Friday, December 29, 2006

Link Me

I have finally mastered I hope or as we say in lands close to me, Inshallah. I have a new template that allows me to finally add links to each and everyone of you who is kind enough to read this rambling diatribe.
So if you have blog and read mine . please let me know your blog name and I will add a link to your blog.
A small keystroke for us bloggers a giant leap for my technical world

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A White Day in the Unholylands

Now I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen snow falling. Excepting mispent youth days sking back in Australia and yes there is good sking downunder and why else would we call an area the Snowy Mountains if it did not snow there.

The last time I woke to snow falling was in Kabul back in January 2002, so yesterday when the snow started falling in Jerusalem it was a magic moment, we even had a klutzy kitsch snowman on the window that plays the song "Let it Snow". Marveling at the white stuff for a while it was a scene of rare peace in a nation that has few moments to reflect peacefully.

But this all comes to a screaming halt the moment I stepped into the car to drive home. My armored car sat in the car park blanketed in white a nice change to being filthy with dust and debris from Gaza.

Now I have not written about the virtues of drivers in Israel for a while. But a few snowdrops and the whole flaming city came to a complete and absolute gridlock. No reason at all , no accidents, no ice on the roads, the snow was just a few flakes and for my sins of watching the snow fall from the bureau window it took me 1 hour 25 minutes to get out of the city a distance of less than a mile.

I sat reflecting on the snow and rain falling and made the resolve that the next time i see a flake fall from the sky, I am out of the office as fast as possible to avoid the gridlock that can only happen when every idiot here wants to drive in the snow so they can boast to their friends about how good they can drive in the bad weather.

Taliban Airlines

Found the tickets that I wrote about in the last entry and have updated previous post with pictures

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Afghanistan Series - Flying to Kabul

Last time I posted about Afghanistan we were deep in the heart of Kandahar and about to head up to Kabul. Now after the drive thru the Desert of Death there was the prospect of driving a similar distance to Kabul, and the thought of doing this is about as appealing as having your wisdom teeth removed on your 21st Birthday.

We had heard that Ariana Airlines was still running limited flights from Kandahar to Kabul, and Lara was dispatched with little optimism to see what she could manage whilst we would spend the morning avoiding the Religious Police more commonly called the "Taliban Department of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice".

This is the same Police force that would do things like ask for tenders for 500 whips in a Kabul Newspaper Advertisement later in the year.

To our amazement there was a flight the next day and we had five tickets. I still have the tickets and if i can find them I will take a picture, because they had been Taliban'ised. By this I mean on the back of the ticket the airline had photos of the Budhas of Bamiyan (that the Taliban had blown up the previous month, more on that story later) Now under strict Islam faces are not allowed and even on books in shops pieces of paper would be stuck on faces.

On the back of the ticket some clerk had obviously been ordered to black the faces out on the statues picture and with a black marker the ticket had been colored in, obliterating the picture.

Duly the next morning we left the UN Compound and headed for Kandahar International Airfield, built in the 1962 with US financial aid, and expertise even to the extent that the power points in the walls of the airport terminal are US power points, no where else in the entire country would you find a US Power Point except for the airport. The architecture is a snap shot of America 1962.

Now we are not expecting much and luckily we were not diasapointed. There seemed to be only about tweleve passengers, a few travelling Imans, a family and us.

But Ariana Airlines realised that this was a windfall of excess baggage to be paid of course in cash to the airport manager. And to the last kilo they calculated what we had to pay. Naturally we would have to pay in US Dollars and after a prolonged discussion on which they did not budge one kilo we coughed up a few hundred dollars.

Walking out to the plane you tried not to look too closely, I assume that canvas showing on the tyres adds to the traction and braking of the Russian made AN24. Now travelling with weapons is a standard practice on any Military flight however evryone boarding the flight to Kabul carried their Kalishnikov onto the plane and if I could of translated the pre flight briefing I only hoped that the Captain requested that the safety be on, I somehow doubted it as the weapons were not even un clipped as the other passengers put their weapons into the overhaed lockers.

Such was travelling on Ariana Airlines back in the Days of the Taliban. But it was better than driving and that is all that mattered for us. The choice between 14 bone shattering hours in a car or an hour flight with canvas wheels and armed passengers, was simple.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Why Cameramen are Not Rocket Scientists

Curses, I thought I had the maths correct on the sandbags story, but thanks to JPresEFnet, I stand corrected
Thanks a binary
hence this is the corrected equation

Each person on your 3 man team, eating 2 meals per day for 12 days ate 24 total meals. Filling 2 sandbags per meal, each of your 3 man team would have filled 48 sandbags. 48 sandbags X 3 people = 144 total sandbags over 12 days. At 40 pounds each that's 5760 pounds of sand, or 2.5714 Long Tons 2+5+7+1+4=19 and 1+9=10 if you want a fancy binary conversion to close with.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Zen and the Art of Sandbags

