Operation Iraqi Freedom: Life On Forward Operating Base (FOB) Speicher, Iraq

As I explained in my previous posting describing my time serving in Iraq, my unit of Bradleys was tasked to secure Al Sahra Airfield located just north of Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.  The Marines at the time were mopping up the last pockets of resistance during major combat operations while we were to secure this airfield to allow an Army helicopter brigade to stage operations there.  A Marine reconnaissance unit had already swept quickly through the airfield to see if there was any resistance there and they reported the did not receive any enemy contact.  So we were pretty sure that this would be a pretty easy operation.  As we approached the front gate of the airfield the we could see that the Marine reconnaissance unit had spray painted and shot up Saddam’s face at the entrance to let us know that they had been there:

Picture from FOB Speicher

Defacing Saddam portraits we eventually become a competitive sport in Iraq as servicemembers seemed to compete to see who could deface all the various portraits of Saddam the best:

Picture from FOB Speicher

We also noticed as we drove on to the airfield this MIG-15 that the Iraqis had mounted:

Picture from FOB Speicher

Once on the base we began searching every building, bunker, and hangar on the base.  Many of the buildings were pretty run down and some of the buildings had been looted:

Picture from FOB Speicher

Even their sports stadium on the airfield was completely run down and need of extensive repairs:

Picture from FOB Speicher

 

Probably what I remember most about searching through these buildings is when we went through the on post housing and saw pictures of spouses and kids hanging on the walls just like you would see in a home in the US.  It kind of shows that Iraqis are not some evil devils, but instead have lives, families, and dreams like the rest of us.  To kind of further drive home the point that this airfield was home to families was that the Iraqis had little toy airplanes setup that their kids could play with:

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Operation Iraqi Freedom: The Road To Tikrit

As the sun rose on my fourth day in the Iraq War that morning we would soon find out that we would be departing the next day to execute a mission.  The US 3rd Infantry Division had to everyone’s surprise quickly defeated resistance within Baghdad.  Those of us in the military expected a long protracted fight to win the city, but the 3rd ID’s superior firepower and fighting skills quickly defeated Saddam’s forces.  We had figured our unit would be part of the fight to win the city, instead we received orders to move through Baghdad and help the Marines take Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown.  Early in the morning we linked up with a 3rd ID Military Police unit that would lead us through the route they had secured through Baghdad.  As we drove through the southern outskirts of the city I was a bit surprised by the poverty I saw:

Picture from Baghdad, Iraq

I was expecting Baghdad to be a nicer city compared to what I saw in southern Iraq, but the southern outskirts were still quite poor.  As we drove deeper into the city the morning traffic began to pick up and we began to see some of the many murals of Saddam Hussein in the city:

Picture from Baghdad, Iraq

Most of the murals had been defaced by the US military or Iraqis by this time.  I was also surprised by the traffic.  It was almost hard to believe there was a war going on when your convoy is surrounded by cars and buses.  Being surrounded by cars also makes you a bit paranoid because you do not know if the car next to use is rigged with explosives or not.  That is why I did not take many pictures in Baghdad because I was constantly searching and scanning looking for threats.  I was there to fight a war, not to take pictures.  Looking back though I really wish I would have taken more pictures, but that was not what was going through my mind at the time.

As our convoy reached the central part of Baghdad we began to see what appeared to be government buildings that were bombed:

Picture from Baghdad, Iraq

There was also an entire neighborhood I saw bombed that supposedly was housing for key regime officials that worked in the government buildings:

Picture from Baghdad, Iraq

I really did not see the point in bombing the government buildings if we were expected to rebuild the country afterwards.  Why bomb a building that later you have to pay money to rebuild?  Anyway this governmental neighborhood did have a beautiful mosque that was not bombed:

Picture from Baghdad, Iraq

We then came to intersection that was completely backed up with traffic and we could not even more our convoy:

Picture from Baghdad, Iraq

Despite an ongoing war and regime collapse I guess the people of Baghdad were still going to work because the traffic was incredibly heavy.  Since we could not move the convoy was highly exposed to an attack.  Guys at the front of the convoy were yelling at the Iraqis to pull off to the side so the convoy could pass.  They would not move but once it appeared that an armored tracked vehicle would push the vehicles out of the way the drivers began to get off to the side of the road to let us pass.

From there we got away from the heavy traffic when we got on this highway overpass that bypassed the heart of downtown Baghdad:

Picture from Baghdad, Iraq

This is the last picture I took of Baghdad from the highway overpass that led into the northern part of the city:

Picture from Baghdad, Iraq

Northern Baghdad was like entering another country.  In southern Iraq for the most part people were pretty happy to see us, however beginning in northern Baghdad no one was happy to see us.  We had entered into the primarily Sunni Arab area of the country that were Saddam’s biggest supporters.  These people hated us and the looks on their faces showed it.  Many of the young men in civilian clothes giving us the evil eye as we drove by I could tell were soldiers because of their close cropped hair cuts.  Seeing all of them just standing there watching us with their pissed off faces was when I knew keeping the peace was going to be harder than winning the war.

