Archive: Al Asad, Iraq

Leave Rotations End

Most in the unit have returned to Iraq after their two-week leave, a hiatus granted to each soldier, spread out over the year to maximize productivity. Some chose to go home to family, while others vacationed in foreign countries. All agreed that the leave provided a needed break from the conditions here in Iraq. Most also thought they were the shortest two weeks of this deployment -- they wished their lives away in anticipation of leave, and prayed time would stop during it....

By Bert Stover | December 8, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (7)

A Sign of Things to Come, An Al Asad Visit

While on pass in Qatar in June, I slyly was assigned the additional duty of Unit Movement Officer. As a UMO, I am an assistant to the commander for all things relating to our unit's journey home, from transporting people and equipment to helicopters. It's a logistical nightmare I'm happy to take on....

By Bert Stover | August 16, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (12)

KBR and the Laundry

Though it is widely known that KBR -- formerly Kellogg, Brown & Root -- is running the show in Iraq as far as support operations for the military go, I'd like to give you an idea of just how pervasive the firm's presence is in Iraq. Veterans tell me that with each new military operation KBR has become more and more involved. What I noticed first was the laundry. KBR handles laundry at both Al Asad and TQ. We turn our laundry bags in and after a couple of days, our clothes come back, supposedly clean. Here at TQ, the "clean" laundry does tend to have a slight hint of a fresh scent when it is returned. But at Al Asad, we wondered if they didn't just put the clothes in hot water for a while and then let them dry. Whatevery the exact process, things came back smelling so...

By Bert Stover | May 18, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (32)

Electronic Blackouts and Fearing the Worst

One of the reasons my posting to this blog is sporadic is that Internet connectivity has to be available for me to post. Most of the time it is, but when an event occurs that may result in bad news for families at home, the military implements an electronic blackout, shutting down all communication channels that soldiers routinely use to contact their loved ones. In the event of a mortar attack, the first email that comes from headquarters is implementation of the blackout. Off goes the Internet. Off go the commercial phones in the AT&T phone trailer. A blackout occurred after our aircraft crashed -- and it probably saved many family members unnecessary grief. If one or two soldiers had been able to call home after the crash, their own families would have been reassured. But the families would have called other families in the unit and told them about...

By Bert Stover | April 28, 2006; 12:00 AM ET | Comments (30)

Accident Off Al Asad

A couple of weeks ago our unit suffered what is known in Army Aviation as a Class A accident. This is defined as damage costs of $1,000,000 or more and/or destruction of an Army aircraft, missile or spacecraft and/or fatality or permanent total disability. There was no loss of life, but we did lose an aircraft when it crashed attempting to land at night in very dusty conditions. Out of respect for the crew and the families at home I chose not to press forward with a publication of the accident until now. Here is my brief account of the minutes just after we learned one of our own had gone down outside of the wire......

By Bert Stover | April 12, 2006; 01:10 PM ET | Comments (422)

A Decision to Save My Leave

We were asked to provide general timeframes as to when we would like to take our first two weeks R & R leave. I decided to take a couple of passes instead -- a few days off from work that don't get charged as leave. My intent is accumulate my leave and use it at the end of this tour so I can take a long trip across the U.S. to visit with family and friends....

By Bert Stover | April 7, 2006; 09:00 AM ET | Comments (76)

Leaving the Wild West

I've concluded, as we prepare to leave Al Asad, that the base would have been the perfect location for George Lucas to have filmed his Star Wars movies. The base itself is in the middle of the large expanse of dirt and dust, similar to where many Lucas scenes played out. Hangars are embedded into the cliffs, with most of the taxi-ways are placed along the natural carvings that water has made in the earth. Along the taxi-ways are concrete bunkers in the shape of miniature pyramids, about 25 feet tall. Some of the structures are strategically cut into the cliffs to provide parking spaces for aircraft and equipment. Built with concrete of the same color as the surrounding soil, the pyramids really provide a futuristic look....

