Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve in Basra

Besides a couple stray party hats and noise makers, hard to get a sense of New Year's Eve tonight Camp Basra in Iraq.
Though that might change as it gets closer to midnight. 

I shot a couple portraits for some who missed their chance on Christmas to have something to send to their families. They told me their resolutions. 

SPC Coward resolution is to get married. SPC Hanes resolution is to make it home alive. PFC Johnson resolution is to get his priorities straight. SSG Taylor resolution is to stay strong and never give up.

I haven't decided on my own resolution yet-but i still have time...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Making sure vehicles are mission ready in Basra

The 2228th MP Company arrived in Basra shortly before I did after finishing their mission in Al Anbar Province. They are setting up shop, customizing Camp Charlie that had been utilized by the British. They will be setting up PTTs with the local Iraqi police-police transition training stations. Their role is to train, mentor and advise the local police force. Each morning at roll call the company meets and everyone is told what their job of the day is. I went with a PSD squad (personal security detail) to check on the company’s vehicles at the motor pool making sure they are mission ready. I learned the names of the vehicles and their capabilities. Many of them have recently been beefed up extra ½ steel plate welded on the skins-above and beyond the ¾ steel plate already there. A huge improvement from the unprotected doorless humvees many in the military traveled around in during the early stages of the war. I will get a chance to leave the wire and ride in an armored security vehicle in the New Year, loaded down with Kevlar and my camera gear.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Questions From Home

My father and mother emailed me some question so I'm going to answer them the best I can with pictures too.

"So far you sound like you are having a good visit. What kind of stuff are you learning?"

Bored soldiers are dangerous, a master sergeant told me. He also showed me some video tapes to clarify the lesson. 

I have gotten a sense of  how big and complicated this war is. Also by getting around  three different bases i passed through - i have learned a bit about the scale of the  operation- it is a massive operation.

2. "Where do you stay at night",

In a tent that resembles a building, in Camp Charlie ( part of the larger Camp Basra) with the unit I'm embedded with , the 2228 th LANG MP's. Within in the tent I have what the British called, my own Stone Henge ( they made the original set up here), the Americans call the bedding down area a tomb-see picture attached.
one must be careful not to bang their head on the steel plate about the bed. 

3."Where do you get food?"

The DFAC (dining facilities) . There are many choices, always at least one that is good. Some salad too. I have been told I will get bored fast, but i'm greatful to get prepared food daily and not have to bother with anything. The cooks are from India so there is always a curry dish. The coffee leaves something to be desired but one can buy the real stuff at shops on the base.

4."What does the country look like? Green yellow or gray?"

From what I have seen it is sand colored with a concrete texture. Lots and lots of concrete. For protection. The sand, comes with the place. No green, yellow, but lots of gray.

5."Now that you are meeting army people, how do you feel about them?"

Most seem like fun loving people. Very open and generous. Some I know from New Olreans from photographing them while they were at work on Task Force Gator. They are Louisiana National Guard- not army.

6. "Can you find simple things like tooth paste and camera parts.?"

Tooth paste yes, parts, i'd be hard pressed. I could by a new camera if it came to it.

7."Besides learning things are you having a good time?"

I'm having a great time because I as you know I love to work and I can shoot to my hearts content.

8. "Will you be spending all your time in Basra? (Is it less dangerous than Baghdad?)"
Yes , I will be spending my time in Basra, it is much safer than Baghdad. I might make it to Bagdad too- i'll keep you posted.

9. "Wash up/shower?"

 I wash up and shower. The shower is in a trailer-you get 30 seconds of water to get wet. Then I lather up. Then I get 30 seconds to get the soap off. My hair wont be at its cleanest- but i do get the sand out. 
There are stations to wash ones hands all about, so it is easy to stay clean. Also plenty of anti bacterial hand cleaner in pump jars all over the place.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Day After Christmas in Basra

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Camp Basra - After my holiday shot I made it to a Christmas Mass on the British Part of Camp Basra. Guns were not left at the door. At a mass a week before sirens went off and everyone hit the ground. Christmas Eve proved to be quite as most days are here in Basra I have been told. The Brits are passing the reigns to the Americans more and more. By the summer the camp will be predominately American.
Christmas on the camp-my first full day being in one place. I went for coffee with a group from my company and they exchanged guns with the Brits. Christmas lunch was festive occasion-many wore party hats, some with antlers. After lunch, there was a football match between my company and another. Best of all was going on a mail run-filling half a van with A Christmas mail and photographing the joy of people

Tomorrow I’ll start shooting the Guard, doing what they do. Signing off before the on and off Internet connection in the mess hall cuts me off.

Xmass eve portrait shoot

On Christmas Eve in Basra at Camp Charlie I shot portraits for the troops to email to their families. All the members of the 2228th MP company who wanted to pose did so, at Camp Charlie in Basra- at Camp Basra which is still run by the British. Phin Percy Jr. made a video of me in action. It aired on Fox 8 in New Orleans and was well received. I'll post a link to it when I get it. Attached are some of the portraits. A few people who protested the most that they wouldn't do it, ended up being the biggest hams. In the end the shoot brought some joy to the troops. They enjoyed teasing who ever was next up in my makeshift studio.
For the troops Christmas is hard, as it makes them miss their loved ones more then usual. All the same there was a festive mood in the mess hall the next day during Christmas lunch- which was proceeded by a football game in what was once a mine field. 
Soldiers in silly hats and christmas decorations did the trick. I was one of my most memorable Christmases yet.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Xmass eve in Basra

