Iraq War – Operation Iraqi Freedom – Part 2 – Kuwait

IRAQ WAR - KUWAIT (12 Jun 03 – 25 Dec 03)

The Doors – Break on Through
You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Tried to run
Tried to hide
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side
Break on through to the other side, yeah

This was literally the first song I listened to in Kuwait. We had just unloaded all our stuff, and we were playing cards with some transportation guys. This was the song that was playing, and everything felt very Vietnam, the ultimate surreal experience. We had landed, and we were really there. I kept a fairly thorough journal. I’ve decided to share some excerpts.

Sometimes I wonder. There are 150,000 people here. Do people realize what it’s like here? Do they remember us at all? Or are we just something to talk about with relatives ad friends? Oh, I know a guy serving in Iraq. Oh yeah? I know two. Are we memories of those that remember us for the sake of remembering? I didn’t tell anyone other than those I wanted to know because of that reason. I was afraid that I was going to become a martyr, nothing more than a subject in a 2 minute conversation. I hate being here, but what bothers me more is that people without genuine interest in my well being have made this war and me into something they know more about than the person next to them. Do people know soldiers here die everyday? Or are we just simply numbers to them? Is it worth it? Do people know about our sacrifice? Or is it something they like to say to themselves now, I once knew someone and he left for Iraq.

19 Jun 03
I’ve been here for only 5 days, 3 days total in Camp Arifjan, and I hate this place already. I hate everything about it, the humidity and the heat just about says it all. On top of that we got leadership that is not worth jack shit. Yesterday they held a meeting for 2 hours. Today, they managed to hold it in 100 minutes.

3 Jul 03
Flares shot up and 50 calibers shot off everything for about 5 minutes. Then a star cluster. THE PERIMETER HAS BEEN BREACHED! Everyone tensed up, thinking something’s going down. The longest 30 seconds of their lives later, everything in God’s breadth lit up the starry sky. Flares went up, two more star clusters, and tracers lit up the sky in every direction. Another 10 minutes later, the intense firefight came to a short stop. Few sporadic gunfire later, it was silent.

During the illegal ride to Camp Wolf, I thought about a lot of things …I realized how rich this country is, yet how primitive it is compared to America. I thought about school, about what I’m going to try to do when I go back, what to tell people and what not to tell people. How to try and confront the questions that I know I’m going to be faced with, and how to not answer them without looking like a jackass. I thought about my friends in Berkeley, Cerritos, Calgary, Belize… How suddenly I missed them all and how unfortunate it is for me to be stupid enough to not bring pictures just because I thought it would get me depressed even more. I watch some people taking out pictures and looking at them, and notice how jealous I become. I thought about who I should try to write first, and why, who means what to me. I thought about all the people I’ve met, and how to handle the next batch of people I meet. I need to be careful. I got attached to these phenomenal people, and now they’re leaving, often when I’m off at work. I sometimes barely remember their names, but I remember their faces, always. And it hurts, to get to know good people and have to let go, to have no control over anything.

The sandstorms are pretty bad. It happens everyday, whether you like it or not. They get into your ears, your teeth, and sometimes you just gotta use your fingernails, there is no choice. They block the view real bad sometimes. I always watched the news and heard about the accidents that happen. Helicopters crashed, trucks collided. I always thought they were the stupidest people in the world. How can you just crash into another truck in a convoy, in the middle of nowhere, in the sand? You could have swerved million different places and lived. But now that I’m here, I know. It’s hot, you got sand stuck in your throats, and you can barely open your eyes because of all the sand getting into every part of your body and the sun that never stops shining so brightly. Sometimes you can barely make out the person in front of you. Most of the time you can’t. And I know it must be worse in vehicles and helicopters.

