WHY I’M NOT A FAN OF FIREWORKS

My first conscious experience with celebratory fire was in July 2003 in Baghdad when Iraqis celebrated the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein (Saddam’s two sons).

At the time, I was working the night shift at Camp Victory and while walking back to my sleeping tent (I almost called it home) with two co-workers.  The sky was lit up with celebratory gunfire and in the video only the tracer rounds are visible. All we wanted to do was sleep, and we were used to ignoring the booms, so we walked the half mile together, along the road with no shelter and watched as the rounds flew above us.

Immediately I thought how uneducated and uncultured the Iraqis must be not to realize what goes up must come down and those rounds absolutely would come down somewhere and could/and did injure and kill people.  It seemed like a scary and terrible way to celebrate.

All these years later, I realize I have been hearing celebratory fire every fourth of July and now have a legitimate hatred for fireworks and especially for the amateurs who insist on setting their own explosions off.  Stupidity doesn’t discriminate.

THE LONG WAY HOME

Ten years ago, I spent two days convoying from Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq to Camp Doha, Kuwait.  According to Google, its approximately 418 miles.  By FAR the longest drive I took either year I was deployed.  I had been lucky enough to fly from Kuwait to Baghdad in June 2003, rather than convoying into Iraq like so many of the troops.

I rode in a freight liner truck, which was a manual, and we didn’t have a trailer on the back.  This convoy was a test-run for redeploying the brigade. Those of us leaving, were the ones who were too close to our 365 day mark, and we had to leave theater by 31 January.  If I recall correctly, I think the Army would have had to significantly increase our pay everyday for every day past 365 that we were in theater.

truck_driver

Let me translate for you what this means in my life…

  • Our unit had no idea what they were doing and pretended to conduct training on a sand table (map in the sand) the day before the convoy.  This equates to a map we’re not taking with us and are hoping we’ll never need to remember.
  • I was unable to drive the vehicle because it was manual – if anything should have happened to my driver, it would have gotten interesting very quickly.
  • Not having a trailer on the back of the freight liner meant the ride was extremely bumpy, on the unpaved roads.
  • The Mark 19 mounted to the turret of the truck a few vehicles in front of us, was missing a firing pin (a key element to make it fire), so it was literally only a deterrent for show (as was the poor gunner).  The MP (military police officer) up in the turret, only had a 9mm pistol if he needed to fire a weapon.

I of course went to the PX and bought loads of snacks and drinks, because what would any road trip be without lots of fat kid snacks?  Armed with (at least) two enormous bottles of San Benedetto peach sweet tea (at least room temperature if not warmer… yum), loads of gummy candies, and who knows what else… we loaded up into the vehicles with little to no idea where we were going (other than following the leader), or what to expect.

Numerous things went wrong on this convoy…

  • The soft cover HMMWV (humvee) in front of my truck had unzipped the windows because none of the vehicles had air conditioning.  The box of computer manuals and notes started flying out of the backseat window.  They stopped and a girl started chasing after the pages into the desert.  She could have stepped on an IED or anything else, chasing after these pages.  Luckily, nothing happened to her, but it was a bit ridiculous to worry about them as they scattered.
  • At some point, we also had a possible IED threat along our route and we all had to dismount (get out) and pull security, while it was investigated.  Weirdly it was among the less memorable events of the trip.  I do remember the crowd that gathered while we pulled security outside the vehicles.  I remember wishing I could use a bathroom (a very common theme throughout the trip for me).
  • We lost radio contact with our convoy commander, who as the MP vehicle told us was letting us know we the convoy was leaving us behind and the MPs would stay with us.  We were going to tow a supply truck driven by TCNs (third country nationals).  No one asked if we had a tow bar – which of course we did not.  When we made our way to the supply truck, which was farther ahead of us, it was like a scene out of Star Wars with the sand people surrounding the truck.  The bedouins were attempting to steal parts off of the broken down truck when the MPs let off smoke grenades to scare them back into the desert.
  • At that same time, I had drunk (what seemed like) gallons of sweet tea and was hoping to pee somewhere… anywhere.  No that’s not true, I was hoping for a magical clean bathroom or even a Porta John to suddenly appear like a mirage in the desert.  Unlike my driver who just stood on the step every time we stopped for a minute and shouted we had a radiator leak like it was hilarious, while I was nearly crying I had to go so badly.  I tried to block myself behind the tire of our truck while the MPs, the driver were discussing hooking up the supply truck behind us…. and just at that moment, the MPs let off the smoke grenades.  Congrats… I would not go to the bathroom until our overnight stop HOURS and HOURS later.  And also, I’ve never had sweet tea since.

