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Last March, Michael R. Moebes was a paralegal at Drew Eckl & Farnham and a nearly graduated student at Georgia State University College of Law. A quick telephone call informed him he had about 36 hours to get ready to captain an Air National Guard unit that would evacuate wounded soldiers in the Persian Gulf. Along with moving patients to and from waiting airplanes and helicopters, Moebes fought his war on the Internet. Doctors would request that patients be evacuated to better-equipped hospitals, and Moebes would log on to a secure Web site to arrange the transportation. Working on the computer so often gave Moebes a rare opportunity for a soldier in a combat zone: He could communicate regularly with family and friends via e-mail — which he did through group messages to about 100 recipients. Moebes’ e-mails created a diary of his time on the ground in Kuwait and Iraq, and they form the basis for this series. Part One, which was published Wednesday, started March 15, when Moebes’ Tennessee-based unit was activated and sent to Camp Wolf near Kuwait City. It ended April 30, by which time American and British forces had overrun Baghdad. On May 1, President Bush was flown to an aircraft carrier off the coast of California. There he announced, “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” That same day, Moebes wrote that his unit would be moving to Iraq within four or five days. On May 6, Moebes wrote that he’d been issued his own Humvee, just as he was issued a pair of socks or a canteen belt. On May 9, Georgia State University College of Law issued hoods and diplomas to the class of 2003. May 11 camp wolf looks like the hilton compared to this place. before we had gravel everywhere. i felt like i lived in a flea market parking lot. here, it’s dust. camp wolf had port-o-johns. here, we have a wooden outhouse-looking thing. camp wolf had a chow hall. here, we have MREs [Meals Ready-to-Eat]. camp wolf had several showers. here we have wet wipes. wolf had a/c; we have none. list goes on and on. the nice thing about this place, though, is the lack of sound and light pollution. the first night we arrived, gilliam [Capt. Shane Gilliam, Moebes' buddy and his team's flight nurse] and i sat on the hood of our humvee for an hour and just looked at the sky. it’s amazing. even w/ only a half-moon, there’s enough light to see w/o a flashlight. this camp was the iraqi air force academy once. where we are is a dustbowl, but down the road a bit are some nice facilities from the former property’s use. i jumped on the back of a huge dump truck last night, rode a few kilometers down the road, and was able to get a 7-minute shower. it was great. very needed. i stood in line for 45 minutes beforehand, and learned that the guy behind me was from Dothan, AL and had received a partial scholarship to U. of Alabama [Moebes' alma mater]. i had fun talking to him about different members of the football team while waiting to de-dustify. we’ve been told nothing about the duration of our deployment. one day recently, while still at camp wolf, the colonel went down the list of everyone’s elements and told them when they’d go home. most were late may or late june. when she got to our group, she just said, “you guys are heading north, so no one really knows.” i suspect mid-september, the 6 months point. the first night we spent in our tent, (the night we arrived we slept in the hospital), some army folks came and got us to help them, even though we had not been able to set up all our communication equipment yet. one of the medevac helos from this facility had crashed while carrying a patient. “we have a blackhawk down,” i kept hearing people say. it was sad seeing the pilot who had survived reacting to the news from the EMT about the one who was hurt. we aerovac’d him out for some help. hope he’s okay. they crashed into a river, so the patient was under water for over 5 minutes. congrats to those who graduated and participated in the hooding ceremony friday. hope they saved mine for later. Moebes left for Kuwait intending to keep up with his studies, taking bar review materials with him in the vain hope that he could come home soon and take the July exam. He never opened the books. Moebes said he did call on his legal skills a few times, as comrades who heard he was a law student occasionally asked for his advice. He helped a friend who received a “Dear John” e-mail from his wife research divorce law, accessing the LexisNexis Web site and using his Georgia State student account number. May 12 i’ve heard this place is called “camp anaconda” (in case news is ever broadcast from here, which i doubt, since i’ve heard that there’s next to no