April 27, 2005

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Greeting from Baghdad

by Seattle Police Officer (SFC) Don Leslie, West Precinct

Greeting’s from one of your own, serving in the “Land of Black Soil”. Translated from Arab is pronounced “Iraq.” Personally I like the ancient names of Mesopotamia (land between waters) and Babylonia better. When I’m not too hot, tired and dirty, I marvel at the fact that I’m serving in an area thought to be the very “Cradle of Civilization.” Archeological evidence dates back 7000 years, showing this to be one of the earliest places on earth upon which man first settled. Serving in Baghdad, I’m only a short distance from Babylon, once the capital of ancient Babylonia. Up North is Nineveh, the place where Jonah (from the Bible) refused to go until he spent three days in the belly of a “great fish.” (That would convince me) To the south is Ur, birthplace of Abraham of whom Jesus was a descendent of. From the description in Genesis, the actual “Garden of Eden” was probably located here where the Tigris and Euphrates River meet. The area is saturated with biblical and religious sites. Most of the millions who live here have chosen Islam as their religion. This “holy land” they live in, fuels their vigor and for some, “fanaticism.” They take this attitude into battle, looking forward to being killed by one of us whom they perceive as “unbelieving infidels” Doing so ensures they will receive that inheritance I’m sure you’ve all heard about. As a recently resuscitated Christian I am awed by the areas history, but also aware that God is as much alive in Seattle as he is here. I also believe he is on our side.

It’s been 7 long months since I landed in Kuwait and 5 months since I moved to Baghdad. If I’m lucky, only 5 months to go. If not, who knows when this tour will be up? A lot of young Americans (and a few older ones) are doing their best over here for the security of our great nation. It’s been a while since our country has been at war in which so many American service members have died. Over a thousand have been killed thus far. I was only a few yards from a man killed yesterday by a mortar attack. As I look at photos of my 7 month old son, my wife and family, I’m reminded of the many soldiers with similar photos who never made it back. God bless them for their sacrifice and may he bring comfort to their families. The media only gives you a glimpse of the real picture over here. The truth is 80 to 100 letters of condolences are going out a week for WIA causalities as well as KIA. In my camp alone, mortars and rockets are launched at us daily. We even have insurgents climbing over the wall sometimes, drooling at the chance to kill an American. It’s a war without front lines because the front is everywhere.

I work closely with the 1st Calvary and 10th Mountain units here in Baghdad, which are doing most of the fighting and dying in our AO. Many of them are only between 18 to 22 years old; yet perform their mission with amazing courage and honor. At 45, I sometimes feel like a fossil among them, but I have other dinosaurs for company. Remember in street skills training, “never give up the fight, even after your shot?” Well they practice that here every day. I won’t bore you with a bunch of stories except one. A couple of days ago one of the 1st Cavalry’s “Brigade Combat Teams” drove into a 20 meter long, two-sided ambush. The lead driver, an 18-year old was shot in the throat, the round went straight through. If he had stopped and thought, “Well I’m dead,” he would have been, as well as everyone else in the following vehicles. Instead, he ignored the fact that he’d been critically wounded and floored it. A running gun battle ensued as they drove through the ambush. One of the machine gunners on top of a HMMWV was shot in the arm but managed to keep returning fire. They cleared the area with only two wounded, both of which are making full recoveries. Their actions are a tribute to the “courage under fire” displayed daily by our young service members here and a good example for us as police officers to “never giving up” the fight. This is also a tribute to how God is looking after our soldiers and they are surviving remarkable engagements.

The Baghdad area is home to 4 main camps, and a few smaller ones: Victory, Green Zone, Cuervo and Huggins. I’m assigned to Victory Camp. I joined the Army Reserve in June 2001 after 18 years of prior service. I signed up for a Military Police unit at Fort Lewis. Would you believe it, the recruiter lied to me? The MP’s were overfilled and I ended up filling an administrative position. Driving all the way to Fort Lewis from Marysville and back, twice a month was not what I signed up for. I decided since I was so close to retirement, I’d pick the closest unit to my house. This turned out to be a “Postal” unit in Bothell. I thought it would be an easy way to finish my career. Then of course 9-1-1 happened and the world changed for everyone in the reserves. Right now I’m sitting in a 20’ shipping container in the dirt (I call it my box), which I turned into an office. It’s covered with Camouflage netting and has an Air Conditioner in the front. This is the last place I expected to be a year ago! I fantasize about sitting in a Seattle Starbucks sucking down an Americano. Believe it or not, some of the camps actually have Starbucks! (In Kuwait)

What am I doing? My unit landed in Kuwait on February 18, 2004 and we were assigned to Camp Arifjan. This is a transitional camp, which at the time averaged 25,000+ service members. One day I ran into “Major” Brian Grenon from the West Precinct. We had our photo grace The Guardian a few months ago. (It’s a small world?) At Arifjan I was assigned as COPE (Custodian of Postal Effects) for the camp post office, which is basically the “Postmaster.” I was working 18 hours a day for the first two months and a day off was only a fantasy. I was then approached and asked if I wanted to be the Postal Finance Officer (PFO) for all of Iraq. I accepted, and I’ve been in Baghdad ever since. As PFO, I supervise all the finance activities for APO’s (Army Post Offices) in Iraq. I track all the money, equipment and resources used for Postal Finance support. The job requires I travel to different camps in Iraq by plane, helicopter, convoy and camel. This is not exactly the “Audie Murphy” role I envisioned for myself as a youth! I know however it’s a critical job, like many of the combat support roles soldiers are performing.

Victory Camp is the site where Saddam once had his personal zoo and hunting ground. It has several streams and three lakes stocked with fish. It’s also the site of one of the largest “intact” palaces in Baghdad. The ground is like talcum powder, having been churned and pulverized by so many military vehicles, and because it’s so hot and dry. The air always looks “foggy” from dirt in the air. The temperature averages between 110 – 120 degrees. It even reaches into the 150’s depending on where you are. At night, bats come out, wild dogs and jackrabbits the size of a medium dog. Helicopters fly over you about 100 or less off the ground without any lights on. We have prayer towers outside our camp and you can hear the “call to prayer” chants over the PA systems. I find it to be an eerie sound. And then of course, nighttime is usually when things fly into our camp and go boom. The insurgents normally “hit and run.” They survive longer that way.

The “official war” ended last year shortly after we took over Baghdad. The next war began with diehard insurgents. I’m here to tell you, the mentality of these fanatics is no different than the terrorists who attacked New York City. They hate westerners and especially Americans. In their world, the only good American is a dead one. This mindset existed long before the Gulf War. Who cares if President Bush didn’t have a WMD in his hand to show the critics? He acted, taking into consideration the totality of the circumstances, listening to the advise of experts and bringing fresh new term to the white house, “Common Sense.” The evidence is in the attitude of the people who are killing us now. They don’t want peace; nothing would make them happier than our complete annihilation. They could easily go into hiding until we leave, kill the new government and start up again, but this is an opportunity to kill Americans that overrides even their own logic. Do you think people who think like this would hesitate to support terrorist acts against the US? Would they have traded places with the pilots who crashed airliners into our buildings? They would in a heartbeat. Our SSP (Stupid Seattle Protestors) and liberal citizens refuse to acknowledge that President Bush was right about Iraq supporting terrorism. They deny this even while they watch widespread, daily terrorist bombings in Iraqi, of both Americans and US supporters on television. I have no doubt that many in Iraq have and continue to support terrorism.

How are soldiers doing over here? When not on duty, whatever they can to pass the time. DVD’s are a big time killer, but how many times can you watch Twister? Working out is a good one. They have great chaplain services, which I’ve been taking advantage of. Oh, and shopping! Local Iraqi’s have a big tent in the camp where you can buy just about anything. There is a big PX (Post Exchange) to shop at. Both will gladly separate a service member from every dime they have. When I joined in 1977 you could get a good deal shopping through the military exchange system. Unfortunately, like the Seattle Police Department many of the benefits have been traded away. You could once get a good deal shopping through the military. Now, even in a combat zone soldiers are made to pay top dollar for everything, often prices are even higher than the average U.S. civilian store. How did that happen?

Most of the US military has been here over six months. I often see gloomy faces. (Mine included sometimes) It’s hard to always be positive, especially when you’re dirty, tired and frying in this insane heat. It’s a hardship being so far from home; and with me, I’m watching my new son grow through his first year by photos and video. And of course there is the added bonus that people are actually trying to kill us. You should all know how very much we appreciate the support you have for us. You might think it silly when children send drawings of support from kindergarten class, or Home Depot has some big stupid card for customers to sign. But all that stuff makes it here and decorates our buildings. We read and re-read it all. The support of our nation makes all the difference in our attitude and morale. Thank You!

Thank you for the letters of support and care packages! Thanks to my old partner for sending some Starbucks Coffee! I look forward to switching from my Desert Camouflage back to Seattle Blue next spring!

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