Update From the Frontlines
On December 15th of last year I posted an article here at Something Awful about one of our forum users named GreenMeat being shipped off with his unit to Iraq without the hardened body armor they had been promised. Through the help of our forum members and our readers, as well as generous donations from FARK members, we raised over 20,000 dollars to purchase 62 Class IV trauma plates for 31 soldiers. The donations also provided accompanying carrier vests when needed and a massive set of care packages for our military buddies.
I had not heard from GreenMeat in several months, but Friday I found a padded envelope waiting in my mailbox. Inside was a letter from Iraq as well as a CD containing a stunning video and a number of interesting photographs. For those of you who don't care about GreenMeat or really would rather not hear a personal account from Iraq then you won't hurt my feelings by skipping this update. This is for the people who donated and the people who want a personal and politics-free look at what it's like in Iraq.
We returned from what we hope was our last mobile mission early in the month, and your boxes came on the 9th. Couldn’t have come at a better time, and y’all couldn’t have sent a better mix of goodies. Like Christmas come early, and everything’s being put to good use. Tons of heartfelt thanks to all of you, for everything!
If things go as planned, we’ll be staying here in Kirkuk at Forward Operating Base Warrior for the rest of our deployment. It’s been…interesting so far, and promises to stay that way, though things should be a lot more stable for us here. Our mission emphasis has shifted; the struggle against the insurgents has taken a back seat to helping get the Iraqi government, infrastructure, and national guard up and running. Services and accommodations here at the Kirkuk Airbase (FOB Warrior to us Army types) are excellent. Go Air Force! We’re living in container housing units (CHUs): 10x18-foot CONEX storage containers converted to living quarters, with electricity and air conditioning. Satellite TV’s available if we want it, and the food’s pretty good, too. There’s an internet center, but somethingawful.com is blocked, as is access all webmail services. You can reach me at [GreenMeat included his email address here, you can send me an email and I'll make sure he gets it] and rip me a new one for not keeping you updated.
When we first got here, everything went to shit at warp speed. Our platoon was chopped up for different missions, despite vociferous protests by our leadership. Over half the platoon was taken to run the detention facility here. Our HUMINT element was split into teams, and they run constant, nerve-wracking missions all over our AO with minimal security. Barely enough of us were left to do our SIGINT mission, which was nearly scrubbed altogether due to the lack of productivity by our predecessors. We were nearly sent along with the rest to run the jail, but we managed to raise enough of a ruckus to keep just enough troops to remain mission capable. We’ve been supporting the brigade’s maneuver battalions throughout the area. Compared to spots like Baghdad, Fallujah, An-Najaf, etc., it’s pretty placid up here. There’s plenty of insurgent activity, but it’s mostly low-key, hit-and-run stuff. Plenty of IEDs, but that’s everywhere. Roadside bombs are cheap, easy and demoralizing, and the anti-Coalition forces get plenty of mileage out of ‘em. Still, our brigade has sustained remarkably few casualties compared to the 1st Armored and the other units down south, and the Marines. The Kurdish militia forces, the Peshmerga, keep a heavy boot on the necks of the Arab and Turkoman insurgent elements around these parts.
When we’re here on the airbase, we take indirect fire pretty frequently. Mortar barrages and free-fired 110 and 122mm Katyusha rockets come in at least a couple of times a week, usually during hours of darkness. Kinda disrupts the old sleep cycle, jumping out of bed and hustling for the bunkers. Our quarters are pretty fortified; there’s a 12-foot high Jersey barrier wall, kinda like a medieval curtain wall, all around the perimeter of the CHU area. In between the CHU blocks, we’ve got Hesco barrier walls (Hescos are big, prefabricated, interlocking cloth and wire mesh baskets, about 4 ft wide by 4 ft deep by 8 ft high and filled with dirt), and wood and sandbag overhead cover on the CHUs themselves. Great for blast damping and shrapnel absorption, but nothing beats a nice bunker when the shit’s falling close by. Included on the disk I’m sending is a clip from the 6th, when a lucky incoming rocket started a big grass fire that cooked off the Air Force AHA (ammo holding area). Some Airman got up on a bunker and shot some footage of some of the 2,000 pound bombs going off. Fortunately for them, they live pretty far from their AHA. Our CHUs are a LOT closer; there was no filming for us. Just cowering in the bunker and listening to the shrapnel whap the sandbags while the concussions sucked all the air out of our lungs. I now have a lot of compassion for anyone who has ever had a 2,000-pound bomb dropped near them.
