Yesterday was my first time...outside the wire that is. It was a trip, really a trip I don't think I'll ever forget. I went out with the Stealth 7 Personal Security Detail. I felt pretty safe since their job was to pull security and all. The group is from the 2nd Brigade of First ID (Infantry Division). Staff Sergeant Ford and I went out with them to cover a story on the re-opening of a fish market in a city that used to be a bad area.
Thoughts of possible scenarios kept popping in my head while we were driving to our destination. We took a pit stop over at the IZ (International Zone) to pick up some people that were going to be going with us. The MRAP (Mine resistant ambush protected) that we were in didn't have a great view from our seats so all I could see was out the drivers window. I decided I was going to catch my first ride on tape...not only for myself but for those who haven't gone out yet so they could see what "the outside" really looks like. People that have been there always try to tell you what it's going to be like, what your reactions are going to be, but I don't think anyone can really describe the feeling you get when you actually see Baghdad for the first time. The buildings, the people, the garbage, the traffic...its almost overwhelming. There were so many questions I wanted to ask the guys we were riding with, but at the same time I wanted them to focus on the road and their job of keeping us safe.
The Feelings- You know when you are driving along somewhere and you find yourself wound up in the "wrong" side of town. That's almost the feeling you get while driving through Baghdad. You get the same unsafe feeling because you never know where the enemy could be or the next IED could be placed. You are on constant look out for trouble. And you know when you go through those bad parts of town and you get to the part where you go to lock your car door, that's like us holding our weapon tight.
The People- They are all over the place! People are walking everywhere. They walk in front of traffic (one guy even got his foot run over), they walk alongside the road, and they are even walking into each other. The fact that these people are constantly around you makes you even farther on edge. Like I mentioned before, you never know your enemy here...the only site of the "enemy uniform" you see is a guilty look, a nervous sweat, or a suspicious converstation.
The Traffic- Apparently the time of day it was when we were driving through was "rush hour". Every street we turned on was packed with cars. The one thing thats cool about riding in a big heavy armored is that people have to move for you. At one point we just drove on the other side of the road to get through.
The Garbage- Here is another topic people try to describe to a new deployee. They say there is tons of trash...well there really is. There are things just lying all over the place. At one point I saw a pile of trash and garbage bags just thrown on the road.
Okay so all the little topics above may not seem all that interesting, so I'll finally get to the meat of the story...
The instant the door opened once we got to the fish market my heart started pounding. Adrenaline kicked into high gear. The streets were packed with people and everyone is staring at us. The fish market was just this little square enclosed by different buildings. There were fish splashing up and down in these tiny little water pools...and then there were some that were just lying dead on the ground and in crates. There was a fire pit to the side were they were smoking the fish. In the middle of the square there was a podium facing a crowd. Media rep's were there from Iraq and the us and then there was me. The ceremony itself wasn't too long...just some of the important people that helped make the re-opening happen spoke. Of course there was a translater telling the Iraqi's what the Americans were saying. Lots of men, only two women. I noticed that there were only little boys there and no girls. Later on I found out that the girls go to school in the morning and the boys in the evening. They cut a ribbon for the re-opening of the market. SSG Ford and I worked our cameras and got our stories.
But the most interesting things that happened were: I was waiting for one of my interviewee's when a little boy came up to me and says hello...just about the same time SSG Ford comes over and thinks the boy speaks english. He pulls out his voice recorder and sticks it in the boys face saying "can I get an interview with you?" The boy reaches out for the recorder and takes it and sticks it in his pocket thinking it was a gift. That's what the Iraqi's do sometimes, they think Americans will give them gifts and when you stick something out towards them they assume its for them to keep. It was funny then because SSG Ford says no no nono...fortunatly he got it back. I guess he learned his lesson. The other thing that was weird was after my last interview with two Iraqi women, a family came up to me and tried to tell me about their two boys that cannot see or hear. I didn't know what to do or say...an interpreter came over to tell me what they were saying...pretty much they wanted me to tell their boys stories to the public so they could get funding for surgeries. I felt bad but there was nothing I could do personally...Maj Faulkner came over to my rescue and broke contact for me. Like I said before this mission will be something that I will always remember...from the way the people acted, the smell in the air to the images of what I saw.
I can't wait for the next one!! Bring it Iraq!