IRAQ WAR – DJIBOUTI (26 Dec 03 – 22 Apr 04)
Doves – One of These Days
Say you will stay
Forgot what I came here for
Passing signs on the road
Telling me I’m far from home
Your friends they were so close
One by one they didn’t stay
Drift away like rolling sea
One by one they drift away
One of these days
One of these days
I changed quite a bit over the course of the deployment. Wisconsin, I was anxious and didn’t know any better, and in Kuwait I was reckless and got into a lot of trouble. Djibouti was a country that set me right. I was still stressed out and depressed, but there, in a country so removed from everything I knew, almost literally on the other side of the world from California, I experienced an earthquake, both literally and emotionally. It set me straight, after the most uplifting time of the deployment (Soldier of the Quarter Award) as well as the subsequent most thought provoking, depressing time of the deployment (handing out 87 body bags after what seemed to be a relatively insignificant rainfall).
There is no reason that a country should be so poor that it accepts an irrigation infrastructure as a luxury that they inevitably cannot obtain. This happens, year after year, and nothing is done to stop it, because the government doesn’t have any money. This country made me realize something, something that Kuwait couldn’t do. Kuwait was so full from its own oil that they had servants do their bidding in that dry country. Djibouti is a third world country that few people know about or even care about.
And I learned that we’re damn lucky. So fucking lucky. Do you know how easy it is to make a decent living here in the states? How easy it is to be ‘successful’ and to pursue your dreams? How easy it all is… By the time I had made my way over to Africa, I was 20, and already had in my wallet more money than what any family could have saved up in their lifetime. Yet, I can attest to the fact Djibouti and Kenya, with all their inadequacies, really knew how to find joy in the little they had. And here we sit, unsatisfied with how little our parents leave us with, how inept our country has been, and how competitive it all is just because everyone is just as selfish as we are.
I didn’t write as much as I did in Kuwait, which meant I had more things to keep myself occupied. But I also took more pictures. I hope it helps with telling at least a bit of the story.
I’ll never forget Camp Lemonier, Djibouti. For all the good times, for all the bad times, for all the things we learned. I for one learned that when all four departments of the military come together, they can indeed work together as a team and accomplish all our missions successfully, while establishing good foundation and creating a desirable atmosphere. There is only one Camp Lemonier in the world, and I’m sure of it. And I’m glad my belief in the military was redefined by my experiences there than any other bases in the world.
26 Dec 03
MERRY FUCKING XMAS.
On Christmas Day, approx 1600 hrs, we found out we have 10 hours to prepare for everything, we’re taking off at 0200 hrs. Well, of course that ruined all our Xmas plans.
29 Dec 03
I’m lucky enough to serve with America’s best, regardless of their intent of joining in the first place.
Well, we’re taking malaria pills. I keep forgetting where I left it and all, but I take it everyday now after dinner. There were couple malaria stories that I heard that I didn’t like too much, and I heard they’re carried by mosquitoes and flies, which there are plenty of here biting us, so I got real scared and started taking them seriously yesterday. Well, Roberson had taken one in the morning, and he was feeling so bad that he couldn’t even stand up straight. That guy looked like he was about to throw up, which he did for the first time in 5 years, and he still looked like he was fucked up. He went to the doctors, found out he had a fever (yeah) and took the day slow.
8 Jan 04
Happy New Years. This holiday season has been anything but jolly. I don’t remember anything special this time around. I think it gave me a new perception of Christmas and New Year’s. I remember getting my guitar out and started strumming annoying chords, screaming Happy New Year’s as a Super Stallion (Marine helicopter) flew by and that was about it.
19 Feb 04
I went on leave on 2 Feb, and I had an awesome time on leave. Right now I’m actually getting some time to sit down, relax, and just be free enough to reflect and write about the past 2 weeks.
I flew out of Djibouti, Africa at 0315 hrs on 2 Feb 04. I flew in Omni International Airlines to the country of Cyprus (for the next year or so until annexed by Turkey again or something), then to Germany, then to Baltimore, Maryland. The trip to Baltimore took just about 18 hrs, which wasn’t very fun.
