Letter from Iraq #16

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from David, a U.S. soldier we know in Iraq. Here is his latest. We are glad he is alright.
cd
the ride over on the bird, well its an expierence that is too surreal, after being bombarded as an American with all types of War movies and images, most notably Vietnam movies where the countryside of Nam is swept across by a helicopter and town villagers and field animals scurry about at the sound and fury of the helicopter, this is what rang in my head as I flew over Iraq, right now it is coming to the end of the rainy season in Iraq and most of the country is green pastures, as the birds fly low , just above power wire height it is strange to see the locals tending sheep, the woman in thier black garb that covers most of thier body, look like moving black shadows on the ground, the kids are giddy and jump at the sight, but we fly so fast and low before anyone even know we approach we are already gone.  It was around 6 stops to the final destination and I wish I could say it was peaceful but we surely got shot at or were in range of fire as the bird shot off flares and pitched and weaved in the air in avoidance, by the time the bird has made its sudden roll and veer to evade fire do you realize that they were shooting at you. Most of the riders on the black hawk turn into jovial kids at the ride, its a mixture of eager antcipation at the begining of a rollercoaster and dread and unease at being encased in such a thunderous contraption, its is strange lifting off, it feels like someone is shoving you upward and the nature of flight is so much different than that of an airplane. the helicopter works on a different law of gravity and lift than the airplane and you don’t think much of it on the ground but in the air it becomes apparent its a different type of flight. I was quesy for half the time i was in the air and the other half dumbstruck by the lay of the land. I had never seen Baghdad like that and I saw each street corner of my fears, I have been laboring over maps, doing route assesments for teams, reading of roadside bombs that litter highways, even though I have never driven on some of these streets, they came alive from landmarks and bridges that dot the maps we mark at headquarters, now I was flying over  these same roads where the terror happens, sometimes, even in Iraq in a secluded HQ building it is easy to forget you are at war. but honestly its for the best, because if everyday you dug yourself into the bloodshed and happenings of war you would go crazy, I know it happened to me in the beging. but flying over baghdad brings it all back home. seeing destroyed vehicles toppled on thier back on the side of roads, seeing blasted out holes in fields next to military bases where mortars were misaimed, seeing tangled wrecked buildings that are constant reminders of this country being invaded and conquered and still occupied and still not being able to heal itself. all this you feel as you sweep over the city, running fast over rooftops, sweeping with strong wind the flags even the poorest of residents fly high over thier houses, its shows allegiance to a certain sect and clan. these flags let people know who you represent. it is flying over a war zone, as simple as that, watching a city collapse on itself, maybe my quesyness was less the ride and knowing the possibility someone would want to take aim with a shoulder fired rocket and take us down. I can’t believe the pilots who fly out everyday, sure it was peaceful in the begining, but now the insurgents are feeling lucky about taking down helicopters, and now it seems everyone is taking pot shots at our birds, why not, before we even know they are firing we are gone and they are gone,  to take down a bird is might praise for allah it seems, no matter wether you are shiia or sunni. The other small bother is you never know where the hell you are, for first timers everything is new, and place you land you see for the first time, so I had no idea wether I was at my location or not, luckily there were others that had the same destination.  the person I work with admitted he had fell ill on the ride over and puked in his hat. i felt a little better about my volitionto keep my innards inside me.  we landed and were greeted and took a short ride to the compound.
of course first impressions are always confused and strange, as before you know it you are whisked someplace else. the base is controlled by australians, they showed us our rooms and our american counterparts seemed to want nothing more to do with us becuase they realized for us to do our mission we needed that independencw wich was greatly appreciated, at first coming to our small small rooms, most bathrooms are larger than our room and we share it with an interperter. we changed into civilian clothes which by the way is always a treat and a comfort just knowing that our identity would not be known, the locals on the base assumed we were Australians because the americans wear uniforms here. so that was an added benefit. I had picked up some dark khakis and an expensive “Columbia” button down shirt, looking exactly like a soldier trying to fit into a foreign country.  with a side arm by my side a Kbar knife strapped to my belt, I looked like some goverment hack.
