A Recounting of Significant Events – July 2007
[Ed. Note: I obviously didn’t get this post out before my R&R break in September. I do intend to post at least my fav snaps from each of my subsequent months in
I’m gonna try to get this post in tonight, before I leave on my first (well-deserved!) R&R break. I’m taking the midnight Rhino out to BIAP (and I’ve said it a dozen times if I’ve said it once, there’s a song in that phrase somewhere – maybe I should check to see if Gladys Night still has her Pips…). After that, I’ll need to endure the DoD’s version of travel service – Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) to the Ali Al Salem airbase in
So here’s what happened in my field of view,
But for the Grace of God, there go I. I thank the Lord nearly every day I’m out here that I ended up at the main Baghdad PRT, and not an embedded one (ePRT) like MAJ Rivera and most of the others of my class.
“Don’t worry about the one with your name on it – that’s fate. Worry about the one that says ‘To whom it may concern’ ”.
[Ed. Note: We didn’t know it at the time, but that was the last hurrah from the bad guys. The surge operations pretty much wiped out their talent base, and the very limited IDF attacks that occurred since then were mostly off-target.]
At this point, mid-July, I had been in-country for two months, and apparently not much seemed significant from that point on. I have no other notes on events in July, and looking ahead, very little at all for August or September. So I’ll wrap this up with my fav photos taken in July:
Aftermath of midnight rocket attack (in parking lot of my office building)
A Recounting of my Experiences with IDF Attacks
(and Other Significant Events) – June 2007
My workload has picked up quite a bit of late, and spare time is hard to come by. I’ve put in more OT hours this past month then ever before, and have actually exceeded the Civil Service bi-weekly pay limits for four pay periods in a row. My pay was being reduced until I contacted my HR person back at my home station. Still working on getting the lost wages back…
That was just my way of saying that this post is gonna be a bare bones affair. Hopefully I can cover all significant events of June in bullet form. Apologies in advance for the lack of detail…
Now how’s that for brevity? I really wish I had more time to elaborate. Someday I imagine I will. But till then, here’s some links to random snaps taken during June 2007:
A Tribute to my Family & Extended Family: The 25th Major Family Reunion
(And another interruption in my postings from Iraq)
Yes, I am incredibly far behind in my blogging schedule, but I had my mind made up that I wasn’t going to post again until I did this tribute. A tribute to the folks that make up my family and extended family. Nothing more than links to some snaps of these wonderful people who helped make my absence a bit more bearable just by signing a banner, which my l’il sis sent to me in Iraq.
Thanks, Majors! That’s a whole lot of love our family shares, and I’m glad you shared with me!
Love you all,
A Recounting of my Experiences with Indirect Fire (IDF) Attacks
(and Other Harrowing Events)
On my post about Day Two in Baghdad, I mention my first experience with an in-coming rocket attack. These rocket and mortar rounds are referred to Indirect Fire attacks, or IDFs for short. One thing we learned early on about IDF attacks was the limited time you have to react when they happen. Once you hear the blaring claxon of the CRAM (for Counter Rocket-Artillery-Mortar, and pronounced “see-ram”), you have between 2 and 10 seconds to find shelter, if it’s an in-coming mortar. If it’s a rocket attack, you have between 0 and 2 seconds to react.
This has to do with the trajectory of a mortar versus a rocket. Mortars come over the T-walls in a high arc. Rockets are shot across in a nearly straight line. Rocket attacks are potentially much more dangerous than mortars, not just because of the lack of response time, but because they pack a much more powerful punch/warhead. I say “potentially” more dangerous, because the warhead has to explode for the rocket to be effective in the way the terrorists would prefer. Fortunately, the majority of rockets are leftovers from the Saddam-era, which were bought mostly from the Soviet Union. They have exceeded their shelf life, and many are duds.
This doesn’t mean that they aren’t lethal. The kinetic energy alone from a rocket has caused death and damage even when the warhead doesn’t explode. But still, I’m thankful for small favors such as the stale rocket supply of the bad guys, as you will see if I ever get around to the actual topic I’m supposed to be posting about, namely my experiences to date.
But before that, I’ve just got to cover one more related area – the idea of leaving your trailer here at the Palace Compound in the IZ for a duck & cover shelter. I have a shelter not 10 steps from my trailer door, but I never leave during an IDF attack. Our trailers are surrounded by walls of sandbags (remember my snaps of the exterior décor motif?), and it would take a direct hit on top of my hooch to get me. I would be much more at risk in that 2 to 10 second range running outside to get to the D&C shelter. So when the CRAM goes off, I just hit the deck (I bought a nice rug I put next to my bed just for this purpose) and wait it out.
