Thursday, May 22, 2003:
I had a very restful sleep and I was ready to go this morning. Usually when I wake in the morning the flies are usually already out buzzing around my head and flying into my eyes and mouth. These flies here are really gutsy, flying right into your eyes, mouth and up your nose. Which is not a pleasant thing given that we know where these flies have been putting their feet.
I had a really great evening last night, worthy of a few minutes in my journal. For the last two nights I have been going out to the compound to interview one high-ranking Iraqi officer. I spent about 3 hours each night going over information and questioning him. It was time well spent and very productive. But, more than anything it was a great experience, one that I will never forget. It wasn't that the information I was able to extract was so earth shattering, but it was more the bond that was created and the relationship that has developed.
I took out another interrogator to be my note taker and an older Iraqi women that came over from the US to be an interpreter. Everything went really well and after all was said and done, we all felt that we had just had a life experience. There was such a good spirit there, one that could be felt by all the participants. The Iraqi officer was so sincere about helping us in anyway that he could. He was intent on giving us what ever he had that might be of value in anyway to us. We learned a lot about each other those two nights, through those 6 hours of talking and asking questions. When the questioning was over and we were just talking about our families, he got kind of emotional, as he started to think about his wife and kids, not knowing if they were ok. He said that he didn't mind staying there with us as long as he was needed, but he just wanted some kind of assurance that his family is alive and well. He invited us to come and stay at his house when this is all over and he is back home, perhaps before we leave to go back to the US.
As we walked him back into the cage where all the other officers are kept, we had a great opportunity to sit for a moment with all the other officers. Each of us sat on a water jug as our chair, with all the other officers standing around us. It was then that we had one of those special moments in life that creates a lasting memory, a life changing moment. We spoke of God and having faith in God. They spoke of how perhaps god is punishing them for something that they had done in the past. I tried to throw a positive twist on this by relaying to them the following story. I can't remember if I have written this story before in my journal, but if I have, I think it is worth repeating.
There was a Chinese guy who had a neighbor that came over every morning to ask him how his day was going. One day the neighbor came over, asked his question and the Chinese guy replied, "Well my horse ran off last night", Hearing that the neighbor replied, "That is terrible". The Chinese guy replied by saying, "No man knows what is good or bad". The next day the neighbor came over, asked his question and the Chinese guy replied by saying, " Well my horse returned and brought two wild horses with it". "That is wonderful", the neighbor replied, the Chinese guy then said, "No man knows what is good or bad". The next day the neighbor came over asked his question, and the Chinese guy said, " Well my son was trying to tame one of the wild horses, was thrown off and broke his leg", the neighbor hearing that exclaimed, " that is terrible", the Chinese guy then said, "No man knows what is good or bad", the next day the neighbor repeated his questioning and the Chinese guy said, "The army came by this morning to take my son to war, but because his leg was broken they left him at home". The neighbor replied, "That is fantastic", the Chinese guy said for the last time, "No man knows what is good or bad".
After finishing my story, I told them that God is in charge, knowing what each of them are going through, that he knows them by name, he knows what theri families are going through and he will bless them with the things that they need. Maybe this too might be for a good reason. There might be something each of them need to learn or experience, that will be part of a chain of events that began with their incarceration. Something good might come of this difficult experience.
I told them that my life will never be the same, since I have met them and had these wonderful experiences with them. My life has been affected for the better and will never be the same. They all agreed and as if in unison all of them expressed their love and appreciation for what others and I had done for them. They exclaimed that I am like their brother and that I am always welcome in their homes and that they will never forget me either. It brought tears to my eyes as I heard their words. Inside I said to myself, these are my brothers, with whom I have now formed a very special bond.
We said our goodbyes and walked back to our hummer. Upon getting into our vehicle, the young, 27 year old interrogator expressed his emotions in just a few simple words. He said that he had been trying to figure out why he had come to Iraq and now tonight he found the answer to his question. This experience will change his life he said. He was anxious to get home to proclaim his newfound appreciation for people, our freedoms and all the comforts of our life back in the US, that we take so much for granted.
Even the interpreter commented on the special spirit that was felt and how touched she was by the whole experience. She commented on how proud her father would be of her, who, when he was alive, had been arrested and tortured by Saddaam on three different occasions.
It was a good day. Good things happened today.
