pardon the bizarre typing but these german keyboards are crazy. I have arrived in leipzig and am waiting a couple of hours before continuing to kuwait. all is well so far. no real sleep yet as the plane is crammed with weapons, bags, and boots. still hasn't hit me that i will be gone for a year. hope all is well with all of you. I'll keep in touch as much as possible. should be in kuwait in the next 7 hours or so.
So far so good here in beautiful Kuwait. We have 24 food (good buffet style), access to the internet (hence this email) and lots of other things to make the first few weeks of deployment tolerable. Of course, a great deal of this will change once we cross the berm, but until then I will write as much as possible.
The weather here is hot and humid. There is a certain mildewy smell that hits you when you get off the plane very typical of tropical climates (think Jamaica sweetheart). So far I haven't seen any camels but I think that will change once we get out to the weapon ranges. No precise date on when we are heading it but it shouldn't be too long. I'll keep you all posted as often as possible. Thanks to everyone who shot me emails and myspace comments. Makes me feel much closer to home!
Forward this email to anyone who is interested...
Received the email at 1251 on Sunday. I probably would have checked sooner though but I was so damn busy I couldn't make it to the internet center. Thank you so much for making Janet a key. That will mean so much to her! And do take her to see Borat because it will definitely make her laugh. As for reading, I am in the middle of Thomas Paine's The Crisis. You could probably find all the text online for free but I know that is not as fun. You will be amazed at his writing and how many great quotes there are. Needless to say he is one of my favorite writers.
So I know you like details about what I am doing day to day and what my life is like so I'll give you the last 24 hours as well as the next 24 hours. Yesterday we had a battalion sized weapons range with a variety of weapon systems that my company had to support. So I had to wake up myself and half my platoon at 3 am (me at 2) to go to the ammunition holding area to transport the ammo to the range. Interestingly enough, the range was outside of the base so we were driving on Kuwaiti roads past camel herders and the like. I definitely didn't feel like I was in Kuwait until I saw a flock of sheep being herded across a highway and a herd of camels near our range. Anyway, after we fired all of our weapons we headed back to the base (our escort got us lost!) and finally made it home. After producing an excel spreadsheet showing how my platoon in Iraq was to be organized, I showered and passed the hell out. Woke up this morning at 4 and went to the gym with a fellow LT and the Commander. After lifting I had breakfast (bagel, omelet, fruit bowl, juice, oatmeal with strawberries) and took my guys back out to the ammo holding area to turn in the remaining ammo. After that, I read for about an hour and went to the lunch with the Commander and the 1st Sergeant (NCO equivalent of a captain). My lunch consisted of 2 egg rolls, 2 tacos, an orange, and a hot dog with sauerkraut. The food here is comparable to the soup exchange, lots of variety and quite good (though disastrous when you mix the way I do!).
The next 24 hours will consist of me completing some paperwork and planning to take my platoon through convoy live fire exercises where we practice what to do in case of an emergency (flat tire, ambush, etc) Things constantly come up that require my tending to, and many of my soldiers are starting to get nervous, so I've experienced an increase in cot side conversations about war, life, and whatnot. The weather is quite temperate, but the wind is what gets you. The sand is so fine that you don't really feel it hitting you but suddenly your eyes become irritated and your vehicle looks like someone shoveled sand on top of it. There have been some beautiful lightning storms in the distance and the occasional light shower, but that is about it. Still trying to avoid buying goods from the merchants who visit our base, but I figure I have to send something home to prove I'm here and not secretly partying in Fiji.
Anyway, hope all is well with the fam. Love ya lots and I'll call you later as it is a little past midnight where you are.
Just happy to be here,
Just about finished with my time here in Kuwait. Tomorrow I will be taking my platoon through convoy live fire exercises in which we fire real rounds while moving, sometimes near each other. Very precise and realistic training. Should be quite beneficial.
