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Posted on Dec 7, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Letters From Iraq 5: Sand, Pools, and RPGs

By Russ Vaughn


Well we have had 4 days in a row with clouds. The humidity has increased noticeably. Each day the clouds get bigger. The expectation of rain is a dream unfulfilled. The trees are finally wilting. Occasionally we have entire days without a breeze. I didn’t believe it could get hotter, but it has.

Iraqis call August the dying month and for good reason, the sun is relentless. Every creature seems to find unique ways to deal with the heat. The other day I saw a sparrow sitting next to an A\C unit at the back of a CHU. It looked like he was catching a light breeze off of the condenser fan. After a closer inspection I realized the little bird was sitting under the A\C condensation tube. A drop of water fell from the tube on to his back. He didn’t flinch; he just spread his feathers and wiggled his wings, then look up at the tube in anticipation of the next drop of cool water. Inside our building little lizards crawl in under the doors to find cool tiles to lay on. Adapt and overcome.


sandstorm.jpgI have seen many sand storms in Kansas and Texas. I thought I had seen it all until yesterday. A real sandstorm blew in. At first glance the dirty brown horizon to the south west looked like it was stirred up by a convoy on one of the moon dust trails near the perimeter road. Unfortunately, it was not so benign. The brown wall got higher and darker as it headed towards us. People started grabbing cameras to film the giant wave of rolling dirt. Very quickly our world turned orange as the dust blotted out the sun. At best you could see fifty feet, at worst you could barely see five feet ahead. It stung the eyes, pelted the exposed skin, and filled the nostrils. I am told it can get worse.

The heat has increased in other areas as well. It is the normal surge in the fighting leading up to Ramadan. When the Muslim holy month arrives more attacks will occur. Generally Muslims are not assured a place in heaven, however according to the Hadith and Koran, Muhadjadiin that die fighting during the holy month are guaranteed a place in heaven. With this reward in mind, many men that normally do not participate in the insurgency take up arms during Ramadan. Those that are normally insurgents increase in boldness because they believe they have less to lose and everything to gain. Very soon we will be very busy.

During our normal security patrols we get to meet a lot of different soldiers and contractors. Sometimes we hear very interesting tales, several of which very humorous, others are tales of the miraculous. One of the funniest stories comes from our fire department on the north end. The north end of the base is known as the Crack Houses. It is several blocks of identical two story houses with walls surrounding individual dwellings. Some have been refurbished and are very nice; others are dilapidated bullet scared buildings. Some of the battle damaged homes are occupied. Little information exists about the structural soundness of these buildings. A few weeks ago a couple of G.I.s stopped by the fire department asking the crew if they would pump 300 gallons of water for them. The conversation went something like this:

“300 gallons of water for what?” asked the fireman

“For our swimming pool.” replied the soldiers

“”You have a swimming pool?’

“Yep, it’s a water tank we found”

“Where is it?”

Being very proud of their pool the soldiers smiled and said “On the second floor of our building.”

“The second floor! Are you crazy? Do realize how much 300 gallons of water weighs?” asked the fireman

The G.I.s thought about it, then asked “Well what about on the first floor?”

Needless to say they didn’t get the water they requested.

Some of the tales from the combat engineers are more exciting. One particular group of National Guardsmen we visit are engineers responsible for clearing out IEDs (sorry I can not tell you where they are from because of OPSEC). They go out daily looking for trouble. They have some really cool toys ranging from high tech robots to heavy vehicles. Some of their stories involve their equipment working very well and enemy equipment malfunctioning.

At little background is necessary at this point. The Russian designed RPG (rocket propelled grenade) has been around for more than 40 years. It is launched from a hollow tube like the old bazooka but a strong resemblance to the WWII German panzerfaust. The fin stabilized rocket can be used out to about 500 meters, however its effective range is shorter against moving targets. The warhead is a shape charge optimized to cut through armor plate. When the rocket strikes the target the nose cap collapses crushing a piezoelectric filament. This creates a slight electrical charge that initiates the detonation sequence. The voltage surge blows a blasting cap, which ignites the booster charge, detonating the main shape charge. The shape charge is formed around a metal cone. Upon detonation the metal cone is turned into a molten hot jet that cuts through armor like a super hot blow torch. The jet of molten metal bores its way through the vehicle skin in to the crew compartment. The flame, molten metal, and pressure enters the vehicle tearing, burning and crushing the flesh of the crew inside. If you are lucky you survive. So back to the combat engineers.

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