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Dear Everybody! Letters from front lines in Iraq

(Editor’s note: The following is the second of an occasional series of letters from Army Capt. Michael A. DeLaughter which give a glimpse into the everyday life of the deployed soldier.)
CAMP TAQQADUM, Iraq — Capt. Michael A. DeLaughter is a Transportation Corps officer serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq. He is assigned to the 69th Transportation Company at Camp Taqqadum, Iraq. His sister, Cindy Robertson, works at the Volvo Plant in Dublin and resides in Giles County with her family.
16 May 2008
Dear Everybody,
Greetings from Camp Taqaddam (TQ for short), and, surprise, I am once again on an airfield right next to the runway.
We flew out of Ali-Asilam, a Kuwaiti air base that we share with them.
My first time in Iraq the U.S. piece was no more that two large tents and a couple of portable toilets.
Now, the place is huge.
It has everything, including a McDonald’s.
The hardened aircraft hangers still bear a silent witness to the Gulf War of 1991.
Slabs of concrete three feet thick and 20 feet across that were blown from the roofs by bunker busters lay scattered by the base of the hangers and lean against the sides.
We loaded into a C-130 and headed north.
I was the last one on because I needed to be the first of my company to have boots on ground in Iraq — first in, last out.
TQ is located next to Lake Habbanyah.
It was a vacation spot back when Saddam ran the country.
The remains of his bomber fleet are next to the chow hall (which is called “Bomber Dining Facility” — very fitting, if not very imaginative), bright silvery aircraft of 1960’s Soviet technology.
He is gone, and his bombers are now just lawn ornaments and photo opportunities.
Being next to the lake has some advantages and some distinct disadvantages;.
First, it is very pretty to look at.
The water is a shimmering blue-green surrounded by yellow-gray dunes.
Second, when the wind blows, the humidity off of the lake makes it feel a little cooler (95 instead of 102).
The best part is that there is no water rationing like there was in Kuwait where the water was trucked in.
We have our own water processing plant which uses Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units (ROWPUs for short).
The bad part is the lake is a lot like the tree in the Garden of Eden.
We can look but not touch.
Theories as to why the no-swimming rule range from flesh-eating bacteria to a general’s plane being mooned as it flew over and everything in between.
The other disadvantage is when the wind does stop blowing (every day from about 1 to 3 in the afternoon), all of that humidity settles on the camp.
Think of a sauna in Death Valley, and you will just about have it.
We are living in either converted office trailers or 20-by-40 foot converted shipping containers.
Each has its own A/C, a must out here, and door.
From my door to the latrines is about 100 meters, just over the length of a football field (and a long walk in the middle of the night).
The chow hall is 800 meters away, or just under one-half a mile.
We will get our exercise one way or the other.
Iraq wasted no time in greeting us.
This morning a dust storm blew in.
The sky is a hazy orange color, and visibility is down to about 10 feet.
I just read “The worst hard time”, about the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s, and although I can never say I have lived through such hardship (and, God willing I never will), I can empathize with them.
They had a very dry spring this year here at TQ, so I can look forward to more of the same weather.
Which of course leads us to the subject of dust, but not your average household dust that you wipe off before company comes calling.
No, the dust around here is dust with attitude.
I have seen entire semi trucks disappear in clouds of “moon dust.”
It coats every surface and flows into the corners making tiny dunes.
It will come in through any crack or crevice.
The only thing that will stop it is expanding foam.
We must be the world’s largest consumers of the stuff.
I will have bright shiny teeth when I get back because the grit I get just by breathing will scrub out the stains — either that or my teeth will be worn down to nubs.
The convoy marshaling yard is right next to the company area, where the trucks line up for final checks prior to hitting the road. Since we run at night (less traffic equals more security), all that I can see of the trucks are their taillights — round red lights stretching off in the distance like Christmas ornaments on a very long, low tree.
I saw my first troopers off tonight, my first ones to go into harm’s way.
I don’t know which is worse, driving the roads of Iraq or being left behind when your soldiers do.
We are still in the “left seat/right seat” phase of assuming the mission, which is where the unit we are replacing shows us the routes and what to expect when we get to our destinations.
Once we actually do assume the mission, I will be on the first 69th Transportation Company pure company convoy.
One of the best things about being the captain is that I get to pick and choose the routes that I go on.
I will go out with each of my platoons.
Leaders lead from the front.
30 May 2008
True to my word, my first 69th pure convoy rolled out last night, and so did I.
We drive at night to lower the threat of enemy activity and reduce the amount of interaction we have with the local drivers.
Yes, it is safer, but the roads we drive on are roads in name only mostly and the afore- mentioned dust can reduce visibility down to about 3 meters (15 feet), and coats every surface in the trucks (see the gritty teeth comment above).
Iraq is a country of interesting dichotomies.
When Saddam ran the country, it was one of the most “Western” in the region, second only to Turkey.
Yet, he bought his equipment from the Soviets and their satellite countries (one of the airbases here was built by the Yugoslavs), and he, despite his westerly leanings, was one of the most ruthless dictators of the 20th century.
The landscape still bears these scars.
We drove for two and one-half hours last night on single lane, pot-hole infested, wash-board ridden road only to turn on to a six- lane highway to reach our destination.
Six hours later, we drove that same route to return to base and finish the mission.
Tomorrow, we will have the Transfer of Authority (TOA) ceremony and officially take the mission.
My troopers are chomping at the bit to get on the road and show just what the Samurai (our company call sign, which comes from the armor we wear which resembles the armor worn in medieval Japan) of the 69th Transportation Company can do.

