This is the last blog. Thank you for reading. I loved writing it.
"I saw that guy Roger. He was eating a Reuben."
"A Reuben? He always goes with chick parm."
"It was a Reuben."
"He gets chick parm on toasted garlic bread."
"Yeah this Reuben looked really good. I almost wanted to ask him for a bite."
"I'll find out about it."
"The worst thing about getting whacked would be all the crap they'd say afterward. War on terror, like a soldier."
"The obituary should be brief. They should say only two things."
"'He was an idiot,' and 'He sailed beyond his depths.' That's all they should say."
"So why'd you go with the Reuben instead of the chick parm?
"If you saw the Reuben you'd have known why. If you had tasted the Reuben - you'd have wanted one too."
"I look forward to that Reuben. I hope it was covered with slaw and dressing."
"The swiss is melted onto both pieces of rye bread over the dressing, like a grilled cheese, then the thing is stacked with the slaw and corned beef."
"How was the quality, the freshness of the rye bread?"
"Seemed good to me."
Baghdad 9.45 a.m.
No, it's just the wind. No, it's just a door slamming. Maybe just the electricity going back on, or maybe just a whistle somewhere that ends in a whistle, not a crash. So you can wait — breathe out.
Outside one of Saddam's palaces, a guy blew on a kind of whistle after we walked by him that sounded like incoming. My arms moved up spasmodically and I squatted with a snap, as if I had been electrocuted. But then, I realized it was a whistle. The guy behind me said, "...sorry," with a slight laugh. There were three men walking with me, but I was the only one who went into a spastic mode. I didn't turn around, and no one said anything. We just kept walking.
In the day, if you stand outside with a cup of tea and look up at the blue sky, you may sometimes hear AK fire off in the distance — in the city, not where you are. You can tell from the sound how far away it is, somewhere out there where they are killing themselves. You stand next to Hoummos Ali as six cats meow for food and Henry the dog sits despondent on two camouflage pillows in his new doghouse. Someone built a tiny imaginary satellite dish with a plastic plate for Henry on the roof of his doghouse, so he could get cable.
At night, it is harder to tell how far away the shots are. There was a flurry last night that made me pause, with my feet just above my Adidas massaging slippers. Is it time? Is it time to run? Then, you wait, and it's gone.
Baghdad 8.12 p.m.
"That Iraqi police thing made my hair stand up."
"Yeah. We were the only car on the road because of the curfew. He was knocking on the window for us to get out."
"They were the old uniforms, too."
Baghdad 7.34 a.m.
• Video: Under Attack
A kind sergeant tapped on the metal door and swung it open.
"They sounded the all clear," he said gently. "You can take your stuff off if you want to."
"Thanks," I said, "I might just leave it on a little longer."
I was sitting on my bunk in a vest and helmet not doing anything. I was on the phone when the first rocket hit. It was close enough to knock me back, with a real crack, and I had one idea, to get inside. Frankfurt got in behind me.
"Wait," I said, "where there is one there is usually more."
Frankfurt wanted to get some shots. People were running for bunkers. Then, crack, crack, crack. I ran around the tiny room in a small circle like a scared dog, trying to see which corner would be the safest. After a minute, we opened the door and started to tape and do a stand up. Then we went to the hospital to see the casualties. I asked for a lieutenant to escort us, since people get mad sometimes around casualties, but we got split up, and a captain tried to block us twice. The doctors would yell to clear the hall before they brought someone out to the helicopter. Some were all wrapped and some were limping.
They gave us a VIP room with concrete. Most MP's in the 89th live under tin roofs. The mortars and the rockets cut right through the tin, making giant holes and exploding where people lay. The Colonel told me he has been trying to get steel and concrete. They live under tin. So you wait all day to get blown up on the road, then you come back to a bunk and look up at the tin waiting for a rocket to come through.
I saw a box of music CDs that people had made and sent to the troops. Hundreds of untouched amateur recordings.
Forward Operating Base Rostimaya 3.02 p.m.
I opened the metal door to the VIP room letting in a number of flies. Previous readers of this missive know my feelings towards flies. The previous VIP kindly left two swatters behind, on a separate swatter-hook. The models have evidently been much in use. They are bent and contain some partial fly carcasses still in the mesh. The metal rods are bent, and both the light blue and green striking sections have lost a good deal of rigidity. It may be advancing years, or perhaps the stress of recent travels, but the flies here in FOB Rostimaya do indeed seem fast.