Our platoon’s come through relatively unscathed, though. Wes Drake (aka “Square Brickjaw”) half-severed his thumb in a bizarre construction accident out at the jail, and was evac’d to Germany for neural reconstruction surgery. JR McGlothlin (little redheaded guy, don’t remember what you named him) got 9 staples in his head the other day in an even more bizarre latrine accident. Beau Christenson stepped in a well hole while ground-guiding a vehicle, nearly squashing a testicle. He came away with a spectacular, sunset-like panoramic bruise all around his groin area, but his boys are fine. Combat-wise, we’ve had a few close calls on convoys. There’re a couple of pictures on the disk that portray what happens to an MI Humvee when it runs afoul of a roadside IED [Improvised Explosive Device]. Not our platoon…the first sergeant and his driver walked away from it with a broken leg (driver), fractured collarbone (first sergeant) and a whole lot of contusions and really bad cases of tinnitus. We’ve been on convoys that have been hit with IEDs, RPG and small arms fire, but nothing especially serious. Iraqi insurgents are terrible shots, and their IEDs don’t detonate over half the time. A lot of the incoming we take here are dud rounds as well. Either old ordnance, or the fuses aren’t rigged right. Still…a Katyusha rocket will leave a heck of a bruise. The CHUs have been hit a couple of times, with loss of limbs and other serious injuries.
We’re grateful every day for our body armor. They eventually issued us SAPI plates, but they were class 3 hand-me-downs from outgoing units that were in really terrible shape! Lots of them are cracked, de-laminated or otherwise damaged…we rigged them up as door and seat armor for our vehicles, and we wear the sweet, sweet class 4 plates bestowed upon us by Saint Zachary and the Acolytes of Awfulness. The insurgents have lots of nasty, black-tipped armor piercing 7.62mm rounds, and we all breathe a little easier knowing that we have something that’ll stop ‘em.
Anyway…looks like the SIGINT platoon will be staying put for a while. I have become basically a political analyst, trying to keep the brigade staff abreast of the turbulent political situation here in Kirkuk as the Kurds, Arabs and Turkoman vie for control of the area. The HUMINTers will continue their missions, and we’ll pray for their safety. The folks out at the detention facility (including goon Alicia Childs, aka VsofGT; I can’t remember her other Awful alias) will keep upholding torture-free justice (our D-FAC is touted as one of the very best-run, most humane and law-abiding in the country, even though it’s run by MI and not by the MPs) and keeping insurgents off the streets. I will endeavor to stay in touch on a regular basis, and regale you with amusing (or not) anecdotes of our experiences to date. I’ll round up more pictures from our scattered brethren, too; I haven’t been able to shoot many while on mission, but I know others have, and I’ll try to get you as many as I can.
I’d love to hear from as many of you as care to write, and I’ll answer as many questions and provide as much info as I’m allowed to do. If there are any D&D [Debate and Discussion] forum goons who want the scoop on the political situation here in the north, I’ll try to provide grist for that mill. I’ll recover one of the digital cameras (one’s with HUMINT, and the other’s with LT Thompson out at the prison) to take more pictures, and as stated above, I’ll collect up whatever pictures I can (no detainee photos, sorry!), burn ‘em to disk, and mail them out. Wish I could email them, but we’re not permitted to sully the Air Force’s computers with portable memory devices. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find a more permissive Internet source soon, and we can do away with this snail mail business.
Well, it’s after 4 am, and I’ve got to wrap this up. More to follow soon, and I promise regular updates throughout the rest of our time here, unless mission shifts and we have to roll. Enjoy the film clip and the photos. I’ll put this letter on the disk, too, in case you want to post any of it. Plenty more to follow…
Our best to you and your family, and to that Lowtax guy and the rest of the goons!
