Last Thursday, I flew from Balad to Baghdad to attend an army conference dealing with claims (e.g., when a military truck runs over an Iraqi house, and we have to pay for the resulting claim). So I woke up at 3AM on Thursday, and went over to a place called “Catfish Air” over on the west-side of Balad. It’s right on the airfield. I’d already reserved a flight. Around 6:30AM, they called us up, and took us out to the airfield, where I saw the Blackhawk helicopter that was to take me to Victory Base, Baghdad. This helicopter was flown by a unit with the Florida National Guard:
We strapped ourselves in, and lifted up over the Balad airfield. Here is a photo from the air. Notice the concrete bunkers used to house some aircraft:
A few minutes into the flight, we were above the Tigris River. The machine-gunners on each side suddenly shot a few rounds on their weapons. This was surprising and a little frightening to me, to suddenly hear some gunfire on my first trip outside the wire of Balad. I am not sure why they did this, as there was no threat to us. I guess they were clearing their weapons or making sure they fired properly, and all they did was shoot 2-3 rounds into the Tigris River. Our flight continued as we soared above the Iraqi farmland.
I rather enjoyed the flight:
I also caught a glimpse of a large ziggurat on the way in to Baghdad, but was too slow with my camera and did not take a picture of it. It was about a 20 minute flight, and we landed at the Camp Liberty Helipad, and then took a bus over to Camp Victory and the JAG office over there. We were just in time to catch a tour of the Al Faw Palace. This palace was the grandest of Saddam Hussein’s many palaces, and sits in the middle of an artificial lake. You reach it by walking over a strip of land. It is heavily guarded, as this is now the headquarters for US Forces in Iraq. More on the Al Faw palace tomorrow, but here is a picture of it. My friends Nick King and Adam Siegler, two California reserve attorneys like myself, are in the foreground:
The main purpose of the trip was to go to the claims conference. So that is what we did for the afternoon. A claims specialist came out from the US to teach us all. The class was held in the fancy hotel next to the Al Faw Palace. It is another semi-palace like structure. Today, you have to be a general or other important person to stay at this hotel. Here is a picture of the conference room, to give you an idea of what the hotel looks like:
Anyway, I’m tired for now, but tomorrow will describe Camp Victory and the rest of Al Faw Palace.