Take this thread however you want. All that I am including is the stuff my cousin is doing in Iraq. I find it interesting and he usually updates the fam once a week.
quote: Live from [name removed] Airfield—it's Sunday Night!
Well, another week is in the books, and that's not a bad thing. Seven days here, seven days there, and pretty soon we're talking real time...I've printed out a calendar covering the months I will spend here in Iraq, and I have to admit that my favorite moment of the day is when I pull out my red marker and cross off another day. It's almost April already—I'm actually coming up on two months spent here already! I guess time flies when you're having fun. Still, as Dorothy put it so well, "There's no place like home"—which explains my enthusiasm for keeping a close watch on the steadily shrinking amount of time that separates me from packing up and heading back to Fort Drum.
It's been an interesting week. We only had one proper village visit, but managed to do quite a few other things. We had a busy Wednesday escorting a Public Affairs Team around our sector, spending the day visiting the facilities that draw and purify the river water that we are trying to bring to the villages around the airfield. The intake station itself is, of course, located right on the banks of the Tigris. It was really nice out there when we visited—quiet, sunny, and actually nice and cool by the riverside. The intake station had a set of pumps that took the water in from the river and fed storage tanks from where one set of pumps pushed the raw water directly to the airfield (for use in our laundry facility and shower points), while another set redirected the remaining water to the purification station. There was also a pressure equalization system which prevented the water held in the pipeline from flowing back into the river in case the pumps broke down or had to be turned off for maintenance.
The purification system itself, located two kilometers away from the river inside the water treatment plant, is comprised of two large separator tanks, where the coarsest sediment is removed from the raw water before the resulting product goes through the filtration tanks. These tanks are very simple in design—water simply flows through a special kind of sand that absorbs the remaining impurities. The resulting pure water fills a 300,000-gallon holding tank, from which it is pumped to the airfield.
Once on the airfield, the pure water will (note the future tense—we're still working on this part of the system) be routed through two 50,000-gallon holding tanks, then pumped out to six spigots located in villages close to the airfield. The pipelines and spigots located outside the airfield are in place, but the system on post is still in shaky condition. The pump station is operational, but we have two major hurdles to clear. First, the holding tanks (which are currently used to hold the raw water we use for laundry and showers) have to be drained, cleaned and resurfaced with epoxy paint. We're working on scraping together the temporary holding tanks we will need to bypass the existing system (since we still need to take showers and wash our clothes, after all), as well as enough money to have the permanent tanks taken care of. Once that's done, we will still have to fix the underground pipe network on base in order to get the pure water from the holding tanks to the surrounding villages. We were counting on using this pipe system, but were disagreeably surprised to find out that it had sustained a significant amount of damage during our hostile takeover of the airfield and subsequent remodeling efforts. So anyway, we've got work to do if we want to be able to turn on the water in time to beat the heat.
What else did we do this week? Well, we doled out some money to the select few individuals whose requests for financial assistance to pay for necessary surgeries our commander had decided to grant, and also signed a contract with the local school superintendent to connect seven of the schools in our sector to the power network. This should ensure that all of our schools have electrical power. Finally, we traveled to [city name] on Friday to participate in a project funding meeting, and were gratified to discover that some of our requests for funds to cover recurring expenses had been granted. The most pressing need was for money to start delivering drinking water to the villages in our area. Since the water project is lagging behind schedule, and the weather is turning hot and dry, this is probably the most critical situation for us to address. The water deliveries will be a temporary rather than a permanent solution, but they should enable us to bridge the gap between now and the date when the project finally brings running water to these villages.
That's about it for me...another week, another seven dollars (and they say the government doesn't pay us well!). I'll talk to you later!
quote: Hello and welcome to another weekend update!
It's been an action-packed week, and we've seen some notable progress in a few of the projects we are trying to complete in the local area. Our main focus has been the water project which I described in considerable detail in my last message—as of the latest news, we were still trying to find temporary storage for the water we are using for laundry and showers, in order to bypass the holding tanks long enough to drain, clean and resurface them. We contacted our Corps Support Group, and obtained four 10,000-gallon water bladders—still at least 30,000 gallons short, unfortunately. Thankfully, our Task Force Executive Officer noted the shortfall and decided to get involved. Next thing we knew, we had received nine of the bladders instead of four, enabling us to meet our temporary storage needs. Not that the job is done, of course: we still have to find a way to finance the cleaning and resurfacing...which we're trying to get Kellogg, Brown & Root, the defense contractor that handles life support for the base, to do for us, arguing that they will be also be using the tanks once the system is up and running. We'll see how that goes...
