Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bulletproof and Billy

I went out the other day with a platoon of MPs to a market opening in the Abu Ghraib district of Western Baghdad.  Our mission was to provide an outer cordon for the ceremony. In short, it was to stop insurgents from entering the market and blowing things up.  We had two Iraqi interpreters with us whom were more fluent in English and slang than I could ever dream of being.

Billy's story.

"Hey Billy, how come you don't wear any body armor or a helmet?" I said.
"Sheet man, I don't need that f*&%$ing sheet," Billy replied while brushing back a curl of hair on his greasy black head.
"OK, don't you feel a bit naked without it?" I further inquired.
"I only wore that sheet once," he stated between drags of his Iraqi slow-burning cigarette. 
"And I got f*&%$ing shot," he said with a smile.
"Uhhh, OK. Did you scream like a bitch?" I said, returning his smile.
"Nahh man.  I got outta the humvee and started walking.  Next thing it felt like someone jumped up and kicked me in my chest," he continued. "I fell like f*&%$ing 10 feet back and the LT was over me pulling off my body armor. I was like, 'What the f*&%$, man!' He said, 'Hold still.' And opened my armor and showed me the round that hit me.  Man sheet. I don't wear that sheet no more."
I looked around at the other MP that was listening to Billy's story and he just shrugged his shoulders and raised his eyebrows, then turned to pull security.
"Right on, but if you didn't have that armor on then you would have been killed," I said.
"Naaah, man. That sheets like bad luck or something. F*&%$ that," added Billy.
It was hot out and I didn't have the energy to argue with luck.

Bulletproof's story.

With a gut protruding several inches past his belt, Bulletproof nimbly dodged my camera.  Most of the 'terps don't like their pictures taken.  Most of the terps live in Baghdad or have family here and a picture can get them all killed. I reassured him that even if I accidently snap a photo of him, then I don't print that anyways.  He smiled a toothy grin and wiped the sweat from his brow by removing his ACU patrol cap with his right hand and using his left biceps to wipe his forehead.  On the back of the patrol caps it states your name.  On the back of his patrol cap it reads, "BULLETPROOF."

"Hey man, how'd you get the name 'Bulletproof?" I asked pointedly.
"Yo, it's cause I'm bulletproof!" he proudly stated.
"How's that?"
"Cause I've been shot three times," the 27-year-old man said. 
"Then you're not exactly bulletproof, are you?"
"Sheet, I'm still here, ain't I?" 
Bulletproof had a point.

These are just some of the characters that you can find in this world over here.  Most of them are just trying to survive like the rest of us.  Some of them are even making a few bucks doing it.
It's just starting to get hot over here and it looks like it's going to be one hell of a summer.  I'll keep drinking water and I'll keep my body armor on cause there's only a few kinds of people left over here. The really stupid or the really lucky.  I'm not sure which one I am yet.
Here are a few pictures I took from that day.  Sorry, no pics of terps allowed.


BAGHDAD – Sgt. Michael Eichmann, a military policeman from El Paso, Texas, assigned to the 591st MP Company “Spartans,” 93rd MP Battalion, 8th MP Bde., guards an outer cordon of a market opening in Abu Ghraib here, April 29. The Spartans work closely with their Iraqi Police counterparts on missions similar to this one every day. “We help them with supply issues, setting up an arms room, help their leaders become better leaders, make sure they’re taking care of their people and helping them with force protection, to name a few things,” said Eichmann. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAO)


BAGHDAD – Sgt. Justin Haugen, a team leader and military policeman from Brookings, S.D., assigned to the 591st MP Company “Spartans,” 93rd MP Battalion, 8th MP Bde., guards an outer cordon of a market opening in Abu Ghraib here, April 29. Haugen has been in the military for almost 10 years, deployed four times and visited ten countries. “I enjoy seeing the difference that we make,” explained Haugen. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAO)


BAGHDAD – Sgt. Justin Haugen (left), a Brookings, S.D. native and military policeman team leader and Staff Sgt. Marc Paugh (right), a military policeman and native of Dunkirk, Ohio, both assigned to the 591st MP Company “Spartans,” 93rd MP Battalion, 8th MP Bde., discuss the plan on where to set up security to guard an outer cordon of a market opening in Abu Ghraib here, April 29. “The outer cordon is to keep suicide bombers and terrorists from getting inside the market,” said Paugh. “We are also here to redirect and divert traffic around our cordon.” (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAO)


