Written 10 Dec - 20 Dec
Hi everyone, sorry it took so long to write, It's hard to write letters at this time of year; must admit it's kinda depressing to be here in Iraq for Christmas.
Not much is going on, same ol’ same ol’. The attacks against us have decreased tremendously. We haven’t had a mortar attack for about a month after we took out the little hamlet outside our gate that the bad guys were using as a launching point. Our worst problems right now are MVAs (moving vehicle accidents-ed.); brand new Stryker vehicle force got into country and one of the first things that happened was a rollover into a canal. While the new Strykers are supposed to float, they don't do too well up-side-down. Unfortunately, we lost 3 soldiers to that accident - but managed to save one young man - eager to rejoin his friends in the Stryker force. More power to him - it's hard when you are a survivor of an accident. Especially this time of year. But he wanted to go back.
We had some reporters here – World, BBC and others - they really pissed a lot of people off, initially. One of the first questions asked was to a nurse who was taking care of a couple of the Iraqi kids we have here (the kids were hurt by us - an American attack - and the commander of the force wanted to make sure they got the best of care, so begged our hospital to take them out of the Iraqi hospital they were in, and put them in ours. So some of our docs went over and now we have three kids). Anyway her first question was "how does it feel like to treat kids hurt by YOUR own forces?" - the nurse involved said something like – “well, I don't know about that - I'm a nurse, taking care of them”. The reporters didn't get many more interviews from us. I let one ask me questions - she tried to get me to "admit" we, in a MASCAL situation (or any situation) would treat Americans FIRST, then Iraqis. Or that we treat Iraqis less. Well, a little thing called the Geneva Convention is very clear on the treatment of EPWs, which is what I kept mentioning. Also, Army policy has always been - worst hurt gets treated first. Period. Regardless of nationality. Which is what we do. Seems the reporters come over here with a story already written, then just look for situations that support their blinkered view of the world.
The reporter kept hinting she wanted to see the EPW, and film them. I keep saying no, can't, Geneva Convention. Found out latter they tried to get into the EPW tent. MPs said "No" The reporter started harassing the MP regarding our treatment of the EPWs, “are they getting their red cross packages?” etc. Poor MP, of course, had no idea. The MPs that guard our EPW came here for a break. This is an R&R rotation - they know they will not get shot at here, will have a warm tent and warm food, showers (ok, not all the time - there was NOT hot water this AM - another beautiful day in Iraq) and only stay for a week at a time. The World Report article that came out, though was very fair and factual - it surprised me. Here’s the San Antonio article. Still don't know what the BBC will print though....
The C5s have arrived to our little airstrip – first one about a month ago. Was a significant event – means that Balad has become a hub, and we should be able to get our supplies better/quicker. Of course this doesn’t mean that we are getting the part we need to fix the toilets. Nope, our high-tech, flushable, containerized, running-water, lighted and heated toilets - are still broken. And the story goes.
The C5s truly are huge - it's one thing to read that it's as long as a football field, quite another to see it lumbering across the field to park. The first one that flew in was parked next to a C17 purposely for comparison – the air force was doing a publicity thing with the first C5 in Balad – cameras and reporters, had both ends open and driving trucks through it. The jet isn’t as noisy as I thought it would be. Except for takeoff and landing, that is (then it really makes it's presence felt).
Lately they have been revving the engines as high as they can go with the brakes on, then taxiing down the runway fast to shorten their takeoff length. As soon as they’re up high enough so that the wings can clear the ground, they put the plane on its wing, bank steeply left, and start spiraling around our LSA until they get up about 5,000 feet – then fly away. This is done to discourage people from shooting things at them – seems one of the C5s was shot at while it was coming in for a landing on our field. The air force does NOT like to put their planes into danger. It’s an amazing thing to see this HUGE plane spiral up. Your brain has trouble adjusting to its sheer size. I was impressed. Of course since the SAM attacks against the plans, our mail has slowed drastically down - I hope I get my Christmas stuff prior to Christmas... We will still have to eventually move the hospital (the air force still wants to build a ramp to park the C5s here and it would be hard to share the space - we'd get sucked into the engines - which could hurt them) - but now they won't start building 'till next year. And they are going to put down concrete slabs for the hospital tent floors - after 8 months of trying to push small-wheeled wheel chairs over uneven dirt floors that would be a real treat...I know the patients would enjoy NOT being bumpily-bumped to x-ray and back.
Now the C130’s are still landing on our field (prop plane) – basically the army workhorse. It’s usually what transports our patients to Baghdad or further. They are noisier than the C5s because they park with their tails towards the hospital (do ya think this is a commentary?), and rev their props, blowing clouds of dust at us. (choke cough) The noise is incredible. So's the prop wash. Most of the aircraft do NOT shut their engines off - even loading or unloading - the C130 can load and unload in less than 30 min, the C5 might take a bit longer - but they are fast.
No More Dust
The dust here is a lot less. It started to really rain here finally just before Thanksgiving. Remember that 4–6 inch layer of talc-like pouffy dust we had? Well, it quickly became a 6-12 in layer of clingy mud. The ground here tends not to absorb the moisture either, so, as it continued to rain, the waters, they started arisin’ and arisin’. Our wonderful tents acted like tents everywhere and began to leak. We ended up with some of our flooring completely underwater, or floating on a layer of thick mud, and a couple of streams running across our wards. I decided to re-slogan our hospital to “a river runs through it”. It got a lot of laughs when I posted our new slogan at the hospital entrance. Our ER entrance was under about a foot of water, which made it pretty inaccessible (someone put up a sign “no life guard on duty, swim at own risk”). Our DCCS closed off all the hospital entrances except the main entrance in order to try to contain the mud a bit. OK, say you are a soldier. Say the hospital exit you want to use is zipped off with a couple of chairs blocking it, and sign saying closed do not use and the door is fastened shut - what do you do? YES! You try harder to go through it!!! AND decide it’s the way to come back into the hospital in spite of the pond of mud surrounding it.
