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Letters from Iraq

Staff Sergeant Christopher E. Alley
United States Army
Emmitsburg Native

Christmas In Baghdad

Well we find ourselves together again ladies and gentlemen and boys and girls of all ages. I find myself now 4 days and 7 hours until my Blackhawk takes me from the International Zone to the start of my journey home for the holidays, but who is counting? I have made the requisite plans for my chopper ride to BIAP (Baghdad International Airport) and I have attended a class on "reunion" with our families. Although the intention of the class is more directed to my brethren walking patrols and learning to mesh seamlessly back with typical American society and family life, it really should be a class we should not be made to suffer through. On the other hand though, even here in the IZ I have become a bit jaded and maybe anger management isn't such a bad thing that everyone should attend, just to shake your inner self and recognize changes we all have made while deployed.

Fraud, Waste, and Abuse!

Some ask why I have become jaded or might be quick to let my temper get the better of me, well I am going to try to "let it out" a bit here and maybe you can all understand. First off, many who know me know my political ideals. One of which is Fiscal Responsibility! Here in the International Zone I deal with many walks of life, from Contractors to Military to Non Government Organizations. Now some might think I might go down the "Halliburton Road" but I am not. The way I see it and many others here see it, they earn their money. I challenge anyone to find me another company or organization that can provide the services they provide so quickly and seamlessly and integrate so easily with the missions of the military. There is also the fact that these people, men and women, put it on the line daily to support the troops. They are truck drivers who drive down dangerous roads, cooks, clerks, electricians, and carpenters and are all some of the most professional people I have never met so many with the American "can do" attitude! On the other hand I have had the wonderful, dripping with sarcasm, experience of dealing with such organizations as USAID (United States Agency for Iraqi Development), USIP (United States Institute for Peace), RTI (Research Triangle Institute), NDI (National Democratic Institute), and IRI (International Republic Institute) to name a few. These taxpayer funded "organizations" in my opinion are the true fleecing of America!

After spending almost 5 months here I have yet to really figure out what they actually do for Iraq or even us the American Taxpayer! Some of the above "Organizations" have GRANTS of upwards of over $50 million, which last time I looked "Grants" were tax money GIVEN to organization or people which are not expected to be reimbursed back to the government or the American people. Some of these "workers", and I use the term loosely; live on compounds which if you didn't know better could be subdivisions somewhere in Arizona. They have "bungalows" which have marble floors, living rooms, kitchenettes, private baths, and bedroom; all built with American tax dollars. They also have cleaning women coming daily to clean them, and laundry is picked up on Tuesdays and Thursdays and returned the same day folded and left on the made beds. Excuse me but am I in a war zone?

These compounds even have such high tech things as underground sewage treatment plants which after the process is complete you would think they would at least use the treated water for showers or watering the grass since it is now drinkable! Oh no, they couldn't do such a thing, because they use the Baghdad Public Water System for those things! The treated water is pumped into the Tigres River! Another waste of Taxpayer money is the unnecessary people who are here sponging money from the government. For instance one "organization" has one person here, and her title is "Chief of Party", which in the diplomatic realm means a leader, in her case take the literal meaning and make sure you bring along a dish or a bottle!

All of these perks, but for what? The soldiers/sailors/airmen/marines here all live in trailers that do not have any real protection from even celebratory fire. Not to mention while dealing with these people we are usually talked down to, as if we aren't on the same level and are nothing more than a necessary evil!

Given, I may not see everything or know everything that goes on in these "organizations" but given we are here on a mission to spread Democracy and to rebuild Iraq so it can move forward in history as a pillar of Democracy in the Middle East, what are we teaching the Iraqis about our form of Democracy or our type of leadership? If the Iraqis see how this type of waste is normal in the Greatest Nation on Earth, in my opinion, then how can we find fault with their slow and often corrupt ways in politicking a solution for Iraq as a whole?


