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September 19, 2006 > Letter From Iraq

Letter From Iraq

by Garrett Yee

August 31, 2006
Dear Friends and Family,

I hope this letter finds you all in good health and great spirits. It's been a few weeks since I last wrote. As you know, I work for the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), and part of my job is to understand what units are doing and help other units with the information that I've gathered. For now, much of my focus has been on Provincial Reconstruction Teams, combination military and civilian organizations helping with governance and economics at the provincial level. A province is somewhat like a state in the US.

So, what have I been up to? After the last trip, it was good to get back to my hooch (the place where I sleep). I got up the next morning with aches all over from traveling. Traveling in a war zone is not exactly comfortable-sleeping in tents and catching a few minutes of sleep on uncomfortable military aircraft. As I was settling into Camp Victory, I was called to the International Zone for the next trip. So...I packed my ruck-sack with a sleeping bag, some extra clothes, and caught a helicopter flight from Camp Victory to the International Zone (IZ) where the US Embassy is located.

While at the US Embassy, I got my second anthrax shot in a series of six. The bad news is that this shot burns under your skin. The good news is that they were giving the shots for free! (sorry, poor humor). Before heading out of the IZ, I did a little "sight seeing." We took photos at the Cross Sabers then went to see the Tomb of the Unknown Iraqi soldier, a large circular monument.

I met my group at the helipad, Lt. Col. Pickett, Navy Commander McGonnigil, Major Scheid, and two gentlemen from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Pat and Bob. We boarded a US Army Blackhawk helicopter and flew north to Logistic Support Area (LSA) Anaconda located in Balad. After a few hours of sleep in transient tents, our wake-up time is 0200 so we can get to the air strip at 0300. It is Monday, August 14, 2006. Today is Michael's 15th Birthday; it is days like this that I miss home the most.

Our flight is rescheduled for 0500, so we waited at the PAX (passenger) terminal until boarding the Sherpa airplane. We stopped by Base Camp Speicher and the Mosel Airfield on the way to our target destination, of Kirkuk, located in the northern region of Iraq. Kirkuk is a deeply mixed province, where much of the population in the province is Kurdish, as well as Turkmen, Arabic, and Assyrian.

We landed at the Kirkuk Regional Air Field (KRAB) deplane, and convoy on to the Forward Operating Base (FOB) Warrior. Our host dropped us off at the "KBR Hotel," somewhat austere - an old Iraqi motel. But hey, the rooms have air conditioning, a bed, and a TEVIVISION! I called Michael to wish him a happy birthday-I get him on Maria's cell phone on the way to Gilroy for his work's company picnic, which happens to be on his birthday. Thank you technology! The next morning, August 15, 2006-- Maria's Birthday... My mind is focused on what is in front of me, but my heart is at home.

We met with the Provincia l Council (their legislature). The interesting thing here is they spent 90 minutes debating whether to form a new committee for public service and complaints-it reminds me how we sometimes go on and on discussing somewhat minor topics back home. I guess no matter where you go some things are the same. After the meeting, my interpreter takes me to meet with Ms. Parween Mohammed Amim, the Education Committee Chair, who is a member of the Kurdish Democratic Party. We discussed the issue of transfer students from one college in Iraq to another. While I was in the meeting, the rest of the group started looking for me and thought they were missing Lieutenant Colonel. Hmmm... This caused a minor emergency (since kidnappings are not uncommon). Well, they found me and things settled down.

The big event was lunch with the Governor of Kirkuk, Mr. Abdulrahman Mustafa, a very cordial individual who by trade is an attorney. We got to hear a lot about the thoughts that were on his mind and eat great Kurdish food. We then convoyed to the Regional Embassy Office (REO) to meet with the other Department of State employees. We had dinner at the REO, then got a ride from the Personal Security Detail (PSD), civilian contractors, back to the FOB. Once back at the KBR Hotel, I was able to call Maria and wished her a happy birthday. Often times, it is hard to make calls out of Iraq since most of Iraq does not have electricity for much of the day, but for the last two days, someone was on my side.

The next day, still in Kirkuk, at 0530 I went out for a morning run. It was still dark, but at least it was a bit cooler (probably around 85-90 degrees-the northern region of Iraq is somewhat cooler, but it still gets very hot when the sun comes out). We flew out of Kirkuk on the Sherpa very low to the ground (when you can wave back to the kids waiving up at you-and see their smiling faces-you know you are low). Iraq is a desert-a very hot desert, where you could not imagine anything living in these harsh conditions. Yet, I remember growing up and learning about the land between two rivers, the Tigris River and Euphrates River. As I fly over the Tigris, I can now see why it was called the Fertile Crescent.

By the time we got to Balad, everyone looked a little queasy. The whole flight, I tried to focus on breathing. Breathe Garrett...Breathe...Back at Balad, we caught a Blackhawk flight out of Catfish Air back to Baghdad. At dinner, I sat with an Aussie soldier from northern Australia. Enjoyable but I had a little difficulty understanding some of what he was saying due to the speed of his speech and some phrases. At 11:30 p.m. I call it a night. I'm exhausted. Traveling in a war zone takes it all out of you.

Iraq is still a dangerous place and everyday, we have very brave men and women serving our country in a very austere and harsh environment. If you meet any of them, you won't hear complaints about what they have to do or why they are here. Rather, if you say hello, you will likely get a smile and hearty greeting right back. That's the way it is.

Well, that's it for now. Cheers!

Garrett Yee

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