I headed to Cincinnati, Ohio in Delta Airlines (470 bucks roundtrip, btw), and I had realized I had very little to eat in the last 24 hrs. It was at this point that I approached the front desk of my gate and asked if I have enough time to get something to eat, because I was feeling kind of hungry. The attendants replied playfully, asking if I am really hungry or just kind of hungry. After a brief friendly confrontation, they directed me to the food court and told me I have about 40 minutes to spare. Well, then I went to McDonald’s for the first time in about 9 months, and was getting my delicious Big Mac when I figured, I’m in a really, really good mood. I mean just standing there in the airport, I spread my arms out and wanted to scream, “FREEDOM!” When I was landing at Baltimore, I saw lights and buildings and cars and civilization, something that was only a distant memory in my mind. I was culturally shocked. It was snowing outside and I stood out amongst trenchcoats and umbrellas with my jeans and Operation Iraqi Freedom shirt. I was so close to kissing the very ground I was standing on, but I did manage to maintain my posture. So with all that, I would have to say I was overwhelmed and was experiencing culture shock in my own country of citizenship. I was relieved and overjoyed. So I decided to celebrate by spreading a little bit of that joy in a playful way. I ordered a strawberry shake and got a mocha frap at the nearby Starbucks, and headed back to the front desk. I gave them to the 2 clerks, saying, “I got you something; I figured you weren’t really hungry, so I figured you would be thirsty. Here’s a strawberry shake and mocha frap because I didn’t know what you guys would like.” And one of them said, “How did you do that?” I replied, “Well, I had some money, and I just decided to get some drinks… I think it’s called purchasing stuff. I just figured you gals are on a night shift so you could use some caffeine.” She then said back to me, “My God, that’s like the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me… I was just kidding around about you being hungry. I gotta introduce my daughter to you.” “Oh, is she available?” “Yeah, she’s graduating from Ohio State this coming March.” “Oh, well, I can be there, wait…. nm, I don’t think I can make it. But listen, I gotta go change because I’ve worn the same stuff for the last 24 hrs. Enjoy your drinks.” So I went to the bathroom and came back. Just after I sat back down, I heard over the intercom, “Would the passenger Elliott Kim please report to the front desk.” I reported as ordered and she said, “Oh, I forgot to give this to you.” (She handed over a boarding pass) I replied, “I already have one, I think I got it back in Baltimore when I checked in there.” And she said, “Oh no, but this one’s First Class.”
It was at this point that I realized it was my turn to say, “How did you do that?” And she said, “Well, I just punched in some numbers and printed out a boarding pass… I think it’s called doing my job.” I didn’t know what to say. I really didn’t. I had just upgraded myself to a First Class on a 5 hour flight over 2 drinks. What do you say when something like that happens and you didn’t see it coming? She continued to amuse me, telling me about how her daughter should meet up with someone like me to get married, someone with manners and humor. I shot back, “Oh what? But you don’t look old enough to have a daughter!” She laughed and said, “Please, I already got you First Class.” After a brief conversation that continued, I managed to find my seats when I finally made my way into the plane (I had accidentally made a right to Economy class and ended up at the back of the plane when I realized the numbers were getting bigger, not smaller), but even then, the entire First Class deck was watching my every move. Here’s a scrawny 20 year old sitting in First Class seats… The 65 year old private businessman sitting directly behind me then told me that it was the slickest thing he’s seen since his visit to Las Vegas. It was definitely the best 7 dollars I had ever spent.
From there, I flew to LAX for another 5 hours. That was good 24 hours of the past 28 hours. When I got to LAX, my good friend Matt Mck was waiting for me. Well, I was walking around and I happened to end up standing behind Matt, and for about 30 seconds I was just listening to him talk to his friend, him totally unaware that I was even there right behind him. What an awesome way to be welcomed to the city of angels.
For the next 24 hours I called a lot of people I haven’t called for quite some time. I went on AIM, which was kind of exciting at first, although I’m not very used to some of the newer features.
Here’s my schedule:
2 Feb 2200 – LAX
4 Feb 0015 – Leave for Korea, 5 Feb 0815 Arrive at Korea
9 Feb 1515 – Leave for LAX, 9 Feb 0830 Arrive at LAX
11 Feb 2030 – Berkeley
14 Feb 2100 – LAX
18 Feb 1345 – LAX to Baltimore
The only real reason behind the Korean visit during my short 15 day stay was because I had a feeling my brother wasn’t doing all that great and I needed to check his status for myself. Of course it was expensive, but no matter. He’s my brother and I had a feeling he needed me. I may have traveled to Korea for 4 days, a total of 40 hours of air travel there from Djibouti. My head was spinning for even 3 days after my return from Korea. But I believe I did the best of what I set out to do. I did meet up with my diaper buddy’s brother (1st since 6 years ago) and his family, my old church buddies from when we were 7 or so, my grandparents and my uncles and aunts. I was busy traveling most of the time. I wasn’t very happy with the position that the Army put my brother in, though. 63 people and 70 million dollars on a 23 year old? On a brand new gold bar? What the hell are they thinking? Some Companies aren’t even that big. I stayed at a different location every night.
I know how stressful it can be for a college student on a weekday schedule. But Matt Mck actually took the time to drive all the way down from UCLA to Cerritos to see me for a couple hours on Tuesday the 10th. I don’t know if I would be able to do the same should we have reversed our roles. But I thank him for his constant support and understanding. He’s played a significant part with my sanity. I started to clean up my Cerritos residency with a year’s worth of junk I was slowly sending home.
I spent an entire day on Thursday going to class. I thought that the first class was pretty interesting, but the second class, I just kind of lost him. I think it could have been interesting if I knew what the hell the guy was saying. Plus, Echeverry just has a really dreadful mood to it… I think.
I cleaned up the entire living room full of junk for 3 days I was there. I met up with several people that I thought I probably wouldn’t have many opportunities to meet for quite some time. I couldn’t sleep past 8 AM for some reason, though, no matter when I went to sleep at 3AM or 11 PM. I met up with Tiffany, who I think matured physically and emotionally over the past year, and of course Patrick, the smartest man on earth. He even did my taxes for me, and I promised to take him out on that refund.
