As you've probably read on Susan's blog (http://khuluma.blogspot.com
), we made it safely into Baghdad on Wednesday, January 31. It took us about 72 hours to shake off the travel-induced cobwebs, but we are now slowly getting up to speed.
A lot has changed in Iraq in the past 8 months, yet much has stayed the same. A new Army division, the 4th Infantry Division, has occupied the IZ and the Baghdad area and brought with them their own quirks. When I first arrived in Baghdad in November 2004, the 1st Cavalry Division was in charge and then it was the 3rd Infantry Division. The 4th ID will transfer out sometime during our 1-year tenure which will mean I've been here for four different commands.
Despite the change-over in the military, I've run into or expect to see several familiar faces. Apparently, a special unit of Civil Affairs troops is spinning up led by General Chiarelli who was in charge of the 1st Cav. I worked with several of his staff members on my first tour. Likewise, I've also run into some old friends from the Corps of Engineers, who like me, couldn't stay away. And, of course, coming back to USAID was like a homecoming. I was surprised by how happy I was to see some of our Iraqi staff who are still braving the IZ gates to help our mission.
Other changes are more tangible. My office is no longer in a trailer, but is now a cubicle in an ultra-secure office building. I remember watching the new office building (or "NOB" in three-letter acronymese) be constructed. There is enough steel rebar in this building to reinforce Fort Knox. If they had used any more rebar, they wouldn't have needed to add bricks to keep the wind out.
They also finished the Liberty Pool complex next door, which is owned by the Army and operated by KBR as a Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) facility. The huge pool was actually constructed by Saddam but needed patching and work on the chlorination system prior to opening. There's also a good gym next door, a common room/library, and a multi-purpose room where Susan and I went to a spinning class last night. When the weather warms up, we'll be using the lap pool as well.
In terms of what stayed the same, Baghdad is still brown, the air still smells like smoke, most people still carry a gun, and there's still armored vehicles racing around. And, in case you're thinking it's all fun around here, we spent all day Friday listening to a running gun battle just across the Tigris.