Kuwait has been pleasant though full of work. Highlights include a visit from one of my favorite bands, Shinedown, as well as the various other corporate outlets which help us feel more at home. Nothing is more bizarre then walking through the sand whipped rows of tents, with blackhawk helicopters buzzing above, and entering an air conditioned coffee house with jazz music and frappaccinos. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one working, but that is because my job is particularly useful and demanding. Some lieutenants actually complain about having too much time to sleep and watch movies! I am now well versed in the art of biting my lip.
Excitement and nervousness creep throughout the barracks. What the soldiers really need is to actually GO already so that they can replace the guessing and the rumors with facts on the ground. Work has become particularly intense because we are packing up whilst conducting 24 hour operations. You go to get some spreadsheets printed up only to find out that the printer is halfway to Iraq by now. I really just need to go and get settled in already.
I wish I had more to say about Kuwait but we have been largely confined to our base. The post exchange, which acts as our 7-11, carries male interest magazines (non pornographic, all women are in bathing suits), yet they are still covered up as if they are playboys. It is an interesting collision between western and Muslim cultural demands. A particularly interesting event was the Shinedown concert, in which soldiers were crowd surfing with their weapons securely in hand (the way we were trained in case a boat flips over), while the countless third world nationals who man the stores watched with faces pushed up against the glass in intrigue and perhaps subtle disdain (or envy for that matter). Interaction with them is far too complicated to address in this short email.
All in all the past 2 weeks have been useful for acclimatizing and finalizing. The big leap is upon me. I will write to you all before I go if I have the chance. If not, you'll be hearing from me soon enough. Wish me luck!
Normally I would send my update on a Sunday but something tells me I may be to busy to access a computer at that time so pardon my early email. Normally I would be quite nervous at this moment, contemplating the adventure that is now upon me. I have been so busy squaring away some last minute issues concerning ammunition that I have had literally no time to stop and ponder the specter of war. So now that I have a moment to gather my thoughts and write an email, I shall catch up with myself:
I am more eager then nervous. I need to see what it looks like so that I can discard the countless premonitions I have constructed in my mind and stacked on my heart over the past four years. Soon, I will have the real deal right in front of me, and my imagination will be able to take a much needed leave of absence. Because I will have eyes on the ground, you too will have a new perspective on this war. With the exception of my good friend Matt (sorry bro, no BIAP- straight to my AO), you all have had to rely on television images and editorials to paint a picture of this conflict. Now, you will have me as an embedded correspondent, so I hope you aren't sick of my emails yet because they will start flowing with much more detail. Of course, I will need to be selectively vague for operational security reasons, but hopefully I will be able to contribute to everyone's collective view of Iraq.
As for Kuwait, I am beyond ready to get out of here. Sure, I'll miss not having to worry about mortar attacks, but at least I will feel like I am somewhere. When I was at the National Training Center in California, I knew I was in California. Here, I feel more like an unfortunate tenet of some forgotten moon base rather than a military outpost on earth. The skies are emotionless and drab, with the only variation being the velocity of the sand hitting your face. At least where I am going will have geography so that I can get my bearings! But enough about Kuwait.
For all my family and friends who wish to send me care packages, I promise to get you all a mail address ASAP. There is about a 2 week delay from the moment it is picked up by the mail to when it reaches my hand, so don't plan on sending any baked goods. Not sure what I'll want, but I can assure you that a variety pack of random creature comforts will always be welcomed. Anything that you wish to give directly to the Iraqis can also come to me, though I'd rather advise you on that before you put anything together. I have greatly appreciated all the myspace comments and email. It is so much easier being an American soldier in the 21st century vs the mid 20th century because I have so many ways to communicate with all of you. I am sorry if you did not receive this email first hand. I am backed up on updating my email roster and will do so as soon as I have more time at the computer.
With all that said, wish me luck and I will contact you all as soon as I can. Take care and keep sending your love. It is keeping this soldier going!
P.S. 365 days and a wake up!
