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Posted on Oct 13, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Letters From Iraq 3: Life, Death, and Helicopters

By Russ Vaughn

Everyone,

Without the reflection of city lights in the night sky, one can clearly see why the Mesopotamians became great astrologers. The stars are brilliant on moonless nights. Each constellation stands out crisp and clear against a deep black background. It is very hard to see when walking around when it is a moonless night. The full moon lights the ground clearly enough to walk at a normal pace.

The desert lies between the vegetation rich major river areas and pockets of green nourished by underground water bubbling up to the parched surface. The desert is far from being lifeless. It hides all sorts of spiders, scorpions, snakes, ants, beetles, and various hardy plants that only come to life during the brief rainy season. The difference between the two environments is enormous.

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This land of extremes lends itself to great tales. The Arabs value poets and story tellers. I am sure moments of heat delirium also created great tales of monsters and other fanciful creatures. It also helps you to understand biblical descriptions of hell; the fire that is never quenched or the promise of a paradise where the sun no longer beats down upon God’s people’s heads.

Well another few days have passed. We had a USO show arrive, requiring security for the performers, the Denver Bronco Cheerleaders. I ended up guarding the dressing room and did not get to see the show. Yeah, yeah, I know it was a cushy assignment, but very boring, I couldn’t see the show. The cheerleaders took a risk to be here and at the other venues in Iraq so my hat is off to them. It was great for the guys on post and surprisingly we had a lot of female soldiers that showed up to watch it. Next up is the UFC guys and a troop of comedians.

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October 11, 2006 — A Soldier in an M113 armored medical evacuation vehicle from 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division departs with simulated wounded Soldiers after a mock firefight during a mission readiness exercise at Fort Stewart, Ga. The brigade is preparing for a deployment to Iraq. This photo appeared on www.army.mil. by Master Sgt. Johancharles Van Boers

We have been doing health and welfare inspections of different living areas (Mostly third country national living areas). We search for contraband, electronic items that they are not allowed to have, and other more serious objects. We get lucky at times finding stuff that can hurt us. Vernetti found 5 timers and some blasting wire during one of our raids. The guy in that CHU (Containerized Housing Unit, pronounced CHEW) was tested for explosive residue on his hands. The test was positive and he was sent to prison. The other crap we have to confiscate is of lesser importance.

Some of the TCN’s are very neat, others aren’t. We have to hand search them all. Even though we wear gloves, we use lots of hand sanitizer right after searches and get hot showers after raids. The odors in the living quarters are sometimes overpowering. Incense, body sweat, urine, curry and other spices overwhelm the nasal passages. It is very hard to describe the sickening sweet smells we encounter.

Some of the subcontractors take care of their guys, others we would like to see pummeled because they treat their guys like animals. Some of the TCN’s live in very nice CHU’s others live in vermin infested tents. We are trying to raise their living standards and conditions. Our commander has raised hell with one contractor for the very poor living standards in his camp. Since then the contractor has improved things a bit but still has a lot more to do. It will be a long haul to change things.

One night I was searching through a TCN living quarters and an airman helping me turned to me and said he wished we were going outside the wire in convoys, I replied that I felt the same. Then he said, “Somewhere out there is a war going on.” I nodded in agreement. While a lot of what we do on post is not as exciting as convoy escort it is just as important, the major threat now is primarily from within. We have a lot of potential terrorists working for contractors on post. Area 51 is a smuggler haven. Lots of weapons have been found there. One of our jobs is to find them before the weapons get on base and are used against us.

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