Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Different World

There are quite a number of problems working on an Iraqi FOB with mostly Iraqi Soldiers. At least once a day, there is a power outage somewhere, and once a week we'll go an entire day with no power. The generators that power this place have a few major problems, mostly notably a lack of available fuel and no maintenance parts - therefore no maintenance. The generator for our 2nd most important building, the one with the logistics automation and tracking, has no air filters and uses strictly water as a coolant. This is not good. The problem is a lack of money and no established maintenance program. Most of the Iraqi's still depend on us (U.S) to go find them repair parts or life support supplies. The major supplies, like weapons and vehicles, are somewhat easy to procure, since they are contracted out (with US dollars). Yet, things like fuel filters and repair parts are a rare commodity.

Many people will say Iraqi's are lazy, or don’t care, or are on Iraqi time (which usually means late!). Some are, but many of them do really care. To understand what they go through, however, you need to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to go to work, kissing your wife and kids goodbye, and then sneaking out of the house to a car you hid a few blocks away. You cover your face as you drive to the US base that you work on, and once there you don’t leave for at least a month. If you do leave, to go on a patrol or convoy, your face is covered so no one can recognize you; because if you are recognized, you can expect that your family wont be there next time you go home.
I don't read much about the Iraqi's in the news. I sure don't hear much mention about the sacrifices THEY make, every day of every year, to make their country better. They literally risk their lives and the lives of their families by even associating with the democratic government of Iraq. It breaks my heart to listen to some of their stories; their lives are so different from mine I couldn't even pretend to relate. One such story came from one of the life support mechanics as we were working to fix a perpetually broken generator one day.

This mechanic is a very soft-spoken, humble, hard working guy. He is up early and goes to bed late trying to keep the life-support systems working here on the Iraqi base. As we drove around searching for repair parts in the junk yard he started talking about his family. His wife and three children currently live in Baghdad, where he gets to see them every 6 weeks or so. His vacation time is coming up, but there is some trepidation in voice as he talks about going home. He worries about the Madhi militia who swarm around his house, and hopes that no more of his family members are shot. His 9-year old son was shot last year in the head; miraculously, he lived, and according to his father, by God's grace he is doing well. He doesn’t hear or see to good anymore, but he still alive and that is a blessing. The best option for this man is to move his family to Syria where they will be safe, and he doesn’t have to have the constant fear hanging over his head that something will happen to his family.

You would think situations like this would prevent people from wanting to associate with the coalition, but it actually seems to strengthen their resolve. Granted, most of them will freely admit it will be a decade or more before Iraq becomes a peaceful nation, and many are helping the coalition because the money is good. Still, it's hard to feel bad for yourself when you hear so many situations like this. There are also some negative situations that come out of this constant state of terror though. The insurgents will use people's families against them - holding them hostage and threatening to kill them unless the person gives them info about the US. So we always have to be on our guard. Even when I think i can fully trust my Iraqi counterpart, I have no way of telling whether he might take any sensitive information he hears and give it to the insurgents. So while we work with them 24/7 and are building strong relationships, we still have to be vigilant not to let our guard down or say the wrong thing.

I have alot more to write about, so I will hopefully post again soon. I also have some new pictures I want to get up. I apologize for the long times in between posts; hopefully once I get into a better rhythm with my work/mission schedule I can write more often.


The Appalachianist said...

It's about time you posted, Sir. I hope that generator don't go down on you.

Jason said...

That's why I haven't posted! Hope your trip home is going well!

Sandro said...


Reading this post shows your compassion and that is very hopeful. It is all to easy to lump people together as us and them and not see the human side of things. Thank you for sharing this. Keep up the good work. It is a struggle but it makes a difference, however small in the total picture. Stay safe. Thinking about you in NYC.