I have safely touched down in Iraq and am ready to give you my initial estimations of the country. I will call these my 'initial estimations' because that is the title of the first chapter of Sun Tzu's The Art of War in which a soldier is supposed to measure his environment, the enemy, and his own strengths and weaknesses. Well, haven't had much contact with the enemy, but I will tell you of the environment. To begin with, close your eyes and imagine what you think Iraq looks like. Does it include green hills and full, leafy trees? How about thunderstorms and rain? Well, that is what I am surrounded by. After a long day of waiting, we boarded the same type of plane that I jumped out of at airborne school and flew in the dead of night to the Forward Operating Base. Let me just tell you that the procedure for landing the plane required so much evasive flying that at one point I was floating in my seat, feeling like the plane was doing barrel rolls. Once we exited the plane, the History Channel was there filming our exit. Actually, they have been with us for months but they chose to visit our group at that particular time. About five guys vomited during the landing, which isn't that bad until you consider that the plane was so crowded I literally couldn't touch my knee with either hand nor turn my head from left to right. It was designed for about 64 soldiers, soldiers not wearing layers of body armor, ammunition, and assault packs. We were literally laying on top of each other at times. I got some great pics which I'll send home later. Like zombies, we were led through the darkness to our assembly area where we linked up with the advanced party who took us to our temporary quarters. Two mortar rounds could be heard erupting in the distance, but it did not feel close and I didn't particularly care.
This morning consisted of a much needed breakfast (by the way, the food here is amazing, there is no way I am not going to come back fat), followed by a LONG training brief, and then another great meal. My gunner took me around the base and introduced me to all the Turkish and Kurdish merchants who inhabit our base, showing me all the things I could buy (if I feel like burning cash, which many of us have and will). Now, I am writing this update email, so my update ends about here.
In terms of the overall nature of our area of operations, it is too soon to tell. What I can say is that the men are motivated and eager to get to work. I am glad we are where we are as it is infinitely more interesting than Kuwait. As events unfold I shall forward them to you. In the meantime, I have a mailing address which shouldn't change any time soon:
2LT Daily, Mark
4BCT - 1CAV - F CO/2-7 CAV
APO AE 09334
I will try to email you all as much as possible. Just know that I am being as safe as possible and having the time of my life. Love you all!
Hope everyone had a great thanksgiving! Aside from some technical difficulties, the day was enjoyable for me, complete with a huge thanksgiving feast beyond what you'd expect from the Army. In the evening, the Morale Welfare Recreation department put on a "party" of sorts which involved loud music, cheesy games, and absolutely no alcohol. However, the mix of US service members and Iraqi interpreters and volunteers made for a fascinating scene. One particular display that stuck in my mind was a game of musical chairs which involved US and Iraqi soldiers. With typical club style rap music blasting in the background, these men circled the chairs, occasionally 'bumping' or 'holding' the other guy back trying to thwart any attempt to grab a chair when the music stopped. Of course, when the music did stop, it always became tackle musical chairs, but everyone remained good natured about it. The most interesting interplay was when there was only one chair left and the two remaining players were US and Iraqi. They circled the chair like sharks, staring at the handle waiting for the music to stop. Then, the Iraq decided to add his own rule which allowed him to actually pick up the chair and have it circle him, ensuring that the seat was always facing his direction. At first, the US soldier tried to wrestle it from his hand, but the Iraqi persisted. Unable to get the Iraqi to adhere to the rule, the service member stepped away from the chair, waved his hand as if to say "whatever, I don't care anymore" and grabbed his own chair and sat down. The music stopped and the Iraqi sat down as well. It was all very amusing, but being bored, I allowed myself to over analyze the game's outcome, and found a hint of symbolism in the whole thing. The Iraqi was eager to play, but didn't want to adhere to the American's rules. The American was patient at first, tried to adjust to his unconventional approach, but eventually agreed to disagree and found his own chair, leaving the Iraqi to his. This may be a stretch, but perhaps it was a microcosm of our current and future relations with this country. We are striving to get them to play by our rules, while learning to cope with their own agenda, but ultimately we may just need to go our separate ways and return to our "own" chair. I don't know, I was really bored and I let my mind put that together. Sorry if that is the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard.