BAGHDAD – Staff Sgt. Marc Paugh, a military policeman from Dunkirk, Ohio, assigned to the 591st MP Company “Spartans,” 93rd MP Battalion, 8th MP Bde., stands guard behind a fence during an opening ceremony for a market opening in Abu Ghraib here, April 29. The Iraqi Police work seamlessly with the Spartans and have built personal relationships with their counterparts, added Paugh, once a civilian law enforcement officer. “You conduct business with the IPs like police back in the States, but the IP Stations are more paramilitary here.” (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAO)


BAGHDAD – Brookings, S.D. native, Sgt. Justin Haugen, a military policeman team leader assigned to the 591st MP Company “Spartans,” 93rd MP Bn., 8th MP Bde., takes the perimeter of a cordon for a new market opening in Abu Ghraib here, April 29. The Spartans’ mission was to provide security during the opening ceremony along with their Iraqi Police counterparts from three different IP Stations in the area. The site of the previous market was notorious for crimes against Coalition forces along a main route in western Baghdad; the market was moved and reopened in a safer location April 29. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAO)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Easter Sunday

At some desolate Joint Security Station in Northeast Baghdad, Sgt. Erik Fardette and I had an early morning mission on Easter Sunday. In the chow hall this morning most of the Soldiers in JSS Istaqall were either at religious services or sleeping in for once, except a select few. 

Fardette and I queued up to receive our rations of cereal, warm juice and cold Pop tarts. I commented to the workers on kitchen patrol (KP), "No hot breakfast for Easter?"
"Nah sergeant, we are workin' on cookin' chow for tonight," said the unfortunate soul. It must have been an all-day affair because they didn't bother with a hot lunch either I heard.

Fardette and I sat down to enjoy our breakfast in the sparsely populated chow hall uttering barely any words to each other.  Most of the service members were quiet that morning, except one.

"Hey private! Git yer fuckin' feet off that goddamn wall!" screamed a stern-jawed first sergeant. Fardette and I quickly made eye contact, then glanced over to where the yelling had come from. The first sergeant glared at the private for almost five minutes while we tried not to bust out laughing.

There's always a rule in the Army when someone is getting yelled at - don't draw attention to yourself or else you can become the victim of wonton wrath. 

The first sergeant glowered insanely at the pitiful private for quite some time before my attention was distracted by the Soldier who came and sat down in front of us.

This Soldier was dumping his third sugar packet into a bowl of Frosted Flakes. He had about 4 more full sugar packets in front of him waiting to be added.

"Tony the Tiger on crack?" said Fardette. 

The Soldier just laughed while continuing to sweeten his bowl.

We finished eating and then went on our mission to Baghdad Island in the rain.  

Here are some of the pictures that I took while traveling around Northeast Baghdad during that trip.


BAGHDAD – Spc. Justin Dayzie, a civil affairs specialist from Kaibeto, Ariz., assigned to the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, takes notes while talking to the security manager of a factory in Boob al-Sham here, April 14.  Dayzie and his team were assessing the factories to provide the factory owners with feedback on how to increase their employment and production. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAO) 


BAGHDAD – Spc. James Powell, a cavalry scout and native of Fort Pierce, Fla., stands guard in the doorway of a water bottling plant in Boob al-Sham here, April 14.  Powell, assigned to Apache Troop, 1st Squadron, 7th Cav. Regiment, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div., provides security for civil affairs Soldiers while they are meeting with the bottle factory owner.  "We're assessing their needs by going door-to-door and factory-to-factory," said Spc., Trevor Gomez, a civil affairs specialist from Mesa, Ariz., assigned to the 450th CA Bn. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAO) 


BAGHDAD – An Iraqi factory worker guides a sheet of metal into a machine while 450th CA Bn. and embedded provincial reconstruction team members talk with the factory owner and assess his business in Boob al-Sham here, April 14.  "We ask owners what their business plan is and just try to help them through that process," said Kaibeto, Ariz., native Spc. Justin Dayzie, a civil affairs specialist assigned to the 450th CA Bn. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAO) 


BAGHDAD – Pfc. Gbenga Ayantade, a combat medic from Chicago, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, gives an Iraqi baby a firsthand look at American hospitality April 9. Ayantade, who came to the U.S. in 2007 and is originally from Nigeria, helped keep the community safe by operating a checkpoint with Iraqi Security Forces during the sixth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAO) 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

3 Baghdad Shorts

Working as a journalist in Baghdad is always entertaining. Working as a military journalist in Baghdad with an area to cover consisting of almost 38,000 troops is damn entertaining. I’ll convey my entertainment through three short anecdotes. Everything good comes in 3’s.

