August 15, 2006 > A soldier's diary
A soldier's diary
INTRO: Fremont resident and Ohlone College board member, Garret Yee, is presently addressed as Army Lieutenant Colonel Yee, serving in Baghdad, Iraq. He will be sending periodic updates with photos to share with TCV readers.
August 10, 2006
Well, it's been about a month since I departed from home. Here is a short update on what I've been up to.
I started on Tuesday, July 11th by flying out to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to receive training for my current assignment as an embedded officer with the mission in Iraq. It was a day of good-byes to the family.
I get to Kansas and find that it has lots of rolling hills and green vegetation. Fort Leavenworth is about 22 miles from the airport, most of which is driving in the countryside. It is humid and the bags that I am carrying seem heavier than usual. When I get to my room, I call my wife Maria, then I call it a day. After much processing and paperwork, we ship out for Fort Bliss, Texas on Saturday, July 15th.
Our taxi was late, so fellow officer Rex Rodwell and I barely made it in time to catch our flight. We had an interesting thing happen on the plane. Since we were both wearing our uniforms, one of the flight attendants asked us where we were going. We told her we were headed to Fort Bliss, then on to Iraq. As we were pulling up to the gate, the same attendant made an announcement over the loud speaker. "You may have noticed that there are two gentlemen in uniform on our flight. They are on their way to Iraq. Having a son in the Navy, I especially appreciate those that serve our country. Let's give these two gentlemen a hand." Then, the whole plane exploded with applause. It was a nice feeling.
At Fort Bliss, we went through six days of intensive training, then headed to Iraq, via Bangor, Maine and Frankfurt, Germany. At Hahn Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany, we deplane while the plane refuels. A shuttle takes us to a special holding area that looks like the most run-down facilities available. We get a few hours to shop duty free and get something to eat; then back on the plane for Kuwait. We arrive at Kuwait City International Airport in the middle of the night
From there, we take a bus with curtains drawn and armed escorts to Ali Al Salem Life Support Area, Kuwait. We arrive between 0100 and 0200, get "swiped in" to theater with our identification cards and receive welcome briefings. It is now Tuesday, July 25, 2006 and it is about 0230 (in the morning). It took 4 days to get from Fort Bliss to Kuwait. We wait until 0630 when the flight role call is announced for a 0900 show time for a 1030 flight.
We load a military cargo plane (C-130) with our bags and head north to Baghdad. The plane ride is noisy and we sit on cargo nets for seats. We land and walk off the tail ramp of the plane to sweltering hot Iraq summer temperatures. It is hard to breathe at first-it feels like breathing in from a blow dryer. Now that I am at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP, pronounced Buy Up), I call my friend Major Steve Phillips, who picks me up and takes me to Victory Base Camp where I get a temporary tent to stay the night.
I get back to my tent and find out that one of my tent mates, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Levine Visico is a police officer in Milpitas, CA! So, we take a photo together (TCV, p.17, Aug. 7). What a coincidence! His tour and my tour will end around the same time.
Sounds funny, but it is good to finally get to Iraq. I begin to get situated with my work assignment. I will be working with units to understand what has been working well in Iraq and use this information to assist other units that will be coming out. It will require some travel outside the base which should be interesting.
I get to work near a gentleman that came out of retirement to serve our country, Lieutenant Colonel Champe Miller. He retired 11 years before volunteering to come back on to Active Duty. I eventually get part of a trailer assigned as my residence on the Victory Base Camp in Baghdad. Restrooms and showers are down the gravel path. This will be my home until I depart. While in the dining facility, I meet one of the soldiers from my old unit at Fort Bliss, Master Sergeant Armando Acuna.
Time passes pretty quickly out here when you are working 14-16 hours a day, 7 days a week. Did I tell you it is hot out here? My friend, Major Phillips, is a Military Police Officer. On his short day, he shows me around the complex, which was owned by Saddam Hussein. We visit some interesting areas, such as a place called the "Flintstones" that looks like something out of the Town of Bedrock!
In the course of doing my job, I occasionally travel from where I am stationed to a place called the International Zone (also known as the IZ and the Green Zone). This is where the US Embassy is located and where I have some business to conduct. When we go there, we use armored transport or ride in helicopters due to the roadside bombs.
On August 5th, I quietly celebrated my 41st birthday (I told no one), but did get a call from the family. On the same day as my birthday, I flew up north to a town called Mosul in the province of Ninewa. Mosul is said to be the burial place for Jonah from the biblical story of Jonah and the whale. I was there to observe the US training nationals to run their own government and improve their economy. I got to meet some of the local business leaders-the experience was very interesting.
We flew in a Blackhawk helicopter back to Baghdad and I got some great pictures of the Tigris River. In the remote areas of Iraq, you could see shepherds tending to their flocks of sheep and the mud houses, just as it probably has been for a long time.
Well, that about wraps it up for now.