Iraq Blog 2005 for Post-Bulletin, April

My stay in Iraq would not have been complete with a trip to the bunker.

April 06, 2005

The pet scorpion and toy trucks

What will I remember most?‚I wonder sitting in a restaurant waiting for my flight.
The oddities and moments at Camp Speicher have made for a journey I will cherish for years to come.

The latrine converted into a shower with hot water at my barrack certainly will not be forgotten.

The company mayor, Wade Olson, 30, of Speicher MN, smearing KY jelly on doorknobs, head sets and steering wheels made for a good laugh seeing the reaction of his fellow troops.

A female soldier with a pet scorpion in a plastic bottle.

The amazing abundance of candy on the shelves of the hunting cabin and luxuries inside including a TV, stereo, microwave, refrigerator, washer, dryer and Play Station video game to name a few.

A clear full moon and the stars shining bright made for beautiful nights.
The laughter and friendship among troops. Evidence of the brother and sister relationships made at the base.

The thud of mortars in the distance.

The ability of a soldier to switch from laughter to a soldier ready to fight.

The list goes on and on.

The camera was an ideal tool to capture my experience here.

I wanted to stay, I wanted to shoot more pictures. There is more to tell. There are more characters I would have liked to present to you.

Many that made me laugh, many that shared their feelings.

The hospitality toward me was sincere and kind.

The troops in Company B truly went above and beyond the call of duty to see that I was well taken care of.

In the end, I am convinced my fondest memory was the sight of Iraqi children running to the troops as we approach their homes in the rural farm communities of Iraq.

Their dress, food, homes and farming methods are all so different than ours.

Seeing an Iraqi mother holding her baby in her arms while her son played in the dirt with his new trucks, in the same manner my boy plays with his trucks, I realized, for those things which matter most in life, we are no different.



April 04, 2005

Farewell Kuwait

With my final hour of daylight in the Middle East, I walk along the shore of Kuwait Bay.

I visit a fishing pier that takes me back to time spent in San Francisco.

This is the Fisherman‚ Wharf of Kuwait.

Fresh fish are brought from the boats to the neighboring market.

Standing at the dock I watch fisherman loading their boats with nets before leaving for the night, sleeping on an island in the bay, then bringing in the nets and fish in the morning.

I have the fortune of meeting a man who graduated from a college in England and his English is clear.
He owns two of the fishing ships being loaded with nets.

He explains how the fishing industry works in Kuwait.

He escorts me down the pier to the boats.

Would you like to go out tonight and stay on a boat?‚he asks.

My mind raced with photographic opportunities but I had to turn him down.

I told him I have a flight back to the States tonight.

(Cutline for photo at right)
A man fishes without a pole. He uses his hands to cast a piece of shrimp and lead sinker into the sea. He has a bag of about 15 fish.
He gave me his business card and told me to call him the next time I am in Kuwait.

I quickly shoot photos from the pier and hurry off to meet Ramani, the taxi driver who is waiting for me.

I climb into the taxi feeling down.
We are bound for the hotel and I realize that my stay in Kuwait has come to a sudden end.



From the gate

Yet another taxi driver makes the blog.

Again, an Egyptian man named Ramani who came to Kuwait to earn money driving a taxi for the past 20 years.

He has a wife and three children in Alexandria, Egypt. He goes home for two months of the year.

He tells me that Kuwaitis love Americans because of their help in the first Gulf War when we sent Saddam‚ troops back into Iraq.

I see construction all along the highway as we make our way to Camp Arifjan to visit with more Minnesota troops.

Business no good before war‚he says in rough English. Now, business up 200 percent.‚Äù

He curses Saddam and oil in the same sentence.

We stop at a gas station.

He fills up the Crown Victoria with 50 liters for 3 Kuwait Dinars or 13 U.S gallons for $10.20 U.S. dollars. The price of gas is U.S.$1.27 a gallon.

Ramani buys me a pop, and every time he has a cigarette he offers me one as well.

