Madbob - An Angry American

Thoughts & rants concerning US & world events |

Sunday, July 15, 2007

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 Baghdad. So let me continue by showing where I live now. First, a front photo of the US Embassy Annex, aka, the Palace Compound. All the housing trailers are located behind the palace.

I moved from the transient trailers, located in The Palms, to my “permanent” housing in Edgewood. This the road in front of my row of trailers, which is the road I walk every day on my way in to work. And this is a view of the row of trailers I now call home. My half of the trailer has the mat in front of it. Here is my front door, #38/02R (stands for Row 38, 2nd trailer, Right-side). Not sure if you noticed, but the exterior decoration motif is heavily focused on a sandbag theme.

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!

Here I am at the infamous Crossed Swords parade ground. That’s the podium where Sadaam would watch the events and shoot his shotgun. Did you know that there were 2 sets of those Crossed Swords?

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…]

posted by Madbob  # 8:51 AM

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

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!]

Senator Lugar,

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.

Your constituent,

Robert S. Major

posted by Madbob  # 10:04 AM

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The IZ, PRT and Me
(As a change of pace for my posts, dear Tireless Reader, here is some general information…)

The International Zone (IZ). One of the first things I learned about the situation in Iraq was the mythology of the International Zone (IZ), which used to be referred to as the Green Zone. Actually, some still refer to it as the Green Zone – today is the 4th of July, and I just heard the Fox News Anchor use that term. This name has been dropped because it implied that all was well, that there were no problems existing or expected – green for “go” and “good”. Sensing the MSM’s sarcastic references to an area the US gov’t considered completely safe, because they call it the “Green Zone”, officials decided to change the name to reflect a more neutral term – the International Zone, or IZ.

This area, some seven square miles, is not the “heavily fortified” zone of MSM meme. Access is tightly controlled, and it is way big-time safer than the outside “Red Zone” (which is, by contrast, called “red” specifically for the connotation of “danger” the color implies [Ed. note: WRONG! I've since learned that both "green" & "red" refer to the status of weapons being carried by US/Coalition forces - "green" means weapons unloaded/magazines removed; "red" means weapons locked & loaded]). But it is not heavily fortified. The fact is, it’s not the IZ that’s heavily fortified, it’s the compounds within that are. Specifically, the Palace Compound, which houses the US Embassy Annex, home to the US Ambassador to Iraq, and most of the Ministry of Iraq government. Also home to your truly, for which I am forever grateful. However, that doesn’t stop the bad guys outside of the t-walls from lobbing mortars or shooting rockets into the IZ, which they do on a irritatingly frequent basis. Nothing short of putting a rocket-proof lid over the entire zone can stop this kind of Indirect Fire (IDF).

So forget the oft-repeated MSM phrase – “heavily fortified International/Green Zone”. It doesn’t exist. Within the IZ are approximately 10,000 un-vetted Iraqi citizens, with their own “self-protection” firearms, which can include the ubiquitous AK-47. By military order, uniformed service personnel are not allowed to travel within the IZ alone (must have at least one “battle buddy” with you). But for civilians, those in charge can only “strongly recommend” using the battle buddy system. Not too long ago, meaning sometime between the time I arrived and the time I write this, we were told to be extra-cautious as there was intelligence that indicated the bad guys were looking to kidnap Coalition Forces or their civilian counterparts. And this info seemed to point towards the IZ as the likely point of ops. Still sound “heavily fortified”?

My fellow PRT trainees. All along, I’ve been referring to the folks I’ve gone through this process as being in “my PRT’. Well, this isn’t the case, and never was intended to be so. I just haven’t gone into detail, until now. From day one of the training, which began back in mid-April, we have known that we would be going our separate ways once we arrived in Iraq. And not only that, we were told that we would all be serving on teams embedded within military maneuvering units (aka, Brigade Combat Teams = BCTs), but all within Baghdad. These PRTs would later referred to as ePRTs, for embedded PRTs. The ePRTs would be new entities, as opposed to PRTs, such as the one in Baghdad within the IZ. The original letter congratulating us volunteers on our selection to serve in the PRT initiative made clear that we all would be deployed in ePRTs.

