Thanksgiving in Iraq

Like I said last time, I am now here at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.   We arrived on Tuesday this past week.  It’s good to finally be here after spending 2 and 1/2 months in pre-deployment training.  Come to think of it, I was notified of the deployment the first week of August, started training full time on Sept. 13, 2008, and only this week, two days before Thanksgiving, actually arrived in theater.

First of all, let me assure you that we are totally safe here.  The base is about 25 square miles large, which is huge, and there is a massive airfield here.  They have not had a single mortar or rocket attack since I arrived, and it’s been six months since anyone was hurt on this base.  They have 35,000 personnel here, and the borders of this base have high fences, dirt berms, and armed guards everywhere, so like I said, it is probably this safest place to be in Iraq.

I do have a mailing address.  It is:

MAJ Brian Nomi
HHC 3rd ESC (SJA, SFC Hibbs)
APO AE 09391
You have to write it exactly as it appears above, and the US Postal Service will deliver it right to me.  I don’t think I need anything special right now, so no need to send me any care packages.

I’m working in the legal office, and so far I’m delighted with the office, and the work I’ll be doing.  I even ran into a guy that I knew in Korea when I worked at that legal office (1996-1997), and was happy to see him working with me again here in Iraq.  Everyone is very nice, and I’m probably working in the nicest office in the nicest base in Iraq, doing exactly the kind of work I like to do.

They had a special meal, and the turkey and related dishes were absolutely delicious! I went with a group of my new friends at the legal office.  They had high ranking officers serving the meal, and several people were dressed up in turkey costumes, pilgrim costumes, indian costumes, and football jerseys.  Prime rib seasoned to perfection, several types of tasty stuffing and everything else you can imagine. The finest meal I’ve had in quite a long time, and we all ate until we hurt ourselves.

Internet access is very limited here, and today it rained, which caused the internet to slow to a crawl.  So I’m lucky to be able to even post this, let alone photos.  Next time, I’ll make sure to add some pictures.  Bye for now!

At Joint Base Balad, Iraq

We arrived recently, flying in on a giant C-17 aircraft.  It was a very smooth flight, actually, smoother than some commercial flights I’ve taken in the US.

I’m here now, and working in the legal office.  It is very safe.  Last night we even had a chance to go out to the movie theater, where we watched “Quantum of Solace” with Dolby digital sound.

More later…….

At Camp Buehring, Kuwait

buehring-sign-welcome1

I am currently at Camp Buehring, Kuwait.  We are in the northwest corner of the country.   Kuwait is a small country, maybe 75 miles across and 100 miles from north to south, with almost everyone living in Kuwait City, which is right on the coast.  If you were to leave KC, and drive 40 miles northwest into the middle of the barren desert, you’d be at Buehring.

 

 

We arrived at the Kuwait City Airport (KCI) last week, and were taken onto buses. 

 

at-kci

 

We were greeted by a few folks (LTC McDonnell and SGM Hardwick of the 420th, one of our units in Van Nuys) who came up from Camp Arifjan, the big US base in Kuwait.  All of us had our weapons with us during and after the flight.  After making us wait around for an hour for no reason, the bus took us straight up to Camp Buehring.  The weather in November is very pleasant, high of about 75 or 80 during the day, and a somewhat chilly 50 degrees at night.  In the summer it is insanely hot  The wind can make it cooler.  There is no water, and every drop of it is trucked into the base.   Nothing grows here.  Not even weeds.   It is pure, sandy desert out here.

 

They put the base here to be away from normal Kuwaiti life, of course.  All electricity is generated here, and the first thing I noticed upon arrival was the constant hum of the generators.  The larger generators roar.  One is about 50 meters from my tent, and at night I can feel the generator’s vibrations as I’m sleeping.  This is actually a benefit, as the hum drowns out most of the snoring of my tentmates.  One thing that is always noticeable is the smell of the burning fuel from these generators, and the constant dust getting blown about, especially when vehicles pass by on the sandy roads.  The tent holds about 14 guys, and is very crowded.  Worse, we have cots instead of mattresses, and it is uncomfortable and difficult to get a good night’s sleep.  Here are pictures of the tent:

 

my-tent 

my-tent-2

 

There are several thousand British and American troops here, as well as the occasional Korean troops, or even sometimes Kuwaiti troops.  They all live, shower, and eat, with all supplies trucked in through the super-secure perimeter of the base.  There are also hundreds of TCN’s (third country nationals) who come here to do everything from serving food at the dining facilities, manning the gym, fixing trucks, staff the food court, cleaning the porta-potties, and everything in between.  Most TCN’s are from India or the Philippines, and many speak very good English.  I’ve not seen a single Kuwaiti here to work.  The TCN’s are hard working, friendly folks who come here for years at a time to earn money.  The British troops are very friendly, and I often talk with them, and see them socializing with American troops.  Here is a good photo of the large DFAC, note the British troops in their tan, striped uniforms:

 

dfac-1

 

Camp Buehring is the central place where all troops come before deployment to Iraq.  We get a few last items of training here, such as classes on how to avoid bombs or IED’s, and the like.  Mostly it’s a place to get used to the desert environment and allow your body clock to adjust to the time change before you head into Iraq.   We don’t train for long here, and have quite a bit of free time to relax by watching movies, phoning home, shopping, or reading. 

 

Here is a map (not to scale) of Camp Buehring.  Camp Buehring Map

 

More later, I have to run now. 

