Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Army Loves Me, This I Know, 'Cause the Army Tells Me So

For the past four months the Army hasn’t quite been sure how best to protect their little boy, Jerry. At first they piled up big baskets with sand and stuck them around my trailer. Then someone else’s brother-in-law got the contract for force protection, and they hired some Iraqi’s to come move those baskets (Hesco baskets, if you must know) away from the trailer.

Somehow, I didn’t like the logic of hiring Iraqi’s to remove my protection. But I gotta admit they went about it with real enthusiasm, so maybe I was wrong….

The next two weeks my protection from shrapnel consisted of good ol’ thick aluminum trailer walls. It ain’t easy sleeping in your body armor, but it can be done if you’re highly motivated. Finally, a big ol’ crane visited the area and set up a couple of concrete barriers about 6’ x 6’ along the front of the trailer, although they didn’t put anything in front of the door. Guess the shrapnel has to have some way to get in, after all. Much better, although I still was left with an uncomfortable feeling of what happens if a mortar shell hits BEHIND the trailer. OK, time to move all the furniture, clothes, and equipment against the back wall. And I kind of like the symbolism of my copy of War and Peace soaking up fragments. I’d have bought a thicker book if they had one.

Tuesday morning this week I noticed that at last someone had gotten around to putting a concrete barrier in front of the door. Right in front of the door, to be exact. I also noticed it Wednesday night when the warning siren went off and I bolted through the front door for the bunker at about two in the morning. Silly me, trying to push that concrete block out of the way with my nose. (Memo to Self: Make sure path is clear before running out of door in the future.)

Along with their commendable efforts to cut down on the number of perforated bodies they have to patch up, the Army has also gone to considerable trouble and expense to keep us warm. When you come through Kuwait on your way here, you go by a Rapid Issue Facility (RIF) warehouse, where you’re issued some neat, high-speed stuff that has skipped the normal army supply channels to get it in the hands of soldiers as soon as possible. Outstanding, says I. ‘Bout time they didn’t something logical like that. Among the neat stuff you get is a black fleece jacket, lightweight and warm, just about perfect for the desert mornings and evenings around here. Take it off when the day heats up, it packs down to nearly nothing, and you’re on your way. About as close to perfection as the old P38 can opener.

I know I’m pitching a softball to you guys that were in the military, but here it comes, anyway. What do you think happened when it turned cold here and soldiers actually started wearing their issued jackets?

Yep. Command Sergeant Major Zebra nearly had a stroke. One day all is right in his Army, and the next day, he’s surrounded by soldiers wearing UNAUTHORIZED clothing. Good grief, there’s not even a place to put a unit patch on those things, or worse – no place to sew all those stripes on! How in the world can an army function if the head Zebras can’t be identified from a hundred yards?!! Clearly, something had to be done to restore order before morale completely disintegrated and the Iraqi Expeditionary Force turned into some kind of Air Force Rabble or something. So the edict goes out across the land, let there be no more wearing of the fleece as an outer garment. If you insist on trying to stay warm, you wussy, you’ll wear the jacket in shame under your shirt.

Fortunately, this edict (also known as a FRAGO) only lasted about as long as it took the General to walk over to the Zebra shed, dressed in his black fleece jacket.



I am pleased to report that despite this setback, morale and discipline are still holding up.

Friendly fire isn’t. That pretty much sums it up. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Joe is as big a threat to you as ol’ Hajji, but it does pay to be careful. If someone gets careless and has an accidental discharge as you’re coming in, or gets a little too paranoid, it would be pretty easy to find yourself on the wrong side of an American machine gun. Add the confusion that’s unavoidable when you have joint American-Iraqi operations, and things can get crazy in a hurry. I don’t think I realized exactly how big a threat that is until I got over here. I get a little nervous every time we come back inside the wire and go through the checkpoints. All it would take is one shot, or one loud boom, and things could go south in a hurry. One of the things I noticed as a cop was that it might be hard to make that first shot, but after that the next 20 or so came pretty fast – and it’s hard to yell loud enough in the middle of a gunfight to get it stopped.

There is a daily summary here called the Seats Report, which is a compilation of significant activities that occurred across the theatre during the day. Any unit or convoy that is attacked or fired on reports the incident, and the capture or killing of enemy forces is reported, along with recovery of arms and ammunition. Maybe it’s just an aberration, but it seems to me that the quantity and quality of attacks against U.S. forces has slowed down lately. A good many of the attacks consist of just a few rounds of small arms fire, or an RPG fired in the general vicinity. And everyday we’re killing or capturing key targets, something that I suspect is not very widely reported in the press, and maybe that’s just as well. Another encouraging sign is that we’ve established an outpost on Haifa Street in Baghdad, right square-dab in the middle of Baghdad, and are patrolling the street there, which is where so many attacks have come from in the past. When it was first set up the insurgents tried to drive us out, but they were quickly killed or convinced to take up more peaceful pursuits, and the area is considerably calmer now. That is exactly what the Iraqi Police and National Guard should be doing, but I guess it remains to be seen if they’ll step up to the plate on that.

Good news! The replacement battalion for our battalion HQ arrived this morning. That will mean a lot of confusion initially as a new command takes over, but most importantly it means that our relief shouldn’t be too far behind them. Calloo, Callay, oh Frabjous Day!

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