This is an old video; I just found it. I uploaded it to YouTube since you can’t view it on the original DVIDS site. When I was in Iraq our unit commander’s (CPT Callaway) mother sent a bunch of toys over to us. We took these toys and handed them out to Iraqi kids.
December 19th, 2000 was a Tuesday. It was the day I enlisted into the Arizona Army National Guard. Today, 9 years later, I’m finishing up my service. From my very first days at C Btry, 1/180th FA, a tour in Iraq, and all the way to Eco 29th BSB, it’s been quite a ride. I didn’t reenlist because I want to concentrate of my career, and frequent deployments would put me at a serious disadvantage in my field. This is not to say that I’m not torn by my decision. Part of me wants to stay in. Part of me will always want to be in the Army. It has been an amazing 9 years for me. Being part of the Army has given me discipline and confidence and has taught me the meaning of honor, duty, loyalty, and courage. I think I was a good soldier and as an NCO I think I did my best to take care of the soldiers under me. Along the way, I also made some wonderful friends who might as well be family now. The kind of camaraderie that forms when you serve with people in a combat zone cannot be put into words.
Looking back I think I can say that I’m satisfied with my career. I still remember coming in as a 19-year old Private… I knew that I at least wanted to make Sergeant before I got out, and I’m glad that I was able to achieve that. Being able to wear the uniform is something amazing. You are a part of something larger than yourself. It’s hard to put into words… I just know that it’s something that I will miss terribly.
I can’t say that I’ve looked forward to this day (although my family has). 9 years is a long time to serve and after doing something for so long, it becomes a very integral part of you and your identity. I guess I will always be a soldier and a veteran; I have earned that right. But I know I’ll always be looking back at my Army years fondly, half-wishing I was still wearing the uniform and still serving the nation.
Go Army! HOOAH!
My friend Joey sent me this picture! I think it’s pretty awesome!
HOOAH! Go Army!
This is an article that I originally wrote for Anjali, a publication from KHNA (Kerala Hindus of North America). I was asked to write an article describing my experiences in the Army and this is what I came up with. It eventually ended up being a lot longer than I planned.
How I Joined the Army, Went to War, and Came Back
About 8 years ago, I raised my right hand and took the oath of allegiance. I swore to follow and obey the lawful orders of my superiors, and to protect the United States of America from all enemies, foreign and domestic. I enlisted in the Arizona Army National Guard on December 19th, 2000. I was 19-years old at the time. Many people have asked me about my motivation for doing so; this was two-fold. Firstly, there was the issue of college tuition. The Guard offered to pay (at the time) 75% of my college tuition if I fulfilled my contract, and kept good grades. Secondly, I was attracted to the discipline of the Army, and I wanted to be part of something larger than myself.
After formally enlisting in December, I went to Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina on the 26th of May, 2001. Basic Training is definitely something I look upon fondly (now), but at the time it was definitely a very difficult and trying experience. I was never the overtly physical type while growing up. Hence, the completely physical aspect of the Military was intimidating to me. I had also heard stories about the Drill Sergeants, how they were extremely strict and demanding, and continually in your face. Basic Training is a strenuous physical, mental, and emotional ordeal. For most people, it is the discipline and lack of freedom that is most difficult. The Drill Sergeants control every aspect of your day. You do everything according to a set time-table, and you learn the value of punctuality and discipline. To the uninitiated, seeing what a recruit experiences at the hands of a Drill Sergeant may seem frightening, or even cruel. Recruits have to sacrifice some of their individuality and personal freedoms, and this is terrifying to some people. What Basic Training teaches you (other than how to be a soldier) is how to be part of a team; to place the welfare and well-being of your brothers and sisters-in-arms (and by extension, the nation) above your own.
To be very frank, the strictness of Basic Training didn’t faze me. I went to an Indian School, growing up. I found many similarities between the school environment in an Indian school and the environment in Basic Training (excluding the weapons, explosive, and other bodily-harm-causing implements). Both environments have a strong focus on discipline and respect. In Basic Training, the Drill Sergeants are God. To do anything, you require their permission. You speak when spoken to. If you want to go to the bathroom, you raise your hand. If you speak out of turn, or do not do what you are told, you get punished. Does this sound familiar to any readers who have studied in an Indian School?
The day I graduated Basic Training was a very proud day for me. I had endured one of the toughest experiences of my life. I went from a scrawny 104-pound 19-year old to a 125-pound, US Army Soldier. I was confident, disciplined, and words like “Honor”, “Duty”, and “Loyalty” were more than just mere words to me; they actually meant something now.
Over the next few years, things weren’t all that exciting. I went to AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Fort Lee, Virginia in 2002 to qualify for my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), which was to be an “Automated Logistics and Supplies Specialist”. To be honest, I didn’t know what my job in the Army actually was when I enlisted. My conversation with my recruiter went something like this:
Recruiter: Well, so what do you do in College?
Me: I’m trying to get a degree in Computer Engineering.
Recruiter: Oh really? Well this has computers in it!
Me: Oh really? I’ll do that!