Iraq has two things in abundance ; Sand and Oil, well three things if you also include kalishnikovs. And as a reader asked why so many sand bags. Everything in Iraq is sandbagged, on any military base or outpost there is nothing but sandbags. Sandbags surround the Portaloos, every single doorway is side entered due to being sandbagged. Every outpost and guard post is sandbagged.
Every rooftop has sandbags on them. You get so used to sandbags that they become invisible.
But they provide security they stop bullets and if a mortar lands then there is only a sandbag between you and the lord above, and I have not even mentioned Hesco Barriers yet.
The Marines we were embedded with had a plan and strategy behind the sand bag filling. They were planning on pushing deeper into the city and establishing a new security outpost, and they do this virtually overnight. So Achmed wakes up the next morning and lo and behold he has a new police station down the road complete with over a hundred thousand sandbags or shipped in the dark and hand carried and put in position, if you wonder why Marines are so fit try being in a human chain as you move thousands of 40 lb sand bags up four flights of stairs.
Sandbags also have another function

... Interviewing tall Marines for tv well just level the playing field by standing on a sandbag

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Decompression Time

Final Entry of the Ollie North, FNC & War Stories Trip to Iraq Dec 2007.

First and foremost a big thank you to each and every one of you that have taken the time to read my words and enjoy some of the background scenes to covering events in Iraq.

I have my opinion as to what is right and wrong in this world, and that is just the point it is my opinion and the purpose of my blog and journal is not to sprout forth my views on the world and the events I cover. But to take you behind the scenes and try to give you a sense of what happens away from Politicians and think tanks.

I have been out of Iraq for a few days now and I still wake in the darkness and think I am back there. Not the type of dreams that you see portrayed in Hollywood Movies of sitting bolt upright in a cold sweat.

But one of confusion and worry that something has happened, is going to happen or that we have missed a live shot in the middle of the night. Over in Iraq wherever you sleep or live there are no windows, if there was a window it has been sand bagged up, thus you never know whether it is day or night whilst you are inside over there.

To come home and have a window is strange and takes some getting used to again, I am one of those travelers on a plane that insists on having the window shades up at all times, still cannot get over people who insist on thinking traveling in a plane is the same as there private bedroom. The flight back from Frankfurt to Tel Aviv a few days took off at 10:30 am and arrived in Tel Aviv at 3:20 in the afternoon. Honestly you would not of believed the way people carried on as if it was the middle of the night and they were going to bed.

That’s just a quick insight into one of the things in this world that bug me, so if we ever travel together and you want to annoy me, pull the shades down.

Decompressing takes time from a trip like Iraq, you look back at tapes and realize that there were two shots fired at us from a sniper outside the Govt Centre not one as I originally remember. When I was under attack from the RPG’s you can see the flash of the explosion in the eyes of the Marine if you freeze the tape.

It feels different not to have to wear body armor anytime you go outside, not have to fill sandbags to eat, I can determine what I want to eat these are all positives to a degree. But what you miss the most at the end of any long trip is being around friend’s twenty-four seven especially in an intense close experience like Iraq.

We went and we came back, safe and alive. And in a war zone that is the most important thing.

What is next … well that depends? In the world of News, things happen and then I find myself again in another conflict zone.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
Herzliyya Pituach

(The Unholyland News)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Thanks for the Comments

Quick note to say thanks to everyone, who has posted a comment or reply recently. Enjoy the feedback

7.714 a Number to remember

Ones and zero’s are what dominate the fore thoughts of the US Army Data Company. No doubt this elite unit has a motto that would probably be something like “Byte Hard” all units in the armed forces have motto’s that they use to impress the history and spirit of the unit, forged on battlegrounds from past war’s. The 1st Army Data Company being a new unit is forging its colors on the sands of Iraq.

Actually most Command and Operations Centers in Iraq resemble something from NASA complete with real time monitors and more computer power that it takes to put the Space Shuttle up in space.

To a degree numbers can start to dominate our lives in Iraq. And you find yourself doing calculations just for the … well sake of it. For example to enter the Mess Hall at Hurricane Point and get food everyone has to fill two sand bags and each sand bag weighs forty pounds.

Hence the following

3 People in our team, Ollie, Andy and myself.
12 Days on station at Hurricane Point
2 Meals a day
2 Sandbags a meal


3 x 12 = 36 (people x days)
36 x 2 = 72 (people days x meals)
72 x 6 = 432 (meals x two sandbags per meal = Number of Sandbags filled by us)
432 x 40 = 17,280 (Number of sandbags filled x weight of each sandbag)

Thus we sandbagged 17,280 lbs of Sand

17,280 lbs = 7838 kgs or 7.714 Ton’s of Sand

Now add together 7+7+1+4 = 19

1+9 = 10

10 is essence a One and a Zero.

Thus we have proved by binary calculus that the US Army First Data Company play a major factor in the Fox News Coverage efforts in gathering News from the battlefields of Iraq.

