Goldschmidt Family Home Page

Last updated on December 05, 2006

Notes From The Field - 2006

A Young Man's Journey From Sheltered Liberalism To The Army, And Back Again. And Out Again

Ari's Official Army Photo

Ari Goldschmidt joined the US Army reserves in 2004. While away at Boot Camp, he told his parents Michele and Bob Goldschmidt that he misses everyone and would love to keep in touch with everyone. Below the introductory section are the letters Ari sent home during his active duty posting to Iraq, starting in September 2006.

Ari's Current Status
Ari graduated from Basic Training at Fort Benning, and then Advanced Training at Fort Gordon. In March of 2006, Ari was notified that he was going to be mobilized - as an individual - and that after training, he would be posted to Iraq. One week later, Ari received his acceptance letter to the University of Portland School of Nursing, on a full ROTC scholarship. After being notified of the ROTC scholarship and school acceptance, the Army denied Ari's request for a waiver.

In June 2006, Ari shipped out to Ft. McCoy in Wisconsin, which is the Army Reserve's main training base in the US. After several months of training, Ari's unit was ready for posting overseas

Ari is attached to the 399th Combat Support Hospital (CSH), in the role of combat communications specialist. So in the end, despite years of protest, Ari is becoming a geek. Just like his old man. Maybe there is some justice in the world after all, even in the Army. Or maybe that is just Irony.

Ari shipped to Kuwait on Tuesday, September 26 2006. After an initial temporary posting in Kuwait, he was flown to his final posting in Iraq on Monday, October 9th, 2006.

Ari has been on a fast track promotional cycle since he joined up. He is currently an E4 Specialist, having received that promotion in January 2006.

Here are Ari's email addresses, good until further notice:

To mail stuff to Ari, please use the address below. The US Postal Service will mail packages of unlimited weight to military bases for a flat fee of $8 ... use it:

Letters From Ari In Iraq, 2006

Editor's (Dad's) Introduction

The scenarios below are excerpted and edited from Ari's letters home. They chronicle his physical and emotional journey from the relatively cloistered environment of Portland and Havurah to the more worldly - and sometimes more brutal and callous - world of US Army posting overseas.

I will try to use as light an editorial touch as possible, for I believe that there is value in providing the story as Ari told it, and not what I believe you should hear. I will correct spelling and grammatical errors, as they arise. When I have explanatory comments to add, I will insert them within end brackets [ ].

On a personal note, while some of the content is mundane (as would expected from an 21-year old young man new to the active duty), much of it is fascinating, and some parts are profound.

And now, the story is Ari's to tell ....

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Hello Everyone,

This will be my first email from Kuwait. I made it here safe and sound; no problems what so ever. It was a very long trip though. Our first formation began in the early morning at 0330 hours on Tuesday the 26th of Sept. We carried huge and bulky duffle bags and rucksacks out to the meeting point and organized them by pre-designated contents. With around 210 soldiers carrying 2 duffels, a ruck, and carry-on each it took quite a while. Then, the 600 plus bags had to be loaded onto semi trucks for travel to the airport. Once that was done, we all loaded ourselves onto countless charter buses and headed to the Lacrosse, WI airport.

We didn't go to the commercial area, but went instead to a large hanger bay designed for flights like this one. However, like any other flight, we had quite a few hoops to jump threw before we were cleared to board. These included checking everyone's dog tags and ID cards, passing out orders, filing past the amnesty point, and finally a 100 percent manual bag check of everyone's carry-on luggage.

After word, we had a mass formation for info and promotions. Three 1st Lieutenants were promoted to Captain and two Lieutenant Colonels were promoted to full-bird Colonel. One of the Colonels was the hospital commander. Because of the importance of this promotion, two generals had come down to oversee the ceremony. You don't see generals everyday.

Once that was completed, we were finally clear to board the plane. By this time it was around 1230 hours. A detail of 20 people was put together to load the plane with all of the luggage from the semi trucks. The plane was huge. Every row sat 10 people across. I was sitting in the 15th row and couldn't even see the back of the airplane. A small contingent of soldiers from an engineer unit from Puerto Rico was also traveling with us, making our total close to 240 people. There was still plenty of room.

It was a three hour flight from Wisconsin to Maine. The airport there was small but quaint. They had a soldier welcoming center there that was run my veterans. They fed us all kinds of cookies, candy, and other desserts, gave away free beanie babies to send home to our families, and provided the free usage of cell phones for anyone in uniform. It was pretty cool. They had many military decorations up and were very friendly. I can only assume that many mobilizing units come threw there.

Eventually we re-boarded the monstrosity of a plane and flew to Germany. That flight was only five and a half hours long. While the plane was refueling we spent an hour and a half in a lounge designed for military units. They had a cafť, pool tables, gift shop, and many pay phones. I spent the entire time calling home. I was forced to use my debt card directly because I had no phone card. It probably cost a fortune. I couldn't charge my laptop because all of the outlets were the European style and I couldn't plug it in. The weirdest thing was that the majority of the lounge was smoking and they had a small secluded area for non-smokers, instead of the other way around.

The next stop was Kuwait. After exiting the plane we immediately boarded buses. The clock on the bus aid it was 5 pm Kuwait time on the 27th. Another detail was put together to take all of the bags off of the plane and load them back into the semis. Then we set off again. For a reason that I am not sure of, we stopped only 15 minutes after we began and waited 45 minutes before leaving again. From there it was a 3 hour drive. We finally arrived at our FOB (Forward Operating Base) at 2130 hours on the 27th of September. Including the 8 hour time advance, 42 hours had passed since that original formation back in Ft McCoy, WI.

Unfortunately, we weren't done yet. We still had many briefings to go through. Then we had to find our designated tents, unload the many trucks full of baggage, and find our bags among many hundreds of bags that looked almost exactly the same. All of this took place in the dark might I add. By the time all of my stuff was on my new cot in my new tent it was after midnight. The dining facility opened up for a 2400 hours to 0130 hours meal and we were all starved so we went. The food was excellent and the choices were never-ending but I will describe the amenities of the FOB in my next email.

At that point I should have gone to bed, but I wan not yet tired. Instead I wandered around the area till about 0330 in the morning (48 hours after my last formation in Ft McCoy) before finally going to sleep. I only managed 3 hours before rising again at 0630 but it was sufficient enough for my needs.

Needless to say, it was a very long trip. But I am here now in Kuwait. It's truly hard to believe that I'm half way around the world and preparing to go fight a war that really doesn't mean much to me. I don't think reality has quite set in yet.

Well thank you all for reading my first of hopefully many letters during my year in the Middle East. Good luck to all of you at home. I will see you soon enough.

SPC Ari R. Goldschmidt

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Hello to all my friends and family out there,

I have now spent a little time in Kuwait at a FOB whose name I am not permitted to give out. Information like that is considered classified. I can however describe what life here is like, and that is what the second installment of my letters home from the Middle East will be about. The first one about my travel might have been a little long, drawn out, and boring (as was the trip itself), but this one should prove to be a little more exciting.

