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Rockets, Mortars, And You

Saturday, November 6th, 2004

Rockets, Mortars, and You

Since the start of Ramadan, things have been substantially busier around here, as far as enemy attacks go. They seem to like late afternoon attacks, some time soon after the local laborers have gone home for the day. Hmm… Additionally, the evening call to prayer, in the 7 PM vicinity is also quite popular. It’s kind of rude really, since in the beginning, they were shooting in the middle of it. It may not be blasphemous, but it’s certainly disrespectful, especially if it’s your own faith, right? It reminds me of my initial time at the airfield, when they would semi-consistently mark the end of the call to prayer by popping off a round of two of something, as if to punctuate it.

Tuesday, November 2 was Election Day in the states. We were all prepped for something to happen. Around 3:10 PM, it did. Abdul must have been practicing and preparing, because he had his business together this day. #1 came in, not sounding too far away, and as we moved to the door #2 followed. That was a lot quicker than they are ordinarily able to cycle rounds. I suspect they were using multiple tubes. We hauled ass to the bunker. There were 4-5 before we got inside, and more than that after. It felt like about 15ish. They were only 60mms and thus not too loud, but we could tell they were close. None hit our camp. This may have been a different group than our usual guys, because the pacing was much quicker, and they got off a lot more rounds than the others. Usually if we are going to get a salvo going, it’ll be around 4 or so rounds, with 20-30 seconds between, if not more like a minute. Nothing hit our camp, but 8-9 were on the FOB. There was one directly below our camp, in one of the subcontractor camps. They were much more accurate, or at least more precise. “He hates this gate!”

Once we got the all clear, we went out. Don asks who knocked over the plastic chairs that had been in the way. You tend to forget things like that in the spur of the moment, but apparently it was him. I don’t even recall them being in the way, though from their position obviously they must have been.

Later that evening we are standing around BSing by the patio. It’s just gotten dark. Suddenly the dreaded whistling begins. This one’s close. I know that we are dead, it’s so close. It’s unfair, as they have never hit our actual camp while I’ve been here, but did a few days before I arrived the first time, and a couple of days after I left on R&R in August. Jacob drops where he is, and Jeremy and I head to get behind some sandbags surrounding a living container a few feet away. Maybe we can only get some dead from the open side. Jeremy is ahead of me. I am looking up into the sky in the direction it’s coming from: I know I’ll be able to see this one, but I can’t find it. Jeremy stops at the corner of the sandbag wall. This is a mistake on his part, because I don’t. Once we are both behind the wall I can stop, but not before. Somehow we get sorted out, and realize we should be dead by now, but there’s been no horrible hell-noise, nor any bits of me torn off in a violent hail of ripping metal. Maybe it was a dud? There IS a 10-20% dud rate. Good thing for Brian, since he was still standing up straight in the center of the porch like an idiot. I hear a voice, “what are you guys doing?” It’s Mr. Sweet. Heart pounding, I stand up and step off of Jeremy, real slow-like. We look around. Mr. Sweet had decided to whistle. He sounded exactly like a rocket. He had been walking down the container row. We didn’t see him because it was dark, and I know that my eyes definitely snapped up above to the horizon to locate the sound, thus looking up over where he was. It sounded close, because…it was. It just wasn’t a damn rocket making the noise, but a jackass. It’s kind of funny now, but I didn’t stop shaking for quite some time after.

The next day, we have a sort of ho-hum 3-4 PM attack. Not much worthy of note, really. Same as all the rest. Later on that night, we get the 7ish salvos. Man, they are all over the place tonight, totally uncoordinated. They must have all gone down to Ali’s Mortar Rental and are randomly pursuing their own “kill somebody” agenda. They are both getting closer and farther away. I figure it’s prudent time and head to my next-door bunker. It’s about 10 feet from the door of my hooch, so it’s quite convenient. Eventually they quit, but do get a few on the FOB, but none so near to us. We are mostly milling around, half expecting a few more, in which nobody wants to get too comfy back in their rooms just yet. We start to give up when a horrible screeching sounds. We move but halfway through it dawns on us that it’s a car skidding to a halt on the highway, 50m or so away. Since I always look to the sound of the attack, I swing my head back forward while sending my legs the command to stop. I realize I am about to run into a small generator, so I make it a combat stop. It’s successful, though suboptimal, collapsing me into a pile on the gravel. I receive my first injury of the war, and we aren’t even being shot at. No Purple Heart for me. Smile I basically skin my knee, and while it bleeds impressively for a short time, and contrasts nicely with my new coating of dust, it is no big deal. I move around a little stiffly for the next day, and use it as an excuse to skip the gym the next night, though I was lying to myself, and I knew it.

If you need cell phone service…

Sunday, October 31st, 2004

In the DFAC they have TVs along the outside edge. On one side we have AFN with either American news programs of various sorts, sports, and occasionally a movie. Along the other side we have BBC news. Among the advertisers on BBC are Afghan Wireless.

Now here’s my question: who the hell outside of Afghanistan gives a crap about phone service there? Are they advertising “hey, Afghanistan is a great place for investment, see, we even have cell phone service!” or just letting your average traveling businessman know that if he poor self gets sent to Afghanistan he can use a cell phone?