Showers are 3-4 minute walk away. They basically have 4 shower rooms to support thousands of people, and each tent or ‘room’ has 10 stalls where you enter, close the curtain, and barely have enough space to bring your elbow up. The water’s always hot, and it’s never sprouting enough for you to be satisfied. Then there’s the line to the showers. Sometimes there’s such a long line people just give up. Some people wake up in the middle of the night just to go and shower. What I don’t understand is, why do they have just as many tents for females when we outnumber them about 10 to 1 here? It’s getting congested, and something should be done. In a way I wish they didn’t have the curtains and the stalls to enter. If they just had like 4 poles in the tents, then we could fit more people in there just to shower. But I suppose it’s because of all the high ranking people that reside here.

The restrooms are just as far away. They all smell like shit, and I try to hold in as long as I can before I go, just to make sure I won’t have to get up again and walk so far just to piss. And I think I’m getting better at holding my breadth for a short while. See when you go in, you breath in as much air as you can. And when you get in, you keep making your lung think that it’s getting air by pushing your chest in but not actually breathing air in or out. I’ve heard of bathrooms here but haven’t been to just yet. Kuwaitis apparently shit and shower in the same place. You shit into this hole in the middle of the floor, and in the same place you shower. And the hole is just big enough for your foot to fit in. Great…

27 Jul 03
Some things are so weird they just crack me up. At the dining facility, rightly called the D-FAC, they got hot sauce from Saudi Arabia called Rabeea. At first I paid no attention to it because I never needed to use hot sauce. And one day I was sitting there, taking my sweet time, when I noticed this Rabeea hot sauce. Right in the middle of it, surrounded by thorns, was a picture of the most peculiar little kid you could think of, wearing a blue shirt and a white overalls, sporting a fake smile upon a frowning face. I burst out laughing hysterically. I had never seen anything like it before. And underneath it was written, Produced in the country of Saudi Arabian. I couldn’t believe it. I never laughed so hard ever since I had gotten deployed, and it was exactly what I needed to get some frustration out of my mind. Then the next day, while observing another Rabeea on another table, I noted that they had the spelling right on this one, Produced in the country of Saudi Arabia. Amazing. I then made it my life’s mission from then on to find this boy. I wonder where he is now, is he a farmer? A rich man? Does he even know he’s the face of a hot sauce? Someone likened it to Aunt Jaima. But at least she looks like someone that would make delicious syrup.

3 Aug 03
In a land where sand is much more plentiful than all the stars in the universe, I am quite miserable. I remember the 3rd day we were here. 126 degrees. It was either 126 outside, or 118 inside the warehouses, and I didn’t know which one was worse because the humidity in the warehouse was just horrible. I couldn’t stop sweating for hours.

15 Aug 03
I don’t even know where this is going anymore. I’m haunted by boredom and lack of motivation. And it’s only August. We have no idea what is going on, what’s going to happen. Hopefully we’ll find out sooner or later. I am so desperate to get out of here. But more so than that, I am desperate to see the world. I… I feel powerless and useless.

24 Aug 03
Do we believe in God because we want to? Or because we need to? I was listening to the chaplain’s sermon today, about trusting in God and making that connection. I always feel good whenever I’m in a chapel in the military, especially with these dedicated groups I meet once in a while, we 20 of us singing in horrible harmony. But today I felt like I was unsure. Sure I believe in God and I believe that Jesus died on the Christ for me. But why? I always ask that question now days. Am I afraid that if I don’t, I will suffer in hell forever? What comes first, my trust and love for God, or that fear of hell?

I feel like I have a lot to write about, but at the same time I have nothing to write about. Every time I feel that I need to start writing about something, I don’t know where to start. It’s not that there’s something new happening everyday, but it just doesn’t… feel right.

2 Sep 03
I suppose I couldn’t go to sleep for the past 2 weeks is because I’ve been so stressed out. I don’t want to admit it, especially because I don’t really feel like I’m stressed, but I am. And I’m not the only one. Roberson does laundry at night because he can’t sleep. Contreras and Roberson work out late night too, because, they say, it helps them sleep. But I know Contreras isn’t getting any sleep, since I see him turning his flashlight on and off in frustration as I wait for myself to fall sleep at 2 AM.

