Dispatches from Iraq

Top Stories 2009-2010

By J.p. Lawrence


The stories I remember most. 


A momentary release from gravity: A story of a soldier and his skateboard

"Sizing up his ramp, Opoien backs up until he feels he has enough space to gather speed, and then he goes. As he ascends the ramp, you can hear the sound of his wheels change in pitch, the way a long zipper or a struck match does: low and rolling at the bottom as he gathers speed, and then sharper at the top as he pops his legs and goes airborne." 


BTT Tribal delivers candy, medicine for Iraqi children 

"Before leaving the base, Young had hatched a plan to hand out treats to children in the nearby village. There was a box of Meals Ready to Eat stashed in the back of the truck, and Young, taking pains to separate them from the pork products, took out all the goodies: candy, cookies, applesauce and energy bars."


Saving Mahdi: Soldiers from COB Basra work to help injured Iraqi boy 

"Since the July 30 attack that changed their lives forever, Mahdi and his father, Saleh, have been coming to the gate at Contingency Operating Base Basra, almost every Monday morning, searching for someone who can help.“They tell me to come here,” Saleh says. “And the American soldier, they gonna give you the help.” 


The Story of the 34th's Darkest Night

“I fell on the [radio] room floor, and there was a lot of blood, there was blood all over me,” Benson said. “And I remember, at that point, nothing mattered to me and I just ran out and put my own [interests] away for as long as I could.”


It's Austere Here: Life at Al Sheeb 

“Did you hear that mine go off last night?” said Siba.

“There was one this morning too," Staff Sgt. Enrique Torres said. "You could see it, we saw the little cloud of smoke.”

"Dang," said Staff Sgt. Joseph Melanson, "those things are going off left and right."


+ It's Austere Here: Life at Thar Allah

"...For animal lovers, Thar Allah offers a veritable menagerie of feral beasts. For example, you will see stray mutts everywhere. They will look harmless enough, and you will want to take them home, teach them tricks and give them names like Paco and Rocky and Doug. Don’t. “They’re the ones that will attack you if you get too close,” Munoz explains as he points to a dog underneath the truck. “They sleep everywhere.”


+ It's Austere Here: Life at Mahawil 

"There are places in the world that can astound you with their beauty. The soaring and ragged vistas of the Grand Canyon in Colorado. The silkily elegant minarets and dome of the Taj Mahal of India. The teeming azure zoo that is the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Patrol Base Mahawil is not one of them..."


+ Totes of War: How supply soldiers manage to keep it all together 

“Sign your tote out yet? Awh! You’re killing me, Smalls,” said Spc. Shawn O’Brien, a supply specialist from Minneapolis, Minn. “I still love you, though.”


+ JAMBO! A look at the Sabre guards of COB Basra

Employed so troops are available for their combat duties, Sabre personnel hail primarily from Uganda and neighboring East African countries, where they were engineers, educators and students who deployed with Sabre for a better life for themselves and for their families. 


+ Riding along with the Red Bull MP's 

As we cruised through town, we saw the sights and contradictions of today’s Iraq: girls in skirts and girls in burkas, cars dodging donkey carts and City of Fun, an amusement park with a great big Ferris wheel. Somewhere past the City of Fun, we drove by a doorway where a kid raised his thumb so high he was on tiptoes. When we left, he put his hand down to wait for the next truck.


+ Sri Lankan cooks carve up delicacies for both eyes and taste buds 

"When Soldiers take their eyes off their apple pie slices and barbequed pork ribs, they find they are also treated to another, subtler treat.Scattered throughout the chow halls are bread alligators, garnished watermelons, culinary sculptures prepared daily by school-trained chefs from places as disparate as Sri Lanka and Nepal and Iraq."

Dispatches from Iraq
January, 2010

By J.p. Lawrence


1. Saving Mahdi: Soldiers from COB Basra work to help injured Iraqi boy 

"Mahdi is still a playful child, but since his injury he is more skittish and shy. “He was good, he never needed anything, but then this incident happened to him,” Saleh says. “He now can’t sleep in the night. He feels pain every day.” And so Saleh and Mahdi wait by the gates of COB Basra, hoping that someone inside can help them." 


