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Part IX: The Camp at K2

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

The Camp
Can’t really say much about the base. There’s lot of gravel because of a high water table. Let me step back and cover some meteorological facts that you may not be aware of. Any legitimate place that soldiers are plopped down at will have a random value from each of the following columns:

Temperature: Ground Consistency:
Too Hot Too Dry (Dust)
Too Cold Too Wet (Mud)

Now, of course you have snow and ice, which are different, but they are merely a preliminary stage of Mud, so I do not count it. There are in-between stages but they never last more than a day. This table otherwise neatly describes all possible weather conditions. You may think you have some good weather conditions and I must be exaggerating. Re-read the last sentence before the table. Trust me, I’m right, and you are merely fooling yourself if you disagree.

Far off in the distance one day I saw some hills way far away. Other than that it’s pretty flat around here. There’s no grass except for on the big aircraft bunkers, though that will die before too long as it heats up around here. Generally speaking, when you stick the military somewhere, all the vegetation goes away. Walking back and forth, moving vehicles, it all packs the earth down. It gets soaked and turns to mud, which accelerates the destruction by making the roots easier to pull out. I call it God’s Brown Earth. I haven’t seen any trees, though I heard there were one or two. I think it’s a lie.

We live in tents, designed to hold about 8-10 people. They are (generally speaking) heated and cooled. By that I mean you won’t ordinarily get frozen to death or heatstroke, but it isn’t going to be your standard 72 degrees type of situation. I have a cot with two nifty thick Uzbek blankets under my sleeping bag for padding. Some guys have had crude beds made, with air mattresses and all sorts of padding under it. Usually I am tired enough that I don’t much notice the minor lack of comfort. The jets are loud, but you can sleep through anything once you get used to it. I think the Uzbeks do not fly their fighters at night, either. Those damn things are several orders of magnitude louder than the cargo birds. I use a sweatshirt rolled up inside its hood as a pillow, since I foolishly forgot to bring one. Oops.

For bathrooms, there are Portajohns liberally spaced throughout the camp. They get a little muddy on occasion in addition to the expected unseemliness. The big pink mints taste funny. There are temperature-controlled bathrooms also, for your more serious business, so it isn’t so bad. Got showers with hot water, except for that one day…ain’t nuthin’ worse than a shockingly cold-water shower. AUGH! You can turn in laundry twice a week, comes back the same day.

Food – it’s decently good and there’s lots of it. There are hot meals served morning and night, and lunch is supposed to be MREs. I haven’t had one of those yet, and don’t mind if I don’t. They have soups and stuff you can take out, and I can make do with a snack for lunch. Even so, after a while, it’s all the same and you don’t feel like eating so much. There’s variety, but only so much. Smile You can buy assorted crap down at the small PX here. They even have DVDs and players, Playstations, Gamecubes, TVs, and other surprising things on occasion. Man, have things changed over the years. Not too long ago the attitude was “you’re a soldier, you aren’t supposed to be comfortable anyway!” They have a gym and a tiny movie theatre (with good seats) and small rec area. They have it pretty well here, and most of them seem to be 8-hour shift workers. Most of that stuff really is for them, since we have a lot less free time. They have it better than us, but there is a rather drastic difference in pay to consider. So I ain’t complainin’.

One nameless individual with joking intent asked if there were any furreners around. Yeah sure…us! There are quite a few Uzbeks about, as one might imagine, it being their country and all. They work on the camp doing various menial and manual labor tasks as well as some other less basic positions. They are generally friendly but some people treat them as if they were idiot children or invisible. Even if you don’t speak the language, it’s not hard to simply acknowledge the existence of another human being. A smile and a nod don’t take much time out of your day. They generally dress in more or less Western fashion (no, not BABBs – that’s Big Ass Belt Buckle, cowboy boots, and ten gallon hats) with some localized differences. The girls typically wear tight jeans. You see a lot of gold teeth, which can be disturbing. Imagine if you will a cleaning lady who might be sweeping (i.e., creating dust, though they spray water to keep it down some) looking at you saying to themselves “beautiful boy”, which they think you don’t understand. And consider then if this ancient creature looks up and smiles, showing ONLY gold teeth. It took all my strength of uhh….it would take all one’s strength of will not to run away screaming then and there, were something like that to happen to someone. Shocked

Tent Sweet Tent
Well….it’s a tent.

The brownish thing at the rear of the tent is an ECU. It’s like an air conditioner. Somehow when it’s cold out, it heats things up too. (sorta)

Real men such as ourselves don’t need them, but many mere mortal folks require a heater. These take fire and blow it into your tent, roasting you alive.

Anyway, here’s my area.

Things That Make You Go…

Tuesday, December 14th, 2004

…gotta go! Smile

Apparently a taxi 75m out the gate was in the wrong place at the wrong time. 107mm does a number on the bodywork. These went over us on the way through I think. Not very far over though.

Daily Danger In Iraq

Saturday, December 11th, 2004

I usually play off the danger here, so as not to scare folks, but today it hit home just how bad things can be here. In a quirk of timing, we got some footage just as an incident occurred. This footage is not for the faint of heart nor weak of continence, but does illustrate the very real everyday dangers we face here. I’m just glad we aren’t out there on the streets.

Short video, about 800k. More visually stunning when set to repeat.

Muhammed’s Busy Day

Friday, October 22nd, 2004

Muhammed got up early today. He was going to be busy, and wanted an early start.

At around 4:15 we got some incoming. Can’t say I heard it.

