Madbob - An Angry American

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Tuesday, August 28, 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.

You will have to forgive me if I include more links to my siblings and their spouses & families, whom I love dearly, and were also the quite successful hosts of the event this year.

The event ended with Sunday breakfast at Rick & Judy’s house, and the requisite photo of Grandma & Pop Pop Major’s children (or oldest child thereof), and their spouses.

Thanks, Majors! That’s a whole lot of love our family shares, and I’m glad you shared with me!

Love you all,
Baghdad Bob

posted by Madbob  # 12:35 PM

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

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.

posted by Madbob  # 11:34 AM
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