Rough Book

random musings of just another computer nerd

Tag: green zone

Over Here – Day 369

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 in the stock, and the First Sergeant with a cattleprod.

Commander and Pie
The commander with pie on his face!

In the humvee
That’s me in the humvee, on the way to the IZ.

SGT Perez and I in Ramadi
SGT Perez and I in Ramadi.

In the humvee again
In the humvee, again.

SGT Dahlseid and I over Baghdad
SGT Dahlseid and I on a tower overlooking Baghdad.

Over Baghdad
Over Baghdad.

Humvees
Our humvees as seen from the top of the tower.

Humvees closeup
Closeup of our humvees.

Crossed Sabres Hand
Peeking out of one of the hands at the Crossed Sabres.

Iraqi Soldier and I
An Iraqi Soldier and I at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

At the tomb
At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Group at the tomb
All of us at the tomb.

With another Iraqi soldier
Another Iraqi Soldier and I.

BBQ
Mmmmm…. BBQ…

Blimp
We can see these blimps over the camp. I don’t know what they do.

Stock
This is the stock that SPC Palmer made. Pretty awesome craftsmanship.

Funky Jeep
I saw this pretty sweet looking jeep at the PX.

SGT Laning and I
SGT Laning and I.

SGT Laning and SPC Greene
SGT Laning and SPC Greene.

Update:

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:

SGT Army Of One
Army Of One!

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.

Over Here – Day 195

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:

Vivin Paliath
372nd MP – HHB 1/180th FA FWD
APO AE 09344

That’s pretty much it for now. And as promised, here are some pictures:

At Iraqi Juvenile Hall
Grant and I by our Humvee at the Iraqi Juvenile Hall.

In the Humvee
Inside the Humvee.

Motorpool Sunset
Sunset at the Motorpool.

Iraqi Sunset
Iraqi Sunset.

Iraqi Sunrise
Iraqi Sunrise.

Iraqi Doggie
I met this friendly doggie at the KFC we have here. He was very playful.

Puppy on a Humvee
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.

Update:

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.

Over Here – Day 114

I guess this would be my first post from Iraq. I am in Baghdad right now, but I can’t get more specific than that. If I told you, I would have to kill you. God… I’ve always wanted to say that! Right, so I’ve been here from the 6th of this month. We left our camp in Kuwait and drove for about an hour to the airstrip. On the way, we went through the desert (no way!) and saw wreckage from the first war. It was pretty neat. After we got to the airstrip, we unloaded all our stuff, and then loaded it into a C-130. It was my first trip ever, in a C-130. I guess now when we sing cadences of going on a C-130, I will be saying the truth now. Like almost anything in the Army, the C-130 is not made for comfort. It is completely utilitarian and only serves to transport troops without any regard for comfort or aesthetics. In fact, it almost seems that the seating was added there as an afterthought. The flight was very cramped, and very loud. To get an idea of the experience, squeeze yourself and five people into a garbage can, and then have someone bang on the outside for one and a half hours. We touched down at BIAP (Baghdad International Airport, or “bye-op” as it is known and pronounced here) and proceeded to unload our stuff and then load it into the back of a truck. My first view of Baghdad was the airport and the bombed out bunkers at the airport. It was rapidly getting dark, and so I couldn’t see much on the way to the barracks. We had no idea if we were “inside the wire” (in a safe-zone) or not, and so we were saying how much it would suck to get hit by an IED. Typical Military Black Humour. Once we reached our barracks, we got the keys to our rooms. I was only going to be there for one night since I would be leaving with 2nd platoon to another FOB (Forward Operating Base) the next morning.

The next morning the unit at the other FOB came to escort us over to our new location. We travelled through the red-zone to our destination in the IZ (International Zone). It is hard to describe the feeling of being in a combat-zone and of being in imminent danger. I didn’t feel scared, but only highly focused and alert. I mean, this was the real thing. I might have seen movies before about being in a war, but now I was in one for real. Our journey was pretty uneventful, but exciting. In Iraq, the military pretty much owns the road. A good analogy would be ambulances and fire trucks back home. You know how we move out of the way when we hear a siren? It’s pretty much like that here. The civilian vehicles move out of way when the convoy passes through the road. The gunners wave the cars out of the way from their turret. It’s pretty funny at times – some Iraqis don’t move at all, and then suddenly they notice the convoy almost on them, and you see them swerve out of the way. We are actually authorized to push cars out of the way if need be. You might think that’s not a “nice” thing to do, but niceness has nothing to do with it – it is a question of survival. We get hit by VBIED’s (“vee-beds”, Vehicle Borne IED’s) and IED’s, so slowing down only increases our chances of getting hit and also increases the damage, which is why we stop for nothing. If need be, we even cut across curbs and go on the opposite side of the road, against the flow of traffic.

