Greetings everyone,

Here is the latest
journal.  There really hasn’t been much going on here, especially since
we moved to the new shift.  I guess for my family’s sake, boring is
good.

As for the subject line, had we not gotten extended we
would be home.  We were informed that our original departure date was
14 Mar, which would have put us in our own homes by today.  At this end
it is interesting to hear all the rumors and speculation on our new
departure date.  As much as I would like, I won’t believe any until I
am on the airplane taking off from this place.

Take care,
Kevin
kevin.duane.smith@us.army.mil

Monday, 26 Feb 06
Today proved to be a very thought provoking day.  After shift I had to pick up a prescription, and I went to the CASH.  The CASH is the Combat Area Surgical Hospital that provides medical support for all military personnel in the region.  Our CASH is the best trauma hospital in Iraq and in all of southwest Asia.  I was not prepared for my first visit there.

The CASH is a massive, totally transportable operation that consists of nearly 50 large tents interconnected with hallways, which makes an interesting maze.  As I walked through much of it to get to the pharmacy I was able to get a good idea of how it operates.  Firstly, helicopters are landing many times a day bringing injured solders and Marines from all over Iraq.  Picture an emergency room of your busiest hospital, at its busiest time, and multiple it by ten.  That is the volume of business the CASH deals with on a daily basis.  I saw ten ICU wards, but only one recovery ward, because once an injured service member is stable they are immediately transported to Germany, and then eventually back to the states.  The one recovery ward is for the Local Nationals who come to Anaconda for medical treatment.

Nearly every bed of the CASH was filled, and the place was a buzz of activity.  No panic.  No excitement.  Just many people moving briskly to take care of each unfortunate patient that had the misfortune of becoming a temporary resident there.  Seeing the CASH gave me a new appreciation of military medical personnel.

Today we learned that our soldier who was injured on the 22 Feb was transferred to Walter Reed Hospital in Maryland.  He was sent to the states because he still doesn’t have motor function of his injured leg.  The shrapnel was not removed, but the soldier will be evaluated in 6-8 weeks to determine the next steps in his treatment.  Hopefully they will be able to assist him in a full recovery.  His day included a trip to the Pentagon where he was presented his Purple Heart, Combat Action Badge and other awards for his service in Iraq.

Friday, 2 Mar 07
It definitely is a full moon night.  Every full moon brings an interesting atmosphere on the ECP.  The TCN seem a little off and interesting events always occur.  Today we caught a TCN smuggling stolen gasoline hidden under his trailer bed above the axles.  We estimate he had stolen over 150 gallons in a variety of containers (1 liter water bottles, antifreeze containers, cooking oil jugs) from the Army vehicles that were being transported by the convoy.  That little event stopped traffic in the ECP for over an hour before we got everything back up and running.  We figure the TCN is lucky an IED didn’t hit him.  His trailer would have gone up like a roman candle.

Near the end of shift some insurgents fired on a convoy leaving camp.  It was witnessed by some of our soldiers using some of our “little toys” that we have at the ECP.  Our Immediate Reaction Force was sent out and detained a man seen leaving the area where the rocket was fired.  When we brought him on camp I tested him with another little gadget and determined that he had been handling explosives recently.  So the Iraqi was detained.  Two of my soldiers and I then spent the next 10 hours escorting the man through the “system” and we then took him to the detention facility, where our unit will have to watch him for about three days.  It feels good to take another “bad guy” off the streets.

It was a very long day that ends with only four hours of sleep before I get to wake up and start another full day of work.

Saturday, 3 Mar 07
Today my workday involved keeping the inspection lanes moving smoothly, while at the same time conducting hourly checks on our guards and the detainee we secured yesterday.  With the detention facility ten minutes away I felt that all I did was drive there and return to the ECP, only to have to leave again a few minutes later.  It is a good thing I have great guys working the ECP, otherwise it would have been an even longer morning.

Ever since the humiliating Abu-Grab incident the Army is oversensitive on the handling of detainees.  Everyone who works with them must be trained, and strict supervision and documentation must be maintained.  This is the first time that anyone from my unit had to use the detention facility, but rest assured, we have taken the lessons to heart.  It is sad how a few individuals can tarnish the good work and efforts that all the other service members in Iraq have been doing.  It has helped keep the focus on the negative aspects of our work instead of showcasing the great steps forward that have occurred over the years.