The main charm of the VIP room is a concrete roof. Most of the others are tin. In a rocket zone this is an important distinction.
First a word of praise for the culinary staff at FOB Rostimaya, located just southeast of Sadr City. If you had to pick the five most dangerous places in the world right now to drive 500 yards, Sadr City might be number one. You could get sniped, but more likely you could drive over a bomb, or, in its sanitized form, an IED. They are as plentiful as flies.
But first the food, then the fear.
Chow call was at 7.15 a.m. Frankfurt and Questions remained in deep slumber even after I flipped on the fluorescent.
“Fellas,” I said, “you know they’re gonna be on time. You’ve got ten minutes, or you can sleep another half hour and eat those Pop-tarts.”
I expected FOB chow to be inferior, but was wrong. There were two lines at the grill. One for pre-fab eggs, which NFG alone went for, and another for omelets with real eggs. The omelet line, ordinarily too slow for me, was divided into two, allowing speedy access for those who wanted only fried, real eggs. I was flipped three, with no wait, and slided left towards the home fries with a sense of triumph.
The pride, though, of FOB Rostimaya is its French toast. Not deep fried chunks, as in many larger bases, they take their time here and do it right. Puffy, tender, with a choice of blueberry or cherry preserves. Don’t miss it.
Just a word about the ride here, which may not be for everyone. It took a couple of hours through a couple of neighborhoods in what is generally considered the most dangerous section of the most dangerous city on earth. Of course the up armored humvees provide good protection. The 89th MP Brigade has lost only one soldier, and that was to a mortar on base. But almost everyone you talk to here has driven over at least one bomb, most more than one, with resultant shrapnel wounds, breaks, or more serious medi-vac injuries.
So it is not a battle that you see. It is not someone that you shoot at. It is something hidden that you don’t see, that suddenly may just go off. You watch for it all the time, but odds are if it is a powerful one that could really do damage, you are not going to see it. It’s night time and you are driving. And you watch the night vision screen and peer at the road and wait and hope if it blows up, that you just get a broken leg and they get you out fast. Or, if you are perhaps not that brave, or not that experienced, you can look out the window and say to yourself, inside your mind, so no one else can here, I am terrified.
Camp Striker 11.07 am
• Video: Al Qaeda Cage
After long and careful deliberation, I made the switch from Gatorade Frost to Gatorade Fruit Punch. I liked the red under the flourescent, and I liked it on the rocks.
I sat with "Frankfurt". "Questions" was off somewhere. I was working my way through a fried chicken breast and some sweet and sour pork. As Frankfurt went on, I stopped eating. It was one of those stories and there was no where to go.
"There were weekend snipers who would come to Sarajevo from Switzerland," he said. "They'd work in the factory all week, then come over by bus. They were in gun clubs and they had the best sniper rifles."
"And they were the worst. I remember we came up to one guy and he pointed down to the crosswalk."
I poured the Fruit Punch to the top of the paper cup, but did not drink.
"There was a man and a woman down there."
I knew what was coming. I looked at Frankfurt's right eye. Just beneath it you could see a tiny vein quiver. I looked at the full cup of Fruit Punch.
"And he said, 'Which one do you want me to kill, the man or the woman?' And I waved my arms, 'No, nothing. We are leaving.'"
Frankfurt waved his two arms across each other at the table — game over, he was not playing. But still the story came.
"And he said, 'No you have to choose now.'"
"They were the worst, those weekend snipers."
Camp Striker 2.09 a.m. Midnight Chow Psalm
"When I get back to the States, I'm going to a bar. I'm gonna buy me a beer. And I'm gonna buy one for you. I'm gonna put it on the bar. I'm gonna take a picture of it and send it to you."
Camp Striker 10.24 p.m.
4-vehicle convoy back to Baghdad. Armored humvees. Hit an IED, improvised explosive device, roadside bomb. No casualties.
I was in vehicle #2. #4 got hit.
I generally prefer to be in the second vehicle. I figure the first one is most likely to get hit, but it doesn't work like that. I spend most of the time watching the tire tracks of the vehicle in front of me. My hope is that my driver will stay right in his tracks.
