Saturday, July 24, 2004

Jihadist's Influence on Operations

The latest in kidnapping incidents has reached out and had an influence on our operations. The impact is indirect for now but the potential exists for our part in the distribution of supplies within the theater to be seriously disrupted. As a result we are in constant communication with the UN, keeping them abreast of a potentially disasterous matter for the U. S. military.

Those taken hostage are not employed by the trucking firm which works for our Group. Further, India, Egypt and Kenya do not have troops in Iraq but a large number of the civilian company's employees are Indian and India has banned its citizens from traveling to Iraq. Other countries could be influenced to do the same or even worse, order the withdrawal of all their citizens in light of the threats and flamboyant actions of fanatics who have choosen to bastardize the Muslim religion.

Beheadings have a much more dramatic effect on the public, more so than other forms of executions. The nature of decapitation is horrific and the jihadists capitalize on the fear the act places in nations. The final result of such acts could be the loss of troops and contract workers in Iraq thus creating the need for EVEN MORE U.S. troops to fill the gap.,6119,2-10-1462_1547114,00.html

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Lying: An Integral Part of Arab Culture

Within Arab culture, lying is a way of life and it is endorsed by religious authorities.  Here are some interesting articles which explain an Arabic social element that is foreign to most westerners.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Camp Arifjan and BOG

I am currently stationed at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Camp Arifjan (also known as Araifjan, Arefjan and Urayfijan) is a joint project between U.S. engineers assets and the Kuwaiti government. It literally sits in the middle of the desert but in spite of it's location, it is a hub of activity. Arifjan provides permanent support facilities for American troops in Kuwait and is the starting place and ending place for many units entering and leaving Iraq.  
The camp is divided into several zones, some of which are more improved than others. As per the usual, unwritten, standard operating procedure, the active component resides in the permanent facilities on the side of the camp with more amenities while the Guard and Reserve live in tents in the zone that is more transient and lacking in improvements. This disparity is a sign of the institutional bigotry that exists between the active component and all reserve forces. I'm not complaining though, there are many more people in this war who have it much worse than me. I'm fortunate to be where I am. However, if the bias towards the active component is as obvious as it seems to be here, what's it like out there in the hinterland?  
I'm assigned to a Transportation Group and work in the S-1 shop (personnel), which is completely new for me. I've always worked in operations before this. This unit's deployment is winding down and the resulting amount of paperwork coming into our office is comparable to water flooding from a broken fire hydrant. We have awards to process, evaluations, various and sundry things related to redeployments, leave requests, etc. It just goes on and on and we have to complete it all long before we depart (I say "we." I may not be included in "we."). 
Since I arrived here as a cross-leveled asset, my fate is still up in the air. My original orders as an individual replacement entitled me to depart the theater with my unit of assignment, regardless of the number of days active duty indicated on my orders. Since I was cross-leveled to another unit after I arrived in theater, the length of my stay is now open to interpretation and the Commander may or may not have any input into my situation.  
For the Army reserve, mobilization now means a call-up could last as long as 18 months. This gives units time to train up for deployment, spend a year "boots on the ground" (BOG), and to demobilize. My orders say I will be here for 408 days and the clock didn't start ticking until my I.D. was swiped after I entered the theater. If I'm forced to stick to the strick interpretation of BOG, then I could be here until sometime in mid-2005. In light of that, I'm not pinning my hopes on going home early.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Conditions in the Middle East

I'm working in a pretty safe place, relatively speaking. As long as I don't step outside the gate, the worst thing that will probably happen to me inside Camp Arifjan is dust, heat, the occasional camel spider and a mild case of the Kuwaiti Crud. Northern Iraq, the Baghdad area, and anywhere inside the Sunni Triangle are much worse places to be.

The same day I departed for Camp Arifjan, Doc headed out for Iraq. She's currently working in an intensive care unit at a hospital. She's e-mailed me about the conditions where she is.

The area where Doc is gets shelled every day. She works 30 hours at a time and gets little sleep. Her patients are a steady stream of shrapnel, blast, and burn patients. Tragically most of them are young kids, though no one is immune. She's also seen senior enlisted soldiers and officers from the command group level come through her unit. Many of them have sustained horrible, life-altering, career ending injuries.

