A reunion of sorts. February 2020.
Todays blog post of the Iraq Journal probably isn't going to contain any witty vignettes. It does cover one of the low points of OIF for me personally. Part of the title for this installment, "Your Fired", isn't really an accurate description of what happened. It's more just how it felt. And in the end, it really was all for the better. At least for me. And it was apropos, per our acronym, "IGM" (I Got Mine).
I'd served ten years in the Army National Guard as an Infantryman before transferring to the Air Guard in 1999. I didn't know a damn thing about the Air Force when I started there. Other than they seemed to have a higher standard of living. The first two years in the Air Guard I was drilling and doing correspondence courses, to gain (or catch up to) a proficiency level commensurate with the rank I held (E-5). Then in 2001, meaningful training took a back seat to Operation Noble Eagle the homeland security mission, and then to getting deployment checklists completed for the inevitable move downrange. When we finally got to Iraq, I was assigned to the Air Terminal Operations Center (ATOC). I guess my home-station leadership had the idea that I must be cut out for running work. My civilian occupation was 'Construction Superintendent'. Made sense that I should be able to handle the responsibilities of being an ATOC controller. The truth was, I could barely speak the Air Force's language. With all those years of Army service, I was at a distinct disadvantage in operating with-in Air Force protocols. I was a fish out of water in the ATOC. I became increasingly frustrated. I really needed and wanted to be cutting my teeth, out on the job, with the rank and file.
17 June 04
SSgt O. my partner in the ATOC at night, has orchestrated a move for me from ATOC, to Ramp. He has a buddy in Ramp who wants to move to ATOC. I had made a wisecrack, in a moment of frustration, that maybe I ought to be in Ramp. SSgt O. acted on it. He spoke with all our NCOIC's, and then pitched the idea to me. I told all of them, in the inevitable interviews that followed, that I didn't want to be seen as a quitter. And I didn't want to be a burden on our Team Chief's, or most importantly of all, have the move adversely affect the mission.
I found out later, that unbeknownst to me, that there was rumor that the flight line at Baghdad was going to close. Team Panther being composed of troops from Travis AFB and Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, was going to be split up. The Travis guys were to go to Al Udied (in 140 degree Qatar). The Channel Islands guys were to go to Balad Air Base up north in Iraq. SSgt O. was apparently trying to help one of his 60th APS Travis buddies maneuver into a job, that would be in an Air Conditioned building, once they got to Qatar. And I thought it was all about my inadequacy's as an ATOC controller. Silly me.
I found out what was really going on, the old fashioned way. The rumors didn't pan out. We were all going to stay in Baghdad. The guy who traded spots with me to get into the ATOC, in anticipation of a move to Qatar, asked to have his job in Ramp back. I declined to trade back. I was really happy in Ramp. It was more of a 'front line' job in our career field. Working out on the flight line with the soldiers, air crews, and aircraft.
22 June 04
0100 hrs. Just got off duty. Been working Ramp for the last few days. Its nice. I'm home there. I'm with my people. The laborers. I've been on a forklift loading and unloading C-130's and C-17's on the flight line. I think today, June 21st, was my fourth shift with Ramp. Today was pretty uneventful workwise. I worked three C-130's in the afternoon, and then went over to the other side of BIAP, where there's a nice Army PX and AFEES Bazaar. The Bazaar is a funny little swap meet where there are a bunch of Iraqi Arabs selling all kinds of junk. Coins, books, scarves, knives of all sorts, toys, and Saddam's old china and silver. I bought a genie lamp to send home to Shaylin and a couple scarves for my Mom and Debbie. I also bought a nice auto knife for myself but I lost it by the end of the day. Bummer. Oh well. Towards the end of our shift, Ray and I wrote thank you letters to a bunch of Girl Scouts who had sent us a care package of cookies and a bunch of nice notes.
This week is quite a contrast to my first weeks here. In addition to the more hospitable atmosphere of Ramp life, the enemy haven't attacked us in like four days. It's real quiet right now. I don't hear any gunfire, or anything. It's creepy. Like everybody's preparing for a big fight. We anticipate that the June 30th Government Handover is going to be bad. I suspect, and so do others who I've had hushed conversations with, that this is the calm before the storm. We are in "Condition Yellow", which I think means, "Attack Expected". We're required to wear body armor and helmets.