2. COB Basra runs in memory of Red Bull MP’s

"They were running not for the body or the mind, but for the memories of their battle brothers: Spc. Daniel Paul Drevnick, Spc. James David Wertish, Spc. Carlos Eduardo Wilcox IV."


3. The Story of the 34th's Darkest Night

“I fell on the [radio] room floor, and there was a lot of blood, there was blood all over me,” Benson said. “And I remember, at that point, nothing mattered to me and I just ran out and put my own [interests] away for as long as I could.”


4. Black Hawk: Dawn to dusk with the aviators of Alpha Co.

"Flights are usually brief between bases, Rowley says. However, flights can occasionally last up to seven and a half hours, and a full shift can go twice that. Despite this, Rowley says they can always find something to do."


5. Military leads the way in paperless healthcare

"Lost in the din and roar of the debate, however, is the fact the government has actually had such a system in place since the Clinton administration: the Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care system, or MC4, which has allowed military medical personnel to record patient encounters electronically since 1997."


6. Sri Lankan cooks carve up delicacies for both eyes and taste buds 

"Scattered throughout the chow halls are bread alligators, garnished watermelons, culinary sculptures prepared daily by school-trained chefs from places as disparate as Sri Lanka and Nepal and Iraq."


7. Red Bulls prepare to head home

"After bringing literally tons of equipment to Iraq from Minnesota and Fort Lewis, Wash., the beleaguered supply specialists now have to work overtime send it all back." 


8. "Whither the weather in Iraq wanders: an examination into whether Iraqi weather is where it’s at"

"One of the desert’s most devious tricks is its ability to skew all normal standards of temperature: 90 becomes normal, 100 becomes acceptable and anything higher becomes expected..."


 

Dispatches from Iraq
December, 2009

By J.p. Lawrence


1. A pilot’s pursuits: Red Bull aviator practices twin passions of photography, flight 

"As a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot, Rowley is fulfilling a life-long dream. As a photographer, Rowley takes photos, good ones, the kind you’d find in magazines or calendars or inspirational posters."


2. The Buildup of COB Basra (Photo Essay)


3. Partnership program between U of M, Iraq to begin  

"Col. Michael Rath, 34th Red Bull Infantry Division Surgeon, said he has been in talks to create a partnership program between the University of Minnesota Academic Health Centers and the Basra Medical and Nursing Schools." 


4.  The Sandstorm: Notes on a Noble Experiment (Photo Essay)


5. Iraq to Everest: Red Bull medic aims for Earth’s highest peak

"Bari’s pre-deployment training brought him to Fort Lewis, Wash., where the looming white specter of Mount Rainier sat teasingly on the horizon. “The first time I saw Mount Rainier, I had that instant when I was like, ‘wow, I’d really like to see what it’s like on top of that thing,’” Bari said."


6. An interview with Sgt. Joe Roos, deployed rapper

"Writing and rhyming is like a muscle. And you have to use the muscle, and when you use the muscle the muscle gets stronger and sometimes the muscle will just want to go on its own. So I do definitely force myself to write, but because I force myself to write, inspiration comes a lot easier and a lot quicker."




Dispatches from Iraq
November, 2009

By J.p. Lawrence


1. GOOOOAL! Camaraderie to be found in the night time soccer games at Camp Savage

"...Wild slides and jukes send gravel skittling across the field and throw dust into the air. Stuttering feet in desperate chase drum syncopated rhythms. The football rustles as it courses through the contours of the net, before nestling at the bottom near the defeated goalie’s feet. And then you hear the jubilant cry GOOOOAL!"


2. Deployed Soldiers recharge, rest in Qatar 

"...Soldiers are literally allowed to shed the reminders of their Army life. Within established guidelines, they are allowed to wear civilian clothes, and they are told to call each other by the first names in order to expunge those annoying workplace memories – this is a place for relaxing, not for saluting."