I took no pictures at all of northern Baghdad because I was constantly scanning for threats.  Especially since we could hear gunfire in the distance around us which was from 3rd ID units continuing to eliminate pockets of resistance in the city.  Northern Baghdad would also become the first time we would see a significant threat to our convoy.  We had come to an intersection that unlike other intersections had no traffic.  I did not realize it at the time, but I should of that this was out of place.  Sure enough a car came speeding down a road right at the Bradley in front of me.  I immediately thought it was a suicide bomber and yelled on the radio at the personnel in the Bradley turret to get down.  The vehicle hit the side of the Bradley and did not detonate.  Instead the driver flew through the windshield and smashed his face into the side of the Bradley leaving a streak of blood on the side as well as the guy’s kafiya being stuck in the tracks.  We had been lucky that they had not wired the car correctly to blow, but in later months the insurgents would show they would get much better at making their bombs.

In northern Baghdad we linked up with the Marine logistics convoy our unit of bradleys was tasked to protect and headed north towards Tikrit. From Baghdad it is approximately 181 kilometers to Tikrit:


View Larger Map

As we exited the urban areas of northern Baghdad we found ourselves driving north on Highway 1 as it crossed through a fertile farming area:

Picture from Samarra, Iraq

As we reached the city of Samarra just south of Tikrit this is where we could hear heavy fighting going on within the city.  Highway 1 has a bypass around the city so we avoided the fighting that was going on within the city between the Marines and the Iraqi security forces that were remaining in the city:

Picture from Samarra, Iraq

The highway bypass did take us over the Tigris River that at this location was heavily canaled likely for irrigation purposes to support all the farms in the area:

Picture from Samarra, Iraq

Besides the fighting, the biggest thing I remember about Samarra was its large mosque.  I could just make out the shiny dome of the mosque as we passed Samarra and little did I know that this building after it was bombed four years later would become the reason for ethnic cleansing and near civil war in Iraq:

Picture from Samarra, Iraq

A short drive up the highway from Samarra we eventually came to the gates of Tikrit:

Picture from Samarra, Iraq

Just like Samarra we could hear the battle going on in the vicinity of the city, but unlike Samarra in this city we were meant to stay.  We had a mission to secure the Al Sahra Airfield to the north of Tikrit that was designated to be a logistics base for all the support units we were escorting.  Like Samarra the highway bypassed to the west of the city, but we could hear the fighting going on within Tikrit.  We were definitely hyper alert at this time because we could see mortar rounds being shot in our direction from the city, but could not range the convoy.  Eventually the Marines operating in the city neutralized whoever was shooting mortars in the direction of the convoy.  We were really not to concerned about being attacked because the terrain was so open around the highway that anyone attacking the convoy would have been easily taken out by our bradleys.  As we expected we ended up reaching Al Sahra Airfield without incident and moved in to secure the base.

Next Posting: Al Sahra Airfield (FOB Speicher), Iraq

Prior Posting: The Road to Baghdad

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Operation Iraqi Freedom: The Road to Baghdad

In my prior posting I showed pictures from the helicopter reconnaissance I did before the convoy my unit was part of was to depart Camp New Jersey in Kuwait and head across the border into Iraq to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  My unit was composed of Bradley Fighting Vehicles and we were tasked to defend a convoy of vehicles heading north to the city of Iskandariya just south of Baghdad.  We had about 10 Bradleys in my unit that had to defend a  convoy of about 100 vehicles.  So we had one Bradley spread out among every 10 vehicles in the convoy.  I mentioned in my previous posting how the convoy had pot shots taken at it in Kuwait, so we were expecting to be shot at once we crossed the Iraqi side of the border as well.    Here is a picture of the berm that designated the Iraqi border as we crossed it:

Convoy2

On the far side of the border there was then a bunch of wire in place as well that we passed through:

Convoy1

On the opposite side of the border from Kuwait was the small village of Safwan.  We saw a lot of civilians standing around and looking at the convoys as they passed.  I kept expecting one of them to take pot shots at us, but all they did was smile and look at us.  The kids however, would try and jump on the back of slow moving vehicles and try to steal anything they could.  We had to stop the convoy one time to get some kids off of a truck who were trying to loot from it.