In the morning the driver was singing,
"Many men, many men have wished death upon me."
50 Cent. He sang the entire ride, softly.
I forgot my gloves on the morning ride. You wear flame-resistant gloves. When you are on fire, the first instinct is to put out the flames with your hands.
I also forgot my earplugs. You wear earplugs to protect your ears against the blast. I looked at the soldier to my right. He had his gloves on and his earplugs in. I looked at my bare hands. I wasn't sure where to put them. I had a groin protector on my flak vest. I pulled it down. I wasn't sure if it was better up or down. If it was down it could block shrapnel into my body. I pushed it back up.
On the way back the bomb was in a bag in a pothole. It was night, but the driver in #1 saw a wire and swerved. #2 saw the bag and swerved. #4 did not see it.
If you go along the road in daylight you see hole after hole. Every hole has a story. "That's where Sgt. Brenner died."
They gave me a headset to talk, but I gave it back. I never talk the whole way.
South of Baghdad 10.32 am
• Video: 10th Mountain Division
Got beaten in Hearts by a couple of psy-ops guys and a private who called me "camera-guy Steve." The cards were slick. We washed the table down the night before, and washed it again after the first hand. There was loose dirt and cherry juice, but it was hard to get out. There were two chairs, so someone usually sat on a box of Powerbars. A guy doing the jumble with my pen got up after a while, so we had a third chair. They had warned us about mortars, but it didn't make any difference. One went off when I was shooting the moon, just as I was throwing the queen. The guy on my left whose name might have been Makepeace — they called him Makepeace and he did use an M to mark his score — he jumped left out of his chair higher than I jumped. Usually I'm the highest or lowest jumper. I hit the dirt on the roof yesterday even though it was outgoing. I was just thinking about mortars when it exploded. It's always a bad few seconds afterwards.
I woke up on a green cot about six inches away from a green cot on each side. Woke up with one idea in mind, frosted blueberry Pop-tarts. There were strawberry, which were unfrosted, and there were blueberry, which were frosted. The frosted went fast. What went even faster was a single serving cereal called Choco Puffs. Each case of cereal contained four servings of Choco Puffs. During a shuffle, a psy-ops guy dug through the case and came up with one, but when he went back later they were gone.
On one side of my cot nfg snored slightly, on the other, a guy had on a black watch cap. The cap was on my cot earlier, but I didn't touch it. In a very crowded space, a house unbelievably full of soldiers who can't step outside without body armor, and can't leave unless on patrol in armored vehicles, space is to be respected. About the only space you had was the six feet of nylon green cot, and the foot or so of air underneath it. I noticed nfg left a few personal items on the Greek's cot.
"That would be yours," the Greek said, and slapped it down on nfg's cot like he was discarding for gin.
We visited three schools in the morning where U.S. soldiers were giving out supplies. The cameraman with me, who is from Frankfurt, took off his helmet so as not to intimidate the children. On the way out one kid hit him in the back of the head with a rock. He was okay.
South of Baghdad
PB and J for dinner, then another PB and J.
I saw one guy making them with several tiny packs of jelly and peanut butter. The bread looked good. It was not stale. It took three jellies and three peanut butters. I went with grape first, then strawberry. Grape was better and I went back to grape today. Other guys were microwaving big sausages. There was some debate about the proper time to microwave a big sausage. The hamburgers were gone. Some guy next to me opened a can of franks and beans and poured a pack of white stuff on it and mixed it in. Sugar. I spread the stuff with the back of a plastic fork. I stayed in the kitchen just to listen, then I tore a side off a cardboard box to write some of the comments down.
"I think Zombies in the Hood should be the theme movie for this place."
"Except the zombies come in late and don't really look like zombies."
"There was this one zombie talking and all of a sudden he was on the toilet."
"My wife got me this Rachel Ray cookbook. I don't care about the recipes, but I think Rachel Ray is hot."
"I can't wait to get back to the P-A."
"And do what"
"See my kid, love life."
"My kid is three months old. My wife sends me a lot of pictures."
"I told her not to get his haircut until I get back. I want to take him for his first haircut."
"I get back my kid is gonna look like Willie Nelson."
"You catch that mouse?"
"He caught two mouses with one trap."
