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Michael R. Moebes had expected July 2003 to be an intense month. He expected to be a newly minted graduate of Georgia State University law school cramming for the Georgia bar exam. Moebes did not expect to be dodging mortar attacks, but that is what he did in July. He was neither a law school graduate nor a candidate for admission to the bar because, in March, his Tennessee-based Air National Guard unit was activated for service in the war in Iraq. A captain, Moebes spent April in Kuwait, where he headed a four-member Aeromedical Evacuation Liaison Team (AELT). In May, his team was sent to an American base near Balad, Iraq. When he wasn’t helping move 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. At the Daily Report‘s request, Moebes provided copies of his e-mails, which — along with three extensive interviews — are the basis for this series. Part One, which was published on Wednesday, ran from March 15 to April 30, covering Moebes’ mobilization and his time at Camp Wolf in Kuwait. Part Two, which was published Friday, started May 1, the day President Bush declared that major combat was over in Iraq. It ended on June 22, when Moebes reported an upbeat day in which his tent in Camp Anaconda had gotten a rare commodity — air conditioning — and he found out his replacements would be arriving within the month. July 3 during the last few days, we’ve had iraqi protestors outside our north gate and bomb threats, but i’ve seen nothing to indicate we’re in any danger here at the 21st CSH [Combat Support Hospital]. heard some cool news. arnold [Schwarzenegger] is coming tomorrow. i figured i wouldn’t be able to break away from work to see him, but now i hear he’s not only coming to our hospital, but he’ll be coming into the area where i work, so unless i’m at the latrine i’ll get to talk to him. we’re supposed to have a patriotic service led by the chaplain in the morning and some other events later on in the day. should be pretty fun, though we’ll have a lot of work to do, since the 28th CSH is overrun and is now sending us its air evac patients. July 3 camp just got attacked w/ mortars. have mass casualty here now but all 4 of us are fine. just wanted to write in case news says something about it to say we’re okay. it’s 11:05pm right now. July 4 no more activity after my message last night. i’d gone to bed early and was asleep when 4 mortar rounds landed about 50-75 yards away from our tent. each landed closer than the previous one, so i’m glad they stopped at 4. they sounded like a cannon had been fired right next to us. we grabbed our flak vests and kevlar helmets and ran to the hospital to see if they needed litter bearers or other help. if it’d happened a few days ago, no one would have been hurt, but recently, several soldiers moved into the large tract of dirt behind the small berm surrounding the 21st CSH, and that’s where the rounds landed. luckily, “only” 9 came into the ER last night. no one was killed. i was glad to have the NVGs [night vision goggles], so i could run around w/o shining a flashlight. anyway, that’s that. had a patriotic prayer breakfast at 0600 today, so many of us are going on 4-5h sleep (or less). i wonder if arnold will still visit? incidentally, we were told he doesn’t want to be called “arnold” or hear any of his movie lines quoted back to him when he comes by. guess he’s trying to be a respectable politician (oxymoron?) now. July 5 no attacks last night. have heard that they were, in fact, aiming for us. we have one of saddam’s top bodyguard/henchmen here and an iraqi general. they don’t want the bodyguard guy to talk. a friend i made while waiting at the terminal for our trip here is an interrogator. he’s had some interesting stories the last few days. supposedly, our perimeter guys killed about 10 of them, but then, i also heard they got away. also heard they were aiming for a group of folks sitting outside watching a movie (aimed for the light & thought they were part of the CSH) on a makeshift screen. luckily, they had a camo[flage] screen over the top of them, and, believe it or not, this helped by stopping the round from hitting the ground. the shrapnel spread prematurely. so, the injuries to those sitting below the canvas were much less than they could/would have been. we had a very busy day arranging air evac for all those patients (plus several others), so i didn’t really have a holiday. was up working from 0600 to 2100 when the plane left. did get to see arnold briefly. like all actors, he’s shorter than he appears on film. he came into the hospital and spoke with each patient in the ICU [Intensive Care Unit] and ICW [Intensive Care Ward]; he