It’s been over a year since I left Joint Base Balad, Iraq. So much has happened! There are still 50,000 US Forces in Iraq, and the mission has been changed to simply supporting the Iraqi government, rather than an active combat role.
When I was on JBB, it was a US and Coalition Force base only. I understand that now there is a small contingent of Iraqi forces on the base itself. They took over my precious DFAC #3 (my favorite Dining FACility), and it’s now an Iraqi Army headquarters.
I still keep in touch with a few friends at JBB. My Ugandan friend Kelvin is still there, and once in a while I correspond with the legal office, and email the person who is in my chair doing the legal assistance. From time to time, I get an email or letter relating to something I did during my year in Iraq, even now a year after I left.
In some ways, my time in Iraq was a vacation. I had no mobile phone, and actually enjoyed the peace and tranquility that a year without a cell phone can bring. There was time to read many books and watch several good movies, time that I don’t have now that I’m home with the kids after work. There was time every morning to exercise. And the food that they gave us was really great, I’ve never eaten such tasty, healthy food in my life. The dining facilities get top marks from me – Honest! The thing that I tell everyone about Joint Base Balad and Iraq in general is that it is really very safe, and in fact it can be fun. It’s important to approach all things with the right attitude.
So that’s all I can say about Joint Base Balad for now. It’s still a very interesting, safe place to be, and if I didn’t have my family I’d probably try to return there. It’s a very good place to work and live, and I view my year there very proudly.
It’s been said that every military person who goes there is a hero. I don’t quite agree with that. I was just doing a job. But it is true that this is probably the only time in my life that I’ll ever be shot at. When I say this, it’s a bit of an over-statement, because the rocket and mortar attacks were quite infrequent, perhaps once every two weeks (More during dust storms). These indirect-fire attacks never got anywhere close to me, or anyone actually, which leads me to think that the people firing at the base were intentionally trying to miss, and just wanted to get paid for doing the attack. The closest attack to me, personally, was a night in April when a rocket landed about 300 yards away from my CHU (containerized housing unit) in a gravel field at 3AM, and failed to explode. A friend of mine told me this scared the crap out of him, because he heard it and saw the Explosive Ordinance Disposal folks take care of the rocket. As for me, I slept through the whole thing.
In my personal life, things are going wonderfully. I’m a solo practitioner attorney, and my clients were waiting for me when I returned. The practice was a bit slow the first month or two, but ever since then business has been roaring. I’ve filed 100 bankruptcy cases in 2010 alone. Landlord-tenant work also is reasonably active, and I’ve had some very good civil litigation cases this year that have been quite lucrative. It’s been so busy that I’ve hired an administrative assistant (legal secretary).
Since I came back, I bought a few investment properties. I figure that 2010 is a good year to buy real estate. When I was in Iraq, I owned no real estate, but over the past year I’ve started to get some nice real properties investments (it’s a great time to buy). Because my practice deals with landlord-tenant law, real estate, and foreclosures so often, the real estate business fits in nicely with my law practice. Another nice milestone is that I was finally promoted to lieutenant colonel. Here is a picture from my promotion ceremony in Los Angeles with MG William Frink, a great officer and friend to all Soldiers:
The really big news is the birth of my son, Matthew, who arrived on Aug. 4, 2010 (see picture above). His big sisters Judy and Rebecca love him, and he’s a very beautiful little boy. We’re very lucky. I think that my deployment to Iraq was much harder for my family than it was for me. I certainly missed my children while I was gone, though. It was painful for me to think about how my children didn’t understand why I was gone. I always promised that I’d be back, and they believed me. They knew that I was in a dangerous place. One time I heard Judy telling a friend that her dad “was in Iraq and had a shooter,” which of course is true.
A few funny stories about my children from when I was in Iraq: When I was away I’d often talk with the kids on Skype using video. My wife mailed me some of the pictures that they drew. I liked showing the pictures to the kids on the video sometimes, and Judy enjoyed saying “I drew that!” One time, Rebecca saw something she had drawn, and she got upset and demanded “Give that back!” Of course, she didn’t realize how hard it would be for me to do this. Another time, we were talking on Skype with a video chat. The children became excited, and Rebecca even went downstairs to try to look for me, thinking that I was downstairs. How heartbreaking it was to think about her searching for me and not being able to find me!
When I finally returned home, we had a big welcome back ceremony in Riverside, and my family came to it to greet me. The first thing that my daughter Judy said to me was “Are you going back to Iraq?” I was happy to tell her that I was not.
When I first returned home, it was very easy for me. Even my cat Buster recognized me and acted friendly to me, he normally is afraid of strangers.
Not sure what else I’ll be doing with this Blog. I’m proud that it’s gotten nearly 200,000 hits over the past two years, and is ranked as the chief source of info on JBB, right below the official JBB website. I may not post here often, but I’m glad that it is a good source of information on JBB, and the tens of thousands of people who deploy there every year.
To the extent that every military person makes a sacrifice, and puts his or her life on the line, then yes, I agree we are heroes. This post began with a photo of the famous “Heroes’ Highway” from the hospital to the helipad, one of my last photos in Iraq.
A few post-scripts:
To view a very interesting fire-fighter newsletter, please see here: I like this document, because it gives a good insight into life at JBB.
Finally, a comprehensive list of Iraq-specific military acronyms is attached. Very handy, even for someone with a lot of military experience.