Anyway, thanks to everyone for wishing me well this thanksgiving. If you are interested in sending a care package, and i know you are, then please email my parents at *****@*****.*** and they'll tell you how to do it : )
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Because the recent meeting in Jordan between the Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and President Bush produced a surprising call for a possible troop withdrawal as soon as June of 07, I thought I'd weigh in on the matter.
The key player in this international drama is the Iranian cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Essentially the forward commander for the Iranian push into Iraq, al-Sadr commands the largest militia in Iraq (the Mahdi Army) and a sizable portion of Baghdad, as well as close to 70 percent of the seats in the Iraqi parliament. Spawned from Iran, he has consistently pushed for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, as well as the establishment (or perhaps extension) of an Iranian style regime in Iraq. Maliki, who personally commands no militia powerful enough to counter the Mahdi Army, must choose between the American led coalition or Sadr. This is a tough bind to be in, for an eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops is inevitable (with the exception of a small garrision in the outskirts of the city), making it political suicide to openly defy Sadr in hopes that the U.S. will stick around to protect him. Additionally, the majority of his political legitimacy is derived from the Sadr bloc, making him reliant on their support and thus bound to their political whims. Previously, this has led him to discourage U.S. attempts to disband the Mahdi Army and expel Sadr, placing him at odds with his U.S. backers. Now, at the urging (command) of Sadr, he is claiming that he will be able to secure his country in a mere seven months. The question is: with whose Army? If U.S. forces leave Baghdad, the Mahdi Army will certainly fill the void. If Baghdad is controlled by Sadr's military, than the Maliki government will become but a figurehead. If Iran's cleric/general is allowed to control Iraq's capital, then Iran will successfully be able to partition (overtly or covertly) everything East of Baghdad, a resounding victory for the fundamentalist state.
The Bush Administration has publicly declared on more than one occasion that they will withdraw troops when the Iraqis are ready. The Iraqi's elected representative, Maliki, is claiming that the time is upon them. Even if the President can extend that deadline a couple of months, the end state will ultimately be a lighter U.S. footprint, maybe too light to keep Iran out of Baghdad.
That is, unless the U.S. pushes for one more final attack on Sadr City and his Mahdi Army. Like other urban assaults the past 3 years, this will be bloody and chaotic. Sadr will be killed, captured, or expelled, and his Mahdi Army will slither back behind the unaligned Iraqis. No one knows if this confrontation will happen or not, but to not send a clear message to Sadr would be a tactical and ultimately a moral defeat. The question is, if we do attack Sadr and his Army, that defacto expeditionary force from Tehran, will that be the final shot...or the opening volley?
Thanks for reading my musings. Sorry for the typos. Not enough time at the internet center to proof read!
Hey everybody. Just wanted to check in with all of you and let you know that I am doing well and still enjoying every day of this deployment. I spent the last hour conversing with some local national interpreters about the Iraqi soccer game (Iraq is up by 4, going to win for sure) and the future of Iraq. Missions have been exciting and I can honestly say that I have learned more about the region and the war in the past month then my entire tour of duty in college. Everyday reaffirms my decision to pursue this deployment, as it has been nothing but a positive experience thus far. This simply cannot be replicated. I've been trying to write a couple of articles here and there about what is happening around me and how it relates to the bigger political picture for Iraq as well as our own country but it is very difficult without a computer (and I have very little time!) But I'll try to pump words out as time permits. Matt - glad to hear you made it back home safe and I would say that I am jealous but I have to earn my return as you have. As my ammo NCO says, do the time, dont let the time do you. With that said, hope all is well and you'll hear from me soon.
I think it has been a while since my last update so here is a reader's digest version of the past week or so...
I have been incredibly busy conducting missions on and off the base, with every mission being more exciting and memorable than the last. For instance, the other day I had dinner at an Iraqi Army base with a group of Iraqi and American officers to include hot Arabic tea and traditional Kurdish food. Afterwards, we climbed the stairs of the building until the walls and roof gave way to smoldering bricks and the expanse of Mosul. Once we were on the roof, which used to be the second to last floor, we smoked cigars and discussed the area while the Iraqi soldiers grounded their AK 47s, lit fires, and began the process of consuming their cigarettes.