What else is new? Well, after awarding the local school superintendent a contract to connect seven schools in the area to the electrical power grid, we received word a few days ago that the work was complete—something we will have to confirm tomorrow by inspecting the schools before we pay the balance of the money owed on the contract. Of course, some of the locals were angry that we had awarded this contract to someone they consider to be an outsider. One [city resident] (elected mayor) told us he should have been the one to do the job for the school in his village—and then proceeded to ask us to let him handle the work for schools in three other villages. I have to admit that his shameless hypocrisy took my breath away; thankfully, I recovered in time to assure him that his village would benefit from the contract in several ways, not the least of which was the fact that we had stipulated to the superintendent that he had to pick laborers from among the villagers. I then told him that we were also considering another project (extending and repainting school walls) in several villages, including his, and that we would use his services if our commander signed off on the idea. Thankfully, we did in fact receive approval to proceed with the project, so we should be able to appease several of our more troublesome and cantankerous [city residents] by providing them with public works projects for their villages (along with—let's call a spade a spade, shall we?—a healthy amount of money left over as pure profit, which is really what they're after).
Thankfully, everyone's motives aren't as basely venal as this. I've already mentioned Dr. Mohammed, the physician who operates the only free clinic in our sector, and who has helped us considerably in our efforts to understand the complex ethnic and tribal makeup of the local population and interact with the local leaders. Another gentleman who has been of considerable assistance is Sheik Ra'ad, a tribal leader who was among the first to take the initiative to cooperate actively with coalition forces. Sheik Ra'ad is in charge of the "Sheik Force," a paramilitary organization underwritten by the coalition and responsible for securing the oil and natural gas pipelines that run through our area. Many of the villagers in our sector have been complaining that he hires individuals from outside the area instead of giving jobs to the people who actually live near the pipeline. The complaint seemed reasonable to us, so we asked Sheik Ra'ad to meet with us and discuss the matter. He graciously invited us to his house for lunch, and gave us the full details of how he had set up his operation. It made for an interesting story.
It turns out that he had offered everyone in the local area jobs on the Sheik Force after the commander of First Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, COL Hodges, had approached him to suggest the idea. Of course, this was in June of last year, and the terrorist threat was much worse than it is now. As a result, almost everyone turned Sheik Ra'ad down for fear of reprisals from the Fedayeen or other extremists. Most of those who did volunteer quit their jobs shortly afterwards. Faced with a severe shortage of personnel, Sheik Ra'ad had to recruit his members elsewhere. Nowadays, of course, being on the Sheik Force is a much more attractive proposition: Saddam is behind bars and is definitely not coming back to power, and while there are still people attacking anyone who supports the coalition forces, these attacks are on the decline. So all the people who were too timid to volunteer in the first place are coming out of the woodwork and asking that the people who actually took the risk of working with the Sheik Force give them their jobs. That's the average outlook among the population: take the least possible risk, make the least possible effort, and demand the most benefit. Childish and incomprehensible, but true.
Oh well, I still think we're making a dent, slowly but surely. We're trying to get away from helping individuals and concentrating our efforts on rebuilding the infrastructure. To that effect, we requested additional funds on a recurring monthly basis, in order to provide financial support to Dr. Mohammed's clinic and begin delivering drinking water to the surrounding villages. We were pleased to find out that the funding had been approved, and flew up to Mosul yesterday to draw the money. That's one advantage of being in an aviation unit...no need to spend hours in a Humvee when you can take a 20-minute Blackhawk ride instead!
Anyway, things are going pretty well. The weather has been cooler lately, which is a relief, to be honest—we were starting to get an uncomfortably realistic preview of the summer heat. It's nice to be able to go out without getting hit over the head with the good ol' Solar Sledgehammer.
That's it for now, I guess. I hope this latest bit of news is informative. I'll talk to you later!
Hey, can you write him back? I'd like to know if he would give permission to print his letters and maybe some letters of other soldiers in a regular "blog" of sorts. No political affiliation is required, so they won't be used for any specific agenda.
Posts: 779 | Registered: Dec 2003
| IP: Logged |
I'm starting to run out of original ways to open these weekly updates...pretty soon I'll have exhausted every English synonym for "Greetings!" and will have to resort to foreign languages—so don't be surprised if I wish peace to be with you in the next one.
Anyway, on to the news...I'm sure most of you have been hearing about the fighting going on in and around Fallujah. I can't really get into too many details, but I did want to assure you that I am doing fine. There have been some problems in [city] as well, but the [city] district has been relatively quiet, and our base benefits from being relatively isolated (the nearest major urban areas are in the [city] area, along the Tigris, about ten miles away from us). So even though we've been getting reports of increased violence in other bases, we have not seen any such attacks in our immediate vicinity. So I'm doing OK, and I really feel that our area is fairly safe—no need to worry.