And for rocket attacks, well, there isn’t any time to do much of anything. Usually the CRAM goes off after the first rocket hits. I hate rocket attacks…
So I believe my first CRAM alert was that Monday night, 14 May – the first and only time I left my trailer for a D&C shelter. There was another the following night. And then on 16 May, after one of the last briefings we attended as part of our in-processing to life at a PRT, RBG wanted to walk down to Freedom Tower and visit the Baghdad PRT (PRT-B), where we would be working beginning the next week. Her intent was to meet the Acting PRT Lead before he went on leave the following day. I agreed to tag along, mostly because I didn’t like the thought of her walking up Haifa Street alone. I’m fairly certain that she was fairly certain that I would react that way, which is why she mentioned it to me in the first place. However that may be, after the brief, around 3pm or so, we headed out of the Palace Compound and up the street.
We didn’t make it there before the IZ experienced it’s largest IDF barrage up to that point in time. Between 9 and 12 mortars hit in one area, in a grouping of consistency not seen before. That grouping was around the Freedom Tower office building and the related Gulf Region District (GRD) compound of the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). One mortar actually hit the wall outside of the JROC (Joint Reconstruction Operations Center) which is located on the first floor of Freedom Tower. And that is the building in which I work (5th floor, thank goodness). This mortar was a direct hit on the main temporary power boxes of the building (the box with the wires coming out of it in the previous photos), which were located on that wall. It also took out the new, not-yet-connected permanent power boxes. I’ve since met several people who were in the JROC that day, when the windows burst from the explosion (but since the glass was blast resistant and mylar coated, it didn’t shatter into glass shrapnel, saving many lives and limbs). One was LT Dan, who has since moved upstairs to the PRT and works with me.
The other rounds hit throughout the two compounds, Freedom and GRD, mainly in the parking lots. About 25 vehicles were damaged or destroyed. They also damaged some of the personnel’s hooches (yes, people live in those things!). It’s a good thing the fella that lives in this hooch wasn’t home, or worse, in the shower. He was presented with a real reading challenge, and given a unique bookmark.
But the worst part was that 2 local nationals, unrelated to either compound and outside of the perimeter of both, were killed. RBG and I ended up in a lockdown within the Entry Control Point (ECP) going into Freedom Compound for an hour and a half. My first lockdown, and the longest by far to date.
With the power knocked out of the building, our first days working at PRT-B were in an office without a/c in the beginning of summer in Iraq (generators provided lights and enough power for computers). And our office is on the 5th floor, so with no power for elevators, it was stair-master time. A pretty miserable beginning to my new workplace environment.
On Thursday, 17 May, JD and I went to the Palace PX (Post Exchange) to pick up some cigars at the adjoining “Hajji Shops” (semi-slanderous term used to describe any shop/market run by LNs). We were planning to buy cigars to smoke as we drank near-beer that evening, as both JD and G-Funk were leaving that night for Al Anbar. That’s when I learned that those shops close at 1700 (5pm), because we got there at 1710, so we left empty-handed. As we began to walk back to the Palace Compound (the PX is outside the Palace Compound proper, but still – of course – in the IZ), a rocket exploded somewhere nearby. It was close enough that I felt the shockwave and heard shrapnel hitting the outside of the T-walls that surround the PX grounds. You can bet we found the nearest D&C then! I say it was a rocket vs. a mortar using the benefit of experience and hindsight. The CRAM didn’t sound until after the explosion, which almost always means it was a rocket attack. As I stated earlier, this is due to the trajectory of rockets normally being too flat to break the plane that the CRAM monitors. Mortars have a higher, lobbing trajectory, and we usually get some CRAM warning.
By Friday, not quite a week in Baghdad, but after these fairly close calls, I was already becoming desensitized to the IDF threat. When the CRAM went off that night, I barely reacted, just got low in my trailer until the Big Voice told us it was “ALL CLEAR!” And so it went. I stopped writing down the events unless they were significant. All I remember about those first weeks of May that I spent in Baghdad was that there was at least one IDF each day, but most were no threat to my personal safety. And bottom line, that’s how I define whether or not an IDF attack is significant – for the most part.
Lest ye thinks that it was all bad those weeks in mid- to late May, the nights were fairly cool and the sky was clear. Baghdad’s city lights made star-gazing difficult (don’t get me started about the media myth of “there’s only 1-2 hours of electricity” in the city – Baghdad is lit up at night like any city it’s size on earth), but on a couple of those nights, there was a Sickle Moon with the Evening Star (I think) together, as pretty as a picture, or a flag.
