This diary, compiled by Gunner Palace directors Mike Tucker and Petra Epperlein, consists of notes from the production of the film in 2003-2004 and emails sent from 2/3 FA soldiers during their 410 day deployment to Baghdad and Najaf.
See No Evil, September 06, 2003
We arrived in Amman. The armored cars that F. said were arriving tonight are sitting at an airport somewhere in Europe. That means that F. and I will drive in with a taxi to Baghdad.
There are mixed reports about convoy security from the border–it’s gotten much worse since we drove in last, but at the same time, I think it’s pretty much just Ali Baba out there. I only have what I can afford to lose. The weapons make me nervous–one MP5 isn’t much use against two cars of bandits determined to stop your car. The Iraqi drivers tend to stop anyway–it seems to be a gentleman’s agreement. The Jordanian drivers are more likely to drive through a road block. No matter, F. doesn’t have his weapon–he left it in Baghdad, so I guess I’ll just try to to sleep the whole way: see no evil.
Halliburton Hotel, September 08, 2003
P–Arrived in Baghdad. The trip was uneventful. Didn’t see one Army vehicle until Ramadi–the desert is, well, deserted. There isn’t any security out there.
One car full of Ali Babas did check us out, but they lost their interest and drove on. Five trips on that road is enough. I promise not to do it again.
Staying at the Palestine for a few days until I find a unit to film. It’s been taken over by KBR. I caught off the elevator today and a Gurkha with an MP5 asked me where I was going. “To my room”. Seems like KBR took over our floor. There is a blast barrier around the hotel plus you are now searched when you enter the compound.
It feels safer than last time–at least we don’t have to worry about a truck bomb. The UN bombing has people scared. It’s a far cry from three months ago when we were walking around downtown shopping without a worry in the world.
BTW, if you were wondering, F got his MP5 back.
I’m trying to track down a Public Affairs Officer in the morning.
I need some sleep.
Minor Combat, September 12, 2003
Heh P: Good news and bad news. First the good news: The 1AD PAO has set me up with 2/3 FA, an artillery unit from Germany based in one of Uday Hussein’s palaces-or what is left of it. It sounds like something right out of “Gone with the Wind”-plus, it’s sitting in the hottest sector in Baghdad, so I think we’ll get what we need. Of course, the fact that is has a pool doesn’t hurt either.
The bad news:
F. and I got caught up in a firefight down by the Baghdad Hotel. To make a long story short, it was pretty hairy. Wrong place, wrong time. The firefight was pretty intense and we were out in the open when it started. The Dyncorp contractors that guard the Baghdad Hotel and the locals IPs were enagaging-without any discrimination-a group of car thieves. When it was over, we walked to the blast barrier of the Baghdad Hotel and were promptly detained and searched by the guards along with two other cameramen. Then, things turned ugly when they tried to take my camera. I was hit with a rifle butt and tackled by two guards. Then, just as quick as it happened, we were released. Not pretty–as we walked away, a 1 AD soldier commented with a grin and a friendly pat on the back, “We call this minor combat”.
An Adult Paradise, September 14, 2003
Heh P: My driver took me to Adhamiya today. Ironically, he lives across the street from the Palace, so he promised to check in on me to make sure that I’m OK. Only in Iraq: he’s worried about me.
It feels good to be out of the hell called Central Baghdad. It feels like I spent the last week waiting in traffic.
Without any fanfare, I was let into the Palace and given a tour. It’s amazing–you couldn’t build a better location. The main building, a gaudy monstrosity with massive columns, was bombed during the “shock and awe”. One JDAM went in through an elevator shaft and imploded half the building. The other half is where 2/3 has their Tactical Operations Center.
Out back, there is a massive pool, a putting green and a stocked fishing pond. Beyond the Palace, there are many other buildings, the oddest is a pumpkin shaped building they have dubbed The Love Shack. It used to be Uday’s private quarters–complete with a circular bed right out of an Austin Powers movie. 2/3’s commander, LTC Bill Rabena, calls it, “An adult’s paradise.”
I can see the photogenic appeal of a shot-up palace, but is it relatively safe there, I mean to go on patrol etc. ? (Today an army convoy hit a mine again outside Fallujia, one was killed) the double reality of playing hopscotch with some little girls in the park and knowing you in some human-unfriendly place is a little disturbing, distracting…
Your daughter says you should come home as soon as possible with the fastest airplane -this means: stay as long as you need to, but don´t go there again.
