The IED explosion happened in the morning, 1200yards from where I was walking to get a breakfast falafel at the police station. The boom was deep, not like fireworks from the sky, but a percussion from the ground, the earth wounded for a moment, insulted. I could not control an ‘oof’ as air was punched lightly out of me. Gunfire followed, the Iraqi Police firing into the air to disperse crowds and let them know they’re there — security?
Iraqi police and American MP’s had been up all night in preparation for a Shiite Pilgrimage called Ashura. Boom. Not allowed to be practiced under Saddam, the devout whip and cut themselves in observance, faces covered in blood, white shirts crimson with the owner’s blood, of the very devout, when things go right.
The explosion was near a Mosque on the route. I had walked that route at 3am with soldiers, either we missed it or it was planted after us, I like to think it was planted after we passed, can take only 1.3min to place, Iraqi police are known to sleep at their posts. Some of the devout are now dead in a deep disruption of earth, air and peace; many are covered in blood, not by their own hands, maybe not their own blood.
The devout bleed, the devout weep.
Back at the station, wearing my armor because I still want to get breakfast, Iraqi Police, knowing I’m there to take photos, “Want photo?” one asks, making a contorted dead face, “go hospital, many photo,” he is smiling, I don’t know why.
I’m sorry, I wish I had seen the bomb on our patrol, it was near a bridge, it was dark, I remember the bridge, I feared walking under it, bridges are where bad things happen, I didn’t look for bombs, it’s not my job, I don’t know what to look for, I am not trained, I was told to stay near walls, or in the middle of the patrol of soldiers, if the patrol leader holds his hand down in a certain way we were to get on one knee, I did not look for things out of place, I concentrated on not stepping in sewage water seeping from canals, I did not use a flashlight because I didn’t want to be seen by a sniper, instead I fiddled with my recorder, I increased the ISO of my camera, I did not look at the side of the road unless an angry stray dog was threatening, the soldier near me aiming his pistol at it just in case, they protect me, I did not see a bomb, I wish I did, I’m sorry, I’m here to observe but It was dark, I did not see, it may not have been there yet.
Christmas wishes from soldiers at U.S. Army Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Northern Iraq: Sgt. First Class Siatuu Quarterman, Sgt. First Class Claudia Bullard, Staff Sgt. Brian Allen, Specialist Nico Kane, Staff Sgt. Robert Lacome, and Simon Welte.
Embedded with the Chaplin… yes, sounds strange to me too.
Here he is walking to service:
Two schools: Christmas on the battlefield is best ignored, or fully embraced. Our convoy of MRAPs (Mine Resistant something something’s) and HMMWVs (HighMobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle… aka: Humvees) drove from base to a joint forces outpost to deliver cheer — in this case a large plasma TV for Xbox tournaments. They were glad to see the Chaplin, he came with some promised bibles, they were very happy to see the TV (Tele-vision). Two frozen turkeys started thawing as well.
Wandering around base I found Santa with a shotgun defending a stash of presents sent from the states by organizations and school children who would pee just seeing this Clause. Everyone was peeing themselves laughing, I recorded him: “Merry Christmas Mother F…” He does the gun loading move for the F part. I too get stockings in the spirit of the season for there were far more stockings than troops in this section.
I miss my Grandmother, inside is what she used to get me for Christmas — everything from the pharmacy:
Road and Track magazine
Tin of tobacco chew
Toothbrushes and paste
Oh, how silly I thought. Then I picked-out the toothpaste because I was low. Then the tissues because the desert/pollution sinuses I’ve gone through so many packs already. I keep a pack of handy wipes because they’re so handy and I’m running out, the dust, oh the dust. Sox sure I’m on my feet most of the day. Lastly, I started reading an article in Road and Track about GPS navigators.
A card was at the bottom, drawn by a child, for a class project, tree penned in green, time was spent, an American flag, not colored within the lines, and a penciled letter cut and glued:
Thank You so much for serving for our country and keeping us safe. I appreciate you trying to keep everyone in America safe. Have a great Christmas. I hope you get to have a little celebration of Christmas. May we have peace on earth. From: Julia, Franklyn Elementary.
The other stocking of gifts I gave to an interpreter smoking outside his CHU (Container Housing Unit), just down from mine. In the spirit of giving.
“Merry Christ…” I started. “A gift” I ended. He was very happy, and so was I in the spirit of giving.
