Army 1st Lt. Ryan Sanders
(undated letter sent late January 2006)
I know what you are thinking. Ryan devoted time in his busy life to write me a letter and then also send the same letter to 10 or so other people. Well, you are right. This letter was written especially for you, and the others are just reading your letter and wishing I had time to write to them too. (I hope that was funny, but you know, my perceptions are a little distorted.)
Iraq is so much fun! It's cold and rainy and the streets outside the FOB (Forward Operating Base) remind me of cruising down the highways in Mexico ... in a tank. It's really cold when the wind blows and Camp Taji is so built up that the wind doesn't really blow unless you are in the motor pool or outside the gates. When the sky isn't cloudy (it's the rainy season), it is beautiful, especially at dusk. However, when it rains (3 sessions of 20 minutes each about every other day) the ground turns to soup. To be more accurate, it's more like baby poo. But these high speed socks I got for Christmas are excellent. When there is a breach in the "waterproof" lining of my boots, my feet are only wet for 20-30 seconds before the sock wicks it away. The wind/sandstorms haven't been bad yet, but apparently it is coming.
Camp Taji is a wonder of modern military waste. I have my own room (as do most of the SSGs and above) which has an air conditioner/heater. I also "acquired" a TV/DVD, desk, chairs, a fan, a stereo, and even a lectern for only $50. People are really motivated to sell when they are getting on an airplane home tomorrow. The DFAC, PX, internet cafe, phone center, 2 gyms, and 3 "Haji marts" (stores run by locals which specialize in less than legitimate copies of movies, software etc.) are all within ½ mile. The DFAC is run by a US civilian company and it carries just about everything (and Mike, it's all you can eat so you can go back). It reminds me of Jeff's stories about the Sinai where how we feed another nation's soldiers is a reflection on our nation. There is a significant chance that I will come home at least the same weight as I left.
We've started going on our patrols. I am essentially conducting the missions I thought: route protection, IED sweeps, & infantry support. My sector is pretty quiet, and I'm learning the routes and places I need to stay down and where I can expose a little more.
My platoon is doing well. Spirits are still high and the guys who were here last time are enjoying watching the new guys react to their first enemy contact. As usual, we are having maintenance issues. Tanks are just one big maintenance headache and I'm living on a day to day basis.
A couple of observations I've made: there are dogs everywhere. Yet none are pets. Where do all these dogs come from and how do they support themselves. I guess they are living off the Army. There is one dog in my sector, Corndog, who is going to be hurting when we leave and stop feeding him hot dogs and steaks. Another dog, Wardog (all these dogs have names, and it is an important responsibility of the outgoing unit to inform the incoming unit of the dog's names), lives out in one of my OP positions who comes up the side of the tanks and sits and wags his tail as he begs for MRE bits. There is even one dog who looks like a mangy Storm (his name is Stupid). You just can't resist him and I've found that he likes Powerbars. So we usually split one each morning. The locals do not like these dogs. I do not know if it's a nuisance thing, or culture thing, or what but they throw rocks and kick at these dogs whenever they get too close. The good side is the dogs don't like the locals so they come around our tanks and act as a guard at night alerting us to anyone sneaking around.
The people here are friendly in general (of course you have to remember that I am in a quiet sector that supports the IA (Iraqi Army), there are other areas that aren't so congenial). They always wave and smile and are very cooperative when we have to search their cars or personnel. The women, however, have got that fake crying thing down. We had to search someone the other day (it turns out that my trainer knows the guy and figured that searching his car was a safe way for me to try my first real search), and the older women began "bawling" when we began to search him and his car. It was interesting to see. If these first few days are any indication, I think I will learn a lot about people in the next year.
I guess that's the long short of it. I'm doing okay and staying healthy. I'm not counting the days yet but I'm also not loving this den of iniquity. I hope you are all doing well, and I will keep you updated.
Sanders, 27, of College Station, Texas, was patrolling in his tank June 4, 2006, in Baghdad, when he was killed by a roadside bomb.
Army Maj. Gregory Fester
Aug. 22, 2005
Hello Family and Friends,
I hope that this finds all in good health, good spirits, and enjoying the remainder of summer. The past couple of days here has been in the 130's, perfect for outdoor grilling!! This past week has been an interesting one.
