More news from Kevin Smith, stationed at Camp Anaconda, Iraq.

The day at the ECP was long.  We only put in over 150 trucks (which has been our norm for the past week) but we caught a driver with multiple bottles of alcohol hidden in his truck.  Usually what we do is a fairly detailed search with only one soldier.  If we find something that isn’t right we put another soldier in the truck and they “toss the truck.”  That is, we remove every panel, speakers, access in the dash… anything that could hide contraband.  This particular driver had six bottles hidden in various places.  When we confronted him he told us he only had four.  If that was the case we most likely would have had him pour them out and nothing more would have been said.  Well, we had already found five so we knew he wasn’t truthful.  So we called the military police that confiscated his truck and took him away in handcuffs.  The other TCNs got a laugh because the arresting officer was a female, which is a disgrace in this male-dominated society.

Alcohol is prohibited for any soldier, sailor, airman or civilian on Anaconda because of an agreement with the Iraqi government and respect for the Islamic faith.  Because it is against the law each bottle that a TCN “mules” in has a street value of nearly $150-nearly a month’s earning for many of the TCNs back in their home country.  The price was much lower until about six weeks ago when the guys I work with found over 80 cases (960 bottles) in a truck.  Word got out quick and most of the TCNs got out of the liquor business.

One neat event occurred today.  After a week of e-mailing schedules I was able to link up with the son of a former co-worker of mine when I worked with the Boy Scouts.  I’m glad Jason remembered me because we figured out that the last time I saw him he was only 4 years old and has grown a little since then.

Jason is an electronics and weapons system technician on the AH 64 Apache Attack Helicopter.  Basically, he told me if it has wires or goes bang he can fix it.  He even took me over to the flight line (where us non-aviation types are not allowed to go) and let me climb inside an Apache.  It was cool seeing a different part of the Army.  We talked about how every soldier thinks his job is boring and the other guy has it better.  This would be the “cool” factor for me.  Unfortunately it would take nearly an act of Congress to get him to the ECP.

Jason was really glad to see another Nebraskan because he is attached to a unit from Texas and is really getting tired of not being taken care of.  It even turns out that he graduated with a soldier in my platoon.  So I told him to stop by anytime he needs a Nebraska fix.

One laugh today came when Jason and I went to Burger King and there was a sign, which read “today we are out of Lettus.”  Some times the TCN need an American to check their translations.

Thursday, 21 Dec 06

Today at the ECP the work was totally different from yesterday.  On Wednesday my team made the second largest alcohol find on the LSA.  We discovered 167 one liter bottles of whiskey before we stopped looking.  We were quite sure there was more to be found by the military police after they took control of the truck.  We were confident that the drivers were being paid to “mule” the stuff in to sell by Christmas.  The street value of the bust was over $25,000.  It was a good day’s work.

Today, on the other hand, we were greeted with a thick, heavy fog that gave us only about twenty feet of visibility.  As a result few convoys were put on the road and the route clearance teams were out in earnest trying to detect and destroy and IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devises) that the insurgents placed under the cover of the fog.

I was just thinking about IEDs.  It has been an acronym used by the military for many years.  But now it is such a common item on the nightly news, even my six year old daughter understands that it means danger to soldiers.  It is interesting how “common place” military terms are seeping into out daily vernacular.  Most people don’t realize that the Army speaks a whole different language, with much of it based on acronyms.  Like, ‘we put on our ACUs, our ACHs and our IBAs and went to the ECP’.  Translated: We put on our uniform (Army Combat Uniform), our helmets (Advanced Combat Helmet), and our flack vests (Improved Body Armor) and went to the entry control point.  Our language has advanced so quickly in Iraq that I had to go on a crash course to learn all the exciting new acronyms developed during this conflict.

Sunday, 24 Dec 06
It sure doesn’t feel like Christmas is a few hours away.  It just isn’t the same without all the music, decorations or family.  To us it will be just another work day.  Unfortunately I will be unable to attend any of the church services.  They either occur when I am working or in the evening way past my bedtime.

Monday, 25 Dec 06

Christmas!  I started my day at 0130 hours as usual putting on my uniform, donning my 50 pound body armor, snapping the chin snap on my helmet, slinging my pack stuffed with miscellaneous equipment, and grabbing my rifle (everything combined, I don nearly 80 pounds of equipment). 

Kevinuniform

The platoon all meets and the quiet morning hum of greetings permeates the group.  It is bitterly cold and we are not looking forward to the day’s work.  As we near the completion of our fifteen minute drive to the ECP we see the road leading into camp packed with trucks.  This is the first clear night in four days and trucks that were stranded at other bases trying to get to Anaconda have all headed to our humble home.

