Tuesday, September 28, 2004
We're Not In Kansas Anymore
This morning my Commander made a comment to us all regarding what we say to our friends and family back home. His concern is that we only share the bad stuff about this place, placing an unnecessary burden on everyone back home. He wanted us to share more positive things about this place instead of all the gloom and doom. So here I am at 1am with nothing better to do, so I decided to give it a shot.
Let me start by describing this place from the outside in. Driving from my building where I work to my MOD (living quarters) at night, roughly half the horizon is lit up with flames from oil refineries. These flames are burning the excess natural gas that comes up from the wells, and at night they turn the flames up. They're miles away, but they dominate the sky with their 100ft plus flames that shoot upward. You can almost hear them, but you know you can't. They are nice too look at, although they only remind you of where you are whenever you see them. The other side of the horizon are the suburbs of the city. Street lights, apartments, buildings, you name it... just a normal every day city.
The climate here at this time of year is very similar to the San Juaquin Valley in Central California. Honestly, this region is not a desert. It's very fertile farmland, cris-crossed with rivers and irrigation canals. Just off the non-city side of the base you can see farms, fields, and a citrus grove. Occasionally you'll see sheppards herding their sheep just outside the fence, and as I've mentioned before, there is always one or more kids hanging outside looking in. They're always cool to see.
This place not only holds most of the oil in Iraq, it could also be a very successful agricultural region. It simply lacks more water infrastructure for irrigation, as well as investment capital. Add a little more money, an ounce more water, and pinch of security, and this place would be booming agriculturally.
The sky is mostly sunny, but the horizon is always blurred with dust or smoke from the fires. Not the best to inhale, but it always makes for beautiful sunsets. The flat valley we're in is surrounded by hills, one of which has an ancient castle on the horizon. Not sure what significance it has, but I'm sure I'll find out. Just a few miles away is the Citadel with David's tomb, as well as a few other very important biblical figures. And about 25 miles away is the eternal flame. The Army Chaplain explained to me that the flame is mentioned in the Old Testament. It's the location of the furnace where Chadrack, Mishak, and the other dude (someone remind me what his name is) were thrown into. In the Old Testament, the three were protected by a fourth person that appeared in the furnace with them... Jesus.
The local leaders could not understand why this flame attracted so many tourists. The Muslim leaders looked upon it as a scientific anomaly, where natural gas was coming from the ground and was burning continuously. The Chaplains on base have a great relationship with the local religious leaders around here, and when they informed those leaders about the significance of that flame to the Christian religion (one of the first places Jesus showed himself to the world), they finally realized that it was a special place. Even in Islam Jesus is regarded as a very important profit, so they now have more respect for that spot. There's so much more to the story that I can't remember clearly, but it is fascinating to listen to.
So back to describing the area. Without giving up any info to the bad guys (you never know who's out there), I can only describe the spaces where we work in live as a maze of barriers, roads and buildings. We use some of the existing bunkers and hardened shelters that were here when we liberated this region. They made those things pretty strong actually. The base is pitted with underground bunkers, above ground bunkers that look like small pyramids, and lots of dirt. The base must be the dirtiest place in the region because of the lack of vegetation. The dirt is similar to baby powder in consistency, so it blows everywhere and gets into everything. I gave up trying to stay dirt free the first day I arrived. It's impossible. There are a few trees on base, but most of the trees are off base and throughout the city. Like I said, very much like the Central California Valley.
Since we share the base with the Army, each service has its own gyms and facilities. We share everything, but the Air Force tends to have better stuff than the Army. The Air Force definitely takes care of their own.
The food is actually great, but it does get repetitious. There are typically 3 food lines... One with a basic square meal with meat and veggies, one line for pizza, or pasta, and the third line for fast food (i.e. fries, burgers, dogs, egg rolls, etc) There's a sandwich bar, a fruit bar, and plenty of juice to drink. I haven't had this much fruit juice in years, and I'm sure my body is loving it.
I'm constantly comparing this to the soup lines of old, when military chow was something to fear. It's amazing how far we've come. Of course the chow hall is contracted out to a private company, which is why it is so good. The Government has never been great at preparing thousands of meals a day for its troops. The company running the place hired its servers from the Philippines, and most of the chefs from India. Not sure how much money they make, but they are certainly doing very well here. Be confident that it is enough to overshadow the risk, and enough to return home and live comfortably for a very long time.
Well, it's getting later and later and I'm finally falling asleep. There is much more I could describe, but I hate to give it all out at the risk of giving too much out. The only downfall to sharing info on this blog is that you must always assume the wrong people are reading it. Don't worry, I won't give any info out that our Commander doesn't put out. Some back home might call that censorship.. I call it keeping my ass safe. These guys are shooting at us, so the less they know the safer I am.
Don't forget. In one of my previous posts from yesterday I mention an article that discusses all the good things we're accomplishing in Iraq. Click here to see it. Please read it if you haven't already. If you have read it, pass it along. We need to get the word out to everyone that our country is truly making a positive difference here.
I know, some of you are thinking..."Surely he can't be serious."
I am serious... and don't call me Shirley.
And don't forget to pass this website along to anyone else. I only charge by the minute.
posted by El Capitan at 1:49 AM