At the time, I was really naïve and perhaps should have put a little more thought into it, but in retrospect it’s interesting how that one little decision shaped the rest of my life. The description of my job isn’t that glamorous. I essentially maintain a supply chain so that the mechanics in the maintenance section can get the parts they need to fix the vehicles in our unit. To this end, I worked on an archaic piece of software that was written in the 80′s and subsequently updated over and over again. When I found out that this was what I was actually doing, I felt a little… deflated. But eventually I realized that I was an important part of the system, and my programming and computer engineering background eventually did help me excel at my job, especially when I got deployed.
The next few years in the Guard were pretty uneventful. I attended and performed my duties at drill one weekend every month, and two weeks in the summer for Annual Training. Of course, things changed after September 11th, 2001. Twice after that, I was almost deployed; once to Luke Air Force Base, and then to Iraq . Though I understood my obligations, I was extremely unnerved and frightened at the prospect of putting my college education on hold. Through an intricate series of events not of my design, I somehow fell through the cracks and managed not to get deployed. I was able to continue my college education and graduate in the spring of 2004. When I finally did have to go, I felt that I was ready.
In early 2005, I was told that I would be deploying to Iraq. Needless to say, my family wasn’t very thrilled. They were understandably scared and worried about my safety. Many of my friends asked me to figure out some way to get out of it (one of them kindly offered to break my legs, so I wouldn’t be able to go). If I had done what they had asked, I don’t think I would have been able to live with that decision. The truth of the matter is that no one wants to go to war. In fact, I vividly remember my Drill Sergeant talking about going to war. He once asked us to raise our hands if we wanted to go war. Of course, all of us raised our hands up. He said, “Really? Then all y’all are stupid! No one wants to go to war! No one wants to die! We go to war because it’s our duty!”. Trying to get out of going to Iraq seemed dishonorable to me. I would be turning my back on my comrades and I would be violating the oath I took when I enlisted. I understood, and knew that it would be a difficult and dangerous experience, but I decided to do it any way, because it was what I had to do. It was my duty.
I left Phoenix on the morning of the 30th of August, 2005. It was definitely one of the most heart-wrenching and saddest days of my life. I wasn’t sad for myself, but I was sad for my family and friends. I didn’t want them to worry about me and I even felt slightly guilty at the emotional turmoil I was putting them through. But even though they’d rather have me back home, they all understood why I was going and why I had to go. I spent three months in Ft. Lewis, Seattle where the whole unit underwent pre-mobilization training. We left for Kuwait on the 18th of November. We spent about two weeks there before we actually flew out to Baghdad, Iraq.
I realize that most people, when asked to make up a list of positive experiences, don’t put “war” on that list (unless you’re an arms dealer). My year in Iraq was definitely a stressful and difficult experience that fundamentally changed me in some ways. But in a gestalt sense it was a positive experience for me; in some way it has characterized and validated my service. Prior to my deployment, I often had the feeling that I was simply “going through the motions” of being a soldier. But there I was in Iraq, doing what I was trained to do, supporting my fellow soldiers, and getting the mission done.
For most people, politics and war are inextricably intertwined. War is, after all, an action which is the culmination of a series of events based on some sort of political policy. This really isn’t the case with soldiers (or any military person). Of course, this seems paradoxical, or even nonsensical. After all, we’re the ones who’re participating in the war, so shouldn’t we be aware of the politics of it as well? Not really. Politicians decide policy, and in the case of war policy, the military carries it out. I was well-aware of the hugely political overtones of the Iraq War. I was also well aware of the arguments for and against the war, and I had my own views on the matter. But when you’re lying awake in bed in the middle of the night, listening to incoming mortars exploding all around you, shaking your flimsy tin-can residence, politics becomes largely irrelevant. People often ask me about my political feelings about the war and I decline to answer. They often ask me my views because of my experience, but this is the very reason that I don’t answer. People assume that because of my experience, my views have an extra legitimacy to them because “I was there”. By extension, they also assume that my political views define the character of, or motivation for my service in Iraq. It is hard to explain how or why soldiers maintain this “wall” in their heads. It’s not an attempt at rationalization, rather it is necessary for us to function properly in a combat environment. Trying to decide whether throwing the grenade that is currently in your hand espouses and promotes a libertarian or neo-conservative political world-view, while bullets are flying at you from all directions, is probably detrimental to your combat effectiveness. Hence the need to completely render politics irrelevant. When people ask me why I went, and why I served there, I tell them that I did it because it was my duty; because I wanted to support my fellow soldiers and because I wanted to complete the mission. I owe no further explanation.
Like I had mentioned before, my experience in Iraq was definitely stressful. I missed my family and friends terribly. I realized the value of the simple things in life, like not being afraid of being hit by mortar (for instance), while lying in bed, watching South Park on TV. Finally, imagine spending a whole year with your baseline level of anxiety ratcheted up to about 10 times its normal level. When we first got there, I was startled by every incoming mortar, but I eventually got used to it. I was initially stationed at the Green Zone, and got to visit the major landmarks in the area, like the Crossed Sabers, Saddam’s Palace, and the Al-Rashid Hotel. However, our mission changed and I came back to join the rest of the unit at Camp Liberty, Baghdad.