Iraqi Kids1

Outside of Safwan we came to the interchange with Highway 8 that would put us on a multi-lane highway that runs all the way to Baghdad:

Iraqi Overpass

I served with the 4th Infantry Division during the war and we were originally supposed to invade Iraq from the north through Turkey.  However, at the last minute the Turkish parliament voted to not allow their territory to be used for the invasion and instead our boats were rerouted to Kuwait.  This through off our carefully scripted and practiced war plans for the invasion.  Another side effect this had was that my unit did not have detailed maps of southern Iraq.  We had detailed maps of northern Iraq which were now useless and instead I navigated the convoy using a National Geographic map I had of Iraq that I had brought with me as a briefing tool.  I never thought this would be the map I would use to go to war with.  Fortunately Saddam’s highway system had some really good signs for us to follow, so not having a detailed map was not that big of a deal.  Here is the highway sign just after the interchange showing the directions to Basrah and Baghdad:

Baghdad Sign

As we traveled north on Highway 8 we were going a very slow speed because a Bradley can only go about 30-35 miles per hour.

South Iraq Highway

So it was pretty slow going.  However, we were fast enough to pass this Iraqi on a tractor:

Iraqi Tractor

It wasn’t only vehicles that we ran into on the highway, but also Bedouins using the highway to move camels on:

Camel2

British military trucks were a common site as well on the highway since they were responsible for conducting operations around the Basrah area:

British Truck

We reached the refueling point outside of An Nasiriyah in the middle of the night.  We refueled our vehicles ate an MRE and took about a 2 hour nap before we had to be back on the road again.  I was so tired that I can remember that the two hour nap that I took felt like I had just closed my eyes when someone woke me up and told me it was time to go again.  After we left the refueling point outside of An Nasiriyah we then continued north on Highway 8 towards the next major town which was As Samawah:


View Larger Map

Here is the outskirts of As Samawah:

Near As Sammawa

As we neared the downtown portion of the city we once again began to see more people hanging out near the road:

Road to Samawa

This was the first large city we had driven our convoy through since we had crossed into Iraq.  As we drove through the city we received a pretty warm reception the whole way even though we were prepared for any potential ambush:

Convoy3

But nothing happened as we past through the city an we even seen an Iraqi waving an American flag:

Kid waving US Flag

Something I remember from As Samawah was that this was the first city where we saw that there had been some heavy fighting.  We saw destroyed Marine armored vehicles in the city that still had Marines on site trying to recover them.  There was also a number of destroyed civilian vehicles such as this bus that was likely used to transport Iraqi fighters:

Destroyed Bus

The next major city after As Samawah was An Diwaniyah which is where we would travel to next:


View Larger Map

As we got closer to Diwaniyah the more water and plant life we began to see:

Iraqi Pond

We even saw livestock that wasn’t a camel:

Road to Baghdad 3

Just south of An Diwaniyah there was another refuel point we needed to go to to top off our vehicles at. It was late in the night by the time we reached the fuel point and after refueling we took another 2 hour rest before getting ready to move out again.  The next morning we did maintenance on our vehicles and ate a quick MRE breakfast before readying the convoy to move further north into Iraq:

Refuel Point near An Diwaniya

As we began to approach the next city on our route An Diwaniyah, we saw these bombed out buildings at a military base on the south side of the city:

Bomb Building in An Diwaniya

In Iraq there is a train system and when we entered An Diwaniyah this was the first time we had saw a train of any kind in the country:

Train in An Diwaniya

Here is a picture of a mosque from inside the city:

Mosque in An Diwaniya

Diwaniyah was a very big town compared to Samawah.  It was a bit nerve racking to drive through a heavily populated city filled with people.  As we drove through downtown our convoy was mobbed with people with some even reaching into the Humvees to hug people.  I had people trying to jump on to my Bradley to give me a high five.  Looking back I wish I would have took pictures of the seen, but I had one hand on my 9mm from the turret of my Bradley closely watching the crowd to make sure that this was not a ruse to attack our convoy.  I did take out my camera to take this picture of the Euphrates River as we crossed it in Diwaniyah:

Euphrates River in An Diwaniya

From Diwaniyah we continued to follow the highway north to Baghdad:

Road to Baghdad 2

Our next stop would be Iskandariya:


View Larger Map

The further north we went the greener the terrain became:

Road to Baghdad 13

Also as we got closer to Baghdad we began to see a lot more destroyed Iraqi military equipment all around the road:

Road to Baghdad 4

It was pretty clear that Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard forces were hoping to use the lush terrain south of Baghdad to help obscure their equipment from coalition airstrikes, but it did not work:

Destroyed BMP

Road to Baghdad 11

Destroyed T72

We also saw a lot of shot up civilian vehicles that were likely being used to move Iraqi fighters around in:

Iraqi Vehicles

On the way to Iskandariya we stopped at this Iraqi military base outside the city to link up with a unit of M1A1 Abrams tanks:

M1A1

The base was quite large with many long warehouse buildings:

Iskendaria

Most of the base was still in good shape though a number of vehicles on the base had been apparently looted for parts by locals:

Iraqi Trucks

After we left the military base we continued towards Iskandariya and saw a few more military bases such as this airfield that was shot up:

Iraqi Airfield

As we approached Iskandariya the place was very lush with vegetation.  By Iraqi standards I thought this place was kind of beautiful despite the reminders of war everywhere you looked:

Road to Baghdad 1

We eventually stopped and refueled at another supply point that was located at what looked like a cement factory near Iskandariya:

Gravel Quarry

Later on that evening we finally pulled into our final destination which was an Iraqi elementary school outside of Iskandariya whose soccer field became a staging area for our Bradleys as we awaited orders for where to move to next.  According to Google Maps the total distance we had covered over three days was 633 kilometers:


View Larger Map

This was actually very exhausting for those of us traveling by Bradley because we had to stand up the entire time in the turret during the movement.  The convoy also had to crawl at a monotonous 30-35 mph pace since that was as fast as the Bradleys could go.  Something else that sucked was that exhaust from the Bradleys would at times blow into faces of those of us in the turret.  This caused our faces to turn black with soot.  Finally since Bradleys are maintenance intensive we spent more time doing maintenance on our tracks while those traveling by Humvee got to sleep.  By the third day of the movement I was so tired I was taking coffee grinds and sucking on it like tobacco to stay awake.

Anyway our orders only had my unit escorting this logistical convoy to Iskandariya so we did not know what was in store for us next.  Regardless we were happy to finally arrive after three days of non-stop moving with little sleep.  Below is a picture of the sunset which designated the end of our third day in Iraq and the beginning of whatever else laid ahead for us:

Iraqi Sunset

Next Posting:  The Road To Tikrit

Prior Posting: Aerial Pictures of Southern Iraq In 2003

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Operation Iraqi Freedom: Aerial Pictures of Southern Iraq In 2003

My prior posting about my experiences serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom 10 years ago focused on the time I spent in Kuwait before crossing over the Iraqi border to participate in the invasion of the country.  However, before I crossed into Iraq with my unit I had the opportunity to fly over Southern Iraq in a Blackhawk helicopter to conduct reconnaissance of the route we would be taking the first day of our movement into Iraq to a refuel point just outside of the large city of An Nasiriyah.  The picture below shows Camp New Jersey in Kuwait where my unit was based out of:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Like I mentioned in my previous posting Camp New Jersey was nothing more then tents and vehicles parked out in the middle of the desert waiting to move north into Iraq.  From Camp New Jersey the helicopter flew north following Highway 80 which leads to the Iraqi border:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

This highway is more famously known as the Highway of Death from the First Gulf War.  As we followed the highway camps filled with military equipment could be spot everywhere:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

After flying for a few minutes we reached the Iraqi border that is designated by a large berm that runs through the desert.  Large convoys of trucks and other military could be seen passing through the breach in this berm to enter Iraq:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

The first Iraqi town on the other side of the border is a small Shiite village called Safwan:


View Larger Map

Considering Iraq’s vast oil wealth I kind of expected Iraq to look like Mexico where there are some nice downtown areas surrounded by shanties.  In southern Iraq most of the villages and cities looked like Safwan, adobe structures with straw or other materials for a roof:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

The place looked far worse than Mexico.  What was really ironic about it was that the Iraqi Shiites that live in southern Iraq live in extreme poverty while the oil wells could be seen in the distance behind their villages.  It was pretty clear where the oil wealth was going and later on I would confirm this when I got to Baghdad and northern Iraq.

Something that did surprise me was that Saddam did use his oil money to build quite an impressive highway system that run between Baghdad and Kuwait.  It even included interchanges just like those you would find in the US:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Highway 8 that ran from the Kuwaiti border had double lanes in both directions.  I would find out later that Saddam built the modern highway system as high speed avenue of approach to invade Kuwait with.  Instead it turned out to work against him when it became a high speed avenue of approach for the US and its allies to invade Iraq with:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Convoys of military equipment moving north was a common site on the highway:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Here are examples of the modern bridges that crossed the highway at various points:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Eventually Highway began to run adjacent to a portion of the Euphrates River:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

This area of southern Iraq used to be a large marsh land as the Euphrates River branched off into a wide delta that emptied into the Persian Gulf.  The delta was home to “Marsh Arabs” that after the first Gulf War joined the Shiite rebellion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.  However, when Saddam’s forces were able to put down the rebellion and slaughter many Shiites, he also decided to begin canalling the various branches of the Euphrates River where the Marsh Arabs lived.  This caused the lush vegetation to die since the water could not spill over into the land.  This in turn forced many Marsh Arabs from their lush homeland and forced them to move into cities where they were easier to control.  I just found it amazing that the land where the Marsh Arabs live many people consider that to be the Biblical Eden and Saddam destroyed most of it.  The evidence of the devastation caused by the canalling could be seen everywhere:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

