Thursday, February 05, 2004

Combat Takeoff from Baghdad Just in the Nick of Time, Landing in Qatar, Jose or Ahmed? (A tale of mistaken identity)

Learn more on the official American, Interrupted website.

It’s been a long day, and a day that led me to Qatar in the Persian Gulf for a few days of rest. I love you so dearly Nora, and even more now that I am here. Baghdad is like a second home for me now – and it’s strange, but it feels like you are there. I love you so deeply – it’s spiritual, it’s physical, it’s mental. It’s everything to me Nora. I love you! I’ll be home soon.
Today Nixon and I waited at BIAP for a flight to Qatar. We waited alongside contractors, mercenaries, and Air Force wannabe soldier types. The camp we were at looked like something out of a Vietnam movie. It’s amazing how much material, people, and equipment is in the Middle East. At one point while we were waiting, a C-130 cargo plane buzzed our location at about 200 feet at a high speed to let the terminal personnel know they had arrived.
Eventually, our flight arrived. It was a C-130 from Pope AFB, North Carolina. I’d been there a few times as a CAP
[1] cadet, and once as a VMI cadet. Anyways, right as we went to board the aircraft, a strong rainstorm moved in and drenched everything. ‘Just my luck,’ I thought. I was the first to get on and sat next to a window on a cloth net seat. I thought for a moment about surface-to-air missiles, but then stopped thinking about it because it was raining and that would deter fair weather terrorists. As it turned out, moments after we took off twisting across the sky in evasive maneuvers against missiles, the airport came under mortar attack – killing one soldier. I don’t even realize in how much danger Nixon and I were last week during the rocket attack. You get used to it. There was a mortar attack on our camp two days ago – 15 mortars struck – and I slept right through it. A few days before, mortars struck our Apache tank platoon and wounded PFC Zapata – on our camp. At any rate, today I flew frenzied over west Baghdad in a storm and over hostile territory. I love the feeling of flight, total freedom and solitude far above the world below. I love how, above the clouds, it’s always sunny. I was glued to the window most of the flight. During a lot of the flight, I read about the Selma freedom march of Martin Luther King Jr. from his autobiography. He also spoke of the riots in L.A. and Chicago. I really enjoy reading his ideas, as they reflect many of my own personal ideas. He was in fact a great man – on par with Gandhi. More on that later as well.
Qatar is flat. Like Kuwait. The air is crisp though, cool, and blue. There hasn’t been much to see thus far. I did see one of the most brilliant nights tonight, and a perfect, brightly shining, silver moon. It was full, and perfect. The sky was like sapphire, a beautiful shade of blue, deep and indigo abyss. Even at midnight – the night sky was lit in a silver blue haze. It was amazing. Hopefully I’ll see more of ethnic Qatar, and not just this military base. Nora – I am so in love with you, and I am thinking of you more than ever. I love you, and I can’t wait to marry you.

PFC Zapata was Hispanic, and like many of the Hispanic soldiers, he looked like an Iraqi. When Zapata was wounded by mortar fire on the base, he was taken to the surgical unit only a few meters away (the old Rustamiyah war college hospital). The same surgical unit provided emergency medical treatment to Iraqis sometimes, so this created a little confusion when members of the staff went to visit the wounded Zapata. He was laying on a hospital bed alongside some Iraqi civilians, causing some visitors to ask which young man was the American soldier and which one was an Iraqi – because of the skin complexion. Hospital staff quietly pointed to Zapata, the American.

[1] Civil Air Patrol

Learn more on the official American, Interrupted website.


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