Thursday, January 15, 2009

Movin' on up... to the Iraq side

This is the plane we took to Iraq.  Its a C-17 and it's huge.  Inside all the seats are bolted down in rows and there is NO leg room.  It makes coach look like a private plane.  Also, no snacks.  But you probably guessed that.

Once we were in Iraq we were off and running... or flying I should say... to several bases.  Here DeAnna and I flex for the guys in a base that used to be a shopping mall.  There were even old escalators there!
Sadur City- one of the best known bases in Iraq.  This base saw a record number of days in action.  Thank god for these signs.  I thought Id never find the market.
Our mode of travel.  Puffy, eat your heart out.
This is an arial view of one of Sadaam's palaces.  Now it's known as Camp Liberty.  There are several buildings the troops have taken over.  We actually got to stay there in the hunting lodge, which they've converted to accommodate diplomats, heads of state.. and uh, me.  
Munhommed and I.  It was a love affair that would never really begin... what with he being all of 12.  Our religious differences would tear at our heart strings like romeo and juliet.  But for that fleeting moment... on the back of his harley- er, uh- moped... I closed my eyes and we rode over the gravel... and it was just like Italy.  Just like it.  Ciao Munhommed.  We'll always have Sadur...
Chatting and gabbing with the guys
The fallen soldiers are memorialized
Cards and letters from around the world.  Most from children.  The notes make you want to cry.
Ok... This gentleman is Matrix.  That's his name.  I feel I must take a moment and explain the genius of Matrix.  He is an Iraqi Interpreter.  He also loves his camera.  so much so that he will sit and take picture after picture from about 3 feet away until that memory card is full.  And he did.  This is not a practice reserved solely for him.  Oh no.  We discovered in our travels that there were many "Matrix's" on bases.  Many of them Iraqi interpreters, some chefs, security detail and the like.  We fondly named them all Matrix... and its a perfect name really.  Because you can't escape it.
Us with our boyfriends at Sadur.  Munhommed, (my romeo) and his rival.  See there were not one but TWO Tiger Marts on this base.  These are markets that sell all kinds of stuff (see my previous post) and they are usually run by Iraqis.  In this case, two rival families vied for the best market on base.  They look friendly in this picture but rest assured, the competition for Tiger Mart of the year is stiff.  Also note Munhommed's belly.  Sweet thing.  Riding around all day can get sweaty.  He is working off that d-fac cake we saw him eating!
Our third base of the evening... note the xmas trees in the background.
Me in a tank.  Watch out!!  These guys were awesome.  They let us do all kinds of stuff- get in a tank, drive a Humvee... uh...  I mean, play uno, watch sports center...
Us with our certificates of appreciation
Vroooooom!  Hey, donuts in the parking lot anyone?
Getting to Iraq wasn't always the easy part... the planes may be large- but on time, they ain't.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Camp Bucca... and beyond

Today we flew a Black Hawk helicopter over the Iraq border to a base called Camp Bucca

 As you can imagine, the ride was pretty incredible.  I totally want one of these things!  They are a total rush to ride in and I'm pretty sure I could get used to this being that this was just one of several trips we will be making in them.  Surprising how steady they are.
 We signed autographs and this lovely guy bought us all Bucca Bears!We even got to go over to the px- which is like a mini mall on base- they have a drugstore and then a small bazaar that Iraqi merchants sell customary good in such as bootleg dvd's (which is a huge problem as there is no regulation on piracy) and of course, hookahs!  I Price as Right model a few...
There is also a detainee center there where violator and criminals are being held.  They have taken in roughly 13,000 detainees who are there for anything from extremist action to subtle violence.  Under the acts of the Geneva Convention however, one of the rights of these detainees is visitation by their families.  There is a visitation center there where families are bussed in up to twice a month and allowed to visit with wives and children.  Here we pose with some of the wives waiting.
They've also built a small playground outside for the kids.
The visitation center.  Its pretty interesting actually... the reason they are called detainees and not prisoners is because once the Iraqi government takes over, these people will be tried fairly and either released or sentenced under Iraqi law.  As of now, the US Government is providing a blueprint for this kind of humane treatment of criminals awaiting trial.  They are given classes in civics and in the history of Iraq, as many of them are illiterate.  They are also allowed to conduct their daily prayers and have a separate food facility to accommodate their religious eating patterns.
From what we learned, the return rate for these folks after being released is apx. 1%, which is an astonishingly low number considering how much higher it is for convicted criminals in America.  Anyway, its a hopeful proof that the system of rehabilitation and humane care is working there.  This is all an attempt to restore extremist balance into the culture of Iraq as our troops begin to pull out over the next 3 years.  The parole system they are implementing is also interesting in that the families are involved.  Should a released offender continue to commit acts of violence, etc. and be caught again, it is a large shame on the family... which in this Iraqi culture carries a very large burden of embarrassment, hence helping families keep their own "in line" so to speak.
When we got to Bucca we all wrote on the wall they have out front...
My signature
Its amazing how many people you meet from all over the US.  This guy was from Lubbock, TX!!  Go Red Raiders!!