We arrive at the base and I begin the process of getting into the base.

Nothing is easy in the military.

Lt. Staples of Company A, based in Little Falls, Minn., guides me around from one trailer outpost to another trying to get my ID card.

We are turned down everywhere we go for a lack of paperwork and not being on the list.

I contacted the commander 48 hours before my arrival and yet all I can do is stand at the gate.

I am thousands of miles away from home. The troops are about a quarter mile from where I stand. I can see their barracks. A chain link fence with razor sharp wire stands between me and them.

After repeated attempts, we realize that the robot-like staff, contracted workers, are not about to deviate from the rules for this journalist. What makes me angry is that they seem to be enjoying shutting the door in our face.

No sympathy. No, I am sorry, I wish I could do more.‚Just a short and harsh refusal. I‚ve met kinder ATM machines.

So I am back on the phone to my Egyptian friend Ramani, who has by now made the hour trip back to Kuwait City.

He picks me up in one hour at the base and we return to Kuwait City.

Riding home, I tell him about my problems with the military.

He tells me about a beautiful park by the sea in Kuwait City and we make plans to visit this park in the afternoon.

I am done. I tried for one more story on our Minnesota troops in Kuwait but only got to the gate.

Bureaucracy won, this time.




Romanian shock and awe

Stories are everywhere you turn when in a foreign land.

I‚ve been confined to my hotel for security reasons today.

I wanted to go out, but did not have anyone to guide the way.

So I found a shopping center attached to this hotel and wandered the marble floors looking at store fronts.

Topnotch, first class clothing stores.

I walk on until I find a restaurant that overlooks the mall traffic.

I order my steak sandwich from a courteous waiter.

I ask for medium rare on the steak.

The water comes to my table as I wait with coffee.

Catalin is his name, he is 25 years old.

He tells me he will check on the steak to make sure it is not well done.

He explains that steaks here are almost always cooked well done.

I ask why.

Something about the blood and Islam”, he tells me.

He also tells me that he likes his steaks rare.

Where are you from I ask?

Romania he replies.

Why are you here?, my next question.

Like the Egyptian taxi driver I spoke to earlier, he is here seeking a better job opportunity than what is available in Romania.

Catalin has a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Transalvania in Romania

He hopes to find work as an engineer in Kuwait.

How do you like Kuwait?‚I ask.

I do not like it here”, he replies.

My personal life… zero. My social life… zero. There is nothing here for me.
I can‚t even look at the women.‚Äù

But he does.

He explains an incident where two men were taken into custody of the police at the mall where he works for trying to make conversation with two women wearing veils.

While at work, he remains professional.

He greets the women with, Hello, how are you?‚or You have beautiful children.

There are nontraditional women dressed no different than women in the states.

I ask about approaching these women.

You never make the first move‚ he tells me.

He tells me about a time when a mother and daughter came to his restaurant.

He was able to talk with the daughter. And the daughter gave Catalin her phone number.

He called her that night and her father answered.

That was the last time he dialed that number.

He keeps an eye out, pointing out women he finds beautiful.

They are very beautiful here. Their eyes are mysterious,‚he says.

He tells me that his concentration is on his job right now but continues to looking for and finding beautiful women.

He says he has heard there are private parties with alcohol but has never been invited.

A bottle of whiskey on the black market sells for over $100 US and he says he can not afford this.

He then goes into the economy of Kuwait.

The Sheik is the boss‚Catalin says.

“They (Kuwaitis) are the kings and you are the slave” he says being an outsider.

He also tells me that you can never become a Kuwaiti citizen and if you want to marry a Kuwait woman, you need to go before a judge for approval with the family.

So why don‚t you come to the States?‚I ask.

The procedure and the paper work… they kill you.‚he replies.

He also says the odds are too great, but he has a plan.

Gain three years experience with an engineering job in Kuwait and then try for a visa to the States.

He asks what I think about the war in Iraq.
I play the politician and tell him at first I was skeptical about our reason for being there and mention oil.