23 Sep 03
I never realized something until recently. In my 8 months of extensive military thinking, about what we’re doing, about why we’re doing what we’re doing, I’ve never realized the real cost of this war until recently. I heard too many times now, passing by, people on the phones. “Hi, honey. Do you know who this is? Well, this is your daddy. Yeah, I hope to get to know you when I get back home, too. No, I don’t know when I’m coming back.” I was in shock. What is the cost of this war? Men who have children that never knew them are dying. Men whose children are starting to walk and talk and here, fighting someone else’s war, wondering when they’ll go home. That is the true cost of war. And for them to extend our stay here for an entire year… that’s the greatest atrocity. Men who have power over many more men are abusing their power. If you don’t see it my way, I will gladly invite you to stay in Kuwait/Iraq for a year. For Bush, for anyone who has never been there like in Vietnam or World War II, to say now that our troops are doing great and that our morale is high deserves to have their vacation in in Kuwait for a term as prolonged as ours to increase their own morale. SPC Contreras of 2nd platoon lost her father last week, and didn’t find out about the death unti today.

28 Sep 03
They have this piece of paper out, called suicide watch. I just thought it was hilarious. They listed the symptoms, which included anxiety, depression, alcohol dependence, isolation, easily irritated, stuff like that. I was thinking to myself, who in this dump isn’t feeling like that? I guess we’re all freaken suicidal.

Here, now, I feel like I have changed. And in a lot of ways, I feel like I have changed for the worse. I’m scared. For the first time in my life, I’m scared of going back home. I don’t know how people are going to look at me now. Now that I know I’ve changed, but I’m sure its for the worse. I’ve become so un-sentimental… I don’t give a damn about anything anymore. I mean, I could see myself now, talking to some people, feeling no emotions when they tell me things like their mom died, or they failed a test, they have to wake up too early in the morning, they broke up with someone… We’ve all been there done that now, or, like myself, seen too much of that here. We just accept it and move on, because we can’t get caught in the mist of things, in the emotions that could mean the end of our sane selves. I don’t know if I could ever really care about too much anymore. Or perhaps I would care so much that it will aggravate myself and others. I don’t know. And the future scares me so.

2 Oct 03
This is currently my support for Christianity. I don’t love God because he needs to be loved. I don’t need him because he needs me. No. Like CS Lewis said, our love to him must be like the relationship of light to mirror, female to male, echo to voice. Perhaps our own downfall is that our wit and arrogance have shaped our very own stone hearts that believe in an otherwise reversed role. And all the while, ‘if he who in Himself lacks nothing chooses to need us, it is because we need to be needed.’ So whether one is a hard soul or a saved one or not, it is difficult to argue, then, that science has disproved God, because God’s purpose does not lie in us, but rather our purpose lies in His. Perhaps it is because of that lack of evidence that its very own foundation is shaky, because there is no foundation. We look around ourselves and indulge into our own spoiled ingenious and marvelous creation, a creation out of someone else’s creation, that we have selfishly made that into our very own, looking no further, glorifying ourselves in our own creativity. But in the end, we are only fooling ourselves unless we bring ourselves to the truth. God is love. And his love for us endures forever.

I want to expand on this, as I learn to grow as a stronger Christian. I need to ask other Christians now, why do you believe in God? Is it simply out of fear of hell? Is it because it’s safer to play the game of life with one more card in your hand? Is it because you’ve been raised to believe in God and its religious dogma? Or is it because, like me and many others before and after me, now, you have realized, that we are only imperfect and often inaccurate representation of our Lord and Savior? That He came to this world not only so that our suffering may be like his, but also that our love may be like his as well? God is Love. And his love for us endures forever. Let us, in every way we can, be as perfect and accurate reflection of that Love.

6 Oct 03
Ah, what a day. I say that only because it’s my day off.

4 Oct was my mom’s birthday…. And I sat there, listening to her talk, speechless, because I didn’t know what to say. It took me a full half hour before I even began to murmur Happy Birthday. Actually, it didn’t even come to that. I asked her, you know why I called right? But I don’t know why it’s so hard to say… Eventually I said it before I said good night. How freaken pathetic.