By Bert Stover | April 6, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (9)

A Break and a Change

Today was a maintenance stand down day, so most of us did not have to report for work. Instead we slept in, got some exercise and by mid-afternoon were able to take in some sun sitting in folding chairs and laugh together. Our overall stress level dropped by at least a factor of ten, at least until we got unexpected news late in the day. As soldiers, deployed, it's almost impossible to get away from work. Even when we are officially released for the day, we return to our tents and hang out with the same people we worked with all day. Imagine having to live with that annoying co-worker (and I'll admit I'm that guy for some of the soldiers here) after you have just spent all day with them at the office. Now, throw on top of that the whole idea of hostile fire. With the whole day...

By Bert Stover | April 5, 2006; 09:00 AM ET | Comments (8)

Beauty in Iraq

I've transitioned to days and what a difference! I made my way outside just after dawn for my first flight. The sun wasn't quite 20 degrees off the horizon, but it was much brighter than I remembered. When I opened the garage-sized door to the flight operations building, the wind swung it away from me -- but when I went to grab for it, I had to shut my eyes due to the intensity of light. Off balance and blinking, carrying my helmet bag filled with check lists and maps, I wasn't able to get the door under control until a passing crew chief saw my dilemma and leant a hand. I stood there squinty eyed thanking him. It took me about five minutes to finally adjust to daylight by opening and closing my eyes as I made my way to the helicopter....

By Bert Stover | April 3, 2006; 08:37 AM ET | Comments (15)

Finally Some Room

I'm not complaining, because we have a pretty good living situation, but it just got a little better. All of the rest of the 2/224th battalion (HHC, Delta, and Echo companies) moved out of the tents and into some more stable arrangements. Some into actual buildings and others into trailers commonly referred to as 'cans'. We're not in buildings yet. But the others' exodus has made way for the flight companies to expand out of the one tent-per-company situation that had put us literally on one on top of another....

By Bert Stover | March 27, 2006; 12:00 AM ET | Comments (104)

Ground Hog Day

Work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep.... That's pretty much the routine, minus a few details of when and how long, but you get the idea. One of the pilots appropriately answered "It's March!" when asked what day it was. "Tomorrow will be April."...

By Bert Stover | March 24, 2006; 09:15 AM ET | Comments (19)

Taking Fire in Iraq

We took our first indirect fire last night. I was in the flight planning room when all of a sudden people charged into the room in full battle rattle, Kevlar helmet sand body armor, telling us "IDF ... no joke, this is not a drill!"...

By Bert Stover | March 20, 2006; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (73)

A Near Miss Over Baghdad

Getting ready for my second night flight in a row, I found myself going through the same ritual as before: mentally coaching myself on what to do if something were to happen, while tending to the details of prepping the aircraft, my body armor and my sidearms. I slid the metal magazine of rounds into each weapon until I heard and felt the metallic clicking of the spring loaded catches and thought about possible situations where I would have to use the bullets. I flew with a different crew, and before long we were checking the radios of the aircraft and pulling pitch to begin the flight. We were over Baghdad looking down at what seemed to be a fire fight marked by the swarm of tracer rounds, when all of a sudden the aircraft in front of me climbed in altitude so fast that I couldn't keep it in...

By Bert Stover | March 17, 2006; 10:45 AM ET | Comments (40)

Across the Wire at Night

I crossed the wire for the first time. The wire is our term for the base perimeter, beyond which safety is definitely not assured. And just to keep things interesting, my first trip across the wire occured at night, even thought I'd had just three flights since flight school, all of them during the last three days of pre-deployment training Yuma, AZ. In other words my fourth night flight turned out to be a combat mission beyond the wire in Iraq. I was completely lost during the pre-flight brief, but my pilot in command reassured me that he knew what was going on and all I really had to worry about was flying the aircraft. He had spent one of the previous nights riding along in one of the CH-46 helicopters operated by the Marine Corps unit we are replacing....

By Bert Stover | March 16, 2006; 07:50 AM ET | Comments (49)

Al Asad Services

Things here are mostly inert, with the last indirect fire occurring months ago, causing us to develop a false sense of security. Aside from living in open bay tents and having to walk everywhere, the services available are quite accommodating....

By Bert Stover | March 4, 2006; 09:20 PM ET | Comments (27)

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; 01:00 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; 05:00 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; 01:00 PM ET | Comments (11)

 

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