Our unit’s mission in Iraq was varied. We would usually be transporting VIP’s, prisoners, or supplies to different places in and around Baghdad. My job mainly kept me on base (and my family was extremely relieved because of that). To be very honest, there were times that I wished I could go “outside the wire”, instead of stay on the base. It wasn’t because I was fatalistic or crazy, but I enjoyed the adrenaline rush and also felt like I was doing something more tangible. I was able to go out about 10 or 12 times during my tour in Iraq. If you ask me what it feels like to be in imminent danger, I can say that it’s definitely an odd feeling. While I realized that I was in extreme danger, I didn’t feel scared or frightened. Only extremely alert and focused, which I guess, is how you would want to feel in a combat environment.
I didn’t truly realize the importance of my MOS until my tour in Iraq. Since our unit’s mission consisted a lot of convoying, the maintenance team was extremely busy ensuring that the vehicles were in a fully mission-capable state. A vehicle that breaks down outside the wire is extremely vulnerable, and so we had a huge responsibility to ensure that this never happened. My job, as mentioned before, was to ensure that the maintenance team had access to the repair parts they required. Most people in my position simply use the software provided. However the software being archaic, and having been written a few short weeks before the invention of the wheel (I am being sarcastic, of course) was not very user friendly or intuitive. Tasks that should be simple took forever to complete. The interface was obtuse, and the designers had made some seriously brain-dead decisions. Reporting was even more tedious. Most other units there would painstakingly write up a report every morning manually and send it up to the TOC (Tactical Operations and Command). Not content with this state of affairs, I resolved to completely streamline our operations. I essentially wrote my own programs that automated a lot of the data entry and reporting. Tasks that normally took hours now took only a matter of seconds to complete. In addition, I was able to send out extremely accurate reports because I figured out how to interface with the Army software’s database. I never once in my life thought that I would be putting my degree to use in Iraq. I never created any of these enhancements in the expectation of some sort of reward. My driving force was to ensure that I did everything humanly possible to guarantee the safety of my friends and the success of their mission outside the wire. Towards the end of the tour, I was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for my efforts.
Due to the nature of my job, and the fact that I mostly stayed on base, I wasn’t able to interact very much with the Iraqi people, or catch that much of a glimpse into their lives outside the base. In my experience though, most of the Iraqi people I did meet were extremely friendly and hospitable, with a sincere desire to see their country succeed. This is not to say that all Iraqis liked us. More than once I saw people on the street make obscene gestures at the convoys as we drove by. That, and the IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices) clued us into the fact that we weren’t universally liked. A lot of Iraqis actually worked on base and ran shops that sold different kinds of merchandise and also a whole lot of bootlegged DVD’s (one of the first Iraqis I met was a kid on the street who wanted to sell me DVD’s). They would arrive at the base in the morning and leave in the evening. They were required to have escorts at all times as well, and this was how I was able to meet a lot of them. The lower enlisted (I was specialist at the time and hadn’t been promoted to Sergeant yet) had to perform extra duty, and one of these was “escort duty” where you had to escort Iraqis or TCN’s (Third-Country Nationals) around the base. I can recall my first time performing escort duty as especially poignant. The person I had to escort was a 12-year old boy who helped the garbage truck collect garbage around the base. He spoke excellent English and I asked him why he didn’t go to school. He told me that his father had been killed when insurgents blew up a mosque he was praying at. Since he was the oldest member of the family, he had to quit school and earn money.
The year passed by quickly (although at the time it seemed to drag on forever). Soon, the unit that would replace us arrived on base and we quickly started training them. We had gone from counting-down months to counting-down days. Finally, the day of our departure arrived. We flew out of Iraq at the beginning of November. We stayed in Kuwait for two days before flying out to the United States. As the plane left the tarmac, everyone on the aircraft started cheering; we were glad to be finally leaving the Middle East.
The day I finally landed in Phoenix, Arizona was one of the happiest days of my life. My friends were there to greet me and I was relieved and ecstatic that I was finally back home. Getting back to civilian life took some work. My friends told me that I was a little more subdued, and quiet. My family complained that I wasn’t that social and didn’t want to talk. The truth was that I really didn’t feel like talking about anything, really. Sudden noises would startle me, and make me think of an incoming mortar attack. As the months went by, I finally got used to being a civilian again. For the most part, I was my old self, but with a host of new memories.
As I write this, I have less than a year left in the military. My ETS date (time of separation) is December 18th, 2009. When I am discharged, I will have served 9 years in the United States Army National Guard. I have decided not to re-enlist, even though I know that I will miss the Guard terribly. Even though there were difficult moments I had to deal with, I know I will miss the camaraderie and the discipline. I have decided to focus completely on my civilian career, and I feel that 9 years is a decently long stint in the Guard. Even though I will be out of the military in a year, it will forever be a part of me, and will also be something that defines me as a person. Joining the military was one of the most pivotal decisions of my life, and it has turned out to be a rich, rewarding, and wonderful experience all the way. It has helped me grow more as an individual, and has built up my confidence. It has taught me the meaning of the words Loyalty, Honor, Duty, and Courage. Even though I may not wear the uniform in a year, in my heart I know that I will always be a Soldier of the United States Army.