"I can't get one. They're playing with me. I put peanut butter on the trap and they just eat the peanut butter off the trap."
"The mouses in the back room are stupider."
Nov. 13, 2006
Sadr al Yusifiya, Iraq
"What's the name of this town?"
"Sadr al Yusifiya. You're in the Triangle of Death."
There are a lot of options when you go on an embed.
You can go out to Al Asad, out in the western desert, where nobody will touch you. They have a great gym, and steak and lobster.
You can go to Bayji, where they will give you your own humvee to use, and laundry is turned around in 24 hours.
Or, you can get into an armored humvee and drive South... to a region called the Triangle of Death.
There are two kinds of roads in this region: hardtop and dirt. It is harder to lay an IED under hardtop. Under dirt, it takes just a minute.
You get a clearer picture of the embed the closer you get to it. There were two IEDs on the road we drove in on in the past day. Hardtop. Two armored humvees destroyed, no casualties. On the second one, the engine block came through the front. You could still see the engine oil on the road. The colonel pointed it out.
Nov. 12, 2006
Camp Stryker 8 a.m.
Meat loaf, fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, green gatorade, chocolate cake, two scoops Baskin Robbins ice cream, coffee with four sugars and two hazelnut creams.
Usually chow halls, if they have Baskin Robbins, they give you one large scoop in a white plastic bowl. If you come up and ask for chocolate and vanilla, they will give you two small scoops. The way to do it is to ask for a scoop of chocolate, then only after the massive scoop is deposited you ask for a scoop of vanilla. The guy scooping took a while to clean the scooper in warm water. I was not sure I was going to get my second scoop. But he gave it up.
Forgot soap and shampoo. Looked up in the shower and found an empty bottle of AXE, but there was still a drop left.
Cold and cloudy. Mud.
Nov. 12, 2006
"You wanna eat lunch?"
"No, I'm not hungry"
"This is the last time I'm doing this. The roads are too f****** bad."
"Listen, we have the best cars."
"F*** the cars. Bear was in an armored GMC."
"I'm scared. I was scared last night, and I'm scared now."
Nov. 12, 2006
Long after midnight, the only ones up were me and Henry. Henry was a dog, and he didn't know what time it was either, and didn't mind. He was glad someone was up.
I got a plastic bowl of Special K with UHT lowfat milk — not cold, tasted like paper — and I tried to ignore Henry, who was having none of it. I generally tried to ignore war dogs, because people adopted them for a while, fed them, then left, or they disappeared. Henry was at least the third bureau dog. He was a white puppy with a purple collar who was allowed into the house. On first meeting he followed me, licking at my calves. I swung a laundry bag slowly to knock him away, but it did not deter him.
Someone had left a movie in the TV, The Man, a ready-to-push-play movie, but I left it at that and sat on a couch. It was quiet, dim, no one around. Henry attempted to investigate the Special K, which I moved out of his reach, then made for some bread and chips left on the other table. I did not interfere. Then with some effort, Henry got himself up on the couch opposite me and began to work on a black sweater someone had left there, occasionally looking at me, two brown eyes in white. I did not interfere. Then he began digging into the couch, making progress. I watched as I ate. He came over again, and it would have been nice to pet him, but he was dirty and scratched himself. Later that night he would do his business in front of my door, and begin to howl at 3:05 a.m.
Nov. 11, 2006
Baghdad 6:20 p.m.
Spaghetti for dinner.
At Amman airport in Jordan there is a crowd of skycaps in blue uniforms that surround you when you come down to baggage. You nod to one, and hold up how many fingers for the number of trolleys. Sometimes bigger trolley owners will cut in on big jobs, which mine was, and there is animated debate.
In Baghdad airport there were just three skycaps, also in blue uniforms, but sitting down on the far baggage turnstile. Even though a plane had just arrived from Amman, you had to hunt for them. I hired all three.
The man checking passports could not read. I wrote out my passport number on a piece of paper for him.
The customs man met me with a smile and said "tax." A few more came around and looked at the equipment list. He wanted $400.
"No," I smiled back, "that is too much money. Two hundred."
He agreed on $200 if I agreed not to ask for a receipt. We walked through two back rooms where a large circle of men were watching television. I pulled out ten, twenty-dollar bills and put them on top of a refrigerator, and he stamped my equipment list.