It is either that or it could be the omen for the next Powerball Number in a multi million dollar lottery draw.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Smoke over the City

A smoke plume trapped by a cold thermocline, shows the aftermath of another Vied (Vehcular Improvised Explosive Device) attack on a Combat Outpost over the city of Ramadi Iraq

490lb Doors, Watch your fingers

The doors on the new US Army Humvees weigh and I kid you not, 490lbs each. Designed to stop a RPG rocket. Complete with battle lock mechanism and a back up wrench to open them

The View from 17th Street

Filming at 17th Street in Ramadi Iraq, is in a word dangerous, the only way to get shots is to work around the "Sniper Views" so it is a matter of keeping low and moving fast to minimise the exposure to danger

Workclothes ... Not a Problem

What does one wear today?.
Is it clean?.
Has it been washed?.

Questions that are never a problem in Iraq. The moral question of whether the Press should weaar Military clothes is a no brainer to use an expression. Out in a warzone, you never want to look different, if you look different you are a target because ... You look different and Freindly fire is just as dangerous as the enemy

The Ramadi Bureau Christmas Photo

The Official Team Photo or as we called it the Fox News Ramadi Bureau Annual Christmas Party Photo. Taken at Blue Diamond Camp grounds , the nicely painted humvees in the background with racing stripes are the Iraqi Army.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Do Not Turn Around

You have to have a sense of humor on the road that to others may seem totally silly, and as I look back at the time in Iraq with Ollie North and Producer Andy Stenner. Perhaps nothing more summed up a day when we were scheduled to leave the final air base in TQ.

TQ is a massive airbase that handles logistics and just moves lots of stuff; it is like a parking lot for planes and other things. Like the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Air Force, old relics from the sixties that may have last seen action in the Iran Iraq war in the early 1980’s.

These old planes had been virtually buried in the sand and after the US forces found them they dug them up and have put them on display. According to local legend a high level Iraqi Military Staffer with pips on his shoulders demanded to be shown the planes so as to assess whether they could be put back into service.

Well if the Iraqi Catering Battle Combat Forces ever need drainers and colanders for cooking. Then these relics will serve a purpose.

Andy in the role of being the team’s “turp” (Interpreter) tried to explain in flowing language to Ollie that these were in fact fine combat machines that would surely interest any Super Military Power.

This small story has no bearing to the title of this entry, because it was only we came back from inspecting these old relics of the sky.

Ollie was walking thru a narrow walkway to the car park next to his room. When I noticed that strung above us was a string of washing lines with pegs on them.

“Ollie Don’t turn around, but for a dollar how many clothes pegs are on the lines you just walked under? for a dollar”

Pause deep thought response “67, how many do you think there are?”

Without a blink I guessed 32.

Ollie counted them and believe it or not, there were exactly 32 and no I had not counted them. He paid the dollar on the spot, claiming that he was set up and I had previously counted them.

On a stack of bibles I swear I had not counted them, it was just a lucky guess.

These are some of the moments that make trips when we relax and just enjoy the time together as a team on location. And I was a dollar richer.

New Pictures Uploading

Just a quick entry, to let everyone know that we are out of Iraq and I will be over the next few days updating a lot of previous blog entries and adding photos. Out in the field in Ramadi it was slow and hard to add many pictures using the Internet access we had and the speed of uploading was minimal, so check back and I will hopefully add some pictures to each of the blog entries from Iraq
Have also some funny stories to relate now that I have time to reflect
Thanks to everyone for comments, any comment is very much appreciated

Mercy 10 Fallen Angel

Mercy 10 Fallen Angel

The Air Force flight Chrome 24 took off before we had even landed, which was annoying but given that it taxied past 14 other people without bothering to stop and pick them up and had left them stranded in Iraq along with us. Welcome to Air Force Air and such is life in Iraq, you do not worry or even bother to complain, because it basically just happens.

Things like this happen, and all it means is that people work very hard to then make thing‘s happen and we got word last night. That we were manifested on a C130 flight named - “Mercy 10” an angel flight.

An Angel flight is the saddest way to end our time in Iraq, because “Angel Flight” means that the plane is carrying a “Fallen Angel”.

A young man or woman who has died and the “angel” is going home.

In moments of reflection we think of very golden images and I swear that if prophecy has an angel then as I climbed on board the C130 thru a narrow door wearing body armor and carrying two bags the scene inside the hold of the plane truly took my soul away.

Imagine an empty plane, stripped bare. No seats nothing and at the end is a coffin tied down with a flag covering the coffin, then add a beam of sunshine coming thru only window on the side of the plane and the beam ending on the coffin exactly. Above the coffin is another flag hanging proudly and lit up by the spill of the beam on the coffin.

I stopped, just plainly stopped and realized that a young soldier was going home a “ Fallen Angel” and that I thought of a wife, mother, father, brother, sister were going to watch their angel carried off the back of a plane in the next few days.

We all know the image we have all seen the TV News pictures, we have heard words of bravery as the flag draped coffin is carried of the back ramp.

Some people use the image of dead soldiers being “body bags” to describe how bad the war is going and how the Pundits in Washington do not want to talk about War Casualties.

These people have never sat alone in the hold of a plane looking at the rays of sunshine as we flew back into Kuwait, the rays of light changed and altered, but in the entire flight of just over an hour the sunbeam rarely left the angel.

