

There are 16 species of hedgehog, and can be found throughout parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and New Zealand. There are no hedgehogs native to Australia or North America. They adapt well to dogs and cats, but can be threatened by them; i.e. spend a lot of time rolled into a ball.

Knuckles has hundreds of hard and pointy spines, which are hollow hairs made stiff with keratin. They are safe to touch, and are non-poisonous and aren't barbed. Their best defense when threatened is to roll into a ball with all of their spines exposed, although they are also known to make a run for it or attack back by throwing their spines against the attacker. Think 'sonic'.

His nose is more of a snout, similar to an Aardvark's and is specially designed as a bug vacuum. Hedgehogs make great pets if 1) you don't mind the fact that they are nocturnal and will be running around the house all night, and 2) they chirp and sing all night, too.
I have no idea which ones, but apparently it is illegal to own hedgehogs in certain states. Iraq doesn't Knuckles is here to stay as long as he likes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Should We Stay Or Should We Go Now...

I live in a vacuum. I have Internet access, obviously, but it's slow and mostly unreliable. However, when I do have it, I make a point of scanning today's headlines, the progress (or lack thereof) interpreted by the media, and editorials from a number of sources.

What I do offer on a personal level to you is an eyewitness account of what is happening in my little part of this world and this war. Ramadi, although a small portion of Anbar Province by geographical size, is a highly prominent city. What comes and goes through Syria must pass through Ramadi.

What I read in popular media is that a percentage the public wants out. As in, withdraw the troops from Iraq. The Senate, with the Democrats leading and a small but growing minority of Republicans joining them, are insisting on a definitive timetable of with drawl. The drumbeats have been pounding for months, and are steadily growing into a crescendo that can be heard well beyond Washington.

Is it just me, or is there so much rhetoric flying around that the truth is somehow getting lost. Day by day, I find it harder to ascertain who is actually staying objective and who has hidden agendas, biases, has an axe to grind, or just plain likes to hear themselves talk.

I won't do this often, as this blog is not my personal political platform. I ask you to consider a few key points:

  1. We are here. I won't get into why we initially came, but the fact is irrefutable: here we are with a significant presence in Iraq and the Middle East. We have a foothold in by far the world's most unstable region.

  2. Many brave men and women have lost their lives for this tenuous foothold. After all they and many others have sacrificed, to leave now would be a disservice to them, their families, and all that we want to accomplish: a stable and prosperous Iraqi government free of terrorism. A Middle East free of extremes.

  3. It sure doesn't seem like it now, but a permanent, or at least long-term, Western presence in the Middle East may lead to significant stabilization of a historically unstable region.

  4. We are heavily investing in Iraq's economy and infrastructure and making progress every week. We pull out, we miss out.

  5. Finally, after years of indifference and outright hostility, regional tribes, clans, and sheiks are aligned with us. There were mistakes along the way. The road we initially took was littered with misunderstandings. But week by week, the potholes are disappearing. Like a recently paved interstate, the clans and councils from Baghdad to Anbar are rapidly taking over their own security and governmental processes. Are they self-sufficient and self-reliant. Nope. Not even close. However, if it wasn't for our resources, infrastructure, and corporate knowledge they wouldn't stand a chance to succeed. Pulling out now is a poor option indeed.

  6. Baghdad, and the main government currently in place, is not meeting our benchmarks. However, we also did not meet our own benchmarks: Baghdad and parts of Anbar Province are still wickedly dangerous places. We have a plan to correct that problem, but it's only been in place for a month. The surge needs more than a few weeks before politicians deem it a failure. From where I'm standing, that borders on the ridiculous. Time may prove me wrong, but at least I won't mark my opinions before giving it a chance. The Iraqi government will continue to miss deadlines and benchmarks so long as Baghdad and the surrounding provinces remain unstable.

  7. I finish with a question: we have maintained a presence in Europe for over 50 years. Does the U.S. have a permanent place in Iraq, too?

Progress is slow, I admit. However, who gets to set the timetable for success? Who defines success, and what is it? Right now, there are still many more questions than answers. That is exactly why setting timetables for withdrawl would, in my humble opinion, be a grave mistake. I fear it would spell a total failure and complete negation of my and many others' sacrifice. Our options:

  1. Set a timetable and start phasing troops out of Iraq. This Country is guaranteed to fall into anarchy. Iran will more than likely move in from the East, while Syria moves in from the West. The sectarian squabbling between Shiite and Sunni we see now will pale in comparison to how badly this region would spin out of control. Iraq goes down in history as my generation's Vietnam: an abject failure at best; catastrophic mistake if radial idealism and anti-Western hatred spread throughout the globe.
  2. We stay permanently in a few key areas around Iraq. Worst case scenario: Iraq becomes my generation's Cuba. We maintain a tolerated presence despite occasional open hostility.
  3. We stay permanently, and Iraq becomes my generation's Post-World War II Europe. We maintain a presence and work hand in hand with the Iraqi government. We patiently wait until they are organized and stable enough to take the lead, and we give them full autonomy while maintaining open-ended leases on a few key military bases.

