Strange Vehicles

 One of the first things that you notice when you get off the plane is the unusual variety of vehicles. Most are different from those you’ll see in the US.

(Notice the gun turret on top)mrap

 

Probably the most common type of vehicle is the MRAP (Mine Resistant Armor Protected) vehicle. These are the convoy security mainstays. They are heavily armored, and ride very high. Their “V” shaped hull deflects and blast away from the passenger compartment, and they have weaponry on the top, some of which is going into automated weapons systems guided by people inside, rather than having a person stick his head up out of the top turret. These vehicles are protected by the “Duke” system that jams any radio traffic, to prevent remote detonation of roadside bombs. Some MRAP’s are for convoy security, some are for passenger transport. They are all very well-protected, and casualties are almost unheard of while driving in an MRAP.

more-mraps

The up-armored Humvees are around all over, but these rarely ever go outside the wire. The Humvee is referred to as a death trap, due to the much greater vulnerability to attacks while in a Humvee. You are much better off in an MRAP, which is much bigger and could squash a up-armored Humvee as though it were a Prius.

mrap-with-mine-roller

(Notice the mine-rollers on the MRAP on the right, and the weather was what we call “blowing dust”)

There are the Scooby buses all over, which transport people around. There are eight different bus routes on this base, and buses run every 30 minutes during the day. So for those without bikes or cars, the bus provides a pretty reliable way to get around. They are driving by TCN’s (third country nationals), normally from India, Bangladesh, etc.   Here’s a Scooby bus, with an armored humvee in the background:

scooby

 

Then there are the myriad of construction and transport vehicles. Most are fairly different from any you’d see in the US, and quite a few are operated by the Turkish contractors on our base.  These actually look like normal construction vehicles anywhere else.

There are some that I just can’t figure out, like these:

weird-vehicle

Finally, JBB is the one place where American car makers have the edge with passenger vehicles. The Chevy Suburban and Ford Explorer are the most common passenger vehicles for US Military to get around on the base. You saw a bombed-out version of this in a previous post, but they are everywhere. When folks go to lunch, you’ll likely see them in an American made SUV. At least the US Auto companies are making some money by selling these to us folks here at JBB.

 

Road safety is OK. The TCN drivers are actually very courteous and safe. The Turks and US Military tend to drive too fast, and to be a bit rude, which irks me while riding around on my bike. Like I’ve said, my biggest fear on this base is getting into a bike accident while riding my bike.

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The Weather in Iraq

 

 I like to check the weather report every day, just to get an idea of what to expect. The internet makes this easy, and I’ve bookmarked the nearest major city that is close to us here in Balad, Iraq. Anyway, here is what the weather report looked like yesterday:

 

wp-weather-post

I’ve seen rain, sun, and clouds, but never “SMOKE”~!!! I didn’t even know that smoke was a weather pattern. Anyway, we get our fair share of smoky days out here. I am getting used to it, because I don’t even notice it much any more. This base has a burn pit, where the military burns much of its trash, and the plume of smoke can be seen for miles. We also have a little burn barrel behind our office to burn sensitive client documents. So I guess everyone in Iraq doing the same thing leads to the smoky weather pattern once in a while.

 

The weather has actually been pretty nice over all. In December and January, it got very cold at night and in the mornings. Sometimes freezing, and you’d see frost on the walkways in the morning. But never snow. Overall my impression of the Iraqi winter is that it’s pretty cold! It has also rained a few times, and the rain turns the ground into a mess. But at least the rain controls the dust, which can be dense at times. Every couple of days, you have to wipe everything down to get rid of the dust. But by and large, the afternoons are clear and sunny, with temperatures in the 60’s or 70’s. There’s not really a need for a jacket most of the time, but at night I wear the following outfit to protect against the elements:

wp-post-bike

 

The main protection, actually, is the eyewear. For the first two months, I’d ride my bike everywhere, and the dust would just fly into my eyes. I was wondering why I’d have red, sore eyes. Then at nighttime I’d notice the headlights of the trucks, and clearly see how they illuminated the generous amounts of dust and smoke that I was pedaling my bike through. After that, I always wear my clear glasses and dust mask when riding my bike around base. It really helps.

 

Anyway, back on the subject of weather, they say that Iraq gets hot. I’ve not seen it hot here. In Kuwait, it would be somewhat hot even in mid-November. But here, there really hasn’t been a hot day yet. The summer months are hot, they say, but I can’t imagine that it’s any worse than living in Texas or Oklahoma. We’ll see.

 

The land surrounding this base is right on the banks of the Tigris river, and is quite lush. There are endless tracts of farmland with fruit trees and other vegetables planted. This is a great agricultural spot in Iraq.

Superbowl Monday

 The superbowl is a big deal for US Military personnel overseas. Here in Iraq, it was a very special day indeed. The broadcast of the game was carried live from 0200 in the morning until 0500 (2AM to 5AM). They had special setups for the live broadcast in all the recreation centers, and also the base movie theater.

But here is what really made is special. In Iraq, all military personnel are subject to General Order #1. That order proscribes certain things. No alcohol is allowed at all during your time in theater. GO #1 also prohibits other things, like taking war trophies, entering a mosque except under certain circumstances, possessing pornography, male and female co-habitation, etc.

 

So for the entire time that I’ve been overseas, I and all other law-abiding soldiers have not had a single drink. But on Superbowl Monday, you are allowed to drink two beers! Amazing! You go into the special broadcast locations, and take your ID card with you. You then turn in your ID in exchange for which you get a beer, which they open before they serve to you. They mark your hand with a black marker. You cannot take the beer outside the viewing room, and have to consume it while watching the game. Several high-ranking NCO’s are stationed at every exit, and monitor your drinking to insure that nobody passes beers around. It’s a high-security drinking event. After you’ve had your two beers, you have a black “X” in black marker on your left hand, which prevents you from coming back for more.

 

Here is a picture of me with my precious beer:

beer

 

Anyway, the game was spectacular, and many soldiers watched at 2AM. I was not up for that, but did enjoy the re-broadcast which took place at noon and again at 8PM on Monday. Superbowl Monday (due to the time difference was great! It’s truly a wonderful secular holiday