Just to show you how things go, upon returning to my work area there was already something's brewing regarding my trips to the cages. Others that perhaps were jealous or who thought I was stealing their thunder or wanted all the credit or were concerned about whether or not this was going to make things look bad for them in some way, were all buzzing about with their own little action plan. It is a shame that people have to be so small at times, when for those of us who were involved couldn't have cared less about the credit or the accolades from our acts. We were just grateful to have been able to take part of such a special moment. The long-term value of this experience goes way beyond any momentary pat on the back or praise from one of our leaders.
posted by Chief Wiggles 11:35 PM
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Wednesday, May 21, 2003
It is about 2pm in the afternoon, outside the temperature is about 125 degrees and rising. I have snuck off into the shower trailer where there is an air-conditioning unit. As long as no one needs to come in here to use the facilities, I am probably ok. Things slow down in the afternoon, just because it gets too hot for anyone to do anything. Things kick back up later in the afternoon as it starts to cool down. I usually work in the morning and the evening now and try to hide out in the afternoon. Now I know why some countries have a siesta time in the afternoons. At least it cools off in the evenings to a bearable point and with the cool breeze that we can feel on the roof, I actually sleep quite well.
I have had some very interesting experiences over the last couple of days. We have a group of high-ranking Iraqi officers that have been here as POW's for the past two months. Most of them surrendered near the start of the war, and have been here ever since. We have been working with them to get information that they might know, but more than anything we are trying to get them released so that they can go back to their families. We have been trying to help them, with the help of the Red Cross, to get in touch with their families, so that they can know that they are alright and also so the POW's can get word back on the condition of their families. We have been meeting with this group every night for the past 4 nights now, asking them questions, following up on new leads, confirming their stories, and more than anything trying to make their life a little more bearable.
Whenever we go out there to meet with them, we try to take cold drinks, or cold water, or something to eat, in that they don't get much and we feel that they deserve it. We have built quite a good relationship with them, and have built up a bit of trust that helps in getting out information from the. We are very sincere though about our desire to help them get released and get them home to their families. One of the problems we are having is that a lot of the really bad guys, didn't surrender and just ran back to their houses where they have been hiding. The good guys surrendered and trusted us that we would take care of them and expedite their return to their homes. On the one hand we don't want to release them until we have gotten every bit of information extracted from them but yet we empathize with them about their desire to get home. It is kind of like a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I am sure at some point we will release them and go after the real bad guys that are hiding out in their homes.
I have been very impressed with this group of men and feel that these men are probably, or I should say hopefully, the future leaders of this country. The problem is that they are here and the bad guys are back in their cities jockeying for positions, acting as if they are the good guys. This is going to be a difficult period of time for us as we try to help Iraq select the right people to lead the rebuilding effort. We are going to make some mistakes along the way, I am sure. This is such a mess of people, with all types of agendas and interests. We have been warned by several of the Iraqi officers, that it would be a big mistake to allow any religious leader to play a role in the governing of the new Iraq.
We have been able to extract some great information from these people, only after much time has been spent getting to know them and gaining their confidence and trust. Others had tried to get information out of them, acting as most interrogators do, being tough and in control, not abusing or mistreating them, but just acting out the tough guy approach. But, we have found that the best way to work with them is to first gain their trust and work from a standpoint of being sincere and honest with our intensions.
Each individual has very special needs and circumstances. Some of them have as many as 9 children, others have medical problems that we are trying to help them with, others are worried that their families might have been killed by Saddaam as a result of their early surrender, and so on and so forth. They have hygiene issues, and water issues, and Red Cross issues, etc.
The information that they have told us has been extremely helpful in so many ways and has actually saved lives on several occasions. Yesterday, I spent about 3 hours in the evening, till about 10pm, talking with one of the officers, regarding the things that he might have known about. There have been so many things going on over here in this country, so many illegal acts and so many war crimes.
It is really a joy when a little piece of information comes out that you feel might really be valuable and might make a huge difference in what we are trying to accomplish over here. It is like a huge puzzle that we are trying to put together, piece my piece, bit by bit.
Last night as I was on the roof laying down to go to sleep, I had an opportunity to talk with one of our officers about the situation of things here. I thought came up that really caused us to pause and discuss it in more detail. First of all we realized that we are not in charge here. We are not in control of our destiny and we do not determine when we go home or what we will do here. But, there seems to be a bigger picture. Some master plan that is not even being run by the military. Of course the military will determine many things relating to my destiny, but I feel that there exists a bigger/master plan, which is being managed by the man upstairs. There are many good things that need to happen here. There are good people here that want what is best for the masses of Iraq.