The day ended with me pulling out my camera to take a few fun photos and it decided to not want to work any longer.  Very disappointing!

Sunday, 4 Mar 07
It was a really neat morning.  While we were searching a convoy one of my soldiers came to me and asked me what was wrong with the moon.  I looked up and was surprised to see a beautiful, burnt-orange colored full moon with only a sliver of the normal intense brightness that it usually shows us here in the desert.  We were experiencing a lunar eclipse, and it was beautiful.  Then one of my soldiers stated to the group that had gathered that the last lunar eclipse occurred in 1602.  Without realizing that I was getting suckered-in I replied that I had seen several over the years.  Which the reply was, “See, I told you.”  Ouch!  Enough with the old jokes.

The weather here has been just gorgeous.  Today we had a low of 58, and the afternoon was sunny with a light breeze, with a high of 80.  The only down side of this great day is that the summer heat is only about 8 weeks away.

Tuesday, 5 Mar 07
This morning on shift I heard the sounds of children screaming outside the camp, but then it just didn’t sound right.  None of the guys that have been here awhile knew what it was; though they had heard it before.  It was eerie.  Then I remembered something I had heard years ago that the sound of a jackal yelping is like a child screaming.  It turns out that there were several jackals outside our fence that must have been yelping at the moon or something.

It is interesting that we have become desensitized to aircraft taking off, machineguns firing, or mortar rounds impacting.  But if there is an unusual sound, or the machine gun fires from a non-common area, or a mortar round happens to impact nearby, all of us on the ECP immediately take notice.  Otherwise most sounds of “war” go pretty much unnoticed by us.

Wednesday, 6 Mar 07
After being up for 24 hours we have finally changed shifts.  I am no longer working the busiest shift on the ECP.  I go to work in the evening after dinner and will now be done around 3:00 a.m.  It is a refreshing break from the high paced atmosphere from our previous shift.  We will get maybe 3-4 convoys right at the end of our evening on the ECP.  It was a really nice feeling to see the lights of three or four convoys backed up at the entry of the camp, waiting to be brought in, knowing that we do not have to deal with them.

Thursday, 15 Mar 07
We have officially decided we want our old shift back.  Eight hours of “nothing” to do is an eternity.  To break up the monotony I am no longer spending all my shifts in the inspection area.  I now rotate every other day to the “front” to supervise the soldiers who provide the forward security for our site.  We are responsible for the security of the convoys as they enter our camp and monitor the road leading out.  I move to the various locations I have soldiers positioned and ensure that things are going good.  In the event of an “incident” I am the leader on the ground that controls the IRF (Immediate Reaction Force) soldiers sent forward from the inspection site to deal with it.  But, once again, our new shift has the least amount of issues to “monitor.”

Friday 23 Mar 07
A typical day for our shift in the inspection area goes like this: When we arrive on site we conduct shift change with the outgoing platoon, exchanging information on events and equipment issues that have occurred within the past 24 hours.  Once our counterparts are gone I assign my team to the various positions for our site and to the IRF (Immediate Reaction Force) vehicles. Since site security is our number one responsibility, my team first checks out the vehicles to ensure that they are ready to roll when we get a call.  We then have dinner and then check out the site equipment in preparation of convoys.

Once we are fully prepared for ECP operations we take on our secondary responsibility, maintaining the twelve machine guns on the site.  We take a newly cleaned gun and test fire it to ensure that it is working properly.  Once verified that it works we swap it out with another gun that at one of the various positions on the site or on our IRF trucks.  The swapped gun is then cleaned and stored, only to be positioned at another location the next day.  With all the dust kicked up by the trucks entering and leaving the ECP the guns become quickly caked with the fine, talcum powder-like dust here in Iraq.  Whether the gun has been fired or not, after about a week it is in desperate need of some TLC.

Once weapons’ cleaning is complete we then work on our personal weapons, ensuring that they are in optimal condition.  After everything is done, which may take around two to three hours of our shift, we then wait.  Wait for a convoy, wait for an IRF run….wait for anything.  If we do get a convoy it usually arrives about one hour before we are relieved.  So during the waiting period I usually monitor the radio and read while the team plays UNO, Monopoly, pitch, read, sleep, or any other activity that consumes their time.

Once our day is complete we then head back and I read a little more and then I am in bed by 0400, only to wake up at noon and start another day.  I’m really looking forward to this Sunday.  It will be my first day off since 28 Jan.