16 Oct 03
I’m thinking now days. I’m thinking I might actually stay here a bit longer. I see all these older people around me and what they’re going through. I feel like I’ve led too much of a sheltered life and that I haven’t seen enough to change myself. I feel that I need to go up there, see what it’s like for myself, and stay there, change myself permanently. I’m thinking about trying to transfer to 4th ID somehow, and get myself into an infantry unit of some sort and have myself go on patrols in Baghdad. I want to do this.

18 Nov 03
We have a straight out mechanic with a stripper as his wife that came out positive on urine tests and still was promoted to E-5 (Gonzales), a mentally damaged soldier due to a car crash that is persistent in all she does but is frustrated because she can’t seem to grasp ideas fast enough (Daughters), a self-made millionaire that is losing tens, hundreds of thousands of dollars while being here and has closed down 6 of her 8 stores (Mettler), a young 22 year old who moved from Oklahoma to Idaho because she met the husband of her dreams, an ex-marine now permanently on a wheelchair due to a car accident (Jones), a semi-professional soccer player that can no longer handle stress on his knees (Nielson), a 22 year old with a 4 year old daughter who can’t seem to get over the fact that his ex can’t seem to grasp the concept of earning money (Porcayo), a special ed teacher who never seems to become upset about anything in any manner and is most cordial in every aspect (Price), an ex-infantryman who has now gone through a divorce after 8 years of mangling with a failed marriage and avoided a 12500 dollar price tag for flipping over a humvee (Fitzgibbon), an ex-Ranger as a first sergeant of a post office (Basilio), and a computer geek who owns a private network hub place as a captain (Eng). I don’t know how it can get any more variety than that. I’ve experienced lives with these mature men and women, and I don’t know how else my life could have turned if it wasn’t for their wisdom of ages. I’m 19.

15 Dec 03
About 5 days ago, Nielson bumped his head on the keyhole part of the gate that sticks out. He says he was setting a box down and was in a hurry to get up and didn’t realize that the gate had been slowly opening for some reason. Well, he got up with so much force now he has 3 staples on his head he can’t get rid of for at least another week or even two. He keeps scratching every part of his head but it, and we keep joking we should be wearing helmets when working in the cage.

20 Dec 03
Today we found out we’re going to Djibouti.

Iraq War Photo. I never got to go on this helicopter ride because our orders to move out came on the same day.

I never got to go on this helicopter ride because our orders to move out came on the same day.

Iraq War Photo. We're keeping an inventory of our things as well as trying to get some grub in our stomachs. This is in the airfield hanger, few hours before takeoff.

We’re keeping an inventory of our things as well as trying to get some grub in our stomachs. This is in the airfield hanger, few hours before takeoff.

Iraq War Photo. All the lower enlisted shaved our heads as a platoon. This is still in the hanger, waiting for further orders.

All the lower enlisted shaved our heads as a platoon. This is still in the hanger, waiting for further orders.

Iraq War Photo. We are walking towards our ride, the C-17.

We are walking towards our ride, the C-17.

Iraq War Photo. The pilot was keeping an eye on how things were progressing with the load plan. Here, he stands in the rear of the plane, in between the view of two loaded pallets. I'm fairly proud of this shot.

The pilot was keeping an eye on how things were progressing with the load plan. Here, he stands in the rear of the plane, in between the view of two loaded pallets. I’m fairly proud of this shot.

Iraq War Photo. Here, the pastor, the 2nd from the right in the back, is leading us through prayer. I know it's bad, but I remember thinking to myself, 'easy for you to say, at least you don't have to go overseas.'

Here, the pastor, the 2nd from the right in the back, is leading us through prayer. I know it’s bad, but I remember thinking to myself, ‘easy for you to say, at least you don’t have to go overseas.’

Iraq War Photo. The plane took off at around 1130 hours Central Time. The C-17 is a human engineering marvel. Not only is it huge, but it's very intricate and beautiful inside, with millions of wires everywhere, but everything was organized. Within hours, we were all sleeping in.

