Live from Baghdad

My adventures in Iraq.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Work Details

So, besides sporting my studly uniform and posing for pictures, I'm actually working over here.

WARNING! The following discussion is very boring but some of you might be interested. The rest of you can piss off. Okay, not really.

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is responsible for the largest chunk of the Iraq reconstruction effort. To serve this role, USACE has established a Gulf Region District (GRD) in Iraq. In addition to USACE's own infrastruce program, US Agency for International Development (USAID) has contracted USACE to provide construction management support for USAID projects. USAID is part of the US State Department and is responsible for most "international aid" projects around the world. USACE established the USAID Program Office (UPO) to fulfill this contract. UPO, in turn, has established four "Resident Offices" around the country, responsible for all construction projects in their geographic area. I am working out of the Baghdad Resident Office (BRO) responsible for all projects (water, sewer, energy and general construction) in the Baghdad region (yep, including Sadr City). We are co-located with USAID and UPO headquarters in the USAID compoundin the International Zone (formerly known as the Green Zone).

I am serving as the BRO Project Engineer, which is the #2 position. My office is a small cubicle in a trailer that I share with our Resident Engineer (my boss) and our Iraqi admin assistant. I'm overseeing a team of 4 USACE QA engineers (Americans) and 6 Iraqi FSNs (Foreign Service Nationals) that we're training to do construction QA. Since we're working closely with USAID and they want to disassociate from the military, we wear civilian clothes everyday (albeit with flak jackets and helmets when we're out of our compound).

USAID awarded all of their construction projects to one conctractor, Bechtel. Bechtel is one of the largest engineering firms in the world (if not the largest). They actually got their start by building Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. Most of our job is to monitor Bechtel's progress and advise our client (USAID) on project status. We also provide technical assistance and try to help move projects along quicker.

We are focused on three kinds of projects right now: Water Treatment Plants, Wastewater Treatment Plants, and Power Generation. Basically, the first two projects have the same goal - providing clean drinking water to the people of Iraq. Most of the water in Baghdad comes out of the Tigris River which flows through the middle of town. As you can imagine, the river is a filthy cesspool. During the post Gulf War I years, Iraqi engineers kept the water treatment plants and wastewater plants running with Band-Aids and spit, often under threat from Saddam. After the invasion, everything that wasn't welded into place was looted (even the bolted stuff). In the meantime, the wastewater plants filled up with (pardon my language) shit and sewer was flowing directly into the Tigris. Add the fact that the water treatment plants weren't working either and you can see the problem. Likewise, Saddam used to use electricity as a "carrot" for rewarding his followers. If he liked you today, you got to use your refrigerator and your air conditioning. Very handy when it's 120 degrees outside. The way an Iraqi could tell if he'd have power today, at least in Baghdad, was to see how many of the 4 smokestacks at the Doura power plant were smoking. Right now, we've only got one of those stacks spewing (i.e., one turbine running) and people aren't happy. We're trying to get the rest of them working soon.

So, we're not necessarily trying to rebuild the country over here but we are trying to complete some projects that will make day-to-day life a little easier on the average Iraqi. We're also employing thousands of Iraqis and we're trying to make most of our projects labor-intensive since a guy getting paid to hold a shovel today is a lot less likely to pick up an RPG tonight. Or so we hope.

Anyways, that's what I'm doing over here. If you're interested, I'll be happy to share more. If you're just waiting for more cool pictures, I apologize for the boring stuff and I promise to post some more tomorrow.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Iraq First Aid

One of our training courses at Fort Bliss was 'Emergency First Aid.' The course was intended to teach us what to do as first responders to an attack. Of course, they don't expect you to become a trauma surgeon in one day but they teach you how to tie a tourniquet and treat shock.

At the beginning of the course, the instructor told us, "We don't teach CPR. This is war, if he ain't breathing, help someone who is."

Fun stuff.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

The crew in the back of the C130, descending into Baghdad. November 24, 2004 Posted by Hello

Camp Doha, Kuwait City. November 22, 2004 Posted by Hello

In uniform (including body armour) at the "Hands of Victory" monument in Baghdad. November 23, 2004 Posted by Hello

For your reading pleasure:

Beaming from Baghdad

I'm safe in Baghdad....errr, well....I guess I'm just "in Baghdad." The flight into Baghdad International Airport is one I will always remember, no matter how hard I drink to forget it. There's 40 of us packed into a C-130, which was never intended as a passenger plane. There's no "passenger area" in these planes, just the cargo hold with jump seats running down the sides and a row down the middle. Only two small port-style windows on either side. We've got a military dog on the plane with us, not real happy in his crate and letting the whole world know about it. It's so noisy you have to wear earplugs and shout at each other to be heard. About 10 minutes outside of Bagdad, we begin our descent from 30,000 feet. That's right, 30,000 feet in 10 minutes. Not to mention that the pilots fly a corkscrew pattern to avoid potential rockets (they haven't had one yet, but nobody wants to be the first). Let's just say, the dog wasn't the only one howling on the way down.