There was grid lock leaving the small camp in the morning, which I’m sure is hard to imagine, but true.  The second day was a little less memorable and much calmer as about half of it was spent driving through Kuwait.

Here are a few pictures from my trip.  Please excuse some of the dirt and blur as I was in a moving vehicle.

Camp Victory, Iraq – Summer 2003

Eighteen years ago, I spent about seven months at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq (most living in a rat-infested tent).  I flew from Kuwait where I had spent five months (and convoyed back to Kuwait when it was finally my time to go).  I had a fairly cushy Army experience, but it was still a big culture-shock to me.

When I arrived at Camp Victory in June, there was a shortage of water and M.R.E.s (meals ready to eat — the food) which were being rationed but heat was in excess.  I was sleeping during the day and working nights, which literally meant chugging most of my water ration and then passing out on my cot in my own sweat.

I showered in an inflatable shower tent, which deflated around sundown (my shower time while working nights).  In the shower tent, two men could shower on one side and two women on the other side.  When it deflated, you had to bend your knees and shrink with it, in order to remain modestly covered.  When it collapsed completely, you had to race to cover up before exiting as there was always a game of ping-pong hoping for a real show.

The hardest part of that first year deployed, was not knowing how long it would be for, and the rats chewing on my bra hooks and hair brush.  If you are interested in hearing about the REAL Army deployments during this time period and not the cushy life I had, check out Carrying the Gun.

I pretended the two sheep were pets and named them: Mr. Woolsworth and Lambchop.  I’m pretty sure they were killed and eaten at some point or at least that’s the rumor I heard.

Seventeen years ago: Baghdad

Seventeen years ago today I went on a convoy from Camp Victory to the Green Zone in Baghdad.  It was not a long drive, but it was the longest I’d been on outside of the wire, up to that point.

The purpose of the trip was to take another soldier in my unit to a medical specialist.  She had some sort of spider bite or bacterial infection that was nearly eating her skin away, and the most common thing she was being told was “huh… I’ve never seen anything like that before.”  Amazingly, helpful and soothing to hear, I’m sure.

So in the morning, I was told to PMCS (preventative maintenance checks and services) a HMMWV (Humvee) so that we could convoy.  The vehicle I was checking, had been sitting stationary in desert sand for about eight months and there wasn’t an alternate we could substitute if there was something wrong.  So, with the formality of the checks complete, we were off with two other vehicles – our lieutenant was in the second and the third was our military police (MP) with a gunner in the turret.

Shortly into the drive during downtown Baghdad’s rush hour, I hit the brakes and they locked up.  The vehicle spun a full 360 degrees where I ended up next to some Iraqi in his sedan, before it spun 360 degrees  the other direction where I ended dangerously close to the MP vehicle and the gunner looking scared I would have knocked him out of the turret.  Who knows how on earth I didn’t hit either one of them or anything else.  Really shook up at this point, but with no choice but to continue driving, I did.

The next scare was nearing the entry control point to the Green Zone.  I had been told not to let ANY vehicles pass on the driver’s side of the vehicle.  This was a common technique at the time.  A black SUV tried to pass me and I defensively blocked it.  As we pulled up through the barriers it passed on the passenger side and stopped ahead of us breaking us off from our other vehicles.  Someone got out (probably Blackwater or something) with a full load of ammo strapped on their chest, screaming at me for not letting them by.  Although getting yelled at was not my favorite, my larger concern was that we were surrounded by very tall apartment buildings – again they may have been home to Americans, but as it was my first time off the base, it was all I could think of.  The lieutenant took the blame for me not letting this gentleman pass and we continued to the hospital.

I wandered around with the MPs to a small cafe, talked to the children selling dvds, bought a little Saddam money just to kill time till the hospital visit was over.

On our drive back, of course it couldn’t be uneventful.  Shortly into our drive we were diverted by another military unit because of a suspected IED.  We were then forced to drive the wrong way on a few roads in order to get back to base.

All in all, a pretty boring day that I’m glad I won’t be reliving.

Sadly, part of the stress I felt that day wasn’t because of the day but because it was an old boyfriend’s birthday and I didn’t want to be yelled at because of his OCD tendencies.  I was on time with the birthday call and mentioned nothing about my day’s stress.