Al Qumah
23/4/03

Hiya!

Wahey! - we've been given an official end date of 2nd May, then spending a few days in "rehab" (whatever that means) & flying back 9-14th May. Not quite sure what will happen immediately after that - in principle we go on leave but stay mobilised until the vehicles get back, at which point we have to go and dekit them. There's no problem with us working during that time so can get back to things soon.

Life has got much more busy since I left the sick tent! We're rotating around different jobs, night before last guarding a hospital from looters - not too much of a problem here but there have been 'militia' (bandits!) about and some were chased off the other night - after an attempt to 'box' them in between the Tigris and the Euphrates. Ho hum. The hospital was quite spooky - one of the buildings we had a guard post on top of was empty, and at 2 am I walked in to the sound of dogs barking echoing down the empty corridor. Took a while to find the steps up, and behind the door the guy I was relieving was waiting to say 'boo'! Barsteward.... I shall get post traumatic stress!

Yesterday evening we ran vehicle check points (VCPs), stopping vehicles, checking for stolen stuff (? how do you recognise stolen stuff? Perhaps Guy can help!), confiscating weapons etc. We toured (er, patrolled) a bit of the old town and saw a tremendous 'soft' explosion at a football field near our HQ. So over we go, softly, softly so as not to frighten/excite the locals (we wear berets, armour under shirts and keep our weapons casual, like) to find a crowd of folks chanting away and waving a green flag. Uh oh. Keeping it all softly softly we drift up, say hello. Turns out the explosion was a bunch of children playing with petrol, and the crowd are some kind of memorial celebration of the opposition bloke who was shot at the mosque the other week (month?). Whew.

Then a call that the OC had arrested two thieves (who had crashed their car into a swamp) and was surrounded by a hostile crowd. So back to HQ to pick up more people, too much faffing, then a fastish run along an embankment next to the river. I was driving lead vehicle (tee hee) poor Conn in the passenger seat very nervous as I raced along avoiding (usually) big holes and ruts, with a steep drop to the river (Euphrates) on one side and a drop to a swamp on the other. By the time we got there all had calmed down (once they realised we were not going to take the thieves away and shoot them - another reminder of what life was like under Saddam) and we were shown the shrimps the locals had caught and discussed fishing. Surreal. Got back and spent an hour sorting out the radios - only a few days away from my TLC and they're already giving problems! It's the positive thinking thing. (Kelly's heroes -"stop it with those negative thoughts, man. If you think the bridge will be there, it will be there"). Not much sleep and then up at dark o'clock to do a so called quiet operation to get the thieves car, still in the swamp, with about 8 Land Rovers, a recovery truck and a Bedford. Would have taken a Sutton too (a light tank - certainly not very quiet!) but couldn't start it! Biggest surprise was that the car was still there! I was part of a road block at a T junction and spent an hour watching the sun come up, folks punting down the river, and a calf being slaughtered. The locals were a bit less friendly (not hostile) but then so am I at 6am.

Now got a few hours off before going out again on more excitement, adventure and really wild things. I've got some bacon in the post (thanks Spock if you're on the email list!) so I'm going to risk a dodgy tum again and fry it up this morning.

Thanks again for parcels - I should have been more explicit about clothing, the clothes you've sent are great for deserts but unfortunately is not British Army 'deserts' uniform! I'll keep it for when I come out peacefully!

Cheers for now, must go and clean things and eat things,

Martin


OpTelic