However, things in Iraq are always in flux. So after the original effort had been initiated, those in charge changed their plans. Not all would go out to ePRTs. Some would remain in the IZ to work in the Baghdad PRT (PRT-B), referred to as the Mother Ship. A few others would be inserted in existing PRTs out west, in areas of Al Anbar. Most would be assigned to ePRTs within the city Districts of Baghdad. But out of the 18 of my fellow trainees, three would remain at the Mother Ship.

When I saw my PRT assignment, I could not believe that I would be one of those three. Surely, I would be assigned to the existing PRT out of Fallujah, with the Marines – and of course, with Booger. I think you, Tireless Reader, also assumed that my fate was intertwined with our group’s nemesis. The fact that the PRT process was in flux was cause enough for me to believe my assignment could change. So I said nothing to anyone about the possibility that I could be stationed in the best area in Baghdad. I didn’t talk about it to my fellow trainees, nor anyone back home. To speak of it would bring about a change in my assignment, was the thinking that went through my mind. But when all was said and done, I truly was assigned to PRT-Baghdad. And I thank God for that small favor. Of course, there still remained the issue of the position they thought I was going to fill.

My PRT position. When I saw my job description as released by the DoS, my dismay at what they were assigning me to do overshadowed any relief I felt over where I was supposed to be doing it. The job description depicted someone who had experience in city-wide trash removal systems. Excuse me? Ever since I saw the first inkling of this supposed match of skill sets to my PRT job assignment, I thought that someone had fell asleep at the wheel. I questioned all the people I could on this issue, and was assured that all would become clear upon arrival in theater. I’m a bit wiser now, so if I had heard this line of BS with my recent experiences under my belt, I doubt I would’ve left the States. But that’s hindsight – good ol’ 20/20 hindsight.

After I talked with the guy I would be working with in Infrastructure (Solid Waste Removal – Trash), SFC S, a straight-shooting reservist soldier, I felt at least that I had put my cards on the table. In the end, I said that I wasn’t refusing the task – just that I wasn’t the expert they expected. The good Sergeant listened, and in the end recommended that I talk with the acting Baghdad PRT Lead, LTC Bob (turns out most everyone over here is named “Bob”, which makes remembering names easy – plus it’s a way-cool name!). When LTC Bob heard me describe my job back in the States, he didn’t hesitate – “you’re going to work in the PPM”.

The Provincial Program Management (PPM) cell has a team leader, and working for him is a LNO (remember, that means “Liaison Officer”) from the US Army Corps of Engineers, or USACE (pronounced “you-sace”) . So the LNO worked for USACE. Well, not quite. He worked for the USACE Gulf Region Division, or GRD. So he worked for GRD. Um, not so. He worked for Gulf Region Division – Central, or GRC (Central Iraq, as opposed to Northern or Southern Iraq, GRN & GRS, respectively). So he worked for GRC. Actually, no – he was an Individual Augmentee (IA), who was pulled from…. the Navy! And a Sea Bee at that. In this sea (pun intended) of Army green, I was going to work with the only Navy officer (at the time I arrived) in PRT-B. LCDR Joe was his name, and he was a short-timer, with less than a month left on his tour. LTC Bob didn’t know if LCDR Joe would be replaced upon departure, because the IA process isn’t an Army animal, and they have little insight and no control over it. I was assigned to assist LCDR Joe, and would take over his role if no replacement followed him.

I could go into gory detail about what it is that I now do in the PRT-B PPM cell, but I think even you, Tireless Reader, have read enough on this topic for one sitting. I leave you for now, with the promise that the next posting will have many links to pictures, since this one had none…

posted by Madbob  # 10:27 AM

Monday, July 02, 2007

Day Two in Baghdad

(Fret naught, tireless Reader – I have no intention of recounting every day, day by day, of my life here in Iraq. Just the first few…)

Day Two in Baghdad dawned, and it was much the same as Day One. Our group broke fast at one of two locations, or just had coffee at… the Green Bean! Told you this chain was the military contractor version of Starbucks! They’re everywhere the military is… at… (damn prepositions always hanging out at the end of my sentences!)

Briefings were held on the 2nd floor of the palace. Incidentally, the palace is referred to as the US Embassy Annex, at least since we arrived. This may be due to the fact that they are constructing a HUGE complex of buildings relatively nearby (within a mile or so) that will be the US Embassy proper. That’s just a guess. At any rate, the US Embassy in Iraq, once complete, will be the largest US Embassy in the world. Heck, it may just be the largest Embassy in the world, US or otherwise. Knowing what I know now of our DoS US Embassy staff, I doubt the need to expand our workforce in Iraq, which this new embassy complex is designed to accommodate. There truly seems to be a whole lot of people here who do a whole lot of nothing. Except complain about everything, especially things military.