In the last minutes of daylight we landed in Kuwait and an honor guard lined up and slow saluted as the coffin was carried out of the plane.

I do not know the name of the soldier, sailor, or Marine who was in the coffin, I do not want to know, it would of not made any difference the respect a son was paid defies my words.

But an angel did cast a sunbeam on a fallen angel the whole way from Iraq to Kuwait.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Hug & a Chocolate Bar

We are getting ready to leave Iraq, and the Chaplain dropped by to say good bye, his final words to me when I said look after the Marines, was all they need is a hug and a chocolate bar and they can fight for another hundred days. It sums up the spirit and true heroism of the young men who serve here. For each and everyone of them are heroes.
And we all need heroes in our lives. Think of them in this season of festive tidings and reflect on what each and everyone of them is giving us.
The Chaplain also wanted sex with his wife, the good lord Jesus and a bottle of bourbon. A man with a heart of gold.

Pogs for the Plate

Sunday in Hurricane Point Base, and in the final days of shooting it is church service morning. It is one of those events that is always nice to cover as you spend days covering the true horror of war to see spiritual reflection for an hour. A young Marine who you film with a gun turns out to have an angelic voice and can play Silent Night on an acoustic guitar.

The Chaplain here Jamie Stall-Ryan is the type of man who greets you warmly every time and insists on giving you food and coffee, he talks of Bible Study Classes and makes sure the Chapel is open so that the guys can watch NFL Football on Sunday Nights. And you also know that he is there when the worst will and does happen here.

His service today was plain simple and inspirational, the theme was “purpose not planned” To plan related have things pre determined, which here does not apply to greater sense, whilst everyone here in Iraq has a purpose.

The song Silent Night is one of my favorite, Christmas Songs that conjures up many images. To listen to 17 Marines sing it in a cold room in the back of one of Saddam’s son’s palaces, lit by two flickering fluorescent lights with a marine holding a M203 Grenade launcher by his side and a small manger scene on a table is very moving. No voice boomed or dominated just 17 men quietly singing together and reflecting.

The title for today’s entry “Pog’s for the Plate” is one of those lines that you think up as we were walking the 50 yd’s round the back from our hatch to the chapel. I mentioned if they pass the plate around for donation does anyone have some pog’s. Pog’s are the coin currency here, paper discs with monetary value so that the Military PX stores do not have to worry about coins. Just thought it was funny the thought of a plate being passed around and everyone putting paper discs into a plate. There was no collection, but then again I had no pog’s in my pocket.

Having a Good Time, Don't you wish you were here

We have all heard the stories of days being brutally hot here in Iraq, where the mercury n thermometer reaches up past 120 degrees in the shade and patrolling the streets where it feels like it is 140 degrees. That’s all you hear about the weather in Iraq, how hot it is. It is always baking hot.

I can attest to the heat here, back on a previous trip with Ollie North in the summer of 2004, it was so extreme that on numerous occasions ended up with an IV drip in my arm, due to dehydration and heatstroke.

Thus when I packed for this trip, I naturally factored in, that the weather would be warm, not to hot and not to cold. Because Iraq is never cold.

Having said that it is obvious what the weather has been like on this trip, one morning filming on a firing range with wind chill it was way below 0 degrees the wind off the desert felt like it was ripping the skin from your face.

Yesterday we went to the roof to try and film an air strike on the city and I put on every piece of my clothing and even with sixty pounds of body armor it was miserably cold. The type of cold wet weather that makes doing anything hard. Ollie took the picture of me in my pathetic miserable state, claiming I looked like the poor child in the school playground that no one will play with.

Would I have traded yesterday for an Iraqi Summer, not likely? But the noisy air conditioner in the room has been cranked up to heat ever since we arrived here. It is not the prettiest air conditioner in the world but it blows good hot air into out little bunkhouse.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Funny Line in the darkness

Perhaps the best line of the last twenty four hours, was coming back to the base here at Hurricane Point from Camp Ramadi. When the gunner on the humvee said
"Sir, can I flash bang him?"
Now before you jump to any conclusion that we are on a secret clandestine mission and about to kick in a door. No we were actually at the front gate to the compound and blocking us was security issue in the form of a large armored vehicle designed to stop a suicide bomber driving his car near the checkpoint, the Marine in the aforementioned vehicle was just slow to move.
Sitting in the blackness of the night here with the driver and Staff Sgt in the front seats on night vision and me alone in the black back seat it was a funny line.
Life here is full of lines during the days and nights that make life feel rather real.
The entrance then opened up like the cave to Ali Baba’s cave and we entered and returned safely to the base.
In the blackness there is nothing funnier than a simple line, to diffuse the stress and tensions of moving around this city.
And no we did not flash bang him but it would have been fun too.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pumping Iron in Ramadi Iraq

There is no lycra and no women, no one is fat or overweight, there are no rows of pristine treadmills and elliptical machines with multi channel TV’s attached, there is no reception area where your membership card is swiped. There is no membership fees or promotions, no changing room, showers, toilets, lockers or sauna bath. You are more likely to hear heavy metal or rap than you are to It is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and your membership is valid for four years. (*1)

There is no natural light, in fact any windows, the entrance way is sandbagged and you walk past the drop off point for dirty laundry (Laundry is picked up at 6:30am Tuesdays and Fridays by a seven ton armored truck, back on the next run). Eight fluorescent lights strung up and the rumble of the heater that manages to warm the air in front of three machines enhances the atmosphere in the gym.