Uncontrolled Explosion, September 16, 2003
Heh P: Finally found email. Lots going on here. I think I should stay as long as possible. Pretty safe, although the Palace came under mortar attack two nights ago. At first, I thought it was controlled EOD explosion. By the time I got to my room, a third round hit and all the guys were just standing around like nothing had happened. In fact, somebody found a rat in the hooch which demanded their full attention–never mind the mortars.
It was a good choice to stay with the enlisted guys. The room is crowded–with me, the distance between bunks must be about two feet. 11 or 12 guys crammed in a tiny room. The room is literally part of one of the palace gates, so they whole thing is sandbagged.
Pretty diverse groups of soldiers, all of them except for the squad leader, are either teenagers or in their early 20s. The youngest is a kid named Wilf who joined the Army at 17–that makes him 19 now. He–and many of the others–are straight out of South Park. For whatever reason, I can relate to them and find them pretty amusing.
Reality Check, September 19, 2003
The LTC and the Chaplain invited me to a fallen soldier memorial at 4/27 FA. A young soldier named Kevin Kimmerly was killed by an RPG a few days before.
It’s Army tradition to have a last roll call at a soldier’s memorial. They call out roll and soldiers answer with “here” as their names are called. When they came to Kimmerly, there was no reply. His named was called twice more, answered only by the quiet sobbing of his fellow soldiers.
For the first time, I feel very far away from home. This isn’t a movie. It’s real. These guys aren’t just names and numbers in the newspapers. Here, away from the loudness of the media, you begin to feel that this has very little to do with home. It’s another reality with another set up rules. The worst is that war, if you want to call it that, begins to feel normal. The Iraqis go about their business–life doesn’t stop, it can’t.
When the memorial was over, the chaplain told me that he’s been asked to come up with a format for memorials–a reality that few want to think about.
One Night in Baghdad, September 24, 2003
Routine has settled in: Day=Patrol in the Sun. Night=Raid Houses.
It’s getting a little intense. The other night, while raiding the home of suspected bomb builders, one of the suspects started talking to me as he was detained. He pleaded to me, “I’m a journalist. You get this wrong. They call this freedom?”
His words jarred me. Could this guy–no different than me–be a bomb builder? I somehow wanted to clear up what I thought could be a case of mistaken identity. I wondered if it was just bad intel: wrong house, wrong family. Nothing was found in the house–and all of the brothers were detained. His mother and sister were left alone in the living room crying.
Later, as a young officer was telling me how he records lullabies for his new baby, an IED went off outside the gate. Both of us were nearly knocked off our chairs from the shock of the blast. I went into the TOC and the duty officer was on the radio trying to figure out who was hit. Over the radio, you could hear a patrol calling in–trying to stay calm as a firefight erupted. I ran outside and tracers were streaming over the palace roof.
Iraqi Police and American MPs were wounded. I joined the Quick Reaction Force lining up to investigate the scene. As we waited for the order to roll, the wounded came in. One was a young female National Guard soldier. The IED exploded right in front of her. She took shrapnel everywhere—including one eye. Her fellow MPs spent the night in the Palace. In normal life they are policemen, mechanics and lawyers. Here, as they staggered into the Palace to bed down, they were soldiers—their T-shirts covered in blood, many of them shaking with grief.
I rolled out with Survey to look for IEDs on the road. Dumb or brave, I don’t know. I’ll never do that again. I’m wearing my helmet now.
Helmet Head, September 26, 2003
What´s going on, I didn´t hear from you since Wednesday… bombs are blowing up left and right, ….what are you doing ?! I hope you stay away from wars in the future. Petra
The guys I am with got hit by four IEDs on Weds–including the one that hit an Iraqi bus–many civilians dead, four police wounded and 2 MPs wounded. An uparmored going down a busy shopping street was the target.
It moves from peaceful to extremely violent here without warning. I wouldn’t say that these guys are scared, but careful. Every time they roll down a street they see things that I don’t see–they know the danger is out there, they just don’t know where. Everytime I see a box or a can next to the road, I cringe.
I was out with the COLTs the other night when somebody opened up on us from a roof down by the mosque. Nobody freaked. They just quickly dismounted out of the high-back, took cover and then made sure everybody was OK–including me. There was a roll-call of sorts and then I heard, “Mike, you OK?”