It's strange to think that Doc and I are only a few hours and miles apart and the conditions are so dramatically different. Though we aren't getting shelled every day, Kuwait is not completely safe either; and it gets increasingly worse as you drive toward the Iraqi border. I hear briefings every day that warn us about suspicious activities in the area and the U.S. State Department is warning travelers to stay away from most Middle East and North African countries.

When westerners go to bed at night, each and every one should thank God they live in a safe place.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Camp Doha

After relocating to Bay 99, my priorites shifted to adjusting my internal clock to Kuwaiti time, staying on top of the outgoing flight schedule, and keeping my you-know-what in a square pile. The last thing I wanted to do was unpack a bunch of stuff and then have to frantically cram it back from whence it came.

I was still pretty wound up from all the activity and having trouble relaxing in my new environment. It took three days for me to completely wind down. Doc was getting a little worried about me too. She said I was starting to get a real frazzled looking. She gave me a few Ambien, though the first one didn't have any effect. Another night passed before I got any good rest.

To complicate matters, my back had been aching a little too. I tried to ignore it and hoped it would get better. However, it didn't get better and during my sleepless nights, the pain had worsened. About the third day, I decided to go down to the clinic and have it checked out. Doc escorted me and then walked down to check the flight schedule, which by this time had become a thrice a day activity. A nurse prescribed me some anti-inflammatories and told me to take it easy for the next few days. I wondered how I was going to "take it easy" if I suddenly had to grab all my crap and haul it back down to catch a flight. Carrying 300 pounds of luggage is not a proper prescription for a spasming back. As I was leaving the clinic, Doc met me and pronounced that my name had mysteriously dropped off the flight manifest and her name was still very low on the list. For the moment, my problem was solved.

The next couple of days were spent checking the flight manifest three times a day, e-mailing people at home about 10 times a day, IMing people at every opportunity, reading, and generally lying around waiting on a flight north to magically appear. By the fifth day, my back was feeling better and I was getting antsy to get the show on the road.

Click here to see the view from Bay 99. The soldiers call these smokestacks "Scud Goalposts".

While wandering around on Friday, we stumbled upon the Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) office. I remembered from a conversation with a Major while still at home station, that the CFLCC office is where individual replacement orders are generated. From the get-go, my orders had been questionable and fuzzy at best. And the Reserve Readiness Command (RRC) into which I was transferred didn't provide any good explanation. I decided to contact the unit directly.

The unit itself has a very active Family Readiness Group and a good website so they are very well connected with people back home. I emailed the Company Commander through the website and totally caught him off guard. In fact, those were his exact words. He explained to me that he had no knowledge of any replacements coming his way. The unit First Sergeant agreed. When I asked the RRC about it, they shockingly couldn't provide any input. So, when I saw the CFLCC office during my wanderings at Camp Doha, I jumped at the opportunity to look into the validity of my orders.

For the next couple of days, I talked back and forth with several different offices and finally found someone who could research my situation. On Saturday morning I learned that my orders had in fact been generated by mistake and I should not have been assigned to the unit in Iraq. Instead I was supposed to be assigned to a higher headquarters in Kuwait.

This turn of events made me pretty happy and I knew it would make my family and friends happy too. The hostilities were increasing up north as the deadline for the power hand over from the U.S. back to the Iraqi government approached. And the location where I was going was getting mortared more frequently as a consequence. Needless to say, the worsening conditions added to the stress my family, friends, and I were feeling about my deployment.

While I was not opposed to being assigned to a unit that really needed a replacement, the position I was going to was a couple of steps backwards for me in terms of career progression. In Iraq I would have been a transportation platoon leader. As a senior Captain, I've already been a platoon leader, detachment commander and company commander. I was hoping for a job on staff, somewhere I could gain some experience managing larger groups of people and equipment. This was my opportunity and I would report the next day.