Most benches and surfaces have some duct tape holding them together. There is dust and cobwebs in corners, in fact most surfaces have dust, it should be noted that almost everything in this part of the country has dust on it if left for more than 30 minutes.

And yet for all its faults, its negatives the Gym here on the Marine Base at Hurricane Point, Ramadi, Iraq has what any gym in the world wants close to 100% of the community belong. Virtually every Marine works out, and they work out hard, heavy and tough. In a realm where the Alpha male rises to the top, he who bench presses the most per body weight is held aloft.

I use the gym here everyday, one because I like going to the gym, two because it is far too dusty to run my usual trail, inches of dust does not make for conducive times let alone ruining a pair of good running shoes, three it is too cold to run here in the morning with the running clothes I bought, and lastly I had an operation on my big toe last night. (More on that later, the big toe that is.)

In the Corps, discipline and respect are the cornerstones of their world. You do not see Marines walking around the Camp here endlessly saluting or standing to attention. But you do see respect and honor.

In the Gym every Marine is equal, because they all want to be the best, no one wears any insignia of rank in the Gym everyone has the same sweats, everyone has the same haircut and everyone wants to be better.

The gym here will never win any trendy award, the old broken treadmill in the corner will still be gathering dust in six months. However today, tomorrow and for every day there after, the Hurricane Point Gym will have close to 100% of the population walk past the sandbags and push open the door.

(*1) When you enlist in the Marines it is for four years.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Trademark of Death

Yesterday it was sitting in the armored Humvee’s getting shot at by RPG’s, today a sniper decided to try and take a shot at us.

The worst thing is that there is no warning, no sense of impending danger all that you experience is the sound. The air simply cracks, one single round the trademark of a sniper.

We were down at the Government Center, well to use the term Government and Center together is an oxymoron. Because whilst it may be known as the Government Center, certainly no administration has taken place there for a while. On previous trips it was always where you met the Provincial powerbrokers, but that was before six major bombing attacks on the building compound and a daily assault from mortars, rpgs and snipers.

It is now a shell, cold stark and with tables and chairs covered with dust, no heating exists and the cold in the rooms reflects what is left of the town. Across the road from the GC there used to be shops and building, now there is rubble. The buildings were leveled first by 500 lb bombs then by demolition teams, as they had become a haven for terrorists from which to attack the Government Center.

This morning we went there with the Marines who had escorted a local contractor and his foremen whose job it will be to remove the rubble from outside and make the area suitable for a car park for the GC and planners even have ideas for a park. Now given that no parks exist in this city it seems an ambitious urban planning scheme to say the least.

So whilst the Marines were escorting the contractors out thru the safe back way to the alley and then to the street so that they could assess the task ahead, we tagged along wanting to shoot a segment link for the War Stories Special.

We had a couple of takes in the camera and moved to change angle with the camera rolling Ollie was just about to start when the sniper “sniped”. It shakes you up for a second or two and Ollie headed for the wall, I just ducked down and waited for the inevitable gunfight, but the discipline of the Marines is such that locating the position from which the shot was fired is more important than blasting away.

The site survey did not last much longer and we moved back into the safety (sic) of the Govt Center and spent time filming Xmas Greetings with Marines even then the cracks in the air continued on and off. Just another day in Ramadi.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sandbags for Dinner

You are aware of the phrase singing for your supper, well the US Marines at Hurricane Point have a different variation. It is called “Sandbagging for Chow”. Just before you enter the chow hall there is a pile of sand and a stack of empty sandbags and before you can enter each person must fill two sand bags with 40 lbs of sand tie them off and throw them on a stack.

It takes but a couple of minutes but the pile continues to grow, at this base we get two meals a day that are bought over form the main Military Base at Camp Ramadi in 7 ton armored trucks with armored military Humvee’s escorting them. Sort of like Pizza delivery boys with attitude, but here the delivery boys have body armor and kevlar helmets.

Food comes twice a day in Vat Cans, sort of like large cool boxes that are designed to ensure that food is Luke warm. Tonight’s dinner was a classic, if you ordered it in a restaurant your request to the Maitre D would have been something like this …

“I would like an old T Bone steak with gristle cooked four hours ago and served medium Cold, along with a side serve of green peas that can turn mushy under air pressure with mashed potatoes triple super sized so that it drops off the side of the plastic plate and then can you top it with brown gravy to disguise the taste of anything under it. And your finest bottle of 2006 Tabasco Sauce so that I can really enjoy it with my meal.”

All jokes aside the chow is good and the meal times are looked forward to here. And you are allowed to carry weapons into the food hall and no one complains.