Day to day sights include BMW dealerships with piles of trash in the center, upon which stray cows, donkeys and dogs feast around the clock. The Iraqi children always run to the sides of the streets to jump and wave as we drive by, whereas the adults feign disinterest or throw subtle glares of dissatisfaction, seasoned with curiosity. On one mission, we visited an abandoned Iraqi mountain post from which the snow peaked mountains of Turkey can be seen (on a clear day). Nestled in the side of the mountain is an old Christian church, which could easily be mistaken as a Buddhist monastery.
As for me, I have finally settled into my room and have initiated the process of making it feel like home, which is no easy task out here. On that note, thanks to everyone for the care packages! Not to be greedy but keep them coming! They are a huge morale booster and force multiplier for my troops and I (yes, I do share).
Currently, USO has brought a cluster of VIPs from the states to entertain us, including various country singers, dallas cowboy cheerleaders (which I am soundly ignoring honey) and, last but not least, Al Franken! Surreal is a good word to describe this evening.
All in all I am doing quite well. I have made a ton of new friends, both American and Iraqi, and am settled into a good routine. Time seems to fly most of the time but homesickness is definitely setting in.
And last but not least, I am so freaking excited that my Sister and Ryan are engaged! I have yet to call and congratulate either of them (I think there may be a time difference between Iraq and US...) but will call ASAP. I'll save all of my excitement and good wishes for when I get to talk to both of you.
Well, with all that said, I must sign off now. Hope everyone is planning on seeing family this holiday season. Personally, I will be on top of a huge mountain, probably shooting tracer rounds into the sky for celebration. Watch out Santa!!!
Nothing all that new from the last update with the exception of something that happened about an hour ago. So I was getting my haircut by a local national in a shop called "Pop Omar's," when I encountered one of the strangest innovations in the haircutting industry. After all my hair was cut, he pulled out some tongs and picked up a rather larger cotton swab with it and dipped it in a bowl of rubbing alcohol. At this point I am thinking that he is going to use it to maybe rub on my head or temples to close the pores. Well, when he pulled out a lighter and lit the thing on fire, my only guess was that he was sanitizing the tongs. Not quite. He proceeded to rub, I repeat, rub the fire over my ears, pulling it away right before it would really hurt, only to bring it back to my ears. You can imagine me staring straight into my own eyes in the mirror, silently trying to convince myself that this was normal. When it finally ended, I got up, paid and walked out, half expecting to hear an eruption of laughter from the barber shop. It turns out, they do that to all their customers to remove all of the tiny hairs which exist in and around the ear. Had no idea that this was a necessity, and my ears still feel slightly cooked, but I must admit, I kind of liked it. Wonder if I'll be able to convince the barbers back in the US to do it...
Well, that's all I have to report as of now. I am currently writing a short piece about how disappointing it is that the political leadership back in the states is talking so candidly and enthusiastically about defeat and retreat. Shouldn't we lose some military engagements with the insurgents first? Guess not.
Happy Holidays from Mosul! I hope that you are all enjoying yourselves this holiday season. Just wanted to let you all know that even though I am away from my family and away from home, I am still enjoying every minute of this deployment. The key has been to embrace the moments that are radically different from anything I would do in the states. For example, before this deployment I had never smoked a stale Cuban cigar from Kurdistan on Christmas eve. And it was quite surreal to walk through a shopping mall in the progressive city of Dahok with a sidearm, passing the animatronic Santa Claus dolls barking "Merry Christmas!" in Kurdish. So, I guess it is all about appreciating that which people back home would never believe, and constantly reminding myself that this will all be over in 10 months so I'd better enjoy it while it lasts. I know that seems like a strange way to deal with war, but there is so much more to this conflict then IEDs and long hours. I hope to share it all with you when I get home.
Until then, just know that I am doing great. All the care packages have been a huge morale booster, and the big joke in my company is that if I didn't get mail, then the mail must not have come. Enjoy your families everyone and I'll enjoy my family away from home here as well.
Much love and seasons greetings!
