Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Happy Ending...
I must pay credit to the patriot of my heart today. The "someone special" who was the source of strength and courage during my time in the sandbox. Every good Hollywood Movie, including even some of the greatest War Movies always needs a romance plot. But the truth was my movie was really a romance. Here was my "Welcome Home Treat" that I looked forward to, Leah. We met on the beach in NC days before I shipped off to Iraq. We scratched our heads in amazement on how we'd fallen for each other so quickly and how cliche it seemed, "girl meets boy, boy goes to war." We had no idea what this had in store for us. So we went with our hearts and lived out my last days in the states to their fullest. Every one of the 176 days in theater I carried a laminated picture in my breast pocket, next to my heart with a little note that she had scribbled out and secretly tucked away in my gear the day I left. This was my secret on how I kept my sanity during my time over there. The seperation had its pain and struggles but like all good movies, the ending was enchanting as we reunited in NC three days after my return. Then I joined her in Portland for some much needed quality alone time at the Oregon Coast and in Portland for 10 days. I'm looking forward to our sequel... Part 2, that follows the wacky, wild, comedic and struggle of an epic I experienced during my almost 6 months in the "Sandbox".

Happy together at the Widmer Pub in Portland, OR.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

FINALLY I"M HOME!!!- Well after a grueling but rejoiceful 16 Hour flight we arrived back at Cherry Point Air Station, NC on Tuesday morning! I've spent the my first 48 hours have been spent getting used to driving again and getting settled back into my normal schedule. It is good to be home!

ALMOST HOME...Start of a long 36 Hours home- Loading buses on Monday 20 Feb to start the long day processing & inspections at U.S. Customs before departing for the U.S.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Close Call- A view of CWO John Walter from Long Island, NY, who is a Platoon Commander with the 9th Engineer Support Battalion. We met and became friends early in my deployment when he was helping out with Engineering projects at some of the Iraqi Bases. John has also been leading his Marines on vital road repair projects in some of the most dangerous parts of Iraq in order to keep supply lines open. John has survived many IED Attacks during his 2nd tour to Iraq. I had to share his recent "Close Call" story. While chatting with one of his Marines near their Cement Mixer working on a road project near Ramaidi a sniper's bullet whizzed by his head and marked the spot you see in the photo. John has 4 more weeks before he returns to Camp Pendleton, CA then he is scheduled to return to Iraq in September for his third tour.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Chillin in the Paradise Sands USO Club Kuwait. Here is one for the USO who have built an awesome club for service men and women to relax at while waiting to transition either into or out of Iraq. This spacious club offers decor donated by Ikea, (3) huge 40 Inch TVs playing movies, Playstation and Xbox Game stations, 10 Laptops for surfing the internet, phones to call home on and couches and cusions galore. All this with dim lighting and rules that prohibit the wearing of boots or shoes (only socks) So we are spending our last day in the Middle East chillin but not illin!!

Another view of the Paradise Sands USO Club...

Arrival at Camp Victory, Kuwait!!

Groggy and ready to get the heck out of Iraq on a C-130 Transport Plane to Kuwait!! So Long!!!

Arrived at Kuwait!!! We were got woken up at 1:30A and told they were putting us on a flight to Kuwait that was leaving in 90 mins. So in wee hours we flew out of Iraq after nearly 6 months. Some pictures from our flight...

Friday, February 17, 2006

Greetings from TQ (Taqquadum)! Day two of waiting to catch one of these planes to Kuwait. As of know will be home on Tuesday 21 Feb!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A picture from earlier in the week. With all our waiting to go home time, my buddy Jerry & I have been participating in our very own "Lost' Marathon. Thanks to the wonders of modern technolgy, we were able to download all the episodes from the first season and 6 from the second season.

Last night we started our trip home with our 30 minute helo ride from Camp Fallujah to Taqquadum (TQ) Airbase. We are now waiting for our flight to Kuwait, which should be on either Friday or Saturday. My last 4 days in the Middle East!!

Friday, February 10, 2006

For today as I come home in 10 days... I was touched by a story on MSNBC while ate chow yesterday where they were mentioning a fundraising drive for the Service men coming home who need intense rehabiltation. So today do your part and support the true heroes...

Hundreds of U.S. servicemen and women have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious injuries, including lost limbs and trauma. Unfortunately, there aren't currently enough places for them to get better and adjust to a drastically changed life. That's where the Fallen Heroes Fund comes in... they need just under $5-million to reach their goal to complete a brand new facility which will be located at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. If you would like more information on this project, go to the website at or you can call 1-800-340-HERO.