Sean Novak. He’s been my longest friend since my immigration to America, since 5th grade. I think we’ve had our differences in the past, mostly due to my own immaturity, but I love the guy to death. I had a chance to meet and talk to him, and I wish him the best of everything, for obvious reasons. It hurts me so to know that that he may not be in the best of circumstances. I had an awesome opportunity to hang around with 3 other buddies, David Uyan, Sung Nam, and Matt Mck and watched the movie The Last Samurai. I had just enough time to kind of finish cleaning up my room.
Things I haven’t done in a year (Since 10 Feb 03):
Seen Berkeley, a city I was given 48 hours to leave
Seen my mom
Seen my brother, a 2LT with the 2d Infantry Division in Korea
Seen my friend Tiffany and my roommate Patrick
Walked on any street I wanted without needing to seek authorization
Eaten In ‘N Out
Slept in my own bed
Taken a bath
Taken a shower with a toilet in the same bathroom
Taken a shower in a room with a door
Taken a dump whenever, however long I want
Eaten Korean food, or whatever I want, whenever I want
Eaten something other than Spaghetti, grilled ham and cheese sandwich, spaghetti, meat loaf, or chicken
Drank real water
Dialed less than 10 numbers to get connected (average is 10 for DSN number to get connected to USA from Djibouti, 11 for phone card, 10 for pin number, 10 for phone number (40+ total average), for US calls, to Korea usually adds 5 more numbers)
Worn contacts (still haven’t, they can’t be worn in such combat zones because of the nature of sandstorms)
Put on gel (still haven’t, I’ve shaved my head on this deployment several times now)
Things I haven’t done since at least 13 Jun 04 (8 months or more I’ve been deployed oversees):
Eaten at McDonald’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr.
Driven in a regular car other than a Humvee
Taken a shower that wasn’t too hot or too cold
Brush my teeth with the same water from the makeshift faucet (we use water bottles because Djiboutian quality of water may meet shower standards but is not good enough for brushing your teeth with.)
Watched a movie
Listened to radio
Other Things I did during my 15 days of fame:
Met up with family and friends
Ate a variety of foods
Went through a year’s worth of mail in the Berkeley residence
Cleaned up junk in Berkeley and Cerritos
Traveled to Korea to meet up with my brother and some family and friends
Watched Lord of the Rings and the Last Samurai
Watched 2 episodes of Simpsons
Traveled too much too fast.
CASE IN POINT:
Oakland-1h-LAX-4h-Atlanta-2h-Baltimore -9h-Germany-6.5h-Qatar-5.5h-Djibouti… Total comes up to close to 40000 miles.
I got sick at Baltimore. I had the massive cold and headache. I think it was from all the traveling and change in weather and time. Half the time I don’t think my brain even knew what time zone I was in. Within 36 hours, though, I was running 5 miles on the trail here in Djibouti. I mean, I don’t like running to begin with, and I was really feeling not great… I wasn’t faking it. I was coughing up mucus every 5 seconds, I couldn’t even breath, and my brain was tumbling around in my head. Then we did it again 2 days later. Now, I’m feeling much healthier, but back then, I was going through some tough times.
Things I accomplished in the past year
I lobbied real hard and earned the title Person of the Year according to Time Magazine (American Soldier).
Earned enough money to support myself through college.
Traveled to 6 different countries.
Conversed with the Hungarian, British, Italian, French, and the Korean soldiers.
Survived freezing cold of Wisconsin and scorching heat of Kuwait and Djibouti.
Took 2 online classes.
4 Mar 04
I had myself convinced that Djibouti is going to a fun place to be after my leave. In fact, I was looking forward to it, because I was really tired of traveling after Korea and Berkeley and LA and Baltimore. I just couldn’t just stay in one place for 14 days. But I got here, having that mind set, and I was wrong. I didn’t want to do anything. I hated the food, the showers, the runs, the uniforms, and I sure as hell didn’t want to work. I missed home, I was depressed, and I started to look at my fellow comrades as a work buddy and nothing more. I lost a lot of the motivation. But I’m working back up to it now. I already feel like I’m ready to go on cruise control again, but not yet… not just yet. I got too spoiled on my 14, 15 days of fame.
The sudden realization of the fact that we are indeed wearing the uniform of war demoralizes me. I cannot seem to accept the truth, and I constantly struggle with my religious beliefs, with my own maturity, my social skills. I am easily sidetracked and easily annoyed. Perhaps Porcayo was right when he told me that I’m arrogant.
16 May 04
That doesn’t mean a lot of things haven’t been happening, though. In the past 2 months after my leave, I wasn’t really able to update my journal because I just lost the motivation to. On top of that, my power adapter for the laptop failed on me, having been through 6 different countries for the past 15 months. So in the time that it took for the new one to be delivered to my mother’s place, and for her to mail it to me, and for me to receive it after my return from Kenya trip, we were already on our way to Kuwait.
*Black bars that may follow in proceeding pictures are positioned to ensure the privacy of those in the Special Forces.