USO Tour Day 5, winding down…
Just incredible. Another day spent at bases around Iraq talking to men and women of the US Armed Forces. The day started early…
We were up and moving at dawn. Nine different hops today to eight bases with a stop off to meet the brilliant men overseeing this world changing event.
Sully, Staff Sergeant Greene (who re-enlisted indef last night, which I mention because she requested my participation in that ceremony when we arrived, which I was obviously honored to do) and Ty and I were off and running.
We had the honor of being joined today by a soldiers soldier. Major Donahue of the 4th Infantry Division was appointed to assist us in and around Baghdad for the remainder of the tour and this guy was just nails. On point and flawless execution of every detail (although there was one slip up which I think he wanted to discharge his weapon on someone over, which I won’t lie, was fun to watch!)
The only cooler person I met wearing a 4th Infantry Division patch was their Commander, 2 Star General Hammond. This was an absolute honor and the man did not disappoint. The mark, for me anyway, of any good leader is his passion for the people in his unit, and this man had it in SPADES. From the second he opened his mouth you could literally feel his commitment to the men and women serving under him. My first thought upon hearing him speak was “General Patton”. A passionate devoted man who I imagine the men and Woman serving in this unit are proud to serve. He mentioned their brothers and sisters lost in combat in this campaign and you could see and hear that these people were his family. A true honor to meet this man and stand in his company. Oh and you want to know why 4th ID does it’s job? This motto in combat “ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK”….
I had a thought after I met him that really hit home with me. The words “hero’ and ‘warrior’ and ‘combat’ are used far too often and far to callously in sports, always have been. These men and women I think feel every bit as uncomfortable when we talk about them in that fashion as well because you KNOW they don’t feel that way, they feel like every true soldier to wear the Stars and Stripes feels, they are doing ‘their jobs’.
But today another word became much more clear to me. Soldier. It’s a word that has far less impact than it should. This man, and the men and women in the room, and the men and women we’ve met, that’s what they are in every sense of the word. True Soldiers on a just mission doing the right thing. You cannot understand the reality of this place and these people without seeing it. What I’ve read, what I’ve seen, is not what’s happening.
To a person they believe in their mission. Not because it’s what they’ve been ordered to do, but it’s because they know for an undisputable fact that what they are doing is right. It’s honorable, it’s just, it’s a mission that absolutely must be done, and they are doing it. Not only that, but they are doing it far better and far more than any of us knew before we got here. Would they rather be home? Hell yes, I think most would. But they also believe in what’s happening here. We’re winning. By that I mean it’s working. Iraq is on the cusp of becoming it’s own self governing, self securing, self sustaining country and it’s working because the people of this nation are seeing that life is not what many of them have been living for the past 40-50 to 100 years.
They are starting to care about each other, care about their homes and care about their country. If the men and women of Bucca continue to succeed, and the men and women in theater do the same, this nation is heading quickly to a time and place where their country will be able to move forward to a place where men, woman and children will flourish educationally, socially and economically and those same innocent people don’t have to live their lives, or die, on the whim of an egotistical maniac.
It’s a life changing thing to witness. A FOB we visited today is in a town that after the initial conflict had 4,000 citizens in it, down from over 50,000 before the war. US and Allied Troops have integrated FOBS all over and are living and working on a daily basis with the cities people and government and that same city, once at 4,000 people, is now over 40,000 people.
I call that a win. They know it’s not over yet, not by a long shot. But they are winning and they are doing so because I think the people of this country have seen that thing we have all known to be true. Every human being on this planet is born with inalienable rights, and no one has the right to take that from them, no one.
So anyway, we were off…
The day would see us hitting eight different FOB’s (Forward Operating Bases) that were manned mainly by 2/14 Air Cavalry units. A mix of 4th and 25th Infantry Division men were manning their posts and on mission all day long.
The highlight in the field today was a deployment ‘outside the wire’ meaning our LZ was in an area not inside the safety of an FOB. We hit the ground, Sully, Major Donahue and SSG Greene were off the bird and met by a six-man assault team providing cover as we debarked. These guys were dead ass serious, safties off and ready. The door gunners were in support as we made our way into the FOB but it was about two minutes of intensity that I wasn’t expecting. In as respectful a way as I can say it this was just cool as hell, watching these people do their jobs.
The FOB we dropped in on had had an incident four days earlier when someone assaulted their position with a hand grenade. The tower glass showed some effects of the incident, one I am pretty sure saw them losing.
I got my first close look at the “Stryker”, a behemoth of a vehicle being used inside the city to patrol. On the way there a WWF match broke out…
One big bad ass machine…
Now this version of the Stryker features a fully controllable turret mounted .50 caliber MG. This is cool for many reasons, not the least of which this is how you stay safe, and kill bad guys…
You handle the gun via joystick. Oh by the way, the gunner gives me the ok to handle the MG, and about 15 seconds later says in a rather loud voice “Oh! Don’t pull that trigger!”… I’m thinking that’s information I needed BEFORE I grabbed the joystick (needless to say the gun was saftied at that time anyway, but I didn’t know!).
Traversing the turret as they gave me a ‘tour’ of the surrounding neighborhood. They showed us three former ‘hot spots’ where they had bad guys present. Two of those locations were marked with 50 cal “autographs” all over, the third was a building so shot up by the gun it had collapsed.
These men also ‘taunted me’ into pitching. I have not thrown a ball in about 6 months. Not to mention I had surgery in between to detach my bicep. It ended up OK since no one got hurt, but next time around I’ll be ready for it.