Giving $10 does not support the war or any political agenda.. it just helps out someone who has paid ultimate price with their future lives.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Well here is my truly best friend in Iraq, Jerry Aymond & I doing our morning blogging. We have been friends for over a year and half working together on the Battalion Staff before coming out to Iraq together. He's been doing almost the same line of work as myself working with the Iraqi Army all over different parts of Iraq so I thought I'd share his blog site with you- so you can get his perspective on things here also. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

This little "Super Monkey" adorns the wall of our bunker/office where we check our email and type our last bits of paperwork as we wait to go home here at Camp Fallujah. Who I can credit with this adorable artwork? - A complete mystery. Left for us by Marines that left sometime last year. But you have to love the artistic creativity of Marines and what they do to keep sane... where in Corporate America could you adorn such a motivating picture?

This immpressive monster roaming around the streets of Camp Fallujah is a prime example of how our technology is attempting to keep up with the IED tactics of the insurgents. 3 years ago we would have never imagined patrolling around in such a futuristic vehicle but now they are here in such a short time. The realization that I'm still in a war zone hit me yesterday as some of my fellow Lts and me were loading up storage boxes with gear to be shipped home when a zoom sound flew by us, about 500 meters in the distance. It was an incoming mortar round from the insugents that exploded in the middle of no-where. There are booms and thumps all day here at Camp Fullujah, but usually out going Marine Artillery on some suspected insurgent hide out or just one of the daily test fires. We all looked at each other and shrugged not even thinking twice. In the past 6 months indirect fire (Mortar and rocket) attacks against U.S. bases out here have dramatically dropped off, which does show progress. But I was only concerned that I didn't have my camera to capture the fire ball and plume of smoke of my first visual witness to an attack since I've been here.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Well we have completed the first day of classes to prepare for our return home. Today's class was titled "Return & Reunion". It covered such important topics of how to talk to your children when you see them and knowing the 5 "Love Languages" so we'll be better in touch with our "feelings" when we see our spouses, partners or whoever. At first it seems quite cheesy but in many ways does help to set your expectations for coming home. I have to admit the Marine Coprs seems to have gotten this one right for helping us all adjust to coming back home.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

As I find myself today at Camp Fallujah waiting to be home in less than three weeks, this classic snap shot sums up my entire Iraqi experience. It will be probably last picture of Iraqis as I transition home.

The Iraqi Jundee (Soldier) comes in all shapes and sizes but overall they are heartwarming, friendly, resourceful, oblivious, clueless and slow. This soldier complete with all his american funded gear, including the infamous "Ass Bucket" hanging off the top of his pack, waits on the flightline for his heloride out west. (explanation of the "ass bucket" would require entirely too much description of Middle Eastern Bathroom habits).

But now my attention turns away from daily frustrations with higher headquarters in Baghdad and training Iraqis preparing to take over the war from us to now writing after action reports, collecting up my thoughts on what I've done here and attending the numerous required classes we Marines are required to attend to "help" us with our transition back to the "Real World". Classes like how not to drive your civilian car like a Humvee through the streets of Baghdad, when you get home and to understand that just because you survived Iraq, doesn't mean you are invinsible when you get back on U.S. Soil.

One decision I've made from my experience here is that I plan on never renewing my Cable TV. From time to time I have caught the news reports on TV as we eat or meals in the chow hall. The observations of the Mainstream media of what is going on here in so out of touch with reality. Today's reports were all about the ABC reporter who was wounded in an IED attack. Yes a tradegy but unfortunatley they seize it as a great opportunity to sound the call that Iraq is more unsafe and unsecure than ever before (Christianne Ampour-CNN). Nothing can be so far from the truth. Yes there is a war going on here and things are fucked with people dying daily but more unsafe? All I can tell you is that from all the places I've visited in all Iraq, all have improved since I arrived here in September. Have we seen any reporters venture to see the training of Iraqi forces and the slow but definite progress being made there? No. Only quotes from experts. So I'm giving up Cable TV and instead will depend on high speed internet and DVDs for news and entertainment. The only tough part about such a sacrafice will be the new upcoming season of the Sopranos. What will I do?

Marine Helos waiting to depart the flightline at Al Asad Airbase with Iraqi Troops.

Iraqis are led on to awaiting CH-53 Super Stallions for the flight west.

Iraqi troops debark from the belly of a C-17 as they are moved to awaiting Marine CH-53 Helicopters for the 1 hour flight west to Al Qaim.

Air Force C-17 Transport plane arrives with Iraqis from the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Division at Al Asad Airbase from Numaniyah.

My view of the Marine Door Gunner as we fly back to Al Asad Airbase on Friday.

Last Friday, I flew out of Al Qaim after spending one night there and assisting with the movement of the first waves of Iraqis from our Brigade's deployment. I then spent the weekend working out of Al Asad Airbase assisting with the continued movement of 2200 Iraqis from our Brigade to Al Qaim.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Posing with two fellow Marines and the Iraqi Battalion Commander that I accompanied on the Advance Party into Camp Al Qaim.

