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Letters from Iraq

Staff Sergeant Christopher E. Alley
United States Army
Emmitsburg Native

May 2007

As the saying goes here in Iraq April came in as a heat wave and has left as a solar flare. As I write this today, the high will be 104 degrees, with a forecasted low of 73 degrees. I guess this means spring is over?

Happenings in Iraq

During the month of April a number of things have happened here in Iraq and even in the International Zone. On April 12th a suicide bomber made it into the Council of Representatives cafeteria and blew himself up, killing one and wounding a number of others. This made international news because the International Zone is supposed to be the safest place in Iraq. Well from my other writings we all know that it maybe be safer here but things still happen that can cause death and destruction. Some of the soldiers and airmen from my unit were the first responders to this and they performed outstanding under pressure. As you can imagine the turmoil there in the aftermath of such an occurrence with the many language barriers, protocols, and basic instincts of body guards and security details the tension was high, but our people secured the area and started to administer first aid to the wounded. I continuously hear around here how professional, quick thinking and resourceful the members of our unit are which I attribute to being a mixed unit of Active Duty Sea Bees, Air Force Security, and National Guard Army. We have all blended well together and we are all learning from each other and using past and civilian experiences to troubleshoot and problem solve any situation given to us.

Another major happening in Iraq is happening in Al-Anbar providence which is becoming a major happening all over Iraq. The Sunni Sheiks (Leaders) have started to support the Coalition Forces and fight against the Al Qaeda foreign fighters. This is all part of the plan of Gen Petraeus has brought to Iraq and is starting to become implemented. As we say here, "It's the tribes stupid", if you can gain the respect, confidence, and help of the local population, Sunni or Shia, they will also support the efforts being made in their areas of influence. Here in the Iraqi culture a man's word is worth a lot. If you say you are going to do something you had better do it or you will have broken your promise and lost the respect with the people. This is one way that al-Sadr has gain influence in the Shia population in Iraqi. Not that he has done anything special besides use Iranian money to buy allegiance, but he has constantly used propaganda, media, and even prayer time to point out promises that have been broken or not acted on fast enough by the coalition forces.

I have also used this to get things done here in the International Zone. One example was during my clean up operations I wanted trailers used by security details to be moved from off a median in the middle of the road to in front of the house of the person they were protecting. The way I "negotiated" what I wanted to happen was that underneath where the trailers stood were the manhole covers for the storm drains. I knew that the road flooded during rain storms so, I cut a deal with the owners. If they would move the trailers to in front of the houses of the people they were protecting, I would have the storm system cleared and the road would no longer flood during the rainy season. After some himming and hawing and a few "In'shalla's" the trailers were moved. Three days later I had the truck there and a team to clear the storm drains and I had another crew show up to clean the street and to landscape the palm trees and median. Needless to say the people on the street wave every time I go down the street in my truck and I know where my base is if I was to run for Mayor of the International Zone.

First week of May

The first week of May has a very special meaning to all the Army personnel in my unit, it is the time when our replacements report to their mobilization site and start their training to replace us! As a side note: that was really nice to type! Anyway our replacements are another National Guard unit, so we have set the standard and hopefully they will fall right into step with our operations and continue the many projects and efforts we have started here during our stay.

Little things here and there

After being here for 10 months you tend to over look some of the little things that happen here that make you chuckle or just plain wonder why.

One thing if you ever travel to Iraqi is to remember that the English word "Hello" is much like Hawaiian "Aloha". Everywhere you go coming or going the Iraqis say "Hello". Which also reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where they use the long drawn out "Helloooooo" which has found its way to Iraq as well.

Another thing I ponder during my time driving around the International Zone is where are the PETA people? I have never seen so many stray dogs and cats in my life! It is crazy the number of strays here and it is actually quite sad. Not to mention all the sheep tied to light posts waiting to become dinner in the coming days, which out of decency the soon to be fed family leaves the animal a bowl of water to get it through the day before it has its neck slit. We call these sheep "Cupsa" which means dinner or feast in Arabic.

This week I was contacted by some people who just happen to have my card, imagine that, wanting some land to conduct a baseball camp! Needless to say this will become one of my last projects here in Iraq before I leave. We intend to have a 4-5 day camp with junior high and high school boys and teach them the basics of baseball. I am truly looking forward to this, since normally when I am at home I am Coaching or Assistant Coaching a ball team, Softball or Baseball, for one of my children. It should be fun and interesting trying to conduct a practice where a translator is needed, but who knows, I could be planting the seed of baseball and it could grow and become a resource of young players for the Major Leagues much like the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Well in closing April was a considerably more quiet month than last, but the danger still remains and we are not growing complacent because the end is in sight. People are starting to talk about vacations once we return, and what people plan to do with their kids but we still are reminded that we are not gone yet by the occasional rocket attacks and the occasional gunfire from over the river.

See you next month and everyone……….keep your heads down!


Read other Letters from Iraq by Sergeant Christopher E. Alley

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