In a very small way I am playing a part, a role, in this master plan, in bringing about a larger cause, that I might not even be aware of. Little things that I do, do contribute in some small way and do make a difference. Even if it is not apparent now, the outcome of those actions may not be manifested until some later date . Things do come about by small means. It is like the butterfly principle, where who knows if a butterfly flapping its wings in Hong Kong might end up creating a hurricane on the other side of the world. Who knows what affect our little acts of kindness might have in the long run. Who knows what lasting impression we are making on the future leaders of this country.
I think that big things are going to happen, but it will be one step at a time and right now we are taking baby steps.
Every day, when things get slow in the afternoon, we put on our wings and transform ourselves, two of us, a major and myself, into the good luck fairies and go around doing good things for other people. We took cold drinks out to a few of the guards that are guarding the prisoners. We also took them some cold puddings that really put a smile on their faces. We look for opportunities to make a difference and to put a little sunshine in others lives.
It is interesting to look at people to see how they will spend their energy that they have been allocated for the day. I am not saying any of this to be proud about my own behavior or to say that I am better in any way than someone else. I am just saying that there are many ways to spend our available energy that we have for the day and we all chose to spend it in a variety of ways. Many of the men here spend a great deal of time worrying about when they will be going home, discussing rumors about when that might be. Others spend a great deal of time complaining about the conditions here and the way we are living. But, how great it would be if they would just try to see the bigger picture of what is really happening here, or could be happening here, if they would just put forth a little energy to make a difference or make something happen. Many times we limit our own experiences in life due to what we think is the big picture, when we are really missing the boat.
Life is very much like this. Much of our time we spend worrying about the little problems in our life, when if we could only see what the big picture is, we could spend our energy doing so much more for mankind, for our families, for our communities, and others. So much energy is spent worrying, that we forget to really have the faith we need to let God deal with the small stuff and free ourselves up to play a much bigger part in a much bigger plan. Making a difference in so many things that we might do. Making a contribution in even a very small way, that we might be the butterfly that through the flapping of our wings we might create a hurricane on the other side of the world.
A lot in life depends on our perspective and our attitudes or our ability to see the bigger picture, feeling that even a small contribution might make a difference.
Well gotta go, my good luck fairy wings are starting to sprout and flap.
posted by Chief Wiggles 11:35 PM
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I've been emailed by some looking for the pictures from Iraq.
Just click here to get to the pictures.
posted by Plunge 5:10 PM
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Sunday, May 18, 2003
We are living in what used to be a propaganda radio station. So right in the middle of our compound is a huge radio antenna. We have occupied the radio station buildings, and I am in what once was an office. There are two of us that have made this our home for the time being. We have all of our stuff set up, clothes lines up to hang tuff on, prayer rugs laid out, our boxes of stuff, etc. We have even made a large cooler with pieces of Styrofoam that have found lying around. We built a frame, lined it with several layers of Styrofoam, and then made a huge lid to fit down over the whole thing. We at least are getting ice these days and we needed a way to keep the ice from melting the minute we received it. The ice chest is about 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet, which as we have so named it, is the mother of all coolers. The most amazing thing about it is that it really works; we can actually keep bags of ice in there for days, even though the temperature outside hovers at around 120 most of the time. I think that my next project will be to build the cooler coffin, big enough to sleep in. That would be awesome, sleeping in a cooler on ice.
The only problem with our living quarters is that by the end of the day it has soaked up so much heat from the outside that we can't sleep in here unless we want to be woken up by the sound of our bodies floating around in a pool of sweat. So for now, while we are not having any sand storms, we are sleeping up on the roof. Every night we climb the ladder, with our bedding in hand, to sleep under the stars, where there is at least a cooler breeze that makes sleeping a little more bearable. There are about 6 of us that are sleeping in this building, the rest are still sleeping in the tents that are set up not to far away. Once in a while when the wind picks up you can see us grabbing our stuff and scampering down the ladder to get out of the windstorms.
Once in a while when it is really nice out, we set up a computer and play some DVD's, with our bottle of cold water in hand, and the lights from the prisoner compound in the distance. Those lights for the prisoners are so bright that they light up the whole area.