Looking back on my experience at Camp Doha, I realize now that the back spasm, dropping off the flight manifest, and stumbling on the CFLCC office were all fortunate coincidences. It's easy to get frustrated when stumbling blocks are thrown in our path and we generally only look at them pessimistically. It's hard to slow down and look at the big picture and realize that an event, seemingly negative, can turn out to be a positive thing. Coincidences are seen in hindsight, not predicted. Perhaps it just wasn't my destiny to go to Iraq. All I can say is "Thanks!" Thanks to all the people back home, those who I know and those I don't know, who sent me wonderful prayers and positive energy.

Sunday, July 11, 2004


Before I tell you about my experience at Camp Doha, let me tell you a little bit about my doctor friend.

Doc is not like the average doctor you will find in the military. She didn't start out as a doctor, she was first enlisted (I think she said she made it to E-6) with a military intelligence MOS. She has also jumped out of planes.... repeatedly... on purpose. She is small in stature and unassuming looking so you don't immediately make the mental leap from doctor to Airborne. She is smart, witty and a fun person. Her only weakness, which she admits to freely, is that she is directionally impaired. That brings me to my next story.

After completing one of the mind numbing tasks at Ft. Bliss, I mentioned that I would like to go to the PX. Doc overheard me and offered me a ride in her rental car. I accepted without hesitation. Well, it didn't take me long to realize that we were taking a cercuitous route to the PX. Doc just kept talking to me and driving and I tried to mentally keep up with which cardinal direction we were driving and how many turns we had made. We approached a red light and before I could say anything we ran right through it. I didn't say a word, only looked around to see if the MPs were coming at us from all directions.

We kept driving round and round, going in circles but finally did make it to the PX. It's a good thing Ft. Bliss is practically deserted or we might have been stopped. Except for people deploying, those returning from overseas, and a bunch of Military Police, there aren't many people there.

We repeated the process on the way back to CRC, minus the red light incident. I didn't mind the drive a bit though. It was the first time I had been away from the group in several days and the free tour of Ft. Bliss was kind of fun. I didn't realize it at the time but Doc and I would spend many more days together.

Waiting in Kuwait

As per usual, my arrival in Kuwait was followed by much running around and waiting. We off loaded the plane at Kuwaiti International Airport and boarded buses bound for Camp Doha to the north. Our duffle bags were loaded indiscriminately into large conexs on the back of two flat bed trucks. Our arrival coincided with the arrival of other soldiers, sailors and marines on their way to various locations. There were over 600 people wandering around trying to figure out where to go next. And figuring out where to go next was pretty much an individual responsibility. The staff assigned to help us only generally pointed us in the right direction.

Come to find out, the barracks we were assigned to were quite a ways away. Each person had over 300 pounds of luggage, duffle bags and equipment to lug the distance to the barracks. But first you had to find your duffle bags. Duffle bags all pretty much look the same in the dark and ours were spread out over an area about the size of two baskeball courts.

I finally made it to the barracks and was reunited with my LTC doctor friend I had met at Ft. Bliss. We claimed two bunks and got our names on the list for flights into Iraq. Flight assignments to Iraq are made on a first come first serve basis. Since we were part of such a large group, we decided that it was safe to assume we wouldn't be flying out the next day. We crashed onto our bunks and fell asleep for a few hours.

Doc referred to these barracks as "Troglodyte Hell." I think her terminology was right on target. It was actually a huge warehouse that had been partitioned off into smaller sections, and each section held as many bunk beds as could be cramed into the available space. It was dark, smelly and depressing, sort of like being in a cave.

After sleeping for a few hours, we got up and decided to wander around and see what Camp Doha had to offer. We went to the dining facility and had a bite to eat, then we decided to find the PX. Since you can't take weapons into the PX, I had to check mine into a temporary holding facility. That's when we found our relative bliss, Bay 99.

Bay 99 is transient housing mostly for people who are traveling back and forth between Iraq and Kuwait. Doc noticed the phone, big screen t.v., computers and improved beds before I did. She started asking questions and found out that we could move to Bay 99 if we wanted. Well, she wanted to right away. I was reluctant because of all the luggage we'd have to carry and because it would take multiple trips. Lo and behold they offered to drive us to Troglodyte Hell, pick up our luggage and bring us back. I was sold at that point. It is good to have a LTC for a friend.