 

Here is a picture of the sunset in the desert:

sunset-in-desert

The Longest Day

We are in Kuwait now, at Camp Buehring.   The trip here started at about very early the morning last week.  Everyone had to wake up at 1:30 am to get on a 2:30am bus ride from McGregor to Fort Bliss.  Of course, there were idiots who woke up at midnight and turned on all the lights, insuring that we’d get minimal sleep.  Fort Bliss adjoins the airport, and they put us all in a cold, drafty hangar-style building where they fed us breakfast at 4AM.  All of us had our personal weapons, which we carried the whole time while on the airplane.

At about 5:30, they put us on an airplane and we flew to Bangor, Maine.  We arrived there around 10AM, and a great group of people greeted us.  There were about 12 greeters, most of whom were senior citizens, and they shook all of our hands and gave us goodies to eat, and cell phones to make calls back home.  It was rainy and cold in Maine, of course, but we had a chance to make our last calls while in the US, use the internet, and relax. 

The next leg of the trip was from Maine to Shannon, Ireland.  We arrived around 1AM Irish time.  The airport lounge had free internet too, which was nice.  The bar and gift shop had overpriced wares.  It was amazing to see people getting off of the plane, where there was free food and drink, and throwing their money away on overpriced Irish coffee and snacks at the waiting lounge.

Last leg of the trip was from Ireland to Kuwait City.  I slept the whole way.  We arrived in the mid-afternoon.  Buses took us from the airport to Camp Buehring, which is about 2 hours away in the NW part of the country, really in the middle of the BFE desert.   We are all sitting on this desolate base out in nowhere land.  More on that later when I have some pictures to share.

All together, it was a very long day and night of travel, with little sleep and terrible airline food.  I think we were in transit for about 30 hours.  It’s actually a relief to be here in Kuwait after this terribly long set of flights.

Four days and Three nights at Home

Before deployment, reserve units often get a 4-day pass.  So I flew from El Paso to LAX for a few days back home.

I met up with my family at church, and we had a fun afternoon together.  The first evening, we had dinner with our friends John & Sylvia and their kids Grace & Melodie at the City Buffet in Oxnard.

dinner-with-grace

I also did some work at the office, and got things as squared away as I could for my long deployment.  Even met with two clients, which I wish I didn’t have to do.  It was a very busy time.  We had lots of fun.  I took the kids to the places where we love to visit, like the pet store, where the kids love to look at the animals.  It’s the next best thing to the zoo:

mao-fandian

(Rebecca loved wearing her Dalmation costume, which I thought was very cute).

I took Judy to school, and had a chance to visit with her class and teachers.  They are getting ready for Thanksgiving, and made some cute turkey decorations:

judy-at-school

It was good to spend some time with my family.  The kids now understand that when I am gone, I’m far away, but they know I will come back.  I also fixed a few things, like replacing a light switch and car battery, stuff that didn’t get done while I was gone.

The last day, I took the kids to Playsource in Woodland Hills.  They had a fun time, and we took a goodbye picture.  It was sad for me, but the kids were having so much fun they did not get upset when I left.  In the past Rebecca would grab me and not let go, and she’d say “don’t go baba!”   I will be missing my kids a lot while I’m gone.

playhouse

I never knew four days could go by so quickly.  We are going overseas very soon.

Life at McGregor Range

Life is somewhat spartan and harsh out here.  As I said before, they are trying to duplicate what life is like on a FOB in Iraq, and they do a pretty decent job of it.  The New Mexico desert is very arid and hot during the day, although in winter it gets very cold at nights, believe me!  I kind of like it, though. 

The food is decent, and they give you a good selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, in addition to hearty American army-style fare.  The dining hours are a bit limited, so you eat when the doors are open or not at all.  Breakfast, for instance, is 6AM to 7:30AM every day, and you better not be late.  In my civilian life I can eat whenever I want, but not here!

The base could house thousands of deploying troops, all in large barracks like ours.  Right now there are quite a few soldiers, most of whom are national guard and reservists.  They are doing training, getting ready to deploy, just like us.  I can’t estimate how many are here now, but this place does stay busy.

A few pictures of scenes around the living areas here:

mcgregor-range1

mcgregor-range-2

Anyway, we are basically all done with our training.  The unit, and all its members, are now “validated.”   This means we are completed with our training, and cleared to go to the combat theater.  So the days are spent doing very little now.  I mostly watch movies, and go to the internet cafe where i can get some work done on my laptop. 

The barracks are no great luxury, of course, but they do.  Here is a picture of my bed:

bed

There is not much more to life here at McGregor.

Back at Fort Bliss (McGregor Range, New Mexico)

We rode the overnight bus from Fort Hood back to El Paso, and this time it was a shorter ride for some reason (probably because we didn’t get lost like last time).   I managed to get some sleep, but the next morning was very sore from sleeping on the uncomfortable bus seats.

Last time, we were at Westbrook, which is way out in the boonies.   This time, they are keeping us at McGregor Range proper.  It’s off the 54 highway going north from El Paso into New Mexico.    Here is a satelite view of what it looks like at this place:

mcgregor-range

The idea behind McGregor is to make it look like a FOB (Forward Operating Base) in Iraq.  They have barbed wire fences all around, and signs in Arabic/English warning you to keep away and not take photos.  Every couple of hours, prayers are broadcast over loudspeakers in Arabic, just like would happen at a FOB in Iraq.  And of course the arid, desert environment is similar to that of Iraq.

They have been doing a bit more training here.  This is a big base for desert combat training, with armored humvees, and plenty of desert.  We spent a night doing a field exercise where we returned to Westbrook and then defended it while people shot blanks, had Iraqi wedding parties (shooting in the air), and then attacking us with mortars and gunfire.  It was kind of fun. 

This weekend, I return to Camarillo for a 4-day pass.  After a month away, I am VERY much looking forward to this!