It is strange being here around australians, it is actually run by an Australian contracting company, needless to say the blokes here are the epitomy of masculine, most of them are former rugby – cop – martial arts guys, they are big and gruff and look like the rolled up spirit of the outback  in all its g’day mate glory. I much prefer them to the Americans, they are so gruff and at ease that its is a wierd mixture concotion and feels like I am tasting a new beverage, I am not social and besides the usual greetings of the day we haven’t talked much. I am too woried if I have a conversation with them I will fall back on the obvious Australian things I know, like steve irvin, crocodile dundee, and put a shrimp on the barbee, wich by the way we had for lunch. I rather not go down that conversational path with them plus thier breed is a bit different than my own, of course I am probally generalizing but the spirit of the outback they envoke is not where I come from,
the food here is great, beyond words great. it seems everyone else that shows up to fight in Iraq (beside US) bring incredible amenities with them. the Australians hire a 4 star chef to feed thier little contingent here, the food is incredible, I am sure all food gets old, but I was taken back by how high quality the food was and look forward to every meal. it is clearly better than the average restaraunt in the states. I could literally see someone paying close to 30 dollars a plate for what they serve, today I had shrpimp seafood kabobs, chicken pasta, olives, flatbread and assorted deserts,
I can’t go into detail why I am here but the base mission here is to train Iraqi police, I don’t know the precise number and if I did I couldn’t give it to you but we are getting alot soon and the mission of the austalians is to train them up and ready to serve thier country. of course I was worried about the prospect of living with thousands of iraqis but now I have resigned myself to the task and more comfortable with the security measures implemented.  I can’t say more than that, though I do sleep with my gun fully loaded under my pillow. I guess that in itself is strange when you have to sleep with a gun under your pillow and even stranger when it doesn’t seem that strange to you.
I forgot to tell you about the sheep and turkey, inside the gates there are a few wobblin’ gobblin turkeys that lurch around making themselves an attraction in such long boring days, and than there are the 4 sheep that nibble the grass, they have left a spicket of water run constantly and it drains into a green foilage tract of land where the turkeys and sheep live. It is strange seeing the turkey and sheep mill about on base and makes any concern I had for safety seems silly. i guess if the turkey and sheep have no problem with it than why should I.
Of course I did something stupid I decided to take a walk outside the gate with my interperter and 2 other guys, of course we were armed when we left but it was unneccesary risk, walking down back roads to a small shop in the distant because one of the guys wanted to buy an iraqna phone card for more minutes on his cell. walking down barren roads, with Iraq amry bases sprouted out of each corner of the land and dingy pickup trucks flying past, sure I did not feel safe, if a truck wanted to swipe us it wouldn’t be hard but I felt comfortable enough going outside the gate but  still wary not to have reservations about it, we passed a mosque that looked nice but after being baghdad and seeing the luxury appointed mosques there this seemed plain in a way.  we arrived at the shop and the shopkeepers looked at us queerly, it seemed like the old west, I kept patting my sidearm holster, and springing the unlock mechanism, just to make sure and of course my receptors were tuned on high, the wind was blowing and it was overcast , even with tumble weed rolling across the street. great I thought, If something happned, than I would have to react.
nothing did happen and as I walked back I felt like I am a phony, I looked the part but I was holding my breath on the inside, i realize even now there are certain humans that are better adept and more in thier nature to fight. I think many of these same people feel hollow in a peaceful world where thier talented natural abilities are gone to waste and die inside them. in this atmosphere they are happy, they can be thier self, naturally in a war, usually they are just one in a hundred, but they still exist, and feel complete only when they are fighting, does that make sense? so when I arrive here, amongst a large group of these people do i feel my skin as strange as if were purple poka dotted. , anyways that is how i feel for now. like a strange in a strange land. I can’t imagine how the spys do it, that have to blend into other countries, the foreigness of it all, i am now pretty sure i can’t, i feel i stand out but maybe that is a good thing, i realize how uncomfortable i am so i am conscience of all the things that i do that I normally don’t like nervous laughter or stream of chatter. even before they start i have ended that so i look comfortable but inside my skin is crawling.
it is strange being so far from everything, very little connections, if the army soldiers were connected by thick steel in baghdad than the connection all the way out here has frayed to just yarn, instead of an occupying force I feel like the wind in the trees, anyways, talk later
-david
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