3. Cookies for the troops

"These men and women are care package quartermasters, home front philanthropists who mail their appreciation overseas. These postal patriots decide to do what they can for Soldiers, like the women from the Good Samaritan Society Senior Center in Maplewood, Minn., who send cookies."


4. Soccer game concludes training at COB Basra (Photo Essay)


5. Minnesota news anchor visits Soldiers at COB Basra 

"Shelby and Aviles made sure to meet with Soldiers, many of whom, like Sgt. David Walkner, a Glenville, Minn., native and a human resources manager with the 34th Inf. Div., grew up watching Shelby on WCCO."


6. A Day Spent Shooting (Photo Essay)


Dispatches from Iraq
October, 2009 

By J.p. Lawrence


1. A momentary release from gravity: the story of a Soldier and his skateboard

"...As he ascends the ramp, you can hear the sound of his wheels change in pitch, the way a long zipper or a struck match does: low and rolling at the bottom as he gathers speed, and then sharper at the top as he pops his legs and goes airborne." 


3. MiTT validates future Iraqi Army trainers

"They were jundis, Soldiers of the Iraqi Army, and over the past three weeks in Camp Mirra, they had learned how to apply a tourniquet, maintain a Humvee and assemble an M-16. But today, Oct. 15, was the day that the ten, all members of the 14th Provisional Transport Regiment, would graduate..."


2. MiTT’s mission not to destroy, but to build armies 

“It’s why we’re here now,” said Chief Warrant Officer Edward Telles, 14th PTR MiTT medic, “to train coalition forces..."

3. Dominoes delivers kinship between Soldiers, Iraqis 

"The game is dominoes on this autumnal night in Camp Savage, and as Maj. Joan Carrick shuffles the small spotted tiles you can hear them tinkle as they skid around the particleboard card table..."


4. A statistical examination of the buses of COB Basra

"Every day, Soldiers use this road to get where they need to go..."


5. A look into the life of a 'terp

"They call him Duck. Duck is an interpreter, guy in the middle of every conversation, gesturing with his hands and using his linguistic skills to bridge the gap between cultures." 


6. Hall of Fame U of M coach trains, thanks troops in COB Basra

"The lessons that you learn in Iraq will follow you for the rest of your lives,” said Robinson, who attended Airborne, Jungle Warfare and Ranger school before deploying to Vietnam. 


7. VIPs visit COB Basra (Photo Essay)

Dispatches from Iraq
September, 2009

By J.p. Lawrence


1. BTT Tribal delivers candy, medicine for Iraqi children 

“...We can give this to the children and we can help build relations,” said Maj. Hussein Yuones, commander of 1st Bn., 41st IA. “For the medical supplies, we have plans for the children in the village here. If there are any children who are sick, they can find help.”


2. 7th Bn. engineers builds new bridge for washed out Route Arnhem

"...The bypass will allow Route Arnhem to remain open, which is important, as the road is the main route to Contingency Operating Site Garyowen as well a conduit for a large part of southern Iraq; starting at Amara, it cuts across Maysan province and into Dhi Qar, into Karbala and then north to Baghdad." 


3. The Ziggurat of Ur (Photo essay)


4. Fight night at Adder

"They were locked in combat, visibly tired and trapped on the edge of the ring. Their fellow students were yelling at them. Keep your head up! Get out of the corner! Get back to the center! Get your hands up! Get in there! The bell rang, and Staff Sgt. Aaron Martinez, a combatives instructor with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, motioned to one of his students: it was his turn to spar. The student put on his gloves and stepped into the ring.


5. Scenes from a Life at Adder (Photo Essay)


6. Soldiers can get coffee, counsel at God’s Grounds 

“But for the most part, I have been able to talk to Soldiers who have been in crisis, and they came here, basically for something to drink, and just started pouring their heart out,” said Stickler, “and I listened, and gave them some guidance and helped them put their lives back together.”


7. A Labor Day Barbecue in the Sun

"...It could almost be like a Labor Day weekend back home, except that the beer has no alcohol, there are dust storms on the horizon and everyone is in uniform."


