Thursday, 24 May 07

Big day today for progress on our trip home. We moved into temporary housing so our replacements can move right into our housing area. I was luckily enough to have the night off, so I spent it doing final packing and cleaning. Our new accommodations are pretty cramped. There are forty of us crammed in an open bay building that provides us barely enough room for the bunks and our two bags we have remaining. But it is only for a couple of weeks, and we can do that standing on our heads.

Friday, 25 May 07
The thing soldiers do to amuse themselves is very entertaining. Tonight most of the guys had a card tossing fight while our medic went out collecting bugs for his "petting zoo." Iraq has some of the weirdest bugs and critters I have ever seen. Specialist Villassias has collected beetles that are 2 ½ inches long, a weird bug that the Arabic translation is "mud digger", a scorpion, small camel spiders, small lizards, huge flying ants, and a bunch of others bugs we have no idea what they were. I put the stop to his little collection when he was after a horned viper, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. The adaptation of bugs to survive the harsh climate of Iraq is phenomenal.

Sunday, 27 May 07
Today the sky was overcast, which kept the daytime high to only 105 degrees (as compared to 121 yesterday.) It was really nice until dusk, at which the winds picked up with gusts nearing 80 miles per hour, giving us are first sandstorm of the season. Anything not tied down quickly flew away in the wind and anybody outside got quickly sandblasted. The winds finally subsided after three hours and then we had to pick up the pieces. On the ECP a large, metal famed tent where we park our Immediate Reaction Force vehicles was partially blown down and we had to get our vehicles out in case we needed them.

The big damage on post was numerous radio antennas and the roof blew off of a facility that houses the team that manages all the convoys on the road. Luckily they were able to get back in business and start sending convoys as soon as the wind died down.

Monday, 28 May 07
Memorial Day. Today we just learned that a soldier from the National Guard who deployed with another Nebraska unit here in at Anaconda has been killed. He was in a vehicle conducting convoy escorts when his vehicle was struck by an IED. The other two personnel in the vehicle were also injured but are expected to return to duty. It is never a good day when we hear of a death of a fellow soldier.

Saturday, 2 June 07
Today was the worst day I have ever experienced!

Sunday, 3 June 07
There is so much that happened yesterday, but also so much that I want to forget. I hesitate to write this for several reasons. Firstly, I don’t want people feeling sorry for me, but rather for the family involved in the incident. Second, it was just a hideous incident. Here is the simple fact of what occurred: I watched a twelve-year-old boy die yesterday.

We arrived for shift just like any other day and prepared for another boring night. But within fifteen minutes of changeover the ECP erupted into action. There were several convoys departing and at the end of the ECP there was a group of kids begging for the Soldiers to throw them some candy. Sometimes if they don’t get candy the children throw rocks at the TCN trucks or try to steal stuff off of them. When it gets bad we oftentimes send our IRF (Immediate Reaction Force) trucks out to scare the kids away. Apparently a TCN truck struck a boy of twelve and some local farmers drove him to a gate near the position I was manning last night. Because of the severity of the boy’s injuries I contact our Officer in Charge who sent our IRF, our ambulance, our medic and contacted the base emergency personnel. But no efforts from any of our soldiers could revive the boy.

Sadly enough, the boy was the son of Sheik (community leader) of one of the villages outside our camp. The Sheik had been asked several times to please try and stop the children that gather to beg and steal. He told us that there was nothing that he could do. I hope there is something he can do now.

We are so ready to go home now.

Monday, 4 June 07
The unit replacing us finally showed up today to start training. They were suppose to be here a week ago but the weather grounded the helicopters that were to bring them here. They are a maintenance company and weren’t trained on much of the things we combat soldiers take for granite. So we will be giving them a crash course and hope they can get a good enough drink from the fire hose that they can take over.

Friday, 8 June 07
Yesterday was the last day that our entire platoon worked at the ECP. Our replacements have been doing pretty good and after a few more days with us overseeing their operation they should not have any problems running the site. I should only have one or two more days of work before we leave. It’s a good feeling.

Although we are within a week from our departure the reality of our impending return has not hit me. I guess with this being my third deployment I’m not getting too anxious. It will take us nearly two weeks to make it from Iraq to our homes. We will spend two days in Kuwait for out-processing the region, nearly 20 hours flying back to the states, and seven to ten days at Ft McCoy, Wisconsin. Why it will take so long at Ft McCoy we can’t understand. But no amount of griping will change it. Somebody knows our actual return date where we will have our welcome home ceremony in Lincoln, but no one it telling us yet. Patience!

Monday, 11 June 07
Our departure is now within the 72-hour mark and some of the guys are nervously repacking their bags. I think anxiety has kicked in for some of the guys. One of our interpreters stopped by and said his good byes to us. Maximus (a nickname he chose so no Iraqi can find his family. His real name is Mostafa) is a great kid and speaks better English and American than most soldiers. He just turned 21 and grew up outside of Baghdad, the son of an Air Force Colonel and a schoolteacher. He has just been granted a visa and looks forward to coming to the United States. The sad fact here is that any Iraqi citizen who works as a translator for the US can no longer live in the country he is trying to help. So the United States permitted Max to come to the US and eventually become a citizen. His ambition is to work here another year and then come to the US and become a soldier in the US Army, and return to assist his country even more. You have to respect him. He is a great kid with wonderful possibilities for his future.

(This is a "letter from Iraq" from our friend, Kevin Smith, who is with the Nebraska National Guard at Camp Anaconda….We expect to see him in person next week or so.)