Humvee+concertina=awesome
They say Iraqis-gone-wild sometimes like to climb onto Humvees. To deter those wacky Arab frat-boy antics, you just wrap your truck with concertina wire. This is an effective tool for crowd control in all places other than New York City where the wire would be covered with plastic shopping bags by the end of the day.

Orlando
This is Orlando, my new SAW gunner. Peter, my now-former SAW gunner, has managed to catch a mild case of narcolepsy and is probably going to be discharged from the Army. I’ve know Orlando for several years. He is an experienced SAW gunner and an all-around bad motherfucker. He’s mellowed over the years, but there was a time when this salty Lower East Side-raised Nuyorican would cut you for looking at him wrong. This is not hyperbole. He has a knife scar on his face that runs from mid-forehead, through his right eyebrow and down to his nose where part of his nostril was sewn back on. Orlando’s SAW is the most enemy casualty-producing weapon I have direct command of and there is no doubt in my mind that Orlando will gladly produce these casualties from me, should I ask.

snipers
Socky got promoted! He is now a Private (E-2). This is our company sniper section, a photo taken immediately after the promotion ceremony. Yes, Socky got blood rank. From the left, Ed, Chris, Socky, Ray, and Cola.

Silent Scope
Ray recently discovered the sniper video game “Silent Scope” in the laundry building. It’s become a bit of an obsession for both of us and Cola is starting to get into it too now.

high scores
If anyone reading plays this game, could you please validate for me that these are some incredibly sick scores? They all belong to Ray except the last which is Cola’s. My top score is a meager 388000.

Ray gets muddy

Ray gets muddier
Trying to walk to and from chow usually involves having to avoid a lot of mud. Ray got tired of walking around the mud and was going to walk through a puddle when Chris told him, “Ray, do not walk through that mud puddle.” So he ran, dove into, crawled through, rolled around in, did flutter kicks in and made snow angels in it instead. This is not the first time Ray has spontaneously violated unsuspecting mud puddles. Chris, frustrated, made Ray do three-to-five second rushes, high crawls and low crawls all the way back to the barracks where he just rolled around in more mud. There is no degree of physical discomfort that I believe Ray would not gleefully endure. Just don’t ever give him tuna salad with celery bits in it– this he will not endure.

one eye open
Tom Ridge and President Bush say to stay vigilant. You think you’re vigilant? What do you know about vigilant? Willy literally sleeps with one eye open.

Tomorrow we go into “the box” for our final training exercise before going into combat. Here at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, the scenarios that units go through are all pretty much unwinnable. I don’t think anyone has ever beaten JRTC. But that’s kinda the point. You will lose. It’s just a matter of how long you can hold out before losing and how gracefully you lose. This, apparently, is a good way to assess the battle-readiness of the brigades that come to be given a stamp of “deployable” before going over seas. The guys that are posted here, the “Geronimo Joes” as there’s known, spend the better part of the year in the field playing the opposing force (OPFOR) for unit after unit that comes down here to be tested including the Rangers, Special Forces and all manner of bad ass. Even these elite units get their asses handed to them most the time. Geronimo Joe knows how to play the game really well. They know these training areas like the backs of their hands, their MILES laser equipment is zeroed perfectly and they know how to fight in such a way that will inflict the maximum amount of damage with the minimal amount of effort. The mission we are taking part in involves my entire brigade and is going on right now. My company will be relieving the guys that are out there now. So far a key logistical bridge has been destroyed, the Brigade Sergeant Major has been killed, three Bradley fighting vehicles have been destroyed by IEDs, two soldiers have been captured and a massive car bomb recently killed 47 soldiers. (Just so things are clear here, none of this is real, it’s all a training simulation.) My job will essentially be to keep a small town safe. This entails quite a bit of work and the way they have things scheduled, I don’t think they expect us to eat, sleep or poop for five days straight.

