Thursday, January 29, 2004

Getting Attacked in BIAP, Charades With the "Coalition of the Willing"

I’m at Camp Flexible right now in an old, cramped tent out at BIAP. It’s the most comfortable place in Iraq though because it’s the place you stay before you leave for home. That’s right, I’m going home! Wow! Nixon and I are waiting for a flight out of here – maybe tomorrow, we’ll see. I’m so excited about coming home to you! AH! It doesn’t seem real yet! I’m excited and exhausted and can’t wait to hold you again! I’m happy about it, and will explain how all this happened later. I’ve got to tell about something that happened only a short time ago.
“BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!” Nixon and I hearing this to the west as we were walking back from the PX in the pitch dark night. This was only an hour ago here at BIAP. He and I walked about 3 miles to the north part of the left side of the airport just to see what we could find. We had just started to make our way back when we heard the quick “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!”
‘Mortar fire,’ I thought immediately. It seemed too big of an explosion to be the firing of a mortar though – and too fast. So I figured it was a bombing.
“That was loud,” Nixon said calmly.
‘Yeah, that’s the wild west out there,’ I said. West of Baghdad is bad, and zones surrounding BIAP are no good. On the way walking to the PX earlier, there was red tracer fire climbing into the air in red beads. Anyways, right when I said “wild west” to Nixon, there were 3 thuds to our left – the center of Baghdad International and our division HQs. The thuds occurred about 30 seconds or so after the first three explosions to the west. The three thuds hit at the same interval as the three explosions that went off seconds before.
“You hear that?” Nixon asked.
‘It looks like a mortar attack,’ I responded looking across the airstrip. ‘Something else to add to the list.’ I kept scanning the division HQ area (where I picked up the documents on New Year’s). All of a sudden, I saw three plumes of grey smoke rising slowly, being lit up by airfield lights. Nixon and I still had a long way to go to get back to camp. All of a sudden a siren went off, like one of those air raid sirens you hear in the movies.
“SEEK SHELTER! MORTAR ATTACK! SEEK SHELTER!” a voice boomed everywhere on the base.
‘Shit.’ I said and looked around for a shelter. There was none. ‘Let’s go,’ I said to Nixon and started running for the lights (buildings in the distance). So he and I started running down the road. Then, we saw a pair of headlights coming down the road. It was an SUV. We waved it down and he pulled over.
“You need some help?” It was an older man with a grandpa appearance.
‘Yeah, there’s a mortar attack, we need to get to shelter,’ I said quickly as Nixon and I got in the brand-new truck.
“No problem, I’ll take you to where you need to go. I thought I saw two things flying through the air when I was driving down here,” he said as we pulled off towards our camp. “I work for KBR (Kellog Brown and Root) and was in Bosnia for a year. We never saw anything like this. It’s crazy.”
‘Yeah, I’ve been in two attacks – one grenade and one bomb,’ I told him. I guess those mortar rounds tonight went right over our heads. That KBR guy said he saw two objects flying through the air – so maybe they were rockets. I think they were mortars though.
Well, the KBR guy dropped us off at our camp and then sped off after we thanked him numerous times. Hopefully the attack was over – but I wonder if anything was damaged, because by the looks of it – it looked like the smoke was at the HQ area. Crazy. I don’t understand it though, today I noticed – and even this evening – no Apache or scout helicopters were flying around. They all sit on the tarmac doing nothing. Row upon row of helicopters. They weren’t guarding the perimeter, so it’s no surprise that they get attacked. Then once they get attacked, they scramble choppers at once. Too late – the attackers will be gone. So, attacks on BIAP will continue. Even as I’m writing this, Nixon and I keep looking over at each other because we hear low “thuds” in the background through our headphones. I just told Nixon we’re paranoid.
“Yeah we are,” he laughed. Nixon’s a good guy. He’s falling asleep now. Earlier today, we went to the chow hall and saw soldiers from Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Poland. The soldiers from Kazakhstan looked the most professional. Ukrainian and Polish soldiers looked poor – their weapons all banged up and old. Their helmets and vests are American – perhaps barrowed.
We were walking back to our tent and saw a group of Ukrainian BTR-80 armored vehicles. We walked over to look at them, because we’ve never seen a real BTR-80 – just pictures of them. One of the crew waived us over and we followed. He started speaking to us in Russian (or Ukrainian) and we followed him. He took us over to a side door and we shook hands with the crew. They all looked like regular Joes, just like us. I like talking to people from other countries – because it’s encouraging to see that we can all communicate and smile and relate to each other even though we come from another culture, country, or ideology. I got in the BTR and the older soldier with crystal blue eyes and the face of a Russian submarine captain with a ragged beard, eagerly showed me all the equipment in the vehicle and how it functions. He was proud of his vehicle. He had the gunner rotate the turret so we could see the machineguns and bullets. The gunner puffed on a cigarette and rolled his eyes to show his dissatisfaction with the guided tour being put on by his older, excited comrade. All the writing on the panels were written in Russian. I looked to the front of the vehicle where the driver sits and saw two photographs. I had to smile at myself. ‘We’re all the same,’ I thought to myself. ‘Everyone misses home, everyone has someone who misses them, everyone wants to get home alive.’ One photo had a young boy acting like he was drinking a bottle of beer – probably someone’s son. The other picture was of a soldier with his wife and kids. They didn’t look dreary and stressed (the stereotype of Eastern people I’ve had since I was old enough to know the Cold War). They looked happy, radiant, healthy, and normal. A lot of people, a lot of families, so many have been affected by this war. The company commander came over and shook my hand. We talked a bit in English and he told us about the weapons. I’m not high ranking at all – just a soldier, but you get a lot of respect from others just for being American. Sometimes you feel spoiled – because these people are so respectful and kind and you know they’re hard working – maybe even more so than we. That always makes me uncomfortable. Maybe I’m thinking too much about it. I do think it’s cool to be sitting with and communicating with sergeants that used to be in the Soviet army when they were privates and I was a child on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The world changed so much in 1989-1991. The Evil Empire’s regime changed in an almost bloodless coup – and the Cold War ended without the U.S. or Russia going to war. Now it seems war is the solution for difficult situations. At any rate, when enemies become friends – I am always happy. It’s not idealistic thinking – it’s real, and as real as the Ukrainian soldiers I was with today. I love you Nora.

Nixon and I had to suppress our laughter when we asked the BTR officer what kind of cannon the vehicle had. He answered, “She go 40 mile per hour.” We then asked how many crewmen can sit inside. He answered, “Hmm, maybe 10 mile per hour.” Nixon and I then stopped asking questions and simply smiled and nodded, realizing he couldn’t understand what we were asking. That was OK though, he spoke more English than we did Ukrainian. We realized that and settled for handshakes and a primitive version of Charades to communicate.

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