November 28, 2006 > LTC Garrett Yee's update from Iraq
LTC Garrett Yee's update from Iraq
Welcome to Estonia!
Fremont resident and Ohlone College board member, Garret Yee, is presently addressed as Army Lieutenant Colonel Yee, now serving in Baghdad, Iraq. He sends periodic updates with photos to share with TCV readers. Previous correspondence can be found in the TCV archives at www.tricityvoice.com.
Destination: Camp Taji to see the Estonians. The Estonians are a small contingent here on their 7th rotation as a country. They work under the US forces in Baghdad. Most speak English well. Their language and background is very close to Finnish. They are a very impressive group of Soldiers assigned to a very volatile sector. All soldiers in the contingent volunteered to support this mission. In fact, if there is a discipline problem, the fix is to send the soldier home. For many soldiers, this is their second tour in Iraq.
Estonia currently supports other missions around the world, to include operations in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Their language is similar to Finnish, and about half the platoon speaks English well, with the remaining understanding English. Estonia is a small country (about 45,000 sq km) with a population of about 1,445,000 inhabitants. Their contribution to the Global War on Terror is significant per capita given the size of their country. I’ve included a map since I figured some of you might be wondering where Estonia is located (I didn’t know before this).
The next day, I had to take Rhino Convoy into the International Zone (IZ). We stopped into the Battle Update Assessment (remember BUA?) at the US Embassy, followed by meeting folks at the National Coordination Team, which oversees the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. We then got our “battle rattle” and took the NTV (non-tactical vehicle) to the NATO Training Center and ate lunch at their DFAC—this has a limited menu but more varied company. There I met with the NATO guys and the Iraqi Officers that I’m working with at the Iraqi Lessons Learned Center.
At the IZ, you can order a car or a motorcycle and have it waiting for you back in the states. Although I’m not in the market for a new car, a motorcycle would be nice…
This day was one of those many days where you wish you could be home just to help out around the house. For the next few days, I am super busy getting ready for a team from Fort Leavenworth. At the same time, I’m trying to do my regular duties. It’s a lot like getting ready for visitors coming over to your house, except that it is for a long time.
One night Ross (my work neighbor) and I go the roof to watch the fireworks. Not too much tonight. We talk a lot about why we are here in Iraq and how both our perspectives changed after being here in Iraq. It is hard to explain, but once you live here for a little while and see first-hand what there is to see, you quickly realize that there is no simple solution to the situation. One thing we both agree upon, the leaders out here are doing the best they can given the circumstances. Neither of us would want their jobs.
The day before the group arrives from Fort Leavenworth, it looked like it was going to rain. It was about 90 degrees, humid and the sky was gray. Since I’m picking up the team from CALL the next day, I need to find out their arrival time. So, I call the BIAP PAX terminal, and they said I need to call back after 2200. I wait until 2200 and call the PAX terminal, and then they say that they can’t give the flight information over the phone. So I say to send it on secure email, and they say they don’t have access. I figure it out eventually.
On Thursday, the team from Fort Leavenworth arrives—life gets really busy. First order of business was to drop the gear and head to Chow Operations at the DFAC. After lunch, it was transient billeting, which is code word for tents—kind of like camping with the cots. They all had interesting comments on the tent billets. After this, it was time to take a tour of the Al Faw Palace. Saddam built many palaces which still stand today, and some don’t.
For the next week, my life is non-stop working issues for the team from Leavenworth. The team has luggage issues, billeting issues, vehicle issues, and issues with the Corps Command Sergeant Major. I was called to see the Deputy Chief of Staff. Was it an ass chewing? No. Was it very uncomfortable? Yes. Bottom line is that I felt that I had to answer for something over which that I had no control. You just got to wonder some times.
On a bright note, I found out that a friend of ours has a son in the Marines who just deployed to Iraq. His name is Lance Corporal Tomas Becerra. I put together a little box of snacks to take out to him. Even though I was not able to see him personally, it was nice to make the connection while here in Iraq.
One night after dinner, Ross and I watch the night sky from the roof top. We can hear a few large explosions in the distance—I think this was the large Ammunition Supply Point at FOB Falcon that got hit by a mortar. On days 6 and 7 of the team from Fort Leavenworth, things are settling down and we are getting ready for the next leg of the trip up to Balad Air Base, also known as Logistic Support Area Anaconda. On the team’s last day in Baghdad, the big event is to get them on a helicopter flight to Balad. I picked the team up from their meeting location and drove them to the helipad.
Although I didn’t mind supporting the team, it was very tiring. When I got back from the helipad, I found two boxes from Ohlone College on my desk. What a great surprise! In the boxes, I got a book from [Mayor] Dave Smith on the history of the City of Newark, cards, news clippings and snacks. What a great way to end the day! Well…it’s time to get some rest for the next mission.
That’s it for now.