boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe
BAGHDAD DIARY

I 'Play That Funky Music' As Copters Roar

EDITOR'S NOTE: Chris Elliott, a technical writer from Cambridge and weekend North Shore trumpeter, has been sending us reports from his band's week-long gig in the Iraqi capital. Here is his latest entry:

BAGHDAD, Jan. 19 -- I didn’t need to have set my alarm yesterday morning. I was awakened by a loud announcement pealing from a series of speaker towers located all across the International Zone; “Incoming! Incoming!”

I rolled out of bed and crawled under it, not sure what to expect. A few minutes passed, and the same metallic voice again rang out across the IZ. “All Clear!! All Clear!!”

The early warning system in the International Zone is called “The Big Voice,” and it identifies itself as such during testing; “This is a test of the emergency alert system. This is the Big Voice. This is only a test.”

The early warning system can provide between five and eight seconds in which to duck and cover before a rocket or mortar strikes, and wondered if the Big Voice had been falsely triggered. After the “All Clear” message, I crawled back into bed for another hour of sleep before my day was to begin. It was 6:15 AM.

A half hour later, there was a thunderous explosion that rocked my windows. Perhaps the Big Voice had missed one. “Lockdown!! Lockdown!!” The Big Voice bellowed. Again I rolled under the bed for a few minutes until the Big Voice said, “All Clear!! All Clear!!”

I later found out that the first warning had been triggered by a mortar round that had been fired into the IZ. It was a dud. The second round of course wasn’t a dud, and the early warning system had failed to pick it up. It landed in a field near a checkpoint at a place called Assassin’s Gate, and there were no casualties.

The gig that day was for me at least the most rewarding of all of our performances in Iraq. It was held at 1 PM outside the Gulf Regional Division offices. It was a cool, sunny afternoon, and our audience was Embassy workers from Baghdad. These men and women provide custodial, construction, and other essential services in the IZ.

These are brave, even heroic people who risk their lives on a daily basis working for the US military. They lead double lives to work here, as if they are found out by radical elements living in their own neighborhoods, they and their families would be subject to harassment, even murder.

As our singer Major Mike Pacheco predicted, the front rows were populated by men, the women for the most part feeling that it was not appropriate for them to be there. By the end of the gig there were a dozen of them on stage, dancing and clapping with us. It was a fantastic, surreal gig, perhaps epitomized by two Blackhawk helicopters streaking by 100 feet in the air directly overhead in the middle of Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music White Boy.” You can’t make this stuff up.

Chris Elliott and his trumpet.
Chris Elliott and his trumpet.
SEARCH THE ARCHIVES