In area that should have been lush with vegetation all we saw was dirt and occasional bush around the various branches of the Euphrates River delta:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Here is a picture from when we flew directly over the main portion of the Euphrates River:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

This just made me wonder where was the environmentalists when this was going on?  Even today few know about what happened in Iraq with the canalling of the Euphrates River.  There are now efforts by the new Iraqi government to restore the marshes, but it is going to take a very long time to fix the environmental damage that has been done.

As we continued up the highway we eventually came upon a helicopter refuel point that had been setup along the road:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

As we continued up Highway 8 I also found it interesting how I would see Iraqi vehicles going up and down the highway oblivious to a war going on:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Here is an Iraqi bus going up the highway which was one of the main vehicles their military forces would use to transport troops since aircraft cannot distinguish if the bus holds civilians or military personnel inside:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Here is an example of what nearly every taxi in Iraq looks like.  In the US we have yellow colored cabs and in Iraq every cab is white and orange:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

As we continued up the highway I also took notice of just random buildings in the absolute middle of nowhere.  Could you imagine being the person that lives here?:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Something else I found really interesting was that Saddam’s made sure that his modern highway system even had rest stops just like the ones you would find in the US.  However, usually rest stops should be some place scenic, but in southern Iraq there is just dirt look at:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Soon we were about to reach our destination which was a convoy refueling point just outside of the large city of An Nasiriyah.  We knew we were nearing the refuel point when we saw this large convoy on the side of the road waiting to enter the refuel point:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

The gas at this refuel point is kept in these large plastic bladders that convoys will then line up around and fill up their tanks from:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

Here is how the soldiers manning the refuel point were living out in the desert:

Helicopter Picture from Southern Iraq

IfIn the US we have yellow colored cabs and in Iraq every cab is white and orange.   If you look closely at the above picture you can see soldiers lined up which means that tent there are going in is the mess tent.  You can also see at the bottom of the picture the porta-potties the soldiers use.  Believe it or not these soldiers were actually living pretty well compared to the combat arms forces living in their vehicles and digging holes to use as a latrine as I would soon find out.

Next Posting: Operation Iraqi Freedom: The Road to Baghdad

Prior Posting:  Operation Iraqi Freedom: Pictures from Kuwait in 2003

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Operation Iraqi Freedom: Pictures from Kuwait In 2003

It is hard to believe, but this month it has been 10 years since the start of the Iraq War.  I served during the war and it is an experience that I can remember as if it just happened last year instead of 10 years ago.  It makes me wonder if veterans who served in World War II and other wars remember their experiences the same way as well?  Anyway I figured I would share with people the pictures I took during this time period.  Back then I was not into taking pictures like I am now and only had a very basic digital camera that I owned.  However, since the desert environment was so tough on electronics most of the pictures I took were using disposable cameras.  I wish I had the Canon PowerShot D10 12.1 MP Camera that I own now to take pictures with.  That camera is almost indestructible and takes great pictures.

Regardless I was able to take some pictures though I wish I would have taken more.  The first pictures I took were of Kuwait which was where the vast majority of the US military units involved in the invasion were based out of.  The first picture I took was from the chartered Delta Airlines plane we flew on as it flew over Kuwait City to land at Ali Al Salem Airbase:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

This airbase was located in the desert outside of Kuwait City:


View Larger Map

Since I served with the 4th Infantry Division we got rerouted from our planned invasion route from Turkey to Kuwait due to the Turkish parliament deciding to not allow the US military to use their territory to invade Iraq from.  Because of this decision we had to take our boats that had arrived in Turkey with all of our equipment and move through the Suez Canal to Kuwait.  This caused the 4th ID to be late for the initial start of the invasion.  It also caused the charter plane we were in to land in the middle of a shooting war.  The Iraqis were firing SCUD missiles into Kuwait during the time period of our landing.  So when we landed we wore our chemical suits and masks.  Even the civilian flight attendants wore chemical masks.  As soon as we landed we downloaded our bags as quickly as possible and ran off of the tarmac to a secure location so the plane could take off as quickly as possible.  I have never exited an airplane that fast before.  We must of had everyone off that plane with all the bags in the cargo hold downloaded in less than 20 minutes.  Keep in mind we were clearing the cargo hold in chemical suits in the Kuwaiti heat.  We were absolutely dripping in sweat from the work, but we got the bags out of the hold quickly and the plane back in the air safely.

