I was in Ramadi, Camp Blue Diamond. The CIA called Ramadi the most violent city in the world back in January this year. Today it is like the rest of Anbar, fairly peaceful.
BTW – Up top is a picture of the Osprey I describe below.
Camp Blue Diamond is located on one of Saddam’s old summer camps. This is the place where the recent war began. We tried to bomb Saddam in a meeting with some of his leading supporters. He was not there, but we destroyed a building. The rest of the complex was left pretty much undamaged. (Bombs are fairly accurate these days.) It is green and pleasant. In fact, everyplace I go is nicer than Al Asad. It is beginning to dawn on me that my base is perhaps more highly ranked among the dusty sh*t holes of Iraq than I had been led to believe. But it is my home and I look forward to getting back.
We share Blue Diamond with our valiant Iraqis allies, or more correctly they share it with us since it is, after all, their country. We pass them on the road and say saalam. They all look sort of alike, with their uniforms and mustaches. Of course we present a much greater variety with our short hair and uniforms. The Iraqi soldiers appear neat and organized. It is a good thing, since they will soon be doing most of the security work. Coalition strength in Anbar will drop by around half, as our troops come home and Iraqi forces take their places. We are in the process of giving Blue Diamond back to the Iraqis and it is a little sad. It is easy to get a table at the chow hall, since each day fewer people turn up to chow down. They may close it down entirely just after Thanksgiving. I understand that they physically dismantle the whole chow hall and move it away. There is always need for a good chow hall. On the plus side, the Iraqis will take care of their own business and we will need to do less. It was interesting today watching some U.S. soldiers trying to teach Iraqis to throw what we call a football. A few steps away were some Iraqis trying to teach Americans how to kick what they call a football. It is hard for both sides to learn these new tricks.
We briefed a couple of generals about the PRTs in Anbar, what we need and what we are doing. They always try to be helpful. More interesting to me was Eliot Cohen, who came with them as a special advisor to State. Cohen wrote a book I read a few years ago called “Supreme Command”. Fortunately, I did not have a chance to talk to him very long. I find it disappointing to talk to well-know authors, most of whom seem to know LESS than they have written in their books. I suppose that when writing the books they have ready access to materials and notes. When they write, it is a sort of open book test, but when you surprise them with questions it is more like a pop-quiz. Beyond that, many authors are by nature (unsurprisingly) bookish. The arts of writing ideas and expressing them orally are related but certainly not completely synonymous.
I flew in on the Osprey. It is the new Marine fixed wing plane that can do a vertical takeoff. It is a goofy looking thing when it is on the ground, perhaps a better name would be albatross. Anyway, it is not very comfortable. You actually have less room to sit than in one of the bigger Chinooks. It is faster, however, and flies at a higher altitude, so it is less likely to be hit by small arms fire from the ground, which is a plus. The propellers turn up on takeoff and landing. A sign on one of he buildings says that the wind from the downdraft can reach 175 mph. This is important when opening the door to watch the Osprey land or take off. Evidently the wind took the door off the hinges on at least one occasion. A sergeant complained the downdraft knocked the satellite dish off his hooch, turning into a taco shaped piece of tin and rendering it unable to receive the porno stations to which he had become accustomed.
Traveling today was a nightmare. The Osprey came FROM Al Asad to Blue Diamond already full of Marines in full kit. It then made the backward circle. They took some of the Marines someplace else and loaded up some cargo and some new Marines. We all crushed together in the front. The next stop they took off the cargo and everybody got off except me. Then a new group came on board, it was not as cramped, but not good. The flight took more than two hours and combined two of the three biggest phobias people have. We packed in like sardines (claustrophobia) and at the same time you could see out the rear how high (and tilted) you were (fear of heights). All they needed do was throw in a couple of snakes and we would have had the fear factor trifecta. The height doesn’t bother me, although I enjoy the roller coaster motion less as I get older. I really do not care for the cramped situation. I admit that I did feel a tinge of claustrophobia when I could not move more than a few inches.
When the general asked about our biggest challenge, I mentioned travel. It is just hard to get around and not much fun. Makes you want to stay at home.