Over 350 trucks passed through our inspection area in just seven hours, over 175 of them are driven by TCNs and needed searched.  We processed so many trucks that the fuel point couldn’t fill them up fast enough, creating a traffic jam on the perimeter road that was over a mile long, which at time prevented us from bringing another convoy in because the last one couldn’t get out of our inspection area.  By the time our shift was over, our breakfast had sat for three hours getting cold.  I ended up just waiting for lunch when I got off shift.

The show hall was packed.  Santa was there to greet everyone as they entered, and inside were decorations galore: an 8×12 nativity all done in bread; a full size nativity in papier-mâché, complete with camels and other animals; ice carvings; table cloths; two bible shaped cakes that were 4’x4’; and many other decorations too numerous to list.

The food was great!  Whole turkeys carved while you wait, roast beef, prime rib, ham and crab legs.  All served with “all the trimmings”.  The one thing we felt missing was the mashed potatoes.  The best part of the meal was that it was endless.  If you wanted more you just had to ask.  Some guys left the serving line with two plates and they hadn’t made it to the salad and desert bar yet.

After lunch I looked up Jason and hung out with him for a few hours.  And finally, after a 45 minute wait for an open phone, I contacted Nancy and Emily right in the middle of opening presents.  The day ended with me returning to my room to find a box of books I had ordered nearly two weeks earlier.  Finally something new to read.

Monday, 26 Dec 06

As I was sitting at lunch, eating and watching Armed Forces Network News, it finally dawned on me what was missing at Christmas—KIDS!   Sure, many of the soldiers serving here graduated from high school last June.  But real kids whose faces brighten up at the sight of “Santa”, who can’t wait to open presents, who sing in church, who are running through the mall on Christmas Eve helping Dad find the right gift for Mom.  This is the first Christmas that I haven’t seen them to cheer up the season.  I guess that is the true hardship of a deployment over the holidays.

Saturday, 30 Dec 06

Received a large envelope today packed with handmade Christmas cards from the 4/5/6th grade class of Emily’s school, Mount Calvary Lutheran School in Omaha.  It was a wonderful treat to an otherwise gloomy day.

Sunday, 31 Dec 06

The Third Country Nationals who work in our recreation center are making preparations for a big New Year’s celebration.  They have signs, streamers, banners, and even a mirror ball hanging in the center of the room (well actually it is covered with aluminum foil, but you have to give them credit.)  It has been entertaining watching them make most of the decorations by hand all this past week.  They have been non-stop trying to get everything done in time.  That included taking all the Christmas decorations down that they painstakingly made and put up last week.  It is amazing what these TCN go through to help make our celebrations something that helps bring back a little of our home.  It is also interesting to see the interpretation that many of the TCN have of our celebrations.  See, many of them are Hindus, Buddhists, or Muslims and many of their views of our holidays (like Christmas) come from a more European view.

Well, one day after Saddam Hussein was executed and we have seen little to no effect in our area of operations.  In fact it wasn’t until I got an e-mail from Nancy that I found out we were on “High Alert”.  News from the local villages is that the political situation of the country does little to affect them, so they think little of politics.  If it would happen to change their life for better or worse, then they would care.

From what I have seen of the country and heard from our guys that have spent any amount of time outside the “wire”, all the average people of Iraq want is a chance to make a decent life for themselves and their children.  There are farmers who have land that butts right up to the outer perimeter fence of Anaconda, and we see them in their fields everyday, removing rocks, picking up trash, hand watering their winter wheat, and plowing the land, some with an ox, others with tractors that look like they came right out of the 50s.

On one mission where I went right outside the wire we went to find out what a man wanted who was yelling at us from our perimeter edge.  It turns out he was a farmer who owned land right along the road leading into camp.  All he wanted was permission to cultivate the land right next to the road.  A public affairs officer arrived on scene and a compromise was worked out with the man.  Everybody left happy.  We kept a security barrier and he got more land to raise crops.

Monday, 1 Jan 07

I have dubbed our work at the inspection area as “Operation Bootlegger” because of all the alcohol we have been finding.  Today was another day of finds.  One driver made it easy when he arrived drunk, blowing a .191.  It’s amazing that he didn’t wreck his truck. 
Other than that it was another typical day: convoy comes in, we search, convoy goes out. 
Over and over and over…. 
Happy New Year everyone!