I also tell him that the Sunni I visited were truly happy to see the troops.

He tells me about the revolution in Romania in 1989 and how they ousted their dictator.

Ukraine did not wait for help.‚he says,‚ÄùWe did this, we made the revolution.‚implying that Iraqis should have taken care of business on their own.

He remembers the communist years in Romania.

When he was six, he began waiting in lines for bread and butter.

His father made a special trip to Bulgaria for salami which the kids took for school lunch.

At home, his family ate soup and cabbage. And on Sunday they ate meat.

He goes off to check on my steak.

It‚ going to be another five or ten minutes,‚he says. It is too dark.‚Äù

At ten years old, the revolution occurred and communism fell.

Who is it not their dream to go to the States”? he asks.

I assume correctly, being from Romania, that he is an avid chess player.

We make plans to meet in the morning to play a game of chess by the sea.

Chess has been in his family for generations.

I tell him he is going to crush me.

He tells me about different openings and attacks as if anyone can win, trying to build my confidence.

I suspect his openings and attacks will leave me with a sense of shock and awe”.



April 03, 2005

All quiet on the bunker front

My stay in Iraq would not have been complete with a trip to the bunker.

On my last night in Iraq, waiting for my flight at Camp Anacanda to Kuwait, the warning siren whales.

There is no panic in this holding tent.

Slowly, casually, the soldiers put on their body armor and kevlar helmet.

They take their time. A contract worker at the tent reminds the 50 soldiers that they must leave the tent and go to the bunker.

(Cutline for photo at right) One of many soldiers leaves the concrete bunker after the all clear siren sounds.


The bunker is 20 yards from the entrance to our holding tent where troops wait for a flight.

They slowly walk to the bunker and wait for the second siren which has a pattern rather than the monotone initial warning.

Somewhere on this massive base a mortar came in.

From where I stand, I could not hear nor see any threat.

A soldier from West Virginia cites a few reasons for the leisurely approach to the bunker:

1) This camp is huge and the mortars are not.

2) They can‚t aim.

3) You can hear them coming in and if need be, that is the time to jump in the bunker.

Only once did this soldier hear the whistle of a mortar overhead

He was based at Camp Summerall which just before the elections, was taking a lot of mortar fire.

The round that whistled over his head exploded about 100 yards from him causing no injuries.

Insurgents are firing less mortars at bases and instead using them for IED‚, improvised explosive devices, the bombs on the roads intended for convoys.

After ten minutes the all clear siren sounds and the soldiers return back the tent and continue watching a movie.

Some eat MRE‚, meals ready to eat, some sleep, some read.

It is all quiet on this front.

I sit back, and continue watching Anger Management‚in the wide screen T.V.. with a vegetarian MRE. And no, I am not a vegetarian. The MRE is better than the movie.

So there you have it. A first hand account from a base in Iraq which took mortar fire.

I am not suggesting that the mortars are not a threat but I think soldiers actions speak louder than CNN‚ words.



April 01, 2005

Traveler’s note

Traveler’s note:

For those of you planning your next vacation in sunny Iraq, stay away from the dogs.

Stopping at house number one on the medic visit, I thought I would
shoot photos of all the dogs sitting along the side of the home. One
caught my eye at the back end of the home. I wandered down slowly. They
did not move as I walked along.

I settled in to get my shot when this dog showed his teeth. I did not take this as a serious threat — until he began running toward me and his buddies set out
after me, too.

Running with all the weight of my interceptor body armor and cameras
was not an option, so I tried to stay calm and backtrack, but these
canines were making ground on me real quick.

My eyes were fixed on their teeth as they approached about 10 yards
away when the man of the house stepped between me and the dogs with his
arms up and the dogs stopped instantly and returned to the shade of the

Before we set out on this mission, we were advised to be aware of dogs, and if we’re threatened, then shoot the dog.

Lesson learned. Insurgents are not the only threat here — beware of the dogs.