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Letters from Iraq

Staff Sergeant
Christopher E. Alley
United States Army
Emmitsburg Native

March 2007

Well everyone it is that time again and I know you have all been waiting patiently for the word from Baghdad, Iraq. Well the word from Baghdad is that I have approximately 117 days left here or 16 weeks which sounds better when you deal with smaller numbers.

2 Bullets

Well I have now joined a prestigious group here in the International Zone. I have officially joined the "Bullet through the Roof Club"! We really don't know when it happened but we found out it did happen when our roof began to leak during a rain storm. When we found the water dripping in through the roof we looked around for the source and we found the bullet still lodged in the roof. The water was dripping down the side of the bullet so we left it in until our contractor came to fix the hole so that more water didn't come running in. We did recover the bullet and we decided that my room mate should have it since it was on his side of the trailer.

The good news is that even if it had come completely through during its travel it would have at worse case hit our TV judging from the angle of its trajectory, so that's a good thing. As for the second bullet mentioned it is an even more random accident! Last week I was driving down one of the major roads here in the International Zone with my buddy and my interpreter going about my daily travels and checking things out when just after passing under the Jerusalem Dome Arch a loud bang happened and I though we might have a flat. Another bang happened and then the rolling sound came as a bullet rolled down the windshield of my truck. Talk about odds! I was going approximately 35-40 mph when this happened. If I could only have pl

ayed Lotto that night, I am sure I could retire now. Anyway, since it happened in my truck, I have the bullet, so it all works out! You may be asking where this comes from, but as I stated in a previous letter the Iraqi's still don't grasp Newton's Law of Gravity. The Iraqi's still shoot their weapons in the air when they are happy such as a wedding or when their soccer team wins. They also shoot their weapons in the air when they need to make a point such as the police needing to clear some vehicles or a group of people from the road. So as you can see a new version of The Weathers Girls "It's Raining Men" has been remade to "It's Raining Lead"!

The God Tree

From time to time here in Iraq I learn more about the people, the culture, and the customs, which I must say I enjoy very much and it gives me a better perspective to why things happen the way they do here in Iraq. One such custom I came across in the last month involves the "God Tree". A "God Tree" is also known as Rhamus in Arabic, and in English it is a Buckwood Tree which produces small cherry like fruit which can be purchased at the local market. Well one of these trees was located near an Electrical Transformer that exploded. To get to the area to replace this large transformer the "God Tree" had to come down, which is easier said than done. So when our local Iraqi who does our tree trimming arrived he told us that we had to do a sacrifice before he could cut the tree down. So off he went and arrived back about 15 minutes later with a sheep in the back of his truck. He and his son unloaded the sheep and brought it to the tree. Then he proceeded to slit its throat and let it bleed out on the curb in front of the tree. Once the sheep was totally bled out he and his son dipped their hands in the blood and then placed them on the trunk of the tree. Once this was done they cut the tree down and took both the majority of the wood and what was left of the sheep minus the head and skin. Needless to say there were more than a few quizzical looks at this custom being performed. From what I have gathered the tradition is rooted from the tale of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac to the Christians, but to the Muslims they believe the story comes from the sacrifice of Ishmael instead of Isaac, because Ishmael was considered the first son of Abraham. So as tradition goes Allah has given down a sheep to sacrifice before the tree is cut down so that bad luck is not brought upon the person cutting down the tree.

One thing that I do find very interesting about the Iraqi people is that no matter whom I talk to, be it a Shia or Sunni, or even a person who goes to Mosque or not they all know the stories and traditions. What I am trying to say is that everyone knows the traditions and roots of them whether they attend Mosque or not. Compare this to America; it usually takes a "Google" search to find out why the tradition exists much less admitting that so much in America is based on Biblical teachings and laws. My main translator is not a "Good" Muslim, but he knows all the history, stories, and practices even though he does not attend Mosque and he still teaches this all to his daughter because much can be learned from history. This is just another example of some of the interesting tidbits I will take from my experience here and will remember forever.


As everyone knows I have been put in charge of cleaning up the International Zone. Well to date I have spent $100,000 of Iraqi money and cleared 188 Dump Truck loads of trash and rubble from the IZ. The start of the new look to the IZ has not fallen on closed eyes! I had the privilege of having a slide in the final BUA (Battle Update Assessment) of Gen. Casey's term as Commander of Multi-National Forces Iraq. This slide is what is called the "Golden Nugget" slide of the briefing. It is the feel good/good news story of the week that happens in all of Iraq. I spent a couple of nights getting the slide ready and briefing the Public Affairs people on what was all entailed in our efforts here in the International Zone. Since then I have had to escort others who only frequent the IZ once every 3 months or so, and when I take them around, they all commented on how much the area has changed for the better. Not to mention when I am driving and I tell them that I was the pseudo President of the International Zone Home Owners Association and out daily on the roads trying to educate the Iraqis and to help them see the light of neighborhood cleanliness they always start by saying that they never new our unit was this involved with the Iraqis and the entire IZ as a whole.

Another instance of fame was yet another high profile person coming to Iraq and spending time with the troops. On February 18th Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice came to Baghdad unannounced to give the State Department workers and the Military a pep talk on the fighting going on in Congress about Iraq and the "surge" of troops. I was in the front row and as she walked in I was able to shake her hand and welcome her to Baghdad. Dr. Rice can never be said to be a challenged public speaker. Her speech to us was very moving and inspiring to everyone and everyone left feeling more motivated knowing that our view of the situation here is not limited to the people here in Iraq. Anyway, later our section "hawked" out where her meeting was and talked to the Public Affairs people of her entourage and asked if we could get a group picture with Dr. Rice. They agreed to the photo op and when she was finished her meeting she came out and had her picture taken with us all. After the formal picture she then turned around and made it a fact to shake and thank every soldier there and even joked around with us. One soldier said he would vote for her if she ran for President and she came back with "Thank you, but I don't want that job. I'm going back to Stanford!". Talk about another down to earth person who is always in the lime light, it truly is refreshing!

This and That

Other things that happened in the month of February were:

The Baghdad Bullets and Bombs 5 Miler: Well all I have to say is that they lied! The run was actually 6 miles which made me feel much better because I ran this in 49 minutes which for 6 miles isn't too shabby, but for 5 miles I would have been very disappointed. Anyway the same day they also held a half and full marathon to coincide with the Austin Marathon being held the same weekend. I still can't put a pen near anything that says Marathon, but if they have another before I leave I will try the half marathon just to say I did it. The best part though of running the 5 Miler though was the T-Shirt! It is by far the best one I have amassed to date and it was much better looking than the half and full marathon shirt given out!

Isabella's Birthday: My daughter celebrated her 6th birthday in February! As a father who depends greatly on his wife, I of course screwed up the dates and she received her flowers from Daddy on the 16th of February instead! Well it is the thought that counts and I should at least get a few points for being in the right month since it has become somewhat of an Alley tradition for the women to celebrate Birthday Month!

4 Day Pass Date: I received my 4 day pass date earlier in February, which I will be leaving on in early April. We all receive the chance to go to Qatar for 4 days of R&R. While you are there you can take cultural tours, shop, relax, and drink 3 beers a day! I am looking forward to this, to break up the time left here and to energize my batteries one last time for the final stretch here in Iraq.

Well that is all for now! Only 3-4 more editions to go, which sounds even better than 16 weeks left in country. I hope this finds everyone well and I hope to hear from everyone soon!


Read other Letters from Iraq by Sergeant Christopher E. Alley

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