Long letter from Felipe this morning. The personal bit up front, the longer piece that appeared in Public Affairs Office will be in the extended entry (and it is the good part … I encourage you to read the whole thing).

Date: Thursday, 02 December 2004

Subject: Another Week

Although I am painfully slow at responding, letters and e-mail continue to brighten up my days here, and I just wanted to send my love and appreciation.

Below is a little piece I was asked to write up for the Public Affairs Office, called “A Week in the Life of a Civil Affairs Specialist.” It’s a little heavy on Army-speak, but it’s actually not a bad representation of life here. Thought I’d share it with y’all to give you another perspective on this whole mess. (for the more nervous types among you, you may want to skip Sunday’s entry- I considered editing it out, but the truth is truth).

Lotsa love-

A Week in the Life of a Civil Affairs Specialist

SPC Felipe Perez, 426th Civil Affairs Battalion

Monday, November 22: The weeks around here tend to fade into one another, but my team sergeant reminds me to take my malaria pill today. Must be Monday again. Walked into the Economic Development Team office around 0800 and fell into a big project. The 11th ACR just put out a request for information and they need answers by Tuesday, 1300. My team and I tasked with bringing the 11th ACR up to speed on the state of the local economy, meaning we need to provide them with employment and income statistics, with databases of major employers, banks, contractors, government offices and NGOs doing economic work, and anything else relevant to the pocketbook of the average Iraqi. I spend the day doing research: searching online, reading through our physical files, asking questions on the phone, knocking on doors. By close of business we’ve drafted a 10-page document telling the 11th ACR everything we know and, also, laying out some of the things we don’t know. The day ends as most do; dinner with my regular bunch of enlisteds and NCOs, a little reading (Steinbeck’s “East of Eden”), a DVD (“Dawn of the Dead”), and the gym.

Tuesday, November 23: Spent the morning polishing up our answers to the RFI. Our team has definitely fallen into a good rhythm, and we work well together. When our team chief dropped the project on us yesterday, the two SSGs on the team and I broke the task into pieces and each went to work. My task today was to bring everything together and give it a once over before passing it up to the team chief for his final input and approval. After lunch I began to think of the information gaps that became apparent as we fulfilled our part of the RFI. Although we have excellent databases listing employers, banks, government offices, etc, very little hard data exists regarding the state of the local economy, leaving us unable to answer simple questions such as “what’s the local unemployment rate,” or “what’s average household income.” I talk to my team chief about working with big USAID contractors working in the area to see if we could collaborate on collecting the data (since the University folks want nothing to do with us), and he gives me the green light to look into it. I grab dinner at the end of the day, go back to the hooch, do a little reading, then call it an early night. I have graveyard shift guard duty tonight and I can use a little rest before I start.

Wednesday, November 24: I begin my day in a dark tower, sitting next to a Sergeant, sipping coffee from a care-package thermos, staring at a blacked-out section of northern Mosul. I have no trouble staying alert, not so much because of the nap I took earlier, or even the coffee, but because of the cold. Although every tower comes equipped with a space heater, they do little good against three walls of windows open to the frozen night. Halfway through our shift the monotony is interrupted by the stalled convoy we spot on the road to our northeast. Over the radio we hear that a Stryker’s busted an axle. We monitor the situation for less than an hour and finally watch the convoy roll safely away. While relieved, we’re still cold. My tower partner, only half-jokingly, reminds me that a buddy’s warm stomach is great first aid for frostbitten feet. I make sure my shirt’s tucked in and wait out the rest of my shift. After we’re relieved I hurry to my hooch, kick off my boots, jump under the covers, and sleep through breakfast and lunch. I wake up halfway through the afternoon, hit the gym, grab dinner with friends, and spend the rest of the night jamming on a borrowed guitar with a couple of buddies.