To borrow heavily a few lyrics from The Clash, my question stands as this: should we stay or should we go now? If we stay there will be trouble, and if we go it will be double...;_ylt=AuvYUv2gOXIR0uA6c9rlH35X6GMA

(pulled from Yahoo news) Despite a steady procession of Republicans calling for a change in course, several GOP lawmakers warned against a precipitous withdrawal.
"I believe that our military in cooperation with our Iraqi security forces are making progress in a number of areas," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who recently returned from his sixth trip to the region. The GOP presidential candidate said he noted a dramatic drop in attacks in Ramadi in the western Anbar province.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who accompanied McCain to Iraq, also cited progress since Gen. David Petraeus took command several months ago and the additional troops began arriving.
The Iraqis are "rejecting al-Qaida at every turn. I don't want the Congress to be the cavalry for al-Qaida," he said.
Graham was also part of a group of senators who met privately during the day with Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, and Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, a top adviser on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The senator said afterward the White House is looking at new ways to hasten progress in two primary areas: destroying al-Qaida in Iraq and forcing the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad to make political progress.

Friday, July 6, 2007

D squared has a birthday

July 5th; D squared's birthday. Re-deploying with me from Al Asad, he is our OR nurse, and hails from Florence, Kentucky.

The chow hall, in honor of his birthday and independence day, set up this ridiculous I-don't-know-what in the middle of the food service area. He looks happy, so who am I to question...

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The TQ Surgical Team

Patrick, a fellow flight nurse stationed with me at Portsmouth, Virginia, started a blog later in our deployment.
He was originally with me at Al Asad, but went to Taquaddum shortly after I re-deployed to Ar Ramadi. TQ, between Ramadi and Fallujah, is situated on a large lake and has a large airstrip.
Lots of pictures, including some unearthed Ilyushin Il-28 bombers originally made in the old USSR, and later license-built in China. They were widely used for over four decades in twenty different nations, including Iraq.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


The link below is a collection of current milblogs out there, including short interviews and guest editorials:

Independence Day

Big voice booms "Clear all roads from Trooper Gate to Charlie Medical. I say again clear all roads from Trooper Gate to Charlie Medical."

Iraqi civilians were struck by a VBIED that was gunning for an Iraqi Police checkpoint. Two families in a big minivan, including seven children! All survived and were treated by Charlie Medical for minor and deep lacerations. It looked like a mess when they came in, but after getting wounds washed out, sutured, and clean sets of clothes for everyone, things shaped up to be a lot better than it could have. One little girl had a severed wrist tendon, and she was taken to the OR for repair. The whole family was released late in the afternoon with a few big bags of toys and extra blankets for the kids. Before they left, we gave the toddlers some Fourth of July cake. From how much ended up on their face and in their hair, I think they really like it! We all knew they were back to normal when they started chucking cake around patient hold...

Tim, D squared, and I had just enough time after the case to walk to the Alamo (3rd Infantry Division Headquarters) for a Battalion cookout and Fourth of July talent show. I'll say this much: entertaining.
Our day culminated in Eric, D squared, and I climbing up for a better view of the Ar Ramadi Fireworks Show. Evoking images similar to what Francis Scott Key witnessed at Fort Henry when he penned the Star Spangled Banner, Palladin artillery sent up volley after volley of illumination and signal shells for about fifteen minutes. The Star Spangled Banner, originally written as a poem, and later adopted as the United States National Anthem, was inspired by Key as Fort Henry was being pummeled by the British in the War of 1812.
Our Independence Day display of bombs bursting in air was reminiscent to the display our forefathers and young Nation saw 195 years ago. I couldn't have asked for a more authentic celebration of National pride, tradition, and freedom.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Apache rescue

The apache rescue of one of our soldiers July 1st made it into mainstream media news. Check the links below to read the story and watch the video:


Pilot rides helicopter out of Iraqi firefight

WASHINGTON — Giving up his seat to a wounded soldier, an Army officer strapped himself to the side of an Apache helicopter gunship that airlifted them out of a furious firefight in Iraq, the military said Monday.
The Army called it an "unusual casualty evacuation," but Chief Warrant Officer Allen Crist's selfless act goes way beyond heroism.
Realizing that Spc. Jeffrey Jamaleldine needed medical attention fast, Crist put the critically wounded man in his own spot on the Apache on Saturday.
Crist then rigged a harness to strap himself to the fuselage and crouched on the stubby left gun wing of the aircraft.
With Chief Warrant Officer Kevin Purtee, of Houston, at the controls and Crist hanging on for dear life, the Apache flew out of the battle zone. It kept low, about 200 feet, until it reached a field hospital, the military said.
Jamaleldine, 31, of Fort Smith, Ark., was later reported in stable condition.
Army officials could not immediately recall an Apache ever being used before for a medical evacuation — and certainly not with the co-pilot riding outside.
Crist and Purtee, from Company B, 1st Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, were part of a four-Apache team that came to help U.S. troops pinned down under heavy fire in Ramadi.

