Fully armored Humvees weigh 10,000 pounds or more. They can easily get stuck in the mud and make for a very long and miserable day. Here is such a day.
When the mission is over the infantry can take off their armor, relax, and let some of the sweat wick away. It is a good time to drink some fluids, smoke a cigarette, and discourse with the boys.
Our overriding mission at Ur was to protect the operation of the Aerostat, a gas filled giant balloon with an advised high definition camera. The enemy either knew the intelligence value of the Aerostat or just hated its white existence. Often, when the balloon went up or down, bullets would literally fall out of the sky as they tried to shoot it down.
Forty long days at Mokesa warps the infantry’s minds and forces them inward. We build a shrine to Chuck Norris, paint the walls with violent images, and forget civilization.
A view of the Tigris River from the seat of a Blackhawk helicopter.
To commemorate his “victory” over Iran in the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam erected the twin crossed-sabers in Baghdad. They reside in the International Zone and are perhaps Iraq’s most recognized monument.
In the misogynistic culture of Iraq, it is often the women who do the heavy lifting. These teenage girls carry wares to the marketplace while wearing western-style jeans with their head wraps
The day we arrived at Ur was brutally hot and we had no place to stay so we set up a tarp roof, a couple cots, and heat napped the day away as best we could. Notice the author sprawled out on the dirt.
Many parts of Iraq are hideously poor and dotted with junkyard landscapes, such as this one.
The author holds his M249 SAW machine gun at the low-ready and watches an approaching van.
Does he dance for rain or is he seized by the madness? Hunter at JSS Ur.
The armored glass windows of the Humvees can take some damage. The crew of this Humvee took a roadside bomb blast to the front, but everyone emerged mostly unscathed.
One of many eclectic Iraqi Army vehicles circa 2006. Through a long steady process of purchase and acquisition the Iraqi Army and police now drive in Humvees and other American armored vehicles.
Durk pulls security down the street as LT talks to some local leaders.
There’s always time for shaay, or tea Iraqi-style. The typical Iraqi is a gracious host and more often than not willing to serve the infantry a bit of shaay while on patrol. Iraqis serve it scalding hot and dump tons of sugar into small serving glasses.
Interacting with locals is a huge part of the infantry's job in Iraq.
More insanity at Mokesa.
Mosques, Islamic centers of worship, are without a doubt the prettiest and grandest structures in Iraq and are off limits to U.S. soldiers.
A fire illuminates election posters placed on a mural for the joint Iraqi Army and the Sons of Iraq checkpoint in Baghdad's Adhamiya district.
Iraq isn’t all desert and urban cityscape. Iraq is the birthplace of irrigation, and agriculture has existed in the region for over ten thousand years.
This cute little girl had no fear as the dozen armed and armored American soldiers entered her house to search for AK-47s. She followed us around and posed for this picture with the author.
Towards the end of our second tour someone picked up this little guy from the streets of Adamiyah, Baghdad. Adopting Iraqi dogs as pets is not only discouraged, but actually illegal under military regulation. Few commanders have the heart to enforce the prohibition on dogs, though, as they are great morale boosters and soldiers can get very attached.
A shrine devoted to the revered Shia martyr and grandson of Muhammad, Husayn in Adamiyah, Baghdad. Shi’ite Muslims believe that only members of Muhammad’s family, the Ahl al-Bayt have legitimate spiritual and political authority over the community of Muslims. Iraq is one of only a few countries in the world with a majority Shia population.
The driver’s view of the world is small; his responsibilities are great, and privileges small, but driving in Iraq can be fun. Besides the ever-present threat of roadside bombs, Humvee drivers have to contend with the roads and drivers of Iraq.
With no generator and no A/C, our trailer rooms become as hot as ovens. The infantry are forced outside for everything, including rest and sleep. Here we sleep as best we can in the merciless daytime heat.
JSS Ur was a bleak strip of concrete that we called home for three memorable months. Ur wasn’t pretty, it was dangerous, but the infantry, we were happy there. That is, until the IRAMs hit . . .
From the Road:
The Veteran Van
Cross-Country Book Tour
The Crew plus the author's sister.
Release Party in Hermosa Beach. Friends and family of the author gather together to purchase the book hot off the press and wish success to an epic voyage.
The calm before the storm.
Bob (left) Army infantry veteran. Nick (right) author's hometown friend and savvy travler. The (middle) Andrew Goldsmith. Everyone's itching to hit the road.
Fully loaded. So this is what 1300 books in the back of a van look like.
Veteran Van leaves Redondo Beach, CA, the author's childhood home, on it's quest across the country. The Pacific Ocean is where it starts, the Pacific Ocean is where it ends.
First venue, selling at an Arts and Crafts Fair in Long Beach, CA.
I greeted this Arabic family with a-saalam alaykium, or, "peace be with you."
Land sailing across this great country of ours. View from the cockpit.
Arizona, just off Interstate 10. This Southwestern freeway will be our primary road until New Orleans.
Mosque right by Arizona State University. Gorgeous day, beautiful girls, I understand now why people go to Phoenix to go to school.
Setting up shop with the circus people in Austin.
Dead tired in Huntsville, Texas. The night before in Dallas we slept in the van in a parking lot in downtown. Rough.
Night stalking armadillos in Huntsville. There were also two gators, but we forgot the camera.
Swimming hole in Huntsville.
Dropping off Bob at the Space Center in Houston.
Cooking pasta dinner at two in the morning in Galveston.
Morning in the flophouse hotel in Galveston.
Bourbon Street, New Orleans
Three red-heads, this can only be trouble. Doing some street selling in the Big Easy.
The New Orleans Saint gives the author advice on how to sell the book. He left gold fingerprints on the book.
We gave Paulie and his dog Zephyr a ride from New Orleans to Nashville. Paulie didn't bring much to the table, but Zephyr was a cool dog.
Brian (far left) and Daniel, a former Army medic and artist, in New Orleans on Decatur Street.
Flag Day ceremony in Lewisburg, Tennessee. Amy (on the right) is a retired Marine Corps Major and Iraq War Vet.