October 31, 2006 > Update from Iraq
Update from Iraq
Fremont resident and Ohlone College board member, Garret Yee, is presently addressed as Army Lieutenant Colonel Yee, now serving in Baghdad, Iraq. He sends periodic updates with photos to share with TCV readers. Previous correspondence can be found in the TCV archives at www.tricityvoice.com.
After the last trip to the provinces of Salah ad Din and Diyala, I'm ready to settle down and get into a regular routine. I wake up tired and sore from the trip. Today there are dust storms so visibility is low. It is still hot outside. It's amazing; this place never cools off, at least not during the summer. Every day it is 110-120 degrees, sometimes hotter, and at night, it still 90-100 degrees. Today is more or less a "normal" day. I attend a briefing where general officers are working on plans for the future of Iraq, so this is very interesting. I leave the office at 9:30 pm and call it a day.
The next day, I wake up again tired, but feeling better rested from all the travel over the past two weeks or so. I make my way into work - a 12 minute walk to the security checkpoint and 139 steps up to the 3rd floor - and the air feels cool. I check the thermometer and it reads 90 degrees. I get a message that I have packages downstairs, so I go back down 139 steps to the administrative section of the C3 and find that I have 5 boxes waiting for me. I get someone to help me carry the boxes up 139 steps. At lunch, I check the temperature reading...120 degrees. I finally leave work at 11:30 p.m.
It's August 24th and I get up early and hit the gym. Yes, they even have gyms out here in Iraq. It is a large white tent with weights and cardio machines, but hey, it works. Among the various tasks I have, part of my job at this time is to get learn about Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq. After dinner, I get a message to report to the International Zone (IZ) the next day in preparation for another trip. So...I leave work around 10 pm and pack. My destination is Dhi Qar Province, near the southern city of An Nasiriyah.
The next morning, I get up early and take a convoy to the IZ. I go into the US Embassy and meet with an old friend, Lieutenant Colonel Andre Dragomietry, whom I bumped into a week back at the IZ. He is currently the Deputy Director of the National Iraqi Assistance Center (NIAC) in Baghdad and works with local nationals providing various forms of assistance. I also get a chance to meet briefly with the director of the National Coordination Team (NCT) at the US Embassy-a retired two-star general. Later in the day, I meet up with our "traveling road show" at the helipad, and we catch a Blackhawk flight to Balad. Balad is the hub, so we often have to get to Balad to catch the next flight.
The next day is a full day in Balad since our flight does not depart until about 2100. In the Army, we can identify what unit we are associated with by the patch on our left shoulder. I see some patches that look familiar and I ask a Soldier if they were from Arizona-he said, "Yes, we just got in a few days ago." Bingo, I know someone in that unit so on the way back, I stop in and see CSM Jeff Bodenshatz, who I knew from Fort Bliss-he is out here too. Yes, it is a small world.
Balad is a huge Logistic Support Area, so I take a bus to the Corps Support Command (COSCOM) to see if I can meet up with one of my co-workers. I meet Lieutenant Colonel Will Nikonchuck. He is a good guy-we tour the COSCOM and exchange work ideas for a few hours until I have to go. We had previously corresponded via email, so it was good to put a face to the name. As usual, our flight is delayed, and so we finally get to Dhi Qar at about 1130 at night. We wait at the Talill Air Field (in Dhi Qar) for a ride, which finally arrives, and we get into our rooms just before midnight. We are in "Little Italy," the Italian run Forward Operating Base, Camp Mittica.'
The next morning we get up and have Cappuccino and pastries for breakfast at the local Italian "coffee shop," the coffee is in small cups and very strong. The Italians are responsible for providing the military support to the province of Dhi Qar, and Mittica is the where the Italian army headquarters is located. We receive a welcome and information brief, which includes meeting the Italian General De Pascule. The Italians have done a lot of work in the province. They have focused a lot on building schools, developing the water delivery systems andwork with the agricultural industry, the main source of jobs in an agrarian environment such as Dhi Qar Province.
We have lunch at the Italian DFAC, where everyone is speaking Italian and the food selection is all Italian. After lunch, we have more meetings with the Italian coalition members, and then take a break before late dinner by visiting the Zigurat, which is located on the air base.
The Zigurat, located in the ancient city of Ur, is said to be an ancient Chaldean temple to the moon. In addition to the temple, there are other ruins. The Zigurat is said to be around 5000 years old and Ur is the birthplace of Abraham. This information comes from the book of Genesis in the Bible. At the time, the Euphrates River ran through this area, but it has moved about 9 miles away, and now runs through the city of Al Nassaria. Today, the area is barren and dry-and since it is summer, it is about 118 degrees with a hot wind blowing. This is an amazing opportunity to be here and see this all first-hand. This is where it all began.
At dinner, it is startling to see bottles of wine on all tables. US forces are prohibited from consuming alcohol (General Order Number 1), but for the Italians, this does not apply. Again, Italian dinner in the DFAC, wine at the tables (to tease us), and lots of energetic Italian conversation (I wish I spoke Italian). After dinner, we go to the Italian "Bar" which if you didn't know better; you would think you were in a bar in Italy. The Italians really know how to have fun!
We get up and go across to another base camp, near the air field, for breakfast. At the other base camp (Camp Addar), we have breakfast at the DFAC, and here, since it is also a coalition partner, we see lots of Australians (Aussies) and Romanians at breakfast. Our driver to the air field is a First Lieutenant in the Italian Army. I ask him if he is married and he says no. I take his picture and tell him that I will show my wife's nieces and let them know that he was available. The Italians are a lot of fun. We catch our Sherpa flight to Balad, and are lucky to catch a Blackhawk flight from Balad back to Baghdad.
I find to my pleasant surprise a care package sent to me from the 3-356th Logistic Support Battalion at Fort Hunter Liggett, CA-my previous assignment. I get a year's supply of sunflower seeds, peanuts, sun block, and all kinds of good stuff. I am tired and glad to be back at my own bed.
Well, that's it for now.