This is the second time that I’ve been to JRTC. The Geronimos are very proficient at what they do which makes for excellent training exercises. Instead of having someone from your own unit play OPFOR in an ad-hoc fashion like most training exercises, these guys have everything orchestrated really well. I have to admit that I’m very excited about this operation. I didn’t discuss the last op much because I was too busy going off on a personal tangent in the post where I would have mentioned it. We did well and I was reminded how much I love my job, how much I love to fight. I may not feel the same when the real bullets fly, but I can’t deny how exciting those brief moments of intensity are.

We did the same scenario twice. We were in a small village of about a dozen buildings, trying to find a suspected insurgent, an arms dealer and link-up with our contact guy. On the first iteration we went in fast and hard. We cleared the buildings fairly quickly, found the insurgent, found the arms dealers and found our inside man. All without firing a single shot. But they said we were too aggressive, that we didn’t “win their hearts and minds.” I supposed I contributed to this. There was a guy in a black ski mask that was harassing us, trying to take our gear and just creeping us out in general. So I had finally had enough of him and had him detained. When it came time to remove him from the building we were keeping him in, he wouldn’t get up. So I kicked the chair out from under his feet that he had them propped up on and grabbed him by the shirt collar. At this point the observer-controller (OC) started freaking out and told me how he was going to escort me off the training area if I got any more physical with the guy. Understand that I hadn’t done anything wrong at this point (yet) other than I shouldn’t have grabbed his shirt. I had no intent of getting physical with the guy, but I wanted to instill in him the fear that I was just stupid enough to take the training too far and actually lay hands on him. In reality if this were to have happened, I probably would gotten my ass kicked. This guy was twice my size. I successfully articulated to the OC that I was just using the universal word for “stand up” by trying to pull him to his feet. I know I come off as a nice guy, etc. etc. to the other guys and in this blog, but in reality I have a very competitive and very aggressive side, I just don’t wear it like a crown. So the big joke about all this was the irony of how it was me that was getting warned that I was in danger of being escorted off the training area. To tell you the truth, I looked at this guy wearing his nasty little ski mask, his blonde eye-brows and redish goatee stubble sticking out of the mouth hole of his mask and all I saw was a typical bully. This guy was an active duty soldier and he wanted to fuck with the National Guard guys. So I fucked with him.

The second iteration was us trying to win those hearts and minds. We took it slow and because of this we never finished searching the buildings– all we did was argue with villagers. (Side note: the translators we had this time were Iraqi-Americans all from Salt Lake City of all places, my home town.) Then we took sniper fire. We were pinned down in a building. Three guys had already gone down. Kirk wanted to go out a window and run straight up to the building where the sniper was, using some available cover along the way. I wanted to run across the road and from cover of some other buildings, maneuver to the side of the sniper’s building where he had no window access to engage us. As usual, Kirk and I couldn’t agree, so he took his team out the window. He reacted quickly, something he and I both like to do when we start taking fire, so I’ll give him props for that. But as soon as they got out that window, his whole team got lit up. Now that Orlando and I were the only ones left from out squad at that time, we ran across the street like I wanted to, linked up with some guys from another squad and I told them, “follow me” (the motto of the Infantry, one I actually like). We ran to the building, entered it through a window (the front door was locked), and prepared to enter the next door. I opened it and, hey, what do you know, a second door! This is the second time this has happened to me if you remember when I opened a door on a building only to find the other side boarded up. Very frustrating. It’s like taking off panties and finding a plastered-shut vulva. There were keys attached to the doorknob of the first door, but they didn’t open this second one. While I was working on the door, it suddenly burst open, a barrel poked out and fires blindly missing everyone in the room, then slammed shut again, locked. Okay, now I was pissed. This was a brand new structure and the door was meant to be able to close and lock. In other words, not be kicked in. By this time, there were three OCs watching the whole mess and there was even a film crew capturing the events, I supposed for training purposed. Then I heard someone say somewhat hushed, “Just kick it in.” So I was like, “Yeah?” and the response was a solemn, “Yeah.” Looking at this steel reinforced door I knew it wasn’t meant to be kicked in, especially not for training, and wouldn’t go down easy. So I grabbed Orlando and told him to kick the door with me on three. One, two, three! Bam! The door bursts open! We quickly cleared the room, got the sniper, and continued on with the mission. It may seem like a stupid juvenile violent thing, but kicking that door in felt really damn good. The OCs could have stopped us and they didn’t, so fuck it, right?