First, the lay of the land: it's hot, sandy, rocky, barren, windy, dry, and hot. It's nearly October yet it was still 109 degrees outside when we first got off the plane. Truly though, I can't complain because it's not all that bad. It's cool at night and almost every building and facility here on the FOB (Forward Operating Base) is air conditioned. Still, the ground is an endless stream of fine sand littered all over with pebbles and larger rocks. The sky is baby blue and completely cloudless for as far as the eye can see. But lower on the horizon it becomes rather dusty looking and almost melts into a tan color.

Believe it or not, there is quite a lot to do here. They have many facilities for the soldier's enjoyment and as I describe them, keep in mind that everything is free. The main recreation area is a row of three huge white tents. Each is approximately 50 feet wide and 100 feet long, and all of them contain air conditioning. The first is the MWR which stands for Morale Recreation Welfare. If you aren't familiar with the term, it is the general term used by all military recreation centers and MWRs of various sizes and can be found on almost every base around the world. Here on this FOB the MWR contains a library, couches, and many televisions with Xboxes networked together for gaming. It's kind of the center of all the extra curricular activities but oddly enough it's the worst.

Next door is another tent of equal size that houses a theatre. They play movies 24 hours a day, once every three hours, and have a schedule posted outside. Its only one screen but that's plenty. They don't play new releases but they do have a variety of other showings.

The third tent in the row is the USO. I don't know what it stands for and have never before heard the term. Apparently it is a new facility that just opened 4 to 6 weeks ago. The inside is carpeted. They have cubbies next to the entrance for your shoes which, you are supposed to take before entering the carpeted area. They have many couches and personal reclining chairs with foot rests; all of which are a bright red in color (not sure why). They have a couple of big screen TVs and a huge collection of DVD movies for borrow. Many people come in here and just kick back, relax, and/ or fall asleep. They also have a few lap tops that are hooked up to the Internet. There are seven in total, I think, and they allow 30 minutes per person for usage. The sign-up sheet for these usually runs 24 hours in advance. A sign outside says that they used to have wireless set up but no longer. This is the tent in which I am currently sitting and I have signed up for a very late time half hour to send out these emails.

The next recreation center (yes there are more) is actually called the recreation center. It is a smaller, hard covered, building a little farther away. It contains foosball, ping pong, a broken air hockey table, and seven pool tables. Six of the pool tables are 7 footers and one is a 7 and a half. The vast majority of the sticks are steel rather that wood. Keep in mind that all of this is free and open 24 hours. They even hold tournaments. There was an 8 ball tourney today, and there will be one for 9 ball in a couple of days. My battle buddy and I had a lot of fun playing a couple games in there today. I won both I might add.

There is also a large, 24 hour gym that is packed full of useful equipment. I haven't spent much time in there yet but I intend to. I was far too sore from moving hundreds of bags over 50 pounds each yesterday. My arms, shoulders, neck, and upper back are killing me. My lower back and legs are fine though because I wasn't lifting them from the ground for the most part. We passed them to there correct spot down an assembly line.

There are also quite a few areas here that do cost money. There are three PXs (Post Exchange, military store). Two of them are just a couple of trucks, and the main one really just a small building. It had what I needed though: a power strip that handles any voltage up to 250 volts, used the UK style outlet plug-in, but has 5 universal spots that can handle anything from European to American. It was 10 bucks very well spent. They also have a multiple barber shops, Internet cafes, and fast food joints of various kinds. There are even a couple of jewelry, trinket, and souvenir shops run by the locals. All of these places are open from 9 in the morning to 9 at night.

I set foot into a couple of the Internet cafes today, and the lines were huge. It looked like the buildings were getting pretty close to their maximum capacity of 200 people. And that is for pay required Internet. Here at the USO I only get half an hour and its difficult to sign up for good blocks of time but at least its free and I don't have to wait in line all day. I really wish they still had the wireless internet set up because then I would be in heaven; just a dry, hot, sandy, semi-war-zone "heaven."

Well I think that's enough for today. I haven't yet written about a lot of the negatives or the incredible food, but this letter has gotten long enough already. That will come in the next installment. Just be prepared to get sick in multiple ways, both good and bad.

I love you all and I'll write again soon.

SPC Ari R. Goldschmidt

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Hello All,

It has been a little while since I last wrote. Well Iím here, finally, in Iraq. I am safe and sound and glad to, at long last, begin the work I came out here to do. I am a small piece in a large machine designed to save lives. Itís good to finally be doing the real deal; no more simulated bull shit.

I arrived here late on Monday night, the October 9th. Thatís just about 4 months after I first left for training. I feel like I have been gone for an eternity already; itís hard to comprehend that I have just now begun my year in the Middle East. At least I can say that I am truly doing some good in the world. That is one of the only things that keeps me motivated and going strong during my 12 plus hour shifts, 7 days a week. That, and an wonderful young lady named Chantel, who is rooting for me and waiting for me to come home triumphant to her. Chantel, you the most amazing person I have ever met and I am so lucky to have you in my life. Thank you so much for sticking with me through all of this.

When I first arrived here, it didnít seem so different. It didnít really strike me as much of a war zone. Up here in northern Iraq, they actually have trees. Not very many, and they arenít big and healthy like those in Portland, but they are here none the less. They even have a rainy season. The climate is vastly different from that of Kuwait, which is far hotter and dryer. Down south in that tiny little country, it is a true dessert. Nothing grows. There is nothing natural for miles at a time except sand and rock. Up here it really isnít that bad. The temperature is rather moderate, and at night it gets quite cold. Add that to the fact that every building comes equipped with air conditioning and I really donít have much to complain about.

I share a small room with my battle buddy, Robbie Mitchell, who is also from Portland. For those of you who donít know him, we were friends before the deployment. Our room is about 8 feet wide and 20 feet long. With two beds, wall lockers, and foot lockers it is kind of cramped, but it is at least up to college dorm standards - and this is Iraq. We even bought a refrigerator. Itís a tiny little unit, but it allows us to have cold drinks and keep refrigerator required items such as milk. I really donít have much to complain about except my bunk. Itís about 2 and a half feet wide and hard as a rock. I might as well sleep on the floor. The portable, fold-up cots made of metal and canvass that we used to sleep on out in the field were more comfortable. It is unbelievably horrible. Needless to say I have a couple of huge knots in my back that spasm every time I move. Right now hurts to just stand up straight. Thankfully, Chantel is sending me one of those padded mattress covers. Perhaps then I will actually be able to get some decent sleep at night.