coverage any more). i never wrote about my trip here [to Iraq]. the reason my trip was delayed is because the airplane lost an engine. luckily, this realization was made while we were still on the ground. for 45 minutes, we sat in our uniforms, kevlar helmets, and flak vests while holding our bags in our laps and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in what was estimated to be 130-140 degree heat. my camelback was quickly drained; we couldn’t get up and get more water b/c the plane was supposedly about to take off (engines were running, making it hotter inside). it was hell. we exited the aircraft and lay beside the tarmac in the sand for a couple of hours while the front-end crew tried to figure out what was wrong. eventually they gave up, and we had to return back to camp wolf and sleep in tents full of people with whom we’d already traded “goodbyes” and experienced closure. the next day, we sat outside the terminal in the sun all day. i read most of “the testament” and learned how to play spades fairly well. then we learned our humvee had been sent without us. a few hours later, we had the colonel pull some strings to get us on the next c-130 headed for balad. luckily the vehicle was waiting for us beside the runway when we arrived, and all our junk was in the back. so, now we’re here. i got some iraqi money today (traded for $1.50) from the guy who was cleaning our outhouse. he let me try on a turban he was trying to sell. i asked for a picture with him, and he summoned all in his group to pose with us. so, for a few seconds, no sandbags were filled and no plywood poopers were cleaned, because i had to have a picture with some iraqis while wearing a turban. May 14 yesterday we got to don the much-missed chem suit and gas mask (including the nicely-breathing rubber boots and gloves) b/c we had 22 patients come in who had a drum of nerve agent spill and contaminate them. the folks here didn’t want to risk any exposure for the rest of us. they’re doing fine now. it was a little ironic, b/c i’d bragged about the fact that i got to miss the mass casualty exercise at my guard unit during april that i was supposed to help plan. then i come here and have a real one. i talked to an army comm person who’s been here a while, and she said that we actually helped build this facility over 20 years ago while trying to get on iraq’s good side. much of it was bombed during desert storm, but it was actually a nice facility until the looting that occurred not long ago. the looters even took all the toilets. May 19 We had a couple of young Iraqi men come in here as burn patients. they were hurt while riding bikes carrying gun powder/explosives towards one of our convoys. I guess they didn’t get the “the war is over” memo. We won’t be aerovacing them. I think they should be left outside our perimeter to slowly cook in the desert sun. Had my 6-year anniversary of getting commissioned Friday. Celebrated by putting on my uniform and acting like I’m in a war zone. May 20 Tried to go to bed early but was too hot to sleep, so I went outside and found one of the nurses in our tent, Kate, sitting w/ an Iraqi on our “porch.” His name was Mohommed. Some of his family had been killed by “the old regime,” he said. He is now supporting the rest of his family and his cousins by acting as a translator to our camp. Recently he spent 5 hours translating intel for the CIA from a guy who was a bodyguard for the former regime and whose cousin still works for them. I wasn’t sure how much I should ask about, but he did say Saddam and Uday [Saddam's son] were still alive; he revealed that yes, of course there were weapons of mass destruction being developed, and that the suspicions regarding ties to terrorism and Iraq and Syria (and other countries here) are well-founded. Mohommed is a student in Baghdad. He is one of only 50 Iraqis with 2 degrees. In his class were students who were Jews, Palestinians, Kurds, Turks, and Iraqis, and they all got along very well, he said. His school is $1 a year. He told a story of a “fair” of sorts at his university that was to be attended by Uday Hussein. Mohommed was very sick, but he didn’t want to miss the fair, so he slept on the ground at the fair’s location, so he’d be there the next day when it started (I didn’t really understand the rationale for this decision, but I didn’t interrupt him). He was so sick and weak that he could not give Uday whatever the proper respect/reverence should have been, so Uday yelled at him. Mohommed told him why he could not get up and about his dedication to not missing Uday’s role in the fair, but the next thing Mohommed knew, a couple of thugs were picking him up and putting him into a large car. They were driving him