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Letters from Iraq

Staff Sergeant
Christopher E. Alley
United States Army
Emmitsburg Native

The first month in Baghdad!

Well here is a little update from Iraq, which I know some of your are interested in hearing about. Where to begin is going to be the hard part so I will simply start from my arrival and I will try to blend all the happenings in together, like a good receipt for cookies or a cake.

Well we arrived in Baghdad on the 29th of July, and thank God! Don't visit the desert of Kuwait! The normal high while we were there was just about touching 140 degrees! Not to mention for those who had never been in the desert, we had our first taste of a sand storm. Although the living conditions weren't bad by Army standards, they were primitive compared to our future home. We left Kuwait on a C-17 Cargo plane. This is now the new workhorse of the military and it is huge! There was seating like a normal jet liner for about 150 troops, but the inner décor is nothing like a civilian flight. Well the landing into Baghdad International Airport (BIoP) was interesting. Now we did not have to use counter measures (Flares and Chaff) but we did do a tight spiral into the secure airspace, which would rank right up there with most Disney rides.

Once we were on the ground and the tepid heat (115-120) hit us we unloaded our gear and awaited our ride to the International Zone, formerly known as "The Green Zone". After a hour wait for our steeds arrived. Now we all have to keep everything in perspective of where I am, and if the movie "Mad Max" comes to mind, you aren't far off. Our trip to our future home was going to be in convoy with aerial surveillance. Now this would not just be on average trucks or HMMWV's or not just of the average Armored type of vehicle. We rode the "Rhino" which they do have t-shirts for sale proclaiming the fact you have partaken of this feat. A "Rhino" is an armored bus built by the Israelis, and has proven its worth in gold since "Rhinos" have taken direct hits by IED's (Improvised Explosive Devices) and kept rolling. Truckers in America would drool over such a vehicle, but then again it isn't a very beautiful creature, much like its name sake. Well after our 30 minute trip down the most dangerous road in Iraq (Route Irish) we arrived in the IZ (International Zone).

Our new home for the next 365 days, but who is counting?

First off I live and work on what is known as the Embassy compound, which before the war was known as The Republican Guard Palace. It was originally built by the last king of Iraq in the 1950's but since Saddam took power he added wings onto the palace and now in length it is over ¼ mile in length. I work in the basement, much to the relief of Mom, but I spend about ¾ of the day out in the IZ. My official title is International Zone Real Property Non Commissioned Officer. Which is nothing more than a glorified name for landlord? I am the middle man between the US Government/Contractors/Military and the Iraqi Government. Our mission is to essentially collapse the US footprint here in the IZ and to transfer all property back to the Iraqi Government.

We deal directly with the number 4 man in the Iraqi Government and our Colonel reports directly to General Casey, who you see all the time on TV. Also as a side note General Casey and I share the same barber, if anyone is interested. Anyway our job does have us out and about daily interacting with the Iraqi's and with numerous contractors from a diverse group of countries all here trying to rebuild and get Iraq back on her feet. We also have other missions here and there are times we do go out in the "Red Zone" but these are very few and far between. Which I know makes some feel better about me being here.

As for living conditions, I have to say from past deployments that these are the best, but on the other hand section eight housing in the states is still a step up. We live in a two man trailer joined by another two man trailer by a bathroom/shower. It may sound nice, but they are small. These trailers are surrounded outside by sandbag walls, except the roof! For some reason someone decided that roof protection isn't needed, more on that later. Well I have settled in as much as I can in the last month. I will try to send a picture of it in a later monthly issue of "A Cable Guy in Baghdad".


The hazards here are not numerous but they can change a person's lifestyle. Since I have been here there have been approximately 65-75 rocket or mortar impacts, of which maybe 60% go off and the rest just land and make nice conversation pieces until EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) arrives to clear them, usually involving a controlled explosion. These attacks usually happen in the morning between 6am and 7am, I guess before Iraqi breakfast and prayer time. Makes you wonder if they ever saw the old Army commercials that "They do more before 9a m than most Iraqis'".

Sorry I had to go there! We also hear a lot of the explosions that happen in Baghdad from EID's or car bombs, but they happen far away from us, but they make you wonder about the people they affect and especially our soldiers out in the city on patrols. Then there is probably the most numerous hazard but probably the least deadly but it will earn you a Purple Heart. It is called the Indirect Small Arms Fire. This is basically some Iraqi celebrating by shooting his weapon in the air, but he was never taught about Newton's laws that what goes up must come down, and we suffer the effects. It is a daily occurrence that someone from our unit returns from work to their trailer (yes we are all trailer trash and proud of it) and find either a new hole in the ceiling or more common a bullet on the bed or floor, which makes you look up at your new skylight.

It is a little unsettling but hey, the roof doesn't need protection, or someone thought! Besides those military hazards driving in Iraq is also compared to "Mad Max" movies. I mean everyone drives around in armored vehicles; it takes bumper cars to the next level. By the way I have a 2003 Dodge Durango, which is not a bad vehicle to haul my equipment around in and to do our daily work. One thing that worries me though on my return is my driving habits, not that they were the best to start off with but they should give us a 6 month grace period once we return to get back to normal. Driving here gives a whole new definition of aggressive!


Well let's just say that the American people should be comforted to know that the soldiers are being well taken care of! We have menus which include Lobster, Steaks, Fish, Fresh Veggies, Fresh Fruit, local dishes, and dishes which are geographically from the US, such as Louisiana night which includes Gumbo, Red Beans and Rice, Cornbread, and other Cajun spiced up foods and veggies. So needless to say everyone has a Physical Training program they do, or our uniforms would be turning into spandex around here. Our Dining Facility can honestly be compared to a high class Golden Corral or Hoss'.

There is something for everyone at each meal from fast food to traditional sit down meals to sandwiches to the ice cream bar provided by Baskin Robins, except we only have eight flavors instead of the traditional 31 flavors! And for those who are questioning, I run daily 2-3 miles either on the treadmill or outside and we have a weight program as well.

Odds and Ends

Some of the things we all get our hands on are diverse. We have a school which was adopted by our fore-units so we are beginning to lay the ground work for this. There is also a program going on now for the revival of the Scout program here in Iraq. Saddam disbanded it after the first Gulf War and there has been a large interest into starting it again. People ask what we need all the time, and from above you can see that food wise we are more than taken care of, not that home-made cookies aren't welcomed, and space wise we are cramped in our trailers. So I suggest that once we have some of these programs rolling, packages of scouting stuff or clothing and school supplies for kids will be on the list of things we would all like. I hope to get involved with at least the school just as I did in Kosovo the last time I was deployed.

Well I think that is enough for this edition, because honestly it is "Groundhog Day" here but a bit more hazardous. Next time I will tell of my tours and travels of the IZ which include the Court House where Saddam is being tried, a handful of palaces, Saddam's bunker complex, and other points of interest that I have run across.

Everyone take care, and don't worry I am keeping my head down!


Read other Letters from Iraq by Sergeant Christopher E. Alley

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