Archive for July, 2011

Letter from one of our troops

Dear family and friends,
Summer greetings from Baghdad. The magical midway point in mydeployment came and went last week, marking six months since I arrivedon Christmas Eve. To celebrate I revisited the same dining facilityand recreated my first meal – a ‘fishwich’ with red jello. This time,it was much better – almost Filet o’ Fish quality.

In my daily routine, I think I’ve officially found my groove. I nowam keenly aware of what makes a successful day (not counting work,which is inevitable): quality sleep, exercise, contact with home, ameal with friends and journaling. If I accomplish three of these five- the day is a ‘win’; four or five – I’m ecstatic; and the rarelyachieved five of five I’m Arthur Fonzarelli – super cool.

With regard to work, another shift in assignment is in progress.After four months as aide to the Deputy Director, USF-I J9, Itransition this week to the job of Executive Officer to Major GeneralJeff Buchanan, Spokesman for US Forces – Iraq. I’m attempting tosteel myself for the demands of the upcoming job. The general is abona fide Airborne (Army) Ranger, as tough and hard-working as itgets. He’s served three previous combat tours in Iraq and is made oftensile steel. At 53, he runs circles around (and practices ju jitsuon) soldiers thirty years younger. His routine, powered by jerky,cliff bars and coffee is simple: seven days a week, sixteen hours aday and zero quit. This man will be my new boss.

To my great surprise (knock on wood), the summer season in Iraq hasbeen more less grueling than initially feared. The mercury -consistently in the 100s – coupled with the humidity from the Tigrisis intense, but not overwhelming. Of note, Phoenix has endured a farworse summer than Baghdad through 2011 (highs in the upper 110s and arecent monster sandstorm). I almost feel like I’m getting the betterdeal…(almost).

I can report the drawdown of our military presence in Iraq is wellunderway (45,000 US Forces in Iraq will be out of Iraq by December31st). Friends are flying home every few days and bases are closingevery few weeks. As for my unit, we are completing relocation fromVictory Base to the US Embassy Complex in the International Zone wherewe’ll spend the remainder of 2011(see my new address below). The movehas been mostly welcomed. Victory Base, which will be returned to theIraqi military, is a surreal landscape of concrete blast walls andcontainerizedhousing units (CHUs) located among dozens of lakeside palaces andvillas from the Saddam Hussein era. Victory is also dusty, decayingand home to some of the meanest geese I’ve ever encountered (Saddam’sghost possessed one of them, I’m told). In complete contrast, the newEmbassy Compound (NEC) is a clean, modern mega-fortress featuring palmtrees, green grass, fast food restaurants, two modern gyms and atennis court. The NEC is also safer from rocket and mortar attackwith most buildings constructed to withstand bombardment.

To a more uplifting topic, last weekend I made a long-awaited deliveryof forty-two boxes of donated school supplies and toys to the IraqiBoys and Girls Scouts. According to the Scout organizers, thesupplies will sustain their inventory through the end of the year.The visit was bittersweet since my recent move from Victory Base tothe U.S. Embassy will prevent my future attendance. Still, I washonored to be the happy messenger of so many kind supporters. Mysincerest thanks to everyone who contributed.

Personally, I continue to feel optimistic, motivated and amazed by theevents I’m witnessing. Morale is especially high as I look forwardto my 15-day R&R later this month. The Burke Family is converging onmy parents’ home in Rapid City, SD, for our first reunion in fiveyears (yes, local law enforcement is aware). Truth be told, I don’texpect a restful visit. My hope is to sleep on the flight back to Iraq.

My apologies for the long-windedness – this is why I should write morefrequently.

Thanks ever so much for your continued thoughts and prayers.
Ryan

Photos:
1.) Post-game with US troops and Iraqi translators
2.) Delivery of school supplies and toys to the Iraqi Boy and Girl Scoutscamp
3.) Young Iraqis
4.) My new favorite T-shirt from the O’Malleys
5.) Posing with the general’s security detail – I am only trustedwith the satchel
6.) Victory Base (Al Faw Palace through the dust) with ‘Saddam’ (far right)

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