also had a picture made with each of them. the rest of us healthy people just saw him as he walked down our interchange hallway and took pictures as he came by and waved and said “thonk you for your saervice. bye bye naow.” i thought about defying our orders and saying, “hasta la vista … baby,” but i didn’t. temps have been going up a few degrees each day. even the overnight lows are nearly 90 degrees. i feel sorry for all the army folks who have to sleep w/o a/c. i was cold last night. the army has had problems w/ its generators. even lost power in parts of the hospital (including where we work) the last couple of days for a few hours at a time. our new hospital commander is a lot more interested in what we do than his predecessor was. every time we have a BUB (battle update briefing), he has lots of questions for me. yesterday, he decided to ride along and watch our patient onload. it was the most disorganized one we’ve had so far, b/c the plane showed up 2h 15m early w/o warning, and we had 14 litter patients to load. it was unconventional b/c it was an alert aircraft; the mission was put together in the late afternoon (we’d been planning to use a helo to the baghdad MASF [Mobile Aeromedical Staging Facility] instead). anyway, everyone made it safely, and we asked him to come watch another one sometime. oh yeah, the camp did open a dining facility that served fried chicken and near-beer yesterday, so that was good and 4th-of-julyesque. guess that’s about it. hope to have nothing interesting to write about the next few days. July 12 web and power have worked only intermittently the last few days. have heard our replacements will be in the AOR [Area of Responsibility] 16 July. hope so. guess they’ll be up here when they can get transport. don’t know how long both teams are expected to hold the torch but hope it’s just a few hours. were attacked every night since 3 July. more injuries, so lots of work for us. none here w/in the berm surrounding the 21st CSH, though. 9 iraqis were followed home after one of the attacks. they were arrested. home was full of explosives etc. others have been killed by tower guards. one night, we saw hundreds of tracer rounds flying through the sky right above us. we learned the next morning that it was two of our towers firing at each other by mistake. no one was hurt. made for a good show. have had no mortar attacks the last 2 nights. we’ve been required to wear flak/kevlar at night lately (2000-2330). last night when we went to the showers, we were turned away b/c we didn’t have them on (at 2001). shower time here has become a source of entertainment for the army folks — they are required to always be in either their DCUs [Desert Combat Uniforms] or official PT [Physical Training] uniform, even when in their tents or going to the latrine etc. b/c gilliam [Capt. Shane Gilliam, Moebes' buddy] wears a plaid robe, and i wear a toga each night, we get lots of catcalls and have our picture taken regularly. no one who outranks us has told us to stop — most figure they can’t since we’re air force. last night when we were turned away, he put his kevlar/flak over the “combat robe,” and i wore mine w/ nothing else on but a small towel around my waist. it made for a good show. lots of pictures and comments like “go air force” or “aim high” etc. we had a small party on our porch last night (one of the army guard guys just completed his first batch of “home brew”) and, around midnight, decided it’d be a good idea to slide into the water blevit (sp?) outside the shower tent (it’s the reservoir holding water for showers — looks like a large balloon w/ a hole cut in its top). luckily, no one caught us. felt good to sit in the cool water for a bit under the full moon. continue to evac around 15 patients each day. have had a couple attempted and successful suicides. several shrapnel injuries, the usual hernias and depression cases are still seen daily. reckon that’s about it. hope this is my last weekend in iraq. still have received no official word re replacements or dates. just hear from friends via message traffic. July 14 Still okay here. now have been told replacements should come Thursday morning, and we should be heading out that afternoon/evening. Going to Baghdad initially to reunite with our MASF and other AELT from Nashville. should be cool to see another Iraqi city. Then will head to Al-Udeid [Qatar] for transport out. The next few days will likely bring more attacks, though, b/c of the anniversaries of the Baath party revolution in ’68 and Saddam’s taking over in ’79. maybe not, though. most of the intel we get proves to be incorrect (or, we put so many attack helicopters in the air when we think we’ll be attacked — like we did on 7/10 — that the locals are scared to try anything). The most important recent development has been our installment of a swimming pool. A girl we work with got an above-ground pool somehow but didn’t have anywhere she’d be allowed to put it, so we extended our camo-net covering, used mosquito nets to screen in the gaps, and let her put it there at the edge of our porch. I even agreed to let her and her friends come use it. Illuminated by a bug-zapper and a full moon, we had a nice little pool party last night. I talked for a long time to a chinook pilot about all he’d seen and done during his career (which included Vietnam). it was very interesting. A couple of the Arkansas guys bought women’s thongs at the PX [Post Exchange, like a base discount store] and tried to get in the pool. I have been very sick ever since seeing them. they have been banned from our porch indefinitely. July 15 attacks started at 0600 today. only writing about them b/c there were casualties (no deaths, one urgent patient though), so news might mention them. we’re all fine. landed about 400m from our CSH. had aerovac mission today. plane was from Kentucky guard, and they brought multiple buckets of KFC! i ate a breast, 2 thighs, and a drumstick. plus 2 plates full of coleslaw and fries. delicious. now i feel sick. also found out from the aeromedical crew that we’ve been lauded repeatedly for the job we’ve done here in the conditions in which we’ve been forced to operate. as a result, they’ve put us in for a bronze star medal. hard to believe. very nice of them (though i don’t really feel deserving of such a high nomination). all for now. it’s 2130 here. July 19 left balad yesterday at 0700. last day (thurs.) was good. had a mission in the morning; replacements came in afternoon. they’re a reserves unit from lackland afb. they seemed a bit overwhelmed, but i’m sure they’ll do well. arrived here to see our friends from the nashville unit. gilliam and i both noticed how much a few of them had aged (no, we didn’t tell them that). everyone was very happy to see us. didn’t realize how much other people in iraq had been worrying about our safety. more than one had tears in their eyes when we walked up to the MASF. the last 2 days in balad were mortar-free, but last night in baghdad had 2 mortar round explosions. everyone joked that we’d brought them with us. i didn’t think it was very funny. we got here by chinook. the 30 minute trip was probably the highlight of my deployment here. we flew at only a couple hundred feet — low enough for us to feel the air cool when we crossed a river. this country is really very lush and pretty. there were farmlands, palm trees, and green grass everywhere once we were a short distance from balad. we took several pictures (we sat in the back of the aircraft — the door was open — so we could see very well outside). hard to describe, but it was exciting enough that we were wide awake on under 2 hours sleep. leaving today for al-udeid. probably will stay there about a week. not sure yet. baghdad is much nicer than was balad — had full dining facility and a nice weight room i used last night. burger king brought sack lunches y’day. we were the first in line for it (got there at 1010, opened at 1100). the “air force times” magazine came and took pictures of us and interviewed us about the event. well, need to give up this pc now. July 20 i’m safe in qatar now. the commander already put gilliam and me to work today augmenting crews working at the Crew Management Cell (CMC) launching and recovering air evac missions. fun stuff. so much for r&r/&quotdown time” here. y’day in baghdad was good. met and got pic w/ tom brokaw. his c-130 was parked next to ours by the MASF, so we made him get off and talk to us briefly. he too is smaller in person. went in the republican national guard headquarters. even got a piece of black marble from it. flight here was uneventful. touched down in basrah before coming here. was glad to leave iraq finally. we learned today that our plane was shot at when it returned to iraq later y’day after we’d gotten off. looked out the window as we descended on al-udeid, and the landscape looked like the “lawrence of arabia” set. it was the first time i’d seen a desert landscape that looked like what i expected this area to look like — kuwait and iraq were dirt; this place is covered w/ thick, white sand. there were large dunes outside the air base. this is the hottest, most humid place i’ve ever been. on the flight line, temps hit 149 degrees y’day, and we’re close enough to the gulf that humidity feels floridian. still, the amenities are as close to home as i’ll find in this AOR. i was able to walk around in the