Working with Robert Duvall:

Spc. Fardette and myself were out on an explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) mission a few weeks ago. As we pulled to a halt and cordoned off a suspected improvised explosive device (IED), Iraqi children were everywhere. The word got translated to the Iraqis that there might be an IED around; the children were shooed away down the street. 

Since we were still inside our mine-resistant ambush-protected (MR

AP) vehicle I couldn’t get any good photos of the hundreds of kids being directed away from our cordon, so I hopped up on some gear inside the MRAP. 

As I proceeded to shoot the deluge of kids, I heard a quick hissing sound and before I could ascertain what was going on the oxygen was ripped from my lungs. White smoke enveloped me and the Soldier I was next to started coughing profusely and yellin

g to me something about a fire extinguisher. The medic in the MRAP bolted faster than I had seen her move all day into the turret s

urprising the hell out of the M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) gunner. Everybody was gasping for air because the fire extinguisher I kicked on with my foot sucked up all the oxygen in the behemoth MRAP. Everybody except Fardette.

Fardette, on the other hand, had enough air to scream at me, “Relax! It’s just a flare! It’s just a flare!” 

If I had a yellow cavalry scarf, I’d gift it to him.

Spc. Fardette (left) enjoys the comfort of being outside of the MRAP while it airs out a bit.

The pen is mightier than the picture?

I was on patrol with a troop of cav scouts from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 82nd Airborne “Panthers” in Shorjah Market, one of the liveliest and largest open-air markets in Iraq. If anyone has read the “Washington Post” or something similar in the past month, then ‘yes’ this troop was the same one that was on the front page for “drinking in a nightclub in the Abu Nawas.” Complete horse shit, I was there, but that’s another story. Walking down this market was a visual feast for my camera. I was running up in between the vehicles shooting everything I could. Getting ahead of the patrol to shoot them coming at me, shooting all the vendors and the rich colors of fabrics and goods on sale - it was heart-pounding work with all my gear on, but worth it.

At one point, I passed an Iraqi Policeman (IP) and he said something like this, “Phennoo?” And held out his hand. I had no time to converse with him and really didn’t want to try to understand why he was asking me for a pen in the middle of this market where you can get anything from a live goat to an astronomically expensive Persian rug. So I quickly pulled a pen from my Army Combat Uniform (ACU) and put it in the IP’s hand. He gave me a quizzical look as I smiled and trotted away.

I was replaying the event in my head when I was about 50 meters from him and realized that he probably didn’t want a pen. He wanted a photo. Oh well, he was ugly anyway.

This is the historic Shorja Market. This picture is one of my favorites 

from that day, even though this 82nd Soldier hated to have his picture 

taken...I prevailed.

St. Patty’s Day with the CG

It was just after chow and I went to pick up my laundry from the nice Filipino ladies that Kellogg, Brown & Root, Inc. (KBR) pay to do our unmentionables. They have a list of Tagalog phrases outside the door so you can conv

erse with them in their native tongue. I try to give them a laugh by butchering their language when I see them. I don’t do this on purpose, it just happens. I waited for someone to leave so I could fill the three-person quota inside the small hut and repeated the phrase for ‘good afternoon’ over and over in my head. 

As I entered, I didn’t pay attention to the two Soldiers on either side of me and when into my pre-planned greeting.

“Magandang hapon!” I shouted with a self-satisfying grin on my face. The ladies laughed and repeated it correctly to me. They handed me the paperwork and everyone was silent again. Strange, I thought, normally everyone’s really chatty.

“Hey, happy St. Patty’s Day, ladies!” I had just remembered it was March 17. “

What are you girls doing tonight? Drinking a little beer?” I winked as I said this. I thought it was damn clever and wanted to see if the other Soldiers were getting a laugh out of this. I turned to the Soldier on my right and was staring at two big stars on his chest. I thought, that kinda looks like the commanding general (CG) for Multi-National Division - B

aghdad, our boss. Hmm, his name is the same too. My smile faded.

“‘Cause that’s what I’d be doing if I were in the States right now!” I said making a quick recovery.

Luckily, he has a good sense of humor and laughed it off explaining to the ladies that we are not allowed to drink while in Iraq. 

They countered and said, “Is root beer, OK?” I think I might visit the Philippines sometime.

These are snapshots of what it’s like over here. Not all doom and gloom, well most of the time.

This is one of the happiest pictures I have so far. Iraqis love to dance and they love the camera. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What's our secret?

