Friday, May 06, 2005

from the suburbs to downtown

Again, I apologize for the infrequency of my postings lately. As anyone who has been in the military understands all too well, any decent size changes take some time. The Army's meticulous attention to detail, especially under our present circumstances, adds to the necessity of flexibility and more importantly to the commitment to operational security.

My Battalion has changed its Area of Operations from the rural suburbs of Baghdad to some of the city's most downtown sectors. This change has included the permanent relocation of some personnel, including myself, to a new base in the heart of Baghdad. We have been working around the clock, continuing missions, getting moved in as well as pulling various details. Despite the constant changes and endless work, everyone has stayed postitive and done more than their part with efficiency a expediency.

I myself have been extremely excited about the changes. For starters we are in downtown Baghdad! We are living in buildings that have decades of history. Before we were living in dress right dress white trailers. They were comfortable, complete with air conditioning and electricity, but they lacked any sense of individuality or character. The buildings we now occupy were only a few years ago the backbone of Saddam Hussein's regime. Just looking out the windows and seeing American soldiers working with the new Iraqi police officers and Iraqi soldiers is a constant reminder of progress.

In some ways literally but in more ways symbolically Baghdad is the heart of Iraq. It serves as the epicenter of life, the core of change. With a profound history and a challenging future, the entire world measures the success of a nation which consists of 437,072 sq km of diverse landscapes and unique cultures by the daily happeneings within this remarkable city.

Baghdad as a guage of progress for the rest of Iraq isn't always fair, considering the successes and setbacks within the city aren't always consistent with those of the rest of the country. However, it is impossible to deny the significance of this city as it houses the creation of the first real and credible democracy this region of the world has seen in decades.

We've been out several times doing dismounted patrols. There is no doubt a heightened level of intensity as we walk through streets whose histories are full of blood. People are everywhere. Life goes on all around us. We get an occasional smile or wave. Sometimes a nod with a hand over heart, a gesture of gratitude and respect. The children, as always, are quick to embrace us. Despite the many distractions we are constantly scanning. The rooftops, the balconies, the crowds, the cars, the kids, the market stands. Anything and everything must be analyzed, considered and ruled out as a threat in a split second. And when that split second is over and your assesment has been made you begin the process all over again, "Why is he nervous? That man is staring from that doorway. Why are they walking so fast? That taxi is moving pretty slow. What is she holding? Three guys are on the balcony to the right. Who is he on the phone with? There's a man in the window up ahead. What's in her backpack?" Constantly scanning. Awareness means control. Control means survival. Even when nothing happens, you're pretty drained when you get back in the wire.

I spent the night of my twenty-second birthday on the roof of what used to be the Ba'ath party headquarters in an overwatch position. The view was utterly amazing. Straight ahead was Baghdad. Looking to my left was the Tigris river and Sadr City. On the right was the downtown markets and the Grand Mosque. The mosque was surrounded by a glowing haze from its bright and colorful lights. Throughout the city were distant flashes and deep rumbles from various explosions. Sporatic small arms fire accompanied by thin red and orange bursts of fire from tracer rounds ripped the black night sky apart. Each projectile moving fiercely fast toward its target... all too ready to fulfill its destiny. None of this new or unusual within this city of perseverance. I sat there quietly, somehow feeling peaceful and relaxed as I absorbed the distant sights and sounds of war.

With this new area comes many new challenges and experiences. New challenges and experiences will bring us new contacts and new relationships as well as many new opportunities. We will do our best to leave here having made this area better off than it is today. The outgoing unit we are taking control of these sectors from has done a great job and we plan on continuing their successes. Something that makes this opportunity unique is that when we leave, there won't be another American unit taking command of this area. The new Iraqi Army will take it over from us. This is the first time since the invasion the Iraqis will be patrolling and working in their own area of operations. History is in the making. We are honored to be a part of it. I look forward to bringing you along with us.