away to kill him. The car stopped; the driver told him to get out and run away. Mohommed said this driver was killed for letting him go. He said the Iraqi people are very courageous now, though they used to be very afraid. He’s had a lot of translating work to do, since we’ve been taking care of different locals who find their way here (like the ones trying to kill us); one’s father is the #6 guy on our “most wanted” list. May 23 drove to the base finance office and signed up for savings program for deployed military personnel that gives 10% interest on up to $10k. pretty cool; too bad i’ve already maxed out. last night, we finally got a shower tent built. after my shower, i was hanging out with an Army guard group when someone said there was a “firestorm” outside. often at night, they look out toward the perimeter and can watch local iraqis firing from the ground at our helos; the tracers illuminate the darkness. kinda like seeing a fireworks show. so far, they’ve never hit one. the helos fly w/o lights and would be very hard to hit w/o radar. it was fun to watch. about 5am today, it rained for nearly 10 minutes. first rain i’ve seen since getting to iraq. mohommed told me a group of army soldiers were trying to eat their MREs the other day when a stray dog approached and wouldn’t leave, even when they tried to yell at it. mohommed walked over and told them the dog only spoke arabic and then proceeded to successfully command the dog to go away. all were impressed. still moving lots of patients each day. many are suicidal, have kidney stones, or have hernias. but there are still gunshot wounds. speaking of moving, the plywood poopers were moved, too. the flies took a day to find the new location, so for 24h, we could go in w/o 100 flies attacking us. good times. With the president having declared victory, Moebes says he expected there would be few battle casualties when he reached Iraq. “I was wrong, and it was surprising, disappointing,” he says now. Moebes says the war did not prompt him to rethink his career goals, but “it made me really appreciate and miss the nice environment you have in an office — air-conditioning, and no one shooting at you.” Being in a combat zone had its financial benefits, however. Military tax breaks, a $225 per month hazardous duty bonus and a housing allowance, along with his captain’s salary, totaled around $6,000 per month, he estimates. That’s actually about $417 less per month than what Drew Eckl would have paid him had he graduated from school, passed the bar and started as an associate. In relative terms, Moebes says the United States paid Mohommed well: About $10 per day. Iraqi laborers who dug latrines and did other odd jobs got paid $1 per day, plus three MREs. May 24 a laundry tent has been added to our camp. i dropped off my sleeping bag; it was destroyed. the army is ordering me another one (not that i need it w/ the heat like it is). last night gilliam and i were watching “boogie nights” [on Moebes' mini DVD player] when the trip flare went off. i didn’t know what that was. gilliam saw it; we ran outside and watched the horizon (as did several other soldiers from around the camp). then we heard our guard tower guys shooting M-60s. the flare goes off when someone invades the perimeter. we have a well-guarded outer perimeter, and then we at the 21st CSH [Combat Support Hospital] have a smaller perimeter that surrounds just our compound. it isn’t guarded, but it has a berm and concertina wire that surrounds us. anyway, we’re safe. we had a hot meal last night. normally the chow hall just hands out MREs, but gradually, i think they’re going to start actually cooking. also had milk. after gilliam and i had finished drinking them, i realized they were more than 30 days past their “best if used by” date. he got sick. i was fine (i’ve always been able to drink spoiled milk w/o problems. odd talent). May 28 [At Camp Wolf in Kuwait], people we hit, the enemy hit, or folks who just got caught in the crossfire somehow received care wherever they were hurt, were aerovac’d to a better facility if they needed it, and then were returned to what was left of their homes. they were called “displaced iraqi citizens” b/c they were previously lumped into the EPW [enemy prisoner of war] category, and EPWs are obviously treated differently. we had to keep their staying with us a secret, b/c some of the soldiers who were passing through camp wolf wanted to kill them. here, we give care to the locals who are in danger of losing life, limb, or sight. ER trauma-type stuff. they’ll show up at our perimeter, the MPs on duty will call and talk to our hospital commander, and he’ll decide if the patient will get care or not. then mohommed or ben, our