This time last month, I was still in Baghdad; a few days away from leaving for home. This time last year, I was in Kuwait; a few days away from leaving for a combat zone. We left Baghdad early on the 5th, to fly to Kuwait. We spent forty-eight hours in Kuwait before starting our journey to CONUS (Continental United States). On our way we stopped (out of all places) at Keflavik, in Iceland. From the plane, I saw a barren landscape that seemed both scorched and frozen at the same time. It was as if someone had burnt the whole countryside and then frozen it. The ground was the colour of rust, with patches of ice. It seemed like an alien landscape, but was weirdly beautiful at the same time. We stayed there for about an hour or two before heading to the United States. On the way back, the sun was just rising over the Nordic landscape. Rays of sunlight pierced through the clouds, lighting up the coastline. I can’t do justice to the scene with mere words, so I have a picture of it later on in my post.
Our first stop in the United States was at New Hampshire. It was our first step back on American Soil. There was a welcome party there for us, from an organization formed by War Veterans and Citizens. I was overwhelmed by the support we received from these people. They had woken up early in the morning to receive us. I felt an instant bond with the old warriors there; an instant recognition – something that only exists between servicemembers. I won’t even try to compare my experience to what those heroes have been through. These were veterans from World War II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, and Desert Storm. You have to understand that some of these veterans, especially the ones from Vietnam, had no one to welcome them when they came back home from war. In fact, they were spit on, hated, and ridiculed. It angers me when I think of the indiginities they suffered, especially from a public that has no idea of the horrors of the war. Quite often they decide that the dishonourable actions of a few are good enough to condemn a majority. This is why I am happy to see that the majority of the American public still support their troops even if they don’t agree with the war. A lot of these veterans feel sad that they can’t join us at war. In fact, as a World War II veteran told us, “I wish I was there fighting alongside you gentlemen, but I don’t think they take 80-year old men in the Army anymore…”. Before we took our leave, the veterans got into formation and saluted us. Our Company XO (Executive Officer) called us to attention and we saluted them right back. The CO of the Veterans’ Formation told us “You have no idea, how much it means to us, for you to salute us.” That counted as one of the most moving experiences in my life. I find it hard to describe the emotions experienced by a servicemember to civilians – it is not something that you can put into words. It is something you have to experience. It some something you develop when you spend time with friends who you know have your back. It is something you develop when you spend time with friends in an environment where any of you can die at any time. It is something you develop when you pray everyday that no one in your company gets hurt when they go outside to do their missions. It’s when you are party of a family. A brotherhood.
After leaving New Hampshire, we stopped at Ft. Lewis. I remember watching troops coming back from Iraq, when I was there over a year ago. I knew I’d be in their position one day, and I sure was. We stayed there for about five days to go through paperwork and briefings. Finally, early on the morning of the 12th, we headed back to Phoenix, Arizona. On August 29th, 2005, I remember thinking “One day, I’ll be on a plane flying in the opposite direction”. And sure enough, there I was. My level of excitement mounted as I realized that in a very short time, I would be seeing my friends and family… and that they would be elated to see me.
All things come to an end. Sometimes it feels like it takes a long time, but eventually…
As always, here are some pictures. I also have pictures from Thanksgiving ’06. I missed last year’s Thanksgiving, but this year’s more than made up for it. Everyone was there, including my mom and dad, my sister-in-law, and my sister’s fiance. Oh, and I also have pictures of my brother’s and sister-in-law’s wedding reception.
Patten, Valles, Terry, and I at BIAP.
Inside the C-130
Everyone inside the C-130
Patten and I in Camp Virginia
Soto, Valles, and I in Camp Virginia
Veterans’ Welcome at New Hampshire
This doggy was there to welcome us at New Hampshire
He had a little buddy to welcome us too
Roughnecks at New Hampshire
My buddies and I went to a Mexican Restaurant near Ft. Lewis. When we walked in, I saw these polaroids on the wall of people with Sombreros on. I found out that if it was your birthday, you got your picture taken with a sombrero. So I told them it was my birthday and my buddies played along.
Welcome Home, Roughnecks!