Unfortunately, it will be a while till I actually receive it. As it turns out, it takes quite a long while to receive mail out here. Packages take 7-10 days, boxes are 10-15, and letters take an unbearably long 20 days to reach us. That doesnít mean I wouldnít still enjoy receiving mail though. Late is better than never. For those of you that donít have my mailing address, it is:

Anyways, with the exception of the unbelievable mail times and the horrendous bed, it was hard to believe that I was truly in a war zone. Add to that all the things the 47th CSH, the unit we were replacing, had told us, and it just didnít seem like the dangerous country everyone was afraid it was going to. The 47th personnel told us that only one of their soldiers was receiving a purple heart for a war time injury. A tiny rock had been kicked up from the impact of a mortar round and had struck her in the back of the neck. It was a minor injury and she barely even new she had been hit. They pulled the pebble out, put in a few stitches, and she was back to work the next day. They said they received indirect fire about 6 or 7 times a month, but it didnít do much, and they usually missed the entire FOB. That girl was the only one ever hurt by one in the entire year they had been in Iraq. Their only death had been a soldier that committed suicide while back in the States on leave.

So we were all going about our business as if we were staying in some year long, Middle Eastern summer camp, and nothing would ever happen. That is, until our wake up call yesterday evening. It was about 1730 hours, and I was getting ready for my 6 hour guard shift that would be beginning soon. I was putting on my Kevlar helmet when I thought I heard sirens. I opened the door of my room to hear better just in time to hear someone yell out ďBunkers, bunkers, bunkers!!!Ē over the PA system. I grabbed my weapon and ran to the nearest concrete bunker leaving my body armor behind in my hurry. I had just jumped inside to safety when the whole area reverberated with the huge boom of mortar rounds and indirect fire. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! They were really close. ďIncoming, incoming, incoming!Ē the automated system chimed. And sure enough, it was followed by more booms. It went on for quite a while. The other guy in the bunker with me was a nurse from the 47th CSH. He said this was the longest indirect fire attack they had received all year. All at once it stopped, and off in the distance one could hear the unmistakable sound of a firefight and small arms fire. It wasnít too far off. I later learned that it had been just down the street from the north gate. They were trying to storm the FOB [ Forward Operational Base ].

The firing only went on for a minute or two. The insurgents were sorely out gunned, and had no chance of taking the base gate head-on. Soon after though, the nurseís pager went off. The message said that they needed him at the hospital; they had incoming trauma patients from the indirect fire. The mortar rounds had ceased for a little while and he decided it was safe enough to attempt a run to the hospital. I stayed there for another ten minutes until the ďAll ClearĒ was given before grabbing my body armor and heading to the TOC [ Tactical Operations Center ] to provide my assistance.

I had just entered the TOC, which is a safe and hardened facility, when there was another boom and more ďincomingĒ calls over the PA. The insurgents were getting smart. They had waited just long enough for the all clear to have been given and for people to be out and about before firing again. We quickly called ďBunkers, bunkers, bunkersĒ out over the PA system again and then set ourselves to the task of gathering and relaying info. It turned out that there had been a total of 11 casualties from the indirect fire: 9 were US, 1 was Albanian Army, and 1 was Iraqi Army. A MASCAL was put in place and the hospital was kicked into full gear. Three of the US soldiers were 47th CSH personnel. One of the three had a serious abdominal wound from a piece of shrapnel and had a lot of internal bleeding. Thankfully, none of the 399th CSH (my unit) was hit. None of those 11 died, which was truly a miracle. [ Dad's Note: MASCAL definition - Any situation in which the number and severity of casualties exceeds the capabilities of the EMT Section to treat immediately casualties in the triage categories "Immediate" and "Delayed." ]

Unfortunately, the miracles did not last. A nearby infantry unit dispatched a large company of soldiers later that night to go out and find the insurgents that had initiated the indirect fire. In the process, one of them was hit by an IED (improvised explosive devise). He arrived at the hospital at about 2330 hours but died only a few minutes later. I was at the TOC and did not see him, but I was told it was horrible. All of his friends and battle buddies stood outside the hospital crying all night long.

Shortly there after, we went into a state of communications black-out. The hospital will do this every time a US soldier dies. All the public Internet and telephone areas are shut down so no communication can reach the outside world. They donít want the family of the soldier finding out what had happened before they are told officially. We are currently still in this state. It makes me sad because I want to call home to my family and Chantel. But I understand the reason, and the fact that there are bigger things going on here than my petty insecurities.

All in all, this was the worst attack on the FOB the 47th CSH had seen all year. Hopefully it is the worst one that I see all year as well. I probably should not have told all of you about this because now you will most likely just worry endlessly. Know that I am fine and they didnít even come that close to me. None of the rounds were even within eye sight from where I was.

At the worst, it will be a long while before they attack like that again. I am safe and will be OK. Donít worry.

This has been a very long letter, but I did owe you one. I love you all and I will see you soon,

SPC Ari Goldschmidt

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I would say it is well past time for my 4th letter home. This one will be all about military food. I meant to write this one a long time ago, but have only now just gotten to it.

The general public assumption is that military food is horrible. This is not always true. Unfortunately, in Ft. McCoy [ Ariís Army Reserve training base in Wisconsin ], it was. In fact, it was more than true. I would rather eat canned dog food than go back and eat the food there again. I am not exaggerating when I say that freeze-dried MRE [ Meals Ready To Eat ] food, which can last for years untouched, tasted better than the fresh cooked food from the Ft. McCoy DFAC (dining facility). Everyone agreed too. It was a constant battle that went past the company level, up through the battalion level, and all the way up to the post commander. Since the day we first arrived in that blood-sucking hell-hole, we had been fighting for an improved level of dining. Occasionally the food was edible, but usually you needed a gas mask just to go near it.

We actually began to make some headway on food improvement when dozens of diarrhea cases began to show up everyday. The army is very paper orientated. They wonít do anything about anything unless they have sufficient documentation that it is needed. So, we flooded sick call every morning with minor food poisoning patients. Then people started to get really sick; a few had to be hospitalized. In the end the food still tasted horrible, but at least they were washing their hands somewhat.

Our DFAC wasnít the only one like that. They all were, but they were all contracted out to the same company so it was to be expected. The one down the street actually got shut down few times for dangerous gas leaks. Multiple block areas had to be cordoned off. At least we never had that problem at our DFAC.

The food was so bad in Wisconsin that many people refused to eat there. They chose to pay for every one of their meals instead of eating at the dining facility. Iím cheap and not all that picky, so I simply imagined I was at Cheesecake Factory while stuffing down the garbage they threw at us. Even so, I lost 6 pounds during my stay at Ft. McCoy. And that is with eating as much dessert as possible, since it was the only thing they served tasted remotely good in any way. As most of you are well aware, Iím not the biggest guy in the world; I almost wasted away and disappeared. My fiancť told me I was too skinny, and needed to gain some weight when I came home for my 7 day leave.

Iím not the only one who lost weight either; many people did. There are quite a few stories of 20, 30, even 40 pounds gone at Ft. McCoy. My 1SG (head NCO in the company), a 56 year old lady, was one of them. She lost thirty plus pounds and says this is only the second time in her thirty year career that she has met the army height and weight standards.

