Greetings from sunny Basrah

November 18, 2008 at 3:26 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

May 26, 2008

Greetings from the beautiful southern Iraqi City of Basrah! That’s right I’m now in Basrah and have been here for almost three weeks now. It has been an eventful month since I left the states at the end of my R&R. Where to begin, well let’s start with the journey back from R&R.
I left Kansas City early on the morning of 24 April and flew to Dallas where I had about 5 hours to kill before my flight. I spent most of that time I the Dallas USO which is a great location free internet, free phones , movies and best of all free Starbucks coffee. They finally gathered up all of the servicemen who where returning to Iraq and then checked us in for our flight back to Kuwait. The flight back to Kuwait was not bad, only about 15 hours with a layover in Leipzig, Germany. The Army processed us back into the system in Kuwait with its usual efficiency and I collected my body armor and helmet which I had left there. I was asked where I was returning to Iraq and I wasn’t sure, since I thought the team might have moved out to the Jordanian border while I was gone, anyway I decided to go back to Ramadi through Al Taquddum (TQ), I could always move on to the border from there if I had to. I was told to show up at 0830 to be processed for a flight to TQ. Since my body clock was still on States time I didn’t get that much sleep and I showed up where I was supposed to at 0745 and waited until 0830. At 0830 I and the other’s trying to get to TQ was told by the fine young soldier that if we had been here at 0730 he could have put us on the 0730 flight from Kuwait to Al Asad that had a stop in TQ, but the 0830 flight to TQ only had been cancelled and we would have to come back at 1930. Well if I had known that I would have showed up 15 minutes earlier and then been out of there. This was just the beginning of my travel troubles. So I dragged my duffel bag and body armor back to the tent and proceeded to take a nap. I showed up at 1930 and and there was no issues getting on the flight to TQ.
I arrived in TQ at about 0045 on the 27th of April and the first thing I did after I gave up my ID card to be scanned into TQ was to run to the Helicopter Landing Zone and see if I could get on a helicopter going to Ramadi. The Marines at the Landing Zone where like yes Sir. We have a flight that leaves at 0055, we can get you on it, then he looked at the clock and the time was now 0055, uh Sir, you’ll have to wait till tomorrow night. I went back outside to where my bags where, collected up my bags and my ID card and watched the last flight from Ramadi to TQ that night take off, little did I know that would be the last flight from TQ to Ramadi for 5 days.
Yes, that’s right I was stranded at TQ for 5 days as a series of sandstorms blew in that had visibility down to several feet and at the most about 2.5 miles. 2.5 miles that’s not too bad you say, but the helicopter pilots want to have at least 3 miles of visibility for routine missions. For a MEDEVAC they will fly in less but only if it’s to save life, limb or eyesight. While at TQ I still did not get a chance to get on a regular Iraq Day/night rhythm since I was up all night on the hopes that the weather would clear and I could get on a helicopter back to Ramadi. The whole situation was pretty funny and those of us who were stranded started to refer to TQ as a prison camp with the Marine’s at the Landing Zone as our guards, who were friendly but uncooperative to our desires to get out. Somewhere in this 5 day span I got an email from my Team Chief telling me that our Iraqi brigade had been moved from Ramadi to Basrah just after I went on leave and that things where going well but the team was short handed and I needed to get down there as soon as I could.
Finally on the fifth day the weather cleared at about 2100 and there was a mad dash of helicopters leaving TQ and I finally made it to Ramadi. At Ramadi, I helped one of the team members who had stayed behind, finish packing up our stuff and get it sent to down to Basrah. We finished packing up and the other team member went on his R&R leave and then I waited for the weekly Osprey flight from Ramadi to Basrah. Well of course things couldn’t work like it was supposed to; the day the weekly flight was scheduled another sandstorm blew in and kept me from flying for another three days. I finally made it to Basrah on the 10 May.

