Postcards from Tradocia

a different day

Entry Control Point (ECP) #4 was painted in dreary monochrome shades: a silver-gray sky through which the morning sun was just starting to pierce at the eastern horizon; the dull gray of the earth-filled barriers, stacked two and three high all around the area to create a scene not unlike a paintball arena; and the sickly gray-brown of the earth, pounded into hard dirt by man and machine, ready to become a sucking morass at the slightest touch of rain…

And this represented a refreshing change of pace for this Signal pogue!


I was at the ECP with a small group of other soldiers from our part of Camp Liberty, assigned to some sort of nebulous civilian escort duty. I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, but I knew that as with everything in the Army, it would be explained to me in due time.

We sat down by the little fire that the two guards had – the morning was chilly, maybe 40 degrees Fahrenheit, though I doubt one could ever truly be cold wearing the Interceptor body armor. Being a true Minnesotan at heart, I wore no jacket, knowing that a little discomfort early in the day would be rewarded later when it got warmer and I didn’t have to carry any extra clothing around.

We sat for a while, chit-chatting a little but mostly staring into the fire. I surveyed the scene: Iraqis were lined up as far as they eye could see, some on foot, some in cars, and some in semi trucks. Apparently they were waiting for the clearance to enter the camp.

As I looked around, a pair of kids (maybe 7 or 8 years old) wandered up, cookies in hand – one of them gave a high-five to one of the guards, then proceeded to huddle by the fire, tossing their cookie wrappers into the flames. They poked at the fire with some sticks, then sort of wandered away. They reminded me a little of stray animals, in that they didn’t pay any attention to us and were in their own world – heedless of the 8 soldiers sitting next to them with body armor and loaded weapons.

Later, one of the kids wandered back and started asking one of the Iraqi interpreters some questions. One of the guards explained to us that they paid the kid 5 or 10 dollars a week to pick up trash around the ECP. As if by way of demonstration, the kid picked up a trash bag that was at least as big as he was, threw it over his shoulder, and walked off. There was no dumpster in sight so he must’ve had a bit of a walk.

Eventually four of us were scooped up to accompany Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) personnel as they guided convoys of local trucks to the storage yard. The KBR guys handled all the interaction with the truck drivers – we were just there to provide security, and apparently theft was the main concern rather than violence.

The guy driving the Ford F-150 I was in was a man in his forties from Bosnia; he had worked for KBR there but he said the economy was too poor so he came to Iraq. He spoke broken English but when Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” came on the radio, he started tapping the center console and moving his head to the beat.

We met a group of trucks at the staging area, then led them on a winding path through much of the camp until we reached the storage yard. Our job there was simple: stand around and look tough-yet-friendly while the locals and KBR employees unloaded the trucks. My partner and I just kind of strolled around the area, chewing the fat and watching the Iraqis work like any stereotypical union employees: work a little, sit down and smoke, work a little, wander off, work a little…

Evidently our presence was a new development so many of them eyed us suspiciously, but I did my best to smile and greet the men as they went about their work. I felt like a cop walking the beat.

At one point, two KBR guys, probably from the Phillipines, approached us with big grins on their faces. They seemed to be quite the jokers – one guy had a set of bright red swim goggles around his neck, and the other had a 3-inch screw glued to the front of his hard hat like a unicorn horn. They smiled and pointed to their boots; they were both wearing the Type I desert boots, the kind we were originally issued before the RFI. In halting English they told us that some other soldiers had given the boots to them. Unicorn Guy then pointed at my partner’s weapon. “M203?,” he asked, pointing to his grenade launcher. We smiled and nodded. “M16 rifle. Banana-style clip,” he continued. I guess this guy was a bit of a military buff himself. He couldn’t identify my weapon, I guess – later he and Goggle Man were pointing at my M249 and discussing it. I guess the short barrel had them confused.

As the day drew to a close, the one and only An-225 Mryia roared overhead, banking away from Baghdad International Airport. It’s the largest plane ever to fly more than once (exceeded only in size by Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose), and apparently it now flies the Ukrainian flag and is used for various commercial missions.

Our Bosnian driver returned us to our section of the camp, slamming down the gas on the paved road along one of the canals. The setting sun blazed in the murky water, silhouetting crowds of coots swimming around, eating and cooting or whatever. The day was a welcome respite from the monotony of signal operations – a sad testament to the tedium of my job when watching trucks unload is exciting.

5 Comments

  1. Hootkoop

    I feel for you, man. Going to the green zone was a vacation for me. A vacation that consisted of riding in the back of an armored vehicle, walking for miles around the secure section of Bagdhad, and being swarmed by Iraqis selling pirated DVDs and fake Rolexes. It was just so… different.

  2. Mrs. Melobi

    While I’m glad you got a break in the tedium, I’m happy that when people ask how you are I can say, “bored.”

    Think of how exciting shoveling snow is going to be!

  3. Mom and Dad

    Great post Alex – I’m amazed you saw an An-225!

    Speaking of the Spruce Goose, your Mom and I saw the movie The Aviator, with Leonard DiCaprio, yesterday. It was stylish, with some great aircraft shots, including the famous Hughes Racer – a beautiful single-engine monoplane – with flush rivets. Do you remember seeing it at the Air and Space Museum?

    Your Mom is at Kelly’s tonight, before she heads up to Eveleth, MN for her movie shoot.

    Love, Dad

  4. Lola Barnes

    Great blog==shots of the Spruc goose and the

    Great blog with shots of the

    GREAT BLOG WITH SHOTS OF THE RUSSIAN PLANE AND THE SPRUCE GOOSE–THO’ I WAS HAPPY WHEN YOU GOT BACK HOMELOVED HEARING ABOUT THE LITTLE KIDS–KNOW YOU’RE A GREST INFLUENCE FOR GOOD ON THEM.LIEBE, G AND G

    s

    russian plane with multi engines and wheels

  5. SGT P

    Well, I got to hear this story live, back when I called Liberty my home. Delobi, email me and I’ll tell you all about this crazy place. All I can say for now is that I’m glad Bear and Bone were with us to help with the 30M. By the way, tell JoKur that Gadbois is coming back tomorrow morning. He’ll be needing his room back. There are a lot of disgruntled MNARNG employees around here, more on the private channel to follow. By the way, send me your yahoo address so I can chat with you guys. The home theater is already back and in effect, again, the mainstay of work done by the blue collar proliteriate. I’ll send more word of this desolate place (Mordor, swamps and all,, have to take malaria pills) asap.

    #1 out

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