From there we had to go over to the port to get our equipment downloaded from the boats.  The below pictures shows guys from my unit hanging out at the port behind a berm that is used as protection against SCUD missile attacks:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

After downloading our equipment at the port we drove all of our vehicles and Bradley tanks to Camp New Jersey which was located out in the middle of the desert.  The camp was basically a bunch of circus tents with vehicles parked every where waiting to move over the Iraqi border.  The circus tent my unit was given was barely enough to fit everyone in.  This is how guys slept while in Kuwait:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

Due to how cramped it was in the tents those of us who were assigned to a Bradley decided to go sleep inside the Bradleys in order to free up space for the rest of the unit in the tent.  Here is our Bradleys parked outside the tent:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

During a sandstorm like the one pictured above we would sleep inside the Bradleys, but usually I would just sleep outside on top of the engine in front of the Bradley inside my sleeping bag.  Here is a picture of my crew that manned the Bradley we named the “Camel Tow”:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

For those that do not know the launcher pictured above is what houses the Bradley’s anti-tank TOW missile.  This next picture shows the Patriot missile battery that was located at Camp New Jersey that protected us from SCUD missile attacks:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

During a SCUD attack we would run to one of these bunkers just in case the Patriot battery was not able to shoot down the incoming missile:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

For those not near a bunker they could hide behind one of these barriers that were even labeled to show which side of the barrier to hide on:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

Fortunately for us the Patriot battery never allowed a SCUD to impact on the camp.  This next picture shows the size of the bugs that seemed to be crawling all over the place in the desert:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

I actually woke up one night with one of these bugs crawling on my face.  It was not a pleasant experience.  Here is a picture of how we did our laundry:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

We would take one large plastic bowl that had water and soap in it to clean the clothes with the best we could.  Then we would have another bowl with regular water to rinse the soap off with.  Next we would tie a rope between two Bradleys and let the clothes dry on it.  It was very crude, but it was the best we could do with what we had to work with.  Also the yellow water cooler pictured above, that was our shower.  We would place it on the side of the Bradley and people would stand underneath it to clean themselves.

Here is a picture of us downloading our ammo truck to begin uploading the ammunition into our Bradleys:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

This is a picture of the 25 millimeter rounds that are fired from the Bradley’s Bushmaster Cannon:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

Some of the rounds we had were Depleted Uranium or DU rounds.  There was some concern about being around the DU rounds and to show that they were safe one of the senior members of our unit decided to lick the DU to show they would not kill you:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

Here is a picture of the Stinger missiles that we stored inside of our Bradleys as well:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

The guys in my unit that were not Bradley crew members such as mechanics, communications personnel, medics, etc. had to drive Humvees into war.  Back then very few units had armored Humvees and mostly everyone had light skinned vehicles.  So to improvise these soldiers created what became known as “Hillbilly Armor”.  For example this Humvee has a grenade launcher mounted to the vehicle with an adhoc mount that was welded to the floor:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

Then there was a folding chair that the gunner sat on in the back that was welded to the floor.  Then on the side empty ammo cans were mounted and filled with sand to provide some armored protection for the gunner.  Other people also used duffel bags that they filled with sand to hang off the side of the vehicle to protect themselves with.  Looking back it is pretty pathetic what guys had to do back then to protect themselves compared to now where just about everyone rides in an armored vehicle of some kind while deployed.

We spent four days in Kuwait before we had to cross the border into Iraq.  The day before we had to cross into Iraq to officially take part in the war, we decided to blow off some steam by holding the Camp New Jersey Olympics.  We set up different events for soldiers to test their strength in.  For example this is a sprocket for a Bradley that we were using as a shot put to see who could throw it the furthest:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

We used a shackle from the Bradley for the horseshoe competition:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

We even had water bottles set up as bowling pins to be knocked down by rolling a big rock we found:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

The Camp New Jersey Olympics gave everybody a good laugh one last time before things got serious the next day when we had to move into Iraq.  The next morning we began our movement into Iraq by first traveling up Highway 80 which is more infamously known as the “Highway of Death” from the first gulf war:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

This highway would take us right to the Iraqi border.  I just found it amazing how this highway was once used by the Iraqis to invade Kuwait and now here we were using the same highway to invade Iraq.  This next picture shows a flock of sheep hanging out by the highway:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

Most Kuwaitis are super rich, but they like to maintain connections to their Bedouin past and thus some of them have small herds of animals that they pay foreign nationals, usually Pakistanis to graze out in the desert.    This next picture shows an American outpost shortly before we reached the Iraqi border:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

Before reaching the border we then began to cut cross country across the desert to reach the breach point across the border.  As we approached the border one of the vehicles in our convoy reported being shot at.  Those of us in the Bradleys broke off to defend the convoy on each side of the road:

Picture from Kuwait 2003

We ended up spotting a civilian vehicle out in the desert that may have been the people shooting at the convoy.  However, since we could not positively identify if they were the shooters we could not shoot at them.  So they got away unscathed.  To this day I still wonder who those guys were that would be willing to take pot shots at a convoy with a bunch of Bradley tanks in it?  They were either really stupid or really brave.

