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Archives: Feb. 2009


Catching the news from back home

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq – Reporting from Iraq can feel like one is in the golden age of newspapers. I have a TV in my room but am usually too busy to watch it. And I don’t have a consistent online hookup to check news Web sites. So I get my daily update provided by Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper.

It’s great. I’m usually one of the most plugged-in people I know; ask my wife to hear about my addiction to the BlackBerry and the constant updates of news it provides.

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It’s like Christmas without the gifts

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq – Another holiday has come and gone almost unnoticed for the 30,000 people here at Balad.

Mardi Gras was Tuesday, yet the dining facilities didn’t serve Hurricanes or king cake. Even at the Popeye’s on base, the line was no longer than it usually is.

The only masks anyone wore were the Iraqis working close to the burn pit. At Catfish Air, the helicopter terminal run by Louisiana National Guardsmen, no one threw beads or doubloons.

But this New Orleans transplant made the most of it.

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Now this guy has taste

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq – It’s a common sight in the developing world: The poor wearing secondhand clothes from the United States.1

It can be a weird mismatch1: You can see 50-year-old men wearing Hannah Montana T-shirts. Or some guy who can’t say “bonjour” wearing a Casino de Montreal hoodie.

But today I came across a guy who has some serious taste. This Iraqi, on base as a day laborer, was wearing a Louisiana State University sweatshirt.

For those who don’t know, that’s the greatest football program of all time.

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Seeing some quality bang-bang

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq – It’s no surprise here that quite a few soldiers would prefer to be in Afghanistan. Infantrymen aren’t, for the most part, conducting missions that end in firefights too often. And many soldiers often don’t make it off Joint Base Balad.

But there’s one way to see some action without leaving the friendly – or air-conditioned – confines of the office: video games.

The guys at the public affairs office, many from the Arizona National Guard, set up their Xbox 360 and were playing the Call of Duty series,

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A mad dash for the terminal

ABOARD A C-130 HERCULES, Iraq – Plan C came to us via a two-way radio.

“Highlander Delta, this is Highlander Alpha," the crackled voice said. “We can get a flight to JBB, but you need to be at the pax terminal in 10 mikes.”

Everyone stood frozen for a few seconds. And then we made a mad dash to pack our gear.

We – the group of eight of us who visited the ruins of Ur near Tallil – were sitting in our tent. Our flight to Joint Base Balad had been grounded because of a sandstorm. We put our names on the standby list (Space-A, in milspeak) and hoped for the best. About 40 people had already submitted their names for about 20 spots. We weren’t hopeful.

Plan B to return to Balad had already been set up. We were going to ride with a battalion of the Texas National Guard on its Mine Resistant Ambushed as it convoyed between Contingency Operating Base Adder and Balad. But that was going to leave the next day and take about 16 hours. So we were killing time in the tent, mostly by playing cards or listening to music.

That’s when Maj. Joe Hammiel’s voice came over the two-way radio. He checked the standby list, and the flight had room for us. The only catch: We had 10 minutes to make the roll call at the passenger terminal and get on the flight.

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CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq – The folks from the 81st Brigade Combat Team’s 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment aren’t leaving this base in southeastern Iraq anytime soon.

A windstorm swept across this area overnight (and is still blowing in mid-afternoon), throwing dust into the air. Visibility is so low, most flights and missions aren’t leaving the base.

(The photo above are guys posing for a shot a few hours ago. Visibility has worsened since.)

It’s just one of the liabilities of traveling in Iraq: Flights are postponed or canceled

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Four perspectives, four opinions of trip to Ur

UR, Iraq – The trip to the home of the prophet Abraham had similar effects on four soldiers with the 81st Brigade Combat Team’s 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, all who approached the subject with differing perspectives. I’ll post a few quotes to give you a flavor of what the story will look like.

�–� Maj. Joe Hammiel of Surrey, B.C., the battalion chaplain: “It has been awe-inspiring to look up and know that those are the same stars (that God promised Abraham his descendents would outnumber.)”

�–� Sgt. 1st Class Allen Ashworth of Deer Park, a student

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Far-flung correspondence

UR, Iraq – I’ll admit it: I just wanted to use that dateline.

Check back tomorrow for more on the trip to the site of one of the oldest cities on Earth.