Michael and I at Sky Harbour
Michael, Naima, and I
Patten and I at the Moastery
Valles and I at the Monastery
Valles, Patten, and I at The Monastery
Viridiana, Berenice, and I at The Monastery
Dipu Cheta and Keerthi
Dipu Cheta, Simi Chechi, Keerthi, and Mannu
Keerthi and Simi Chechi
Keerthi, Simi Chechi, and Amma
Maya, Priya, Keerthi, Simi Chechi, and I
Maya, Priya, Dipu Cheta, Keerthi, Simi Chechi, and I
Prem and Simi Chechi
Priya, Simi Chechi, and I
Priya, Maya, and Simi Chechi
Keerthi, Dipu Cheta, Simi Chechi, and I
My sister and her fiance
Mannu, Keerthi, Amma, Acha, and I
Priya and I
My sister and I
Keerthi, Mannu, and I
Maya and I
Priya, Maya, and I
Shipra, Maya, Simi Chechi, Keerthi, and Priya
Aniyammama, Hemammayee, Dipu Cheta, Simi Chechi, and Prem
Simi Chechi and I
Happy Halloween, everyone. Guess what I’m going as this year? A soldier! Yeah, pretty original, don’t you think? This time last year, I was on the first day of my four-day pass to Phoenix. One year. Three hundred and sixty-five and a quarter days. The time it takes for our little blue, wet world to travel around the Sun. In a few days, I will be on my way home. Physicists and philosophers have long tried to understand the perception of time. But neither arcane equations nor metaphors have actually been able to fully explain the human perception of time. I have come to understand that over the past year. It is strange when a year can seem both interminable and fleeting at the same time. I remember the day I got here, like it was yesterday. It was a cool December afternoon and we were waiting at Baghdad International Airport for the old unit to pick us up. I guess the date of our departure was so far off in the future, obscured by the clichéed “mists of time” so to speak, that I didn’t even think about it. Or, maybe it was because it was so far off, that I didn’t want to think about it. Whatever the reason, I did acknowledge our departure was a very long way off. I set myself little “markers” during the year. Chronological mile-markers, if you will. Some of them were totally random, meaningless to others, but of great import to me. For example, on my second day in Iraq, we made our way to the International Zone, to go to FOB Union III where we thought we would be staying. As I grabbed my stuff and made my way to our living quarters, I caught a glimpse of some writing on a dry-erase board. It said, “10 weeks”. 10 weeks – a nice, round number. Although it seemed like a long way off then, I remember thinking how it would feel when we were down to 10 weeks. My next “mile-marker” was my leave date, which was in the first week of May. My leave was situated nicely in the middle of my deployment and so it was a sort of halfway point too. The marker after that was for when we were down to a hundred days, because after that, we would be down to double-digits – woohoo. Then I had “83 days”, because that’s how many days our SSA had left (they had come to Iraq a month before we had) when we were at a hundred-and-something days. My second-to-last marker was for 10 days, because after that, we’d be down to single digits. Now that’s a REAL reason to celebrate! And last, but by no certain means, least is our actual day of departure. Suffices to say that it’s only a few days away! Now when I look back, the whole year looks like it just sped by. I think a year seems like a year because of the different things we do. Different things that happen. We set up “mile markers” in our head so we can think back to “the totally crazy party back in February where I got totally wasted”, or “oh man, Spring Break”, or “Oh yeah, that’s when I went up to meet my family” and so on and so forth. But over here, there really isn’t much to distinguish one day from the other. I did the same thing over and over again, and so there was absolutely nothing to mark the passage of time. I do remember the individual moments when I would wistfully stare at the “Time Tracker” spreadsheet that we had, wishing that time would move faster, but at the same time it does seem like it sped by. The old adage “time flies when you’re having fun” doesn’t really seem to fit here. I can’t really say I “had fun”. It wasn’t all that bad, but it really wasn’t “fun”. Oh well. At any rate, I’m just glad that it’s almost over.
The past few weeks haven’t been all that bad, really. The new unit came in a few weeks ago and we slowly started handing over ownership and responsibility for our various missions, to them. I also started doing something that I should have started a long time ago. They have Latin Dancing on base at many locations. They have one (and by having one, I mean in the most liberal sense of the phrase) at the Division MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) Center. It’s on Thursday nights, and there never has been a huge turnout. I went to this one because it was close to our pad. But the really good one, was the one on Camp Slayer (Saturdays at 2000. 8 pm for you civilian types). It’s a bit of drive from where I live, so I never really tried to go over there. But I decided to try it out last month and I didn’t regret it at all. The only thing I regretted was not going there earlier. There is a huge turnout – the dance floor is positively crowded. It reminded me of the old “Bash on Ash” (A club that used to be on Mill and Ash in Tempe) days! It also gave me a chance to unwind and do something different. Usually, when I tell my fellow soldiers that I enjoy Latin Dancing, I am met with humorous intrigue, quickly followed by a few lighthearted jabs. As a result, I am not really in the company of a lot of people who really enjoy the activity. So it was pretty neat when I met new people who enjoy dancing as much as I do. Never did I realize that there would be this much interest in this activity in Iraq. In fact, I was expecting a year of no dancing at all. I guess I was wrong. I was mistaken for a Puerto Rican more than once. It usually happens when someone approaches me and rattles off something in Spanish. When I tell them I don’t speak Spanish, they are often confused. I guess they don’t meet too many Indians who can Salsa or Bachata! I had my last “Latin Nite” last Saturday, and I felt a little sad but then I realized that I’d be doing more than enough dancing when I get back. In fact, Johanna told me that I’d have to dance so much that I wouldn’t be able to feel my feet. Making up for lost time, I guess.
Right now, almost all of us are in the Tents. We moved in two weeks ago. I sold all my stuff, and shipped a bunch of stuff home too. It’s not too bad in the tents. Since we don’t have too much to do now, we basically sleep in, read, or watch movies. I think it’s rest that all of us deserve!
That’s about it for now. The next time I write, I will most probably be in CONUS (Continental United States). Oh, and here are the pictures I promised:
Amber (SGT Brinton, USMC) and I at Camp Slayer on Latin Nite. She’s an excellent dancer; a great follow. Definitely one of the better ladies I’ve danced with.
A bunch of ammo!
A really touching picture I saw in Stars and Stripes. Insurgents (so-called “freedom fighters”) killed the baby girl’s father and mother, before shooting her in the head. She’s slowly recovering in the hospital keeps crying and moaning all the time. The Air Force Chief Master Sergeant in the picture is the only one who can comfort her.
Waiting for our boxes to get inspected by Customs personnel.
Dora. One of the people I met while dancing at Camp Slayer.
Our Halloween decoration at the Motor Pool.