Monday, July 2, 2007


Sitting in EVAC with Tim watching the Buick Open on the Armed Forces Network. Not a big golf fan, but I'll take any distraction at this point.

"Just past midnight. We finally hit one July."

"Yeah. The month you're in doesn't count, and the month you go home doesn't count either. Guess that means we only have one month left in Iraq?"
Tim's laughing and not quite agreeing at the same time. Either way, we both herald the disappearance of June as we crawl one month closer to home.

"Four casualties inbound. Mikes unknown; still engaged in a firefight." says one of the EVAC platoon medics.
"Army or Marine?"


Tim and I walk out to patient receiving. Waking up some key staff, including some surgical teammates. Hospital CO is up as well as the XO. 3rd ID Sergeant Major drives up; his men have been ambushed and are taking a beating. The unit is having a hard time getting them out of the fight.
Finally, a humvee guns up to Charlie Medical out of the dark. One out of four casualties arrives so far. Soldier with gunshot wounds to his extremities. Medics, corpsman, and physicians go right to work; no surgical intervention needed, and he will be fine. Humvee looks worse than the soldier: turret is torn to pieces, but the gunner is OK. Two more casualties finally arrive via Humvee...also OK. More gunshot wounds, but all stable. No surgery needed; we start making arraignments for MEDVAC.

Fourth casualty is critical. GSW to the face and no way to safely get him to Charlie Medical by road. A decision is made: one of the Apache gunships providing close air support will touch down, the gunner will get out, and we will just airlift him in the Apache. Effective; and a first for anyone present.
He has some facial damage and airway swelling. In the OR, Bob does an awake intubation to protect him from continued edema (swelling). Mark flies all four patients to Balad, and they do well.

9 AM we get a detainee from last night's firefight. Both feet shot, the surgical team takes him to the OR for debridement and a complete washout. After post-operative recovery, the detainee is taken, complete with security entourage, to a detention center in Baghdad with an attached hospital.

1 PM finds Jason and I trying to figure out another detainee's injuries. Initial chest film looks good, but the patient's oxygen levels aren't "quite right" and he seems to be guarding a mystery injury. Tim and I are in the x-ray room 5 yards away, and I'm right in the middle of looking at the detainee's chest film, when a detonation and subsequent deep bass of the concussion wave knocks the wooden window covers back. My initial thought: "mortar attack was pretty close." Jason and I both look at our patient and immediately request he be put in patient hold for observation. We need the trauma bay cleared in right now. All staff immediately start pulling down litters, setting up triage stations, and the trauma bay jumps to life as all stations are manned with medics and corpsman.

"VBIED" cracks over the radios. My initial thought was wrong, but somehow doesn't matter when the results are the same: casualties. Snap a quick picture from Charlie Medical on my way to Tactical Command, only a few short steps away. Truck-borne IED has taken out a local bridge. Small arms fire coming from the back gate. The few remaining staff running to Charlie Medical from church service and the barracks.
New insurgent tactics recently include attacking Anbar infrastructure. This is the second local bridge targeted over the past few weeks. A communications tower was targeted last month. This attack was coordinated with several others in Anbar throughout the day, including another bridge in nearby Fallujah.
A shift away from local civilian populations, as the insurgents found that Sunni leaders have united against outside aggressors and are now working directly with U.S. and Coalition authorities under the Anbar Salvation Council.
Radios continue to stream information: two casualties inbound. Both Iraqi civilian. They weren't close to the blast, and only have some superficial scraps and soft tissue injuries.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on standby as more casualties arrive. Another abandoned VBIED was blown up by an Explosive/Ordnance platoon near the bridge. Not sure if the driver was found, or what happened to him.
Midnight. An Angel ceremony for the fallen. The entire Army unit is in formation, and the surgical team falls in off to the side. We get word that the men lost today were the heart and soul of their platoon. Tragic beyond words. In formation, it's just an unspoken rule that no one talks. Thirty minutes of silence amongst one another. Each man left to his thoughts and prayers for the fallen and the families and friends left behind. Yet in the silence, we all feel so connected...we stand as one collective Spirit to honor those who gave all. 200 silent salutes in the night as an H-46 lifts them gently Home.
One July. One 24 hour period; midnight to midnight.
One day that couldn't go fast enough.
One day that I will never forget.