Nov. 10, 2006
Amman, Jordan 11:00 a.m.
Exactly one year ago, the Hyatt Hotel here was partially blown up by a suicide bomb belt wearer. The lobby and part of the first floor ceiling were gone.
The lobby is now rebuilt, with large bright couches and a new seafood restaurant.
Ahmed and I went with bouillabaisse, raw bar, and steaks.
The bomber that attacked a year ago hit a wedding party. He, along with other bombers in Amman who carried out simultaneous attacks that day, killed a total of 80 people.
The scallops from the raw bar were still on the shell.
The wedding couple survived, but each lost their father, and other members of their family.
We both went with something called mellow chocolate for dessert.
The picture of the bride and groom, with their faces posed together right before the attack, were in the local paper again today. The couple moved to Kuwait. The man said people still recognized them from their wedding photo and came up to him in shopping malls.
The suicide bomber's wife also wore a bomb belt, but it did not detonate. She attempted to flee, but was caught, and sentenced to be hanged.
Nov. 8, 2006
RJ 4H, next to the toilet 10:48 a.m.
"Are you nervous about going to Iraq?"
"I don't usually think about things until I'm in them. I'm sure tomorrow when I'm driving from the airport to the house I'll be nervous."
"That was like my wedding day. I wasn't nervous at all until the day. Then..."
"I hope it worked out better than Iraq."
"Yes. It's been twenty...two years."
"Although some days are like the Sunni and Shia fighting each other."
"If this gets worse, I want you to go to a doctor there and call me. We can go over the treatment."
"There are no doctors there. You can't move."
"I wonder if there is some tie-in you could do when you're in Iraq to one of the cartoons."
"You'd have to talk to PR."
"I heard there was some comedy show over there."
"There's nothing funny. You don't get it. Anything they write like that, any sidebar is wrong. People are getting dragged out of their houses and shot. It would be like in Rye if the Irish and the Italians were killing each other. Imagine if we were all in the basement with the Fitzgeralds and they were shooting through our windows and dad was scared to go to work."
Just to clarify, the guy playing cards that jumped higher than you, his name really is Makepeace. Kind of an ironic name for a soldier huh? Anyway, thanks for the story, Makepeace has been my best friend since Middle School and we're all praying that he and every one of our soldiers makes it out of there safely. Thanks for braving the fire to bring us all news from the front.
Thank you for the article on the Triangle. I spent 14 months there. When I think about it I don't think about me, I think about the young soldiers I served with and what they go through every single day. When I read your article I was back there with them. They are what honor, courage, and commitment are all about. Thanks again.
"Courage is being scared to death...and saddling up anyway."
As I read your "diary" of the Triangle of Death, I think of my son, who is also there, somewhere. You have given his father and I a vision of what our son is going through. This being his second deployment. So, "Vaya con Dios," Steve and believe that this "hell" will be over soon.
David and Karen
proud parents of a deployed American Soldier.
We have a young friend, a Marine, who is in Anbar right now, and I spend a lot of time worrying about him. He is a friend of my son, and calls me Mom. Little details like what is good to have in parcels are very helpful. I send a parcel every couple of weeks or so. I think that I will get some frosted pop tarts.
I saw your story on both FOX News and the internet. I believe you were at Camp Rustimiyah for part of your story. My son is an MP there. They have already had 1 soldier die in his room when a mortar hit their barracks. They had another soldier seriously injured while on patrol yesterday.
How can I help to get the word out to our leaders that we need better roofs on their barracks? I am a mom with a mission, and that mission is to keep my soldier safe (and as far as I am concerned they are all mine!). Our soldiers need better protection. They cannot continue to survive under these horrible conditions. My soldier didn't even get to eat on Thanksgiving-let alone eat Turkey! Just as he was about to sit down (with a huge plate of food)-the mortars started falling and they had to run!
Thank you Mr. Harrigan for the reporting you have been doing while embedded with the 10th Mountain Division. My husband is currently there with them and every bit of information we can get is truly appreciated... so thank you for risking your own life so we can feel a little more connected here at home.
Thank you, each and every one of you!
My wife is at Camp Rustimayah and was working on the wounded during the attack you reported on. Her name is CPT Elizabeth Reese and she is a Physician Assistant with 1-8 CAV. Thanks for the video report. I tell our relatives to view it because they have no idea what
soldiers go through over there. Thanks for your help and thanks for the good reporting!