Camouflage Cover for our Humvee
We get a lot of cards from kids. SGT Laning gets some strange ones…
Like I said, strange…
We had a rodent problem in the Motorpool. They were getting fat off our food and off creamer. We finally caught one of them.
SGT Dahlseid and SPC Palmer installing the camouflage cover on the humvee.
Latin Nite at Slayer
More Latin Nite at Slayer
Slayer Salsa Crew
We look forward to Seak Night (Tuesdays) with great anticipation.
Mmmm… More Steak!
Another Iraqi Sunset.
As you can tell, I really like taking pictures of sunsets.
We have thunderstorms here, just like the ones in Arizona. This tent didn’t fare too well after a particularly strong one.
SPC Ortiz: “The Plane! The Plane!”
It’s been one year since I left Arizona. What a year. I still have around two months left… but still, that’s two compared to fourteen! My last day in Phoenix is still fresh in my mind. It was one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I have ever been through. It seems like it happened aeons ago, and at the same time, like it happened yesterday. I remember thinking how much time there was ahead of me before I could be back home again, and see my family and friends. And now… salvation is in sight! Back then, I didn’t have the words to describe my emotions at leaving… and now I find that I am at a loss for words to describe my emotions about coming home, except that I can only say that it will be a feeling of joy in its most distilled and purest form. I want to thank you all for making me feel that I am not forgotten and that I am loved. Thank you for all the emails, letters, and care packages! Nothing makes a soldier happier than a little something from his loved ones. Thank you once again.
As far as things that have been going on here, there hasn’t been much. Everyday is pretty much the same and we’ve gotten into such a rut that we really don’t notice the days flying past, which is A Good Thing. I don’t even know where August went. The only exciting things happened a few weeks ago. First, we had a company organizational day where we had a treasure hunt. The team with the most points got to throw pies in the Commander’s face. It was pretty cool! We had him locked up in a stock that SPC Palmer made. Then the winning team threw pies at him and then doused him in water!
A week or two later, we went to the IZ for our organizational day. 1st platoon took us there, and I got to drive! Ok, now it was my first time, so I was less than exemplary at getting there, but hey… it was my first time, alright? We first stopped over at the Crossed Sabres. I had already been there before, but it was nice seeing it again. I took a few more pictures, and also climbed up one of the hands and took had picure taken of me peeking out of the top. I also climbed up this tower and took pictures from the top. We also visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which honours the Iraqi Soldiers who died during the Iran-Iraq War. There is nothing inside now – all the exhibits are empty and there is a thick layer of dust over everything. It lives up to its name. After that, we visited the American Embassy in Iraq. The Embassy is housed in Saddam’s palace. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures, which is truly unfortunate, because the architecture is simply breathtaking. All the flooring is in marble, and there are all sorts of carvings on the door and on the ceiling. The furniture is absolutely gorgeous. It’s also extremely easy to get lost in there, because the whole place is so huge! Most of the rooms have been converted into offices and operations centers. Also a lot of the larger rooms have been made into chow halls or MWR (Morale Welfare and Recreation) centers. At the back of the embassy, there is a pool. That was our next destination. We spent the rest of the day chilling out by the poolside, and playing volleyball in the water. It was nice to just unwind and have a day that is completely different from our usual days. When we were done at the pool, we went to this place called Blackhawk where we bought (pirated) DVD’s from the Iraqis. After that, it was time for us to go back.
Oh, I almost forgot. Before we had our organization day, I took a trip to Ramadi. This was a week or so before our organizational day. The drive to Ramadi is two hours long, and really boring. The landscape looks like the one between Tucson and Phoenix, except for the fact that here, you have the occasional bombed-out building. The camp I went to in Ramadi can be summed up in one word – dusty. It must suck when it rains there. Everywhere you have inches and inches of moondust – fine dust that gets everywhere and in everything. The place also gets hit by a lot of mortars and RPG’s, but when I was there, it was strangely quiet. Nothing much happened over there, I just hung out with my buddies there and also with SSG Lopez. That was pretty much it.
I wish had more exciting things to say, but unfortunately, this is about it. As far as my family is concerned, they want it to stay that way and I understand!
One more thing, I ran into this blog. It’s a blog by a girl (who use to be) in Baghdad. Her posts are very touching. You’ll find a lot of pictures of kittens and cats there, because she likes them a lot, but there are actual posts where she talks about her experiences also. So go ahead and take a look.
That’s about it for now. Enjoy the pictures:
The Commander in the stock, and the First Sergeant with a cattleprod.
The commander with pie on his face!
That’s me in the humvee, on the way to the IZ.
SGT Perez and I in Ramadi.
In the humvee, again.
SGT Dahlseid and I on a tower overlooking Baghdad.
Our humvees as seen from the top of the tower.
Closeup of our humvees.
Peeking out of one of the hands at the Crossed Sabres.
An Iraqi Soldier and I at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
All of us at the tomb.
Another Iraqi Soldier and I.
We can see these blimps over the camp. I don’t know what they do.
This is the stock that SPC Palmer made. Pretty awesome craftsmanship.
I saw this pretty sweet looking jeep at the PX.
SGT Laning and I.
SGT Laning and SPC Greene.
I made an “Army Of One” poster using a group picture of all of us in the Motors Section. Here it is. It links to a larger version:
I also wrote a script that archives all my journal entries. It will archive everything except the latest entry, into an actual file. You can still submit comments to the archived entries, but you may not see your comments immediately. The script is run hourly so it may take up to an hour for your comments to show.