8. Lift off! (Photo essay)


9. Motors and Gears (Photo Essay) 

 

10. Soldiers remember on 9/11

"...At 3:45 p.m., everyone observed a moment of silence, interrupted only by the voice of the base command, doing a safety test over the loudspeaker. It was a reminder that as a result of the events of 9/11, the three thousand who died on 9/11 were joined by the more than five thousand who died in Iraq and Afghanistan."


11. The Ritual of Coins 

"...Wilson went from room to room, meeting Soldiers and asking them questions about their life back home: “Where are you from? Really, I know someone from there. Are you married? Yeah? What does she do? I know my wife…”


12. Soldier wins Women’s Equality Day essay contest

"...Welden’s essay was no abstract thesis, but instead came from her own painful experiences. “I was in an abusive relationship my first marriage. I figured if I left the guy, the guy would get more abusive toward me and my son. And it took me getting hit in front of my son and getting my eye cut open to actually say, ‘ok. This is enough. Enough is enough.’"

Dispatches from Iraq
July and August, 2009

By J.p. Lawrence



1. It's Austere Here: Life at Al Sheeb (Part One of Three)

“Did you hear that mine go off last night?” said Siba.

“There was one this morning too. You could see it, we saw the little cloud of smoke,” said Staff Sgt. Enrique Torres, a Wimauma, Flor., native and a scout with the 2nd Squadron, 13th Cavalry Regiment. 

"Dang, those things are going off left and right,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Melanson, a Bryson City, N.C. native and a scout with the 2nd Squadron, 13th Cavalry Regiment. 


2. It's Austere Here: Life at Thar Allah (Part Two of Three)

"...For animal lovers, Thar Allah offers a veritable menagerie of feral beasts. For example, you will see stray mutts everywhere. They will look harmless enough, and you will want to take them home, teach them tricks and give them names like Paco and Rocky and Doug. Don’t. “They’re the ones that will attack you if you get too close,” Munoz explains as he points to a dog underneath the truck. “They sleep everywhere.”


3. It's Austere Here: Life at Mahawil (Part Three of Three)

"There are places in the world that can astound you with their beauty. The soaring and ragged vistas of the Grand Canyon in Colorado. The silkily elegant minarets and dome of the Taj Mahal of India. The teeming azure zoo that is the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Patrol Base Mahawil is not one of them..."


4. Riding along with the Red Bull MPs

"...As we cruised through town, we saw the sights and contradictions of today’s Iraq: girls in skirts and girls in burkas, cars dodging donkey carts and City of Fun, an amusement park with a great big Ferris wheel. Somewhere past the City of Fun, we drove by a doorway where a kid raised his thumb so high he was on tiptoes. When we left, he put his hand down to wait for the next truck."


5. New living areas for Soldiers under construction

"... The rooms will measure 10 feet by 16 feet and will have air conditioning. “It’ll be like an old Motel 6,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Barry Snyder Jr., RED HORSE project manager."


6. 41st Fires hands baton to 1st Bn., 77th FA Regt.

“It has been an interesting journey,” said Col. Richard Francey, Jr., commander of the 41st Fires Bde. “Fifteen months ago, we arrived here on the heels of a volatile time for this province with an insurgency that was trying to hold on.”


7. The pros and cons of online courses

"...But as it is, Armagost, a mail clerk with the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division, was not going to let a few thousand miles prevent him from furthering his education. Like many Soldiers at Contingency Operating Base Basra, Armagost is taking online courses while deployed."


8. Los Texmaniacs make music for military members at COB Basra

"Members of the band Los Texmaniacs played for Soldiers stationed at Contingency Operating Base Basra Aug. 5. The band, which specializes in conjunto-style music, a mixture of blues and rock with Spanish and English influences, also played country, soul, funk, polka and rock and roll during their hour-long set."


Dispatches from Iraq
June, 2009

By J.p. Lawrence


1. C-RAM Soldiers scan the Basra skies

"...We man the duties of watching the skies here,” said Staff Sgt. Queston Newell, section sergeant, 2nd Platoon. “The bad guys shoot their weapons at us. We use our equipment to see them shooting at us. And then we tell people they’re shooting at us using an alarm. “


2. Life on Base at COB Basra (Photo essay)

These are photos I took of the base during the beginning of our deployment. 

