Thursday, March 2, 2005

Leading From The Front: A Troop 98th Cavalry Operation Iraqi Freedom

Greetings from Forward Operating Base (FOB) Kalsu!

After spending three weeks in Kuwait we finally received our orders to head north into Iraq. The Troop left Camp Beurhing, Kuwait on January 31 in a 60 vehicle convoy. While some soldiers flew via helicopter, many drove as a part of the convoy. The journey lasted two days and it afforded us the opportunity to see much of the Iraqi countryside and people.

While the weather was windy and cold, getting on with the mission gave us a sense of purpose. We found the south part of the country to be relatively quiet and peaceful. Many of the inhabitants, mostly children, lined up along the roadside to wave and greet us. As we traveled north, we found many of the people with a not-so-inviting demeanor.

Once we arrived at FOB Kalsu we knew we had reached what we would call ‘home’ for the next year or more. While the majority of the Troop is located in FOB Kalsu near Baghdad, we also have soldiers in Karbala and An Najaf.

Busy is the word that best describes Alpha Troop since our arrival. From the day we got to Kalsu we have been busy escorting people and equipment from one location to another. In the last fifteen days Alpha Troop has traveled over 1000 miles.

Because we have traveled so much, we have had an opportunity to see a great deal of the southern and central portion of Iraq. The landscapes vary from bleak desert in the southwest to lush fields between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

We have also had the opportunity to sightsee. Lately, we have seen the beautiful minarets of An Najaf, the golden dome of Karbala, the busy markets and the enormous cemetery at Karbala, the palaces of Ramadi and Babil, the recent battle scenes of Fallujah, and the infamous Abu Ghrayb prison complex.

The general populace seems glad to see us; people, especially children, will wave and smile. Everywhere we go children line the route, waving, smiling, or giving a thumbs up. I don’t know how they do it, but once a convoy turns down a street, word spreads and there will be children waiting along the road, hoping that a good natured GI will toss them some candy, an MRE, or some other treat.

However, there remains a constant threat. We hear of the roadside bombs (IEDs) almost on a daily basis, and FOB Kalsu receives a mortar or rocket attack at least once a week. As all may have heard, the brigade has already lost four soldiers in action. While we are saddened by their loss, we remain vigilant to learn the enemy’s tactics and mitigate the risk by protecting our force. We are required to wear our helmets and body armor at all times, and feel relatively safe under the current circumstances.

Alpha Troop recently had the opportunity to witness a part of the Shi’ite culture as we provided security for part of the Ashurah festival in Karbala, which is considered the most revered of the Shi’ah holy days, after Ramadan. It commemorates the death of Mohammed’s grandson and involves a pilgrimage from An Najaf to the golden dome in Karbala.

Many of the pilgrims walk, others cram into cars and mini vans. I saw at least twenty people crammed inside one mini van, with another fifteen on top of or hanging onto the outside of it.

Even with the hectic pace, everyone is adjusting to life here. Many of the soldiers have purchased small rugs and lamps to make their living areas more comfortable. The most important part of each day is mail call. It is hard to describe how the faces of rough and tumble guys brighten when they find out that they have mail. Just the smallest touch from home goes a long way to brighten a soldier’s day. The soldier who gets a box of goodies is king for a day in his tent.

All base camps have a chapel, a gym, a dining facility that serves good food, and an internet/phone center.

Continue to keep us in your prayers. Daily we have evidence that God has heard and is answering each prayer.

The military postal service will not deliver mail to a letter posted “To Any Soldier.” So, if you would like to use me as a conduit I will be glad to see to it that a soldier who doesn’t get mail receives your letter.

To mail a letter to a soldier use the following address format:

Soldier’s rank, last name, first name
A. P. O. AE 09325

My address for example is:

SSG Claude Miles
NC24/2/A/98 CAV/155 BCT

A. P. O. AE 09325

That is all for now from Iraq, keep those cards and letters coming. Lead From the Front!

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