The Sargent Major gave a great power point presentation before lunch all about Bucca, what they are doing there, and the work the US Military has done thus far.  I liked this slide because it showed a "You Are Here" arrow, which I thought was funny.  Just like the Fashion Square Mall!
Us and our lovely group of girls who showed us around all day and made us laugh!!  They were so so sweet and cool.
Finally after a long day we headed home.  But not before another helicopter ride and a cool look through some night vision binoculars.
Oh and last but not least- what base is complete without Rock Band???  That's right... its a staple.  And these guys are good.  Rock on with your badselves.
Rachel demonstrates how not to wear her helmet.. backwards.  Sure is cute though Private Benjamin!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Kuwait Day 2

Gooooooood Morning Kuwait!!

We started this amazing day off by meeting the generals of two units- the base here in Afjran and the KNB (Kuwaiti Naval Base), where we were presented with certificates of appreciation for service to the US Military.  Pretty cool.  Can I put that on my resume?
Me and LTC Miller
Then it was time for lunch in the mess hall... oh the choices!
I knew everyone would want to know what the heck I ate so heres a sample- diet coke, peas, broiled chicken, italian veal (I dont eat veal but I got cornered and didn't know how to say no), salad with tuna and tomato soup!  Yum!
Rachael, me and Deanna riding to the naval base
Posing on the naval boat we would soon be riding around in
Yep.  Thats me folks.  Driving a Naval speedboat in the Persian Gulf.  Lets just say international waters did not persuade me to slow down.  Neither did the Sergeant.  So I pretty much did as they do... and practically threw Deanna off the front of the boat driving right through the wake.  They say you can't actually tip one of those over.  I tested that theory.

Me and our awesome crew out at KNB.  Thanks for the fun guys!!!

Walking into a signing- all the guys waiting patiently.

Rachael and I stop by the beauty shop and think about getting our hair "did".

These guys had some major guns!  So I challenged them to a show off.  Welcome to the gun show people.

The girls and our Enyourage of security detail and tour manager Brian (last on the right).  Eat your heart out Jeremy Piven.  THAT's an Entourage!
Hanging out with Stuart Ambrose- my friend Megan's husband who is stationed over here.  He's an officer in the Coast Guard- it was great to see a friendly, familiar face- and I'm sure he felt the same way.  We love you Stu!  Come home soon!!
Finally... the location where I am currently writing this blog.  The laundry room.  Its the only place we get service in this joint.  So when you think of me... think of bounty fresh.
More soon.... xoxo

Kuwait take off and landing...

On Jan 2nd I left for Kuwait to participate in a USO tour, visiting the troops.  I was so excited about it as it's a huge honor to give back to those who are serving our great country.  I left Los Angeles around 7am west coast time and after a layover in Washington D.C., took a 11 hour flight straight into Kuwait.  A good 24 hours of travel door to door.  Im travelling with two great girls, Deanna Papas (from ABC's The Bachlorette) and Rachael Smith (Miss USA 2007) and of course our trusty man Brian Lee who is the epitome of ready at all times!  (and he likes college football so we have a lot to discuss!)
Stepping off the plane was definitely an experience.  Everything is in Arabic, naturally, and all women wear scarfs covering their heads.  What I did not expect to see walking off the plane was a Starbucks immediately to my left!
We had to stand in line to purchase a visa, which you do by ticket, like at a deli.  I expected a sandwich with mine but no dice. 

Here Rachael and Deanna lead the charge while I film like a Japanese tourist

Micky D's anyone?
Man, they have everything over here!  (Although I would use the word "toliet" loosely)
This is a smoking room.  It has a sliding door like a pharmacy and basically its like a hot box of carbon monoxide... not that it really deters anyone from smoking wherever they please....
Alas, poor Deanna's bag didn't arrive and was stuck in D.C.  We are still awaiting it - hopefully tonight!

We drove about 40 minutes to Camp Afjran and settled in for a completely jet lag filled evening of partial sleep.  Its not bad- kind of like a dorm room.  Im planning a panty raid later.