Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Detainee Release

One of my many extra duties is to supervise detainee release. For whatever reason, we release individuals from Coalition custody after they’re deemed “no longer a threat to the Coalition or Iraqi people.”

So, I get the call that around 50 detainees will land in my little slice of Iraqi heaven, and I need to be out there at fricking midnight to meet the helicopters. Why midnight? Because it’s inconvenient, nothing is ever easy in Iraq…and I hate helicopters.

My Iraqi Army partner, and a dozen of his soldiers, sat out by the helicopter landing zone and waited for the detainees. A little after midnight (of course they’re late) we hear the whoop-whoop-whoop of the helicopters, and we jump back into our vehicles. Helicopters kick up an absurd amount of dirt when they land, often accompanied by giggles from the pilots as they brown-out yet another unsuspecting group of spectators. We’d renovated the landing zone with giant steel mats to keep the dust down. The first helicopter landed and kicked up a fair amount of dirt, but nothing too bad.

I ran out to the helicopter, met the Soldier in charge of the detainees, waved the detainees towards the waiting and friendly Iraqi Army. As I counted detainee noses, it became blatantly obvious that I was standing behind one of the giant engines. Ladies and Gentlemen, the world’s largest hair dryer. The air was actually painful, and I wish I’d picked another spot, but then the detainees would run around all willy-nilly. A few more minutes and I would have turned into beef jerky.

The IA policed up the detainees, and they squatted in close quarters. Imagine a giant box off Peeps, but these Peeps are all in identical shirts, shoes, pants and smell terrible.

And then all common sense failed. The first helicopter could have taken off and made room for the second, instead the first stayed put, and the second landed in a dirt soccer field. I waited a minute for the dust to settle, but it didn’t. The second helicopter was surrounded by a THIS IS CETI ALPHA FIVE intensity sand storm.

I stumbled towards the helicopter, but could keep my eyes open for a moment or two. Yes, stumbling blindly towards the giant spinning blades of helicopter death. Once I got close enough that I could see the helicopter ramp, there went a long line of detainees off into the sand storm. They were definitely going the wrong way. What the hell…

I took off after the line, and found a Soldier at the head. Before I could tell him he was an artard and that he’s going the wrong way, he waved at me and took off for the helicopter. There I was, standing in the midst of nuclear winter with twenty-ish detainees who looked scared to death. It was essential that we head back to the waiting Iraqi Army, or I’d have a bunch of detainees running around an Iraqi Army base, at midnight, surrounded by armed guard towers. CNN would love that.

Thankfully, my interpreter is smarter than the average bear, and he waved a lit flash light at us, which we could make out through the haze of flying sand and very small rocks. I utilized my rudimentary Arabic and screamed “Yala!” as I waved towards the light. ‘Yala’ means “run great speed and courageous emotion’ or something like that.

I got the detainees to the Iraqi Army, who had quite the laugh at my expense. Can’t blame them, just look at me:

I look like ancient!

Then we had to screen all the detainees, make sure their name matches their picture, the names on the list, etc. No AQI/JAM would ever try to sneak out of prison by flubbing up his paperwork, never ever!

My Iraqi partner and I quizzed each detainee about why they were arrested (every single one was innocent, they don’t know why they were picked up in the first place) and how long they’d been in jail. One guy said he’d been in jail for a few days short of two years, we asked him if he wanted to stay in the IA jail a bit longer, but he would have none of that.

I get to do detainee release once a month. I’m so excited.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Every so often I have these “…what?” moments with the Iraqi Army.

Case in point, I went to find an Iraqi officer who was supposed to meet me for dinner. I sat down in his office and used my rudimentary Arabic on one of his brother officers. Then an Iraqi lieutenant colonel walks in and they talk amongst themselves. The first officer proceeds to whip out a tazer, and turn it on for his boss. It sparked and made a series of unfriendly cracking noises. I’ve never had a normal conversation that ended with someone whipping out a tazer. So there’s my first “…what?” moment of the day.