The whole reason I recounted all this is that this particular exercise reminded again how much I love doing this. It’s utterly visceral. I know it’s completely counter to most of my personality, but intelligent measured violence is a magnificent thing.

——————–

So I’m gonna be gone for about five days. When I return, hopefully I’ll have some good stories and photos. Tonight Socky was kidnapped and someone tried to frame the First Sergeant by planting Socky in his wall locker. Socky was recovered, but Ray was none too pleased. HUMINT (Human Intelligence) brought the sock-snatcher to light and retribution will be meted out. I’ll try my best to cover the bloodletting.

Some pics:


Some of the guys from second squad (mine) and third squad


When giving an operation order it is good to have a terrain model of the portion of the map where you will be operating to explain things. They usually are constructed from items found around the barracks.


Today while we were doing close quarters battle (CQB) rehearsals in an old abandoned theatre down the street, this is what we found in the projector room: The Love Shack! The theatre is right next to the Troop Medical Clinic, the only place you’ll find female soldiers for miles, so we deduced that this was where the medics go to play doctor. Those naughty, naughty medics. As usual, Dan is looking grumpy as hell. I truly believe he was one of Tolkien’s dwarves in a former life. If he started carrying a battle axe during training, I don’t think I’d even notice.


When clearing buildings, it is important to keep a barrel pointed on all openings in the room where a possible threat could emerge such as doors, attics, windows, large holes in the walls, etc. While we were using the latrine to rehearse CQB, Anthony made sure to cover any possible threats that might have emerged from this hole. Yes, that’s Ray, he was just trying to wash cammo off his face before we rudely interrupted him.


From left, Kirk, Chris, and Ray in Louisiana model the alternate ways to wear the kevlar collar and groin protection as headgear in the “Pope” and “Flying Nun” styles. Photo by Matt.


Here, Ray displays the “Pharaoh” style of the kevlar collar. “Let me see you make bricks without straw, Moses!” Photo by Matt.

ninja Ray
Ray models the new ninja suit underwear.

So we got back from Louisianna a couple days ago and are back at lovely Fort Drum, New York. There is a lot to talk about, I just wanted to put up a quick post to tell you there will be a full entry coming in a day or two.


Some Bradley fighting vehicles at JRTC at Fort Polk, Louisianna.

I’m sorry. I’m really agitated right now about this whole stupid mess. I truly have better things to write about. Like how much ass we kicked at JRTC at Fort Polk in Louisiana. Or like how I got my first injury ever in the Army in twelve years (second degree sprained ankle). Lesson learned: just because you can jump across a ravine, doesn’t mean your ankle is not going to give out from the body armor and all the gear you wear when you land on swampy soft ground. Or like how we got issued M4s finally. Or like how we recently found out that we are going to be part of the main effort for the 1st ID where 90% of our missions will be combat missions in the Sunni Triangle (translation: we will being seeing a lot of action). Or like how Tim Smith and his coworkers at Maxis Software/Electronic Arts in Walnut Creek, California hooked me and my guys up with some GameBoys and a ton of games (including for the PC and PS2). This is truly cool. There are care packages (brownies, stamps, toilet paper) and there are Care Packages (a couple thousand dollars worth of video games). Tim, you are now in our cool book.

At some point I’ll actually get to the part where I cover what we did in Loozee-anna. I’m just pissed that I missed half of it because of my stupid ankle. I did however take part in the assault that got us an enormous enemy weapons cache and the squad leader I was attached to at the time (Jeff) the “Hero of the Rotation” award. This is twice now that I’ve found myself working with this guy where I’ve had a blast (no pun intended) (see last door-demolishing sniper-killing entry).


