Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bombs and Bullets

Occasionally, I feel a bit guilty that I'm serving my tour in Iraq in the relative safety of the Green Zone. True, some people who are forward deployed never leave the safety of their Forward Operating Bases (they're called "Fobbits"), and I bring more added value to my current position than I would have as a Civil Affairs officer digging wells somewhere in rural Iraq (not to minimize the importance of the CA mission). It is just that I recognize that there are a lot of young Americans putting themselves at far greater risk in this common endeavor than I am.

Which is not to say that things don't get interesting here in the International Zone (IZ) from time to time.

Three weeks ago, in what was my second week here in Iraq, I was awoken at 0524 by what sounded like thunder. I didn't think much of it at the time, and rolled over to try and enjoy my final 30 minutes of sleep. It was only when I left my trailer that morning and saw that there was not a cloud in the sky that I realized it had been an explosion caused by indirect fire that woke me up, rather than an impending storm. Later that morning, a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device, a.k.a. "Car Bomb") killed two Iraqi Army soldiers and an Iraqi civilian at one of the gates of the IZ.

That evening, the percussion of an explosion actually stung my ear drum and shook my trailer. It felt close enough that the Colonel across the hall put on his Kevlar and body armor before running outside to investigate where the round landed and to see if anybody needed medical attention. I stayed in the trailer because my wife was due to call in the next five minutes, although I certainly wasn't going to tell her what all the commotion was about outside.

The next morning, I heard conflicting stories about where the mortar fire had landed. One person said that it was inside my trailer compound, another said it impacted on the bank of the Tigris just outside the compound. Either way meant it landed within 200 meters of my trailer.

Since then, I've been woken up by some form of indirect fire roughly every 2-3 days, although it is rarely close enough to do any more than stir me awake.

Three days after those first explosions, Secretary Rice visited Baghdad, accompanied by the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. Since I officially had little to do with the trip, I had free time in the middle of a rainy Sunday to go to the gym. While changing in my trailer, I heard a loud "POP" and saw plaster spraying from the ceiling above my roommate's bunk. (In case I have not already mentioned it, I'm living with an Australian Major). I went to see what happened, and saw a hole in the ceiling roughly one-inch in diameter.

At first, I wondered if some sort of atmospheric pressure brought about by a thunderstorm in the desert could have caused the cheap materials of the trailer to crack. But when I looked more closely at the bed, I saw that a bullet had passed through his blanket and sheet and embedded itself in his mattress! Although it was likely a one-in-a-million shot, it was fortunate that this incident occured when the bunk was unoccupied, rather than wounding the Major.

Of course, later that night, another loud explosion rocked the trailers, although I never heard a report as to its source or point of impact.

Again, I have it much better than many of my friends serving in forward deployed units. But these events in my second week here were useful reminders that I am in a war zone, and can't take anything for granted.