It's been a rough ride getting into Baghdad and moving all of our hundreds of boxes and bags.  Coming from Dix to Germany to Kuwait to Iraq has really taken a toll on all the Soldiers.  Luckily, we have been growing moustaches.  These aren't normal Tom Selleck or Ron Jeremy 'staches.  These are power wisps o' hair.  

Like Samson, we derive our incredible power and tireless energies from these incredibly sexy caterpillars inching along the top of our lips.  We could never have been able to move these hundreds of boxes more than a half-dozen times if it weren't for the hairy prowess of our newfound friends.

Yes, all the 211th MPAD males have succumb to the mystical calling of this seductive generator of power and suaveness.   Look out world.  Stand aside Frank Zappa and Salvador Dali.  We have come to claim our title of "head honcho big cheese supremo PAO gurus with a little 'stache on top" here in Baghdad.  Even Jason Giambi would vote for us, so don't forget to scroll down and cast your poll vote.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Feature writing

We had to do some MOS training the other week. The training was used to hone our skills as writers or broadcasters. The task for the writers was to pick a Soldier and do a feature on that Soldier. I picked my roommate, Sgt. Joshua Risner, who is my idol and the wind beneath my wings. Without further ado...

Tours provide inspiration for Soldier-musician
Story by Staff Sgt. Mark C. Burrell
After a long, hot day in the deserts of Northern Iraq, music drifts into the air. An upbeat guitar tempo is accompanied by a chorus of cheers, shouts and jubilation. A sea of about 2,500 servicemembers crowds the stage at the Mosul Airfield during a USO tour in July, 2003. This crowd isn’t cheering for a famous band, it’s cheering for one of its own. It’s cheering for Sgt. Joshua M. Risner who jumped at the chance to showcase his talents.
“The USO tour band had a set break and I jumped right on up there,” said Risner, a public affairs NCO, now attached to the 211th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, from Bryan, Texas. “I felt a connection to everybody out there in the crowd.”
Although Risner prefers small venues because they’re more personal, he plays anywhere and to anybody who will listen. After playing guitar or almost 14 and a half years, entertaining comes naturally to him.
Throughout Risner’s musical career he has gleaned inspiration from many sources. He is from Tennessee, near Nashville, the home of some of the country’s biggest musical influences. In his younger years, Risner was influenced by popular culture through TV.
“I watched MTV and wanted to be Slash from Guns N’ Roses,” he said in a thick Tennessee drawl. “He was the essence of cool.”
One of Risner’s largest sources of inspiration is the Photos by 1st Sgt. Anthony J. Martinez army. “The army is a catalyst for me,” he explained. “The more uncomfortable I am; the more creativity is sparked.” In 2009, there should be plenty of opportunities for the musician as he prepares to deploy for the second time to Iraq in 2009.
His main goal while deployed is to successfully accomplish his mission and take care of his Soldiers. In his downtime, Risner said, “I plan on creating a studio and continuing to make music while deployed.”
Thriving on chaos and drawing from his life experiences makes Risner a unique Soldier-musician. Still, he is realistic and doesn’t have visions of grandeur. “I don’t care about being famous or rich, I just want to be able to quit my day job and make a living off of my music,” said Risner with a toothy grin. Being a professional musician in the military isn’t always easy, but doing something that you love is priceless.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

This is team one at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Although we are supposed to look like killers and have all this Hooah gear on, some forgot to take those cool little bright-red blank adapters off the end of our rifles. Kill.

In this unit, you have two choices:

"You either surf or you fight."
"Are you crazy God damnit? Don't you think its a little risky for some R&R?"
"If I say its safe to surf this beach Captain, then its safe to surf this beach. I mean I'm not afraid to surf this place, I'll surf this whole fucking place! Charlie don't surf!"

Monday, December 1, 2008

Texas Turkey Day

Being away from home is sometimes a difficult time for Soldiers. Luckily, this year we were able to spend it with the Delgado family. They were downright nice enough to invite six Soldiers from the 211th to spend a day with them watching football and grubbing on a ton of good food. Good 'ole southern hospitality. I love Texas.

Though I was in Texas, my dad was very worried that I wouldn't get any BBQ on Thanksgiving here. I want to put all worries to rest and let people know that I did in fact, get some BBQ brisket. Yum yum. I love Texas.

We also watched the Cowboys (both on TV and in the streets), so it was an excellent holiday. Later that evening, we headed out to Northgate on the Texas A&M campus to find the lonely single women crying into their beers. I love Texas.