After a hard landing, they popped the hatches and we put our feet on Iraqi soil.

More to come (I promise)....

In the meantime, here are a few photos....

Friday, November 19, 2004

Last Day in Texas

Phew, my week at Fort Bliss flew by. Which is really strange as most days just seemed to crawl. We had five busy days of briefings, medical screenings, equipment checkouts and the like. You've probably heard that the motto of the Army is "Hurry up and wait." In other words, you need to wake up at 4:30am to be at formation by 5:00am to be done with breakfast by 7:00am to go stand in line for a medical screening for 3 hours. That's been a typical morning.

They gave me 4 sets of DCUs (Desert Camoflauge Uniform), 4 pairs of boots, a helmet, Gortex field jacket and pants, a sleeping bag, mosquito net, a gas mask, and a bunch of other stuff (two Army duffel bags worth). The cool thing is, we get to keep everything that "touches our skin" except our actual uniforms. I've got 3 sets of mid-weight PolyPro long underwear ($35-40/pair at REI!). Won't have to buy long underwear for camping/snowboarding for a couple years.

Sat through some pretty intense briefings on Thursday, including how to deal with IEDs or improvised explosive devices (i.e., roadside bombs) and VBIEDs (vehicle bourne IEDs aka suicide bombers). Shit, that was fun. Got to see some Al-Jazeera (sp?) videos that I could have gone my whole life not seeing. Oh well, they got their point across that we shouldn't be naive - this is a war zone. The good news is they've learned a lot of lessons (albeit the hard way) and we're only allowed to go out in "up-armored vehicles" with designated "shooters" (Blackwater security, etc)

Speaking of shooters, they all have to go through this Fort Bliss as well. They're good guys for the most part, all ex-Special Forces. I believe they're all very competent soldiers, but I have to question their motives. They truly are mercenaries, chasing a big paycheck with dreams of paying off the house and buying the baddest Harley on the road. It's not mine to criticize, they're highly trained in what they do and they're being paid more than they could ever dream. War has changed this time around. There is historical precedence for this, giving the responsibility, along with the risk and reward, to professionals. It's nice a clean and there's no news footage of the grieving parents of poor 19-year-old Pvt. Johnny Hayseed on CNN. On the flip side, it removes us even further from the costs of war and we lose some of our righteousness. Oh well, like I said, they seem to be damn good at what they do and I'm glad they'll be in the Humvee with me.

Okay, we've only got 3 computers for 150 personnel so my time is up. I'll have my own computer as soon as I get "downrange" (military speak for being in Iraq). I'll be able to update more often soon. And it will probably be more coherent when I didn't just knock back a pitcher of Beck's Ocktoberfest with dinner. It's going to be a very dry 120 days for me.

We fly out soon and will be in Kuwait by Monday. We'll spend a day or two there and I should be in Baghdad by midweek.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Day 1: El Paso

Hi Everyone, this is actually Susan reporting on behalf of Chris since he does not have access to a computer tonight.

Let's see - first of all, to everyone and all who came out to the slew of going-away parties, both of us cannot thank you enough for your friendship and support, we appreciate all of you and your good wishes and prayers.

So, today: Sunday November 14, 2004. Chris departed for El Paso at 8:55am after having coffee and croissants at a favorite neighborhood bakery this morning. Thank goodness he forgot his sunglasses at home, and decided to grab his sport coat when we swung by home, since it was 37degrees and raining in El Paso when he arrived, and he was originally wearing a golf shirt and jeans.

According to him, most the day was spent being briefed on what they will be briefed on this week. He had an MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) for lunch, and is living in a dormitory style building on the 3d floor. He is there with all the other Corps of Engineers, Reserves, National Guard and even Blackwater and other private firm guys. He said it was kind of like being in "camp", they also have their first formation at 5:10am tomorrow. Tomorrow they receive some sort of first aid training, and as of now he'll be in El Paso until Saturday, then Kuwait for a few (2-3) days, and then to the big B.

That is all the news worth reporting, for anyone interested you can still reach him on his cellphone this week, also feel free to email him to his phone at:

For those new to Blogging: click on the "comments" link below to leave your own comments for Chris. He will be viewing this daily.

Much love

Saturday, November 13, 2004

See Ya!

I begin my deployment in less than 24 hours. At 8:55am tomorrow, I fly to Fort Bliss, Texas for a week of pre-deployment training and processing. Next Friday, I'll board a flight for Kuwait where I will be for two to three days before taking a C-130 flight into Baghdad. Thus, by next Monday, I'll be smack dab in the middle of my first war zone.