From there we moved across the border which was designated by a big large sand berm.  Part of the sand berm had been dug out to create a road across the border.  Once we crossed past the berm we had officially entered the war.  Over the next series of postings I will publish pictures from my time in Iraq.  My intent is to show what it is like to be there and not get into the politics of the war which everyone has strong opinions about including myself.  Hopefully everyone reading this can get a better appreciation of what it was like on the ground from my recollections ten years later.  Please feel free to comment if anyone has any questions.

Next Posting: Helicopter Pictures of Southern Iraq

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The Magnificent National Parks of Bali

The tropical beauty of the Indonesian island of Bali extends far beyond the miles of exquisite beaches. Explore national parks in the country that offer wonderful, lush jungle environments and wildlife unique to the region.

West Bali National Park

Local rulers almost one century ago laid aside 10 percent of the island’s land mass on the northwestern edge, which officially became the national park in 1941. The park features a variety of environments ranging from lowland mangrove forests, grasslands and dry savannas to mountains covered with tropical rainforests. The preserved reefs that lie in the waters off the park beaches serve as home to 110 species of coral along with a myriad of fish species unique to the area. Snorkeling and scuba diving affords the chance to observe the amazing world that lies beneath the waves.

Visitors have the option of enjoying a coastal path that spans approximately 25 kilometers in length. The Tegal Blunder Trail provides the opportunity for viewing an array of bird species that include the Bali Starling. Venturing along the Gunung Klatakan Trail takes guests into the lush rainforest for the chance to enjoy the natural flora and fauna. The residents of the Cekik and the Labuan Lalang villages offer guided tours of the park. Enjoy live dance and music performances offered by the villagers and visit the local artisans.

Alas Purwo National Park

A short boat ride to the Bali Strait brings guests to nearby Java and the site of this tropical paradise. The land mass of forests and beaches features 236 bird species, 31 mammal species and a variety of fish and reptiles. The Sadengan region houses numerous wildlife that includes birds, bison, boar and deer along with elk. The soft, white beaches of Pasaranyar attract sea turtles that create nests on the shore.

Many flock to the lake of Segoro and enjoy a host of water sports that include boating, swimming and water skiing along with bird watching. Plengkung Beach looks out over the G shaped area of the Grajagan Guilf that brings surfers from April to September who thrill at riding the often 15 foot tall waves.

Baluran National Park

This scenic area lies on the northern coast of Java and covers approximately 25,000 hectares. The many diverse eco-habitats found here include the tranquil Bama Beach where guests find expansive white sandy beaches, mangrove forests and coral reefs beneath the sea. Regular activities here include scuba diving and snorkeling. Boating, canoeing and kayaking are also favorite pastimes. Embark on a safari through the forest while encountering the many plant and animal species found there.

In the center of the park lies a massive extinct volcano that stands 1,200 meters above sea level. Surrounding the summit lie sprawling plains, a thick rainforest and coastal mangroves. The location began as a plantation. The owner dreamed of transforming the site into parkland and by 1930, the plantation became the Wildlife Preservation Area. Stroll through the jungle and witness the Southeast Asian wildcat catching fish in a river. Bird watchers have the chance to see over 100 species that make the island home.

Meru Betiri National Park

Covering over 58,000 acres, the park environments vary from alcove beaches to mountains standing more than 1,200 meters above sea level. Once the home of the Javanese Tiger, the location provides a home and shelter for over 180 bird species and 29 mammal species that include barking deer, leopard cats and wild boar. Park rangers protect the Sukamade Beach where four species of sea turtles build nests and lay eggs on the shore. The park provides numerous natural resources for the locals that include bamboo and rattan along with food, honey and 300 medicinal plants.

This was a Guest Post by Brenda Panin, a passionate traveler and an adventurer. In her free time she loves to write about her travel experiences. Brenda enjoys traveling with Virgin Australia.