On both 21 & 22 May, I was in the Palace DFAC having dinner when the CRAM triggered alerts. Most everyone ducked under their tables, me included, but not everyone did. The CRAM hasn’t sounded during my dinner since then, and I doubt I’ll stop eating even if it does. The biggest threat would be from the windows blowing out, but other than that, all the DFACs in Iraq have anti-mortar shelters built over them. And if a rocket hits – well, ducking under a table ain’t gonna save your butt from that.
I foreshadowed the next event by including the subtitle “and Other Harrowing Events” to this posting. Monday, the 21st of May, was my second official day on the job at PRT-B. It was also the day the first project funded through the Provincial Reconstruction Development Committee (PRDC) process was completed. This post has already grown to the point where I’m only going to recount the IDF “and Other Harrowing Events” that occurred in the month of May, so I won’t go into detail about the significance of PRDC projects here. At some time later, I hope to attach a Whitehouse brief given by George W himself where he mentions PRDC projects out of PRT-B. Let me just add for now that I’m intimately involved with these capacity-building projects. But on my second day on the job, LCDR Joe (who I think I’ve mentioned before, at least in pictures for his farewell; he’s the guy who I originally was supporting in my PRT-B section – the guy who gave me my first training) didn’t think it was a good idea for me to accompany him on the mission to go visit this site.
Any time you go outside the wire, such as for this project visit, it’s referred to as a “movement” or “mission”. These are coordinated by your organization’s Operations section (Ops for short), and mainly includes setting up your Personnel Security Detachment (PSD), or armed bodyguards. They require lead-time to set up, so even if I had insisted on going, it would not have been possible to add me without subtracting someone else. Heck, it was my second day on the job – do you think I was psyched about going outside of the wire? Double-heck – I’m still not thrilled about it. Baghdad Bob is no Fobbit*, but he’s no thrill seeking fool either.
The completion of this project, the renovation of a elementary school, was a fairly big event, and LCDR Joe was accompanied by local Iraqi government officials and Coalition Forces (CF) Public Affairs Office (PAO) reps. They arrived at the school in a District of Baghdad (no can tell which one due to OPSEC considerations) in the late morning. Unfortunately, this was Final Exam week for schools in Iraq, and the children were already gone for the day. This was a disappointment, because some source had donated school supplies to hand out to the students. But the show must go on, so palms were pressed, the photo ops were had, etc. As they were leaving the school, LCDR Joe recalls asking the PSD if there was any choice on their exit route, which was the same way as they had come to the school. If there’s one thing that’s been drilled into everyone over here regarding IEDs, it’s you never take the same route twice if at all possible. No, says the PSD – that’s the only realistic choice for egress. I believe you’ve already guessed what happened next.
The PSD convoy left the school parking lot, and turned onto the only road out. It was a newly repaved road, but built into the curb of the road was an IED. They hadn’t gone a tenth of a mile on the road before it detonates beside the second of four vehicles in the convoy, which was LCDR Joe’s (the one I would’ve been in had I gone). As bad as this situation could’ve been, the good Lord was looking after LCDR Joe and the others in his up-armored Humvee. The bastard who hit the detonator was perhaps one second too quick on the draw, and the blast caught the front passenger side of the engine compartment. Immediately after the blast, terrorists popped up from behind nearby walls and begin to fire at the convoy with AK-47s. The top-gunner in LCDR Joe’s humvee had some superficial scratches on his face, and had been knocked backwards, but as soon as the bad guys started shooting, this guy (God bless our young men and women in uniform!) cranks up his 50-cal and blasts the crap out of those f*ckers. Within seconds, they had all turned tail and run away.
Inside the humvee, although temporarily deafened by the blast, no one was injured – at all! The humvee, as you can see, had bought the farm. To wrap up this “harrowing event”, this happened to LCDR Joe – his first ever experience with an IED or anything close to it in all his combined year’s time in Iraq – when he had less than a month left on his tour of duty. He was not unaware of how close he had become to being the cliché of the soldier who gets whacked right before he finishes his tour.
