Sunday, April 27, 2008

Meeting old friends, and fitness interrupted (11,12 April)

While I always complain about trips to Baghdad (all two of them I made during my whole deployment!), one of the nice parts about it is that I get to reunite with old friends. This past time around, however, a good number of old friends were already gone. Half of the team I deployed with has already gone. But I did get to link up with a few, regardless.

Riley battle buddy John, at the Rhino lot late on a Sunday evening

One of them was my Ft. Riley battle buddy, John. He’s a good guy, police officer on the civilian side, former West Point football player, very calm disposition. He’d battled some health problems but came back to finish his deployment regardless. He also helped me a good bit getting my stuff to the transportation point for my 2am ride out to BIAP on the other type of Rhino- an armored bus kind of thing. John invited me out to yoga class my first night in town. He goes 6 days a week, and I wasn’t quite ready for it, but went anyway. I was sweating profusely through the whole thing, and there were some things that my reconstructed ACLs just wouldn’t allow me to do- I can’t bend my knees that much. But I survived with little more than perhaps a slightly strained right hip. It was fun, and a great workout. And I have no flexibility, but I could see that if I did that 6 days a week I’d get there eventually. Of course, I’m out the door, so that won’t happen in Baghdad.

The good captain, not a close friend, but had the best job title (apologies to dogbert)

Another friend was a Marine, Derek, who I’d just met and worked with during my last trip up to Baghdad. He was kind enough to invite me on my second day in Baghdad to get a bit of a workout at a punching bag at the same fitness center where I did the yoga thing the night before. I was flattered to be invited, and we had a good time with the workout. We chatted a bit as we went through a routine that he’d developed in working with others with some expertise. I hadn’t done much like that since some judo type training way back in 1992 during my job skill training for my enlisted army position back at Ft. Sam Houston, TX.

I almost had to laugh, though, as we got the alert for incoming “indirect fire” (IDF- rockets and/or mortars), and had to take cover. We were out pretty much in the open (the punching bag was hanging outside) away from any building. So we ducked behind a wall while we got our stuff together, then half walked/half ran to the building which wasn’t much better cover, given how much of its walls were nothing more than glass.

First, indirect fire isn’t really a laughing matter- in a recent post I note 2 MNSTC-I folks that were killed just over a week ago. So it is deadly serious in that respect.

Maybe it was just mirth at the sheer folly of my existence- how did I ever end up hanging out hitting a punching bag with a Marine at a fitness center in the International Zone in Baghdad, and then get it interrupted with IDF exploding somewhere around us? (I think it was to the north, but I don’t have a great sense of direction in the IZ) All my psychology and business training was paying off yet again!

The laugh was a bit the amusement of watching a Marine running for cover (tough guy!), but mostly for the odd situation we have where taking indirect fire is just a part of the experience there. We as the U.S. have a tremendous amount of firepower, but given that the folks firing these rockets and mortars are doing it from neighborhoods, often on mobile platforms, we’d often have to destroy far too much innocent civilian property and risk the lives of innocent civilians to make it worth firing back indiscriminately. So for folks like us, with no combat power under our command, we just take it, and scatter like mice as we run to get our helmets, body armor, and try to find hardened shelter.

The IZ I think should have the subtitle “IDF Magnet”. I can still remember the footage from the press back when I was at Ft. Riley last year, sometime between Feb and April- I believe it was the newish secretary general for the UN (Ban Ki-Moon?), at a press conference with Maliki, when some indirect fire hit either the building they were in, or close enough nearby to really rock their building. The secretary ducked down and started looking around for some cues as to what he should be doing. Maliki didn’t even exhibit a startle reflex- just kept on going with the brief, muttering something to the secretary about not worrying about it. What a life.

I am heartened however, when I do get to see reports of times when drones or other air assets can pinpoint tubes or other IDF activity and destroy the weapons and/or their operators. My unit wasn’t a warfighting unit, but thankfully someone else is responding to these hostile acts on our behalf.

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