At one time there were over 7,000 prisoners here at this location, which was an unbelievable sight and a describable mess. You can even begin to understand what kind of mess that many people create, when all living in a very confined small area. Even now with the 1,000 prisoners that we have, it still has a stench about it that I will never forget.
At one time a few weeks ago they were really having a problem with people getting sick. There was a virus going around that everyone was catching, that was in intestinal bug, which make you want to stay close to the nearest out house. The whole place was infested with flies, thousands of them, perhaps millions of them. They were just out of control, landing on fecal matter that was open and then landing on our food or our face. People were really getting sick, and still are to some degree but they have really tried to take care of the flies by putting out poison and by putting up a bunch of closed-in porta-potties. They also started sucking up the poop every day and cleaning up all the garbage on a daily basis. They also set up little dispensing units next to the porta-potties to dispense anti disinfectant. The prisoners out houses are still not enclosed porta-potties but open framed out-houses, with a 50 gallon drum cut in half to catch all the poop and most of them are four-seaters, so people just sit right next to each other to go to the bathroom. You can imagine what it might smell like if you get hundreds of these scattered all over the camp full of stuff. With the wind and the way it blows here, you can catch that aroma no matter where you are, especially if you have to go out to the cage, where the prisoners are, like what we do. It is just a joy to drive by the, what I have coined as, ?poop row? and of course the army has its own way of describing it, to catch that unforgettable order. I will never forget that smell.
It is still amazing the care we give these so called prisoners. We do give them new jump suit to wear, feed them the type of food they like, allow them to receive medical treatment, clean them up, allow them to bath everyday, so on and so on. We have never mistreated anyone of them, and we don't ever use any type of torture to get them to talk, probably because we don't have to. For the most part they are all very willing to talk to us and to cooperate with us. A lot of them surrendered right at the beginning of the war.
We have had several really cool experiences over the last three days. Here at this camp we have many very high-ranking Iraqi officers. For the last three nights a small group of us have been going over to a compound where 14 of the highest-ranking officers are staying. We have gone over to sit and talk with them. Several of the officers speak English really well; most of them speak enough English to get by in a limited conversation. We put down a small tarp on the ground, they all gather round us in a circle to discuss when they might be released. Most of them surrendered at the very beginning of the war and they have been here ever since, which is really quite disturbing, in that they are very willing to cooperate and have been from the beginning. We are holding them to determine if they have any valuable information about Saddam's regime and/or any information relating to any war crimes that have been committed
So here is the setting. It is dark now, around 8pm, we, a small group of about 4 people, are in the middle of a prisoner of war compound, surrounded by 30 or 40 Iraqi prisoners, all high ranking officers, sitting Indian style in the sand discussing a wide range of topics. We have in length discussed their fate, what is expected of them, how they can help us, and what it is going to take before we can release them. I have been very impressed with the caliber of people that we have here. For the most part they seem to be good men, with good intentions, who are anxious to get back to their families and to begin assisting in the process of rebuilding their country. We have gotten to be very close with a few of them over the last few days, as we have interacted during our meetings. Last night we took out a few colds drinks, some cookies and I made a bowl of hummus for them, to eat with the pita bread we took out. They are so appreciative and so humble about their circumstances and so anxious to find out anything about their families. We are actually trying to get in touch with their families to find out there condition. Some of them that surrendered early are worried that Saddam had their families killed. I am positive that some of these men are going to be part of the force for good in rebuilding this country. They are the future leaders and their children will participate in the new direction that this country is going to take. They know that they cannot do this on their own. There are too many other forces, forces of evil, where evil men have evil designs for the future of this country. There are plenty of people coming forward with only personal or selfish desires, trying to snatch up power or money, now that a vacuum has been created with Saddam's departure.
To most of these people freedom is a foreign concept, one that they are really not sure what it means to them collectively or individually. They are looking for our direction and our assistance, to help them move towards their goal of freedom, free speech, free press, free worship, etc. They know that they cannot do this on their own, with out the assistance of a greater force that has their interests in mind. I am concerned that we don't know the best way to do that either and we will make some mistakes along the way. It is inevitable. At least they know that we are sincerely concerned about the future of their country and we will do our best.
