'I've seen so much ... understand so little'
EDITOR'S NOTE: Chris Elliott, a technical writer from Cambridge and weekend trumpeter, has been sending us reports from his band's week-long gig in the Iraqi capital. This is his final entry.
The most surprising thing about the Rhino ride from the International Zone along Route Irish was the traffic. It was thick as a morning commute. There were dozens of military vehicles, 18-wheelers, and other heavy machinery coming from the other direction as our convoy zigzagged through a series of Jersey barriers that made Route Irish into a slalom course.
At times we were flying down the road, and then there were moments when the convoy stopped altogether. We were so buried in the middle if it we couldnt see what the holdup was.
I believe the US Army saved our lives that night, because if they didnt display that unerring professionalism on every Rhino run, then every Rhino run would be at greater risk. After the half-hour ride, we were hurried off the Rhino to be processed for a tent assignment. It was done without fanfare or farewell, or even a chance to thank the soldiers who as
part of their bargain with Uncle Sam had risked their lives bringing 10 civilian musicians out of the International Zone.
We were processed at Camp Strikers front office building, a cozy wooden structure, austere, but heated nicely against the 40-degree chill of Iraqs winter nights. We were given a blanket and a tent assignment. K3.
The soldier handling the paperwork was a smart, efficient, and serious young man, Id guess to be about 30. His left hand was missing.
Each tent held about 20 cots, some with a 2-inch thick mattress, some without. The cots were OK, but I was disappointed and a bit angry for our soldiers that they werent being issued good wool blankets.
The blankets were very thin and very poor quality. This time of year it gets cold and uncomfortable in Iraq, and its really troubling that military hardware is so high a priority relative to the basic creature comforts for the people doing the fighting.
We were driven to Baghdad International Airport the next morning, having played soldier for a day. We had trudged in the weird, silvery gray metallic mud that forms in a desert after a rain, we had tossed and turned in a bony cot under a thin blanket, and we had risen before the sun. Big deal. Our fighting men and women do that every day.
Im back home now in Portsmouth, N.H. Ive spent the evening with a dear friend, and Ive debriefed a bit. I've seen so much, and I understand so little.