I finally got some time to sit down and write about my leave. I have been rather busy. Our days are long, and after I get back from work, I don’t have very much time and I’m too tired to sit down and write a journal entry! Well, anyway… here it is. Be warned… it’s pretty long!
Ok, so this last month (May), I went on leave. My leave date was the 8th of May. Little did I know that this day would be the beginning of what I would like to call…
The Worst Travelling Experience Ever
We meet our hero at BIAP where he is waiting with his fellow soldiers to get a flight to Kuwait. It is around 8 in the morning, and the day hasn’t gotten hot just yet. Everywhere there are Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Seamen and Civilians sitting and waiting. Some are playing cards or talking amongst themselves. Others are listening to music, or watching movies on their laptops, or reading books. Still others are sprawled out on benches or on the dusty concrete floor, sleeping, using their luggage as pillows. At about 9 in the morning, a formation is called. As our hero hurries and falls in, he looks around and notices Captains, Majors, and Sergeant Majors also in formation. It strikes him as a little funny since he usually sees them in front of a formation, and not in one. Leave – the great equalizer. Somebody comes up to the front of the formation and informs everyone that there are two flights leaving Baghdad. The first one leaves at 12 noon, while the second one leaves at 10 pm. However, there are personnel who have been waiting at BIAP since yesterday, and therefore, they will be given preference for the 12 noon flight. Our hero hopes and prays that there is enough room on the flight for him. However, he has been in the Military long enough to know that expecations are rarely met, and Murphy’s Law holds sway most of the time. Sure enough, there isn’t enough room on the flight and he has to wait for the 10 pm flight. He settles in for a Long and Boring day.
Sorry for the long delay. I don’t have much here in the way of a post. Not much has been happening here, actually. The most exciting thing that happened was that a mortar hit this port-a-potty near our Motor Pool. Kinda funny when you think about it. Luckily no one was in it, and it happened in the dead of night. The other thing was Easter, which was fun because SSG Lopez’s wife sent us all this candy. Thank you Mrs. Lopez! The other major thing was the extension of my contract. With my impending promotion, I would have an extra year in the Guard. So I figured I’d just re-enlist here for 3 more years, and get $7,500 tax free! Other than that, not much. We’ve had some crazy weather with some sandstorms rolling in. I’m just counting down the days to my leave. 7 days and a wake-up! So that’s about it. Enjoy the pictures:
All of us, with our Easter Baskets. Thanks Mrs. Lopez!
Mortar: 1 Port-a-potty: 0
Ok, so I lied to you guys. I’m not in Iraq. We’re actually on Mars. I mean, come on – look at the sky!
Re-up? You’re Crazy!
Re-up? You’re outta your mind!
Well, finally. Sorry for the extremely long delay. The Internet connection has been pretty lame here for the past month and a half. I haven’t been able to get on for very long, and uploading anything is out of the question. Ever since a new unit took over the Wireless Internet, it’s been absolutely terrible, and only works 20% of the time. But I don’t have to deal with those bastards anymore, because I have wired satellite internet for around $45 a month. That’s pretty sweet, considering that the internet cards for the wireless internet are $20 for 10 hours. The connection isn’t spectacular, but it is pretty decent.
Now for an update of things that have been happening over the past month and a half. First of all, it has been a little over three months since I have been in Baghdad. Time sure has flown! I only have around a month or so before my mid-tour leave, which I’m really looking forward to, because I get to go to India for my cousin’s wedding. My whole family is going to be there, so it should be a whole lot of fun.
Towards the end of January, I got to roll with 1st platoon on one of their missions, which was pretty neat. They actually had me ride along for a… well… for lack of a better term, a “tech support call”. The Iraqi colonel’s computer wasn’t working and they needed me to fix it. We headed out at about 8 in the morning towards an Iraqi Juvenile Detention center. We basically hung about there for a while chilling in the Humvee. We bought some freshly baked bread off this Iraqi guy and ate that for breakfast. Usually people bring along stuff to munch on, but since this was my first time, I hadn’t brought anything, so I went ahead and got some bread. While we were waiting there, I saw something that made my whole day. It was pretty much the sweetest and cutest thing I saw. A little girl, who couldn’t have been more than two or three years old, was walking with her mother. She had a pink sweater on and pigtails and as she walked by us in our Humvee, she smiled shyly at us. We waved and smiled at her. Then as she was walking away, she turned around, flashed a huge smile and blew us all a kiss. It was a Kodak moment, and I wish I had my camera. The children here seem to like us. But I feel a little worried at times because they run so close to the Humvees, and I am afraid that they may get hit. The soldiers toss them candy and toys. They’re always cheering at us and waving to us when we drive by.
After leaving the Juvenile Detention center, we headed to the IZ (International Zone) and had lunch at the Al-Rashid hotel. I bought a few DVD’s there – there is a huge market in bootlegged DVD’s – you can get movies and entire boxed seats for ridiculously cheap prices. The Iraqis love to haggle, so you can even talk them down a few bucks. I’m sure the RIAA and the MPAA are gritting their teeth. Or probably not, they’re too concerned about American piracy – maybe if they changed their outmoded and dicatorial business practices something would change, but they’re too stupid to do that. Anyway, enough of that, I feel a rant coming on.