I don’t speak that much Arabic, but I’m pretty sure the LTC said “Dude, that totally reeks of awesomeness, let me try.” The LTC grabs the tazer, turns it on and jokingly jabs the active tazer at his buddy. Ha ha! What fun.

Finally, the guy I’m waiting for shows up…and then he grabs the tazer and waves it around. There I am, a lone American officer in a room full of Iraqi officers who are PLAYING WITH A TAZER. The third officer took the tazer into the hallway…and chased some of the Iraqi Army soldiers up and down the hallway with the tazer “…what?”

I suppose I should have admonished the IA for playing with something that is definetly not a toy, but when a bunch of Iraqis are jabbing at each other with a tazer designed to incapacitate cattle, discretion is the better part of valor.

It would be easy to scoff at the Iraqi Army for this incident, but Coalition Forces aren’t any smarter.

A few weeks ago, some of the Soldiers assigned to my little slice of heaven decided to buy themselves a tazer. A big one, one that meant business. Thankfully, one of the senior non-commissioned officers heard the device crackling, investigated and confiscated the Mother of All Tazers. Why did they buy the tazer? One of the Soldiers wanted to zap his buddy with it, and his buddy was OK with the plan, so long as the zapping was filmed for YouTube…what?!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Coalition and Iraqi Army forces are winning the war. I leave you with that fact.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Donut of Misery

Soldiers speculate on their redeployment date. The day we get back to our families, flushing toilettes and beer is a happy one, so we want to know when it is! But, the date fluctuates (shifts to the left or right), much to our consternation. When will the new unit arrive? How long must we wait for a flight to Kuwait, then to the States? Will there be an…extension?

Extensions are bad. Very bad. Back in 2004, we’d handed over our mission to the new unit, sent an advanced team to Kuwait, had the vehicles packed and lined up ready to go. Then the phone rang. The redeployment stopped, and we went south to fight Muqtada al Sadr and his merry band of jerk offs throughout central Iraq. After the 365th day came and went, we lost hope of ever going home. We just drove from city to city, stomping Jaysh Al Mahdi into paste and waiting for the next phone call. We stomped them a little too hard, as JAM turned to Iran for training and equipment, but that’s a different matter.

After the 15th month of a 12 month tour, the phone rang and told us to head to Kuwait. Sheeah, right. We’ll get to Kuwait and promptly turn around for Mosul. But, we went to Kuwait, turned over our equipment and remained skeptical about ever going home. Then we got on the aircraft, still no guarantee! Folks made it to the US of A before the extension, and were called back to Iraq. Landed in Germany, marveled at the green grass but still didn’t think we were home free. Once the plane took off and we were sure it was heading West, we relaxed a bit more.

We landed in Maine. If they told us to get back on the plane and head for Iraq, we could make a break for the door. Canada was close by. Then we got home, and after a week or two we were sure we wouldn’t be called back to Iraq, and we finally relaxed.

Where was I…tracking the day we head home, yes. Now Soldiers have their very own “Donut of Misery.” A simple excel spreadsheet that computes the number of days, hours, minutes past and left in the tour. A pie graph of sorts monitors progress through the deployment as a percentage, and resembles a steadily shrinking donut.

This gave way to Happy Percentage Day! Every 3.65 days (assuming a 12 month tour) another percentage point ticks by, one percentage point closer to going home. So I wish people Happy Percentage Day to my fellow office drones once or twice a week. Don’t tell Hallmark, I might patent the idea.

Math is never that exciting, so Soldiers embellish their Donuts of Misery with photos of scantily clad, yet tasteful, photos of their favorite model/actress/women-of-thankfully-low-morals. There is some debate over who has the best Donut flair, but it is a personal choice.

My Donut transitioned from ‘depressing’ to ‘uplifting’ around the 33% mark. Soon it will be zero.