Yesterday, as we were driving around, we decided to see if we couldn't do something good for some person today. As we were thinking we noticed a soldier walking along the side of the road, who looked like he could use a lift. We paused, asking him if he needed a lift, he said yes and jumped in. As we were making small talk with him, I told him that today is his lucky day, because he had the good fortune of getting in the good luck fairy's Hummer. We had just been to the PX and had an ice-cold pudding for him, and I had just gotten a package from my work that had the latest Sports Illustrated Swim suite addition in it, which I was willing to part with, reluctantly. We decided that one of the best ways to bring happiness to ourselves was to do good to other people. I think that was the start of the good luck fairy campaign. We surely made a difference in his day. (Although, I will miss the magazine, sorry to who ever sent me that).
Today we decided to go over to visit one of the Iraqi families that the base as taken in to give assistance or refuge. The family we picked has 5 children, all small children under the age of nine, one of which their daughter has a brain tumor and is mentally retarded. We took over some cold water, some cookies and candy, and a box of crackers. They were so excited to see us drop in with all the goodies. We sat for a moment and spoke to them, not with words but with our care and love for the little children here that have been affected. They knew a couple of words in English and I know a few words in Arabic, but it didn't matter, we connected with them, as our eyes met and shared the joy of giving.
We have several civilian linguists here that work as our interpreters, who are from all over the middles east; but actually all living in the USA. Yesterday a few of them were going to travel down to Kuwait city and agreed to buy us a bunch of stuff so that we could have a little party. We gave them money that we had gathered up, so that they could look for some steaks or chicken that we could barbecue up I made a home-made barbecuer, out of s barrel and some wire mesh, which we intend to fill up with some charcoal. I am now waiting for the return of the food, with big hopes and intentions, for a little barbecue action. Anything different here is a treat for all.
posted by Chief Wiggles 8:19 AM
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Thursday, May 15, 2003
Good morning Iraq, another beautiful day in the land of the proverbial oven, the land where you can be slowly cooked and self basted by your own sweat. No matter where I go it is hot, but actually I beginning to get used to it. I still long for the land of air-conditioning and ice. With the conditions the way we have them, there is just no escaping the heat. We reached a new high in the tent, of 125, not bad in the shade.
I hear that the further north I go, the cooler it will get so I can hardly wait. I am really not complaining, just expressing a feeling. It is really all good, it is just a matter of having the right frame of mind. We as humans are quite adaptive and flexible. We still function just fine at these temperatures. But, I am afraid to see what it is going to be like in the middle of summer when it really starts to get hot.
As I mentioned in my last journal entry, I have moved to a new location, of which I won't mention until after I get back home and can add the names of all the places I have been. I am living by people not far from a large city. We have taken over a large plot of land until our mission here is over and we can send all the POW's back home, which we are doing by larger and larger numbers, once we determine that most of them don't have any real intelligence value. We do still have quite a few very high-ranking officers that we are still talking to.
I have been out driving a few times from the base that I am staying on and have been able to see the native populace that inhabits the area. No matter where we go, there are kids out on the streets waiting in hopes that an American will drive by and they will be able to get us to make any number of nice hand gestures to them as we pass by. The kids are just waiting in the heat and as they see us coming they start waving and then usually hold up the peace sign or thumbs up. They yell out gestures, some obviously that they have recently picked up from other passing troops, like I love you. There are also a good number of older people, perhaps the children's mothers or fathers that are also hanging out to wave at us. Cars full of Iraqis will drive by and honk their horns and wave.
Overall the response by the local populace has been very positive. In the back of my mind though is that concern that you never know who might be so inclined to make an effort to hurt us? We haven't had any such incidences but you just never know. We have to be real careful, especially with the kids that hang out on the side of the road. What they do is try to get us to stop our vehicle. They actually get right out in front us in the middle of the road. They usually send out the smallest kid, to get us to slow down or stop so that they can circle the vehicle and try to steal stuff from us. The bigger kids usually go right for open windows, or any doors that aren't locked and they just start grabbing stuff. We have had a lot of soldiers lose all kinds of stuff. So now when we pass a bunch of kids we usually speed up. We don't give them a chance to slow us down. We just never know what to expect. If they know we are not going to stop or slow they don't even attempt to get out in front of us. When they see that we are actually speeding up they get out of the way real fast.
It is just that they are so poor and they have been so deprived or so much for so long, that they want anything they can get their hands on, especially if it is something that they can sell for some money. There are a lot of people along the sides of the roads, trying to sell us Iraqi Dinars, for what ever we will give them. I guess US soldiers have been wanting some souvenirs.
posted by Chief Wiggles 8:18 AM
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