Saturday, March 27, 2010

Was this really that long ago? (Addendum)

Addendum: same ROE as before: Red text denotes current thoughts & notes.

As I was preparing Part III of this series, I found a paper copy of the letter.  Part III wasn't in the paper copy, but only on the electronic word document that I had originally found.  This post was at the end of the paper copy, but since it was not germane to the Recovery Mission, I decided to save it for later. Now is later.

Also, I should state that it wasn't long after the "mission" that we received the newer vests with plates...

Architecture and Food - Two of My Favorite Things

At least the trip allowed me to see many residential areas of Baghdad. They build their homes in a much different fashion than ours in the States. As wood is at a premium, they build with block. The lots are smaller than a typical American lot, and are square, or close to it. They do not have large lawns, but use the lot entirely for the building. Usually the back and two sides are built as plain walls, stucco over the block. The front facade is where the exterior design elements are, and where the money is spent. Usually, there is a 6-8 foot wall around the front, with the space behind it carved out to create a courtyard, balconies and various other design elements. The front facades are very unique from home to home. Some facades incorporate marble columns with ornate capitals. Even the window designs are unique and vary in the shapes they create, unlike ours which are ordered directly from the double-hung catalog. With the many variations in design, both in elements used and space created, the homes are distinct and differ in character, despite the fact that most are similar color and materials used.

I am sure it won't be long before there is a McDonald's on every corner here also. After all, there has been a Burger Kind on BIAP for over a month already. If you want a Whopper, sometimes it can be up to a three-hour wait. I have been able to try some of the Iraqi cuisine a few times. Most everything I have had has been pretty good. I even had some Iraqi pizza, which is different than American style.  It was good though.

One of the things I miss about home is the change in weather, if you can believe that. Since we left the States, the only weather we have seen is hot and sunny. No rain, no thunder, no lightning. I think when I return I will probably go outside and jump in a puddle the first time it rains.

Anyway, I should end this. Thanks for your support, thoughts and prayers. At least for me, Iraq is not as bad as it is probably portrayed on the nightly news. I have actually met some very nice Iraqi citizens, and enjoy learning about their culture and views, especially political (now that they have that freedom). They enjoy learning about America also.

Love and prayers, Wesley

When I used to write things like this back to the States, it was mostly in email and shot out to all my contacts. I labeled the subject line, "News from the Engineer Front".  I always signed them "Love and prayers".

A few years ago, I was printing the emails off to PDF files and saving them to my hard-drive. Then I would delete that email. My plan was to eventually print each one to paper and place them in a three-ring binder for my children. At the end of 2006, my hard-drive crashed and I lost a number of them. I did not have them backed up and learned my lesson. For the sake of Part III, I'm glad I found the electronic version of this letter.

Of course, as the years go by, and other events take precedence in my mind, I don't remember as much about what happened day to day "over there". Early on, I had started a journal, but it did not stick. It's so easy when we are going through life to think that we will remember the really significant events later.

What are you experiencing today while thinking, "I'll need to remember this later"?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Was this really that long ago? (Part III of III)

Excerpts from a letter written on 9 Aug 2003 – This is the third part. Red text denotes current thoughts & notes.

Hot & Humid With a Chance of Fire!

The Soldier who was injured during the IED attack, SPC Chasen, received a Purple Heart, and was returned to the United States. From what I heard, he got a piece of shrapnel in the back of his upper thigh - think Forrest Gump!

At the time of the Recovery Mission, we had not been issued the new Interceptor Vests w/ Armor Plating. We went out on the mission with the Vietnam-era vests, no protective plates.

It was very warm that day. We rehearsed our actions on the objective several times, starting at 0700 that morning, and left the LSA around 1300.

It was very hot and humid at the objective. By the time we left, my weapon was so hot in my hands that I just about wanted to hand it off to some of the Iraqis observing us. There were some homes in the area, and of course, all the residents came out to watch our actions.

We were unsure if during the first mission, someone in the area had tipped off the enemy on Alpha Company’s presence, which then led to the original attack. So, there was a thought that our presence could be tipped off again. Therefore, we wanted to spend the smallest amount of time at the objective as possible.

On the way out, which due to the area was the same way we came in, there were a couple of men standing along the side of the road. They were burning some dry grass or leaves, and for some reason, the fire was spread in a line half way across the road (a very narrow road). As we went out, the vehicles were in the opposite order of march, so I was near the tail. The lead vehicle radioed back about the situation. As we approached, I switched my M-16 from safe to semi, keeping the weapon pointed down towards their feet, at the ready. My eyes followed them completely as we drove by. I am not sure why they were burning in this manner, but if they had even flinched wrong, we would have been exchanging more than glances.

Nothing happened.

I am actually surprised that the enemy burnt the vehicle, when they could have very easily just stolen it, using it on a farm, or a worse attack. As the Maintenance Platoon Leader, this was about the most exciting thing I have been able to do here, other than leading the main HSC (Headquarters Support Company) convoy from Kuwait to Baghdad. If you want some really good stories, you should get in touch with 1LT Brad Lavite, who was transferred from the 245th (Maintenance Company) into a Transportation Company. He should be headed back to the U.S. in April (2004).

That day, as I rode in the front passenger seat of the HMMWV, I was sitting sideways, facing out. No doors, no plates; just that Vietnam-era vest with a seat belt holding me in. We didn't have up-armored vehicles, and the original doors were no thicker than plastic wrap. They held the heat in, but little out. It's always better to have physical protection in those types of situations, but honestly I preferred having full range of movement from the door opening. Call it naivete, but being in Iraq during that period didn't create blame in me towards anyone else for what was lacking. Instead, it made me more aware that I needed to rely on God for safety and protection.  Many people, including me, prayed Psalms 91 during that are some of my favorite verses:

v2: This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him.

v4: He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

v11: For He will order His angels to protect you wherever you go.

v14-16: The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love Me. I will protect those who trust in My name. When they call on Me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them My salvation."

I'm humble enough to know, despite those prayers, I still could have lost my life at anytime in Iraq.  I do not pretend to understand why God allowed me to make it home unscathed. He is my God and I trust Him.

On this day, the seventh anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I would be remiss to not remember those who did give the ultimate sacrifice and in memory of them simply say:

"Thank you"

Click for Addendum