One of the things I wanted to do during this deployment, was document the trip. With the Journal I kept and digital photo's. I would eventually end up going thru three cameras during my rotation. Anyways, after my first camera broke, I was on a mission. To get another one. We had an AFEES PX (a small store) which was basically just a small trailer, at our camp. They sold souvenir items and I remember buying a CD there (remember CD's?). But no cameras. The big PX was over at the Army's Camp Victory, where the First Cavalry Division was based at that time. I needed to get over to Victory, at the first opportunity, to get another camera. That was important to me. In today's Journal entry, from 25 June 04, I write about an off-duty day I had (first day off of the deployment for me) where I was able get over to Victory, and pick up another camera.
When one got an off-duty day, it was usually spent doing laundry. I did my laundry that day after I accomplished the camera-acquisition mission. While I was in the laundry tent that evening, we got hit by mortars, or rockets. During these 'alarm reds' you had to stay put wherever you were. And sometimes it would take a while before we'd go 'green' again. So luckily I had my journal with me in the laundry tent, and I used the time that I was hunkered down in there, to write.
As we neared the end of June, attacks on our area increased. In the Journal, the attacks seem to be the thing that got most of my attention. Around the same time, I was corresponding with folks, via e-mails. After I got home my Mother gave me copies of messages I had written her. I put them into a scrap book I made after getting home. Reading the e-mails is sort of funny... I wrote to her about the weather, the chow, made sure to mention the air-conditioning, made sure she knew we had ice cream, and that sort of thing. It was considered part of operational and communications security, not to talk about enemy activities. But the e-mails read like I went a little further, trying to put a little spin on things, to try to not worry her.
E-mail to Mom:
June 20th 2004 2:24am
Today it is very windy here. Feels a little hotter too. The sky has turned sort of brown from all the dust in the air. I just had lunch. We have people who drive over to the Army's chow hall and pick us up a plate of food. They have ice cream too, and we keep some in our refrigerator here where we work.
E-mail to Mom:
June 24th 2004 12:50pm
Hello Mom, this is an enormous complex-as far as the eye can see-a whole bunch of Army camps with us sort of in the middle of the whole thing. Everything is air-conditioned. I’m not sure what the tents are made of. They’re very dusty. We’re in the middle of the Army’s camps, but the Army isn’t allowed inside our camp. I’ve been on duty every day since I got here-except half a day when I switched from nights to days. The GI Mail isn’t working very well. Get my alternate address from Sean.
The Laundry Tent
From the Journal:
Friday 25 June 04 19:23 hrs.
I’m off duty today. I got up around 9am. Put my uniform, flak vest, and helmet on, and headed over to the flight line. I was hoping somebody would want to take a trip with me over to Camp Victory so I could buy a new digital camera. Ed, Don, and Smitty decided to go. We drove in the ATOC van. None of us had been there before. We ended up driving thru the water processing area. I was surprised to see hoses sucking water out of a canal into big bladders. There were trucks lined up with “Potable Water” written on the side.
Right now as I write this, I’m in the laundry tent. It’s straight across the gravel road from my tent. A few minutes ago I heard the boom, boom, boom, boom, off towards the other end of the camp. A minute later the, “alarm red, take cover”, sounded. So here I sit in the laundry tent. Alarm black followed and I looked outside to see the UXO sweep teams moving around outside. The worst thing about these alarms is that the order goes Red, Black, then Green. Once the alarm green is sounded you have like 10 minutes to get over to the logistics tent (to check in for accountability). I’m always worried that I’ll miss the alarm green, not report in time, and then get in trouble.
Since the ‘condition yellow’ was announced last week, our officers have really been on our butts about wearing the flak vest all the time. It is a real pain for us out on the flight line as temperatures are climbing into the 110’s these days.
I hope no one was hurt in this attack. I said a real short prayer to request this.
As June 30th comes closer, we anticipate more attacks. All the Army guys we talk to say so. We also received a global e-mail from our Commander threatening us with a LOR (letter of reprimand) from the Squadron Commander, and an Article 15 from the Group Commander, if we get caught without our flak vest and helmet. There was also a mention in the e-mail about the coming “events”, which are expected with the handover of the government, from the coalition to the Iraqi people.
We hear that yesterday there were attacks all over Iraq, with three coordinated attacks on three police stations in Baghdad. From the flight line we saw flashes off in the distance last night. We also saw parachute flares and star clusters up in the sky.
E-mail to Mom:
June 27th 2004 2:25am
Thank you for the address. May I make a request? I have a new digital camera, which I got at the Camp Victory PX (It’s the biggest PX around here). It is a ‘Kodak Easyshare’, and the instructions say to only use Kodak CRV3 lithium batteries, or two AA lithium batteries. They don’t sell them here, and it’s a pain in the butt to get over to Victory. I have some which came with the camera but I’m afraid they’ll run out-because one of our forms of entertainment here is too show each other pictures we’ve taken, on the little screen on the back of the camera. So we’re always turning our cameras on.
