Iraq Blog - September 2008
We arrived very early in the morning at Camp Speicher, about 8 miles from the city Tikrit in the northern part of the country between Baghdad and Turkey. Captain Pray, Master Sgt Douglas, Lt Birch, and Sgt Belton (our escorts at the base) greet us with big smiles and give us the rundown of the area, protocol, and our activities for the day which luckily included some rest time since we hadn’t slept the night before. Camp Speicher was a former Iraqi air force academy of Saddam’s and also an Olympic training facility. Our barracks had a painting of an Iraqi fighter jet and the building was riddled with large caliber bullet holes now home to small bats.
As we settled into our barracks squads of humvees, armored vehicles, and assorted other heavy trucks were coming back after a night of patrol. Most of these had bullet holes as well, not necessarily from that night’s activity but surely from previous jaunts outside the base wire. Our escorts pointed out some modifications on these vehicles (especially the underbelly) for extra protection against IED’s, the greatest cause of American casualties. The reality of war and its next dose of reality.
We woke up in time for lunch and walked over the meal hall (DFAC). It was hot but much dryer than Kuwait similar to a summer afternoon in El Paso, not exactly pleasant but tolerable. At least we’re from Texas, can’t imagine how a band from New England or the Pacific Northwest could deal with such a blazing sun. Douglas, Belton, and Birch led us past the security, Ugandan soldiers of both genders hired to guard internal base structures like meal and recreation halls. The Ugandans were on every base for the rest of the trip and the fact that non-US soldiers held such positions would definitely be a point of interest and discussion between the band and our escorts.
After lunch we headed over to the gym which was the location for the show. It had a large stage with chairs set up on the floor (with some room for dancing) and bleacher seating in the back. Across from the gym was a soccer stadium that looked straight out of a Star Wars movie. It was weathered and worn and apparently had a bit of gloomy history. As the story goes one of Saddam’s sons Odai, in charge of some of the national and Olympic sports programs, hung the Iraqi soccer team from the goalposts after being eliminated from the World Cup tournament. We tried not to picture the scene but it was almost impossible not to re-create it in our heads.
The show had a really good turnout and it was awesome to see all the Latino soldiers with their country’s respective flags…Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Honduras and a few more as well. Joey Medina’s comedy set (he did about 20 minutes before each show) really got the crowd going. During the changeover between Joey and the bands’ sets, we presented a banner to the troops from an Austin area middle school. Every student had signed the banner and we could really sense the appreciation from the audience. It was definitely a feel good moment! Thanks to Gilbert for bringing that along.
The response to the band was substantially stronger than the Kuwait show and this was reflected in the amount of dancing (some seriously good moves at that base) and the crowd for the meet and greet after the show. We were encouraged to head across the street where a DJ was spinning salsa, merengue, and bachata and most of the band gladly obliged. The festivities continued for an hour or so and we chatted it up with some soldiers who had been at the show. Mostly light conversation but we could tell that even these simple exchanges made a big difference in the daily grind and routine…the objective of our time there was becoming more obvious.