Letter # 7
From: Wagner, John (O-6)
Sent: Monday, February 02, 2004 1:10 AM
Subject: Baghdad Rag #7
Family and Friends
We experienced rocket and mortar fire nearly every night this week. The Dutch embassy received 4 hits a couple of nights ago. The Baghdad airport had 10 mortars fall close to their facility. And we had one rocket hit just outside the compound. It flew right over my trailer and landed in a residential area right beyond the wall. I was sleeping in bed and heard the "whoosh", then the explosion as it hit the ground. Like I did last month, I rolled out and under my bed waiting for any more. The "Giant Voice", which is what we nicknamed the loudspeaker system, sounded the alarm and I laid there for awhile. No more rockets came so I got back in bed. But I spent the rest of the night listening for more rockets. We had a number of car bombs as well. One was at the Sheraton hotel across the Tigris River. You can see the hotel from the east side of the compound. Apparently, the driver was attempting to repeat the car bomb of a few weeks ago. Fortunately, the security guards there were alert and detected something wrong with this vehicle and opened fire, causing the driver to prematurely detonate. Other areas of Iraq have been hit with car bombs, including an Iraqi police station. Car bombs and roadside bombs seem to be the weapons of choice lately. A lot of our convoys are suffering damage from roadside bombs. The chief of our computer/communications division told us that, in the past week, six of his teams were struck by roadside bombs over a two-day period. None of his guys were seriously hurt but it is depleting our motor pool. The auto repair shop looks like a used car lot with the number of vehicles requiring repairs from bombs. Most of these are crude bombs and the Bad Guys who place them don't appear to be well trained. Or else we have been lucky. With the growing number of incidents, we have not experienced very many casualties. The vehicles have been absorbing the impact without hurting the occupants. But there have been some bad incidents that led to casualties, as you have read in the news. So we are fearful the Bad Guys are becoming more proficient and we have to keep our guard up always.
As you may have read in the newspaper, we have a United Nations team here in the country. This team is assessing the security situation here to recommend to the secretary General to bring in another team that will assess the feasibility of holding general elections by 30 June. As I mentioned last week, the Shiite majority want general elections while the Sunnis and the Kurds do not. Why this UN team is so important is the head cleric of the Shiites is willing to abide by the recommendation of the United Nations. We have been very busy supporting this team. My airtrans team has been setting up flights all over Iraq so the assessment team can obtain an accurate picture of the security situation. And we have provided other logistical support as well. Ambassador Bremer told us this is our #1 priority and my entire office has been part of the CPA support team. We have been working long hours but we are glad to be a small part of this effort. Getting the UN back in Iraq and influencing the different factions can help us develop a consensus on how the future Iraqi government will be formed. Otherwise, we won't meet our 1 July deadline. It has been a fascinating experience to help support an effort that will have far reaching consequences. My guys understand the importance of this mission and have gone the extra mile. We are helping to make history.
We have an assessment team from the Pentagon visiting us this week. Their job is to look at our logistical support processes today to recommend to the Secretary of Defense and State what should be transferred to the new embassy and what should be retained by the military headquarters. They arrived two days ago and will be here until next Saturday. They received the CPA overview briefing by Army Maj Gen Jones. Gen Jones told them about the security situation here and what to expect regarding hostile fire. His comments to the team were: "if you only hear a rocket, then you are OK. If you hear and feel it through the ground shaking, then be concerned. If you hear, feel it, and smell it, then it's going to be a bad day." After 7 weeks here, I have to agree with the general. Listening to the briefings given by various people made me realize the magnitude of the logistical and infrastructure support provided by all of us. In a nutshell, we have built a city from scratch here in the Green Zone. When we arrived, there was absolutely nothing. Everything had been destroyed or looted. What little that remained was in need of repair. From the ground up, we have built a small city. We have planned and built housing that, when completed, will provide living areas for nearly 4000 people. We are providing food service here that provides an average of 14,000 meals a day. We have a laundry, recreational, and postal service. Our vehicle fleet is over 1100 vehicles, which requires over 950,000 gallons of gas. We have consumed over 3.8 million gallons of diesel gas for our power generators. We even have our own fire department which was a great assistance for the car bomb victims a couple of weeks ago at Assassin's Gate. We have developed landfills, paved roads, constructed fuel farms, built and refurbished buildings within the Green Zone. And we have done this while under constant attack from the Bad Guys. It is hard for those who have not been here to fully grasp what has been achieved until you see it for yourself. The people here have truly accomplished a lot and can take pride in their achievements.
Along with the good there is the bad. Our Iraqi workers are still being threatened and terrorized by the Bad Guys. One worker has to change locations every week because he fears for his life. Other workers are afraid to continue working for us, yet they have no other source of income for their families. We are doing what we can to help these people, giving them access to professional counseling and, in a few cases, providing them housing in the Green Zone. This serves as a reminder of the life of fear the average Iraqis had under Saddam and his cronies. Another reminder was presented to the Assessment Team. Last November, when we were digging and clearing away debris close to the Palace for a parking lot, our workers discovered a large number of remains and bones. It was determined these were the remains of people killed by Saddam and buried in the Palace compound. Work had to be stopped until a forensic team retrieved the bones for possible identification. All of this is constant reminders as to why we fought this war and why we are here still fighting.
I want to thank everyone for their e-mails of support - it means a lot to me and my troops. I have been overwhelmed and humbled by all the kind words of support and encouragement. Thanks to everyone and I'll see you next week.
JOHN F. WAGNER, Colonel, USAF
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