We went out three times this week—Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Our first visit was a bit of a marathon, as we needed to go to seven different villages in order to inspect the schools which had just been connected to the power grid. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the work was complete, just as the school superintendent in our area had told us. There were a few areas that we felt warranted further work, and also several items that needed to be replaced, but by and large, the job was well done. We reported the results of our inspection to the superintendent, who assured us that he would take care of the last necessary repairs. We will be going out on Saturday of this week to re-inspect each school.
We went out on Tuesday morning to meet with a few of the local [city residents] and sign contracts to paint the walls surrounding the schools in their villages. We had received some pretty steep estimates from these gentlemen (as much as $3,000 to whitewash a wall that stands five feet high and runs about 300 feet in length), but my NCO, Staff Sergeant LeBlanc, made them give him an itemized list of the supplies that they would need, and added up the costs, coming up with a total of less than $900. We made allowances for labor costs (which are actually very low in the area), and agreed on a total price of $1,000 for each of the two contracts we signed. Don't get me wrong: we realize that the contractors are still going to make a substantial profit. We're just trying to use what funds we have as thriftily as possible in order to be able to spread the benefits around as widely and evenly as possible.
Still, you can't please everyone. This truism was demonstrated yet again not two minutes after we signed those two contracts. Scarcely had the last [city resident] departed the room that his brother came marching in. We asked him what he wanted, and he launched himself into an impassioned diatribe, accusing us of going back on a promise to give him the contract that we had just awarded to his brother. He complained that he had given us the project request first, and said that he would now receive no benefit from the contract. We pointed out that his brother had in fact submitted a request fully two months before he had, and that we had stipulated that the contractor had to use his services and share some of the profits with him. He shrugged our arguments off impatiently, claiming that his brother would never share any of the profits with him. We tried again to reason with him, but he simply kept repeating his earlier arguments. I finally gave up and cut him off, stating that what was done was done—the contract was signed, and we would not redistribute the money or discuss the matter any further. I told him again that we had specifically instructed his brother to share the profits with him, and that he needed to negotiate the matter with him, and come back to us only if his brother refused to cut him in. He left irritably, and we were left to ponder the truth of an Arab proverb I have come to hold in high esteem since my arrival here: "Me and my cousins against the world. Me and my brother against my cousins. Me against my brother."
Our visit on Thursday was more productive. We visited the village of [edited out], one of the larger villages located to the east of our base, and inspected the primary and intermediate schools as well as the clinic. The schools were thriving, but were becoming victims of their own success—both the primary and intermediate school principals repeated many of the same concerns: too few teachers and classrooms (the average class size was about 65 students to each teacher), and a grave lack of supplies. To their credit, the teachers were making do with what facilities and resources they had—some even kept teaching despite not having been paid in nearly two months by the Ministry of Education. As for the clinic, it was completely built, but there were no personnel to staff it. The villagers told us that they had petitioned the Ministry of Health to send a physician to work in the clinic, only to be told that there were no funds to hire anyone at the present time. So as you can see, there's plenty of work to be done.
That's about it for now. The coming week is going to be fairly busy—we're trying to set up water delivered to the villages in our area, and we will be meeting with several contractors to agree on terms. It's a stopgap measure, but as the weather keeps getting warmer and our water project lags behind schedule due to a lack of funds, it's the best we can do. For more information on the water project, you can go to the following link:
another week, another update—let's get rolling, shall we?
As you know, the past few days and weeks have been unusually turbulent. Our sector has remained fairly quiet, but we don't believe in taking chances, so we have extended the no-man's land around our base in order to increase the buffer zone between us and the local population. We went out on Monday and Tuesday to talk to the mayor and city councilmen of [city name] and explain the new rules to them. We also took the opportunity to bring two urgent issues to the mayor's attention—a project to drain and clean the septic tanks in the local schools, and another project to deliver potable water to the villages in our area of operations. During a visit to one of the schools in our area, we discovered that the septic tank had not been serviced in 11 years—which, naturally, prompted us to address the situation. As for the water distribution, it is becoming more and more necessary as the weather gets progressively warmer and drier. The mayor agreed to help us find contractors to take ca re of these two tasks, and we set dates to meet with these people.
Wednesday, we traveled to the village of  to visit the local Sheik, who had invited our commander, LTC Mason, to have lunch at his house. Of course, we had to mix business with pleasure—the Sheik and his villagers plied us with requests for assistance before we saw so much as a glass of water. The meeting turned out to be fairly productive; LTC Mason asked them to list their top priorities for assistance, and decided to award them a contract to build and paint a perimeter for their school. Bit by bit, we're trying to help all the villages in our sector to improve their living conditions and societal infrastructure. The school wall was a small but substantial step in that direction.