Cup of Joe

Hurricane Point
Monday December 11, 2006

I like a few things in life and nothing more than a coffee to start the day. I consider Starbucks to be the Mc Donald’s of coffee. It looks and is marketed to make you think it is good but in reality it tastes dreadful. Luckily there is no Starbucks yet in Ramadi Iraq, and come to think of it there is no Mc Donald’s either.

But we do have the option to brew a coffee in our bunkhouse. On past trips here Producer Greg Johnson ha always managed to rustle up a cup of joe for me even at four am in the morning, so in his brief to our new Producer on this trip Andy Stenner he stressed the importance of feeding me my morning cup of coffee. No doubt with the words of wisdom of “He is not as grumpy if he has caffeine in him”. Greg even went to the trouble of giving Andy a jar of instant coffee and a bag of coffee. But this is where we ran into trouble. Andy does not drink coffee and hence has never had to make a cup.

So at four in the morning on the first day at Hurricane Point in Ramadi, Andy proceeds to make a pot of coffee. With all the best intentions in the world it was undrinkable in a dripolater for 8 cups there must have been ten spoons of coffee. I look back and laugh at just how bad it tasted, even Ollie North could not drink it and he is a former marine and marines can drink any coffee.

In Andy’s defense he admitted this morning that the coffee he made was from Greg’s bag, hang on I said “You mean to tell me that Johnson, gave you this bag of Bonus Blend, who in the hell has ever heard of Bonus Blend”.

The Bonus Blend may of impressed Andy a non-coffee drinker as a good coffee. But for Ollie and I the only place for Bonus blend was the garbage bag. Maybe if you could not read English it may look impressive, but the taste of it defies words.

But then again I like Instant Coffee so who am I to talk. It is the small things on the road that sometimes make you laugh

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Frontline Photos

With the Marines at the 17th Street Outpost, filming day operations , the second photo shows a marine reflected in a pool of sewarage and the 17th Street Outpost is the building behind sandbagged up. Sleeping in these buildings all sandbagged up you have no idea of wherther it is day or night outside, then again everyday is groundhog day. Apart from teh fact that on patrol this afternoon was almost hit by two RPGs which rocked the armoured humvee to say the least and no I did not get out to film

Ramadi Iraq

Saturday, December 09, 2006

In Memory

There is nothing sadder than attending a Memorial Service for fallen soldiers in the field. It is hard not to hold your emotions in during the final minutes, it is not the service or the firing of the salute rifles outside the mess, it is the sight of and sound of fellow soldiers and marines on their knees as they reach out and touch the dog tags. It is not a loud sound but the soft sound of two dogs tags touching each other. Two small pieces of metal that contain the heart and soul of a friend.

They played a song that I never have heard before, a country and western ballad “ American Soldier” I do not know who wrote or sang it. It will forever be in my heart, because one of the fallen was a Marine I knew.

A reservist who came here and paid the ultimate price in the name of freedom and liberty. This is not the time or the place to debate the merits of the war here. We all have opinions and thoughts as to the rights and wrongs of what is happening. But for families who have lost sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, know that out here when a comrade falls the entire community weeps with you and your loss is shared all, in the dust and heat, cold and mud they are never forgotten.

When I run my next marathon I will have on my arm the name of a friend who will be remembered because she like me used to liked to run marathons.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Ali & the Three-Dollar Haircut

Next to the bunkhouse we are staying in is Ali’s Barber Shop, a place where there is only one price. All haircuts are three dollars fixed. Now Ali’s clients are solely US Marines on the base here and as we all know Marines have one style of haircut “high and tight”.

Which is basically a shave up to the “cover” a Marines cap line and then a Number One buzz cut on top, so there is not much in the way of variety. In the corner is a small TV blaring out Middle East TV Soap Operas, and every time Ali had to use the electric clippers he would turn the volume up so as to not miss any crucial plot lines, even worse is during the day when there is no Soap Opera he can crank up the music which is always some Arabic singer sounding like a cat is being strangled slowly to the untrained musical ear.

There is one magazine a semi soft men’s edition of unknown background that has photos of Paris Hilton in it. The mag is so well thumbed through that is has fallen apart well it always falls apart on the pages of Paris Hilton even in its decrepit state.

Both Ollie and I had haircuts today and in those first few moments I dreaded that Ali had mistaken us for marines and we were destined for high and tights but sanity and hand signals managed to convey the message and we both had great haircuts, not bad for three dollars and you even get a free can of coke thrown into the deal, now that’s value for money.

Early Starts Cold Mporning & Shopping in Iraq


DEC 8TH 2006 6:00am

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Black Night Explosions

Ramadi Iraq
Thursday December 7, 2006
8:30 pm

It is one of those nights here tonight were there is no moon and looking out from where we are based with the Marines in Hurricane Point Ramadi it is like the world ends ten feet away, a wall of blackness envelopes everything and swallows up even the lights we have for broadcasting.

That does not stop the noise of war that continues, not the sound of gunfire but in the past five minutes a large explosion rocked the building we are in, one of palaces of the Saddam family. A solid building virtually shook us, and then you sit back and wonder, “What the hell, was it?” All we hear now is choppers and jets overhead, no lights just the noise of darkness being broken by the blades of choppers flying.