There was some good with the bad, though. At least we all got whipped into shape.

Finally though, after four months of starvation and torture, we shipped off to Kuwait. The dining situation was dramatically different there. On that single small FOB (Forward Operating Base), they had three huge DFACs. The smallest one was probably 20 times the size of our DFAC in Wisconsin, and had 20 times the choices. They had two main lines, two fast food / short order lines, a make-your-own hot sandwich station, a soup station, and one station that varied by day. The varied station changed from tacos, to spaghetti, to baked potatoes, to a multitude of other things.

The portion sizes they gave you were enormous. You could live off one meal there for a month. I specifically remember one meal when I had gone through the short order line and asked for chicken strips and fried scallops. They gave me a whole bowl full of scallops, enough to easily feed two people. And they gave more strips than 3 whole chickens could produce. I couldnít believe it. I had truly never seen so much food in my life. I barely ate any of it. The scallops were quite good though; they had a nice kick to them.

After you have finished going through the hot food sections, they have a strip for food and drink that extends the length of the DFAC for probably a 150ft. No, Iím not exaggerating. Each person goes down the line on either side, and helps themselves to whatever and however much they want. It starts off with a salad bar. They only carried iceberg lettuce, but they had almost every other vegetable imaginable. They carried personalized packets of many different dressing, both regular and non-fat. Then they had other forms of salad: pasta salad, potato salad, egg salad, etc. If one continued they would come to a drink section with Pepsi and Coke products, Gatorade, iced tea, iced coffee, V-8, many different forms of milk including chocolate, strawberry, and banana, and a dozen kinds of fruit juice including fresh squeezed mango. They even had a free vending machine that dispensed hot mochas and other espresso drinks.

Beyond that they had a make your own sandwich section which served a multitude of bread kinds and forms along with a large toaster. If you wanted a meat and cheese sandwich, it could consist of any amount of bologna, salami, or freshly sliced roast beef, turkey, and ham. You could add sliced tomato, lettuce, cucumbers, onions, pickles, cheddar, Swiss, and many different condiments. Or instead of all that, they even carried peanut butter and jelly and honey.

The line continued into a section where they housed everything else. They had protein bars, puddings, jellos, fruit salads, and a half-dozen other kinds of fresh fruit.

When I first entered this DFAC, I went crazy and almost fainted from all the choices. It was like dropping a starving child into an all-you-can-eat buffet. Wait, thatís exactly what I was. My eyes were way bigger than my stomach and I took far more than I was ever going to eat. I wanted to try everything. My tray was piled a mile high, and when I finally eft, thinking I would never eat again, it was still 3/4 of a mile high. I had to run a lot farther than a mile to work that meal off, or any of the meals that followed during my stay in Kuwait.

By now, you must be either incredibly hungry or sick to your stomach, but Iím not through yet. The dessert section was the last section in the DFAC, and of course, the most breath-taking. They had three different sections for ice cream: freezers chalked full of ice cream sandwiches, bars, cones, and popsicles, a soft-serve dispensing machine that could make you frozen yogurts in flavors of vanilla, chocolate, or a combination thereof, and a full-time employee that would scoop you your choice of actual Baskin Robins brand ice cream. On top of all of that, they had a display case full of various different cakes, cheesecakes, pies, cookies, and brownies. Considering the fact that at some point I tried almost every one of them, I can say from experience that they were quite good. And once you had gotten your dessert, you could decorate it with any number of sweet toppings: chocolate and caramel sauce, whipped cream, macerated strawberries, diced nuts, chocolate chips, etc. The list goes on and on. Basically, in Kuwait, I ate like a king.

Up here in Iraq, the DFAC was vastly disappointing in comparison. There was no place to sit, it was solely take-out, and the choices were not nearly as comprehensive. At least it was close. As it turned out however, this was only a temporary dining facility while they renovated the real one. It is now open, and I was not disappointed. The design is much different: instead of one really long line, the food is spaced out in various stations all over the place. It is difficult to find what you really want. Otherwise, the food is much the same. On Wednesdays for dinner they serve steak, fried shrimp, crab legs, and lobster tail. Thatís pretty much the highlight of my week. Other than that, they have a stir fry station that is pretty incredible. They have a whole selection of raw vegetables including: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, olives, jalapeŮos, bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, pineapple, and a few others. You pick which ever ones you want, rice or noodles, and chicken or beef. Then they will cook all of it up right in front of you. You can also add freshly diced garlic, olive oil, teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, or any of a multitude of spices. Itís really good. The line is usually pretty long since they have to cook it, but this is definitely my favorite station.

Well, I have talked your ears off enough. Some of you probably wonít want to eat for a month. Besides, itís about time for me to head to dinner and get some stir fry.

Love you all,

----- Ari

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Since arriving up here in Iraq a couple of weeks ago, I have had to work 12 hours every single day. I don't even know what a day off is anymore. Combine that with shift change-overs, guard duty, and any extra work I might have to do in the case of emergencies, and I am consistently pulling 90 plus hours a week. After all of that I have simply been too tired to exercise like I should be. I have only been to the gym once, and a few days ago I went running for the first time.

My roommate and battle buddy, Mitchell, woke me up at 5:30 in the morning and said it was time to get up. The plan was to run some undetermined distance and then stop off at the DFAC for breakfast on the way back. I didn't want to get up. I was tired and would rather have slept. He made me though, and in just a few minutes time I was dressed and ready to smoke him outside on the track (and by "track" I mean long dirt road).

I stepped outside and felt something odd. Small droplets of this cold, wet, substance here falling from the sky onto my head and neck. Rain! Here I was in the middle of the Iraqi dessert and it was raining. And not only was it raining, but it was raining on the first and only day I planned to go running. "I'm going back to bed," I told Mitchell.

"Come on, it's only sprinkling," he responded, and it was true. To a couple of Portlanders this was nothing. For some reason I can't quite figure out though, the droplets were really cold.

My teeth were clattering as we began down the street. I ran fast so as to cease shivering. We had only made it a couple of hundred yards though when it started to pour, and pour hard. If cats and dogs existed in this desolate country, they surely would have been splattering all around us. Ahhh the irony, the one day we chose to run, it chose to downpour. We were soaked through to the bone when we completed our jog, and covered in thick layers of mud as well. Everything around here is either made of dirt or sand, so when it does occasionally rain, everything gets really muddy.

Needless to say I wasn't too happy with Mitchell for choosing this particular day to interrupt my sleep, but I took out my anger with him by running him ragged till he could no longer keep up. At least we both got some much needed exercise.

Love you all,

----- Ari

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Here is a quick and funny story of my goofiness. Those of you who know me well can probably easily picture me doing this.

In the TOC, the operations center and my place of work, we have this electric fly swatter. It was donated by one of the guys from the 47th CSH (the unit we replaced). It looks like a small tennis racket with three layers of crisscrossing wires running throughout its face. When activated, the inner layer is charged with electricity. The outer layers of wire are for protection so it's not so easy to shock yourself.