The plane took off at around 1130 hours Central Time. The C-17 is a human engineering marvel. Not only is it huge, but it’s very intricate and beautiful inside, with millions of wires everywhere, but everything was organized. Within hours, we were all sleeping in.

Iraq War Photo. I took the liberty to sleep on the floor as did everyone else. I mean how often do you get to do that? It was so cold, though, I had to put a poncho over me to use as a blanker, but it was still cold. I couldn't take off my boots because they helped trap heat in.

I took the liberty to sleep on the floor as did everyone else. I mean how often do you get to do that? It was so cold, though, I had to put a poncho over me to use as a blanker, but it was still cold. I couldn’t take off my boots because they helped trap heat in.

Iraq War Photo. It was freezing inside the plane, and they only had about one heater going. Here, I'm messing around with those pillows that wrap around your neck and rests on your shoulders, creating a mohawk. I'm wearing a gator neck up to my nose and aviator gloves to keep warm. Goggles were for show. And yes, you see the white wires that shows my indoctrination into the iPod family in 12 Jun 03. The green box on my left chest pocket is a case for my earplugs, for the plane and to use in battle.

It was freezing inside the plane, and they only had about one heater going. Here, I’m messing around with those pillows that wrap around your neck and rests on your shoulders, creating a mohawk. I’m wearing a gator neck up to my nose and aviator gloves to keep warm. Goggles were for show. And yes, you see the white wires that shows my indoctrination into the iPod family in 12 Jun 03. The green box on my left chest pocket is a case for my earplugs, for the plane and to use in battle.

Iraq War Photo. I don't think the pilots knew how cold we were, because they were always in their cockpits, and when I went up to take my pictures, the cockpit was much warmer.

I don’t think the pilots knew how cold we were, because they were always in their cockpits, and when I went up to take my pictures, the cockpit was much warmer.

Iraq War Photo. Kuwait. We spent 20 total air time and 3 some hours in Germany. It was hot. VERY hot. I've never seen anything like it. 5 minutes outside and you were crazy if you weren't sweating or thirsty. I was pretty shocked at the way Kuwait looked. I had an idea, but didn't really expect this.

Kuwait. We spent 20 total air time and 3 some hours in Germany. It was hot. VERY hot. I’ve never seen anything like it. 5 minutes outside and you were crazy if you weren’t sweating or thirsty. I was pretty shocked at the way Kuwait looked. I had an idea, but didn’t really expect this.

Iraq War Photo. 'Am I really in Kuwait? It's still very surreal to me. I just came to the realization today. What am I doing here? It's hot, 117 degrees in the afternoon. During the night it drops to a comfortable 100, 95 if we're lucky.' We slept on the wooden floors.

‘Am I really in Kuwait? It’s still very surreal to me. I just came to the realization today. What am I doing here? It’s hot, 117 degrees in the afternoon. During the night it drops to a comfortable 100, 95 if we’re lucky.’ We slept on the wooden floors.

Iraq War Photo. We kept an inventory of our weapons in the center of the tent in Camp Wolf, until we were ordered to move out.

We kept an inventory of our weapons in the center of the tent in Camp Wolf, until we were ordered to move out.

Iraq War Photo. And this is where we moved to, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. We would be stuck here in what we called the 'concentration camp' for another 2 months. It was a huge warehouse with no air conditioning and it was hotter inside than it was outside at times. At night, it would cool down to 95 or 100 degrees, but you would still wake up in your own sweat. It would soak through the bed sheets and reveal the designs and colors of the mattress.

And this is where we moved to, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. We would be stuck here in what we called the ‘concentration camp’ for another 2 months. It was a huge warehouse with no air conditioning and it was hotter inside than it was outside at times. At night, it would cool down to 95 or 100 degrees, but you would still wake up in your own sweat. It would soak through the bed sheets and reveal the designs and colors of the mattress.