The beginning of the week was good, then we tried making a trip north to Baghdad area for some supplies and then to Balad for some more supplies, and I would be able to see Eric. Well, the only route to Baghdad is not my favorite, and you guessed it, our convoy was hit by an IED. For those of you who do not know what and IED is, it stands for Improvised Explosive Device. This is the primary means of the insurgents to take out vehicles in convoys. It hit our number 2 vehicle and I was in the number 4 vehicle.
Thank goodness no one was injured other than taking out the vehicle. Needless to say, that ended the trip going up. This makes travelling in Iraq interesting. The end of the week ended on a good note as I had our first contractors meeting. 12 contractors came by and we bidded out our first project to repair/refurbish an elementary school.
Now for a little humor. There's five things that I don't agree with here in Iraq:
5. Swimming with your livestock and using the water to cook with.
4. Men holding and hugging in public, tradition.
3. Sitting on hot pavement with a small rug.
2. Men wearing dresses, as we refer to "men dresses".
And number one on the list: IED's. They just mess up your day.
I want to close by saying thank you to those of you that have sent boxes. It is very kind of you to take the time from your day to that. Thank you to my neighbors who made Julie's birthday special with the lunch on Sunday. I miss you all and think and pray for all. Take care and God Bless.
Army Spc. Nathaniel Aguirre
June 11, 2006
hello mom and dad, i know i haven't talk to either of you in a while and at first it was because we were doing a 12hr on and 12hr off schedule so i was always tired. the guys in the platoon get missions off but since i am the medic i would go on every mission and when i got back i really didn't want to do anything since the heat drains so much out of a person. then my good friend and roommate died from a road side bomb while on foot and 5 others were all seriously injured which put me in a big slump. so i am really sorry about not calling or anything but luckly we have finally stopped patrolling because we are moving to a new area that is supposed to be much safer, it is near the baghdad international airport.
when we got to iraq my platoon had somewhere around 40 guys and so far 2 have died and 5 have been seriously injured to the point that they were sent to a hospital in germany and will not return to iraq. these past couple of months have been the worst of my life and i tried to keep a lot of it to myself because i did not want you all losing sleep over it, when i myself was already losing sleep. you should be happy though because we are leaving this area and will not return ever again. we will be grateful for our new area and hopefully no one else from our platoon will be killed or injured. right now i am trying to get moved to the aid station which means i will not go on patrols anymore because all of my friends in the platoon have either been killed or sent to germany.
i appreciate your strength to just sit there and wait while i am over here, and mom i meant for the chase money to come out of my viewpoint account sorry. dad please watch your health because i know you worry about me along with everyone else. i love you all and i should be home for leave soon.
Marine Cpl. Tyler S. Trovillion
May 5, 2004 (letter to his mother)
We just got back from an ambush a few hours ago. The battalion and the regimental commanders came with us. Our platoon, specifically our squad is hot, so hot the Battalion Commander chose our platoon to send the Regimental Commander on patrol with. The RC is from Vietnam and thinks the grunts have become too mechanized and lost the skills of the infantry tactics and such. Well, even though the patrol didn't follow the plan (they rarely do) we impressed the RC which is great for 1/5, for Alpha, for 2nd for the Co, etc. Yesterday, we were to insert 4 klicks out from our ambush, patrol to it, set in at 2230 till 0600 and watch for enemy to set in IEDs (makeshift bombs) on the road we use. Well, we got inserted about 5 klicks short. Se we had to patrol for hours to the OP so we only set in for about 1 ½ hours before sunbreak, then we walked the road on line looking for IEDs till link up. Last night seemed like it would never end.
Anyway, I got 3 packages from you. Thank you Mother. That Granny Smith apple hit the spot. It just made me mad that the chocolate won't solidify because it's too warm. If we're back at the FOB it will but not in the field. Thank you for the Wheat Thins, those hit the spot too. Thank you for the food and pictures. All that stuff brings me back to reality and makes me remember that there is civilization out there somewhere in the world.
Well, it looks like we're starting a new FOB. It's an old VX plant (nerve agent factory from Desert Storm or thereafter). I really think this place was also a concentration camp. There are underground tunnels with chambers with signs of torture written all over the place, not to mention what looks like a mass grave in the corner. There are huge rooms with shower heads but no way to turn them on.