I’ve come to realize that I’m not just filming these guys, I’m with them–no matter the color of my helmet. One of the interpreters told me that he was driving in a taxi the other day by the police station and saw me out on patrol. His taxi driver said that I worked for the Mossad–which didn’t exactly leave me feeling warm and fuzzy.
September 28, 2003, Jackass Goes to War
Over the weeks, a rhythm has developed. Sleep late to avoid the heat. Try to eat an MRE. Drink water and lots of it. Smoke fake Marlboros from the Haji stand and wait for something to happen, anything. A patrol. An escort. An OP.
I spend most of my time with the younger soldiers–this film could be called “Jackass Goes to War”. Some of these guys aren’t even old enough to legally drink in the States, yet when they roll, they rule the streets. Some of them had never left their home states before they joined the army and now they are here, a world apart from their friends at home.
Their response is a peculiar brand of humor.
SPC Wilf was standing by the TOC the other day with a handwritten letter sized card that said:
“Ask me if I am a Tree.”
Like an idiot, I asked him.
“That’s the stupidest frigging question I’ve heard all day,” was his reply.
Luckily, an officer walked by a few minutes later and was coaxed into asking the same question. He got the same answer and I felt redeemed.
Wilf=Yossarian. I can easily imagine him building a raft to float his way out of here down the Tigris.
September 29, 2003, Burger King
P: We were driving to BIAP the other day—someone cooked up a reason so we could go to the PX and Burger King (believe it or not). We took orders for something like 50 Whoppers. On the way down the airport road traffic suddenly stopped because there was an IED on the road. As we pulled over, we heard that a sniper was engaging the convoys ahead of us. All that for a Whopper.
This war, is unlike any other. Forget what you know, or what you think about war, this war is the ultimate culture clash. Take 130,000 soldiers with their technology and their pop culture and drop them into a country that has been largely isolated for more than ten years and you get something that even Hollywood couldn’t dream up.
The strangest thing is the ability to communicate so easily to home. The Palace doesn’t have a real Internet connection yet–there is one public machine in the TOC for all the guys, but out at Charlie Battery, they have an internet cafe. Guys spend their free time posting themselves on Hot or Not and meeting girls on Books for Soldiers. There are also a few Thuraya satellite phones floating around. Nothing is more bizarre than watching a soldier argue with his wife about which bills to pay as a firefight plays in the distance. The irony is, all the technology in the world can’t bring them home. You feel close, but in reality, you are further away than you thought.
October 08, 2003, Trying to Get Home
P: Sorry…I’m trying to get out of here. It’s not so easy to get a flight. Hoping to get on a flight home with a soldier from 2/3, to wrap-up the story. MT
Don´t be sorry, I was just a little worried that I didn´t hear from you for some days, but I do wish, that you would be out of there soon, it´s not so great to sit here and think all kinds of thoughts….P
P: I’m stuck at BIAP waiting for a flight. 1 AD just started their leave program and there are five days worth of guys trying to get out of here. They’ve been sleeping in the sand for days–no running water, a couple of portajohns for hundreds of people. They are not happy campers. I’m hoping I’ll be home sooner, rather than later. I charged my phone–as soon as I hit the ground I’ll call.
Planet Baghdad, October 10, 2003
I’m back in Berlin. Took three days to get out of Baghdad. There simply wasn’t any room and there were lots of guys who NEEDED to get home.
Me, I was just thankful for the ride. Landed in Ramstein. Didn’t have any warm clothes. I sat with some guys from 2/3 while we waited for a ride to take us up North to Giessen. When the ride came, we hit the autobahn as if we had never left Germany. Stopped at a gas station–the guys piled out of the van in their sun bleached BDUs as the Germans kept their distance. No sense of being home, just being out of place. Took the train from Frankfurt with the Friday night commuters. I stank so bad I was afraid to sit next to anyone–when I did, the first thing someone noticed was the body armor laying on my bag and they asked, “Where do you come from.”
I said “Baghdad” as if it was a planet and not a place.
I’ll be Home Soon Honey, October 16, 2003
Petra and I went to Giessen last week to visit 2/3 families. While in Baghdad, I made an effort to get guys to shout-out to their spouses and kids so we could edit a short video for the families in Giessen.