After lunch, we headed over to the place where the Iraqi Colonel is at. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there and so I couldn’t fix his computer. I figure I’ll go there again one of these days, I’m not sure when. Eitherway, it will be a change from what I do normally.
The other interesting thing I did was escort duty. We have Iraqis and TCN’s (Third Country Nationals) who come into our base and work here. They need escorts when they move around base, and as a result we have Escort Duty. The first duty I had was escorting this kid around from one contractor site to the other. He didn’t speak much English. But he would say “America Good! America Zain! Saddam Muzain!” (“America Good! America Good! Saddam Bad!”) from time to time. I also escorted this other kid who actually spoke excellent English. In fact, he used to work as a translator. I asked him why he didn’t go to school, and he told me that his father was killed when insurgents bombed a mosque he was praying at. He’s the oldest son in the family, so he has to forgo school to make sure his sisters and younger brother can go to school, and also to put food on the table. Everyone has their opinions on this – I don’t like to talk about mine because I feel that one’s political views are irrelevant, especially if one is in the Military. I am here to do a job, and that’s what I’ll do, regardless of what I think. But at the very least I feel that the “freedom fighters”/insurgents are hardly doing anything for Iraqis. On the other hand I can see coalition forces doing things to rebuild Iraq. So whether you agree with the reason for this war, or whether you disagree – I’m just stating what I can I see here. I guess people want to know what Iraqis feel about us being there – because I do get asked that a lot. Just from my brief drive around, I saw a whole spectrum of reactions. From complete support, to indifference, to open hostility. It never is black and white. The few Iraqis I have talked to, support the coalition effort in rebuilding Iraq, but look forward to the day when they can take over and run their country on their own. But that is just my experience.
Other than that, not much is happening. The rains have finally stopped, and it hasn’t rained for over a month now. Everything has finally dried up, but it also means that it’s dusty all over again. But I’ll take that over the mud. It’s also slowly starting to warm up, but the weather right now is perfect – like Phoenix in the winter. Oh yeah, and it looks like my promotion is coming through and so hopefully, I should get my stripes soon. I’ll be a Sergeant (E-5) now.
My job is just the same – each day is not much different from the one before, and they all just sort of blend together into one. We work long hours, at least 12 to 12 and a half hours a day, but it’s not so bad because it makes the day go by quicker. We get one “down day” a week, where we get to sleep in, and just relax in general. I look forward to those.
I’ve been keeping myself busy and entertained by watching movies and reading books. I also acquired a guitar from a buddy of mine a month ago and I have been teaching myself. I wish I had more time to play, but I try to do a little bit each day. I think I am getting better. Since I know how to play the piano, I can apply some of the theory here. So it helps a little bit.
Oh yeah, and I did get my new computer – a new Alienware laptop and it totally rocks. The other one started dying on me – hard-drive failure – because of the dust, I think. Umm… yeah… so Chip… I know you’re reading this… I’ll uh… be needing a new laptop when I get back… I hope it’s not a problem! Write this one off as WIA (Wounded In Action)!
Oh and check this out. So we spend a lot of time watching movies, right? I wanted to rent some somehow, so I figured I could try and use Netflix. I mean, we have an APO AE address, which is physically located in New York. They just route the packages from there. So theoretically, it should work. I tried to use Netflix to sign up, but the website complained that the address was invalid and wouldn’t let me go any further, which was totally lame because the address is a valid one. So I figured I’d try Blockbuster, and although the website claimed the address could be invalid, it accepted it anyway. Within a week and a half, I got my movies! Pretty sweet, huh? I wonder if they know that they’re shipping to Iraq! It takes anywhere frome one to two weeks for a movie to get here and around the same time to get back, so a round trip of two to four weeks. Which really isn’t all that bad. But anyway, I think it’s pretty sweet that I got Blockbuster to ship to Iraq!
What else… well, I can’t think of much else. There really isn’t much else to talk about actually. I am keeping well, eating well, taking care of myself, and all that good stuff. Oh yeah, and Keerthikutty, thanks for your care packages and the Nutella! Thanks for sending it all over! Also acha, amma, aniyammama and ammayee, thanks for all the stuff you sent over from India! All your care packages made me really happy! The simple pleasures mean a lot here, and thanks a bunch. And of course, I can’t forget Michael for shipping my sweet new laptop over and all my home videos. Thanks a bunch buddy! It’s much appreciated!
Oh, and an update on my mailing address. Our parent unit has changed and so there is a slight change in my mailing address. It is as follows:
372nd MP – HHB 1/180th FA FWD
APO AE 09344
That’s pretty much it for now. And as promised, here are some pictures:
Grant and I by our Humvee at the Iraqi Juvenile Hall.
Inside the Humvee.
Sunset at the Motorpool.
I met this friendly doggie at the KFC we have here. He was very playful.
I didn’t take this picture. I actually found it on one of the computers at the Internet Cafe. But I thought it was a really cool picture, so I’m putting it up here for all of you to see.
I have a Skype number that you can call me at. I’m usually available between 9 am and 2 pm and 8 pm and 9 pm Arizona Time. If you can’t reach me, you can leave a voicemail too. The number is (602) 281-4616.