Thursday, November 25: Happy Thanksgiving. I have to thank the big guy upstairs for another year of blessings, so I start my day with a Catholic study group and rosary, after which I meet most of the battalion for lunch at the chow hall. I’ve been pretty good about the gym and, besides, I’ve read that both turkey and sweet potatoes are so-called “power foods,” so I stuff myself without remorse. I take post-meal nap and wake up feeling gluttonous, so I head to the gym. After a couple of hours there I’m ready for dinner, where I once again load up on power foods. I end the day with friends, cards, guitars, and a long phone call to my family; so comfortable and content I almost forget I’m in Iraq.

Friday, November 26: Our battalion is on the firing range today, and my team chief has encouraged us to spend as much time as we need practicing marksmanship. After giving my M4 and my M9 a good pre-cleaning, I head down to the range. It’s muddy and it’s cold, but at least it’s not raining and I’m happy to spend a morning focusing on basic soldiering skills. I spend a few hours there, making sure my rifle is zeroed, shooting from a prone, a kneeling, and a standing position, practicing reflexive fire, and practicing transitions between my M4 and my M9. Of course, I end my morning cleaning up after myself, kneeling in the mud picking up the spent shell casings I fired. It wouldn’t be an Army range otherwise. After lunch I spend the day cleaning my M4, my M9, and my M249. My team is on a convoy mission tomorrow, providing security, and I better make sure each of my weapons is working flawlessly. After taking care of my weapons, I join tomorrow’s driver in giving our Humvee thorough once over, making sure everything is in prime working order. I finish the day by e-mailing a civil affairs officer doing economic development work in Western Mosul, new to the area and looking to get her bearings, a list of the major employers on her side of town along with assessments of each. After dinner I read for a bit and call it an early night, wanting to be well rested and alert for tomorrow’s mission.

Saturday, November 27: Get up early to check my equipment, get dressed, and get my head in the game. We’re on a long convoy today, I’m riding up top as a SAW gunner, and it’s my first time out in a while. It’s exciting to get out, to see some of this country, to meet people, but it’s scary too. We meet at the rally point, muster up, get our convoy brief, and roll out. It’s a clear, cold day, and as we make our hour-long trip to our destination, it’s my job to scan ahead, using my high vantage point to spot obstacles, identify threats and, if necessary, use the big gun to protect my convoy. Thankfully, all is quiet. We arrive without incident, handle our mission, and ride back as smoothly as we rode out. Although we’re back by mid-afternoon, we arrive tired, drained after a day on edge. I write a quick e-mail to a CA officer in Tikrit looking to set up a small loan program there and asking about the nuts and bolts of our local small loan program, and then head down for chow. After dinner I finally finish “East of Eden” and start on “We Were Soldiers Once” and “Young.”

Sunday, November 28: Today I’m scheduled to work as the day’s CMOC gate guard. Essentially, the CMOC gate guard serves as the initial point of entry for local civilians looking to work with or seeking help from our CA battalion. With the help of an interpreter I speak with visitors and find out who they’re here to see, or who can best help them. In the morning I talk to an older gentleman looking for his injured brother-in-law, allegedly caught in the crossfire during a Stryker sweep a week ago and taken into care by Army medics. After calling the Public Health team chief, I took as much information on the incident as possible, which I then passed along to the team chief for him to research. Around lunchtime 3 men came looking for help in dealing alleged abuses they’d suffered at the hands of Kurdish militia members. My interview with them was interrupted by a huge boom, and I caught a glimpse of smoke and debris as I grabbed the guy next to me and dove for the ground. Two mortars landed 15 feet away. Lucky for us, they landed just on the other side of a short wall of concrete traffic barriers. After rushing everyone into a nearby bunker and making sure the situation was stable, I joined the civilians under cover and finished the interview. The remainder of the day was thankfully uneventful, and I met my usual bunch for dinner at the end of the shift. After the usual reading, movie, and gym time, I went to bed wondering “is tomorrow malaria pill day?”

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