This was on 21 May. I had moved out of my transient trailer for my permanent digs the past Thursday/Friday (17-18 May). I was in no hurry to begin life with a roommate, so I took two days to move. On 21 May, same day as the IED event, an IDF attack took place in the IZ at the Palace Compound in the late afternoon/early evening. I was at work at the time, but upon returning “home” I was met by a couple of my fellow PRT-trainees who had not yet left for their individual assignments. CPT J told me how he was standing outside when the mortars hit, and piece of shrapnel cut open a sandbag within 10 feet of where he was standing. Major G was napping in his trailer, and the explosion blew the cover off his a/c unit. Others had shrapnel damage to their trailers, but fortunately they weren’t in them at the time. The reason I mentioned that I had recently moved out of that area, the “transient” trailer park, was that the main casualty of this IDF attack was the transient latrine trailer. It took a direct hit and was blown completely away. The transient shower trailer, right next to it, was about ¼ gone. Fortunately neither was occupied at the time – how awful would that have been, to have been whacked while on the crapper? And then I thought of how often I had been in that latrine, and how easily I could have been in there if I hadn’t moved. Chills down the spine, brother. Big time…
That evening as the sun was setting, I sat on the stoop of my “permanent” trailer over in Edgewood contemplating the events of the day. One of the smaller “scout”-type helos that often buzz overhead flew by, and with a sharp popping sound, dropped about a eight or ten ground-to-air countermeasure flares. There was no denying the reality, and that’s when it finally hit home – I was in a war zone and my life was truly at risk.
That should be enough for my first half month in Iraq, right? Well, almost. A couple of days later, the PRT-B Infrastructure section went on a mission to meet with the Director General (DG) of Sewers and other such Iraqi government officials at the Baghdad Amanat complex (“Amanant” is similar to “city hall”). As they were leaving one building for another, they saw panic-stricken people running in all directions, and suddenly RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) began to explode nearby. They then saw the terrorists in buildings across the way, and they began to take small-arms fire as well. The PRT guys hunkered down around their humvees, and because of the poor line of sight the bad guys had on the good guys, they weren’t taking any hits. Within a minute or two, help arrived in the form of Blackwater Security. Then the serious lead-slinging began. The military PSD then hustled the PRT-B fellas outta there, while Blackwater covered ‘em. Miraculously, not a single person was hurt on the PSD, the PRT-B nor Blackwater (we’re only 90% sure about Blackwater; we don’t interact with them at all, other than situations like this). And just as miraculously, only 2 Iraqis were killed, and both of them tested positive for explosive residue. The assumption is that they were some of the shooters. I heard that there were civilians wounded, but I never saw the number.
If you recollect, I was originally assigned to work with Solid Waste (Trash), which is part of the Infrastructure cell. The Sergeant that I was originally working with was in this melee. Again, it could’ve been me. The fact that I ended up in the main PRT in Baghdad, in the IZ, instead of one of the embedded PRTs (ePRTs) out in the wild-lands, was just the first of many things for which I am grateful, and I thank the Lord. These other things – LCDR Joe’s IED, and the shootout at the Baghdad Amanat – are other events that, but for the Grace of God, there go I. So you see, it ain’t exactly safe in the IZ either.
And that, Tireless Reader, is enough for one post. My next posting will be a continuation of this topic, but for the month of June. It should be shorter (ha!), and I definitely have less snaps to document events. Till then, take care and say a prayer…
*Fobbit = Forward Operating Base (FOB) person who finds any excuse possible to turn down/avoid opportunities to go outside the wire, even if it’s part of their job.
Some Sights From my First Days in the IZ
I believe you have already been treated to snaps of my digs in the “transient trailer”, where I spent my first 5 days in
I moved from the transient trailers, located in The Palms, to my “permanent” housing in
Here I am on move-in day. Here’s the view looking out – note the strategically placed sandbags. Here’s looking in my trailer at night. This is the nearest Duck & Cover shelter. Don’t ask me what happened to the palm tree; it was like that when I got here. And this is what it looks like on the inside.
This is BaghdadBob attacking the first beer he’s had in 3 weeks, followed by him actually drinking it. And this is something I see and hear every day, as snapped from my front door . This helo was headed to LZ Washington. And here’s a melancholy snap of BaghdadBob having a beer and a smoke on Memorial Day (previously posted on….well, Memorial Day).
The pool area is the main hangout spot in the Palace Compound. I sometimes pound out some posts out there while enjoying a cigar. Here’s RBG and the K-man one night where we sat around shooting the breeze. The other fella was someone who went thru the FACT part of our training with us – he’s some kind of security contractor and not PRT-related. The K-man was the last of my fellow PRT trainees to depart the IZ, leaving behind the 3 that stayed (RBG, CPT M and me).
Don’t forget – safety first here in the IZ!
(Note the "WARNING" sign)
Now some sightseeing photos outside the Palace Compound, but still in the IZ. I’ve been to the Al Rasheed Hotel that all the news folks report from – and never leave to actually do any reporting. Ooops! This is supposed to be a photo-only posting, with no rant or political commentary!