My alternate guess is that the only people could afford a cell phone are rich westerners, who probably have satellite connections for TV, and thus constitute a target market. Still though, it seems excessive if someone with too much cash isn’t underwriting their advertising budget.

On another note:

What kind of idiot goes backpacking through Iraq? How can people be that damn stupid? Shocked

Still more different notes

I need a haircut. I last got a haircut over two months ago. Unfortunately, the bad guys killed the wife and kids of the last haircut guy, so he doesn’t come to work anymore. I guess he no longer has much reason to. Hell, I can always get a haircut someway and somehow, but it’s a lot easier than losing your family. This country sucks.

Sunsets and Languages

Sunday, October 24th, 2004


Two Completely Unrelated Topics Rolled Into One Post

Yesterday as we left chow and went up around the corner ahead of the JDAM Palace, I looked back down towards Mosul itself and the river. There is a bluff that I sometimes look at, though usually the air quality is so crap it’s hard to see anything. Today was different, however. It was about 5:30, maybe 5:45. I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. Shades of red, yellow, and orange filtered through the clouds. In fact this is probably the only time so far I recall noticing any sort of wonderful sunset or sunrise in Iraq. I hurried back to get my camera, but it faded out as we went back. We’re talking only 5-10 minutes here, but that was enough. No shots. It wouldn’t have come out anyway, I’m sure. I do need to read the manual on my camera again. Another interesting visual item, which I would certainly hesitate to describe as stunning, is the smoky mist that usually happens down in the fields below our hill. I am not sure exactly what the cause is. It may be some kind of smoke pot putting out bug-killin’ aerosol. It usually happens about the same time of evening, and sort of lingers lazily over the fields at about 100 ft elevation. Doesn’t really seem to drift much, and eventually disperses.

I have been going through an intermediate Russian reader. I do pretty good, and can understand most everything going on. I misread one chapter heading. It read “Tanya Protests” in reference to some poor girl who’s family lets her do all the work and never helps. Eventually she takes off (in this chapter, where she “protests”), and the family realizes the error of their ways, blah blah. Anyway, I keep seeing the heading as “Tanya Prostitutka” for some reason. Protestuyet is the word for protest, so you can see the basis on this one. It recalls to mind when Guli and I watched “Brigada.” This was a popular series in Russia about 4 friends who ended up being mafia guys. At one point they are leaning on some businessman, and refer to having his “secretutka” make them some coffee. I didn’t catch this at first. It had to be explained to me. The guy combined secretar with prostitutka – the meaning of both of those words should be fairly obvious. I found this so amusing, that for the rest of our trip I continually referenced it. A driver became chaufferitutka, a doctor (vrach) would be vrachitutka, a maid (slyzhanka) is a slyzhitutka…damn I love to make up and combine words. Smile Russian is a little different in that while in English we like to make up acronyms, they prefer to abbreviate. Moscow Bank becomes MosBank, well you know…there’s a bunch of others, only I suddenly don’t feel like explaining them. It gets too wordy. You get the point. Anyways, I respect that because I have always liked to express my creatocity by creatulating new words. If I don’t know the Russian word for something, I might be able to make something up, or by reading the word literally, figure it out. For example, a windowsill is a podokonnik. A nik is a thing or person that does something, okno is a window (some knowledge of grammar and spelling changes is appropriate in this case), and pod implies being under something. Therefore, the literal meaning is “the thing under the window” or…windowsill! I really like that word. I have a lot of other examples but I won’t bore you with them right now, on account of I can’t quite recall any specific ones. Of course my favorite word is “doctoprimachatelnosti” but that one is pretty hard to suss out. Languages are neat things. I made a pun once when I was taking a test. I needed to define nadaest, only I couldn’t remember what it meant. So I made a joke instead. Since nada means “needs to, is necessary” and est means “to eat”, I wrote in “when I am hungry, I need to eat.” Of course this was wrong, and I knew it, but was hoping to get some humor points. Didn’t work out that way. Nadaest means to get bored, by the way. Which is what happened to me and this topic. Bye now.

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.

Screaming In The Night

Tuesday, October 19th, 2004

So I’m sitting here watching a video, when I hear the screaming in of a thing in the air. Time slows down just like a movie as it gets closer. This rocket is headed right for my container, I can just feel it. As it goes diving down, I idly wonder if I should get under the desk, in the corner with better sandbag protection. The rocket is about 3 feet from my room now, as near as I can tell, so I don’t really bother. I look up, into the blankness of an off-white ceiling. I am vaguely curious what it will look like as it comes through the roof. I decide I probably won’t be able to tell. I start thinking the time has really slowed down, like where the countdown timer goes down to 12 seconds, they cut to somebody making a tough decision for like a minute, and cut back to the timer which now has 15 seconds left on it. Somehow the rocket with Robert written all over it has a change of heart and heads away.

As it turns out, it was just one of Eagl’s buddies making an entrance. Tell those boys to call before they stop by, man! Shocked

We get choppers overhead all the time, I could probably grab a skid or a wheel from the top of my container if I jumped high enough, but they aren’t near as loud, as sudden, or unusual. We probably get overflown by choppers 15-20 times a day, and a lot more if there is something going on. I’m just glad I don’t work the gate.

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