It something you can never get used to, the tranquility of darkness. Because it can often hide the horror of war. We have another live shot in twenty minutes before we seek the sanctuary of a sand bagged bunkhouse.

In fifteen minutes

Ramadi iraq

A quick post, about to go out in fifteen minutes to an outpost in Ramadi. Moments to reflect and think, the outpost is called Camp Hero formerly known as "The Snake Pit" . It is not a far drive but anytime you leave the gates you truly enter the danger zone. Will post later pictures and an entry on the events today

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

251 AR

8pm December 5, 2006
Washington Helizone

In the world of E tickets, you get a piece of paper with a computer code that somehow makes sense to the person behind an airline counter. Flying with the military here you get an “S Ticket”. That is a sharpie is handed to you and on the back of your hand you write your flight number and destination.

We are scheduled to fly on marine bird 251 destination Ar Ramadi, boarding the chopper in the noise where conversation is impossible the loadmaster simply grabs your wrist and checks you are going to where they are flying.

Other small points to factor in you MUST be wearing a flak jacket and Kevlar helmet; earplugs are not for fun but again a mandatory safety requirement. Guns must be unloaded and clear. Protective eyewear again required. As you arrive at the heli zone a sign clearly states that Deadly Force is authorized, now hopefully you understand what is meant by deadly force.

You carry your own bags on and then we sit in the pitch black on webbing and alone in your thoughts you fly further into Iraq and right to the front line that is to be home for us. It is hard to think in the noise and amongst the vibrations of Marine Airlines. But most of all you think and pray that all will be safe.

There is nothing glamorous or exciting at times like these, it is a combination of fear and adrenaline that supports you, that and the feeling of being alone in your thoughts in the blackness 200ft above the ground flying to what is one of the most dangerous places in the world, AR Ramadi flight 251 will be departing in an hour.

Watching Paint Dry – or Kuwaiti Visa Isssueing

Now the joy of arriving in liberated Kuwait fun ois only compounded by the complete beauracy of getting a visa upon arrival. Logic normally dictates that visas on arrival are issued in the arrival hall. But of course here in Kuwait the Visa issueing counters are in the departure hall, this is for visas to enter Kuwait you need to go to departures.

Here eight counters await, of which six were manned. Now do not assume that by simply being manned that that means that six counters are working to process the simple process of a visitor wanting to enter. No for fifteen minutes nothinjg moved except for the guy on counter two whose arm moved up and down as to allow himself to smoke.

The only sense of logic is that they at least have a numbering system, push the button get a number and wait,l when we arrived it was number 234’s turn and the machine issued me with the number 262. It was at this point that realized that I would havce ample time to write a blog entry as Andy and I have now been waiting 40 minutes and we have just hit 250, but as I write the buzzer is sounding more optimistic 251 has been called.

I love aspects of servitude here behind the visa man is a foreigner whose job it is, to walk and photocopy each passport, the Kuwaiti behind the desk arrogantly tosses the passport to the guy dressed in a waistcoat who walks to the end of the zone dutifully copies and walks back.

There must be a room somewhere in this country where hundreds of thousands of passport photocopies are stored, why copy the passport in a photocopy machine I suppose it is a simple matter of someones brother who was a Sheik owned a photocopy business sometime in the past and has the contract for passport copies, perhaps it is Kuwaits way of trying to diversify from exporting oil.

Number 256 … looking good

Transit Time

Frankfurt Airport
Monday December 4, 2006
11.00 am

Sitting in the lounge, waiting for Ollie and Andy to show up. And waiting for a shower in the next few minutes. So it is basically a waiting game.

One of the ironies of being based in Israel is that you cannot check your baggage through to Kuwait. Thus I checked in five cases 95 kg for the leg Tel Aviv to Frankfurt paid $600 Excess baggage and then upon arrival in Frankfurt have to go through Passport and Immigration, find a porter collect my bags walk out thru customs catch a lift up one flight and check back in for the Frankfurt to Kuwait sector pay another 1100 Euros close close to $1600 excess and go back through immigration and Passport Control. The real clincher is to go over all my bags looking for any security stickers from Israel that could cause trouble upon arriving in Kuwait tonight.

The irony is that from Kuwait back to Tel Aviv, I can actually check my cases the whole way back and pay a kings ransom in excess baggage, they cut no deals and charge to the last kilo ever single dollar.

This trip is better than some as I am only bringing the transmission and communications gear from my kit, that still takes five cases, taking out my personal bag the weight is around 80 kilos of kit. The cameras come from New York as they are NTSC standard and this saves a standards conversion of multiple tapes at the end.

We work with four cameras, two PD 170s and two small PC109’s or 27’s mainly for night work. The kit also includes suction mounts for attaching to the exterior of armored humvees, monopods for shots up thru gun turrets, wide-angle lens, and Infra red light kits.

It is impossible to use the bulk of Betacam’s in war zones; they also have the disadvantage of looking like a rocket launcher on your shoulder. A couple of years back a nervous soldier accidentally shot and killed a Reuter’s cameraman for that very reason.