I'm glad we moved to Bay 99 because as it turns out, we were stuck at Camp Doha for 7 more days. And the waiting turned out to be a good thing rather than a bad thing. While we were there, several festering issues were resolved in a positive way.

Getting the Call and Moving Out

It was a little before noon on 11 May 2004 when I got the call that I had been involuntarily transfered to a reserve transporation company that had been in Iraq since Jan. 2004. I was a little caught off guard but not terribly surprised because I'd received two other such calls before this. Neither of the first two incidents panned out due to one reason or another.

I immediately told my boss and began packing my things as I was ordered to report to my home station ASAP and prepare for mobilization as an individual replacement. It was a sad and stressful day. Talking to my co-workers, telling my family and friends, and walking out of my office were all difficult things to do.

I reported to my unit that same day and began asking all the usual questions, "Where am I going?", "To what unit am I assigned?", "What do I need to do next?", etc. I only got answers to a couple of my questions and new questions developed as time passed. I would spend the next 26 days preparing for mobilization, getting my life in order, straightening out my finances and making multiple copies of legal documents like my will and power of attorney, all of which were very somber activities.

In just a matter of a few minutes, my life had been transformed into something I only barely recognized. I was on my way to a war zone, a defining moment in my life, and my emotions were running pretty high. People came out of the woodwork to wish me well and out of a sense of obligation, I rushed around trying to say goodbye to every one of them, probably neglecting the people I cared about the most. Luckily I have a very understanding family.

On 5 June 2004, I left Arkansas for a CONUS Replacement Center (CRC) in Ft. Bliss, TX. The first week was spent re-doing all the paperwork I had completed at home station. Much of that week, save the weapons class, medical and finance, was a colossal waste of time. The second week was spent mostly in the desert. About half of my group was selected for a first time ever, additional week of desert training. The cadre and instructors organized and executed on the fly. We put on our brand new desert boots and uniforms and marched out into the 115 degree temperatures and trained without any acclimation. Several people had to stay an extra week on medical hold to recover from the damage that was done during our three days in the sand box. The next phase of replacements didn't have to stay for the second week of desert training.

The cadre NCOs at Ft. Bliss were great. They reacted to the last minute changes and always treated everyone with respect and courtesy. I will always remember their professionalism and I made it a point to thank a few of them before I left. The Major in charge of Operations was also very helpful and engaged. She impressed me during our last formation when she took the time to shake everyone's hand before we were dismissed. It was a small gesture but it had a big impact on me.

The third Sunday at Ft. Bliss found me at the APOD awaiting departure for the Middle East. Our bags were sniffed by the drug and bomb dogs, we ate our pre-flight meal and received services from the CRC chaplain. We finally boarded the plane and some lucky saps got to sit in first class. I was crammed in a middle seat in coach and sat there for the better part of the next 15 hours, approximately. We made a couple of stops along the way before reaching Kuwait at around 9:00 p.m. When the door of the plane opened, a blast of warm dusty air hit us in the face like a solid mass. It was not a pleasant welcoming.


Disclaimer #1: I needed a name for this blog and Sojack immediately came to mind. It also satisifes the requirements for OPSEC and just plain ole' personal anonymity. The word "Sojac" comes from the Smokey Stover comic strip that was popular in the 1920's and 30's. The phrase "Notary Sojac" was frequently used in the comic strip and few people knew what it meant. Supposedly in Gaelic it means Merry Christmas. I don't speak Gaelic so I can't confirm this. My dad grew up reading the comic strip and Notary Sojac became one of his favorite sayings. He still uses it today. Out of deference to my dad, I've purposely misspelled "Sojac" as "Sojack." One Notary Sojac in the family is enough.

Disclaimer #2: This website is privately operated and is designed to provide personal information, views and commentary about the authors experiences during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The opinions on this website are solely those of the author and contributors and not those of any agency of the United States Government. Further, this site is not designed, authorized, sanctioned, or affiliated, by or with, any agency of the United States Government. The author cannot confirm nor deny that any of this information is at all true, or a complete work of fiction. Users accept and agree to this disclaimer in the use of any information accessed in this website. Thank you.