Anyway, I need to get some rest. Again, thank you for the packages. I hope you all are doing well. I love you and will talk to you soon.
Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Tricia Jameson
July 10, 2005 (An e-mail to her mother)
Hello, there is only one other female on the convoy with me that I know of. She is my partner for the trip. We are supporting what they call "TCN's" Third Country Nationals. They are from other countries, Jordan, Iran, etc, etc. It is a mix of military and these TCN's. Apparently it is quite amusing. When we stop for whatever reason, some of them hate each other due to whatever reasons, and like to get out of the truck and beat the crap out of each other. They have also been known if the convoy stops for just a moment, they hop out and start cooking dinner. I have been told that I will be amused. Sounds like it will be an interesting time. :)
The bathroom conditions are not bad. They do a decent job of cleaning them out. I only stay in as long as necessary though. :) Not much else going on at the moment. I'll talk to you soon. Love Trish
Jameson, 34, of Omaha, Neb., was killed on her first convoy run July 14, 2005 in Trebil.
Army Spc. Rafael "T.J." Carrillo Jr.
April 30, 2005 (An e-mail to his mother)
hey mom heres some pictures... i got quite a few of them hopefully its not too big of an email... its gettin bad out here again... a car bomb blew up 15 feet from our humvee yesterday... we were all ok... the humvee got messed up though... but it made it back to the maintenance bay on the fob and got fixed... today we got caught in a little ambush... this is happening because they anounced the seats or something and the sunnis got mad... thats just what my LT told me... maybe u know more about that from watching the news... hopefully it calms down... but I feel that God's been watching over us considering what happened and we are all still ok... well ill talk to you later... I love u and miss u... TJ"
Carrillo, 21, of Boys Ranch, Texas, died June 28, 2005, in Baghdad during his second yearlong tour, when a mortar detonated near his Humvee.
Army National Guard Master Sgt. Chris Chapin
Aug. 3, 2005 (An e-mail to his wife)
Hey baby, it was really good to hear your voice last night. I was up at 0450, went and got chow, and am now on duty. Your family readiness does not change. BCT is Brigade Combat Team. That is not us, that is PA., who we fall under. I was doing good in the TOC in HQ. Leadership thought I was doing excellent. I tried it, but it wasn't me. Part of it was that I felt caged in, you know? The other part was that people like Auggie and Keith are doing missions, and I am not, and feeling guilty.
So I now have a new job. The Marines are running the ISF, Iraqi Security Force, which is the new Iraqi Army. They were looking for volunteers, there you have it. We are in Camp Defender, which is the Iraqi camp inside FOB Ramadi. Eight of us Army guys are living here with 10 Marines and the ISF. I am an Advisor, which means training and mentoring the ISF officers and Sergeants. It's just like before, a train the trainer role. The difference is that now we go on patrols in Tammin and 5K, the 2 cities right outside our FOB (Forward Operating Base). That was why my feet were killing me, but really were just a little sore. We go out with our VT Infantry right behind us as an overwatch element. It is really quite safe, as The ISF is one of their people, and they are respected and well received. They are also very good, we just need to tweak them a little bit. This is the actual main mission over here. These are the guys that are going to make the difference, they will be the ones holding the bag when we leave. And, as I do not want to be back here in 5 or so years, or having someones son have to come over here, I will do what I can to see that doesn't happen. I am the most qualified person here, having just done this in Afghanistan. ...
Most of the weights are now in place, I will work out today/tonight. We got in some furniture, a tv, and dvd player from our Company Commander for our little MWR (Morale-Welfare-Recreation) setup. He says there is a ping pong table on the way. Is good, but finding time to play will be a challenge. Have not played one game on spades yet.
What do you think about leave? I was thinking of not doing it, saving money and time for a vacation, or 2 vacations when I get home. Maybe one with the three of us, and another smaller one with just you and me. Let me know what you think.
Hows the weather been up there lately? Like I said, anywhere from115-118F over here. Have not been checking the weather on the net, will have the thermometer when my other bags get here. Really need to start running again, because I will gain weight if I don't. Love you baby.............me