I feel a lot for these families. My Dad left for Vietnam on a troop ship on my first birthday. I thought of my mother, who spent three tours waiting for a doorbell to ring or a car door to slam. I spent the first sixteen years of my life around the army–and then another six, from age 17-23, in the Army Reserve. I guess, soldiers like Wilf remind me of myself and seeing these families and their quiet struggles, brings back memories of another time, another war.
When we showed the video to the families, the kids sat on the floor circling the TV, almost touching it. A known face would pop up on screen and say, “I’ll be home soon honey. Don’t worry”. Then the woman in love with that face would jump in the air, excited to see the briefest glimpse of life in Baghdad–just to know that he’s OK. Seeing that, meeting the families, it all became personal. We connected the families with the faces faraway.
I Killed The Rat, October 18, 2003
A few weeks after I left the Palace, SPC Stuart Wilf and SPC Tom Susdorf , my former roommates, started sending me regular updates about life in Baghdad.
Battle Buddies: Tom Susdorf (L) Stuart Wilf (R)
Hey Dude, all kinds of stuff blowing up everywhere, two of our guys got hit by a mortar last night (three impacted in front of Hellraiser’s building), we’ve had over 10 mortars impact on our compound and SF’s over the past 4 days. Car bombs are supposed to hit in Adhamiya today, so we’re all ready.
Speaking of killing, I won the battle against the rat, HE’S FRIGGING DEAD!! AH HA HA HA HA!!!! Alright dude, gotta go get ready for battle. You might want to come back out here like today if you want to see some stuff, but maybe if you come back they’ll just stop.
Potato Gun, October 23, 2003
Lots of stuff still blowing up here. This dude made a potato gun-like rocket launcher the other day and tried to shoot it at the palace from across the river, but he was retarded and it blew up about 5 feet in front of him.
Then the next day some dude shot one of the trucks in our motor pool with some kind of homemade RPG thing, The SF guys chased the dudes down and shot one. It was awesome. We had a busload of mortars hit us last night, I only woke up for one of them, but I just went back to sleep. Stu
November 03, 2003, Ben Colgan
Three weeks away from Baghdad, I received an email from 2/3 informing me that LT Ben Colgan was killed. The news hit me hard. Just weeks before, I had been out with him and his Tombraiders when an IED exploded behind the Abu Hanifa Mosque—one of two IEDs that were meant for his patrol. He was killed in the same spot.
I knew where he died, but I also knew where he lived. He came from the Seattle area like me. I knew the kind of house he grew up in and the landscape he dreamt of going home to.
Everybody in 2/3 loved Ben—they felt safe with him.
From 2/3 TOC
It is my sad duty to inform you that 1LT Ben Colgan has been Killed in Action. He was killed while trying to block the bridge by the Abu Hanifa mosque to catch a vehicle associated with a RPG attack on our compound. His vehicle ran over what we believe was an anti-personnel mine that was placed just off the road. He died from head wounds as a result of the mine strike. The valiant efforts of our medics and those of the SOF team next door to save Ben’s life kept him alive for several hours after the attack, but were not enough to overcome the seriousness of his injuries. He died knowing that we loved and respected him for who he was and what he was doing. I know that you had a special affinity for Ben… We all mourn his loss.
The Memorial, November 10, 2003,
All of us are very upset about Lt Colgan. I feel horrible for his family.
The announcement of Ben’s death at formation the morning after he died saw lots of tears. Cpt. K had a hard time getting it out of his mouth. I had a feeling when he came out to call us to attention and his voice wasn’t as forceful as usual. We are angry and sad at the same time but we are doing what he would have wanted us to do–continue the mission.
SPC “C” was wounded the other day. They were going under a tunnel to the CPA and someone threw a blue bag off the bridge hitting the lead Humvee and after it hit the ground, it exploded sending shrapnel into his right arm and around his ear.
Multiple Launch Donkeys, November 18, 2003
Yesterday I passed an IED that didnt hit me, but got the convoy on the road behind us. They were MPs and the driver was the only one hurt (I was driving our convoy). That shook me for a while. When they run out of conventional weapons I’m sure we will see some off the wall stuff like the donkeys. Well not much else going on except a volley of 2 or 3 mortars a night now.
Survey Attacked, December 11, 2003
Message from 2/3:
BREAK BREAK BREAK (survey) and 2 Time reporters hit by grenade need medevac more to follow………..
Who was wounded?
