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We went on yet another patrol yesterday, but each is different than the one before. For one, while we always go on foot, this time the Humvees came along for fire support. A number of Marines had been killed in the area. But there would be no action this time. What was most distinctive, though, was that this was a relatively long patrol of four hours and the temperate reached 99 and stayed there. I wasn't going to say anything, but when the Marines half my age started complaining I felt free to chime in.
It's incredible how much water you consume in such conditions. I emptied my three-liter Camelbak bladder in a couple of hours, but fortunately apparently the purpose of the Humvees was to resupply us. At the same time, the other bladder rarely needed emptying. Almost all your water exits via your pores. Just as well; I hate scouting out positions where no civilian will see me and get offended and no sniper will have a good shot. I can see the headline: "Embedded Reporter Killed while Peeing." The best defensive against possible snipers -- as opposed to probable or definite ones in which case you take more dramatic covering and concealing actions -- is just to keep moving. A moving target is hard to line up in cross-hairs.
The Marine nodded. I later found out he'd killed three, including one who was prone on the ground -- an amazing shot. "The round went into his neck and tore a path right into his lungs." I thanked him for the forensics report.
The main avenue is called Market Street, and that it is. The fruits and vegetables looked truly wonderful -- as good as anything in the States. Then there were a few stands with cheesy toys and t-shirts and what-not, some with various snacks, and some drink vendors. A jundi politely offered me an orange drink of sorts but "La, la shukran" (No, no thank you.) I have no idea what little microbes are swimming around in that glass but I can't afford to find out. My stay here is all too short to be spending part in a clinic and much of the rest in the john.
We got the usual greetings from both kids and adults, and a couple of the children spoke a bit of English and practiced it on us. For my part, I'm extremely glad I spent time learning basic Arabic expressions. Mostly they are a way of bonding with civilians and Iraqi soldiers, but sometimes they really come in handy. I've learned more since coming, of course.
Towards the end of the patrol we saw Abu Ghraib prison, which I thought was many miles away but, no, there was the wall and the watch towers. It's been in the news so much you expect to see something special but, well, its walls and towers. Nothing more. We also walked through another Shiite slum and for the first time I saw barriers placed across streets. They might be rocks, large concrete pipes, or even just piles of trash. Plenty of that laying around. I asked why they were there and was told the people were terrified of the insurgents. The Mooj don't like to walk, so usually stopping their cars stops them. In any case, it prevents drive-by shootings.
I should have explained earlier that I was embedded with three units in First Division, Fourth Brigade. It's commanded by an Iraqi and comprises mostly Iraqis with American MITT advisors. That stands for Military Transition Teams. Their purpose is to transition the Iraqis into an independent fighting force. It's actually an Army Special Forces job, but the Green Berets are essentially being used in what's supposed to be their secondary job as commandoes.
So MITTs are pulled together from conventional units. In this case, most were from an Army Reserve unit based in Richmond, Virginia. That was actually rather nice for me because it meant a lot of these guys were essentially neighbors of mine. One lived one city over in Alexandria, a couple lived in nearby Fairfax where my German classes are, and one had a condo in my own town of Arlington. One of the Fairfax guys knew about a bar called "Dr. Dreamo's" that's about a block from my townhouse, so he knew exactly where I lived. But we also had Marines mixed in, so your typical patrol would be about half Iraqi, one-fourth Army, and one-fourth Marine.
Yes, the Army guys badmouthed the Marine Corp sometimes. The usual complaint is that the USMC is too big on brawn, to little on brains and finesse. In this case, there was some definite bad blood. Marines were given orders to come through the area and shoot stray dogs and ended up plugging the cute little camp mascot. The soldiers said they knew it was a pet but killed it out of spite. I don't know. But certainly the soldiers completely respected and got along with the Marines who served alongside them.
As I type this, I'm now at Camp Fallujah waiting for the "bird" that will fly me to Ramadi tomorrow night. I still remember it quite well from last year and had no trouble finding the laundry and the Post Exchange, along with the Iraqi products outlet store next to it. That's actually something of a joke, since the Iraqis like most Arabs don't produce much in the way of finished goods -- although Iraqis at least have farms. Most of the stuff in the store is from Turkey. But I bought a few overpriced souvenirs anyway. Now when people say, "Why the heck did you go back to Iraq after what happened to you last time?" I'll be able to say it was a shopping trip.
Speaking of which, I also passed the medic station that I reported to last May before being medevacked to Baghdad and ignobly disemboweled. It was a strange feeling, especially since a Marine Chinook helicopter landed right while I was there to medevack somebody else. Far more pleasant to be an observer than a participant.
They've gotten rid of the media tent and replaced it with trailers. In theory, that's nice but my trailer had no electricity when I arrived. I was told contractors would come by to fix things but they took the day off. I'm typing by the light of a flashlight that fits on your head (I call it my coal miner's light) and while I have plenty of laptop batteries, I'm wondering how long the headlamp will hold out. Moreover, the problem with trailers is that the metal makes them great heat collectors without have the AC on. Still, the first time I came out here I was surprised they had AC at all.
It's also Easter Sunday today and the anniversary of the accident in which my wife was almost killed in a car accident, which we usually celebrate in some small way. (No, not her being killed but her not dying.) If I'm counting right, it was 14 years ago that I almost lost her and it was right here 11 months ago that she almost lost me. I shall endeavor to ensure that this time I not only come home but with all of my body parts intact.
View Iraq 2006 photos.