Thursday, July 31, 2008

Month in Mosul

Well, my time here in northern Iraq is coming to a close as I head back down to Baghdad in the next few days. I am not really looking forward to the nausea creating flight between here and there, but it will be good to get back to what has unfortunately become 'normal' for me. Mosul was very different from Baghdad in a lot of ways - a lot slower pace at the hospital, not many plaes to tour around during down time, and a lot less down time. There is only one ER physician up here, so that one is always on-call. It gets a little painful. That being said, there is a lot less of the command group portion of the hospital up here, so things are a little less intrusive and you have a bit more freedom, which is very nice.

So I got to spend some time while I was here playing with some of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regimental tanks. It was like playing video games back in high school - only much cooler. Spent some time crawling through it, using the various sights to track on targets (no we didn't shoot anything, no matter how many times I begged) Got to know their regimental surgeon - who helped plan our field trip out with their armor. We then got a tour of the local FOBs and actually got to see what the city of Mosul looks like - looks like every other large Arabian city... Hot, sandy...

Their is one historical site on the FOB over here - a monastery that was built in the 400s AD - St. Elijah's Monastery - intermittently used by the local christian population over the centuries. Then taken over as an Iraqi Republican Guard headquarters - then taken over as a 101st Airborne Battalion Headquarters - now being returned to the local archeologic community. It is fenced off and guarded so random people can't get into it, but the chaplain takes guided tours through the area and talks about some of the history associated with it. Neat to see something that has actually survived that long in this place, though not surprised that it has been touched by modernity - including one of the main walls punched in by an exploding Iraqi tank.

Across the street sits a "graveyard" for Iraqi armor with dozens of destroyed/nonfunctional Iraqi tanks, artillery and various other vehicles that were damaged during the war and are just sitting and rusting now.

The were very few busy moments up here - one involved the local civilian population of a surroudning town. They had a massive IED go off - wounding over 90 people. The Turkish government (which is not too far from here) offered to care for about half of their most seriously injured. So ambulances drove about 20 Iraqi patients up the hospital here were we staged them and took care of them waiting for the Turkish Air Force medical teams to fly in and get them a few hours later. It was the usual circus show you would expect from three governments working together to accomplish a relatively simple task.

Other than that - not alot to do. I am looking forward to heading back down to Baghdad - to enjoy the rest of my sentence with the crew that I have spent the last 10+ months with. And it also means that much closer to my leave...

I hope you all take care.

Until next time...

Friday, July 4, 2008

Alright, now for the latest update. I guess these have spaced out a bit more than I planned, so I will try to be better at keeping up on these things. Not that all that much exciting has been transpiring here. Things have become routine - with a few little changes that I will get to at the bottom of this posting.

Thankfully, aside from a spike in activity two weeks ago, things have been returning to a level of boredom. Less combat by both the Iraqis and the US troops have meant that we are staying relatively quiet in the hospital. Of course, that means more time to try to find things to do and to try to stay out of trouble the best that we can. The Nintendo Wii is a big hit with daily Tennis and Guitar Hero matches. Entertaining to watch a bunch of adults become fixated on a TV screen, shouting obscenities when they lose at little video cartoon characters.

Got another chance to go combat biking and explore the rest of the International Zone. realizing that peering into these bombed out places is very voyeuristic - but really, there is not all that much else to do. Stopped by one of the local mosques. We, of course, did not go inside, but instead snuck a peek over its surrounding walls. There are still a little less than 10,000 Iraqis who live within the limits of the International Zone - so the mosques stay pretty active from what we understand. Multiple times a day, you can hear the call to prayer. It is an eery sound given that we have been conditioned by Hollywood to believe that they are essentially a call to kill the infidels, too. When you are able to get over that misbelief, there is actually almost a mystical/beautiful sound to it.

The next stop on our outing was to a FOB called Union III. It was a palace being built for the Ministry of Justice before it was gutted by a few thousand pounds of American bombs. It is now home to a few American units, some Australian troops, and a few contracting groups.

It is across the street from the FOB occupied by the Georgian Army. We had never come across anyone who had actually been inside their compound as there is very little interaction between the Georgians (who speak no English) and the Americans (who speak even less Georgian). With nothing else to do we stopped by and asked to have a peak around. Their response was perfect... "Why would anyone want to come in here?" We told them we were just out exploring, and just shocked that we had come by they hesitantly said... "OK" and opened up their gate for us. Essentially another bombed palace with very few people around. Although you could tell there used to be a beautiful garden in the back of the building where they actually had a flowering vine growing (the first flowers I have seen in Iraq). The only actual military object we found the entire time was an old Soviet era tank. As we were leaving, the Georgian soldiers gathered around and insisted that we all take pictures together. OK.
The final stop was to an area of houses that used to belong to Saddam and his friends as yet another place to throw parties - particularly his son Qusay. Also the recipient of American "largesse" in the form of high explosives. It was obviously at one point a beautiful building with a landscaped courtyard, several indoor/outdoor pools, and some classic artwork.

The rest of the month was pretty uneventful until the end when we met up with some friends who are contractors and have access to some more weapons and essentially unlimited ammunition and range time. (Paid for by you the tax-payer, of course... thank you). Spent some time firing machine guns - an awesome experience. A little bit on the warm side on the concrete, but definitely worth it. If you have the opportunity, I would definitely recommend putting some holes in paper targets this way.

And then for the big change. the 86th CSH is actually divided into two sections - the larger section (about 3/4 of the hospital) is in Baghdad, where I had been. The other 1/4 is in Mosul, which is in the northern part of the country - about 300km away. A much smaller support mission. Since we are all part of the same hospital, though, we have to cover when we go on leave. The part in Mosul only has one ER doctor (as opposed to the 3 we have in Baghdad) - so the doc in Mosul is going on leave, and I had to travel up here to backfill him. After about 18 hours (to go 300 km), we made it up here. Quite an experience. Took an armored bus (The Rhino) from the International Zone to the Baghdad Airport. Since the route goes through the 'Red Zone' it is a convoy driving at speeds you don't think are safe in a giant, overweight bus. Anyway, once there, we had the nicest of Army accommodations for the overnight until our flight left on a C-130. We were packed like sardines into the uncomfortable webbing seats, in about 130 degree heat with all our body armor on - waiting on the runway for about 2.5 hours - you thought your flight on United was rough. Most people passed out eventually. Only to be woken up as we were getting ready to land in Mosul using a 'combat landing'. This involved dropping the 17,000 feet in a few seconds coupled with tight spirals and jerking back and forth - mind you still in the hundreds temperature wise in the aircraft. No windows to get your bearing either. By the time we hit the ground - hard - there was not a face that was not a deep green shade. My biggest concern on the aircraft was not getting shot or crashing - but what the proper etiquette is when you lose your lunch -do you do it into your helmet, your rucksack, your neighbor...

Anyway, now I am here for some time. I will be returning back to Baghdad in a month or two. In the meantime, this is a very different place - living in a trailer (CHU - Containerized Housing Unit) - no place to go off and have adventures as the FOB sits right on the wall between us and the City of Mosul. The hospital abuts the airfield here, so the constant drone of helicopters and airplanes is a constant accompaniment. For those interested, you can actually see the hospital by going to Google Earth and mapping to Mosul, and then zooming down on the runway. The view outside my CHU is not quite scenic - actually just a bunker and hundreds of 'T-walls' as rocket and mortar attacks are about as common as they are in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, my girls are getting cuter - you just have to admit it - they might be the cutest ones out there.

I hope you are all having a great Fourth. Please have some beer and hotdogs for me. Actually, just have the beer and hold it for when I get home.