3. JAMBO! A look at the Sabre guards on base (Photo essay)

"...Employed so troops are available for their combat duties, Sabre personnel hail primarily from Uganda and neighboring East African countries, where they were engineers, educators and students who deployed with Sabre for a better life for themselves and for their families." 


4. There and back again with Red Bull HR

"...It was Medrano’s first time outside the wire. She and members of the personnel section of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division were on a mission to Forward Operating Base Adder to meet with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division and then to FOB Kalsu to check in on the 172nd Inf. Bge. Infantry Brigade."


5. When work is play: K-9 MP’s train in Talil (Photo essay)

"Staff Sgt. Michael Mowery, a kennel master with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1s tArmored Division in Camp Adder, plays with his search dog, Tequila. Mowery has partnered with Tequila, who is trained to detect bombs, for four years."


6. How to get a flight out of Basra

"A helicopter is the loudest silence I know. When you’re up there and the window’s open and the rotors are thumping and the ground’s blasting by, nothing that normally makes noise makes noise, and everything else is loud as hell ... " 


7. Rule of law efforts bringing reform to Iraqi judiciary

"...In his capacity as chief of rule of law, Peterson coordinates with provincial rule of law teams to remove extra complexities to the law and to ensure that judicial reforms are consistent. In this way, DOS and military rule of law teams can work more efficiently with the Iraqi judiciary in rule of law efforts."


8. Iraq's hot, but a tourist hotspot?

“...My job is to increase tourism to Iraq,” said Cullen, non-commissioned officer-in-charge for Tourism and Employment in Muli-National Division South."


9. Comics come to COB Basra

"When comics Scott Kennedy, Theo Von and Sam Fedele are backstage, they said they like to talk about sandwiches ... "

Dispatches from Iraq

May, 2009

By J.p. Lawrence


May was the first month deployed. 


1. Satellite Soldiers

My first story. It's the story of the men and women who operated the base's satellite uplink.


2. Totes of War: How supply soliders manage to keep it all together

"...Sign your tote out yet? Awh! You’re killing me, Smalls,” said Spc. Shawn O’Brien, a supply specialist from Minneapolis, Minn. “I still love you, though.”


3. Father swears in son during conference call from Iraq

"...When plans changed and Brett decided to enlist ahead of schedule, the elder Turner and his peers in the Red Bull Plans Cell came up with a special mission to connect Turner and his son using the power of the Internet."


4. Basra Idol: Soldiers belt in base singing competition 

"...It was six o’clock, and Washington and eight other contestants were backstage listening to Sgt. James Cookman, the night’s master of ceremonies, explain how they will be graded by the judges. “Basically, they give you points out of 60,” said Cookman, “based on overall performance, audience participation, stage presence, personality and originality.”


5. Army deploys scientists to study Iraqi culture

"....We are groups of scientists, and we work embedded with units,” said 1st Lt. Nestor Carrasquillo, a San Antonio, Tex., native and research manager for the 34th Inf. Div. [Human Terrain System] team. “We talk to the local population and provide the commander with our assessment.”


6. Memorial Day at Basra

"...Four Servicemembers, representing each of the four branches, spoke from patriotic readings detailing the history of Memorial Day and the cost of freedom ... On Sunday, Soldiers had the opportunity to take part in a 12-kilometer race, a volleyball tournament, and a softball tournament."


7. The Ritual of Receiving Combat Patches (Photo Essay)

 "...Soldiers of 34th Red Bull Infantry Division were awarded the 34th Infantry Division “Red Bull” combat patch for service is support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in a ceremony at Multi-National Division-South headquarters May 20. The patch is a symbol of service in a combat zone. A 30-day wait lies between a deployed soldier and his or her patch." 

Dispatches from Iraq
Training at Fort Lewis

By J.p. Lawrence


1. Training for Deployment


2. Life at Fort Lewis


3. Departure 


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