Iraq War Photo. I have no idea how the weather is over in the states. Frankly, I've never seen anything like this place before. Everyday, it's over 110 degrees. I haven't seen a single day that they announced to be under 115. I can imagine the newscast here, "and today, again, it's 115 degrees." And the wind factor will probably add another 3 degrees because it just burns your skin and makes everything that much worse. It's miserable here. I never thought sand could hurt, but it really does at 20 mph on your face as you're walking.

I have no idea how the weather is over in the states. Frankly, I’ve never seen anything like this place before. Everyday, it’s over 110 degrees. I haven’t seen a single day that they announced to be under 115. I can imagine the newscast here, “and today, again, it’s 115 degrees.” And the wind factor will probably add another 3 degrees because it just burns your skin and makes everything that much worse. It’s miserable here. I never thought sand could hurt, but it really does at 20 mph on your face as you’re walking.

Iraq War Photo. This was probably the most powerful picture I took in Kuwait. Here, a sergeant gathers all his belongings and prays before he heads off. He was part of a transportation unit. One thing about transportation unit that people don't realize. That is one of the hardest jobs to have, because you are constantly exposed to the enemy while moving around. His unit had suffered several casualties. I turned off the flash to take the picture.

This was probably the most powerful picture I took in Kuwait. Here, a sergeant gathers all his belongings and prays before he heads off. He was part of a transportation unit. One thing about transportation unit that people don’t realize. That is one of the hardest jobs to have, because you are constantly exposed to the enemy while moving around. His unit had suffered several casualties. I turned off the flash to take the picture.

Iraq War Photo. 13 Jul 03 Arnold Schwarzenegger came by the other day. I had to work my magic to convince my chain of command to let me get off work for a couple hours to go see him at the DFAC. I loved seeing him. The guy had a great aura him, and the first thing he said was, "I came here to pump you up~!"

13 Jul 03
Arnold Schwarzenegger came by the other day. I had to work my magic to convince my chain of command to let me get off work for a couple hours to go see him at the DFAC. I loved seeing him. The guy had a great aura him, and the first thing he said was, “I came here to pump you up~!”

Iraq War Photo. A captured Iraqi Tank

A captured Iraqi Tank

Iraq War Photo. I was really proud of the camel spider we captured. We surrounded it and I put the bottle down for it to climb into.

I was really proud of the camel spider we captured. We surrounded it and I put the bottle down for it to climb into.

Iraq War Photo. Here you can see the camel spider in the bottle. It's lightning fast, and blends in perfectly in the Kuwaiti sand. Later, we would put it in battle against a scorpion. The scorpion won.

Here you can see the camel spider in the bottle. It’s lightning fast, and blends in perfectly in the Kuwaiti sand. Later, we would put it in battle against a scorpion. The scorpion won.

Iraq War Photo. Rows and rows of Humvees in Camp Arifjan. Just sitting there. Doing absolutely nothing.

Rows and rows of Humvees in Camp Arifjan. Just sitting there. Doing absolutely nothing.

Iraq War Photo. Eventually, after month and a half in the warehouse, we moved out of our concentration camp into tents. Even though we had a lot less space and had to sleep on cots, we were happy to finally have air conditioning.

Eventually, after month and a half in the warehouse, we moved out of our concentration camp into tents. Even though we had a lot less space and had to sleep on cots, we were happy to finally have air conditioning.

Iraq War Photo. This is what it looks like. We had 10 men in a 8 men tent, and you could touch the person to the left and to the right of you if you had your arms extended. All our belongings had to fit in this tent.

This is what it looks like. We had 10 men in a 8 men tent, and you could touch the person to the left and to the right of you if you had your arms extended. All our belongings had to fit in this tent.

Iraq War Photo. 25 Dec 03. We're preparing to head out to Djibouti. I'm chilling on Roberson's bed, while Fitz gathers his belongings.

25 Dec 03. We’re preparing to head out to Djibouti. I’m chilling on Roberson’s bed, while Fitz gathers his belongings.

Next >> Iraq War – Operation Iraqi Freedom – Part 3 – Djibouti