Monday, April 11, 2005

Back To Balad

Convoy Back to Balad:

My stay in Baghdad was worthwhile. I learned how their operation works in comparison to ours at LSA Anaconda. The trip also served to break up my tour. 21 days at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) plus the travel time nearly took care of the entire month of March. Not that I'm counting yet - we've still a long way to go - but the quicker the months go the better.

I usually fly by blackhawk helicopter between the two bases, but this time it was more convenient to convoy. It is funny how things work. Just a few days prior to the convoy, I picked up a soldier walking on base with his laundry. In my vehicle he explained that his job here was convoy security, and he was in the unit that had just lost a soldier escorting one of my convoys. He was a young soldier and did not know who I was, or my relationship to his operation. I took him to his unit area and thanked him for the job he was doing. A few days later, who do you think showed up as one of the security vehicles on the convoy taking me back to Anaconda...

The night of the convoy was as clear as I've ever seen in this country. The moon was full, and we actually had a 99% illumination rating. The CC (Convoy Commander) was an E5 (Sergeant). I shadowed him as the ranking officer on the trip and was very impressed with his leadership ability. He brought everyone together to give the convoy briefing and then asked for a prayer.

A PFC (Private First Class) volunteered to say the prayer and did an outstanding heartfelt job, asking God to watch over us. He said all the right things and, you could really sense the sincerity in his voice. We broke from the meeting like you would in a football huddle and mounted our vehicles. I was in the CC's HMWVV and was amazed at the difference between his vehicle and the ones we drive around the base. Besides the amount of extra armor, this vehicle was equipped with several communication devices and a tracking screen that outlined our route and updated us as to any trouble we might face ahead. We rolled out and I said my own prayer, just as I have done on every Army operation.

As we were approaching our departure point, I noticed the CC sitting in the front passenger seat, with his eyes closed as if he were taking a "cat-nap". His face was lit up from the digital TV screen and as I looked closer, I could see his lips moving. It was then I knew he was praying, too. I had a sudden and complete feeling of calmness knowing that the Sergeant-in-Charge was asking God for guidance.

Our vehicles picked up speed as we left the camp and as we skirted through the outer streets of Baghdad. The 50 Cal. gunners on top of the vehicles shined powerful halogen lights toward anything in front or behind us that looked suspicious, and everyone stayed alert and ready. These guys have made this trip numerous times and you could tell they were well acquainted with the route and trouble spots. As we left the city and the lights, the moon lit up the countryside as our vehicles raced north. We arrived at LSA Anaconda in record time and without any enemy contact. The escort team was very surprised and said that it was unusual not to encounter some type of enemy fire. I thanked them for the escort and took the CC aside to give him my AAR. I commended him on his professionalism and leadership and noted that he had the trust and admiration of his men and as of this night, he had mine as well.

Religious Holidays:

Mortar attacks continue, and we keep going in and out of full body armor. I find it ironic that as we get closer to the local "religious holidays," we prepare for and receive more violent attacks. We are told that during these holidays, more people are at home and not at work. Therefore, they have more time to do bad things. What kind of religious holiday says, "hey on this day you should not work. Instead, go and try to kill someone." Regardless, this is the second time in the past few weeks that we've been under a heightened level of security due to religious holidays and celebrations.

Can you imagine the water-cooler talks at the office after a holiday - "So haji, how was your break? Did the family get together? How many IED's did you guys place? Lob any good mortars at the Americans?" Sorry if this sounds a bit sarcastic, but the contrast in cultures here continues to boggle my mind.

Getting Hot:

The weather is starting to change. We've had a few weeks of "spring" but now we are starting to see temperatures in the 90's. Every Command is preparing its soldiers for the real heat, which should be here soon. I remember being here back in August of 1990 and again when I visited last summer. The heat is so intense that unless you've been here before, you have nothing to really compare it to. My unit was fortunate to get here early and this should allow the soldiers to acclimate a little better. We are all drinking lots of water and the consumption of coffee, Pepsi, and near beer has already gone down. My guys will do fine and given their sense of humor and backgrounds, I can't wait to hear how they describe the weather. I'll keep you posted.

Everyone here has his/her own way to mark off the days. I will get the opportunity to come home in June for two weeks of R&R. The anticipation for this date is getting unbearable. I can't wait to see my family and friends. The break will mark the halfway point for this tour and gives me something to look forward to. Here's hoping the time remaining here flies by and the time at home crawls. I've been thinking about leaving home again after my R&R. It will be tougher this time on my nine and five year old boys because they will know what to expect. My six month old probably still wants to know who I am, and my wife, who continues to be a rock about things, will hopefully find comfort in knowing we're halfway done. Regardless, the break can't get here soon enough.

Take Care and God Bless