After twisting my ankle, I had to man the radio in our tactical operations center (TOC). Being that I was now working with the command structure, I thought I’d try out my Patton look.


Socky is really into Medal of Honor for the GameBoy Advance. Socky says thanks, Tim!

Foster and polish
The warrior spirit
While serving in the world;
Illuminate the Path
According to your inner light

THE ART OF PEACE, Morihei Ueshiba


I would like you to meet Wazina.

Neo-esque Ray bans
This is me today, rockin’ the new Neo-esque Ray-Bans. Matt has the Mr. Smith ones.


Tent livin’! This tent is currently home to two platoons from our company.


The walk to chow is a kilometer (.6 miles) and starts here as we step out of the tent.


Then we walk…


and walk…


and walk…


and walk…


and walk by the MWR (moral welfare recreation) area where the phones, computers, gym and theatre can be found…

I love you
stop to take a photo for the mom…


and walk by the tower whose purpose is beyond me (modern tower of Babel perhaps?)…


then we wait in the line for chow…


then we wash our dirty little sandwich clamps…


then we actually get the chow slung to us with a kind of haste reminiscent of New York City…


then we take a seat and wolf it all down.


On the way back we hit the fast food area where the coffee shop is
located…


and we order up coffee. In the bible this area was referred to as “the wilderness”, but today I can still manage to get a café latté. And Jesus wept.


“Justice”, Kirk’s newest tattoo. A second date will be put on the right side once our deployment ends.


On the way back from the range we ran into a herd (the correct noun?) of camels and some Bedouins. It is not uncommon to have to cease fire on the ranges so these guys can pass with all their camels.


A happy little camel family (in a Ranger file).


In the chow line I noticed this Marine’s cheat sheet for handy Arabic phrases.

Alpha Company
Group photo of Alpha Company before the road march up through Iraq.

on the laptop
Apparently this is what I look like quite often.

Jason & Willy
Me and Willy the day before my platoon would make the drive up through Iraq.

soldiers sleeping
This is what soldiers do when they are made to help out around the motor pool area– they hide out behind shady cover and catch some Z’s.

combat load of ammo
Since the convoy through Iraq would be our first combat mission, we were given our combat load of ammo. This is my load. Two-hundred forty rounds of 5.56mm rifle ammo (one mag of thirty not shown). I chose to load each magazine with the first, sixteenth, and last three rounds with tracer. My thinking behind the placement of the tracers being that I can see where my first round hits (aiming adjustments can be done very easily once you see where the rounds are striking), when I’m into the second half the magazine, and the final three to tell me when the mag is expended. I carry the M4/M203 rifle/grenade launcher combo so I was also issued a bunch of 40mm grenades: seventeen rounds of HEDP (high explosive daul purpose), two green smoke, one red smoke (for marking and/or signaling), and one white star cluster (a fireworks-like round used for signaling). I carry on my person 210 round of 5.56, five HEDP and one green smoke. The rest I carry in an assault pack (fancy name for a small backpack). The Interceptor kevlar body armor we wear now have in them the big ceramic armor plates in the front and back, making our everyday combat uniform remarkably heavy. Between the armor and the ammo, I feel like a human tank.

Princess icecream
I suspect that there is a secret cult within the Army dedicated to subjugating soldiers into homosexuals. For example, every single icecream freezer in the chow hall at Camp Udairi was one day inexplicably filled with nothing but “Princess” icecream bars, flavored with rose oil. They tasted like your grandmother’s perfume. They were fucking disgusting.

