I received a few questions on my last letter and I want to clear those things up before moving on to today's topic.
The soldiers here at LSA Anaconda don't have it too hard. The hardest part is the long hours (typically a 12-hour shift, plus 45-60 minutes shift-change briefing, or more if you are a senior leader), and the frequent mortar attacks.
We have it pretty good here, and we know that. Most soldiers in Iraq however are NOT on a big logistics base. Many, many of them have it pretty rough and those are the ones who would love to get packages in the mail of things they need.
I really do appreciate those sending me stuff. My soldiers and I will enjoy all of it. But for those who really want to support some soldiers that have it rough, I recommend going to www.anysoldier.com. Various military members sign up as representatives for their platoon, squad, or section, and they receive packages and distribute the goodies to the other members of their organization. You can search the listings all kinds of ways, and choose the soldier (or soldiers) you would like to send a package to.
Here at LSA Anaconda, we are also fortunate to have air conditioned
buildings. Some of the buildings have former patio areas that were enclosed by
soldiers using plywood and their own work, but even those spaces are air
conditioned. The power is often not very stable and so A/Cs are sometimes at a
premium and I have gone for as much as a week without A/C, but for the most part
all the work buildings, MWR buildings, dining facilities (DFACs), fitness
centers, etc have A/C. It is refrigerated air, rather than swamp coolers. Swamp
coolers would work (and work well), but for some reason the standard is
refrigerated air. I think it is because steady water supplies are not certain.
Most buildings have a big tank out back, and once a week or so, a truck rolls up
and fills the tank with non-potable water. We get big pallets of bottled water
delivered to each building and we go out and get plastic cases of bottled water
to drink. There is a bottled water plant on base, and t
hey take local canal water from the Tigris River, perform "reverse osmosis water purification" on it, and then bottle it for local use.
Lots of the local support is done by Iraqis and other "local nationals" who are here to work. The dining facilities are all staffed by LNs, as are the PX, barber shop, alterations shop, etc. Some of the "public works" folks are LNs, but some are American. Some of the guards are US military and some are contract guards. Right now it seems that a lot of the guards are from Uganda. Almost everyone who works on base also live on base. I have been told that once an Iraqi comes onto base to work, they normally stay. This is for the protection of both them and their family. There are no schools (nor family housing) on base. I haven't seen a single child since I got here.
We often have folks who come on base for temporary work, and they must be
escorted by armed US military guards. Some of my soldiers have had escort duty,
and they spend the day supervising the LN workers, with weapons "locked and
loaded" and "at the low ready". That sounds harsh, but we just can't afford to
take any chances with folks who come onto base for the day to work. Any one of
them could be an insurgent. Before our unit arrived, escorts caught some LNs
pacing off distances around camp.
So, on to the exciting stuff.... or not so exciting stuff, depending on your position.
Before I left England, my boss liked to tease me by saying that I was going to "the most mortared based in Iraq." It is true. LSA Anaconda is attacked almost daily with mortars. Often it is only a couple rounds, but occasionally it is 4 or more.
The base is so big that often I don't know that some part of the base has been attacked until I hear about it in the briefing the next morning. Sometimes the attacks are in the daytime, and sometimes they are at night. The base is divided up into areas with an alarm siren for each area.
The first attack I experienced was in the early morning when I was just finishing a run. I heard a boom about 500-600 meters away, behind some buildings. OK. Didn't seem like a big deal. Several evenings later, I was in the office when I suddenly heard the alarm siren followed by a boom. At that time my office was in a plywood-enclosed patio, so I grabbed my gear (and my soldiers) and moved into a hardened part of the building, where we waited for the "All Clear" announcement that is broadcast around camp.
Later that night, when I got back to my trailer, I found flashing blue lights all around the section where my trailer was, because two rounds had landed. One had exploded about 50 meters from my trailer. The other round didn't explode so they were looking for the unexploded ordnance. It didn't bother me that much because I had been elsewhere during the attack.
Well, about 5 or 6 nights later, I was awakened around 00:30 by the alarm siren. I grabbed my body armour and crawled under the bed (which is what we are supposed to do because the sandbags stacked halfway up the walls around the outside of the trailer will protect us from shrapnel if we are laying on the floor). One round landed and my trailer shook from the explosion. I was pretty darned scared at that point. Another round landed a little further away, followed by several more getting farther away. I lay there for about 15 minutes before the "all clear" came, but once I got back in bed, it still took me a very long time to get back to sleep.
As it turns out, the insurgents got 4 or 5 rounds off and were trying to walk them towards the airfield. No one was hurt in any of the three attacks I have mentioned, although a little bit of damage to some equipment was done by the third attack. Occasionally the insurgents manage to damage some stuff, and occasionally wound someone, but they don't really get much chance. The base responds to attacks within 30-45 seconds or so, which means the insurgents usually don't get to "adjust the rounds onto target". If they don't vacate the area they shot from within 60 seconds or so, they usually don't survive the encounter. The mortar fire is more harassment than anything else.
We were attacked at dinner time two nights last week, and all the folks eating in the DFAC were grumpy because they had to dive under the tables when the alarm siren went off. The grumpiest folks were the ones that were in the DFAC for both attacks.
Not all the rounds that get shot at us land within the perimeter, and of the ones that do land, they don't all explode.
The base is pretty well guarded. The perimeter is fenced and we have towers all along the perimeter, with interlocking fields of fire. There are soldiers on guard duty with live ammo, locked and loaded, every single day in every single tower.
Work is starting to settle into a routine. I have a lot of projects to work in order to get everything done the way *my* unit wants it done, but even that is tapering off. Everyone who comes over here for a year is allowed 2 weeks of "rest and relaxation", which is an opportunity to fly home (or where-ever else you want to go) and take a break.
I have received permission to take my R&R at the end of this week so I can go to England and ride as a Norman cavalryman in the Battle of Hastings re-enactment. A lot of folks wonder why I am taking my R&R so early, but this is going to be the largest Battle of Hastings that English Heritage has ever put on, and the next big one won't be for 11 years. (And they won't move the battle just for me...) In the past two years (when I was in England), there have been about 12 cavalry and 300 or so foot soldiers on the field. This year, there are over 120 cavalry and 1600 foot soldiers signed up for the battle. It is going to be huge. I hope I have lots of friends taking good pictures for me...
So you won't get another update for about 3 weeks, because it is 2 weeks of R&R plus some travel time. The next update will be about the Battle of Hastings!
Peter / Terafan