translators, will talk to them to assess their health care needs. or, if they’re really lucky, they’ll be hauled off somewhere secluded and be interrogated by the CIA for 5 hours, and then mohommed will tell me what they said. i think i had a date last night. May 31 the last few days here have been hectic. several convoys have been fired upon w/in the vicinity, so the wounded ended up here. i know when someone has died in the CSH b/c i wake up with no power in our tent. the army takes the generators used in the sleeping tents area to power cooling devices in the mortuary area. so, I’m always happy to see my fan working when the alarm goes off each morning. w/in the past few days, we’ve been able to get C-130s to come here and get patients. we were having to transport them via helo to baghdad to fly out, but the helos have been overused and require maintenance now, and w/ all the shootings lately, the hospital commander has forbidden transporting patients via ambulances to baghdad. previously, the runway here was thought unfit for patient loads (it has huge holes in it from our bombing it. people are working on it every day though). our last C-130 mission brought a nice surprise — the plane was from nashville, and the crew was from camp wolf. so, we saw some old friends. they had a cooler w/ cold cokes in it. the first one i’ve had since deploying. last night we had a mass casualty. an LMTV (i don’t know what that is, i think a large truck) overturned. we should be able to evac the ones who are still alive today (fan wasn’t on this morning). i was still at “the office” when they arrived around 2200 last night. one was screaming because another had apparently died. i was still hearing his screams at 0300 when i couldn’t sleep. thought i was used to that stuff by now, but guess i’m not. more rain last night and strong winds. as the storm began, gilliam and i quickly filled 30 sandbags to keep our tent from blowing away. it worked. June 3 had hoped to write this message last night but got a better offer and left (watched sunset from atop pyramid-like hangar w/ girl from date referenced earlier). yesterday, for the first time, i got to leave the concertina wire border and venture into the town of balad. four of the army guard folks from next door were going and invited gilliam and me; we rode in the back of one of their ambulances (they took two). i don’t want to sound sacrilegious, but when we stopped and got out, i felt like jesus. when these folks see an american vehicle with a red cross on it, they run up and expect us to be able to heal them. a teen showed me his badly scraped elbows from a motorcycle accident; a woman held up her sick child; an old man tried to explain his lower back pain. all we wanted to do was to find some cokes and fruit. they told us how happy they were to see us there. the army guard guys were getting yeast, sugar, and fruit. not sure exactly what they plan to do w/ these items, but they seemed to be very excited to be getting them. i ate a couple of plums there, talked to some of the children, and took some pictures. we then crossed the street and had lunch — first restaurant meal i’ve had since the one at the Baltimore airport on our trip out here. i think it was a fairly nice restaurant, judging from the dress of the other patrons and look of the place. had lamb, rice, beans, potatoes, and several canned pepsis (cold). tasted great and only cost $7. the man who greeted and served us was very friendly. he sat at our table and talked to us while we ate. he spoke good english. he said he was very happy to see us there and was glad our troops had come to free his country. also said, though, that we had arrested some of his family members b/c of suspicions that they’d helped hide chemical ali [Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam Hussein reported to have ordered the 1988 chemical attack on the Kurds; he is now in U.S. custody.] he said he understood the troops’ concern and wasn’t angry about it. as we left, he offered to get a big cake from baghdad to bake for us on my b-day next weekend if we could come back. next, we drove further into town for some fans. instead of 5-7 people walking up, there were probably 50. i was scared. they ran up to our ambulance. lots were climbing on the hood and reaching through the windows. they wanted to touch us, congratulate us, and kiss us. they were enthusiastic without being pushy — until they saw lacy. lacy is a 19-year-old medic with blond hair and green eyes, and, according to a paper posted on the outhouse wall, is the #2 “hottest girl at the 21st CSH.” some of the teenage men started offering me money for her and trying to get in to see her. i made her close the little door that separated