We finally arrived at Camp Al Qaim today with the advance party of Iraqi troops. The weather had us stranded at Al Asad airbase while we waiting for a sand storm to clear out of the area.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Well last night we had dinner at the Iraqi Restaurant on base for a little going away for me as I depart for Al Qaim today. The food was actually wasn't too bad- with lots of bread and humus. We had about 25 American civilian truck drivers show up that were staying the night as they were dropping off supplies. I will have a tough time updating my blog for a few days so you all may not hear from me for a few days. Peace Out!

View of restaurant.

Well today, sadly I had to sit Daisy down and break the news to her that I'd be heading home soon and unfortunately leaving her here in Iraq. She took it well knowing I had my own canine love at home named Roxy. Our team will not be able to take her to Al Qaim with us b/c Marines do not allow dogs on the camps out there. That I believe is bullshit b/c of the morale benefit such a dog can bring, but they are banned for health reasons. So usually the only canine contact we get on our U.S. bases and camps here are with the unfriendly, handler hogged, K-9 Dogs. She understood us leaving and said she had to stay here in Numaniyah anyway and make friends with the next set of Americans that will move into our trailer park. We have already made sure they know about her and her pups. It will be hard saying goodbye to her tomorrow but I know she will do just fine as long their are Americans here to take care of her. Her friendly and carefree attitude give her an ability to win over the hardest Marine or Soldier. As she realizes, we are far more soft and willing to part with our food than the Iraqis are.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Blurry shot of my room mate and me with our favorite Iraqi- LtCol Jameel! This was the second picture of a far more previous stoic poise we had in our first shot, that came out to blurry. I must say as my time in Iraq ends I think the moments with this guy will stand out in my mind as some of my funniest times with Iraqis. He is serious when it comes to getting work done but he is always up for a laugh and getting us to smile. My roommate has worked with more then me but we are always sharing stories about what he'd done that day to make us laugh. For me I won't ever forget the moments where I'd be at my desk and I hear "ROssss, ohhh ROssss, PT?" with his crazy and cookey little arab accent. Trying to keep your professional military bearing and not laugh or smile is impossible- I just lose it as I am here in this blurry picture. Then he'd pull out an apple for me. Iraqis love to present us with gifts of food daily, from Apples to small little cartons of Banana Milk.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Well I'm sorry I haven't had much chance lately to update the blog. I've been busy with last minute preparations trying to get my Iraiqi communications guys squared away before their upcoming deployment. Todays picture is from a few weeks back that I hadn't got to post. These are some Iraqi Officers playing cards and having some laughs with us so I had to get a picture. It seems I've found an audience for my great sense of humor and wacky comments. I just try saying them in Arabic and its always a great laugh. So I may decide to take my show on the road we'll see! Well on Monday, I'll be flying out to Al Qaim for a week to 10 days until I start finally heading home. Our Brigade starts deploying to Al Qaim finally next week. Al Qaim, is located on the Syrian border in the violent Euphrates river valley which has been the main smuggling route for foreign terrorists into Iraq. In October & November elements of the Marines Regimental Combat Team-2 sucessfully completed operations clearing out this area and killing over 300 insurgents. As they cleared out the area block by block they placed outposts throughout the area with Iraqi troops to keep the area secure. So far since then, the changes have been dramatic with attacks dropping off dramatically in the area. We are hoping that as our new Iraqi soldiers move into the area that it continues with its rehabiltation.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Today was day one of the Iraqi's Final Exercise here at Numaniyah. Within a few weeks they will deploy out to the precarious western province of Al Anbar. In this picture, our Staff interacts with the Iraqis in the 3rd Brigade, 7th Division's Combat Operation Center. My observation of the Iraqis and their preparation before a big event is that it reminds me of my college days when I'd leave term papers until a few days (or hours) before they were due. Fortunately I have worked in recent years to relieve myself of this poor habit. But with that, I'll spare you the boring details of the morning as we struggled to teach the Iraqis the importance of Spot Reports, giving orders, and the various status reports that higher headquarters constantly demands. Blah! Blah! Blah! Instead I'll tell you that I love my daily interaction with the Iraqis for the most part, but I have grown weary and tired of trying to have to conform to our archaeic administrative system when it comes to the way we are rebuilding the Iraqi Army. But then at times, hope will rush through me when I'm impressed by little things, like how well the Iraqis set up their COC last night or that they will impress us with how well they pick up on things. Their methods may not be quite up to American standards but I'm begining to believe that the secret to Iraqi independence and us getting out of here is keeping expectations low. 5 more weeks and will be behind me.

