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Letters from Iraq

Staff Sergeant
Christopher E. Alley
United States Army
Emmitsburg Native

Groundhog Day!

Well, September has come and gone and so has another 30 days in my tour here in Baghdad. Although I commonly refer to it as "Groundhog Day" around here my days are different, but they center on the same daily schedule. So to give everyone a little window into my daily life, I'll try to give you a little snapshot of a day in "My World".

***DISCLAIMER*** If I ever loose anyone with my "Military Lingo" let me know and I will try to send out a cheat sheet to decipher my ramblings.

I usually wake up around 0500 (5am) and I go for my morning run. Now depending on the day the length varies, but I usually switch up between distance days (3 miles) and timed days (2 miles). Recently running in the morning has been pretty nice since the morning temps are somewhere in the mid to upper 70's, which is quite refreshing. Now usually between 0600 and 0700 the neighbors (Iraqi's) wake up and we get a little dose of IDF (Indirect Fire) which is usually 1-4 mortar or rocket rounds which land somewhere close enough to cause you to take notice, but usually we just keep running because what can you do? Once I return it is off to the shower, dressed and off to morning chow. We usually eat breakfast in the Embassy, which is a more of ala carte type set up. Breakfast usually consists of fruit, yogurt, juice, and sometimes when I feel crazy, a bowl of cereal. The sitting area is a former Saddam Ballroom, so the atmosphere ranges greatly from ones perspective of the situation we are all in.

After breakfast with a cup of coffee in hand I trudge off to the office. We usually have a short meeting coordinating our days and brief up events from the day prior. Now if everyone didn't know I am the IZ Real Property Management NCO. This is a glorified name for an International Zone landlord/real estate agent. I deal daily with Department of State, UN, US Military, Coalition Military, and Contractors here to support the reconstruction mission. Presently we oversee approximately 105 properties which range from empty lots, to houses, to foreign Embassies. It can be interesting work learning and dealing with people from all walks of life, but it has also taught me patients and political correctness as well. OK, it has taught me some patients and how to be polite to people's faces. I am usually out in the International Zone for at least half of every day conducting surveys required for revalidation of leases. There are some perks of the job. Since I am the military rep for the IZ nobody can really refuse me entrance into any piece of property. Usually I talk people into being cooperative but sometimes I have to make a call into the IZ Police to make some contractors understand the situation. One reason for these periodic checks is to evaluate the true need for the land. Our goal here is to have The New Embassy Compound finished by December 2007 and to have the American "Footprint" only within those walls. So to achieve this we are presently evaluating the need of every user when their 6 month leases are up and we determine if they are going to be renewed or not. Now as you can guess, we do have some unhappy people but they eventually loose. It can even become comical to the point that one company has actually tried to sue us through the Iraqi court system saying we don't have the right to remove them from the land. I never thought I would be sued while in combat by a fellow American trying to achieve the same mission to get the Iraqi's walking on their own two feet. To clarify my status I am the manager for both the US Government and the Iraqi Government. When a piece of land becomes free I do all the paper work, conduct the final environmental survey's, and then turn it over to the Iraqi Minister of the Interior. I have daily meetings with the number four man in the Iraqi government or his representative. So needless to say this is a much different job than my usual military specialty (Ammunition) or even my civilian work. Then again time and again the reason I have been given these kinds of jobs outside my true knowledge base is because I have the knack to thinking on my feet and outside the box, achieved the mission, and I have the title of "Jack of all traits", or so I have been told time and again.

Back on subject though, that is my day. Mixed in during the day is lunch, and a coffee break down in the lounge where more wheeling and dealing is done for such things as: Better internet service in my room, Tickets to Saddam's trial, Lunches and Tours in the IZ, and whatever else I can barter or trade for, either for my needs or someone else's needs. I commonly use the phrase "Drug Deal" which really is a good comparison of the situation because some people do feel the need of power is equal to a drug fix.

My normal work day ends around 1800-1830 (6:00-6:30pm) then it is off to Dinner. Usually we go to the DFAC (Dining Facility) for dinner which has at least 5 entrée's, a specialty bar, a short order line, and a grilled specialty to choose from. Not to mention there is also the salad bar, desert bar, and ice cream bar as well. So you now know why I run as much as I do! The food is good, but after a point, and yes I have reached that point, the food gets so repetitive. Think of only being able to eat at "Ruby Tuesday's" every night for a year and the menu doesn't change. The usual highlights are Wednesday which is King Crab legs and steak night and Sunday which is Lobster Tails and Prime Rib. Yes it sounds so nice but it does get old, but don't ever think we aren't grateful for what we have, because my job does let me see what the Iraqi's and even some contractors eat and I would take an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) over their food. My favorite though right now, is Monday Lunch because of the Swarma's. For all the Aramco Brats you will understand!

Then my evenings are usually filled with either a movie, some reading, or maybe I get oh so daring and I get into a volleyball game or a game of dodge ball. As for the dodge ball imagine something from the movie "Mad Max" with 20-40 year olds, some of which are on steroids (Personal Protection Mercenaries) throwing those red balls from our gym classes of yesteryear at each other. More than one person has been knocked out from an impact. Oh the fun we find in our boredom. Then it is off to bed usually around 2330 (11:30pm).

As for communication home I have internet of course at work and in my room. I also have phones to call home at work for free, or should I say on your tax dime and I also have a cell phone for work and I can receive calls from the US on as well. So needless to say I have contact with the outside world.

As for the major happenings in and around my life during September, there were a few.

I also celebrated another birthday (37th) in a foreign land. Although it wasn't with friends and family from home, it was with my deployed family which is almost the same and it was augmented with calls and emails from home. Also if anyone was wondering I received the usual singing to, so everyone knows how I loved that!

I had lunch with a friend of mine here from Emmitsburg and have since had a couple more. It is funny how small the world actually is!

My daughter Victoria made the JV High School Field Hockey team and was moved up for one game to Varsity. So you all know how proud I am of her! Not to mention academically she is doing very well in all her classes even her French class!

September 11th was observed here with the respect due. I participated in the Flag Raising ceremonies at the Embassy in which we raised over 600 flags to be sent home to friends/families/and organizations.

Well that about covers my "Goldfish Bowl" life for the September. If anyone has questions about anything such as life, thoughts, or any other aspect of life for me or others here let me know and I will answer them as honestly and as quickly as possible and even post them in a later edition of my monthly letter to all in this forum.

Until next months addition, stay safe and everyone keep your heads down!


Read other Letters from Iraq by Sergeant Christopher E. Alley

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