I apologize for not remembering which of the first 2-3 stops it was but Cpt Polak of the 25th Infantry Division, as we are departing, leans to me and says “I want you to have this” and hands me his combat side unit patch, off his uniform. “A lot of blood has been spilled for this badge and I would be proud to give you this”. Ya, how do you respond to something like that? The 25th ID insignia is a lightning bolt, they go by Tropic Lightning with a Hawaiin’esque hand sign, one I am proud to say I learned quickly (in no small part to the big Samoan providing organization and security during our tour here).
So we hop to and fro all morning and below are shots of some things we did. One of my other goals was to get as many shirts and hats from units over here as I could. I always wear this stuff on TV when I can and these folks love that. My prize hat today came from Aaron Dorazio of the 2/14th Cavalry, who handed me their unit hat, and signed it as well.
I also received their coin, a poker chip, which I have learned is a highly sought after item!
So here are shots of our travels and stops in the early part of the day.
About mid-day I was on a visit and allowed honor of viewing a field commendation ceremony. Specialist Fears was presented with a Field Commendation in front of his unit, and damn was that cool to watch. The boys were justly fired up at the end and it was another example of just how crucial every facet of an operation this huge is vital to success.
Mid day it was time for the cool part for us, and stress for the men and women towing us around. Seven stars worth of generals were being visited at Saddam’s former palace grounds, and there was lots of co-ordinating to do around those three schedules. Something went awry as we spent 30 minutes basically playing “Where’s Waldo?” in two Blackhawk Helicopters. Major Donahue got things straightened out and we were set to meet General Odierno, the Commander of all Military Forces in the Theater.
The tip off on what this man was like was the fact that to a person everyone we spoke to him about used works like “incredible”, “Awesome” and ‘Phenomenal person”.
Here are some in flight photos leading up to that.
So we touch down and enter the Command Center for Allied Forces in the Middle East and this is what we see…..
There are better pictures out there but basically a HUGE contingent of Sox Nation is holed up at the CC.
This would have been great except this guy…
Ya, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces is a life long die hard Yankee fan. Something I might have held against people of lesser stature, but he was so damn cool and so damn nice it was impossible. He and his staff went out of their way, at a time we should have been the least of their concerns, to make us feel welcome. He also presented me with his “Coin” which I assume trumps all right? Isn’t his coin like the King on the Chess Board???
After his gracious reception we met General Hammond and ended the day meeting General Allyn, a HUGE Sox Fan and another great guy. General Allyn is the MNCI Chief of Staff in Iraq. We swapped Sox stories for a bit, got some photos…
After these meet and greets ended we were off to accomplish the 2nd thing on my “Sully list” of things I wanted to accomplish here: A TRUE High Fade…
After a quick haircut, and a bite to eat, we were off again. 3 more stops and the day would come to a close.
Our last few stops were with more men of the 2/14th Cav. We had a great time as we were able to hang out for an extended period of time with all these guys. I know there is a man named Ryker, wounded in action, who’s going to be receiving multiple ‘gifts’ from his buddies in 2 14 with the word “Ass” written on them….
Our last stop of the night came in the city I mentioned earlier. 2/14 had established a FOB inside a government building that was just gutted when they arrived. Today that building stands in the center of a city nearing it’s pre war population after the seen of intense fighting earlier this year, over 10x the population it had at the end of the initial Allied Offensive. Here are shots of the building and the team on the ground as well as two very special pictures for me. The blurry one in the bunk room came out bad which sucks, but these guys are HUGE HUGE gamers. They’ve rigged their X Boxes up so that eight guys in the platoon can play ‘Call of Duty’ together. This place is the definition of utility. These infantrymen are the masters of making something out of nothing and this was no exception.
Down here chatting for awhile, hearing the FOB commander talk about their interaction with the Iraqi police and Iraqi army was inspiring. Great things are happening and it’s just fantastic to hear. I turn around and am introduced to Sgt Mortada Rahm Mozel Fleh….
Not long after that he comes back and offers me a small ring, almost like a pinky ring until I am told about the game. Basicallty the troops when out on patrol engage in a game of hide and seek with this ring and adults in the community. You put the ring in a hand and the opponent tries to pick the hand, As the holder of the ring your job is to bluff as best you can. The kids play this game for hours with the soldiers.
Soon after this some senior officers arrive and we get this one..
I’ll let that one hang for awhile. SSG Chris Sheeran and his bunk mates in the “Rat Pack” have the MTV Cribs pad of Iraq. This place is the coolest setup we ran across. If they’d let us, Ty and I would have crashed here tonight. Gamers all, and HARDCORE ones at that, there’s nothing they can’t setup!
If ANYONE wishes to spend some money to pick up gifts for the guys in this platoon this holiday season I’ve got a list of things to grab for them, starting with a Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleader Calendar and moving onto PSP’s and games for them (these guys network up to play COD4 and many other EA games that I know of!).
The PSP’s get run into the ground during down time, and they play tons of stuff…
A special shout out to Peter Moore and his Executive Asst. Ms Tana Billingsley, Peter is a GREAT friend and fantastic person who’s helping reach out to the 2/14 and help make some of this happen.
Our last stop before heading out to our billet was Saddam’s ‘Wedding Reception” building… Really? Isn’t a wedding reception a place you hold your ONE wedding reception after you get married?
Check this out….
So ya, this man built what amounts to a million, well LOTS of million dollar huge palacial building, for a wedding reception? Go figure..
The day was ending, and what an incredible day it was. We headed off to find out lodging and call it a night. It’s 0315, and I am wiped. I’ll likely write up a summary of this entire experience on the flight home on Monday. Need a few days to recover from the 7 days of adrenalin.
To the men and women we met today, thank you all!
God Speed and God Bless