I just heard that two guys from Time were wounded with 2/3. I guess that is what you meant by “too much going on”. I hope everybody is relatively OK.
One reporter lost his right hand, the other some shrapnel to legs, both soldiers shrapnel but they are all ok and stable.
Was it anybody I know from Time?
No it wasn’t anyone you know from Time. It was two other guys and I can’t release any names right now. We also had three soldiers wounded in the same attack.The two Time guys and two of our guys had to be Air MEDEVAC’d from the FOB. Thank goodness we had just put in a brand new concrete helicopter landing pad and that SPC Grimes was the medic on the patrol. All should be all right.
Saddam Found in Hole, December 14, 2003
As you all have probably heard, it is believed that Saddam Hussein has been captured. Our sector is already shooting all over the place in celebration. Captured or not, it’s not going to get me home any sooner. The news people are scared of the celebratory fire. We’ve dealt with plenty of this kind of thing in the past 6 months, so we know what to do. STAY INSIDE!
Alright, that’s all I’ve got to report for now.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Someone drink some beer for me!
Paris Hilton, December 15, 2003
Tom’s sitting next to me, he’s an idiot. He passed up Paris Hilton’s phone number! He could have got it but he’s a dumb boy. But we do still have the possibility of Brittney Spears phone number. Nevermind, he lost that one also. Dumb.
I don’t think it’s going to get much better here. There really was hardly any celebratory fire last night. I think it would make a much bigger difference if he were dead. that seems to be what many of these people want.
I couldn’t shoot into the air for you, you know how the army people are about having a good time. Here’s a pic of me doing the CowGod prior to Operation Iron Snatch. Stu
Wilf’s Dream, December 24, 2003
I had a great Christmas dream last night. Our families came to visit for Christmas, it was like family day at basic training, only at war instead. My dad and little brother came driving up in this redneck motorhome, and my dad started unloading cartons of cigarettes from it (he doesn’t smoke, I don’t get that part). So I went into the TOC to do something, and this mortar hit right outside of the TOC Everyones families were crowding around the crater pointing to it and saying, “Wow! Look at that! Neat!”
So I go out on QRF with the Colts. We ended up driving through the big market area where “C” got hit by a grenade (near the CPA area). It was night time but still a lot of people out doing god knows what. We dismounted from the vehicles and while I was walking these two iraqis were walking by with AK-47s and they were all like, “It’s OK mista! We love you,” so I said, “Screw you” and squeezed the trigger on my 249 to shoot them, but my weapon did this videogame like thing where it made this noise like it was charging up and then it just started spraying bullets. I got excited from it and just started shooting all kinds of people. I killed like 25 or more Iraqis.
We all got back in the Humvees and started driving back to the compound, 1SGT asked us all, “So what happened?” and everyone was like, “Nothing,” and then I woke up.
I think i’m getting really frustrated with Iraqis.
Person of the Year, December 27, 2003
On December 10, Jim Nachtwey and Mike Weisskopf from Time Magazine were wounded while covering 2/3 for Time’s Person of the Year feature. That feature came out on December 21st. Three soldiers from 2/3 were on the cover, including one of my subjects, SPC Billie Grimes, a young female medic from Indiana. Wilf, was the centerfold.
The day after the Time story came out, as satellite transmission trucks and reporters converged on Gunner Palace, two more soldiers and an interpeter from Alpha 2/3 were killed by an IED: LT Matt Saltz,PFC Stuart Moore and Nassir. On Christmas Eve, the brigade CSM, Eric Cooke, was killed by an IED during an operation in Adhamiya. I had filmed him and remembered how much everybody liked him–he was one of those classic Army NCOs; you knew that he loved his soldiers.
As emails came from Baghdad talking about the soldiers who died, I saw that I had to go back to Baghdad. The war was just beginning.
New Year, Old War, January 01, 2004
The Time article was ok, but not many people were thrilled with the satellite photo of the palace. Survey (Tombraider) is kinda passive on the whole thing. A mortar round hit our hooch wall last night, scared me. No injs/however some damage to HMMWVs and other equipment. I hope things are good at home. CSM Cooke was a great guy. Take care and HAPPY NEW YEAR.
Coming Back, January 05, 2004
Right now, I am trying to get permission to come back around Jan 20th for about ten days–AF will try to get me papers to fly as it doesn’t look too safe to drive in from Jordan.
One of my friends was in the New Year’s Eve restaurant bombing–his car was totaled. It’s getting hairy out there.