* sigh *
And they tend to get a snarky attitude when some Major questions one’s cognitive functions – or lack thereof. (Oh, no, not me; would I embarrass someone with the brains of a sand fly like that?)
Our living tents (can you call this living?) also leaked, and a couple corners of the big FAST tents collapsed from the weight of the water collecting in the corners – these tents hold about 60-70 people. Some woke up with the roof of the tent a couple of inches from their nose - and another beautiful day in Iraq.
After the first wave of heavy rains the powers-that-be decided to cover all of the tents that leaked with tarps to help keep the water on the outside. This included my tent. Now these tarps have been piled up at the CP tent for a few weeks. They were acquired for just that purpose. So. Now why, inquiring minds want to know, did “they” wait till AFTER our first big rainfall to put them over the tents? Well, the tarps were blue. The powers that be did not like the pretty blue tarps. Or so the story goes. I guess they just didn’t match the decor. The problem with the tarps is the noise they make in the wind. Take a piece of paper. Put it up to your ear. Now shake it hard. Magnify by, oh, a thousand power. Then try to sleep. Wonder why we get fatigued?
We actuality had it easy, some areas on post had 3 feet of mud/water in the living/sleep areas.
Our turkey became the guest of honor at one of our dining facilities - no, no, they didn't eat him - he became part of a not-so-static display (the dining facility workers found out why the turkey's nickname was Houdini - by the by - wish I saw THEM chasing the damn thing around their compound - snicker). ANYWAY, the turkey got his picture taken by lots of soldiers standing in line for Thanksgiving dinner (food must have been good right? after all, we stood in line for an hour to 1.5 hours just to eat there...) Actually the food wasn't bad, and the workers all had pilgrim vests and hats on - kinda ironic as most are from India. Will be even more Ironic during Christmas as most are Hindu and Muslim...
I am please to say our turkey was returned in good health to a local farmer, who was paid to keep him healthy and happy (Colonel **** demands a picture at least one a year with a local current newspaper to prove it’s still not eaten...)
OK, I did think it was neat the President showed up in Baghdad for 2.5 hours - can you imagine flying 17 hours, staying for 2, then flying 17 hours back? This to a place where Generals are barred from unless they have a mission, ‘cause it's so dangerous. Of course when he picked up the centerpiece as a joke (had a turkey on it for display - the rest of the turkeys were already sliced in long pans ready for serving to the 600 or so soldiers there...) the media decided this was a photo op and that he had staged the whole Thanksgiving dinner thing. Man - as if the dinning workers knew he was coming - I mean NOT!
* sigh *
Now as the Christmas season is approaching, Colonel ****'s wonderful mother has sent us some Christmas decorations (a truly wonderful person, sent us Thanksgiving decorations too). Colonel *** actually put up some decorations, grumbling under his breath - "I don't do this at home, this is the first decorations I've put up in years..." We managed to ignore his soliloquy until I began to whistle, "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..." Well, guess who was told to stop whistling and start decorating? D'oh
Anyway, that's the last we saw of the Colonel.
One of the decorations sent by the Colonel's mother was an 8-foot tall forced-air blow-up Santa Claus. Lighted. Santa resides in the front of the hospital near my desk so everyone who comes into the hospital is greeted by the Santa. Makes quite a stir. Especially the night it disappeared, and ended up on top of the hospital, waving a hello to the fedayeen in the area. To show MY powers of observation, I didn't even notice it was gone, until I walked out to the outhouse. And their it was. 8 feet of lit up Santa in all of its glory, sitting on top of the hospital at the ER entrance. I didn't even see "them" remove it from our "lobby"! (Must have done it while I did rounds) Now, THAT made a stir. EVERYONE denied knowledge of the incident. This in a hospital in which the commander didn't want Christmas light outside cause they targeted the area. Good Joke - even the commander didn't order it down right a way.
The next night it started to rain - so I had the ER crew take it down (it is not weatherproof, and I didn't want a sizzling Santa on my hands)
So, we have lots of decorations up, people are singing carols in the hospital, colorful packages are coming in and it truly is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. One group in residence at this old Iraqi AF base has the old sidewalk electric lights lit (there is no power here yet - ALL of our electricity comes from multiple diesel generators all over - someone must have connected one of the generators to the electric lines going from light to light....) The lights are kinda dim, but it sets up the background. EVERY tent along the sidewalk has a Christmas light display. A regular Michigan Avenue of lights - (OK, so, I'm showing my Chicago roots). So, we, too, can go look at the Christmas lights.
Unfortunately, it really doesn't make up for Christmas at home. I am going to work Christmas Eve night, and sleep through Christmas day. Mmmmm, come to think about it, it does sound like what I would do at home anyway. Become a Nurse; spend all your holidays with friends - at work...
Dad and Patty sent me a great box - made it here in time. Among other things it had lots of xmas lights, a few candles, chocolate milk and mini-marshmallows, and a pretty stained Glass Christmas tree votive with extra votive candles. (OK guys - Candles. Tents. Fire. Which of these things don't belong together?) BUT, on Christmas eve, at midnight, I'm going to take the Stained glass Christmas tree votive, the hot chocolate and the mini Marshmallows and go out AWAY from the hospital tents and have my own mini Christmas tree lighting, hot chocolate and mini - marshmallow roast. Hey guys - LOVE the singing snowmen - and the little stunt car you sent, too.
Everyone, have a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
Love, Major Pain, Little Midwife Lost