My husband and I just wanted to thank you for the report from FOB Rostimaya. Our son and his unit are at that base. Its a comfort to know that they are eating well.
Paul and Valerie
It’s outrageous and infuriating to hear that these guys are living under tin roofs. Please make sure they know that we appreciate them and what they are doing. They (and you) are in many prayers every day and especially on Thanksgiving.
Since it's Thanksgiving time, I want to say thank you for your courage and wonderful blogs. Please tell our soldiers thank you for all their hard work and courage. Tell them thank you for protecting our country and its freedoms. All of you are in my prayers. Please take care and have a Happy Thanksgiving.
Amy from South Carolina
Thanks for being brave enough to be there and to let us know the real deal..........
With two sons who just joined the marine corps, tell me what we here have to do to get our soldiers steel and concrete so they can at least get some sleep.
I was at FOB Michael, maybe they call it FOB muhmudiyah now, who knows, but would love to hear what is going on there, and how the route Harley and route Sportster and route Fatboy are. I lost three of my best friends on route Peggy. Watch your a** if you get on sportster or Temple or get near JSB. The village of Mulla Fayeez is a nut buster too, the kids used to throw the candy and beanie babies back at you, sometimes with grenades embedded. Great blog I will be reading. Oh I was with the 48th Bct, 108th Ar roughriders.
Years ago I used to send my ex Kool-Aid when he was in Vietnam. I guess it made the
water easier to get down. Now when I think about that I think about Bill O'Reilly and
calling people Kool-Aid drinkers. Funny how years and wars change the must mundane
"Keep up the good job with your stories. They bring back my memories of Iraq when I was there in 05-06." — Hiram (Dallas, TX)
"I would like to express my deep appreciation for your courage in covering the "Triangle". My son, on his second tour with the 10th Mtn, is in the Mahmudiya area. Due to the mission, information is understandably limited. The glimpse(s) you provide into the lives of our troops truly helps. Thank you for all you do." — A Military Mom
"Thanks for all you do to bring us the straight news from that region." — Nan (Dewitt, MI)
"I have watched you the past fews years and want you to know that I am in awe of what you do. I view you and feel that no matter the story you are on that I am getting the honest open opinion of a brave and honest American. My son is a Marine and I appreciate all your coverage about the war and now to endure this waterboarding. But considering what you have done in the past, this was a drop in the bucket. Thank you so much and I look forward to more of your fair, honest, and caring reporting." — Patricia (Hanover, PA)
"Thanks for being my ears and eyes around the world. You must be a good guy." — Steve (South Dakota)
"I just discovered your blog today and I love it. I laughed at your comment about Al Asad (great gym, steak & lobster) and I am forwarding it to my son. He was at Al Asad his first year in Iraq. They kept getting their water supply (which came through pipes from outside the base) cut off by insurgents -- they had bottled water to drink, but they were pretty stinky when they couldn't take showers. The worst thing at Al Asad was the boredom, it exacerbated the homesickness.
His second deployment was in Mosul, where they had mortar rounds frequently coming over the wall, sometimes causing great damage and injury. He learned to sleep through the sounds of explosions.
He has to go back for his third tour in summer 2007, but we don't yet know where he will be. We are hoping it will not be Baghdad.
Many different wars in Iraq, depending on where you land. It's the luck of the draw." — Sharon
"She's [Rachel Ray] Hot?? I worry about those boys. YIKES" — Donna
"Steve - as always your posts today and yesterday made me think.... and sometimes - often what I think after reading one of your posts makes me uneasy.
I couldn't help thinking how long it will be before you write something painfully similar about somewhere here at home. I couldn't help thinking that something even bigger and horrific did happen here - and yet I'm not sure it resonated as deeply or as long as it should have.
Two dads in Amman killed while celebrating the marriage of their children - and the space is rebuilt - the sofas are bright and scallops are served on the shell, yet the impression was clear that in spite of all that, you could still feel what happened there.
I'm not sure we still feel it here - not like we should - not like we need to. It made me think we will likely - and sadly feel that horror and sadness again someday. And then you will write about here like you write about there.... I don't like that thought." — Stace