We finally got to our new location and found out that there wasn’t really any room for us. So there were 28 of us cramped into a little bay. I was a little disappointed, but I figured I could hold out for a couple of weeks. Being in the IZ was interesting. I got to drive around and see a lot of landmarks, like the Ba’ath Party Headquarters, the Crossed Sabres, the Al-Rashid Hotel, and the American Embassy in Baghdad. The IZ is a huge fortified zone, and I guess it would be the safest place in Baghdad. It was a pretty neat place to be stationed in, but unfortunately it wasn’t for us. In typical Army fashion, our mission changed and we had to come back to our original base to join the rest of the company. However, the day before we left, we got to do some weapons qualification. I got to fire the M2 and the M249 and qualified well on both of the weapons system. Oh yeah, while we were at the range, we saw a mortar hit in the distance. But that’s part of the usual flow of things here. On the way back from the range, I got to drive. It was pretty exciting. We were going along at a really fast clip, and had to cut the curb and jump over the median a few times and go against the flow of traffic. Definitely an experience.

The next day, we convoyed back to our original location and joined the rest of the company. I was also detached from 2nd platoon and re-attached to Headquarters. I was happy to be back with my old friends, but I have to say that being in a line platoon was pretty exciting and that I did enjoy the experience immensely. In addition, I was with the best line platoon in our company – they have a bunch of good soldiers, and learnt a lot of stuff from them. After I came back, I found out that I had a room, but no furniture. In fact, it’s been like that for about four or five days now. I have been sleeping on the floor, with my sleeping bag. There were some cots for me to use, but they were full of dust and dirt, missing poles, and didn’t seem very stable. But the floor isn’t that bad. Anyway, I alerted my leadership to the shortages and so now I’m just waiting to get my furniture. But it still sucks and I’m a little annoyed. I’ve been living out of my duffel bag for about 3 weeks now. Oh well – it’s what we’re trained to do anyway.

Right now I’m doing what I’m normally supposed to do; working in the motor pool. It’s not too bad, since I’m with my friends, but it’s not exactly the most exciting job either, especially when you’ve been out driving like a maniac on the streets of Baghdad. But it’s safe, and that makes my friends and family happy. I also have a free reign of the operations in the motor pool and so I can streamline and structure the operation the way I want. The Army’s current logistics software, called ULLS-G, written sometime before the extinction of the dinosaurs, is about as smart as a retarded house-plant. So I’ve taken the liberty of automating different processes. I’ve been able to use SDI (another tool made by the Army, but this one is actually pretty neat) program to talk to the database and dump the data into text files. After that, all I need is some Perl (of course!) magic to transform it into an Excel Spreadsheet (using the Spreadsheet::WriteExcel module). My section chief was pretty impressed with what I was able to do. Now I just need to find a way to actually write to the SAGE database files. The data is either encrypted or packaged into some binary format and so I can’t seem to access it. If I could, I could make changes really quickly instead of using the brain-dead ULLS-G interface. I’m not sure if anyone out there knows the file-structure of a SAGE database file, but if you do, please let me know.

Oh, and by the way, since I moved back to my original FOB, my address has changed back to what it was originally. So here it is again:

Vivin Paliath
504th MP – HHB 1/180th FA FWD
APO AE 09344

That’s about it for now. Here are some more pictures, and a video. I have the video for download using BitTorrent. I don’t want to offer a direct link because my server only has so much bandwidth, and I don’t want to clog it all up. If you want to download the file, download the BitTorrent client from the link I just provided. The client is a small download, and trust me, it will be faster than just download the file directly. I won’t tell you what the video is, so you’ll just have to watch it. I made it myself, and I hope you like it! I’ll post more videos here as I take them.

Loading Up
Loading our stuff into the trailers, in Kuwait.

In C130
Inside the C130.

Me inside the C130
That’s me, inside the C130.

C130
The C130 Hercules.

Baath House
The Ba’ath House.

Crossed Sabres
The Crossed Sabres.

Pedestal
This is the pedestal that Saddam’s statue used to be on.

Stadium
This is where Saddam used to stand, brandishing his rifle.

An Iraqi kid and I
This kid was trying to sell us DVD’s.

Post Mortar Attack
This was right after a mortar hit a little ways from us.

50 cal rounds
That’s me with some 50 cal rounds.

Update: I have fixed the redirection and caching problem. To ensure that you are able to access the latest entry in my blog, please clear your caches now. My page instructs your browser not to cache, and so whenever you access my website, you will be brought to the latest journal entry.

All original content on these pages is fingerprinted and certified by Digiprove
%d bloggers like this: