Thursday, May 10, 2007

LTC Turner: Iraq Update May 5, 2007

Please be advised that the only parts of this message that were edited were to insure compliance with OPSEC regulations and insure the safety of our current and future serving men and women in theater. Beyond that, totally the words of LTC Turner.

From LTC Patrick Turner:

Last email sent 45 days ago. Last time we visited I finished up a trip down to Kuwait and was preparing for a trip to Baquoba, Iraq or what we call FOB Warhorse. There, a certain sized unit engages in daily combat with Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda. My mission, in earlier April, was to ascertain the level of support for the exchange system, inspect equipment, make an assessment and so forth. From Camp Liberty where I am based, I had to helo up to Balad, Iraq and sometimes it is called Camp Anaconda about 30 minutes (depending on how circuitous the route is) in flight. For the first time, I was able to fly in the daytime at low level to Balad and pulled out my video camera and got a pretty close view of the countryside. Also took some pretty interesting still pictures with my Olympus FE-190 digital which is a wonderful camera my wife and I have found out. Flew into Balad and had to "hang out" for several hours as flights going into Warhorse are done at night. Being as there has been recent helo issues, I voted along with the crew for this option.

For the first time in Iraq, I flew in a CH47 which is a large helicopter with two large rotor blades. Had not been on one in awhile and they fly with the back door down and a .30 caliber machine gun braced onto the tail. Of course, the rear crewman wears night vision goggles so he could certainly see a lot better than me. The helo flies, not surprisingly, in total blackout because the pilots wear the night vision goggles as well. We swooped in pretty fast and landed. I exited off one side of the pad and missed my contact and had to walk probably 1.5 kilometers until I could line up my bunk for the night. Normally I need the exercise but I don't like walking long distances in full body armor, weapon, backpack and briefcase of sorts. Certainly was sweaty and finding out I was going to be on a cot did not exactly make me enthusiastic.

Conducted my inspection and so forth with the local management and engaged the Mayoral cell as well. Was able to get inside their command post and see how they track the battle and what vision devices they have as well and it was "interesting". I was invited to a officer's call that night and some 2LT got promoted, smoke cigars and so forth and just plain male bonding because there are so few females. But assuredly, there is no alcohol in Iraq unless you illegally import it. Next morning, had to get up early and the bird landed 45 minutes ahead of time at [redacted] as it is very rare to fly during the day. Unfortunately, the windows to the Blackhawk had no windows. I tried initially to video but flying 130 miles an hour almost blew my camera and ballistic glasses off my head. I knew the pilot would be very aggressive in terms of speed to take off since this is a tough area. Onward we flew back to Camp Liberty in about 30 minutes or so and surprisingly saw some vegetation and trees but bad guys all over the place only you can't see them readily. Flew over one town and saw the Mahdi army black flag waving from a large building so I guess I know who they belong to: the Shias.

Found out later in the day that 21 bodies were found tortured and burned and dumped from Baquoba that morning. The base is only [redacted] but only got two mortar or rocket rounds that night. We have a very aggressive officer in charge at Warhorse I am told at Baquoba and an extensive article was written in the New York Times recently on this place.

Able finally in early April to attend a social gathering of so called Intelligence personnel and must admit met some strange, but interesting, characters to include a couple of Iraqi generals. It was a good night to meet some new people and pick up news around the Theatre. Had some nice spaghetti which I don't normally care for but it was done right and good casual conversation was had. Out near a pool but since the water can be brackish I passed on the opportunity but the mosquitoes or their variation had their piece of me.

By the time 20 Apr 07 rolled around I was ready to visit Al Anbar province in western Iraq and made a 11 day visit there, returning on 1 May. Of course, this is United States Marine territory but there are surprisingly a number of army units sprinkled throughout the four locations I helo'd to: Falluja, Ramadi, Al Asad and Taqqadam or normally called "TQ". Trying to get from Camp Liberty to Falluja is horrendous. I was on "Space A helo" and it meant, for a 13 minute helo ride, I had to sit at the heliport a total of 9 hours over two different days. Fortunately, it was not 130 degrees and ultimately, I flew at night. This time, I finally was able to fly in a Marine CH46 which is about 80% of the size of a CH47 where you can put about 8-9 people on each side instead of more. And, which is unusual, they have a side machine gunner just behind each pilot to provide defense. We had a Cobra gunship for support on our flight and I thought those things went away in the 1990s but the Marines are still using them. They are even using "Huey" helos as supporting gunships. Maybe they are cheaper, I don't know. Well, we corkscrewed somehow onto the helipad and as always, its perfectly dark, loud as hell but fortunately someone was there to pick us up.

We drive extensively around Falluja and it is a larger based than you would imagine. But, you can hear the gunfire not too far away and mortar illumination rounds are being constantly fired to support our Marines in nighttime combat operations. Not too far where we slept, a 156mm mortar shot several times (outbound is always good) and who knows what they were trying to do. The reception of the local Marines was very gratifying even if I was an "army dude". I wore my army desert uniform from 2005 to blend in a little more with the Marines since the army digital uniform is so different so maybe that was appreciated to some degree. Traveling with a civilian and a Marine warrant officer, I always like someone telling me where to go in strange places.

We conducted our business and could not fly out until [redacted] or so to Ramadi. Ramadi has a number of local populace who are of ill repute to be sure. We took off for Ramadi in another double rotor helo and got about halfway to Ramadi at about I would guess [redacted] feet. I was seated in the right rear of the craft and bookended by my two traveling partners. I saw the Crewchief suddenly duck down while he was peeking out the "back door" and my two buds observed a spray of red tracers come up right behind or onto our helo so I guess the Bush pacification program is not working at that zip code presently.

The pilot took immediate aggressive action by banking hard [redacted] and it forced me momentarily to think I was on a ride at Six Flags only the stakes were different this time: it was real and this was no drill. We gained speed and landed quickly/directly into an airport at Taqqadam in an emergency stop. We had to de-ass the helo which the crew checked for bullet holes and so forth. The guy traveling next to me said he heard three hits on the helo but I did not. So by the time we finally got to Ramadi and to bed it was late-as always. Hey-I would jump in a pickup truck to go from place to place but the odds on completing that mission would be tenuous-at best.

The second day I was at Ramadi coming out of the Mess Hall when about 1/2 mile away, just outside the wire was the largest explosion I have heard in Iraq and then about 10 minutes later another, but not as large. Seems like another suicide bomber in a car, called a "VBIED" (vehicle borne improvised explosive device) wanted to service his 45 virgins or whatever and took about 10 policemen with him and the terrorists are smart enough to also bomb what we call the first responders minutes later. Many of the wounded were treated on base I was advised for humanitarian reasons. While I was gone out west, I just remembered that a rocket or mortar hit our Mess Hall at Camp Liberty (Baghdad) after hours but due to having a "e-barrier", which is a double tier of steel protection over this high occupancy facility so I guess there was some action.

Went to Al Asad next which is a huge base out in Western Iraq; flew in a Marine Stallion I think it is called and is a large helo. Took 35 minutes or so to come from Ramadi and did not get to bed until 0400 as we fly 98% of the time at night or very, very early morning to avoid mischief. Toured the base, among other things and took shots (attached) of several destroyed Russian planes and equipment and so forth which is laying around inert. We fly A10 Warthogs out of here as evidenced by getting up pretty close to the flight line in my pics. All in all, certainly a desert base with a lot of people. Met the base commander Colonel and exchanged a number of views. He told me Al Asad had not taken indirect fire for 4 months but can't say that about the previous two stops.

Went onto Taqqadam the next day for two days and an extra day for waiting. Checked all of their equipment, i.e. vehicles and forklifts which needed a lot of attention. Am creating an entire program for maintenance of the vehicles and forklifts and so forth as I have a lot of experience in doing this in a previous life. I love organizing things like this to help the cause in anyway I can. Met lots of Marines obviously and exchanged a lot of viewpoints. They think different to be sure but at the end of the day we are all fighters in the end. Took about a day and a half to finally get out of Taqqadam, which is the headquarters for the Marine Expeditionary Force, back to the Baghdad area. Normally this is a about a 20 minute helo ride going east but priorities and routes were not timed for me so I had to ride a C130 fixed wing for 30 minutes all the way back to Al Asad and then fly from there into Baghdad Intl Airport. See how 20 minutes turns into three hours before you know it?

There is daily action around here wherein you here firing all the time and is not necessarily at a firing range. We have UAVs fly over and we have a large hot dog shaped balloon/eye in the sky to tract difficulties and pinpoint targets for counter battery fire.

Still continue to get tremendous personal and cell support from Soldiers Angels and the friends I have met there. Everything is shared amongst the men in the cell. Snacks, non fiction books and you name it show up and it does not take long to cross level, believe me. A friend from my old unit in the Dallas area, a LTC Pete Wells, a resident of Fort Worth is the XO of a Civil Affairs unit so we are already doing things and exchanging items and so forth for their benefit and ours. Right now, we are trying to get Pete any viable toys for his unit to give to Iraq children and we will be happy to pass along. The only thing I offer that our cell needs presently is USED DVD movies so if you have any that you don't want, don't like and is not children's fare, pls send and we will definitely share. No Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon or Bubbra Streisand movies, please as it makes the men sick to their stomach and we just ran though our last pallet of pepto bismol......

It hit 100 degrees yesterday for the first time so we are preparing for the heat the best way we can. I try to walk daily in no matter how hot it is as that helps my stamina. When I will go out to the field when it is 130 degrees, and in the direct sun, in full battle rattle I will lost more weight but the key is to stay dehydrated. There are always pallet fulls of plastic water bottles to help with your thirst as you can get a heat injury pretty quick.

Well it took me over three days to write this. Forgive the spelling and syntax errors as I am always in a rush.

Thanks for your support, Mom.

LTC Patrick Turner
AAFES Military Operations Senior LNO

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