Saturday, April 18, 2009

To Iraq: Night One

After about 15 minutes of exploring our government contracted trailers, many of the 17 members of the Green Team re-appeared outside.

We were hungry. We wondered if there was internet access. We needed a place to recharge cameras. We were scared and wanted to be together.

An Air Force protocol officer had been assigned to watch over our group. She was still there and we convinced her to take us to get something to eat.

A short ride away was the the community area. USO office. MWR building (morale, welfare and recreation). A good size PX. And a food mall.

Operating out of little trailers around a gazebo like seating area were Pizza Hut, Subway, Burger King, and Cinnabon.

The food was just like at home. It tasted wonderful.

These food operations are staffed by people that look like the cast of a Spielberg-Lucas movie. Black haired, black eyed, olive skinned, reedy men from every Asian country you have ever heard of and a bunch you haven't. Imagine working at a fast food operation on a Forward Operating Base in Iraq. I imagine these guys think it is a great gig compared to home.

We notice that everyone under the gazebo is staring at their laptop. Wifi. This is where they come to chat with home and friends.

The Green Team was named because our luggage had green tags to designate that we were the Balad group. Our bonding began that evening.

Men. Women. Age range from 23 to 75. A former Miss America. The Crocs representative. A couple of wealthy businessmen. Two young men that operate Operation Iraqi Children. Some folks affiliated with American Airlines. Me and Zac.

One of the team had told us that he had a son in the Army and he was stationed at Balad. He was hoping to see him.

Out of the night the young captain appears and he and his dad embraced.

I teared up.

I was so excited for them. I know the feeling of anxiety that a dad lives with 24/7 worrying about his son. I was ecstatic to see them connect.

And yes, I wished it was my son. I wished it was me and Pete. Oh, how I wished it was me and Pete. But that day will come again. This was their turn.

One of the things us civilians noticed is that every person there carried their gun. In uniform, in workout clothes, everywhere they went they carried their gun with them.

We learned the reason. Prepared for attack at all times. It made us keenly aware that we were in a war zone.

Unable to sleep, we started looking for a place to make a phone call or an internet connection. We went to the USO but it was for active duty only.

We went to the MWR. We were met at the door by Ugandan armed security guards. We weren't allowed in because we didn't have proper authorization.

Why Ugandan security guards with so many US military with guns? Money. It is cheaper to pay the Ugandans than to staff security with US military personnel. Outsourcing security on a Forward Operating Base in Iraq. What's next?

Nearly sleepwalking, we made our way back to our trailers.

Outside our little camp, I noticed a slab of concrete with an Anaconda painted on it. That's when it hit me. This was Camp Anaconda. This was where Pete had spent so much time when he was first assigned to Taji.

We were walking where he walked. Breathing the same air. Eating at the tables. Now I know where he emailed us from. Where he called us to say how boring it was in Taji, and how I reminded him that boring was good.

We crawled into those beds and fell asleep for a couple of hours before the next adventure began.

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