Happy New Years! You all still have about 19 hours to go but I can tell you that 2007 is looking good so far. As for me, I have some exciting news. There have been some changes and I am taking on a new platoon with a more 'interesting' mission. I'll have to leave it at that but needless to say I will be right in my element. And don't worry, it is not more dangerous then my last platoon, it just has a better focus. More to follow...
As for updates from Iraq: we are still working to build the Iraqi Army and Police so that we can transfer full authority to the Iraqi authorities. Due to Saddam's execution they have restricted the number of patrols so as not to appear insensitive to an event that by and large has been celebrated by the Iraqis. I wish I was in the Kurdish city of Dahok when his execution was announced, as I am sure the parties were wild. Not to far from where I am stationed is the city of Halabja, which was marked for exctinction by the Ba'ath party after an assassination attempt by a Kurdish rebel back in the late 80s. The town was gassed and the survivors were rounded up and executed. The only ones who survived were those who fled to the Kurdish mountains, where the Kurdish Pershmerga have defended their people from the Turks, Syrians, and Iraqis for decades, giving birth to the Kurdish proverb: "The Kurds have no friends but the mountains." Well, they view Americans as friends, and when we go into their cities, our gunners can sit down in their vehicles and we can take off our body armor. I forget if I have told this story but I'll tell it again nonetheless. I was having a conversation with a Kurdish man in the city in Dahok (by myself and completely safe), discussing whether or not the insurgents could be viewed as "freedom fighters" or "misguided anti-capitalists." Shaking his head as I attempted to articulate what can only be described as pathetic apologetics, he cut me off and said "the difference between insurgents and American soldiers is that they get paid to take life- to murder, and you get paid to save lives." He looked at me in such a way that made me feel like he was looking through me, into all of the moral insecurity that living in a free nation will instill in you. He "oversimplified" the issue, or at least that is what college professors would accuse him of doing. He, an Iraqi Kurd who lived under Saddam, subtely begged for me not to leave his city, or to at least promise to return, and to never abandon the Iraqis. Another Iraqi explained that before we came, Iraq was a "prison," and that the Iraqis are having trouble adjusting to choice and responsibility the same way a person being freed after 50 years of internment would. Saddam is now dead, and that Kurdish man's assessment of our presence means more to me than all of the naysayer and make-shift humanists that monopolize our interpretation of this war.
So here we are at the beginning of a New Year. We are fast approaching that limit of advance, when our military can no longer influence the culture and values of the Iraqi people, requiring a transfer of authority and eventual pullout. So is America's next year going to be filled with pithy arguments about our legacy in Iraq and the value of our sacrifice? Are we, as Americans, going to detox this apparent "defeat" from our bodies and mind and turn our attention to the "real" national successes such as Angelina Jolie's campaign to save Africa? Well, possibly, but since we are still over here and we are forever bound to this region currently defined as Iraq, I can tell you that there are people here who still believe in our mission, and their futures can still be shaped for the better by our attitudes and efforts. Berlin was made the sister-city of Los Angeles following World War II in an effort to include it in the future of industrialized nations, and programs were created to share ideas and resources with each other. I have to join the great Christopher Hitchens in asking why no American mayors have stepped forward to offer Baghdad, or Mosul, or Dahok such diplomatic graces? I'm not sure if Irvine has a sister-city, but I am going to personally contact the mayor and ask him to extend his hand to Dahok, which has been more than hospitable to this native-son. My New Years resolution is to initiate this, and I hope that all of you, in determining your own New Years resolutions, can make room to help me with this.
Well that is enough ranting out of me. Sorry for extending what should have been a short email. Drink some champagne for us and toast our safe return. Happy New Years America- be proud of what you have done over here. We cant fix everything, but we have done more than any other nation could have. We carry a new world in our hearts, so nourish yours in this New Year.
P.S. EVERYONE GO HERE: www.theotheriraq.com
I have moved to a new company and therefore have a new address:
Lt. Mark Daily
4BCT, 1CD (C CO, 2-7 CAV)
APO AE 09334
All is well. More war stories then I can fit in this email. Having the time of my life!