ur Iraqi Brigade came into Basrah and attacked elements of the Mehdi Army, Muqtada Al Sadr’s Militia forces, in the Shia slum of Hyyanniah and the surrounding areas of Jazzeah, Jameyiat and Al Quibla. Most of these areas had been the scene of the heavy fighting that you saw on TV. Evidently the Mehdi Army had infilitrated one of the Iraqi Brigades that was permanently stationed in Basrah and that was what you saw on TV. In my own opinion after watching our Brigade work and those Brigades that have been permanently stationed in Basrah, our Brigade is of much higher quality both in professionalism and training. This can be attributed to the fact that our brigade has had a succession of advisors for the last 4 years and have been partnered with Marine and Army battalions, and brigades, all of these have combined to show our Brigade “what right looks like” whereas the units stationed in Basrah have not had advisors or partnership units in the same sense that our brigade has. They have had some advisors but it is mainly to show the Iraqis basic soldier skills and not really battalion and brigade level operations. The British also have pretty much pulled back into their base at the old Basrah International Airport. They get out and do patrols but they were/are staying in the better areas of the city and not the areas where the Mehdi Army was at in force. Our Brigade is also working more closely with the Iraqi Police than the units stationed here where. The picture shows a recent joint operation in the Al Quibla district between elements of our brigade and the Al Quibla police, the police are in the blue uniforms.

We are living in the city with our Brigade Headquarters. The Headquarters took over an old Ministry of Agriculture building and we are living in the auditorium. When the team was first here they were sleeping between the theater style seats on the floor (that’s the first picture). It was actually fairly comfortable and the seats kind of soundproofed your area so that you didn’t have to hear other people snoring , in order to get more space, though we pulled out all but the first row seats and we are now sleeping on cots. The auditorium is air-conditioned and has ceiling fans, so it is fairly cool. We are eating UGR meals, which are basically supersized MREs designed to feed 18 soldiers as well as Iraqi food. My Iraqi G-1 clerk is all about getting me a kabob or falafaal and even Iraqi ice cream from the local market and I also eat rice and chicken that the Iraqi Army cooks make, it gives me a little bit of variety. We have an eastern style toilet and if you don’t what that is, there is no stool it’s all squatting, I’ve developed a wonderful sense of balance in the last few weeks. We have also managed to rig up a shower but there is no hot water unless you take the shower in the midafternoon when the sun has heated up the water in the tank on the roof. We have no internet in the city and must go to an Iraqi Army base outside of town where the Division MiTT advisors has established a rear base with logistics support to get any email, we get out there at least twice a week, but I don’t always have time to answer all of the emails so bear with me. We do have a satellite phone and I get a chance to call Shantel about every other night and talk for a few minutes, so things aren’t all bad. I don’t really need anything and even if I did I don’t have a whole lot of space to put things. My entertainment is my laptop and my IPod. I’m getting really good at Mahjoong tiles and I’ve almost done watching the Band of Brothers mini-series and I’ll move on to the seasons of South Park when I’m done with that. You need a little senseless comedy after all the blood and guts of Band of Brothers. The bad part about the lack of internet access is I had planned on taking my end of program exam for my Masters Degree this summer, but with the lack of internet access I’m going to have put it off until I come home from Iraq.

Hyyanniah is a fairly poor area but it seems that everywhere you look there is a satellite TV dish on all of the houses and everyone seems to have a cell phone. Unfortunately there is a lot of trash in the areas. Like every other third world country I have been in the Iraqis haven’t fully figured out the concept of an area set aside for a trash dump or running sewage pipes, they just open up their front door and throw the trash out and a lot of the sewage just runs out into the low places and pools. The picture above is a perfect example of all three of the above, see all of the round shapes those are satellite dishes, see all of the trash in the foreground and then the water in the background is not water, it is raw sewage. It all makes a person leery about eating the sheep and the goats that are raised in the city since most of them eat the trash and drink the sewage. I just keep in mind that is kind like a catfish, they eat all sorts of crap and still taste pretty good, I’m not sure I’m convinced yet but I’m working on it. On the other hand it has allowed the Iraqi Brigade an opportunity to put the local population to work and beautify the city at the same time. There has been several work projects for several hundred thousands of dollars to clean up the trash in the city and the Brigade Commander has been working with the sanitation department to fix the sewer pipes and at least suck up the raw sewage pools. Trash is getting picked up but with the amount that was here it will take a while to get it all as well as a mind shift in the local population that they need to put the trash in the dumpsters and not just out their front door. The Iraqi Army soldiers also end up spending a lot of time searching the trash piles for weapons caches since they make a handy quick hiding spot.

Basrah itself does seem to be further ahead of Ramadi or Baghdad when it comes to the streets and boulevards. Almost all of the curbs are intact and painted, there are fountains in the medians as well as date palms that are several years old and newly planted shrubbery. I was starting to see this in Ramadi with some of the reconstruction projects and I know Baghdad has some areas like this but I haven’t seen them.


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