t-shirt glenn mailed me, tevas, and shorts. and, i had ribs last night for dinner, ice cream afterwards, and 3 (max set by the base) irish beers after that (kilkenny, harp, guinness; chose for taste and 20oz size). got to hang out and hear music at the “wagon wheel” — the circular area where the pizza hut, baskin robbins, bar, etc. are. i couldn’t believe it when we processed in and were told to get a “beer card” (regulates the # purchased each night) and linens. i asked why we needed linens; we all have sleeping bags. our tents here not only have doors, wood floors, and a/c, but they have real beds in them instead of cots. good thing, b/c both of us have fleas in our sleeping bags, and they were filthy (couldn’t wash b/c old one was destroyed by laundry). it was great sleeping there last night. people here look at/talk to us like we’re heroes when they’re told where we’ve been and what we’ve done. odd feeling. they’ll never know how good they have it spending their 120 days serving here compared to where we did our time. oh yeah, there are sinks here and toilets. we’ve traded e-mails w/ our replacements. they said the mortar attacks have recommenced. feel sad for our friends there but relieved to be gone. guess that’s about it. will let y’all know when i finally learn we can go. On Aug. 2, Moebes left the Persian Gulf, three days after the Georgia bar exam he would have taken, had he not been deployed. His next stop was Nashville, Tenn, his hometown and base for his Air National Guard unit. August 4 just wanted to let folks know that i’m in nashville now. arrived yesterday afternoon after stops in cyprus, germany, baltimore, and chicago. will probably be here a week or two before i can head back to atlanta (will learn more when go to guard unit wednesday). being back is a bit strange. very different, of course. much quieter w/o generators or aircraft in the background. much cooler temperatures. much cleaner being in a house instead of a tent. much more private and isolated. much greener. had looked forward to spending time w/ my childhood dog but arrived 2 weeks too late. she died of old age. my first stateside meal was at BWI [Baltimore-Washington International] airport at 8:10am — scrambled egg and bacon sandwich, home fries, large chocolate chip cookie, and a miller lite. thanks for everything — moebes Two months later, Moebes has resumed the life he had on March 15 — the day he stopped working on a paper about retirement planning when he found out he had about 36 hours to report to his Air National Guard unit. He’s started working on that paper again, because he needs to finish that class to graduate in December. He’s also returned to being a paralegal at Drew Eckl & Farnham, which hosted a reception in his honor and to which he presented an American flag he flew in his tent (American flags were not allowed to be flown outside of tents, Moebes says). Gilliam and the girlfriend he met at the 21st Combat Support Hospital in Iraq visited in August. They went to an Atlanta Braves baseball game. Moebes stays in touch with friends in Iraq, too, and he’s concerned. More than 60 mortar attacks have occurred since he left. Morale, he says, “is worse” than when he was there. He says the remaining American forces need more support. A lifelong Republican, Moebes thinks for a moment when asked whether he thinks the country made the right decision to invade Iraq. “I was kind of hoping we’d wait on the UN inspections,” he says. Then again, he didn’t think it would be right to appease Saddam Hussein. He recalls conversations he had with Mohommed, an Iraqi translator who helped the CIA interrogate enemy prisoners. They believed Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction. “I think we probably should have gone,” Moebes adds. But he says his political position didn’t matter once he was over there: “You don’t think about is this right to do — you just concentrate on doing your job. … Most of time everyone was professional and did a great job.” Moebes recalls that many reservists he met were very upset at the conditions in Iraq, declaring that once their tour of duty was over, they were leaving the service. Now that he has returned, he expects to take the Georgia bar exam in February. He’d like to work in a law firm after that. In addition to the demands of a first-year associate, Moebes will have an outside commitment: He has agreed to stay in the Air National Guard. Why? Given a large number of retirements, Moebes is one of the more experienced members of his unit. “I felt there was something I could contribute,” he says.
This is the third 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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