air freshener
John, our commander’s driver and RTO (radio guy) in their Humvee. Although my commander hates my writing, like John and myself he’s a big fan of Repo Man, one of the coolest 80’s cult films ever. In homage to the film, John put a (patriotic) pine tree air freshening where the rear view mirror should be. “You’ll find one in every car. You’ll see.” If you haven’t seen this film, your homework assignment is to rent it, watch it, and love it. Just like Burt Reynolds is an unremarkable actor with a cool as hell performance in Deliverance, Emelio Estevez is also an unremarkable actor with a cool as hell performance in Repo Man. My favorite line is at the end when girlfriend says, “But what about our relationship?”, and Emelio responds after a short pause of incredulity with, “What? Fuck that.” Emelio’s character in Repo Man has had as much an influence on John’s personality as this film had on Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

the berm
Driving through Kuwait just below Iraq, we saw an incredible number of Bedouins. The drive is literally like driving through Nevada where there isn’t ANYTHING for hundreds of miles, yet incredibly there would be families just chillin’ off the side of the road, usually with a herd of sheep or camels. As we approached the Iraq border, various messages could be found on concrete block beside the road. This one reads, “Iraq border ahead 1000m. Beware of children in roadway.” I can’t tell you how exciting it was knowing we were moments away from crossing the berm into “The Raq”. Once we made it past the berm and through the one kilometer buffer of no-man’s land, I distributed cigars to everyone in the truck. As soon as we kit the border town, we held our cigars in one hand and our digital cameras in the other. Not the most tactical way to enter the country, puffin’ and clickin’, but oh well.

kids, home
Some Iraqi kids in front of the average home in the town bordering Kuwait.

girl
A young girl runs along side the convoy. Photo by Anthony.

kid + tank
A kid leans against the remains of past conflict. Photo by Anthony.

kid on bike
Another Iraqi kid rides his bike alongside the convoy. Photo by Anthony.

kid on bike again
My photo of the same kid, this time in front of another typical border home.

graffiti
The entire drive through Iraq, stupid American soldier graffiti was everywhere. Like I give a shit that you were in the 367th Pogue Battalion. Idiots. It especially slays me how many white trash soldiers with cans of spray paint have proclaimed love to this girl and that girl on every overpass along Iraq highway 1.

home
The Iraq tour of homes. Another random house along the highway.

another home
As we got closer to Baghdad, the dwellings didn’t improve much, but things became increasingly more green and included palm trees.

view through the Aimpoint of an M4
The weather was perfect and warm and aside from being in a combat zone, the trip through Iraq almost felt like a relaxing summer roadtrip. Except for when we took a wrong turn and drove through the heart of Baghdad at two in the morning, accidentally avoiding a huge daisy chain of IEDs we later found out. I guess all those Christian prayers for this godless heathen paid off. This was my view for most of the three day trip.

The bunkers we live in once stored ordnance for the air base near Balad 15 miles north of us. The parabolic interior makes it so that a soldier on one side of the bunker can hear music of another soldier on the other side of the bunker, even if the volume is low, causing disputes about noise. An optimist would say that it has the feel of an urban industrial loft space. Photos by Anthony.

the bunker we live in

the bunker we live in

Okay, so we’ve been in Iraq for a little over two weeks now and have performed a lot of different missions. Here are a few photos from a few fairly typical days:


On one of our first days, we did a little FOB (forward operating base) guarding. This is the view from a front gate guard post, protecting incoming convoys like this one.


During a patrol down a rural road, Matt says, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Oh my god, you aren’t kidding me.” Yes, we drove through a flock of sheep, but that’s okay because from our dashboard, plastic Jesus watches over his flock. Which brings to mind a song.
Feel free to sing along:

Oh, I don’t care if it rains and freezes,
long as I got my plastic Jesus,
ridin’ on the dashboard of my car.

I can go ninety-five miles per hour,
long as I got almighty power,
ridin’ on the dashboard of my car.

Hit a car, hit a truck,
plastic Jesus don’t give a fuck,
ridin’ on the dashboard of my car…


For a few days we had to guard a bridge. We got swamped with kids wanting food. “Mister! Mister! Gimme food!” It helped pass the time, playing with the kids. Once we finally gave them MREs, all they’d do was ratfuck the candy out of them and dump the rest. (Santo with Wazina in the background)


One of the kids had a can of dip. Sean showed him how to pack it. Remember, education is the key.


While exploring the area around the bridge, we came across this mystery thing, across a canal and behind a locked fence. Some kids were pointing at it. I seriously don’t know what this is but am curious. Any ideas?