One thing we noted about this day’s briefs, and the remaining briefs on our schedules, was that there weren’t very many of them. And not all of us were scheduled for all briefs. This was the outcome of pigeon-holing us into specific categories, as I mentioned yesterday. When we queried our OPA (Office of the Provincial Authority) PRT Desk Office Lead about the gaps in the schedule, he replied that it was up to us to schedule meetings/briefings with the various experts, whose office information was provided in our unfilled schedule.

This translated into having the Infrastructure folks scheduling meetings with pertinent embassy offices, Econ folks doing same, etc. My first thought when this training/briefing strategy was disclosed: “And what the f*ck are YOU getting paid to do?” The actual problem with this approach became apparent when the experts we wanted to meet with were unavailable to meet with us. They had prior engagements, they were out on missions, they were out on leave, or they were just plain out of their office and no one knew when they’d be back. So from Day Two on out of our five days of briefings/training in Baghdad, most of us had not much to do.

By this time of our in-processing training, I had developed a fairly cynical attitude towards all these briefs – “death by PowerPoint” is a common phrase that comes to mind. There is only so much you can learn from lectures and briefs, no matter how learned the lecturer or how well-researched the brief. At some point, you are going to have to go out there and just do it. Throughout my adult life, I had always found that OJT was the only real training. And I couldn’t help but think that in Iraq - where one of the constant themes of all these briefs was the fact that this war/occupation was a different kind of animal - this would turn out to be true here, too.

So I wasn’t disappointed at this outcome, and I certainly wasn’t surprised. Others were frustrated, and felt let down by our DoS administrators. But I figured it was a time to take ‘er easy, cuz soon we’d be balls-to-the-wall busy as beavers. There wasn’t anyone who didn’t anticipate working 10 to 12 hour days, seven days a week, so why not take this as the blessing in disguise that I thought it was?

At the end of Day Two, I realized that one of the side benefits of splitting us into separate groups was not having to deal with Booger. Oh sure, I ran into her in the halls of the palace, and at the DFAC. But interaction was definitely way down from previously. After dinner, I went back to my hooch and was typing an e-mail to my Girl Friday back at the Naval Station – IndyLindy, when suddenly I heard a claxon alarm and a loudspeaker voice shouting “Incoming! Incoming! Incoming!”. As per my safety training, I ran out of my trailer and over to the nearest duck & cover shelter. I ran with a group of people who were all headed in the same direction, and we all crowded into the shelter. CPT J & SGT H were both in there. The Sarge said he had actually heard the impacts, stating there were multiple hits. After about ten minutes, the loudspeaker voice came back on, announcing, “All’s Clear! All’s Clear! All’s Clear!”, followed by a warbling siren, sounding a lot like the European style police sirens. This loudspeaker, I was soon to learn, was called the “Big Voice”. The following is from the e-mail I finished typing to IndyLindy after the all’s clear:

Whoa – hey there! Just had a rocket attack! I’m back now in my “hooch”, after
the all-clear from the “Big Voice”. I’ll explain some other time. Can’t say
much else due to OPSEC considerations. Can you tell we had our RSO (Regional
Security Office) briefing this morning?

The name “Big Voice”? Did we, or others before us, hang that moniker on the loudspeaker announcements as some kind of sarcastic or cynical statement of the obvious? No, that is the official name of the system coined by some brilliant, original thinker employed by the US Government (or contracted by Uncle Sam – ya never know out here!). And we came by this knowledge the old fashioned way – we heard it from the source. Each day, sometime in mid-morning, we are regaled by a pair of announcements: “This is Big Voice Alpha. Testing one, two, three. Big Voice Alpha out.” Followed by the same for Big Voice Bravo. Some of us have looked into the future, when all of this Iraq experience is behind us, and we can imagine how the Big Voice will be some kind of inside-joke that only those of us who served here will understand.

We learned later that it was a multiple rocket attack. It was the first incident me and my fellow PRT trainees had experienced, and our first real indication that we were truly in a war zone.

posted by Madbob  # 11:30 AM
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