Featured Embedded Report: Chris Muir from Iraq
In mid-February, Chris Muir, the talented cartoonist behind day by day, a political comic strip prevalent in the blogosphere, embedded in Mosul for five days. Public Multimedia, Inc, my non-profit media company, was proud to sponsor Chris for this embed. Chris is the first of several embeds Public Multimedia will put into the field this year. Chris provides notes and photographs from his travels and time Iraq. His experiences will be shown in the strip this month.
By Chris Muir
Arriving in Kuwait late at night was good, as there are far less people in line for passport/visa check-ins. Burqua-clad women, like strange chess-pieces, glide past 60's retro-clad KLM stewardesses in pillbox hats and high heels. The PAO (Public Affairs Officer), Kevin ____, calls out my name, and importantly, helps haul this old coot's body armor and attendant 50 lbs of gear out to a waiting Bronco that will take us to Ali Al Saleem airbase for transport to Baghdad.
Ali Al Saleem Airbase
The Great Dust Bowl
Sand is a misnomer; subatomic particulate I think describes the main element present in Kuwait, Iraq, et al. A fine dust that finds it way everywhere and into anything, it also makes for an astonishingly mobile mud that actually travels up one's pants when it (infrequently) rains. I still grind when I walk.
Here Army Paperwork® begins in earnest, and takes on a life of its own. Fortunately, Public Multimedia, Bill Roggio's embed company, plays St.George to the Dragon of Documentation, and I pass with nary a glitch, yet I still camp out in the Manifest area, to make sure I don't miss my 2 am flight to BIAP (Baghdad International Airport). On this tour, I select nocturnal flights to lessen crowding, though by the end of it, I consider hanging upside down when sleeping.
We fly out on a cool C-130, which becomes somewhat less cool when the pilot does the standard "Figure 8" missile avoidance landing in Baghdad. Everyone is strapped close together in in the cargo bay, hence projectile vomiting is frowned upon. My fellow passengers, all SOF types and Army, may be more sensitive to nuance than supposed by the media; they maintain an impressive distance from me for people securely strapped in. We land without incident, and I proceed to the now-appropriately named 'Green Zone'.
The Green Zone (Baghdad)
Ve Are in Zee Bunker
Upon arrival, all media types share one room with bunk beds, internet access, communications,etc. I claim a top bunk, and arrange with some soldiers on site to tour Baghdad briefly,as there's not a hella lot to see from a bunker.
Pictured above is where Saddam fired his rifle from, a concrete- and - broken glass shell now. I take crappy photos, but no photographers (except Eric Bowers) would leave the media building to tour Iraq. They were all typing stories from their terminals inside. 'Stories', indeed.
I tried making chicken sounds to them, but it didn't take.
OK, I made that one up, but you get the picture, even if they wouldn't. Baghdad, like any large city, is largely quiet except where terrorist (gang) activity takes place. If you toured Watts in LA, only, well yes, there's violence. But 99.8% of the city is just fine. Then again, there aren't large amounts of US heavily armed soldiers touring through it, so...
Say what you like about dictators, but they do make cool architecture, blank check,etc. Here's that 'Pass of Swords' monument, though all I could think of was that song lyric, 'Big hands, you know you're the One'. What? You were looking for trenchant analysis? Sorry.
City of Light, Sorta
I arrive at Mosul airfield, the HMO of airports. Not a lot there, but it 'functions'. Surrounded by ultra-cool SOF dudes with special headgear mikes, armor and weapons, I saunter professionally to the terminal and immediately become the Total Lost Tourist®, saved only by the fortunate arrival of Rob____, my PAO for 1-9 Cavalry. Now, I am 6' and 235lbs, yet Rob is seemingly 2 feet taller. With a dual advantage of providing cover from snipers, and shade, Rob is a genial fellow who quickly gets me to FOB (Forward Operating Base) Maretz, which is the base for 1-9 Cav.
Above is a picture of the base, barriers they call, uh, I forget. [Editors' note: they're HESCO barriers.] There are so many acronyms in the Army I can't recall all of them, so you're SOL. Anyway, pix of the FOB is a no-no, so imagine it.
I can show you the city of Mosul view from the base, though, and here it is in all its glory:
Sorry, storage facility, wait:
No, that's a power generator (snore). Here we go:
Seems a bit barren, hold on:
Not Club Med, I know. But the area is cleared out so Islamic Wahabis can't sneak in. Wahabis? Wahabists? Isn't that a Japanese horseradish sauce, and why do they get such a big say in Islam?
Be that as it may, as I was Anointed Media®, I got a trailer with air & heat (8'x15') and settled down for my 7 days. Mosul at night is not like Western cities, sporadic lighting mostly. But on some days, it is well and truly lit up.
The floorboards and I get acquainted
Anyhow, I went on patrols most every day, with 1-9 Cav, and 2-7 Cav, respectively. The MSM had geared me up to expect RPGs flitting about like ginormous mosquitos, but I gotta tell ya, I couldn't draw a single shot while I was there. The troops wanted me to hang around, as I had 'Jesus Fire' about me, etc.
However-I was only out on 5 patrols for 5 days, versus being there 500 days, or a bazillion days like Michael Yon, so I had a very different experience from what our troops get there.
Contrary to what one hears, these guys are so oversupplied with armor, they leave some of it on base so they can maneuver effectively on patrol, whether body armor or Humvee armor. I can personally attest that hauling 40 lbs of weight on your torso can slow you down, and that's not even counting body armor. These kids are in shape, however, and when you go 'outside the wire', they all become this Big Green Machine that is totally professional and, may I say, efficient. I heard it all on the Comlink, which did not fit my strange head:
And went to some interesting locales where mud was the theme:
Yes. I look like a total dork. That Humvee was transporting serious dorkage.
In the brief time I was there, I attended meetings where everyone was working with each other, I mean sheiks, the Police Chief of the city, US Army, Kurds, Sunnis, Shia, cats and dogs, everyone- together. There are real divisions here, but also a real determination to weld the place into a more stable society.
It was good to see the US State Department building infrastructure like schools, roads, water & sewage, to witness them helping integrate the various tribes here, setting up workable trade and political organizations, even living within the populace to get a feel for what is needed culturally. It was very impressive and more importantly, working.
Well, actually, it's the US Army that does all of the above with their MITT teams (Military Transition Teams). The State Department? A complete no-show, for all I could tell. Maybe they're double-parked in Washington or something.
People here will tell you they are mostly afraid of one thing-that we will leave soon, like we have since Vietnam, Somalia, etc., and that they will then be at the mercy of the terrorists who seep in from Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Saudia Arabia. A self-fulfilling circle, helped out vastly by our 'anti-war' citizens back home, who ironically enable wars as this by forcing constant US retreats through our political process. People here - real people, not 'Jamil Husseins' - want us here to give them time to reform their society.
I speculate this is one of the reasons I observed such high morale in our soldiers here. They are wanted here, unlike, say, in San Francisco. But, I digress.
Well, that's the debrief-that sounds so wrong-and, I've related much more to Zed & Jan, who are scheduled to arrive in Iraq very soon now. So, catch up with them at www.daybydaycartoon.com.