Woke up in a palace today, stared-up at huge golden chandeliers dangling from the ornate ceiling of a former palace. Mahmoon Palace or “Birthday” palace. Where Saddam’s birthday was celebrated. Less glamorous at eye-level: I lay on a dusty cot, and my neighbor in a public storage-like plywood cubicles was playing Alvin and the chipmunks Christmas. They had little warning that a reporter was coming, they were told I wanted to cover Christmas stories, I came to the Middle East to avoid it.
The famous balcony, where Saddam fired off his famous gun.
Troops posing outside the Palace bandstand
It’s kind of sad the disrepair here.
Large plasma TV, Xbox, PS2’s, internet terminals. Soldiers play war games, up to 4 at a time, executing their training in play. Boredom is the greatest threat here, complacency is its danger. They are very good warriors, I rarely see their screens turn red with electronic blood.
“People of Wal-Mart” website went viral in the banquet room, for that’s what this huge room was, ultimate of class and luxury, marble marble everywhere. We gathered around to look at the website: “Aw, no way!”s and “Shit, is that a dude? Fuck that!”s and “Hell no!”s, everywhere. One of those came from my lips.
Nice soldier, Joe, likes metal, from California as well. He tells others “man, we grew-up an hour from each other” but light-years. He turned 21 the day before, old enough at last but not a drop to drink. I asked him why he joined: “The health benefits, my wife is on expensive anti-seizure meds.” He loves to talk about weapons–a grenade launcher, I forget the caliber, is his favorite. Weapons weapons everywhere. Not guns, weapons. He pretended to defend me as I got a haircut. Has a 6mo old daughter, took her to Disneyland recently. Old enough.
It takes a while for soldiers to open-up to reporters. I know what they’ve been told about us, but I’m not supposed to know, so I won’t say. I needed an opening. A horror movie was thrown on late last night, a break from the gory video games to just gore. The man who I call dad in my life, his name came up, director of photography “hey, that’s my dad” I said. One mouth fell open. I said I too used to work on horror movies, more looks my way. I was in at last.
It’s “hum-vee” not “hummer”. The former is driven, the latter drives.
Comforts of home. It’s not REAL mountain-dew, it’s called “squiggly-dew” because it’s in Arabic and, the greatest complaint: it uses real sugar cane instead of high-fructose corn syrup. The Sergeant showed me the stash of a yummy caned coffee drink for us old-timers. Pallets of bottled water water everywhere. Tap water comes from the Tigris, never open your mouth while showering, don’t taste history.
[“Iraq: Christmas 2009“: observations, images and sounds from Iraq, Christmas 2009, a series of posts by Jake Warga.]
Oh the things I’ve seen.
I shall never complain about long lay-overs again.
I have flown in a C-17 transport.
I shall never complain again of uncomfortable seats again.
I have ridden in the belly of a Stryker.
What do you get when you stick a public radio guy with a Fox TV crew in the back of a Black Hawk for a multiple re-fuel hop up to Northern Iraq?
A bumpy ride.
I saw an injured dove in Baghdad trying to be nursed back to health on a blast wall away from cats. It had a saucer of water and feed, don’t know who put it there. I saw a dead dove come evening.
I got a serious cold sleeping in a 20-man tent during a thunder storm, closest I’ve come to being attacked.
I have yet to meet someone who wants to be here. I have met some wonderful people.
For lunch the other day I had crab legs, the desert bar is endless, burger king is everywhere. Where else in Arabia can I eat bacon and watch Fox TV on flat screens throughout a mess hall?
Ugandans hired by KBR guard entrances to buildings on bases, the Peruvians have the evening shift. They look at my passport, I don’t think they know what they’re looking for.
A papier-mâché Mount Rushmore and Statue of Liberty are in the DFAC (Dining FACility). Pakistanis do the dishes. You’re not allowed to bring bags into facilities or wear a hat, but you are required to have a weapon. I am unarmed. I know now the difference between an M16 rifle and an M4 Carbine. Both are 5.56 Caliber, I don’t know what that means but I was given a pamphlet.
The military is run by acronyms. I’m staying in an LSA (Life Support Area).
It’s almost encouraged to have a bad hair cut, in this I feel at home.
I go next to JCC in Tikrit with PSD (Joint Coordination Center…Personal Security Detail), I feel important, I may be a fool. I spend Christmas Embedded with the Chaplin…why not. Here’s what soldiers want for Christmas (4:07):
Black hawk gunner
Dust goes to one lung, trash burns go to the other.
Met a soldier young enough to be my daughter, I become a grandfather when she tells me about her 5yo back home. Everyone dresses the same, it’s confusing, uniformity, conformity, camouflaged in green in a land where there is only brown.
With love from the war on terror. Pictures at Flickr.