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On Walkabout At: The Bukit Chinese Cemetery in Malacca, Malaysia

Basic Information

  • What: Bukit Chinese Cemetery
  • Where: Malacca, Malaysia (Note: Malacca is also commonly spelled Melaka)
  • Admission: Free
  • More Info: AsiaExplorers.com

Narrative

In recognition of Halloween this year I figured I would do a posting on one of the many cemeteries I have visited during my various travels around the world.  The cemetery I decided to feature is the Bukit Chinese Cemetery located in Malacca, Malaysia:

This cemetery is located up on a hill within walking distance of the main tourism area in Malacca granted that it is a pretty long walk:


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The cemetery is one of the oldest and largest Chinese cemeteries located out side of China.  The first Chinese traders arrived when the famed Chinese Admiral Zheng He made his seven epic voyages across the Indian Ocean between 1402-1433.  At Malacca he created a fortified trading port in order to control the trade that runs through the strategic Straits of Malacca.

Image of Zheng He from JourneyMalaysia.com

Over the years more Chinese would immigrate to Malacca to where today a very large Chinese community continues to call this port city home.  Eventually a place was needed to bury people who died so in 1685,the hill was purchased by the Chinese community leader Lee Wei King and donated to the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple.  Despite being officially bought a made a cemetery in 1685 the oldest grave found in the cemetery dates back to 1622 that suggests that the hill was being used by the Chinese community as cemetery long before its official purchase by Lee Wei King.  Today it is estimated that up to 12,500 graves are located at the Bukit Chinese Cemetery and no more space remains on the hill.  The only people who can be buried here are those who already have plots as part of a larger family plot reserved for their use after they die.

I was surprised to see that many of the graves had been trashed over the years for unknown reasons:

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Video of Hiking In Pakistan’s Karakorum Range

Here is a cool video I saw posted on Facebook of the Karakorum Range in Pakistan:

The Karakorum Range is a spectacular place I would love to go hiking at one day.

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Japan Travelog Archive

Below is a listing of all my posts from my visit to the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan:

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On Walkabout At: Lake Kawaguchi, Japan

Basic Information

  • City Name: Lake Kawaguchi
  • Where: Japan
  • Population: 25,538
  • More Information: Japan-Guide.com


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Narrative

Another day trip that I took while visiting Tokyo was to Lake Kawaguchi to the southwest of Tokyo.  However, I did not travel to the lake to do any boating activities, but instead I traveled to the lake to hopefully get some nice views of the nearby Mt. Fuji.  To get to the lake I took a morning train from Shinjuku Station to Lake Kawaguchi.  The ride on the train to the lake was a pleasant one as the train exited the Tokyo metropolis and then passed through green farming land outside the city:

The closer the train got to the lake, the larger the mountains became that were visible outside the train window:

After about an hour and a half train ride I arrived at Lake Kawaguchi:

This lake is part of the region of Japan known as the Fuji Five Lakes and is very popular tourism site in the country:

Of the lakes Kawaguchi is the most popular because of the views of Mt. Fuji from the lake.  Unfortunately by the time I arrived at the lake the clouds had rolled in and it had started to rain thus obscuring all views of Mt. Fuji:

This was a bit frustrating because the weather had been fine that morning while I rode on the train to Kawaguchi and it seemed that as soon as the train got near the lake the storm rolled in.  The views of Mt. Fuji may have been obscured, but I was able to see some of the mountains around the lake from time to time when there was a break in the storm:

There was even a gondola to take visitors up to the top of one of these mountains to take in views of the area:

I didn’t bother to ride on the gondola due to all the clouds obscuring the views.  This place does seem like it would be quite beautiful when it is not clouded over and I will have to visit again sometime in the future when the weather is more cooperative.  Since I wasn’t able to get any views of Mt. Fuji, I decided to walk around the lake and the town before catching the train back to Tokyo.

On the shores of the lake is this large bronze statue that is also a popular tourist attraction in the city:

The statue is considered the symbol of Lake Kawaguchi.  It was emplaced at its present location in 1987 and  was one of the last statues created by the famed sculptor Seibo Kitamura.  The sculptor visited Kawaguchi at the age of 101 and was moved by the lake and its surrounding mountain scenery enough that he completed this bronze statue before his death at the age 102.  The vase is supposed to represent the waters of Lake Kawaguchi and the two women represent “positive” and “negative” which creates a balance in life that is a popular theme in Asian cultures.

After completing a walk along part of the shore of the lake I then walked into town and decided to get lunch at this restaurant that was decorated like a traditional Japanese home:

The food was quite good and after eating I went back to the train station to buy a ticket back to Tokyo.

Conclusion

This was actually the last day of my trip to Japan so I was a bit disappointed that I did not get some good pictures of Mt. Fuji due to clouds that obscured it every day of my trip.  In fact I have taken two trips to Japan and both times the mountain was covered in clouds during the extent of my trips.  I plan to eventually go back to Japan again and hopefully the third time will be the charm for me to see the mountain.  In fact my next trip to Japan I plan on setting aside a few days to hike up to the summit of the mountain; weather permitting of course.

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