I haven’t been posting letters from Felipe recently because he hasn’t been writing. Fear not. Felipe is (relatively) safe and sound, and wrote a lengthy missive recounting some of his activities.

Highlights include:

1) Offering up advice to people important enough to act upon it;

2) Hanging out on top of a HumVee with a giant machine gun (no more ambushes reported);

3) Smoking apple tobacco from a hooka in Qatar;

4) Cross cultural karaoke.

Hang in there, Felipe. We’re still pulling for you (and eagerly awaiting your next installment).

From: Felipe Perez
Date: March 26, 2005
Subject: Two Months in Mosul

It has been that long since my last e-mail, written while stranded at a desolate base in Southern Nineveh (that’s the name of the province, the same Nineveh that the Biblically oriented among you may have heard of already) on election night. The upshot is I’m fine- doing pretty well, actually. But for any worry my silence has caused, my apologies. So, what have I been doing?

Public Affairs Officer- Somtime around new year’s, and until just a few weeks ago, I was the battalion PAO. Basically, I was the unit cheerleader. It sucked. I had to take the complicated, frustrating, dangerous reality of trying to work in this place and distill it into cheery weekly news releases. Not that I ever lied, but sins of ommission, you know? Whatever, I can accept the fact that part of our mission as Civil Affairs here is to not only improve the physical reality for Iraqis, but also their perception of their situation. The tough part was the feeling of watching from the sidelines, reporting and not contributing. BUT- what the position did give me was almost unlimited access into the workings and projects of every team (public works, public safety, health, education, economic development, refugees) in every base we work at (Mosul, Dohuk, Irbil). I’ve learned the ground truth about how insanely hard our mission here is in the last few months, which is probably how I got wrangled into my current position:

Goverment Transition Team allpurposesmartguy- Because of my extremely junior rank they can’t really give me an official title, because then it would have to fall in the official chain of command and get all messy. Anyway, the point of the GTT is this: the coalition used to be of the “I don’t care how it gets done just do it” mindset on everything from capturing insurgents and destroying weapons caches to drilling wells and building schools. Now, at least on the schools, wells, etc, side the thinking goes “we need to get it done, but we need to do it with and through the new government.” Since I seem to be the only soldier in Northern Iraq who raised his hand when they asked “does anyone know anything about this government and policy and democracy stuff”, they pretty much threw me in the deep end of the pool. Example- yesterday I briefed the Coalition Chief of Staff for Northwest Iraq on the Provincial Government’s ability to efficiently, effectively, and democraticly provide essential public services to it’s citizens (short answer: good luck). Anyway, these days I spend lots of time in meeting with old, high ranking officers who give me the “who brought the kid” look.

Gunnin': At the end of the day, I’m still a grunt, and I spend a few days a week popped out the roof of a Humvee manning a machine gun and making sure nobody screws with us. We keep getting bigger and bigger guns, too, which is sort of cool, since they are a pretty good deterrent. I pray we never have to use them.

Qatar (pronounced “cutter”): Spent four days of r & r at a quiet army base in the tiny, rich gulf state of Qatar. Sat by the pool, ate at chili’s, drank my allotted three beers a night , smoked some apple tobacco from a hooka pipe, and slept in. Had a great time seeing a buddy from grad school- Jesse Reyes- who now lives and works in Qatar and, since I last saw him, has grown a beard which he likes to describe as “woodsy.” I’m not sure how well “woodsy” translates for a society with desert nomad roots.

Weather: it randomly snowed in February, and then it rained and rained for friggin’ ever, and then it started getting hot (but not uncomfortably so) and now it’s chilly again. whine whine whine. i’ll look back fondly on these months when its 100 in a few weeks.

karaoke: the moral welfare and recreation (MWR) folks did a karaoke night at the gym palace tonight. i’m pretty rusty, but since there were only like 10 english speakers there (the rest were turkish or iraqi base employees), no harm, no foul.

And that was a simultaneously too long and too short account of my last two months in mosul. I promise not to wait so long til the next update.

Much love-
Felipe

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