The object is to swing the swatter at a fly in mid air. If you catch it between the wires the racket will spark and pop, leaving the bug nothing more than a dead, smoking, husk. It is a really nifty little toy.

Anyways, it was coming towards the end of my shift one day and I was bored. It was a relatively quiet day with few truly important events taking place. This fly simply wouldn't leave me alone, so naturally I picked up the electric swatter and zapped it into buggy heaven. Feeling the adrenaline rush of the kill, I began to hunt for more flies to murder. Unfortunately, there really weren't any more. I think they were afraid of my non-existent tennis skills.

A light bulb turned on in my silly little head. Hey, I thought, there has to hundreds of bugs just waiting for a jolt outside in the lobby to the building. The front door was always left open out there. So I went through the heavy steel door to the lobby and began electrocuting creepy crawly things left and right. It was dark out, and the light was on, so of course there were many bugs, all of them attracted to the light. For approximately fifteen minutes I was jumping around swatting and stabbing like a little kid thrown into a play pen. I didn't discriminate; flies weren't going to be my only targets. I zapped moths, ants, and spiders as well. I swung the racket through the air, dragged it across the walls and floors and even tossed up to the ceiling light were my short frame couldn't reach. There was an endless snap, crackle, and pop, as bug after bug fell to the floor in a burnt ruin. Anyone looking in from the outside might have seen the sparks and thought it was some sort of crazy firework display. But they would have been wrong; it was just me and my simplicity, immaturity, stupidity, having some fun.

When I had tired myself out, and there were significantly fewer bugs in the lobby, I went back inside to the TOC. To my utter surprise, everyone looked up at me and burst out laughing in unison. You see, the TOC is a secure room. Only people with business there were allowed in. The huge steel door remained locked at all times, and there was a security camera watching the other side of the door. The camera allows us to permit only those we wish to enter. In my giddy excitement, I had forgotten completely about it. It turns out that the entire TOC had been watching me on the twenty inch flat screen TV, and were laughing their asses off the entire time. Yeah, I felt dumb. And I'm definitely never going to live this one down. It was really funny the way I was jumping as high as I could into the air and swinging a big racket at little flies, like a pre-schooler with a new found toy. But it was also really embarrassing.


Here is a quick story of an event that recently happened to me. It's not really military related, but it's interesting none the less.

A few days ago I was my normal routine walk to lunch. I was moving fast because it was just a quick break to walk the half mile, retrieve my food, and bring it back to the TOC for consumption so someone else would have a chance to go.

I was about a third of the way there, and passing under some road side trees, when I heard a rustling above me. The leaves were moving and the branches were swaying slightly. I didn't even think twice about it because this was a regular occurrence no matter where you were in the world. It was probably some birds or a strong gust of wind I thought.

Just after passing under the moving branches though, there was a splat as something hit the ground behind me. Naturally, I turned around to see what it was, and laying there was a dead bird. It had landed less than a foot behind my heels and come really close to hitting me. Getting hit by bird shit is relatively common, but barely dodging the barely the bird itself?

That wasn't the weird part though; the weird part was its condition. The wings and beak were intact, but the rest of it was nothing more than a bloody mess. Something had chewed it apart and stripped all the meat off of it. The only thing that remained was a gooey red ball of organs and bones with an occasional feather sticking out here and there. It was quite disgusting and really fresh too. I'm really glad it didn't hit me, though it came quite close. I can only assume that some larger bird or other animal had gotten to it and turned it into a meal.

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There was a time when not too long ago when we were consistently being hit by mortars every other day or so. Often, these attacks would come at around 2 or 3 in the morning, preventing us from getting a full and decent nightís sleep. More often than not, the attacks were very small, just two or three rounds. Sometimes though, they could reach as many as fifteen or twenty, and strike extremely close.

A couple weeks ago, during the climax of Ramadan, we were hit three separate times in a single day. I happened to have guard duty that day so I was outside to witness them. The first one came around 7 in the morning, when I was guarding the entrance to the theatre. My unit was using the theatre building as a place for meetings and presentations. When they do this though, they have to place guards outside; itís a silly post policy. I was on duty when a boom went off. Once you have been here for a little while you come to recognize the sound of a mortar from any other noise. I knew immediately what it was, and in half a second I was inside the theatre and sprinting towards the room where the meeting was being held. I had to interrupt the Sergeant Major to give him the news, but I was able to get everyone to a safe position before too many more blasts hit. It wasnít a large attack though, just about three or four rounds. When it was over, they went back to their meeting, and I went back to guarding.

My second four hour guard shift was at the gym. It was coming towards the end of my shift and I had put my armor on in anticipation of finally being relieved (you have to have your armor with you but you donít have to wear it), so I was all ready and dressed up to walk back and take a nap. It was good that I had put it on, because just then there was a loud boom. I looked up and actually saw the next one explode with a flash in the sky not more than a couple hundred meters off. I ran for cover and called for an evacuation of the gym, which is not a hardened facility. As it turned out, this also was a small attack and no more rounds followed. After the all clear I was relieved by the on-coming guard, so I could go get 4 hours of rest.

I returned at 10:00 pm for my final 4 hour shift of the day. Nothing happened during that shift, and at 2:30 in the morning I had returned to my room and was getting ready for bed. Thatís when the real attack happened. There was a very loud BOOM, BOOM, and everyone was up and running for a hardened facility as quickly as possible. They were really close. The TOC, my place of work, put out ďBunkers, Bunkers, Bunkers!Ē over the loudspeaker, and anyone that wasnít already safe was heading that way as fast as possible. Then the loudspeaker went off again, but this time it was the Base Defense automated speaker system saying, ďIncoming, Incoming, Incoming.Ē And sure enough, only a couple of moments later, there were another couple of really loud booms. The sounds of ďIncomingĒ followed by explosions resounded for many minutes more. They were so close you could smell the smoke and gunpowder. When it was finally over the TOC gave the ďAll ClearĒ, and we all reported to our sections for 100% accountability.

The next morning I got up and went to work as normal. When I arrived, I discovered that there had been a total of 22 mortar rounds fired during that most recent attack. All of them had hit the air strip. A satellite picture showed that almost every round had hit dead on, straight down the runway. The hospital is directly next to the air strip so that patients coming and going by chopper donít have to travel far. We knew it had to have been close, not just from the sound and smell, but because the automated system had gone off in our area.

You see, Base Defense runs a 24 hour radar surveillance system that completely blankets the FOB. When indirect fire was coming in, it first goes up really high, and then comes down on its target at a steep angle. At this point it passes through the radar system and is picked up. The system then proceeds to calculate the roundís trajectory and discover its expected impact area. The automated system will go off in that area and give us a good 10 to 15 seconds to take cover. Itís not a lot of time, but it helps.