Being that it is the "Holiday" season we have had our share of visitors to the area. As I type, Secretary Rumsfeld is presently in Iraq. I find it interesting that so many who have said that he doesn't care about the troops, but even in his "swan song" he comes to Iraq to thank the troops one last time. He will always have a few extra points in my book, because of this last visit.

Speaking of Honor, another person of honor in my book was also here this week. A buddy of mine and I were in the DFAC (Dining Facility) the other night and noticed there were a lot of Marines all eating together. Now besides the grunting and the use of eating utensils was out of the norm, just seeing 40 Marines together is a rarity here since the only Marines at the Embassy are the Security Force and they work shifts, so you really don't know how many are really here. Well they all stood up at once and left the DFAC at once, and they were followed by a few people also in Marine wear but they were being escorted by two Army soldiers. First I thought "translators" to society, since Marines are in a world of their own, but then I looked at the fellows with them and I recognized one from Television. Colonel Oliver North was walking right by me! I told my buddy that I know he is heading outside for a photo op, and I wanted to hear what he had to say. Well we went outside and found them taking photos and we went up front to hear what was being said.

A lot of joking and thanking of each other was the norm. Well I noticed the guy next to me didn't look like a normal Marine in uniform, probably because of the goatee, and I noticed the "FOX News" on the chest. I asked him, once the Colonel was done would it be possible, if I gave him my e-mail address, if he could take my picture with the Colonel? In his thick Australian accent he gave me a quick "Sure Mate, that's what I'm here for!" and he led me up front. Well after about 5 minutes he called out to the Colonel and told him this Staff Sergeant wanted his picture taken with you. Well Colonel North said sure and to get right on up there. He shook my hand thanking me over and over again for my service and entered into chit chat with me. Asking me where I was from, about family, and when I would be leaving. I have always kind of admired him for laying in front of the bus for the Reagan Administration, but I admire him more now for being so down to earth and actually showing his appreciation and feeling it coming from him. He truly is a great guy!

This and That

Well the first holiday of the "Holiday Season" came and went. Thanksgiving wasn't a bad day, even though we worked through it. During the day in the main ballroom, now the Internet Café' and Coffee Bar, the Embassy held a Holiday Bazaar, with different Iraqi vendors selling everything from rugs, to jewelry, to artwork. It was a nice way of easing into the season. Lunch and Dinner were the typical gorging feasts of America. We had the traditional Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and all the fixings, including pumpkin pie! They also served ham, lobster, shrimp, and prime rib as well. So they pulled out all the stops. The DFAC personnel really did a great job and made it the most pleasant Thanksgiving away from home I have ever had.

One of the musings here in Baghdad is always the news typical Americans receive from here. Although I am not trying to paint Iraq through rose colored glasses, the country as a whole isn't as bad as it is portrayed. Baghdad and An-Bar Providence are not so good and do have a lot going wrong, but there is also a lot of positive things happening in the way of services for the typical Iraqi's. My interpreters make me laugh when they tell me how hard a decision it is when there are four different types of ketchup to choose from! Under Saddam there was only one if any at all! In northern Iraq soldiers are allowed to shop and frequent coffee houses. In the south our British partners do have an occasional run in, but as a whole things are beginning to work there as well. I really do think that besides the normal, only "death and chaos" makes the news, that the reporters stationed here in Baghdad never leave there respective hotels.

For the past few night there has been a lot of gunfire in Baghdad but this is not from sectarian fighting but in celebration of the Iraqi National Soccer Team doing so well in a tournament. It is amazing that this whole country comes together for a team of mixed Shia, Sunni, and Kurds but can't get their Government rolling smoothly. We were discussing in the office this morning that what needs to be done is for the Prime Minister to be removed and be replaced by the Soccer Coach. He knows how to get everyone working together!

Well that's it for now. My next edition will be a bit late but will include how easy or tough it is to get in and out of Iraq! It should be somewhat entertaining to say the least. Travel in the military is never easy! Everyone have a Happy Holiday and be safe!

4 Days and 6 hours to go but who is counting?


Read other Letters from Iraq by Sergeant Christopher E. Alley

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