Wilf, I need to record more guitar when I’m down there, but it has to be original–no covers. Maybe you can cook something up.
Dont puss out on me now, we are on the downhill of this deployment. You’ll be fine if/when you come back, you can just sleep in the 577.
“C” is back and fine, he doesn’t have any scars I don’t think. Dixon PCS’d a little while back, about two days after Ben died. There’s alot of really pissed off people here. With the stop loss thing, and then cutting off almost all leave after Jan 15th, not very many people are happy. I don’t give a thing because I wasn’t going anywhere, and they weren’t going to give me leave.
I’ve got my electric guitar now(as you know) so you could record that if you want, but I want to do it naked. I want it to be shocking to the audience.
Jessica Lynch, January 12, 2004
Think I could learn the Star Spangled Banner before you get back. I already know the beginning of it–I think that might fit in nicely. But I also thought about the whole playing naked thing. That would be awesome.
Hey dude, you owe me. I got off work yesterday and in 3 hours learned the entire Star Spangled Banner. Now I just need to style it up a bit and to to find the right tone to play it in. I also wrote the lyrics and music for the Jessica Lynch song: it frigging rules.
Dude, so I plugged my amp into 220v last night, it’s fried. So if you can find a small practice amp, that would be much appreciated (try for a Marshall or Peavey, they sound the best). I also need a Wah pedal. Oh, and bring me a canoe.
Back at the Palace, February 14, 2004
F and M&D drove me to Adhamiya today. Everybody is still here, but it feels very different. When you drive in, the first thing you see is the Alpha Humvee that was hit in December. We went out back and sat in the sun next to a very sad looking pool. It’s heated, but the novelty seems to have worn off. The soldiers seem spent. Too many IEDs. Too many attacks. Too much stress. Everybody just looks forward to redeploying in the Spring. Some of them are already packing. Everybody is counting the days.
Before I left Berlin, Mr. Colgan sent me a small package of coins he had minted with Ben’s face on one side and a psalm on the other. I’ve spent the last few days giving these to soldiers in Survey and the SF guys next door who he was very close to.
As I do this, I see that while on the outside people are getting on with the mission, all of the recent deaths have created a potent emotional mix: sadness, remorse, grief and anger. I don’t sense any closure.
Progress is harder to measure now. Months ago, you could honesty look at certain things and say that they were getting better. Now, it only seems to get worse; the insurgents more brash in their tactics. Everybody thinks it is going to get worse.
Mohammed Tyson, February 19, 2004
I was out at Charlie Battery last night when Supercop brought in Mohammed Tyson zip-stripped–he was the young Iraqi interpreter that I filmed with the detainee last time. They say he has been taking photographs of vehicles and passing intelligence on to an insurgent cell. If it is true, he is responsible for at least four deaths.
All this disturbs me–I don’t know who to believe anymore. A few months ago, I was riding around with him and we shared cigarettes. He was well liked by the soldiers. Last trip, they were out capturing insurgents who were supposed to be trying to kill them. Now this. Some of the soldiers think he is innocent, most think he was involved, but they don’t know to what extent. They say he’ll be sent to Abu Ghraib. Nothing is black and white here anymore.
Boom, February 23, 2004
P: After I got off the phone with you earlier, I walked back to the TOC. When I was about half-way, a mortar hit up on the end of the compound. I kept walking. Then another hit. And another…
I think I ran faster than I have ever run in my life. I got to the TOC, got under the overhang, pulled out my gear and started filming. I don’t think any recording will express what those explosions feel like. They are un-nerving. They are meant to harass–designed to induce sleepness nights. In the TOC, I pity the poor fool who slams a door. Everybody is on edge, cringing at the rumbles in the air.
Now, when people smoke, they hide behind one of the track vehicles parked under the palace roof. Service Battery has to wear IBA when walking outside at night and I don’t think anyone uses the shower or the portajohns near the TOC at night.
Charlie got hit by an IED right by their gate the other night. It was their 18th hit. One of the medics, who also drives, has been hit 8 times. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
They’ve put scrap metal on their Humvee doors and there are a few Mad Max Humvees driving around. HHB has steel walls built around the beds of their high-back Humvees and sandbags on the floors. I saw the Humvee that Weisskopf and Nachtwey were in–the grenade ripped a hole through the wheel well. Trust me, I’m being careful, but I try not to think about it. When I’m out, I’m making myself real small.
