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.