Dispatch From Downrange
Dispatch From Downrange ĖIRAQ
On the road again.
I arrived at my new location about 60 miles farther north in Iraq last night. The team that picked me up from Taji arrived at the front gate and after clearing the search area met me, my dog mad, and all my gear in the waiting( sterile) area. This is a section inside the outer gate but not yet inside the base at Taji. Most all locations are set up this way. It is an added measure of security and one more place to stop a would-be attacker before they get inside.
We loaded all the stuff I had in the back of the vehicle. Since there is no mail service, no way to order anything and no shop to buy anything at my new location, I was carrying everything I could as it had to last me six months or better. Soap, paper, pens, bedding, medicine, first aid gear, (we have no medical support at the new site) clothes, electrical converters, power strips, things you would not think of but would be extremely important. If you cannot plug in your laptop because you donít have the right plug adapter, you wonít be using it very long. With everything loaded and with the paperwork I had obtained from the base command, we headed out the gate and to the first Iraqi Army checkpoint. This is where others had been losing much of their stuff. The Iraqis were confiscation (stealing) all sorts of things. The handler that went out the day before lost his TV, his desk lamp, light bulbs, a desk lamp, wall clock and a stapler. They ever tried to take his Crocks shower shoes and his X-Box system. After some very heated words and some threatening, he was able to keep his shoes and the X-Box, but the rest of the stuff disappeared into the Iraqiís little guard shack never to be seen again.
The escort team warned me that this would happen to us. In fact, they had lost an ice cooler in the back of their vehicle on the way in. As we approached the checkpoint, our driver, an Iraqi that worked for the PSD escort team, talked to the guard commander and tried to smooth our way through. I kept hearing the words K-9, K-9, as the Iraqis donít really like to mess with the dogs and Mad was showing his best imitation of Cujo. He was barking up a storm and trying to get out of his kennel to get to them.
The Iraqi commander, a Captain, waived us over to the search area and we all figured we would be there a while. Everything was taken out of the vehicle and laid on the ground. Every bag and box were unpacked, and then the culling started. Power strips, my two cameras, laptop, keyboard, iron, hot plate, remote hard drives, flashlights, computer speakers, a one cup water heater, a leatherman pocket knife and my cell phone. They have selected every electronic or electric item and then a few I think they just wanted to be confiscated. I presented the paperwork that I had painstakingly compiled and gave the Captain a copy translated into Arabic that the items, by serial number, belonged to me and not the Iraqi government or the US government and I was authorized by the prime contractor and the Iraqi government to have. They read the papers, and I pointed out each item and showed them where it was on the forms they were holding. One by one, my items were removed from the confiscated pile and returned to my bags. One and a half hours later, all of my items were returned. The last few they didnít even check, I think the Iraqi Captain just gave up when he didnít get the good stuff and stopped looking. As long as we had official (looking) paperwork, we were good to go. We loaded everything back up and quickly left before they changed their minds and wanted another look.
The drive of about an hour was uneventful. We went through three more checkpoints, but these were not search points so it was simply a matter of presenting papers and identification and we would be waived through. I asked the escort commander sitting in the front seat about the route we were taking. He had a GPS type map system attached to the dash with all sorts of markings and arrows on it. I asked about it and was told the route was a little dodgy and the points on the screen were area to try to avoid or get through quickly. He was constantly talking to the other vehicles in the escort convoy as well as his headquarters. Back at the base as well as the new location we were being tracked on their systems. It was pretty impressive the professionalism these guys displayed. All but the drivers were former US Rangers or British SAS military. They were certainly capable. As I sat in the back of the up-armored vehicle with my bullet resistant vest on, I got to thinking how many people were involved just to move my dog and me to the new spot. I canít give exact numbers, but there were more people moving me than the entire Gonzales Police department has on staff. All were tasked just to get my dog and me to the new location.
When we arrived, we stopped at the gate everyone dismounted. The vehicles were searched, and all my stuff was unloaded again. This time there was nothing separated just rummaged through. We loaded back up and passed to the next layer of security. Here the dogs searched the convoy. These were other dog handlers I knew, and I would be taking their place in a couple days after I was settled in.
We were met by our on base escort and were directed to the area where my company had its facility. There, several guys I had been in San Antonio with helped me get things moved into my new room. It was not about 2 am, and I was tired. I set up just enough to go to sleep after I took Mad out for a walk of course. He had been cooped up on his kennel for hours and was making it clear he need to take care of doggy business.
Back in the room I pretty much fell into bed only to be kept away almost all night by my howling barking whining dog. He did not like his new surroundings. It was not where he was used to and as normal, it would take a few days for him to settle down and get into a routine. The next morning training started, and I was briefed on the mission and what team I was on. Close attention was paid to making sure I knew where the off limits and danger areas were. So far this is not a bad place. One thing that it has is a real good dining facility. After some of the mystery food I had been eating at Taji, it was a welcomed sight and taste to get real food. They even had some decent tacos.
Thatís it for now,
From northern Iraq, this is Jon Harris, and youíve just read another
Dispatch from Downrange