From a friend in Iraq:
This is my last email update from the Iraqi Theater of Operations (ITO) as it is known out here. It has been an extremely eventful year, and thanks be to God, if my luck holds out, a safe one for me at least, not counting a few near misses. For many more, however, it has not been a safe year, and many Coalition Forces and Iraqi people have paid the ultimate price for an Iraq free of extremists. It is in their memory, especially my many countrymen, including the 20 or so from my base in southern Iraq, who have died in this effort, that I dedicate this email.
I am sitting at the terminal at the Baghdad Airport. The C-130 leaves in a few hours. After that, I take my chances like anybody else on the commercial flight outta Kuwait to DC tonight. Since they (the airlines anyway) say that airline travel is safer than driving, and without wanting to tempt fate or in anyway jinx myself, I am betting I will be seeing you folks Stateside.
Actually because of the time difference, by the time you get this email, I should be peacefully picking my teeth at the D-FAC (see below) on Ali As-Saleem AB in Kuwait (definitely a rear area – no worries there).
If you do not support the war over here, just ask yourself if you would want to live in a country run by the ideas of such visionaries as Moqtada Al-Sadr (whom we just call “Mookie” over here) or Usama bin Laden (whom we call many things over here, none of which can I relate to this mixed audience). Whatever got us here, the mission is critical now to our country’s safety, and we owe this to the Iraqi people who have suffered so much under Hussein, and continue to suffer as it struggles to emerge from the chaos and repression of the previous regime, hampered by neighbors who will willingly supply weapons and men to instigate a civil war for the sole reason of embarrassing the United States. In this respect they are using the Iraqis and turning them on themselves as pawns in their own sick game.
When I arrived into the ITO, the battle was very much in the balance. The best we could do was hold the line, and our enemies seemed to be able to penetrate us at will. Thanks to the Surge, which we all wish was bigger than it was, and to the better strategy of the Coalition, we have been able to make significant progress. For the first time we are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. Probably the most significant change is that more and more, extremists are being marginalized, and the Iraqi Government is being seen as the legitimate solution by the Iraqi people themselves. Also, there are just more Iraqi Security Forces available to put down the bad guys.
There are still many problem areas, Baghdad is better, but still not secure. A few weeks ago the brave souls at the Embassy had to endure a barrage of mortars – about 35 total. Basrah is a total mess being run by the militias fighting over stolen oil. In the west and south though, despite some recent setbacks, the trend is definitely good.
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE
Despite the obvious drawbacks of service here, it has actually been a rewarding year. One thing that is funny out here is that this mission has forced so many totally dis-similar USG agencies, with totally different cultures to work together.
I thought that the State Department was bad for acronyms. I found out that we can’t hold a candle to the military that has an acronym for EVERYTHING. They can’t even eat without using an acronym – the mess hall, or chow hall for a Marine is called the D-FAC here, short for dining facility. I have used that one so much this past year that I am afraid of asking a friend to lunch at the State Department cafeteria and saying “let’s meet at the D-FAC!” Combat rations are called “C-RATs” (how in the world the military expects you to eat something with the word “rat” in it is beyond me), gym clothes are called “PTs,” a simple uniform is called a “DCU;” The list is endless! My personal favorite, one that actually makes sense is the acronym for the Point Of Origin site for a mortar or rocket attack. It is called a “POO” site. No comment. 😉
Getting to ride around in Blackhawks speeding at break-neck speed doing wild maneuvers with the wind rushing through your hair is definitely pretty cool The blacked-out midnight runs are the best. The novelty of riding like cargo, or better still, cattle in a C-130 got old 30 minutes into my first flight, but I am still glad I got the chance to do it. I won’t miss the corkscrew landings, but the two times I got to see those landings from the cockpit was definitely worth the ride.
I will miss the Italian Army I originally deployed with, and their nightly pizza parties – home made pizza in brick ovens – the real McCoy. I will miss their D-FAC more with its un-impressive, but nevertheless very welcome under the circumstances, wine list (no kidding!). They “TOA”ed out (I will leave you to figure that acronym out) in November and we were left trying to bootleg inferior Lebanese wine from Baghdad. Hell of a way to fight a war with inferior wine.
I will definitely miss the wonderful colleagues with whom I worked in Iraq, Richard my boss and dear friend, and Ken the USAID guy, and now dear friend who persevered through so much and managed to actually accomplish a lot together. My grief at our parting is much consoled by the fact that we will all be in DC together in a few weeks, and plan to get together as soon as possible. Huge kudos to both of you guys, and I will see you soon!
That’s all for now. Thank you all for your support with the emails, letters, and especially your prayers.