I like working with the PD cameras and 80% of all my work in conflict zones is now done with the PD, attach the new wireless microphone system and it is a great system that has no hanging cables to get entangled and you can move fast in and out of the humvees, that is if you ever do actually get out of them on a patrol.

If anyone is interested I can post the complete war kit I travel with, so you have an idea if at some stage you have an assignment in a hostile environment.

14:15 EN ROUTE
Frankfurt – Kuwait

Having met up with Ollie and Andy at the airport, one of those enjoy these beers because they are the last for a few weeks type reunions, we are now enroute to Kuwait. I thought we might have a nice relaxing night at the Hilton before heading into Iraq, looks like we could be heading straight out to the military airport and a cot bed for the night. Then to add joy to the travel plans it seems that we might have to fly into Baghdad in the morning, (now morning in military terms means anything after midnight tonight) to get some accreditation and do some pick ups interviews, with Ollie a pick up interview could mean access to Casey the total el supreme of all operations in Iraq.

In the meantime will just relax and let the time pass, what shall be shall be.

The Pouch on my Flak Jacket

In flight Tel Aviv – Frankfurt
Monday December 4, 2006
06:20 am

You wake in the middle of the night to get to an airport you only left less than twenty four hours ago, after being away for a week in Turkey covering the Pope, that right the guy I never saw but was there in case it happened.

Well what is happening now is “Back to Iraq” another embed, in what can only be classified as all out total Civil War. I have honestly forgotten how many times I have been to Iraq this is the sixth seventh or eighth time. Each time it gets a little bit more dangerous and the world seems to care less about what is happening and only looks to find someone to blame.

This is scheduled to be a two and a half week assignment with good friend Ollie North and Producer Andy Stenner in Ramadi, west of Baghdad also the capital of Al Anbar Province and in the middle of the triangle of death. More Marines have been killed here than anywhere else and it is not somewhere you would want to consider going for a holiday.

When I first went there with Ollie there was a sense of optimism, when we were there last year for the election the city looked like a wasteland. I have no doubt that this time it will be even worse. Hopefully I am wrong but I doubt it.

What do you take to a war zone, where you know that it is all going very wrong? I think that the most telling time for me was yesterday when I was packing my bag. In the cupboard I have two boxes marked “War Kit” and they contain the combat equipment I need in the field. Kneepads, essential when you drop to the ground. Nothing is a fashion accessory; in combat you take the minimum that gives you the maximum. I have a pair of combat gloves that are designed to stop burning in case of explosions and fire, ballistic glasses that we wear the will help stop shrapnel hitting your eyes. The 45lb flak jacket and Kevlar helmet is coming with Ollie, latest generation from the US Military.

But it was the pouch that contains my battlefield dressings and first aid kit that held my attention as I looked and checked thru it. Not large not small but in a pouch maybe 6” x 6” x 3” (12 x x12 x 6 cm, approx) are two tour quays, Velcro with carbon fiber twist locks, two medium size wound dressings and a large wound dressing vacuum packed. That is all I carry and will carry for this assignment; maybe I will speak with the Doc’s at some stage and refine it. But it is a kit designed for those initial minutes, just in case something happens, something you prey does not happen. But in this arena life and death is a reality and being prepared is often the difference.

This pouch used to be the one I carried a spare small camera in and a couple of granola bars. Now it is marked as all my gear is as “James O positive”.
After a week of nothing happened, whilst in Turkey. I have a feeling that the next few weeks will have more happening than I care to think about.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Never Saw Him.

Lets get this right my friends will ask.

"You spent a week in Istanbul, covering the Pope and you never saw him?"

" Yes that's right, It is what I do for a living"

"What you film things you don't see, I mean Mal you spent a week filming something you did not see... Come on what is this The Sixth Sense or something?"

" No, It's Television News, you cover an event without actually ever seeing the event, sort of like going to a Rock Concert and not seeing the lead singer but still watching the concert" will be my response

"Oh, so what did you do for the week?"

" I covered the Papal Voyage, of Pope Benedict XVI to meeet Ecumenical Patriarch Barthlomew 1"

" But you did not see him so how can you say you covered his Papal Voyage, ands by the way what is a Papal Voyage"

" Well Pope's simply do not do visits or drop in for a coffee and discuss Middle East Politics and Football, they have Papal Voyage's which basically means they drop in for coffee, wave incense and try and heal religious schisms (the word of the week) that go back a thousand years"

" Hang on, you still have not explained how you can go somewhere for a week to cover something and not see the thing you went to cover? "

" Thats because I was here in case something happened "

"But something did happen, the Pope visited for over four days"

"Yes but that is not what is meant by happened!"

" So what happened that meant you covered nothing happening, for a week?"

"No I did cover events but not the Pope because nothing happened to him and I was in Turkey in case something happened which in any case nothing really happened, but I worked every day covering the Pope."

"And you never saw him?"

"No, because I was waiting for something to happen."

" Your job makes no sense!"

"I agree"