Take care,
Mike

Dear Everybody! Letters from front lines in Iraq

(Editor’s note: The following is the second of an occasional series of letters from Army Capt. Michael A. DeLaughter which give a glimpse into the everyday life of the deployed soldier.)
CAMP TAQQADUM, Iraq — Capt. Michael A. DeLaughter is a Transportation Corps officer serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq. He is assigned to the 69th Transportation Company at Camp Taqqadum, Iraq. His sister, Cindy Robertson, works at the Volvo Plant in Dublin and resides in Giles County with her family.
16 May 2008
Dear Everybody,
Greetings from Camp Taqaddam (TQ for short), and, surprise, I am once again on an airfield right next to the runway.
We flew out of Ali-Asilam, a Kuwaiti air base that we share with them.
My first time in Iraq the U.S. piece was no more that two large tents and a couple of portable toilets.
Now, the place is huge.
It has everything, including a McDonald’s.
The hardened aircraft hangers still bear a silent witness to the Gulf War of 1991.
Slabs of concrete three feet thick and 20 feet across that were blown from the roofs by bunker busters lay scattered by the base of the hangers and lean against the sides.
We loaded into a C-130 and headed north.
I was the last one on because I needed to be the first of my company to have boots on ground in Iraq — first in, last out.
TQ is located next to Lake Habbanyah.
It was a vacation spot back when Saddam ran the country.
The remains of his bomber fleet are next to the chow hall (which is called “Bomber Dining Facility” — very fitting, if not very imaginative), bright silvery aircraft of 1960’s Soviet technology.
He is gone, and his bombers are now just lawn ornaments and photo opportunities.
Being next to the lake has some advantages and some distinct disadvantages;.
First, it is very pretty to look at.
The water is a shimmering blue-green surrounded by yellow-gray dunes.
Second, when the wind blows, the humidity off of the lake makes it feel a little cooler (95 instead of 102).
The best part is that there is no water rationing like there was in Kuwait where the water was trucked in.
We have our own water processing plant which uses Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units (ROWPUs for short).
The bad part is the lake is a lot like the tree in the Garden of Eden.
We can look but not touch.
Theories as to why the no-swimming rule range from flesh-eating bacteria to a general’s plane being mooned as it flew over and everything in between.
The other disadvantage is when the wind does stop blowing (every day from about 1 to 3 in the afternoon), all of that humidity settles on the camp.
Think of a sauna in Death Valley, and you will just about have it.
We are living in either converted office trailers or 20-by-40 foot converted shipping containers.
Each has its own A/C, a must out here, and door.
From my door to the latrines is about 100 meters, just over the length of a football field (and a long walk in the middle of the night).
The chow hall is 800 meters away, or just under one-half a mile.
We will get our exercise one way or the other.
Iraq wasted no time in greeting us.
This morning a dust storm blew in.
The sky is a hazy orange color, and visibility is down to about 10 feet.
I just read “The worst hard time”, about the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s, and although I can never say I have lived through such hardship (and, God willing I never will), I can empathize with them.
They had a very dry spring this year here at TQ, so I can look forward to more of the same weather.
Which of course leads us to the subject of dust, but not your average household dust that you wipe off before company comes calling.
No, the dust around here is dust with attitude.
I have seen entire semi trucks disappear in clouds of “moon dust.”
It coats every surface and flows into the corners making tiny dunes.
It will come in through any crack or crevice.
The only thing that will stop it is expanding foam.
We must be the world’s largest consumers of the stuff.
I will have bright shiny teeth when I get back because the grit I get just by breathing will scrub out the stains — either that or my teeth will be worn down to nubs.
The convoy marshaling yard is right next to the company area, where the trucks line up for final checks prior to hitting the road. Since we run at night (less traffic equals more security), all that I can see of the trucks are their taillights — round red lights stretching off in the distance like Christmas ornaments on a very long, low tree.
I saw my first troopers off tonight, my first ones to go into harm’s way.
I don’t know which is worse, driving the roads of Iraq or being left behind when your soldiers do.
We are still in the “left seat/right seat” phase of assuming the mission, which is where the unit we are replacing shows us the routes and what to expect when we get to our destinations.
Once we actually do assume the mission, I will be on the first 69th Transportation Company pure company convoy.
One of the best things about being the captain is that I get to pick and choose the routes that I go on.
I will go out with each of my platoons.
Leaders lead from the front.
30 May 2008
True to my word, my first 69th pure convoy rolled out last night, and so did I.
We drive at night to lower the threat of enemy activity and reduce the amount of interaction we have with the local drivers.
Yes, it is safer, but the roads we drive on are roads in name only mostly and the afore- mentioned dust can reduce visibility down to about 3 meters (15 feet), and coats every surface in the trucks (see the gritty teeth comment above).
Iraq is a country of interesting dichotomies.
When Saddam ran the country, it was one of the most “Western” in the region, second only to Turkey.
Yet, he bought his equipment from the Soviets and their satellite countries (one of the airbases here was built by the Yugoslavs), and he, despite his westerly leanings, was one of the most ruthless dictators of the 20th century.
The landscape still bears these scars.
We drove for two and one-half hours last night on single lane, pot-hole infested, wash-board ridden road only to turn on to a six- lane highway to reach our destination.
Six hours later, we drove that same route to return to base and finish the mission.
Tomorrow, we will have the Transfer of Authority (TOA) ceremony and officially take the mission.
My troopers are chomping at the bit to get on the road and show just what the Samurai (our company call sign, which comes from the armor we wear which resembles the armor worn in medieval Japan) of the 69th Transportation Company can do.

Take care,
Mike