I feel compelled to highlight my surprise at seeing water being sucked out of a canal, for our water supply. Especially in light of the fact that I've experienced some unusual health problems in the years since. Doubtless, we showered in that "Potable Water". The water that I saw being siphoned out of the canal, on the way to Camp Victory. We were given strict instructions NOT to use the water in our latrine, to brush our teeth. You had to bring a plastic water bottle to the latrine, for water to brush your teeth with. But we did shower and shave with it. Personally, I believe this "Potable Water" from a dirty irrigation canal, is an issue, like the burn-pit issue. An environmental issue which may be responsible for the poor health outcomes for some of the Veterans of these wars. Like the rare hepatobiliary cancer I acquired. But I digress... The next Journal entry was two days later on the 28th. I didn't write every day. Some days maybe I felt there wasn't much to report. But it was probably because I was too tired.
From the Journal:
Monday 6-28-04 2am
Word is, Fridays attack hit the flight line over by Spec-Ops. Saturday we were real busy at work. I drove a bus onto a C-17, among other things.
Sunday a.m. at 7:45 I was woke up by a very large explosion which shook the tent. It was actually kind of scary, but I just laid in my bunk. Five minutes after the attack an alarm sounded. After the usual reporting in etc... I went to the gym tent, then took a shower, and went to work.
It was a lot slower today. We loaded two ISU-90's, a Humvee, and a pallet onto the Aussie C-130, Mambo 32. After we finished the upload, it left. A little while later Ray told me Mambo 32 had returned, and we needed to go unload it. I thought that was kind of strange. But then again, the big laugh of the day was, the bus we loaded yesterday, was the wrong bus.
Turns out the reason Mambo 32 returned, was a bullet hit the aircraft on departure, killing a CPA civilian who was on his way home. He was sitting in the right/front of the cargo bay next to two other people. The bullet hit him in the head. Just missed the others. We went out to download the aircraft. As we worked our way towards the rear on the download, I was looking. When we went to push the last pallet off I saw him. Not the man but the body bag laying on the floor two feet away. You could tell the medical folks had just been there. Lots of towels, latex gloves, and things laying about.
Everyone here is affected. I think most folks are kind of scared of getting shot on the flight in or out. To see it actually happen is a little too much.
Walking back to my tent after work, I stopped to chat with an Air Force Security Forces troop who was off duty, but in full K-vest, LBE, and weapon. He told me that until July 4th they'd be packing 24-7. He also told me another C-130 was hit with some kind of SAM, and that the mornings rocket attack hit with-in 100 meters of an aircraft on the ground. Looks like game on.
The Wrong Bus
It seems odd to me reading this now. Ray telling me that Mambo 32 had returned, and I make a note in the Journal about the big joke of the day being that we loaded the wrong bus onto an airplane. In my damn Journal. It's almost like I didn't really want to write about what had happened. A VA psychologist told me that Veterans (and GI's) do have a pretty dark sense of humor. When shit like this is going down, we seem to turn to humor, any kind of humor... To get thru it, maybe? Humor and laughter are the only antidote for the unrelenting boredom and pressure, in my estimation. According to my friend at the VA, Veterans laugh at things that appall civilian's. Hell, we have to. What the hell else can you do? The guy was dead. We had to deal with it right then.
I do remember actually being pissed when Mambo 32 returned, maybe only fifteen minutes or so after departure. It was pretty hot outside. This happened mid-day, maybe 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon. Most of the C-130's we loaded around that time, only got maybe two pallets, on an upload. I believed that was so they could get up off the ground quickly. Mambo 32 had a full load, which seemed a little unusual to me. And it was a lot of work to load up. So to be told to go right back out to unload it, gave me a case of the ass. "Case of the ass" being GI-speak for being pissed off. When I got out onto the ramp, I saw Bert the Ramp Controller, and asked him what the hell was going on. He told me there was a dead guy onboard. That shut me up right quick.
Bert and I were the ones who pushed the last pallet off. We had to step over the body bag. I remember we both looked down at it, then we looked up, and our eyes met. The look in Bert's eyes is seared into my memory. I don't think I will ever forget that moment.
Nobody really knew who the guy was. Three civilian's had hopped onto that aircraft as a sort of 'opportune airlift' out of there. But before they moved him, the Australian crew took their flag down from their cargo bay (all the aircraft had a flag flying in the cargo bay), and wrapped the body bag with it before it was taken away to the camp mortuary. I admired their show of respect. Later that night, after he was cleaned up presumably and put into a human-remains transfer case, the body was going to be flown home. We learned the casualty was an American civilian. In Iraq working for the CPA. And in an almost unbelievably heartbreaking twist, turned out this man had two sons in the Army, at Camp Victory. They were on the flight line that night, and flew home with their Dad.
That concludes the Journal entry for June 25 & 28th, 2004. A lot of nights I wrote these entries usually after getting off duty. And during this time I was on the 'day shift', which meant 12 noon to 12 midnight. That is, if we weren't too busy. If the flight line was hoppin', it could turn into a 14 or 15 hour shift. So a lot of these were written at 2 or 2:30 in the morning. On the 28th I wrote at 2am. Only three hours later I would experience, what remains in my mind, the pivotal moment of the deployment (for me, that is). And that day we'd also record what may be considered the most prominent historical event during our time there. Well, historical from, a history book kind of perspective. And I'd write about those things later that night on June 29th.
All that being said, anyone who's been there, probably thinks more about the stuff that you won't see in the history books. Things like, two soldier boys flying home with their Dad, from Baghdad, Iraq, on June 28th, 2004.
Salty Rose, 2020