the back of the ambulance from the cab and stay behind it. a few minutes later, the guys were finished shopping, so we left w/o shooting anyone or running anyone over. the drive back was nice. passed farmers in the field who stopped to wave or give a “thumbs up,” little girls in dresses exiting a schoolyard, and little boys swimming in an irrigation canal who yelled “i love america!” June 5 forgot a tidbit from balad trip. the locals thought my sunglasses had x-ray vision. it was funny. our server at the restaurant looked at them and asked, “you glasses let see panties, yes?” i said, “yes, they do!” he wanted to try them on, but i wouldn’t let him (so did the owner, cashier, and other patrons). he insisted, “you must let me use your glasses” then, more quietly, “i want to look at her” and pointed to lacy. i said, “it ain’t worth it; she’s not wearing any!” this made the whole restaurant laugh. heard we have a couple of iraqi patients in here b/c at the end of a local wedding, when the audience shot their guns in the air, the bullets came down onto part of the crowd. smart tradition. another of our patients had a gunshot wound to the head. he’s an iraqi who got the injury while lying in wait to ambush some of our troops just barely outside the north gate here. our guys shot him; now we’re taking care of him. unfortunately, there was a lot of fighting last night. the sky resembled a 4th of july party as trip flares in red, green and white exploded in the sky (colors signify proximity). i could hear distant mortar rounds and 60-cal guns, too. from what i hear, at least one american was killed; others were hurt. didn’t sleep much, especially since we had to be up at 0330 to launch an early flight. June 8 well, y’day was my 28th b-day. i appreciate the e-cards, packages, and well-wishes i received from many of y’all. the day went well. gilliam and i were awakened at 0400 b/c a surprise aerovac flight was being sent our way in a few hours. got up and took care of loading the patients and readying them for the flight etc. sat on the tarmac ’til the plane took off and ate jambalaya MRE on humvee tailgate. went back to work for a few hours and then went back to the balad restaurant for a b-day lunch. this time it was much more crowded. i was a little uneasy w/ all the stares we received. one large table of male patrons came over after we’d eaten and wanted pictures with us. they were very friendly and seemingly happy to see us. they were from iran. there were others there from turkey, according to the owner, they were there for some kind of muslim event. i couldn’t really understand what he was saying. after we’d eaten, the owner came over and told me my food was “without money.” he refused to let anyone give any money for my meal, since it was my b-day. he introduced himself as “lateef.” went back to work for rest of the day. at 1830, the docs were having a small party in the specialty clinic and asked that i come. the psychiatrist (i work out w/ him sometimes) told everyone it was my b-day, so they sang and embarrassed me. then i decided i’d swing by the army guard tent. on my way, i saw a nurse i didn’t really know, and she asked if i was going to the party in the back tent. i said “what party?” “for moe, that air force captain!” i walked over, and they’d taken a cardboard box top that once held urinals and wrote “Happy Birthday Mo” on it; most signed it and wrote something crude. they’d stopped somewhere off the side of the road and bought some iraqi whiskey and ice, so spirits were particularly high. thanks to stewart’s creative care package, my cup was half full, too. one had an old guitar, so i led us all in a singalong of “every rose has its thorn” and “dixieland delight.” for the next few hours, our surroundings were forgotten, and we were a bunch of redneck friends on a camping trip. it was great. June 12 things here are okay. gilliam and i have both been sick the last few days. not sure if it’s from saturday’s meal. June 16 we were told we’d likely be able to leave in late july, but now i’m hearing late september. will let y’all know when/if i ever hear anything definite. it’s hard not to get depressed here. every single person i work around wants to leave but doesn’t know when/if that will happen. i’m not sure what the rationale for this practice — not telling troops when they’ll leave — is. we still regularly get psych patients who have attempted suicide or threatened homicide, and there have been several accidental self-inflicted gun shot wounds to left feet. i can’t imagine being that desperate to go, but i haven’t been where those guys have been or seen what they’ve seen. saturday was the army’s 228th birthday. the folks here sang “happy birthday,” and they