Sunday, May 07, 2023

My Memory of the War in Iraq 20 years later: May 2023

 “From: Whitehead Col Michael

      Sent: Sunday, May 18, 2003 6:12 PM

      Subject: Magical Iraqi tour

      I left Babylon for seven days and civilization arrived. Washing machines. And dryers. No more bucket brigade.

      Ten of us left in three vehicles, me in command for a tour of the provincial capitals in our area. We went east from Hillah to Al Kut, on the banks of the Tigris River. We drove south from the banks of the Tigris to An Nasiriyah on the banks of the Euphrates. Then we went northwest to Ad Diwaniyah. NW again to An Najaf. Then north to Karbala. Finally SE today back to Hillah. Got a lot of pictures and a lifetime worth of experiences.

      Stark memories of my trip:

      Children, seeing us approach on the highway, streaming to the road to wave. This happened DOZENS of times.

      A line of Iraqi women, covered from head to foot in black or colored dress, pots full of laundry balanced on their heads as they walk from the river.

    A civil affairs soldier reported in a meeting, "We come out of a meeting tonight and some Iraqis approached us and said there were some teenagers nearby, drinking whiskey, and they had hand grenades. I sent the Marines over to deal with that." "Good idea," I told her.

    A scene out of Lawrence of Arabia: sitting cross-legged on carpets in a large tent, filled with Muslim clerics, and eating lamb and rice and pita bread with our hands (right hand only!) from a large bowl.

      Listening to a city council meeting in Karbala while a crowd of protestors chanted outside.

      Seeing every military or civilian vehicle on the side of the road picked CLEAN down to the chassis. Once I saw a group of children trying to pry something off the top of a bus.

    Sleeping on a cot on the hood of my vehicle. With a mosquito net.

      Taking a bath with Baby Wipes.

    Riding in a Hummer in full battle gear in 109-degree heat.

      Three men walking abreast in the right lane of a street in An Nasiriyah. They were blocking the lane. Directly behind each man was a woman clothed head to foot completely in black. We drove around them.

      Seeing men throwing wheat up in the air with a pitchfork, separating the wheat from the chaff as they have done here for thousands of years.

      Drinking water that is so hot it tastes like the water from the hot water faucet. And then drinking some more because you are so hot and thirsty you have no choice.

    Hearing a Marine Battalion Commander describe how his troops captured the University of Baghdad.

      Vendors outside the barbed wire of every Marine compound selling Iraqi Army bayonets, medals, ice, sodas and coolers. We bought ice, coolers and sodas. And pita bread.


Excerpt From

Messages from Babylon

Michael Whitehead

This material may be protected by copyright.

Friday, April 07, 2023

My Memory of the War in Iraq 20 years later: April 2023

 “From: Michael Whitehead

    Sent: Monday, April 7, 2003 4:57 pm

    Subject: Haircut day

    The sky has clouded up and the wind has increased so things have cooled down considerably. Earlier, we felt like we were in a sauna. SGT Manning gave me a crew cut and I have a picture of me to record the event. How your hair looks doesn't seem very important out here. I have tried several times to attach a photo to my e-mails w/o success. I will keep trying.

    I am in a tent full of people and we are all working on computers. We have to tape Saran Wrap over the keyboard and monitor to keep out the Major League caliber dust that is EVERYWHERE.I just heard someone ask, "What is going on in the war?" We hear things in bits and pieces as they happen.

    I am getting a lot more information. Now I can read the classified Situation Reports that are coming from the major Marine and British units “information about "kill boxes", boundary changes and a lot of other very technical jargon that comes with controlling the violence and making sure the bad guys are getting shot by all this technological violence and not the good guys. The complexity and level of sophistication in the management of combat is incredible.

    Iraq is still a very dangerous place, so they are keeping us here at Camp Commando until "Indian country" is a little subdued.We are coordinating relief convoys of humanitarian aid into Iraq. Some of our people are going "north of the berm" as they call it to do assessments of the civilian populace. We are getting reports of these assessments from tactical civil affairs teams attached to the combat units. The information is flowing to us and we are analyzing this information, submitting reports and preparing briefing slides for the Marine General down the hill.

    We live in North Camp and the flagpole is down this sloping hill at South Camp. The mess hall is at the top of the hill so that in the evening after supper when we come out of the mess hall we can see the Persian Gulf and Kuwait City in the distance.

    I get up every morning and look forward to my job. When we go forward across the berm we will be a part of an historic enterprise. I am expecting a lot of confusion, chaos and long hours. We all look forward to getting the job done and going home.


Excerpt From

Messages from Babylon

Michael Whitehead

This material may be protected by copyright.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

My Memory of the Iraq War 20 years later: March 2003

March 21, 2003, Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina

I took this picture on March 21, 2003 at Green Ramp on Pope Air Force Base. The line of faceless, helmeted soldiers carrying rucksacks and rifles was dramatic. Since the Army liked to do things in alphabetical order I was, as usual, at the end of the line. I vaguely remembered and discarded a prohibition against taking photographs on Green Ramp. I stopped, pulled out my camera and took this this photo. . 

I'm glad I did. The picture is framed and hanging on the wall of my office.

The United Airlines 747 was chartered to take us first to Germany and then on to Kuwait City. I have two big memories from that flight. The first was the announcement by the flight attendant after we boarded to "Please move your machine guns out of the aisles." Have not heard that announcement on a airplane before or since. The second memory was of our approach to Kuwait City Airport in the darkness before the dawn. The pilot asked us to close our windows since the plane was extinguishing all lights to ensure that we were a more difficult target. More reassuringly, he advised us that two US Air Force fighters would escort us the rest of the way.

As this anniversary approached I was confused about the date that the war started. I vividly remember sitting in the ancient World War II barracks on Ft. Bragg, NC that had been our home for the last 4 weeks (the same barracks where I mobilized for the Bosnia operation in 1996), listening on Public Radio as the President announced that the long anticipated war had started. This was the dreary, cold evening of Wednesday, March 19, 2003. I was disappointed. I thought that we were going to be in Kuwait before the war started. 

The Washington Post announced this morning that the war started on March 20. A quick Google search verified the date. Did I have the date wrong all these years? No. March 19 in North Carolina was March 20 in Iraq. We were both right.