Once that is done, the radar system follows the trajectory back, and calculates to within a few feet the mortarís point of origin. Base defense will immediately notify the flight crews of the grid coordinates, and the choppers will take off. If everything works like clockwork, the helicopters will be tearing apart the insurgents in just a matter of minutes from the time the first round is fired.

This is why most attacks are very short. It takes time to fire off a lot of mortars, and if they sound up too many they are taking their life into their hands. These particular guys were very good though. They knew what they were doing. From an artilleristís perspective, the placing of their rounds was just about perfect. They hit the air strip again and again, all the way down its length at even intervals. The satellite picture showing the impact areas was scary to look at. With that kind of accuracy they could have hit us easily. They only needed to move the tube a few millimeters to the left and the mortars would have landed right on top of our rooms and the hospital. For whatever reason though, they chose not too. On top of that, they fired a score or more of shells, yet when the choppers arrived on the scene, they were nowhere to be found. The last time we had an attack of this length it was a different story. The mortars stopped, and only a few minutes later you could hear the small arms fire off in the distance, as our guys lit them up.

This major attack was the climax though. We have only been hit a couple times since then, and over the last 10 days or so there hasnít been a single mortar fired. Ramadan is over, so that helps. The fanatical Muslims believe that Allah will bless them and their attacks during their holiest of months. So during the day they fast, and at night they hurl explosives at us. Also, the rain has begun, and they apparently calm down a lot during the rainy season. Thankfully, it has been a lot calmer over the past week and a half.

----- Ari

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Hello All,

Well, it's official! Saddam Hussein has been convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. Personally I think they should string him by his balls till he falls crashing to the ground, and then hang him by the throat. Maybe that's a little brutal though.

Its kind of a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation here though. If he had been found innocent, even not given the full death sentence, the Shiite would certainly have been in an uproar, and the Kurds would have declared their independence in the North and all hell would break loose. Now that he has been found guilty though, the Sunni will surely be upset since they were his prime supporters. They also make up the majority of the insurgents, and attacks on coalition forces will certainly increase. We are expecting attacks tonight.

Last night was the first time we had been attacked in about 10 days. We believe it was in anticipation of the Saddam case verdict. I was back to work after getting dinner and a couple of really loud and really close booms went off only a couple hundred meters in front of me. Luckily there were a few buildings in between myself and the explosions. It turns out that they were 57mm rockets and they hit right along the path that I was walking. If I had been a couple minutes along farther along than I was I would have been right there. Five people were sent to the hospital. Four of them had very minor shrapnel injuries or lacerations. Only one was admitted; he had shrapnel to the abdomen and chest. He was stable and will be fine. The only casualty was my mango smoothie, which I was carrying back to the TOC and dropped all over my pants when the first bomb hit and I ducked for cover.

Love you all!

----- Ari

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Hello Everyone,

Life has been pretty normal out here in Iraq. I have been settling into a steady routine consisting of not much more than work, calling Chantel, sleep, and an occasional movie on my laptop. Usually when I watch a movie though, it takes me two or three sessions to finish it because I simply don't have enough time to watch a whole one in a single sitting. Anyways, life has been getting a little stagnant. Let's just say it gets tiring working 12 hour shifts, every single day, with no days off. We did, however, switch to 10 hour shifts a couple days ago. Those two hours make a huge difference.

Still, I have been moping along day by day with little of interest with the exception of my nightly talk with Chantel. I really needed to find something to spice up my life a little. My first attempt came in the form of boxing. SFC (E-7) Robinson, the head of the communications section in my unit, spent 14 years on the army boxing team. It's his sport and the love of his life and so he has set up a boxing class to take place every Wednesday and Sunday. I have been trying to go as often as possible. It has been difficult for me because I work such long shifts. Before we switched to 10 hours, it took place in the middle of my daily shift. I did manage to make it a couple times though. At my second practice, Coach Rob decided that I had more natural ability than many others in the class and picked it up a little faster. He selected me to box another guy. We were only doing body work, but we went at it with full 100 percent strength. The guy I was up against was a lot bigger than me too. I would say he had about 30 pounds on me and was made of solid muscle. We went two, two minute rounds. Many people would say I won just because I was more aggressive and threw more punches, but he got a couple of good ones in. Since it was just practice, I was trying to keep good form and I kept my guard up over my face. In retrospect this was really dumb of me because we weren't even going for the head. Because of this, he managed to hit me really hard on the ribs a couple of times. When I woke up the next morning I was in so much pain I thought I had cracked a rib. I went to sick call and got it x-rayed. My bones were fine but I did have a nasty bruise under the flesh and on the muscle itself. They called it a contusion.

The next day, when I was waiting in line for lunch, I noticed a flyer for a grappling tournament that would take place next Sunday. I was just a beginner at boxing, but wrestling I knew how to do. I had never been in a tap-out tournament before but I had done it for fun with my friends or for money many times before. The problem was that I couldn't even take a deep breath without my side causing me pain. I did have 6 days to heal though so I signed up anyway. I wasn't about to miss a chance to show off my wrestling skills.

I weighed in on Saturday the 11th and showed up to wrestle the next day. News had gotten passed around that I planned to enter and there turned out to be quite the fan club there for me. I appreciated it; it was nice to know people cared. Because there weren't that many people entering the tournament, they only held four weight classes. The lowest was the 140 to 159 weight class. I weighed in at 140, and so barely made the bottom of the list.

My first match was against a judo grappler. He immediately recognized that I was a tradition style collegiate wrestler and threw his leg out there in the open. I took the bait and shot in. In high school wrestling I would have gotten a take down, but in tap-out the rules were different. He wrapped up my head with his forearm in on my throat and sucked me down and into the guillotine. For a while there I was in trouble and he was choking me really good. I started to loose energy and began to wheeze. I almost gave up, but then I realized that all of these people had come to see me. I couldn't loose in the first round of my first match.

I had tried to squeeze my way out of the head lock but it just wasn't working. He really had it synched in tight. There was only one thing left to do. I gathered up all my energy and simply stood up straight, carrying him into the air with me. He still had my head but was now hanging on like a monkey on my back, completely in the air. It wasn't too difficult to shake him off from this position. He fell to ground and I jumped on top, grabbing the rear position (most dominant position possible in tap-out grappling) just as the buzzer went off. I wasn't too happy about that; I had finally made some headway and time had run out. The good thing was though that he never managed to get any points out of his headlock so we were still tied zero to zero.

The next round he threw that leg out there again, waiting for me to shoot in on it and walk into his trap again. But I had learned from my mistakes and went for the body instead. I tied up with him and we battled back and forth for a few moments, both trying to get the dominant position. He must have thought he had succeeded because he tried to throw me. I felt the pull and without even thinking, reversed my momentum in just the right way and tossed him straight up into the air and slammed him back down to the ground.

