I’m not sure when we are flying out of here, but it is very soon. When I first arrived here, one of the things I saw was this old “Wing Gate” of JBB, greeting arrivals here since the base was built by the Iraqis:
It’s the end of a year in Iraq. I’ve been thinking of a few things over the past few days. Over this year, I’ve read two great books:
The Price of Glory by Alistair Horne. Excellent history of the battle of Verdun in WW I, where 700,000 French and German soldiers died horrible deaths in an indecisive battle over several months.
The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer. A harrowing story about a soldier who served on the Eastern Front in WW II, and the terrible conditions soldiers faced during that war.
Compared to what happened in previous conflicts, spending a year in Iraq really is no cause to complain. As you’ve seen through my previous blog posts, here in Iraq US forces have many comforts, including steak and seafood night as well as an endless supply of ice cream at the DFAC’s. Our lodging may require us to walk 100 yards to use the bathroom, but at least we have clean bathrooms and hot showers every day. We have phone and internet centers to help keep us in touch with home. There are gyms to work out at, and theaters and recreation centers to keep one amused. Chaplains and counselors galore assist with morale and spiritual well being.
It’s easy to forget that there is an actual war happening. The base has gotten indirect fire perhaps once or twice a week from a mortar or rocket, but I’ve never seen or heard such an attack. The closest I ever came was one time when I was out riding my bike, I heard the alarm sound, and then later saw a plume of smoke about a half mile away where a rocket had struck in the middle of a gravel field. During this entire year, not a single person on Joint Base Balad has died on this base due to enemy action. That is amazing in itself, 30,000 people, military and contractors, all working together without a single death! Some have died due to suicide, medical conditions (heart attack, etc), and the like, although I don’t think we’ve had even a single accidental death on JBB this whole year either.
I’ve done a great deal of legal work. JAG’s in Iraq do all sorts of things. Some are military justice specialists, who work on court-martialing soldiers or otherwise punishing misconduct. There is also Trial Defense Service, the military version of the Public Defender. Some JAG’s are contract and fiscal law specialists, dealing with things like Army purchasing of T-shirts to commemorate 5k runs on holidays, as well as contracting to supply water, transportation, or essential services and supplies here in Iraq. There are several JAG attorneys who just go to pointless meetings with commanders all day, and do other esoteric things. I think the civilian counterpart to them might be called “corporate counsel.” Here is a picture of me doing my job, meeting with local Iraqis out by the East Gate of the base, I went a bit further than usual, and saw the Sons of Iraq checkpoint where we are right at the exit of the base without going off, it was exciting to get so close to the real Iraq:
Coming to Iraq has been a good experience. I’m proud to have served my country in a war zone, and I believe the work I do here is important and contributes to the victory against Al-Qaeda, and the re-construction of a free and democratic Iraq. The Iraqis are just like people everywhere, they want to protect their families, make money, and see their country improve for the benefit of themselves and their children. There are a small minority of extremists and fanatics, but by now they have largely been defeated. The US and coalition forces have won in Iraq, and now we are working to turn over the country to a stable, free, Iraqi government. We are winning.
The last few days have gone by quickly. I’ve been giving or throwing stuff away, and packing. We took an office photo yesterday, and here is our legal group, squinting as we look into the bright morning Iraqi sunshine while we stand in front of an MRAP:
Yesterday was sort of a spa day for me. There was not much work, and so I went to the pool to swim a bit and go off the high-dive a few times, and later got a manicure and pedicure. First time I’ve ever done that in my life, and it was nice. A surprising number of folks here avail themselves of the salon for facials, manicures, and massages. Like I said above, JBB is a pretty good place to be stationed if you’re going to be in Iraq.
It will be good to return to my family, especially my young children who don’t quite understand why I’ve been away for so long. So I can’t say I’m sorry to leave JBB. But it’s a good place to work, and like I say, I’m proud to have done my duty over the past year. Auf Wiedersehen Iraq!
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