The last big explosion I experienced was during my last shift on 'nights'. I was sitting out on the flight line, in the van, gazing off into the distance. Waiting for an aircraft arrival. Suddenly a very large explosion interrupted my gaze. This was about 9:20 am, on the 18th, I believe. Two huge black clouds towered above the explosion. They didn't have the classic 'mushroom cloud' appearance. They sort of went straight up. A few seconds later I heard the explosion. It was pretty far away, I'm guessing, based on the delay between the sight and sound of it. About a half hour later, in the van I heard a report on the 'Radio Baghdad' news, that there was a car bombing at BIAP that very same morning which killed 12 people. I wonder if that's the one I saw.
Yesterday, the 20th, I went over to the 'commercial side' of BIAP. My mission was to help unload four C-130's which were full of Iraqi Army Officers. Fresh out of training in Jordan. Three Americans and a large group of Iraqi's. Me (with the forklift), another Air Force NCO from the CPA, and a Marine Gunny also from the CPA.
The 'commercial side' of BIAP includes a huge abandoned airport terminal. I hear it's been empty since the Gulf War. I went exploring around in there and found some old Iraqi blueprints, for the airport. I took a cover sheet from one blueprint set to put up on the wall in my construction office at home, (if I still have a job at home after being gone for a year, that is).
There were some interpreters with the Iraqis. I spoke with a young man named Salam. Traded him an American dollar for a Jordanian dinar. I also spoke with him about the current situation in Iraq. I asked him point blank, if the Iraqi's desire freedom. He answered, sort of incredulously, "Everybody desires freedom!!". I found that reassuring. He also told me what it was like living under Saddam's regime (not much, but he did describe some of how they're minds were controlled*). He also told me that the current anger among Iraqi's is due to the notion that many Iraqi's have- that the powerful America should be able to fix their problems overnight**.
I would like to expand on a couple items covered herein-
*Salam the interpreter, did describe to me that under the regime of Saddam Hussein, Iraq was cut-off from the outside world to a large degree. No satellite communications or satellite TV. Censored internet. No cell service. The regime basically had strict control of any information available to the general population. And there were other examples of what most people would consider mass mind-control or brainwashing. He told me that on Saddam's Birthday for example,when you picked up a telephone receiver, instead of a dial tone you'd hear a song proclaiming the greatness of their leader, Saddam.
This leads to, or sets the stage for the second footnote-
**According to Salam- The average Iraqi not being well educated, and being a subject of Saddam's all powerful regime, was totally astounded by the rapidity of the American victory over Saddam. To them, it appeared as if it was a magic trick. For 30 years they'd suffered. America took down the regime in a mere three weeks. Something that seemed completely impossible to them. If America could defeat the regime that quickly, surely America could fix their other problems just as rapidly. Surely they'd be easier to fix. Get the power back on, more than just a couple hours a day. Get them medicine. Fix the water and sewer systems. Get them jobs. ...It didn't happen. Weeks went by. Then months. These Iraqi's grew increasingly disillusioned. Then Iranian agents started showing up with suitcases full of money for the locals who would agree to shoot a few mortar rounds at us. Hey, if you were them, what would you do?
I also learned from these interpreters that when the regime fell, the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority- basically an interim government set up by the Americans) disbanded the 800,000 man Iraqi Army. And one of the main functions of the Iraqi Army was to secure the borders. With no Iraqi Army, anymore, the borders were wide open. The 160,000 or-so coalition troops were largely operating in the cities. Jihadists from all over the world flooded into Iraq to fight the Infidel. (I imagined a lot of those Jihadi guys were heading for the USA to join the fun after 911, but switched gears and went to Iraq instead, to fight us). In addition to the Mahdi Army- Wahabis from Saudi Arabia, Iranians, Al Qaeda, and probably a lot of pissed-off unemployed former-Baathists- were having a free-for-all. The 'insurgency' that got rolling in 2004 was probably comprised of all these characters and more. It almost seemed like maybe this was an actual war strategy. That the "Where are the WMD's?" thing, was a ruse. From everything I was seeing and hearing, it looked more like a staged war of attrition against Jihadists, to me. But what do I know? I'm just a combat forklift driver.
Salty Rose, 2020
Team Panther tee shirt. IGM. "I Got Mine".
One of our guys (Bert), knew a rep from The Manville Corporation. Manville has 'The Pink Panther' as a company mascot. After we got home, he got us all Manville 'Pink Panther' ball caps, to go with our OIF Team-Panther tee shirts. Yeah, we musta looked pretty badass, going out on the town, with all our Pink Panther schwag on. ;)
The Airport Terminal on the 'commercial side' of BIAP.
Looking out towards the BIAP Ramp.
Video for the song "Coming Home".