At 5:50, down near the gate we got around 14 or so. 1-8 were pretty consistent, but then I guess somebody got excited and messed up the rhythm. They stayed quiet, but even so I was unhappy to find them expending that number of rounds. Usually it’s just 1, maybe 2 so that we don’t forget they are out there. 5 or 6 makes a busy day for them. Apparently they coordinated with a hit on the airfield, who got 7 rounds of their own.

At 10:43 they gave the airfield some more loving, another 10 rounds, off the FOB.

At 2:55 PM it happened again. It was rather more interesting.

At #1, we look at it each other across the office, pretty sure it was no slamming container door. #s 2 and 3 confirm that, since nobody slams the doors quite that way, particularly that close together. #4 and 5 find us heading to the bunker. #6 finds us moving quickly there. #7 and 8 is when we run. I never run. They’re getting closer. On #9, Jeremy drops one of the radios. He stops and stares at it somewhat dumbly. He’s not dumb of course, it’s just that sometimes when you are distracted like that decisions take on a whole other level of necessary concentration. I focus in on it really hard, and I think if I make a superhuman effort I can snag it on the way past. It’s green, while the other radios are all black. I don’t know why this occurs to me. I can only imagine the idiotic look of deliberation that must be on my face. Jeremy realizes he should go, since I have focused on the radio and will probably simply run into him if he is still there. Somehow I manage to successfully acquire 1 each Turkish subcontractor radio without falling down. #10 is real close. #11, 12, and a few others we are too distracted to count are pretty damn close too. Apparently they are still sticking to the deal* – they only hit our camp within a camp when I am not there. That doesn’t mean they can’t hit next door I guess. I feel better in the bunker. Usually I find it an annoyance.

(* Ok, there’s no deal, but they have managed to miss our mini-camp so far while I have been here. They hit with a mortar round a few days before I got here the first time, and about two days after I went on R&R they got a rocket airburst in the backyard.)

There’s a big fire at one of the Turkish subcontractor camps. The shelling stops. We sit in the bunker, helping the Ops guy with accountability. Sometimes people call in too quickly, it can be hard to find the call signs on the paper. We come together as a team. We make the “that was scary, but I’m being cool about it” jokes. Nervous tension burns out. It’s usually obvious when the jackasses have stopped and run away, but we still need to finish the accountability. We are significantly more squared away than our Turkish subcontractors, of which there are three. Three companies that is, not 3 guys. They take significantly longer to account for their people, but at the same time you can be assured that they do not in fact know where everyone is, and that they are ok. In the end, they are, but it takes a while to verify that.

Can you identify where the rounds came from?

Check your answer!

Our security guy says 5 rounds hit the FOB. I don’t know how the hell Muhammed could have possibly missed with any rounds from that distance, much less the vast majority of them. I’m glad he’s not real good at this. I hope that he’s done for the day. I hope he’s done forever, really. I hear they “detained” a few guys over there. I doubt it’s all of them. They’ve been quite active since Ramadan started. I can’t remember if chucking 120mm mortar rounds at the invader is prohibited during the daylight time or not.

Of course, this closes the gate for a while. I stand up near our camp and just look around for a long time. Here you can see how a little ant kept people away from the gate. To separate him in your minds from Red Ant, and since he’s an Iraqi…I will call him Green Ant. Generally, Green Ant was able to get his point across without getting cranky, as near as I can tell. There was a time or two where a second car maybe couldn’t see as a first car was in the way. They’d get all honky, and Mr. Green Ant would gesture with his boomstick, and the point would get across. You can see a Stryker platoon in the background coming up the road, if you look closely. Farther up the left, out of this picture is a strange section of road that emits loud, scary rumbling noises on occasion.

Of course they weren’t done for the day. We get another 4 or 5 going to the DFAC. We were driving along, and I didn’t hear a thing, but Jeremy pulls over, pulls out his radio and we hear “seek hard shelter.” We both give the “didn’t hear anything” look but follow orders. A short bit later we hear a few. No biggie. Jeremy has to go back to send up a report. I go on to chow. I walk back. I take the back way, just in case.

Just now had a controlled blast. They warned us over the radio, it was going in 5 minutes. Jeez. They forgot to mention it was under my freaking container. At least that’s where it felt like it was, when my damn heart leapt out of my chest. The first and / or only one is scary if loud (therefore close, usually) because it’s like “hey, that’s one I certainly couldn’t have dodged.” We get a decent percentage of duds that have to be got rid of. Sometimes they let us know, sometimes they don’t. Like Ivanova says, there’s always a boom.

I’m getting tired of this.

Originally posted over at AGW.

Some Mosul Pix From The Other Day

Sunday, June 27th, 2004

Here are a few pics from the other day in Mosul, same day as all the fun stuff was going on.

These folks are with the MPs. They had set up a new position on our roof for observation during the evenings. They have a SAW in front of them that you can’t see. I talked to them for a while. One guy in their unit had been killed in the morning with the car bombing of the police station, a couple critically wounded, and some others wounded also.

The area between the building at the horizon and the tower is where one of the car bombs went off.

I’m not sure what this one is, but something is obviously burning. I don’t recall hearing anything that evening though. Usually pretty much anything going off can be heard if you are not asleep, and depending on the size and distance, that might not be a factor. Smile

A later shot where you can see the smoke better. There was a whole lot more in the morning. I didn’t go up on the roof then. When they gave the all clear, there was some small arms fire not too far the other side of the wall, but it wasn’t very motivated. Still, rooftop not a good place to be at that time.

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