The Iraqi Operations Officer plots unit locations on the battle map in the COC.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Well one thing for sure you walk around this place with a camera, you will always find great shots of Iraqis doing "interesting" things. This Military Policeman is responsible for guarding the entrance to the small American Chow Hall. Today he decided to perch his post high above the gate on top of the 4 foot Hesco Barrier. Today is also Sunday, the first day of the week for most Arabic countries. Only little more then half of our 2,500 Iraqis have returned from their 1 week vacation. Apparently as we painfully learn, the Iraqis like to operate on their own schedule. InShaLa! 5 Weeks until I escape this Madness!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Much better picture today of Mom and the pups. Well Daisy and her 4 pups are doing well. We went ahead last night and built a roof over her den with some wood and a poncho. Then we carefully moved her and the pups as we layed down an old sleeping bag for them. It was good timing b/c last night we had a huge storm come in with a torrential down pour of rain. It was amazing to see mom and her pups doing well from the storm this morning.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I managed to entice Daisy out of here den for just a few moments with some "Juicy Summer Sausage" from a care package, so I could snap this quick picture of our new arrival to the camp. We are all happy to be witness to at least one miracle in this country.

Well I'm happy to announce that Daisy finally gave birth to her litter sometime early yesterday. We all had our suspicions that she was about to give birth when she was running around crying early yesterday morning. Then today while walking around our trailer camp, I saw her running into a small gap in our defensive wall and wondered what she was doing. Well there they were, 4 beautiful pups crying for mom's attention and milk. We are all pitching in to make make sure these little guys get a start in their new life. Daisy is very trusting of the Americans that want to take a peak but not of the Iraqis... she won't let any of them get within 50 feet.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Many of you may have seen my post during the begining of December regarding my fellow Lt. Ray Baronie. He had trained over the past year and traveled over to Iraq with me in September. Ray was seriously wounded on Dec 1st in Ramaidi, when the truck he was traveling in was hit by a rocket, over turned and caught fire. The driver, who sat next to him was killed. Ray was pulled from the wreckage by another Marine from my Battalion, Sgt. Davis. He has spent the past 6 weeks in Hospitals in Germany and Bethesda, MD receiving numerous surgeries to help him save and regain use of both his legs. As you can see from the recent picture he is doing well and is in good spirits!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Posing on an Saddam era Iraqi T-72 at Taji.

The Taji Wastlands- I got back from another weekend trip to Taji on Monday morning. This time I had a little more time to take some pics of the "wastelands" that are all over the base. During the Saddam era, this base had served as HQs for the Republican Guard and also for as research center for rockets. Thus during the invasion the base was bombed extensively or literally wiped off the map. Parts of the base are roped off with numerous destroyed buildings and destroyed tanks and armored vehicles littering all of the place. Its like being in some "end of the world" sci-fi movie.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Speeding through "Scania," south of Bagdad. Scania is a huge truck stop for American convoys running along Highway 25, which is a freeway that almost resembles I-95 at night (with all military convoys). You are amazed by the amount of supplies being moved every night in these convoys. Truck after truck of everything.

Pulling into a defensive position while waiting for the Iraqis to repair one of their vehicles. We are sitting ducks for over twenty minutes along Route 25 in one of the worst places west of Baghdad. A few minutes later up the road a convoy is hit by an IED traveling in Northbound lanes. But no worries just sit tight and listen to the music to relax your mind in your buttoned up "Brandnew!! American General Up Armored Humvee!"

Rubish fires along our route passing in the Western Suburbs of Baghdad. During our convoy home from Taji.

All of us looking so serious ready for our long trip home back to Numaniyah. The trip back wasn't as bad only 7 hours and I was in bed before 4AM.

This one needs some explanation. While waiting for all the vehicles to be refueled for the return trip home to Numaniyah, I went to the refuelers shack where the workers from Pakistan rested while refueling U.S. and Iraqi military vehicles. And there he was, a nice sweet distraction from the thoughts of long ride home that night, through all the IED alleys, The Pink Panther!

"Ok... you want one behind the wheel but this is it. No More pictures."

Ok.. one more with your friends. But that's it!

Ok... you want one too? Alright one more.

"Mister! Mister! One picture of us!"

Taji Roadtrip- Later in the day I am back with my Iraqi Communicators b/c guess what? After a 11 hour trip, the Micromangement bureaucracy of Iraq that I so love, decided the day before to cancel my seats for my six students for the January course. After an hour of frustrating arguments going no where I am forced to bring them home later that night on our return trip. But oh how they love to have their picture taken. After this first shot... everyone wants their picture so I now will face the "Mister Mister, you have picture?" for the few weeks. Enjoy the shots.

One of 4 huge American "only" chow halls at Taji. This base is the largest in Iraq and I was one of maybe three Marines I saw during my day there. KBR (Kellogg Brown & Root) the civilian contractor that provides almost all life support to American forces (excellent stock tip!) provides excellent food. For guys like us from Numaniyah, where our chow is provided by the Iraqis, its like stepping into heaven... mmmmm cheeseburger.