Sunday, December 23, 2007

4 went in 4 came out Iraq 2007

Definition of success, in a war-zone: Four go out on a mission, four come home safely.

Perhaps the only thing that matters when it comes to looking back at the last three weeks is that we all went in and came out safely. As the 5th Anniversary of the war approaches early in the New Year, you can ask nothing else than to come back from a war zone safe and intact. You constantly see signs around all the bases that “Complancy Kills”.

True words, then again you also see signs that say “Deadly Force Authorised” , and my favorite “you are not allowed to drive your tank on this road” and in case you cannot read it does not matter because it is one of those picture signs with a tank and a cross thru it.

So what makes life on the road fun in Iraq, how do I stay sane and enjoy company. Perhaps snippets in no order taken from my diary can show you a side to life on the road in a war zone.

Riding in choppers is fun unless it is nearly three in the morning, the temperature is below zero and the crew decides that they want range practice at night. So off into the desert they fly and each gun is fired just to clean the cobwebs and then the pilot takes us up to nearly 8000ft for the rest of the ride before an ear splitting descent into Baghdad to be dumped in the cold by the side of a helicopter landing strip with no one to meet you and our 12 bags.

Now Humvees, they look enormous, they should be able to sleep a complete Bedouin tribe plus goats in comfort however the Military have managed to some how make the seats and leg room the equivalent of sitting in a pre school on those small chairs and desks. You can literally be screaming in pain and unable to walk after a few hours cramped up and remember the door weighs 400lbs due to the armor against roadside bombs. And by the way if you get out in a gunfight make sure you close the door the gunner in the turret does not want his legs blown away, a serious request.

Road side bombs are no longer six sticks of dynamite with a fuse, the one we were shown off the record was an incredibly highly sophisticated bomb complete with infra red sensors, timing devices and electronic circuitry all shrink wrapped and believe it or not it even came with its own little carry bag that any person could walk around with. The armor on the humvee would stand no chance at all.

What was unique about this trip to Iraq was that we spent ten days with the US Special Ops’s Teams from Seals to Delta we met and talked with them, became friends laughed joked and got a great insight into what makes the ultimate warriors tick.

The bottom line is that these guys are good, really good at what they do. They do not take risks everything is a calculation of perfection, sure shit can happen but the odds are that they have planned for it . Then again some plans are very simple; like when we were being given our briefing for a night operation to bag a bad guy in a very bad part of Baghdad.

Asking what the E & E plan was (Emergency & Evacuation) was for the operation, hey we have all seen Blackhawk Down and here I was actually preparing to go and take down a bad boy in the close to the worst area of the city.

The Master Sergeant giving us the briefing looked at Ollie North and me and asked if we had a compass and could we run if required. ‘Well yes in fact we both have wrist compasses on our watches and if needed we could run’ “Well good … Head south till you get to the Euphrates River swim across it and look for a good guy” I shit you not that was the it all gone wrong plan and you are on your own.

The comforting fact was that we had air cover with the flying death star 130 above us, F18’s circling and Apache helicopters were poised for instant support. These guys can summon up what they need when they need it . Truly elite soldiers.

The Medics are something to marvel at they carry close to 110 lbs with their body armor and weapons, if you ever find yourself in a war zone stick with the medics, these are the most protected and respected men in the unit. Before we even went out the gate on anything the medics at all the bases wanted our blood types and to know if we were allergic to anything. The way they ask it is how you would say hello in the morning and would you like a cup of coffee. As a rule I normally have my blood type written on three different parts of my body and kit, it is not something you do to be a hero in photos back home, but a critical piece of information that will save your life.

My medic first aid kit is in fact the largest pouch I have on my flak jacket, two tornaques , one large battlefield dressing for chest wound, a smaller battle field dressing for leg or arm , and the medic on this trip gave me a drip starter kit , needle tape pipe the whole nine yards, as he said one day you may need this hopefully not today.