From that moment on I controlled the whole match. I tossed him around like a rag doll and scored point after point. I didn't know too many submission holds, and that was his forte, so I didn't manage to make him tap out, but I did win on points by a large margin.

The next guy was about 15 pounds bigger than me and made of solid rock. I can swallow my pride and admit that he was a LOT stronger than I was. I, however, had the speed and quickness. I don't remember too much detail from this match because I was very tired, but I will write what I comes to me.

Once again the first round was close. I managed to get sucked into another guillotine and came pretty close to getting choked out again. I squeezed out though, and took control of the match from there. This guy was a collegiate style wrestler like me, so I knew where I stood with him. At the end of the first round I was up 4 to 0.

Close to the end of the second round I had taken complete control and was forcing him to tap out in the rear naked choke, or as most of you know it, the sleeper hold. The referee said that time had run out though so we went to a third round. It didn't take me long to get back to this point and before long I had him tapping out again. The crowd cheered. My friends said they had been worried there at first but were really proud of me.

I had to win one more round to become the champion of the 140-159 pound weight class. I was already dead tired after wrestling two tough matches lasting a total of 6 rounds. My next opponent had won an easy match the first round and received a forfeit in the second so he was completely fresh and ready to go. My body ached and I was winded before the match even started. Luckily, this also turned out to be the easiest guy I was going to wrestle all night. The match turned out to be a really short one as I had him tapping out with only 7 seconds left in the first round. Once again I had taken him down, gotten around behind him, and put him in the rear naked choke. The crowd went wild, knowing that I had won the tournament. It was a great feeling.

After all of the finals matches had been completed, they held an open tournament. Anybody could enter this tourney, regardless of weight. I had stupidly chosen to enter this one as well. I was tired, and I could barely walk because me calves were cramping up really bad. But once again, I was up first. I didn't want to forfeit, so I just went for it. The guy I was wrestling weighed 202 pounds, more than 60 more than me. I was super tired but in the end the score remained 0 to 0. The judges determined him the winner by decision but I wasn't upset; this one was just for fun. Besides, I definitely did not need to wrestle a fifth match. I was limping for hours after the four I had already done.

Love you all!

----- Ari

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There has been a lot of heightened activity all over Iraq lately. About a week ago, Bagdad practically went up in flames as all-out, full-scale, anarchy broke out in the streets. The Shiites and Sunnis mortared each other back and forth all day long. Hundreds of people got caught up in the cross fire and at the end of the day the death total reached 133 men, women, and children. Many of those were innocent civilians who had nothing to do with the bombings.

The next day a huge VBIED (vehicle born improvised explosive device, basically a car bomb) was placed at a car auction in Talafar. Talafar is one of the cities our hospital supports. There were a total of 10 immediate deaths and 45 injured. Twelve of those injured were flown up here on three different medical evacuation Blackhawk choppers. We received all of them within 20 minutes of each other and were forced to call a MASCAL (mass casualty). It was only 12 patients, but we couldn't handle them all at one time because they were all urgent, critical, and requiring immediate surgery. When a MASCAL is called, everybody from every shift gets up and reports to their sections. Non-essential hospital personnel report to the hospital gate to help as litter bearers. My job is the only non-hospital one that doesn't do this since we coordinate everything from a distance. Since everybody from the night shift had reported in for duty though, we had enough people, and I went to lend my strength anyway. At the time we had thought that we were going to receive about 20 patients, so I knew they would need all the help they could get. I actually only carried one litter. I had practiced loading and unloading patients from a Blackhawk on dozens of occasions, but actually doing it was something completely different. You know that this man could go at any instant, and the emotion you feel at seeing the damage, the mutilation, that these kinds of bombs can exact, just cannot be described with first being experienced.

For the next few hours the hospital was in anarchy. People were running everywhere. Surgeries were being performed in hallways. I left and got out of everyone's way because I wasn't going to be of any more help. In the end, 3 of the 12 didn't make it. It's sad, but I can say this: if our hospital hadn't been here, the other nine would have died as well. That includes a little boy who couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 years of age. I have never before supported the war, and I still don't, but I can at least say that my unit is doing some good amongst all of the evils. We save the lives of people who are completely innocent, and of those who are not so innocent, every single day. We help those that truly need it, and the meaning of that, the righteousness of what we do, had been lost on me until that moment. I looked into the eyes of that young Iraqi man and knew that what we were doing was so much bigger and more important than me or my comrades. During the year that we are stationed here we will probably give well over a thousand people a second chance at life. A chance that they never would have been given had people like me and the other soldiers in this unit not made the sacrifice to spend a year here in this hellhole of a desert wasteland. Don't get me wrong, I still do not support the war, and I am still incredible home sick. But at least I will be able to walk away from this feeling like I did some good in the world.

Since that day though, all of Iraq has been busy. There have been attacks and large explosions in and around [base city] every single day. Every few hours there has been a loud boom. Very few of these have been direct attacks on the FOB; the majority of them are large VBIEDs or IEDs out in the city itself. However, they have been getting so big that even though they might be a couple of miles away they can be heard as if they are just down the street. We have been forced to jump into our bunkers on countless occasions in recent days. The last one was just last night as two mortars hit somewhere in the city. They were large enough to make us think they had hit the FOB.

A few days ago though, we were actually hit. The attack came at four in the morning and the first round was so loud it woke everyone up. I was slowly but surely coming to when I heard the "Bunkers, bunkers, bunkers" call put out over the PA system by the TOC. At that point I was wide awake and rushing outside my room to the closest bunker (which isn't more than ten or fifteen feet). The attack was slow. Normally ones such as this will have rounds hitting every 30 seconds or so until it ends a minute or two later. In this one, the rounds came spaced at many minutes apart. Just when we were all thinking it was over, a recorded voice came over the loud speaker saying "Incoming, incoming, incoming." We all knew that the incoming round was going to hit close. The alarm system only goes off in the area the radars have predicted the round would hit. And sure enough, only a few seconds later, an incredibly large explosion sounded. It felt like it was right outside the bunker just a few feet away, and the ground shook. It was so close I half expected to see shrapnel flying all around me. That turned out to be the last round. I found out later that it had been an 80mm rocket and that it had hit dead on the top of the hospital. Thankfully, the hospital is a thick, concrete, and bunkered building. The only damage that was done was the destruction of internet and telephone cables.

After the "All Clear" was given, we all had to go report to our sections for battle damage reports and one-hundred percent personnel accountability. Normally we would all be able to go back to bed once we let them know that were here and we were fine. Not this time though. A report came in that an unexploded round was found in the CHU (containerized housing unit/ our living quarters) area. Until it was removed, no one could back to the housing area.

It turns out that a 50mm round came straight down through the roof of one of my battle buddies' rooms. It punctured right through the metal ceiling like a flaming stick through toilet paper, crashed into and destroyed his steel bunk frame, and flew right out the window in spray of glass. The windows to our CHUs are covered in heavy metal blinders too. It ripped through those like they were news paper. Basically, his room was destroyed beyond repair and he and his roommate were forced to pick up everything he owned that wasn't broken (his DVD player was among the casualties) and move to a new room.

