Archive: February 2006

Naming the Enemy

I've learned in Iraq that we GI's have named the enemy "Haji". In Arabic, Haji means any Muslim who has made the pilgrammage to Mecca -- so our use of the term isn't remotely sensitive or politically correct. But neither is the enemy we face. During the Cold War era, the enemy was commonly referred to as "Ivan", a name that lasted at least through 1996 when I went through basic training. CW4 Ret. Michael Durant introduced the nation to the military's slang for the Somalian enemy ("Skinnies") in his book Black Hawk Down. Many of you will recall that the Vietnam enemy was known as "Charlie." "Haji" is used to describe any kind of enemy or potential enemy here, from the conniving roadside bomb setters to the seemingly friendly local contractors, who we hesitate to trust just because they are locals and, we feel, could turn on us at...

By Bert Stover | February 27, 2006; 9:30 AM ET | Comments (88)

Commuting By Foot

Looks like I have replaced my 20 minute civilian commute in D.C. with one the same length, only there's no traffic on this one and it's a bit more healthy. There's a modest gym at the base, but with a 20 minute commute on foot from the tents to the chow hall, not to mention the 30 minute hike to the flight line, the gym is hardly needed. Most of us pass out from the work and miles of walking when we get back to the tents at night. Many have purchased bikes to try and get around faster, though bikes don't solve the problem of sore muscles for soldiers who haven't ridden them much back home. Overall, some of us are walking more than 5 miles a day. Without cell phones, we have to hike to the chow hall to communicate with friends and loved ones in the U.S....

By Bert Stover | February 24, 2006; 1:00 PM ET | Comments (13)

Dust

On the return trip from the chow hall this morning, we got to walk through clouds of dust with the consistency of talcum power. That's apparently not going to be unusual in Iraq, thanks to a thin layer of dust that in most places sits on top of what is generally hard ground. The dust gets stirred up when winds blow even a little more strongly than normal, say, 10 knots. Visibility goes down to about an eigth of a mile, and only enough light gets through to let you know that it is indeed daytime. Walking through Iraqi dust reminds me of walking through fog in the U.S., except that the dust causes your eyes to water and sting as they try to filter sand particles away from your cornea. I've never really appreciated the value of topsoil until coming to a place where it is so rare....

By Bert Stover | February 24, 2006; 5:00 AM ET | Comments (4)

Chowing Down at Al Asad

Sleeping quarters turned out to be open bay tents with skinny, black steel children's sized bunks that looked like they came from Ikea. We dumped our gear and had the soldiers who arrived earlier in the month escort us to the chow hall. The quantity and variety of food was astounding, definitely the best chow most of us have seen in the military. Still, there were some oddities....

By Bert Stover | February 23, 2006; 1:00 PM ET | Comments (11)

Arrival Al Asad, Iraq 9FEB06

I had dosed off during the ride to Al Asad and was oblivious to the world until I felt something smacking my knee. I convinced myself it was just another soldier trying to get comfortable in the C-130's seating, until I heard my name repeated with each punch. I opened my eyes in the green light of the transport's passenger area, strapped in face-to-face with other members of the unit. One of my buddies was waking me to get ready to depart the plane....

By Bert Stover | February 23, 2006; 5:00 AM ET | Comments (15)

Arrival Camp Victory, Kuwait

After leaving the airport, we traversed roads that all looked the same, lined with lights and mostly empty except for our convoy of buses. We arrived at Camp Victory after what seemed to be a short ride, mostly due to my falling in and out of sleep from being awake for most of the preceding 24 hours. We were herded off of the buses, assembled into a welcome brief and issued our live ammunition. We downloaded our baggage, found our tents and then the chow hall for a midnight meal, called midrats. After chow, most of us took advantage of the Internet cafe to try to notify home that we had all made it this far. I tried several times to call my parents using the free Internet telephony service Skype. Unable to let them hear my voice, I opted to email them and call it a night just after...

By Bert Stover | February 15, 2006; 1:13 PM ET | Comments (34)

Arrival Kuwait 18:30 7FEB06

My first orders overseas, issued over the intercom on our plane as we parked at the gate after landing in Kuwait: "You will depart the plane and proceed directly to the buses, nothing else. No smoke break, no pictures, no nothing, just get on the buses; Its nighttime here so ..." We got off the plane and proceeded to the buses. Small, with curtains drawn over the windows, the buses were the first sign we were 'not in Kansas anymore'. Before boarding the buses, the air was fresh and much more humid than in Yuma. Inside the buses, it was musty, dank, stale. The seats were only big enough to seat soldiers under 5'10", so those of us a little taller had to jam our knees between our seatbacks and those in front of us. We drove around a bit, then stopped long enough for a couple of soldiers to...

By Bert Stover | February 15, 2006; 9:58 AM ET | Comments (4)

Traveling to Iraq

After a week of partying and relaxed dinners in Yuma, we assembled the morning of Feb. 6 in our hanger to board the plane that would take us overseas. It was three hours late. We were told to surrender our knives and lighters before boarding, but not our M-9 pistols and M-16 machine guns -- which got a good laugh. At our first stop, in Bangor, Maine, we were greeted by several veterans, who shook our hands and offered free use of cell phones to make last calls home. I passed on the free calls as I had already said my 500th good-bye to my family and friends. We re-boarded the plane after it had taken on a new crew and fresh bag of gas. As we pushed back from the gate, I worked on a crossword puzzle to divert my attention from the fact I was leaving the U.S....

By Bert Stover | February 8, 2006; 9:46 AM ET | Comments (26)

A Pen Pal's Questions Before Going to Iraq

A Prince George County, Virginia elementary school class has adopted our unit as pen pals. Their first stack of letters arrived a couple of weeks ago, and we each chose our pal by picking randomly from the stack. My pal is a self-described blonde haired, blue eyed, fourth grade girl who's on her school's cheerleading team. Her questions, though simple to ask, have proven difficult to answer. Written in pencil and curly longhand on school notebook paper without a date, her letter begins "Dear Soldier" and asks, "How do you feel about being in the war? Are you scared, or are you excited?"...

By Bert Stover | February 8, 2006; 5:00 AM ET | Comments (78)

 

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