Now what would you think talking to three young guys in their twenties standing around , not looking like Sgt Rock Jaw, but to all intensive purposes almost college nerd looking who upon asking why they joined Spec Op’s answer

“I like to blow shit up” and my other favorite:

“Why go in the front door it may be booby trapped, when you can go in thru the wall” and proceed to show you what looks like a Childs electric slot racing set from the seventies in a figure eight which is made of high explosives and will in fact take down a wall.

Every office and most family kitchens have a white board with things to do or buy at the shops, well at one base we spent time at I looked up on their white board and here is the quote …Ammo in stock 1,000,000,000 5;56 bullets, ok a joke but made me laugh. Or the classic on the door of a barrack room, no explanations needed

One change in attitude now is that I was asked daily “If I carried a weapon?”

“No, but I now know how to use them”

Both Producer Andy Stenner and I spent time on the range learning from the best how to use a multitude of weapons, and then asked “If needed would I use it?”

“Yes, trust me I am not going to end up on an Islamic web site with a knife to my throat” is by far the

Do I carry a gun?

No, but the day when come I believe I will have to, and it nothing to do with Iraq.

Perhaps what you need more than anything is a perverse sense of fun, because for three weeks you are locked together with other people and there is no out. You are in Iraq. The secret then is go in with friends and learn to laugh at yourself. Because there are so many times when laughter is the only thing that keeps you honestly sane. We have so many in jokes that to try and explain “The Mexican Police Chief Belt” or “Padawan the Turp” is so unimportant and for the record the “Man Sandwich” and “Budgie Smugglers” go no further.

What counts is that as a team we had highs and lows, far more highs than lows, The lows being dying of food poisoning from the

”Half cooked freshly killed still raw in the middle do not offend the sheik by not eating his provincial wide famous goat kebabs”

The only positive was that the kebabs felt more processed and cooked on the rapid way out.

Now having highly trained Medical staff around is a total bonus as if they are not busy they are generally bored stiff like everyone else and the chance to deal with normal human functions enables me to get on our trips free medical consults. This time I had my right ear cleaned and boy this was like something from the movie Alien being removed, followed up by a Spec Forces Medic armed with a lengthy book sticking needles into my feet which by the way hurt like bloody hell, but I was tough.

Then there is the ridiculous events that make you realize that the war in Iraq is being controlled not by the US or Iraqis but by and wait for this …..

Uganda is the most powerful country in Iraq today, forget Uncle Sam forget Osama Bin Laden. Ugandans control Iraq.

And as they say that is the tease for the next entry


Anonymous said... gave us a clearer picture of what is going on in Iraq than all the news we have heard from the rest of late and you didn't even have to have a producer to make your observations. They were your thoughts and your experiences...not someone elses. They were unique and very interesting. As always you showed us how really wonderful our Military men are. We have a feeling that there is nothing unusual about the man who joined Special Ops because he liked to blow things up. Fortunately for good. I was told once by a very wise man who had seen much and been in much danger that humor is important...always. Please keep yours. We look forward to your next installment ...because the more you write the more questions we have. Uganda? Hummm.

21stCenturyMom said...

You have no idea how much I cherish these little glimpses into what life is life over there.

Today I went and had a massage compliments of my book group. They give you a hot aromatherapy foot bath first and sitting in the chair next to me was a young man who definitely had a military look about him. It seemed like it was hard for him to just relax - he was a little jumpy. When his massage therapist came to get him they had a brief conversation in which he said he had been in Iraq - away from home for a year. I turned and said, "welcome back - I'm glad you made it" and then, as he walked away I started tearing up. I wish I had said, "thanks for serving" but I was too choked up.

I hope the massage helped him find some peace, at least for a moment.

21stCenturyMom said...

man... I mean "what life is like" not what life is life although when you think about it that does make some sense - but not in a good way.

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas, Mr. James, wherever you are. And a Happy New Year in Merry Old London.