This sounds horrible, but in reality, it was somewhat of a miracle. First of all, it didn't explode. Most likely, nobody would have been hurt if it had since everybody had already made it to the bunkers when it struck. All of his stuff would have been destroyed through, along with the rest of the CHUs on the block. It isn't so easy to replace things in Iraq. Second, as I said before, it wasn't the first round to strike. If it had been he might not have made it even if it hadn't exploded since it came thought the ceiling and struck his bunk. It might have hit him in the head. So, this was somewhat of a close call, but relatively little damage was done.

Eventually, the round was removed. Everybody who wasn't currently on shift returned to their rooms, except for the TOC personnel. The one hundred percent accountability report had by this time come in from every section, and it wasn't one hundred percent. There was a single female soldier missing. No one knew where she was or had even seen her since 2000 hours the night before. Considering the recent attack, we were all scared for her. We sent out search parties and looked for her for two hours. Then we called the base defense department and asked them to put out the missing soldier's name over the loud speaker. Eventually she was found. Thankfully, she was fine. She had broken quite a few rules though, and is going to be in the dog house for quite some time.

One more story, I have worked my way though describing all of the significant events of the past week. There is one more and it happened just yesterday. It was the middle of the day and a HUGE bomb went off. We could kind of tell that it was far off, but it was so powerful it rattled the very earth and the walls of the fully concrete building that I was in. Directly following it, there was a lot of SAF (small arms fire). It continued for almost a half hour as a furious battle raged somewhere out in the city.

We contacted base defense to figure out what was happening. They told us that a large and complex attack was being conducted on an Iraqi Police facility just a kilometer north-west of the FOB. It was kicked off when an insurgent with a bomb strapped to his chest drove a mini-van with over 1000 lbs of explosives into the facility. I guess the explosive vest wasn't good enough by itself. Luckily, the good guys lit him up before he reached his destination. Still though, you can imagine the blast radius a VBIED of that size could create. After it exploded all of the insurgents in the area came out of hiding and took up the attack. The battle went on for a while before the uprising was put down. An hour after the original blast we received a report that there were 21 injured police with everything from shrapnel to blast wounds to gun shot wounds. The word of MASCAL swept around the hospital like wild fire. This would be our second in a single week. In the end, only two of the patients came to the hospital. The rest were evacuated to Iraqi hospitals throughout the city itself.

All in all, you can probably see my point when I say that there has been a heightened level of insurgency all throughout Iraq. The best we can do though is to keep our heads down and our whit's about us. When it comes time for us to do our job, we need to buckle down and get to it. People's lives depend upon our proficiency and professionalism.

This has been a long letter and has taken me all day to write. I hope it was too boring and that you all managed to stick with it all the way though. I love you all.

----- Ari

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Just got attacked... AGAIN!!! It is becoming quite the regular thing lately. Normally they hit us in the early morning, but this time it was in broad day light. I was on my way back from lunch when the alarm went off. I immediately dashed off to a bunker. I was just inside when the round hit. The radar system worked like a charm, and gave me just enough time. I stayed there for about a half hour before they finally gave the "All Clear." This is begining to get extremely old. At least it didn't ruin my sleep this time. The last time we were hit directly it was 4:10 in the morning, and by the time everything was cleared up it was time for me to head to work. Since I work till 6 pm every night now, it turned out to be a very long day.

I was just about to send this email when I recieved new info. There were 3 rounds total. They all struck in, near, or around the hospital. There was some damage. Not sure yet what it was. So far everyone is reported ok; no injuries.

I love you all,

----- Ari

----- Mom's Response ------

Ari, my son, now is the time to take care of your mental health. Our bodies are designed to remember events that are painful, can cause injury, etc., as part of our built-in survival mechanisms. If events might cause us harm, we remember them with great clarity so as to learn how to avoid these events in the future. A strong release of adrenalin (epinephrine) is the precipitating hormone.

Adrenalin causes the classic ďstress responseĒ or the ďflight or fight response:Ē Heightened awareness, fast pulse, blood to limbs and away from trunk (to allow one to run or fight), increased blood pressure, increased making and release of excess glucose for the energy needed to fight or flee, etc. All classic sympathetic nervous system responses.

These responses are all normal and important for survival, but they are extremely damaging to the body, both physically and mentally. Too much stress causes the body to break down and begin to become ill (ďstressed outĒ is not just a saying). People prone to hypertension become hypertensive when their blood pressure goes up too often. People prone to diabetes, kill off more of their susceptible beta cells which produce insulin and become diabetic.

The sympathetic nervous system gets turned on automatically, but doesnít shut down automatically. YOU must turn it off. You do this by doing activities that allow the parasympathetic nervous system to work and calm down everything else. This is your ďrest and digestĒ system.

Activities known to work are meditation, yoga, prayer and even moderate aerobic exercise (not too much) which trains your body to rest better or move more efficiently.

If you practice these activities regularly, you can turn them on whenever too much stress occurs and activate your para systems as soon as the dangers are past. The most important reason is that even if you are never injured, you will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and relive these horrific events for YEARS!

Please take what I say seriously! You may have dismissed it before you left. But now that these attacks are ďgetting old,Ē know that those very words tell me you are at risk just like everyone else. Please take extra care of yourself.

Love, Mom

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I hope you're sitting down, because this shocked the shit out of me. This is brand new official news. It WILL be happening and is not a rumor, but the time frames are not yet set in stone.

WE ARE MOVING! We are picking up and moving the entire northern site hospital (us) to a new location. Rather than northern Iraq, we will be in the west. I cannot tell you exactly where, but it is some distance northwest of Baghdad. Don't worry, it is safe there. The info they are putting out is that it is an old Iraqi air base and that is it quite secluded. It's not too close to any large body of people, and so the endless bombing won't be as prominent. It is also a very well established FOB, and will have a larger PX and probably an even better DFAC and gym. All of the rest of the news however, is not so good. We are beginning a completely new hospital. It is not established, and we will have to set EVERYTHING up. Right now they do not have chews. We will once again be living in lovely tents. I'm not sure how I am going to transfer all of my stuff. I wasn't at all prepared for this.

I don't know how the communications set up will compare. I am not expecting to have easy Internet access like I do here. The FOB is well established but the hospital is not. This is going to be a HUGE amount of work, and we will be going down in phases. This means that we will be running 3 separate hospitals at one time for about 8 weeks. We will be running 12 hours days again, at least. It's going to be a very frustrating time. As you can probably tell by how jumbled my thought are, I am not yet sure what to make of this, but I am not excited about it. I don't know what else to say. Oh, and I don't have any idea if leave is even still possible. They said that as of now it is still on but reminded us that it is a privilege and granted based upon mission capabilities.

I love you all,

----- Ari

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