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Letter # 11
From: Wagner, John (O-6)
Sent: Sunday, March 21, 2004
Subject: Baghdad Rag #13 (Skip # 12)
Dear Family and Friends,
Well, it has been a tough two weeks. If you have been watching the news, we have been hit a lot by the Bad Guys. We have had over 100 incidents of attacks on Coalition Forces within Iraq. In Baghdad alone, we have had rockets or mortars strike 5 of the past 7 days. I have spent a lot of time in the basement of the Palace, which is our shelter during attacks. Last Thursday, a car bomb exploded in front of the Mt Lebanon hotel, which is across the Tigris River from the Green Zone. It killed 27 civilians and shook the Republican Guard Palace where we work. Several rockets hit close to our compound. One of them almost struck our fuel depot - we were very lucky. Another hit 10 yards from our dog kennel which houses our bomb-detection dogs. A couple more hit an empty warehouse. And today a mortar round struck near a major roadway near the Palace, one we travel daily. So far, these attacks have not caused any fatalities or major damage within the Green Zone. The one near the fuel depot would have been a major disaster - we had just filled the tanks a few hours before the attack. Until today, the Bad Guys always hit us at night. Usually, it has been between 8:30 PM - 2:00 AM. Today, they lobbed a mortar round in mid-morning. This was the first daylight attack I have witnessed since my arrival in December. We are not sure if this is a change in tactics or an anomaly.
Regrettably, we have suffered a number of casualties, including people assigned to CPA. Two weeks ago, three of our civilians assigned to Al Hillah, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, were killed in their car when stopped by Bad Guys dressed in Iraqi police uniforms. We caught these guys and have them in custody. Last week in Mosul, another car of civilians was attacked in a drive-by shooting, killing 3 of the 5 occupants. Also, one of our Iraqi translators was killed as she was driving to work. And another vehicle carrying German and Dutch civilians was attacked, killing the occupants. Plus, we lost about 8 soldiers as well. We believe there were two reasons driving the increase in attacks. First, the Iraqi Governing Council finally signed their Transitional Law. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we have been in intense negotiations to find a consensus among the three different Iraqi factions. We achieved this and the Transitional Law was signed on 8 March. This is a significant step toward achieving a new Iraqi government. There are still disagreements among the factions but we are slowly progressing toward the standup of an interim Iraqi government on 1 July. The second is the one-year anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As far as the Bad Guys are concerned, the war is still ongoing and they want the world to know it. So we have been extremely vigilant for increased attacks. The Bad Guys are especially hitting soft targets - civilians who are traveling without military escort. So we are taking steps to provide extra security.
Last weekend, we had one of our personnel attacked within our camp. He was assaulted and stabbed several times by an unknown assailant. Fortunately, several security guards heard the commotion and were able to come to his aid. He is fine and in the hospital. The assailant escaped and the investigation is still ongoing, but it appears to have been an Iraqi national. Because of this, we spent the weekend increasing security measures. We installed light generators throughout the camp. Roving patrols consisting of Gurka guards were formed. We have ordered better locks for the trailers. And we are taking other measures as well. This is a big reason why I was not able to send out a Rag last weekend. We were working around the clock to take steps to ensure this does not happen again. Since billeting and the trailer camps fall under my office, my guys had to work with our contractor and others to implement some of these measures.
Another area of responsibility I have is air transportation for CPA. We manage the airlift of CPA passengers and cargo, working with the Air Force to schedule C-130 flights from Baghdad airport to Kuwait. This meant my office had to coordinate the transportation of the bodies of the CPA American civilians back to the States. We also helped with the transport of the German and Dutch remains. Again, it meant long hours these past two weeks arranging with the Army for the preparation and transportation back to Dover AFB, DE or Frankfurt, GE in the case of the German and Dutch. This is the tough part of our job but we want to get the remains back to the families as fast as we can.
We did have two events this week that were bright spots. First, we supported the offloading and shipping $750M in US currency. Yes, this is not a typo. Over three-quarters of a billion dollars. It all came in $100 bills. Last Wednesday night, the same night of the car bomb at the Mt Lebanon hotel, we were at the Baghdad airport supporting this operation. My air transportation guys did the off loading and securing of the money pallets and I supervised. This amount of money weighs 22.5 tons and was transported on 7 cargo pallets. It arrived from the States on a C-17 on what we call the "Money Run". The Baghdad central bank had $64M in US currency; all in $1 bills. The Bank officials wanted to exchange these bills for $100. So we took the $64M from the bank in downtown Baghdad, transported it to BIAP, and waited for the C-17 aircraft to arrive. Then we exchanged $64M for $750M and loaded it into the armored trucks for transport back to the bank. It was fun watching this amount of money exchange hands. I did not expect to do this when I volunteered to come to Baghdad.
The other fun event was Secretary of State Colin Powell came to the Green Zone last Friday. He visited us at the Palace and gave a great speech on the first year anniversary of OIF. It was inspiring to hear him. He is a terrific speaker and his presence is inspiring. I was fortunate to have my picture taken with him. I also had my picture taken of Secretary Rumsfeld a month ago. So these will be added to the scrapbook. We had to help arrange air transportation to and from BIAP so we were real busy preparing for his visit. But it was worth it to hear this great American speak.
During these trying couple of weeks, an incident occurred that gave me pause to reflect. It involved the recovery of the Iraqi translator's remains. The body was flown back to Baghdad airport and was being prepared to transport here to the Green Zone to be given to the family. An Air Force Colonel and friend of mine worked in the same organization as the translator and supervised the transportation of the remains from the airport. He coordinated his plans with the OSI Protective Service detail. As he went to the convoy assembly area, he saw several of them already there to provide extra security. One of these soldiers was spending his last night in Baghdad; he was scheduled to leave the next day for home. My friend told the soldier he did not need to come; this was his last night and he did not have to put himself in harm's way. The soldier told him simply, "Sir, this is my job. This is what I get paid to do." The soldier would not stay behind but provided security for the Colonel's detail. Fortunately, no incidents occurred and the soldier left for the States and home the next day. This is just one of many examples of the actions and dedication of our soldiers.
As I said, it's been a hectic two weeks so I'll close for now. Thanks to everyone for their prayers and support. Until next week.
JOHN F. WAGNER, Colonel, USAF
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