[EDITORS' NOTE: This post receives a lot of traffic from folks who Google the term "Commo Blackout." I'm curious as to why. If you came to this post that way, please email me at rcjparry(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks.]
Dear friends and family....
Well, long-time no scribble from me. I have been up to my posterior in ruminations as to what Hajji has been up to. The answer to that question, oveall, is not much.
Now I know the various media outlets acessed through driveway delivery and living room boxes will tell you all about the quagmire that is Iraq. But, the fact of the matter is thus. Hajji has been really quiet of late.
The 4th Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division is really in the heart of the fight for the country, and our battalion is pretty much the main effort of the brigade.
In April and early May our sector had 3-6 IEDs VBIEDs and similar attacks every day. Somedays as many as 8 or 10. Most of those were found or detonated harmlessly. About one a week broke something or someone we care about. Added to that was an assortment of daily mortar attacks (usually on the Iraqi Police Station) and small arms ambushes.
Since mid May - however, we are in about week three of this period - we have averaged about 1 IED every three days. The mortar attacks have kept up, but even the occaisional small arms pot shots are no more. Overall it has been about as close to normal as you can imagine.
The problem of course, is that it is not 100% peaceful. Al Queda and whomever keep squeazing out little attacks here and there. A car bomb makes a big mess and even one of them will fill 30 seconds of video on the nightly news. Cars not exploding, like airplanes not crashing, do not the news make.
Which is not to say that all is rosy, something I learned the other day when I ventured out of the wire for the first time in 76 days. I have returned to Delta Company, my place of employment before I was sent to the battalion intel shop (which I have been commended for helping re-organize), and I needed to get an on the ground look at the company's new area of operation (AO, as we call it).
Whereas Karradah, our old stomping grounds, was the equivalent of the Westwood of Baghdad, our new AO, Called Arabjabour, is somthing akin to Sebastapol, CA, along the Russian River. It is overgrown with jungles of palm groves and is dotted with little hamlets full of folks who until two years ago held cushy, do-nothing jobs in the regime. They don't like us very much, as I found out when we were hit by an IED as we trotted down the road in our steel chariots.
It was, I hope not coincidentally, very much like our training. All of a sudden, there was a BOOM! and dirt and rock and such went flying everywhere. It went off between my truck and the lead truck but did not harm to anyone. It was really a tiny explosion (as explsions go), about the heft of a small mortar or grenade. We never did figure what it was. My first thought, after processing, "oh, yeah, IED," was "small one, but that wasn't so bad after all."
We executed our various drills and searched the jungle, finding the wire Hajji used to set the thing off and the point at which he stood to do it. We late concluded that a funky-looking guy we saw on the road side was probably helping him track us into the ambush zone.
Anyway, we searched the jungle and a few surrounding houses. As I searched I realized I was actually looking for SOMEBODY WHO TRIED TO KILL ME!!!!!!!! That really was quite impolite of him, wasn't it? However, this revelation made me no more on edge and no more attentive. I guess once yu are here you are automatically in peak readiness. My eyeballs tracked the front sightpost of my M-16, as though it were part of me. Whereever I looked, so went the barrel of my rifle, in synchronicity. As I walked through the thick weeds and vines, I moved my finger from the ready position above the trigger, to rest just to the side of it and I placed my thumb firmly on the safety switch. Should I have come across the Islamist in question, I was quite prepared, in every sense of the term, to ensure he gets to meet God before me. (When he does get his meeting, I am confident it will be a quick, cursory session followed by a holy boot in his ass to knock him into the heated basement).
Today, another Demon patrol got hit, this time by a large artillery round. Two guys got their bells rung pretty bad and their truck needs new shoes, but all will return to duty shortly.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Yesterday afternoon, I strolled ove to the AT&T phone center to call home for the first time in a while. A sign on the door told me all I needed to know. "Commo Blackout in Effect." Like black tape on a cop's badge or a flag at half-staff, the commo blackout sign is our unspoken messenger of a soldier's death from one of the units here on the FOB. This time it was one of our brothers from the 3/7 Infantry, an active duty battalion that is organic to 4th BDE, 3ID. He was killed in the gun turret of a humvee by an IED encased in concrete and placed in the curb of a street, designed to fit in like it belonged there.
The commo black out is the Army's answer to modern technology. While there is a lot this ancient organization does wrong, taking care of families in need is one thing it really strives to do right. So, to ensure that an email from here does not turn into a condolence call that gets to a deceased soldier's family before the notification team does, the Army simply cuts us off from the outside world for a few hours. After two soldiers and a chaplain have delivered their message of grief, the signs go down and life returns to normal. Here, anyway. For most of us.
This is he nature of our enemy. He chooses not to meet us on the field of battle. He would lose. He chooses not to meet us for deliberation in the salon of the voting booth, for his ideas are unpopular. Instead he chooses attempted assention through intimidation. Rarely does he try to actually conquer an objective, for the objective he seeks canot be grasped. It exists in the hearts and minds of the elderly sheiks who meet for weekly council meetings to decide what our enemy would dictate. They meet, of course, only with 30 of us outside, because meetings such as this are a threat to those who seek to dictate the standards of life to the masses. It is in the hearts of little girls who play outside in dresses, four of whom they killed last week with a mortar they lobbed from 2 miles away.
I am doing well, despite things going boom in my life. The weather is now in the 90s at night and pushing 115 in the day time. It is very dry though, and I really do not notice the heat as much as I might have thought. Trudging around by the river in body armor is no fun though! (Imagine going to Palm Springs in July and wearing a thick winter coat and hat). The Shamall wind storms have been kicking up badly lately. The dust sis so bad at times you can;t see 100 meters. Yesterday the white hallways of battalion command post seemed yellow and I oculd not figure out why until I stuck my head outside and saw that everything was in a peachy-yellow glow as the dense sand filtered the sunlight on the FOB. It was definitely one of the weirder moments of the deployment.
I want to thank all of you who have sent packages of late, especially the folks from PPMG (I am still enjoying odds and ends of that), Steve Fitzmaurice (magazines less than a month old - imagine that!) and Stu, Julie & Hatcher Johnson, who couldn't stuff it all in one box. Thanks to all of you for brightening my days.
Wel,it is past midnight and there are bad Hajjis waiting my focused attention on the morrow. I pray that all of you are safe and healthy and happy.
All the best,