Finally, here is Baghdad Bob at the Baghdad PRT, posing with the Provincial Program Management Team at LCDR Joe’s farewell luncheon. On the commander’s right is his replacement, LT Dan, also of the US Navy, and also a “Sea Bee”. That’s Baghdad Bob’s head between the two of them.
So, Tireless Reader, how did I do, if you consider my intent was to provide nothing but photos of some of the sights here in the IZ?
[Ed. note: I recently received a care package from big sis Debbie, which included a collection of short stories by Stephen King. He uses the term “Constant Reader” when he speaks to his readers. So blame Debbie (or Stephen King – take your pick!) for the “Tireless Reader” references to you…]
I Interrupt These Baghdad Bob PRT Postings to Bring You a Return to the Rants of Madbob – I Therefore Present to You: A Letter to Senator Lugar, (R) Indiana
[Ed note: The following is a letter I pounded out last night in a fit of anger. I wished I had done just a bit more research before sending, as my conclusion that the good senator was capitulating to poll pressure was off the mark. Sen. Lugar is in "Class I" , meaning his term doesn't expire until 2013 - which also means I just voted for his sorry ass. So while he may be kowtowing before the media, it is not in relation to his re-election prospects - oops! But I stand by the rest of my rant, and let me tell ya, it sure felt good!]
I am one of your constituents, currently serving on a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Baghdad, Iraq. I am a civil servant, employed by the Department of Navy, but on “loan” to the Department of State as a volunteer to help man their PRT initiative.
I read with extreme dismay your recent assessment of the situation in Iraq. You list four primary objectives you believe we should address as a nation:
“First, we have an interest in preventing Iraq or any piece of its territory from being used as a safe haven…
Second, we have an interest in preventing the disorder and sectarian violence in Iraq from upsetting wider regional stability.
Third, we have an interest in preventing Iranian domination of the region.
Fourth, we have an interest in limiting the loss of U.S. credibility in the region and throughout the world as a result of our Iraq mission.“
I’m baffled as to how the four primary objectives you list above can be met with your Democrat-like “call for a downsizing and re-deployment of U.S. military forces to more sustainable positions in Iraq or the Middle East.” This strategy will have the exact opposite effect you envision on your stated objectives, and I cannot believe that you are unaware of this, Sir, not with your many years of distinguished service and knowledge of foreign affairs.
First, if we have learned nothing over the past three to four hard years, it’s that removing US and Coalition Forces away from the center of insurgent activity creates “a safe haven” for terrorists. You know this.
Second, for the same reason above, the sectarian violence will spread. It will follow our troops to whatever “more sustainable positions in Iraq or the Middle East” you might suggest. And if we continue our retreat to the shores of the US, surely they will follow us there, perceiving they have us on the run. And surely you know this.
Third, how in Heavens name can we prevent Iranian forces from influencing events in Iraq if we have downsized & redeployed away from the center of gravity of the terrorist activity? We seem to be unable to do so even as our forces are in position. A situation I’m ashamed my congressional representation hasn’t addressed to date – namely, calling Iran out for actively engaging in killing US soldier citizens, and threatening action of all kinds at our nation’s disposal. I am ashamed, Sir, and I want you to know it.
Fourth, Sir, I put it to you to explain how our retreat in the face of our enemy, while leaving a fragile Iraqi democracy before it is ready to defend itself to a fate you know too well, how, Sir, will this redeem US credibility throughout the world? Your position on Iraq at this time is contrary to the winds of the world, with nations such as France and the Netherlands acknowledging the nature of our implacable enemy. This same enemy that will gloat with perverse satisfaction as they continue, unabated , to kidnap, rape and murder innocents as their method of “government”. The US will lose credibility if we follow your strategy. And, Sir, you know this.
I have never know Senator Lugar to pander to public opinion in order to preserve his place in office – not at the expense of national security. But this very ignoble position is the one that the formerly-honorable senator must have chosen. Because, Sir, you know the situation as presented is true, especially with your experience and your access to information. And yet you chose the side of our enemy, no different than the terrorist’s party of choice, the Democrats.
God willing, I will be back in the US in time for the elections in 2008. I do not know who your primary opponent will be, but I assure you that person has my vote. And If I have to choose between candidates with Democratic party views, I might as well vote for one. Although I have always done so in the past, I could never again, in good conscience, vote for you. And I would have hoped that good conscience would have prevented you from putting your political future ahead of nation’s interests.
Robert S. Major
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