Krieg Lite, February 27, 2004
One thing that I’ve never seen mentioned in the news is that US forces are not allowed to drink during their deployment except during R&R. I know there is some illicit drinking going on–you can buy a beer right across the street at the banana stand and I assume liquor makes it in–but overall, this is a dry deployment–the first alcohol free American War: Krieg Lite.
When it is 120 degrees outside, beer tastes good and the Army knows that so they have sent thousands of cases of near beer to Iraq.
Speaking of beer, I was sitting in the TOC the other day when a call came in from the main gate saying that two guys were waiting for me. I went out there to find M&D waiting by their GMC–with very dodgy looking beards–determined to take me to F’s compound in the Green Zone for a beer. As we got in the car, I let them know that just a few nights before an IED went off a few hundred meters from the gate on the main road. With that, they pulled the curtains and we rolled out at high speed as they passed cans of beer around.
After weeks of feeling like I had a target on my head whenever I was rolling down the street, it felt good to be invisible for once. We arrived at F’s place with a slight buzz. F started a BBQ and we ate fresh wurst he had brought in from Amman the day before.
Five beers later, we sat under the stars on a persian rug in a state of bliss…which promoptly ended when three mortars impacted just behind the compound. Sirens blared, Little Birds beat the night air and a QRF rolled outside the wall. A firefight started down by the bridge. Then, the “all clear” came–something right out of a movie–a female voice reassuirng us that everything was under control and we could continue drinking our beer.
So much for security–M&D drove me “home”. When we arrived at the palace, the gate guard said, “Good thing you left when you did, ’cause right after you left two 82 mm mortars hit right near the gate.”
We Live in this Movie, March 01, 2004
This has become their movie, not mine—each person with their own reference. For the older officers and NCOs it’s M*A*S*H. They brought aloha shirts for poolside BBQs. For others, it’s Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. You can see it in the way they ride in their Humvees: one foot hanging out the door—helicopters with wheels. For the teenagers, it’s Jackass Goes to War.
As much as they project cultural icons into their lives, through my viewfinder you can see that they are defining their own experience; a movie different than anything anyone has seen before. The other day, while recording freestyles, a young SPC looked at the camera, charged his weapon and said,”For y’all this is just a show, but we live in this movie.”
Kadhimiya, March 03, 2004
I was drinking coffee this morning when three large explosions hit up the river. I went into the TOC and heard on the net the Kadhimiya mosque was bombed with dozens killed.
It’s upsetting– this happened as people were simply marching in a procession to the mosque.
We saw people marching through Adhamiya last night, peacefully on their way across the river. Karbala was hit too. Reports are coming out on local radio saying that coalition forces sponsored these attacks. The QRF that went to the scene in Kadhimiya was attacked by the crowd. Not good at all.
Everybody is gearing up for more violence. I’m laying low.
I´m glad you stay inside, the news footage of American soldiers being attacked with rocks from the angry crowd at the mosque in Bagdad is not pretty… the news says 60 dead in Bagdad and another 60 in Karbala.
MEDEVAC, March 10, 2004
HHB drove me to BIAP. We did the ritual PX/Burger King run. I said my goodbyes. Knowing that I’ll see them in two months, made it easy.
I made it over to the AMC terminal and connected with an AF PAO. We had dinner in massive chow hall–with every kind of food you can think of–and then drove over to the AF CASF hospital. I checked my bags in–they have to be searched for drugs and weapons–and met the doctors and nurses.
The patients were a mix of “walking wounded”–many guys have ear problems from IEDs-soldiers with normal medical problems like hernias, soldiers with mental problems and then the severely wounded. All of them will go first to Landstuhl.
With darkness, I started to film. We met a C-130 coming in from Kuwait with medical cases for transfer on the runway. Then, a Black Hawk came in from the Green Zone with a soldier in critical condition. They brought him in and started to work on him. After about ten minutes, it was clear that he was near death. I asked a nurse if he was going to make it, and she just quietly spoke of hope.
Our ride, a C-17, came in and they quickly began driving patients out to the aircraft. Litter after litter was carried to the ambulances, a seamless movement of bodies, a sort of tragic ballet. As other aircraft took off, they dropped flares to distract missiles.
Talk about other-worldly–how did I end up here? How did we end up here? I sat with the nurses in the ready room and we watched Survivor.