showed war movies all day in the MWR [Morale, Welfare and Recreation] area. i happened to be walking through during the opening shot of “saving private ryan.” i stopped just long enough to get chills and start sweating. i don’t understand how people can think that movie glorifies war. it’s the best movie i’ll never see a second time. gilliam and i finally appear to be over our illness. last week was miserable. June 22 yesterday we finally got a working ECU [Environmental Control Unit -- an air-conditioner and heater]. we got an old one from the army, and i was able to hook it up. so, happy times in the air force tent (the army tents will be w/o for the foreseeable future). it was a good day indeed. the previous 3-4 days, we were under attack. the once sometimes-seen innocuous white flares turned to prevalent foreboding red ones. the ground shook w/ mortar rounds, and flak vests and kevlar became required attire. now, all is fine. no one was hurt to my knowledge. yesterday afternoon without any warning, major farley, our aeromedical evacuation director of operations came to visit us from al-udeid, qatar; he came w/ tsgt [technical sergeant] foster (whom we’d met at camp wolf). the visit was for checking up on us and getting feedback. we talked to them for 1-2 hours about our past challenges and future needs. then, we received all of 5 minutes’ warning of an air evac that turned out to be a broken plane. so, they got to see firsthand some of the worst aspects of our daily obstacles, which was good. i talked to two of our anesthesiologists for a while and then went to our tent to enjoy the a/c and watch “the green mile” w/ some people (now that we’re the only ones w/ a/c, we have quite a following). today, major farley asked if i could give him a tour of our hospital and camp. i drove him to where the downed MiGs sit, took him on top of a hangar for a panoramic picture, showed him the canvas painting of saddam by the terminal, brought him to the ward with the cutest nurses, and pointed out where the new MWR tents are being constructed. he was so grateful, he said he’d send us a refrigerator on an upcoming C-130. so, the visit went well. now they’ve left. we also learned that our reinforcements are supposed to come by july 16 from pope air force base, and that we’ll be able to go to al-udeid for a few days before heading to nashville — this is excellent news, b/c al-udeid is, quite possibly, the nicest facility in the AOR (area of responsibility). they have a pizza hut, starbucks, baskin robbins, and dunkin donuts. they also have a bar w/ a 3-drink max each night, a pool, a movie theater, toilets, showers w/ two knobs, and a/c everywhere. this shows the difference in army v. air force facilities. so, happy times are on the horizon. since mail has been taking nearly a month to arrive, i wouldn’t send any more packages our way. thanks for all the ones i’ve so far received. i lost count, but i think i’ve received around 50 care packages. each was appreciated very much. most recently, i got a disco ball from terrance/madden/celeste/dale. it’s hanging above my cot. oh yeah, i talked to a patient who’d killed 36 iraqis. another i talked to had been part of an RPG [rocket propelled grenade] attack and lost his leg. he affixed his own tourniquet, which ended up saving his life. though he lost his left leg from the knee down, he was the most upbeat patient i’ve met here. i enjoyed talking to him. after enjoying iraqi whiskey and cokes ’til 0330 w/ some of the army guard folks and two of the ICW nurses, i learned that the intensive care ward nurses have, after hearing about the list on the male side of the latrines, made their own list of top 10 males from this joint, and i made the cut. how nice. gilliam didn’t. how even nicer. they haven’t done rankings yet, just cut from 16 to 10. also learned that the major who would yell at me every time i kept the patients in the CSH instead of baking on the tarmac when the plane arrived has left. he used to take the water bottles the crews would bring us, too. very glad he’s gone. all for now — moebes p.s.-happy birthday to the original “moe” today. pa is 59! Coming Monday, Part Three: The 21st Combat Support Hospital is the target of mortar attacks, and Moebes comes home.
This is the second of a three-part series about Michael R. Moebes, a Georgia State University law student whose Air National Guard unit was sent to the war in Iraq two months before he was scheduled to graduate. Moebes shared the story of his mobilization and his e-mail diary from the Persian Gulf with Staff Reporter Jonathan Ringel, who edited and assembled this package. Ringel’s e-mail address is [email protected].

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