-Greenmeat and the Goon Platoon
p.s., Firefly is incredible, BTW. Somehow none of us had ever even heard of it. How could it have ever been cancelled??
GreenMeat also included a number of photographs that he had conveniently added captions to. You can click the image for a much larger version.
1. Loot confiscated from insurgents (also picture 2A)
2. LT Thompson, with same
3. LT Thompson with weapons confiscated from insurgents
4. More seized ordnance
5. see #4
6. our detention facility
7. Alicia the Goon, girded for battle against rioting prisoners (ain’t she cute?)
8. These guys love to blow up the pipeline
9. More burning Iraqi oil
10. The Northern Oil Company, coveted by Kurds, Arabs and Turkoman alike
11. Roadside litter, Iraq style
12. We got 4 inches of snow on March 1st
13. More snow
14. My beautiful SIGINT death machine
15. I had bumper stickers done up at makestickers.com for all of our trucks. The brigade commander made us take ‘em all off.
16. My driver, Specialist Mike Thomson, who is far more dangerous to my health than the insurgents
17. Mike Thomson and Jesse Porter, ready for a convoy
18. Convoy shot
19. A bridge that we really hate in Tikrit, over the not-so-majestic Tigris River. Nasty chokepoint, very vulnerable to attack
20. The less-than-impressive Euphrates. Cradle of what?
21. Romanians! I still get the willies whenever I see Soviet bloc armor, I don’t care who’s driving it.
22. A crappy shot of a huge scrapyard full of wrecked Iraqi armor and artillery. Scrap iron is a booming business here these days.
23 and 23A: Tikrit
24 and 24A: Camels. Nasty, smelly, ornery beasts.
25/25A/25B: JR McGlothlin (aka “Johnny Swingline”, the guy with staples in his head) and Jason Shelton out in the middle of goddamn nowhere, featuring camels. Also a group shot, left to right: Square Brickjaw (back when he had 2 good thumbs), Jason Shelton, Joe Williamson and Beau Christenson. No camels.
26. LPG delivery, Iraqi-style.
27. Some of the lush, verdant countryside where we run missions
28. Like most Saddam murals, embellished by troops.
29. A certificate of loyalty issues by Saddam Hussein. The picture of the detainee upon whom it was bestowed is covered out of respect for his privacy, or something.
30. We have, out at our detention facility, Qusay Hussein’s Jaguar. We drove it around, even though it’s stuck in 3rd gear. The brigade commander made us stop.
31. LT Thompson got himself trapped while moving bunk beds, and was extricated with some difficulty. This is a parable for lieutenants.
BONUS! IED Ruined Hummer!
Last, but certainly not least, GreenMeat included on the CD a copy of a video the USAF shot of their bomb depot in Kirkuk going sky high after an Iraqi rocket hit it. This clip works as a nice belated 4th of July celebration and includes plenty of 2,000 pound bombs bursting in air. One can only hope that the flag was still there.
Irrespective of my opinion about the war in Iraq I am proud of this group of soldiers and even more proud of the good sarcastic humor they've carried with them. Whoever said "laughter is the best medicine" probably didn't imagine a guy chuckling about a gigantic missile abandoned by the side of the road, but that doesn't make them any less right.
Your Band is Still Not Very Good
Dr. David Thorpe, still wallowing in the grim consequences of soliciting your demos, has reviewed another batch of them. This week, we'll hear from one pair of sadsack indie losers, three screaming dudes, a band who expects rock and roll to pay their way, and a guy who may or may not be retarded.
"What follows is an absolutely not-made-up and 100% real quote from EvenFate's website: 'EvenFate's members form so clearly the pool of their music: the ripples of each individual's craving for creation and the ripples of music that has influenced them. Stark, bold, complex, and moving, Even Fate intends the listener to let the waves inspire them, so the waves bounce back, and inspire Even Fate.' If you've ever wondered just how pretentious a band of Texan Incubus copyists could get, there's your answer."
Not only do you get to laugh at reviews of bad bands, but you get to hear them as well, as each song contains an mp3 sample. Prepare to surrender your ears to a world of crap, uncertainty, and more crap.