While guarding the bridge, we would stay at a nearby FOB that now is home to all the dead Iraqi tanks.


Our beautiful accommodations at the visited FOB. I slept on the concrete floor the first night, later upgrading to an inflatable sleeping mat with a slow leak.


Does this photo really need a caption? Shitters set up next to a missile. Photo by Matt.


The field showers were actually really awesome. They had hot water and good water pressure. They were run by an unattractive overweight female specialist that many guys concluded they would have sex with if given the chance. You’ve heard of “beer goggles”, well this phenomenon is known as “field goggles” and is even more severe.

One of our standard duties is to drive up and down a major road in our AO to look for IEDs, hopefully without getting blown up by them first.


Today we were going to document the locations of all the dead vehicles on the road for eventual removal, such as this tank.


Another dead armored vehicle, probably once amphibious.


Since dead animals are a common place to hide explosives, we have to dispose of them as soon as we find them. Jeff, in the foreground, waits for a light for his cigarette and for his dog.


The dog being disposed of. Jeff got his light.

We recently found a dead cow, bloated as hell with all four legs in the air, but before we could get back to it, some other unit burned it. Damn them.


Any vehicles that are stopped on the side of the road, we stop and inspect to see if they are up to no good or if they just need help. Communicating with the Iraqis is nearly impossible, so we tend to stick to hand signals. To an Iraqi, the “thumbs up” used to mean “up your ass”, but now we have taught them that it means “A-Okay”. This ambiguity is absolutely sublime. Kids all across Iraq (and soldiers) can now use an obscene hand gesture with impunity. Here Jeff gives an apparent, “The bus doesn’t seem to contain any weapons or terrorists. It’s A-Okay.”, but in reality what he means is, “Don’t give me this ‘broken down Iraq fantasy tour bus’ shit! Where are you hiding the fucking RPGs??!! Oh, what, you don’t speak English like the rest of the world does? Fine. You know what guy, just shove it up your ass.”


Ivan, proud of his work.


The not uncommon way for kids to get around. Photo by Matt.


The three dead hooligans and their car. In the ditch is a long-abandoned armored vehicle. Photo by Jeff.


The IED craters near the chicken ranches. Second photo by Matt.


When clearing buildings, this is a startlingly bizarre thing to come upon.


The house and its occupants, hours before our raid of it. Photo by Kirk.


To any kids out there thinking about becoming infantrymen, here is one of the meat and potatoes elements of being a grunt: scanning your sector. My team’s job was to pull outer security on the building while another team searched it. My platoon sergeant and platoon leader came up with the plan for the raid and left to me the task of security. As a team leader, my job was to determine how to break the perimeter up into what are called sectors of fire. The above photo was my sector. If any lookyloos started poking their heads out, you’d tell them to get inside. If anyone got on a roof with a rifle, you’d shoot them. Establishing sectors of fire is not hard, you just place soldiers in locations where collectively the team has eyes on everything and some degree of cover, such as a wall or a corner of a building, and if any threats present themselves in your sector, you engage that threat.


Dan, with his M14, a.k.a. “The Long Gun”, scanning his sector.


Matt, scanning his sector. As you can see, this town is a tactical nightmare. All the roofs are open with a rampart-style small wall around them with arrow loop-like slots that a rifle could easily fire through; narrow alleys; six-foot walls surrounding the property; every single fucking household is allowed one weapon, usually an AK-47; and just to make it especially tricky, I’d guess that sixty percent of the town is under the age of twelve.


Never tell a group of New Yorkers raiding your home that you can’t find the keys to your car because they will open your car in a way you may not like.

trucks with inert bombs
What do you do when you’re driving back from a mission and you see trucks driving down the road full of bombs? You pull them over and ask them what in the name of fuck they think they’re doing. We made these guys drive to our base and spend the night. Once we were convinced that the bombs they had were in fact inert that they just wanted to use for scrap metal, we let them go. The whole thing was slightly unnerving.

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