Thursday, we met with the water deliverymen the mayor had contacted. Unsurprisingly, supply was greater than demand—talk of money to be made in any capacity brings people in droves. We signed contracts to bring water to 45 villages in our area; some villages got more than others, based on their size, of course, but we tried to be as fair as possible. All told (assuming the contractors honor their agreements), we will be distributing approximately 1,200,000 liters of water (roughly 300,000 gallons) per week—not enough to completely cover the population's needs, but hopefully enough to tide them over until the water pipeline project we're trying to complete finally brings water directly to the villages.
Friday was dedicated to administrative tasks—writing reports, performing maintenance on our weapons and equipment, and other uninviting but necessary tasks. Yesterday, we did another marathon visit to the villages we recently paid to have their schools connected to the power grid. While four of the seven were completely done, there were still a few things to attend to (mainly ensuring that power cables are securely fastened to walls and buried when running between buildings).
As for today (weekends are literally a foreign concept over here), we met with the Qayyarah mayor again to discuss the price of the septic tank contracts, as well as the locations to be serviced, before talking to the schools superintendent about the final touches to be made to the three schools that we identified as still in need of work during our inspection yesterday. More administrative work to prepare for a staff meeting this afternoon, and now here I am...
I hope you're doing all right and will have the time to write and let me know what's happening on your end. Until then, have a good week and keep on keepin' on!
You can tell that my cousin cranks these out fairly quickly. I know that my brother has a lot of blackout times where he can't get online. They generally block all outgoing transmissions from Iraq after there are American casualties (which is frequent these days) so I'm sure he has to type quickly.
Andy's an awesome guy. He grew up in France (my Aunt and Uncle are missionaries) and was educated in their school system. When he came back to the US after high school and took the SATs, he scored an easy 1600 and ever single door in ever single school in the US was open to him. He decided on West Point where he went on to graduated as valedictorian. He is currently an Army Ranger, and is working in Iraq using the skills given to Rangers for dealing with local populations.
quote: Hello again!
Time marches on, and I'm cranking out yet another weekly update to bring you up to speed on my fast-paced existence here in [city name]. That being said, this past week wasn't quite as busy as the previous one. We went out to the Civil-Military Operations Center on Tuesday, and spent most of the day trying to iron out the details of the ongoing water deliveries, as well as the new project to clean out the septic tanks in the area's schools. As it turned out, the sanitary truck owners who were sent by the [city name] mayor decided to hold out for more money than we were ready to give them—twice as much, for that matter. Needless to say, our negotiations came to an abrupt end. The main problem was that these men are based out of [city], and factored in transportation costs for daily trips to and from their home station into their cost estimates. We eventually met with some local contractors who accepted a lower figure, but we still had to raise our original offer and eliminate some of the facilities we were planning on servicing.
As for the water deliveries, we discovered that there were numerous false starts and misunderstandings due to a simple problem—confusion as to the names and exact locations of the villages we are trying to deliver water to. As it turns out, many of the village names we were given by our predecessors in the 101st Airborne Division were incorrect—not to mention the fact that some villages have as many as three different names, depending on who you ask. To complicate matters, most of the truck drivers we are dealing with aren't very good at reading maps...thankfully, the local nationals we employ as translators or security guards are very familiar with the area, and they were able to help us straighten things out. I suppose it's reasonable to expect similar hiccups anytime you're trying to set up an operation on this scale, but it made for some frustrating, if retrospectively hilarious, moments, as we navigated through an ocean of "What?"'s and "Huh?"'s, not to mention innumerable blank looks and glassy stares as we would discover yet another unpronounceable nickname for one of the villages in question. I actually have a sneaking suspicion that it's all one big practical joke, and that these people all get together once a month to swap village names and keep us confused. I'm sure stranger things have happened...
We flew up to [city] yesterday to clear our humanitarian fund accounts and draw additional funds for next month's water deliveries, as well as to turn in project proposals for approval. We were supposed to have taken care of this on Thursday, but two straight days of severe thunderstorms grounded out helicopter fleet and forced us to postpone the trip. As one of out soldiers remarked a few days ago, "For a desert, this place sure is wet!" It was hot and dry again today, but we did have to deal with a couple torrential downpours this week.
Well, as you can probably tell from the fact that I've started to talk about the weather, that's about it for now. I hope you're doing well and will have the time to fill me in on what's been happening on your end. I'll talk to you later!