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Notes from Baghdad

Notes from Baghdad

The following are notes I have written after various phone calls from my son Jeff - who is in Baghdad with the 82nd Airborne

Jan 6th - 2005

Let me define happiness for you. Happiness is having a 1 hour phone conversation with your son who is in Baghdad after not hearing from him in 5 days.

I tell friends that I write about Jeff because it is a release. I (right or wrong) sometimes find myself getting pissed that the general public forgets that there are families everywhere who have sons, daughters, husbands and wives in Iraq.

With this said - when Jeff calls I take notes. I find myself so excited that I am afraid that I will forget what he says. So I take notes. I read the notes later – they help bring me back to the moment.

Tonight I got 6 pages of notes. I told Jeff what I am doing (writing as he talks) and that’s why I make him repeat things. It surprises me that he has the patience to accept my asking him to repeat so many different things. He does it with the maturity of a grandfather explaining things to a grandchild – like he wants to make sure I get it straight.

An example tonight was his work schedule and how it has changed. He tried to explain what he did and why he had not called in 5 days. He went through it and I took notes. I knew I did not know all the military abbreviations for what he was doing but I wrote them down anyway. We then talked for an hour and at the end I felt guilty (for keeping him up because it was 2:30 AM in Iraq and he had just finished a foot patrol when he called) and I told him I did not understand everything about his work and I would like to clarify it in our next phone call. Rather than say OK Dad – he said what don’t you understand? I can go through it again now.

He has another patrol to make at 7 AM. How do you do this? He would rather talk and explain his work schedule than sleep.

Tonight was the first time he wondered about working three weeks straight 24/7 without a day off for $1,100.00 a month. He mentioned that contractors make $200,000.00 a year in Iraq and thought that was pretty appealing - you see he does not own a vehicle and the thought of $200,00.00 goes a long way with a 19 year old.

His Uncle Frank is a contractor in the green zone and will visit him this Sunday. Jeff will give Frank a CD with photos that he has taken since Dec 7th. Frank is coming home to the States next week for some R&R and will mail it to me. I will post the photos.

Jeff was pretty proud that several of the photos would be of him being lowered into tunnels that they are finding. They use the body ropes I sent (see my other notes). His SGT made a harness for Jeff and they daisy chained body ropes to lower in into tunnels to check where they went.

I shake my head at this and have no comment. But when I talked to one of my best friends tonight ( a narcotics officer I worked with for 10 years ) he reminded me that had this been 30 years ago it would be me being in the tunnel and its hard to argue those facts.

Jeff and I talked about the suicide bomb last Monday. He had been on foot patrol the night before and was sleeping when it went off. He said the bomb was so big that it shook the entire marble and concrete palace building he lives in like an earth quake.

He said he has been through 4 suicide bombs since getting there on Dec 7th (which killed more than 40 people) and this was by far the biggest. It knocked every spec of dust off his walls and ceiling along with a lot of things on shelves. It was way way way bigger than mortars hitting the roof. He told me this was the bomb that killed 10 and wounded 50 and left a 4 foot deep hole that was 11 feet long. The motor that hit 3 feet outside his FOB (foreword observation post) last week barely cracked the cement.

We talked about what he needed and he said he and his platoon members only eat one hot meal a day because they work so much. He told me they would rather try and sleep than walk to the cafeteria and eat – which is some distance away. The army has a palate of MRE's on the first floor of their building that they scrounge from. They like the reconstituted strawberry milk shakes. I asked him if he wanted me to send hot chocolate and he said “no” – they don’t have hot water where they live – only in the deface (Cafeteria).

I asked if there was anything I could send and he said “no”. It’s like he accepts their position and does not want to bother me with sending things. So I can only guess - but the milk shakes are something that I will look into. I have been told that the cans of Slimfast shakes are something to consider.

We went on to talk about his patrols - on his mounted patrols - patrols in Humvee’s he likes to be the guy in the turret. There is a gun (Mark 19 40mm belt fed auto grenade launcher) that he likes to man. He likes to be able to see the crap before it happens.

I just posted a web page with my first photos of Jeff in Baghdad - they came in this morning from his Uncle Frank -

Here is the URL

Jeff told me that I did not have to send any more DVDs that I copied for him and his brother (a diver on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico). He said an Iraqi man in van comes to his barracks building 2 times a week selling DVDs – they cost $3.00 and they hold 2 or 3 two hour movies. He said they had been filmed with a hand held DVD camera in studios – so every now and then someone stands up in front of the screen as it was being filmed – I will continue to rent and copy DVDs and send then anyway – Eric does not have access to this and Jeff does like them

The word is that they are still set to come home in March – he is hoping that will be true but does not know the really if it is or is not true. Said he probably will not know until he comes home.

He said the normal rotation was for his battalion to go to Afghanistan in Feb. of 2006 – I would rather he be in Afghanistan than Iraq any day.

He had not called in 5 days because his schedule had been screwed up – the normal schedule is this

1- DAY 1 - 6 hours of Dismounted patrols – these are broken up into 2 three hour foot patrols inside the GZ

2- DAY 2 - 6 hours of QRF (quick reaction force) then 6 hours of Gate Guard – gate guard is their FOB – this is being a guard at Gate 12 – there is an Iraqi checkpoint out in front of them – Jeff and his guys write down the name of everyone who comes through their gate

3- DAY 3 – 8 hours of TOWER GUARD – broken into 2 four hour shifts – the towers are 4 story towers up against the 15 foot cement wall – their towers face inside the green zone – not out on the street that it outside the green zone – they sit in chairs made of sandbags. He hates this duty. Its boring

4- DAY 4 – is fire guard on their palace – this is kind of what they consider their day off – they guard the halls inside their palace as others sleep – this is also the day that they do a lot of PT – last week they had to play football – he hyper extended his knee and Frank is bringing him a knee brace on Sunday (I am also sending one but that’s going to take weeks to get there)

Then on DAY 5 they start all over again – He said he has really only had one day off in 3 weeks – he was talking about how many hours he works for $1,100.00 a month – its not much that’s for sure. He knows that why he is there but at 2AM after a patrol with another patrol at 7 AM - well it takes a little to keep motivated.

The Sargeant that bring Frank said that he is going to give Jeff a Cell Phone that we can call from here in the states – he cant call out but we can call him – that will be great of its true – he said our only cost would be the price to call NY city from here. I will believe it when I place my first call.

They share their sector with a National Guard Unit from "STATED EDITED OUT" – there is bad blood between the two unites (probably just tired and short nerves) Anyway they are not allowed to talk with the Guards. There was an incident with one of the paratroopers and a Guard member . Jeff said Guard members are a little jealous because the Iraqi’s are drop dead afraid of Paratroopers – but not of National Guard members. (I think that may be a little unit bravado talking)

Here is an email from one of Jeff’s best friends (PVT Martin Harris) that came today - his company - "B" Company 3/325 Air - 82nd Airborne - has had 8 purple hearts in their first month in Baghdad. Martins company is in the thick of it - they patrol the area of Baghdad where the insurgents pull election workers out of vehicles and murder them in the street - this area had produced 150 purple hearts in October and November

Hey thanks a bunch for the care package!

I actually just got back from my first real fight where I had to return fire. Its pretty exciting when it happens to you. I was thinking about it after it was over. One of those RPG's could have actually used my area as an aiming point - lucky for me that hodjee suck at shooting though.

Well after that first big rash of injuries we haven’t had anymore and not even a near call for me yet.

Anyway just thanks again for the package I very much appreciate it.

Martin Harris

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