The critical cases were loaded. Then the walking. The ramp went up and we began our ascent–a mixture of relief and dread until we knew we were away from Baghdad.
The soldier from the Green Zone was still alive, the AF team worked on him throughout the flight. One happy ending. We hit the ground in Ramstein and the gate opened to another world–green forests, crisp air, 5 hours and a world away from Baghdad.
Ten hours later, I was home.
Extended! April 10, 2004
I’m sure you’ve all heard from the news that we’ve been extended. Sadr thinks he’s going to take over Iraq or something, and it’s out of control here again.
We spend most of our time in our gear now and don’t really get many chances to get online. The postal service will start back up again in the next couple of days and the address wil be the same as before.
So all of you keep drinking beer for me to keep my tolerance up while I’m gone.
If you see any politicians be sure to let them know that while they’re sitting around their dinner tables with their families talking about how hard the war is on them, we’re here under attack nearly 24 hours a day, dodging RPG’s and fighting not for a better Iraq, but just to stay alive.
The Uprising, April 15, 2004
We have another KIA and 2 WIA in the last 4 days. Bravo Btry soldier was the KIA. We were involved in a 6 hr firefight yesterday night and we have now found out we are extended in Iraq for at least 3 more months. We are going to move to another location to break the enemies back and corner him off. I cant say when or where we are going but its not going to be easy. -Tom
On April 5, 2004, SGT David McKeever was killed in an RPG attack. In the same timeframe, a young female soldier died at 2/3 after she was ambushed. The LT that replaced Ben Colgan was shot in the head, but his Kevlar saved him and he will recover. Others were wounded.
Rockstar, April 17, 2004
Of what I’ve gathered, this is what’s going on: most of the ICDC are screwbags–have been taking pictures of the compound and distributing them to people that want us dead. We’re supposed to have an attack on us real soon here, they want to raid the palace is the intel we’ve got.
All the new guys are here, and they’re pissing me off by walking around like they’ve been here for a year, and they’ve been here for a week. I hate hearing them talk about “well 600 isn’t really that many people to die when you think about it.”
When 4 of those 600 were people you knew, it’s way too many.
I’ve got 5 months and 13 day’s left in the Army, then I’m off to be a rockstar. Forget college. Forget jobs. Forget growing up, I’m GOING to be a rockstar.That’s about all I can think of right now.
Mortar in the Pool, April 18, 2004
Here’s a mortar that landed in the pool. It’s an 82mm high explosive. Last picture is the one that hit next to the pool and blew out all of the windows in the TOC. For all of you that don’t know what the TOC is, look in Time Magazine at the picture of all the officers standing around the map trying to look important. The windows behind the guy standing up are all gone. It was really cool to see them get blown out.
Explosive ordinance disposal doesn’t know what to do with the mortar. If they blow it up in the pool it will collapse the bottom of the floor and wreck the central water pumps for the compound. The thing could go off at the slightest bump. It’s not a dud, when it hit the water it lost it’s momentum and sank to the bottom.
One of the Iraqis here wants to jump in and take it out, I say let him. If we do it that way we’d just have him run down to the river and throw it in there.
So much for sunbathing.
Orders for Najaf, May 09, 2004
This was sent about a year to the day that 2/3 deployed.
we’re on our way to Najaf in the next 72 hours. Our unit, which has been here the past year (one year, 2 hours and 25 minutes as of now), will now deploy to one of Iraq’s 3 hot spots to continue to die for Iraq.
This isn’t the life for me.
This life is killing me.
365 Days, May 23, 2004
2/3 has been in Iraq for a year now. They expect to be gone at least another two months. After seeing this war firsthand, I don’t have any easy answers. In fact, I may have no answers. With each trip to Iraq, my opinions have become dulled–it’s all become personal. When I watch the news, I think of people I know in Baghdad. I think of the families I’ve had dinner with, the friends that I’ve drank endless cups of tea with and the soldiers that I’ve rolled with. I worry about all of them. During the last year, if anything, I’ve learned that war isn’t what most of us think it is: it has nothing to do with what most of us know and it’s definitely not what you see on the news.
I’ve asked soldiers what they think about the war and their answers are surprisingly simple. After a year, the war isn’t about WMDs, democracy, Donald Rumsfeld or oil. It’s about them. Simple. They just want to finish the job they were sent to do so they can go home.