Made it to Baghdad- and on to Basra in time to do my X Mass holiday shoot of the National Guard- for them- as my gift to them.
Images to follow after this post. Travel here was intense to say the least- had to take the RHINO line back to camp Victory.
It is a 20 mile ride, one of the most dangerous routes in the world-though not really anymore sure some route in Afghanistan must be worse...... 4 helicopters circled the convey ( armored buses with MRAP- mine resistant armored protective) as we drove to BIAP. No sleep at all that night, as we went from bus stop to airport and then caught the first plane out to Basra - AC130 this time. Had to wear the Kevlar gear the whole hour flight. Kind of feels like what I image being entombed would be like. My vest weight about 30 plds.
After getting acclimated and sleeping a couple hours, Phin and I kicked into high gear and got Xmas eve shoot set up.
At first some of the soldiers didn’t want to have their picture taken-but by the end most consented happily and even wore my velvet Santa Claus hat. Phin was able to get the photo uploaded to Fox 8 in New Orleans-no small feet.( think it should be on their website but not sure)

Christmas Day- I’ll be shooting the football game they are playing here at Camp Charlie and adding more to blog later-including a video clip if I can pull it off.

images- 2228 th MP company at Camp Charlie, a Christmas tree on a Hesco barrier- on xmass
me at tourist attraction in Bagdad in the Green ZOne , Sadam's Swords- where rallys were held

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Baghdad at last

The trip to Baghdad proved to be a very arduous journey once leaving the Air force Hotel in Germany. We didn’t have all the papers we needed for next leg of journey, something the Colonel expressed worry about before leaving Jackson MI. We were missing our orders-showing up at the airport without them is like showing up without a plane ticket.
In the nick of time, we were able to reach one of the PO officers in Balad who emailed over documents we needed-after a very tense couple of hours. The plane was held up on our behalf. (Same C-17 we came over on-though this time filled with cargo and military) We made a run through customs skipping the x-ray of our luggage and other formalities. Making the flight felt like a small miracle.

After settling in, I got to visit the cockpit and photograph as the sun went down. Before landing in Balad, things got serious-all the passengers strapped on their weapons and vest and helmets. Me too. My first time wearing the Kevlar protective gear which proved to be heavier and more restrictive I imagined. Hard to move in It, to say the least, but I still got off a few shots.

In Ballad we found out our onward flight to Baghdad had been canceled due to weather conditions-we were meant to leave later that night. After eating a large meal at a mess hall that had limitless food one could gorge themselves we were taken to the Catfish Air Terminal to get an early flight out, opting to sleep on cots rather then checking in to sleep at a transient hotel. The Helicopter ride never materialized and sleep proved to be impossible. The cots in the terminal were fine, but the two large screen TVs were blaring making sleep impossible. One with a football game that either never ended or was playing in a loop, the other, Fox news. Our morning flight was cancelled and the next one was over full so were advised to take the fixed wing plane, which turned out to be another c-17, though with it came a bust ride into Bagdad.
We were taken to a different terminal on the other side of the base-giving me a sense of how big the operation in Ballad is.

Next stop was the terminal in BIAP, at Camp Victory. Upon landing at 1:30 in the afternoon, we found the next leg of the route via a “Rhino” bus wouldn’t leave till sometime between midnight-4am, leaving a nice chunk of time to wait and take things in.

The Rhino bus goes leaves from Camp Stryker part of the Victory base. The bus travels on a route that was deadly in the early days of the war, but now relative safe. We traveled in a convoy or armored buses equip with Blackwater security guards and an armored escorts.

All I have seen from Iraq so far is airfields and concrete pylons lining different bases. Miles and miles of the American war machine in Iraq. I write from the media room in Baghdad where Iraqi journalist watch Batman on a large TV screen while eating lunch.

Getting the holiday shoot organized is the next task at hand, No easy one at that as our visit and project was buried in someone’s paperwork. Impressions to follow but I need to ready myself for an impromptu tour of the green zone

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Flight to Germany in route to Iraq

I woke up somewhere over the Atlantic and climbed out of my sleeping bag. Who knew sleeping on a metal floor could be so comfortable. I didn’t miss the constant interruptions of a stewardess waking me throughout the flight with offers of food and items to buy. The other passengers, military, and family members related to someone in the military, spread out causally on the floor. One family had its’ own air mattress. Some had big ear protectors. My fellow passengers struck me as experienced travelers.

At the airport in Ramstein, Col David Buck worked out logistics for Phin and I for the next day before taking us to the Air Force Inn. We have slowed him down since we have unique paper work.

After a night on the town with members of the Air Guard, I got a little better picture of what we are flying into- but really wont know till I get there. From Ramstein, more flights are going to Afghanistan then ever. The Air guard move supplies and patients back and forth from both countries. Later today we fly onward to Iraq where we will be credentialed. I will get to take pictures in the cockpit of a C-17 on the way.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Snow falls in New Orleans

I woke up to hearing someone exclaiming, “ I wish I had my camera to take pictures of the snow”. I looked out my window and there it was – snow -coming down in New Orleans. I suited up and went out camera in hand. There was a real magic feeling in the French Quarter with snow blanketing the streets. After taking tourist shots at Jackson Square I got in my car and drove the 9th Ward. My first look around since the summer. The place is as messed up as I remember it. The snow blanketing the destroyed homes made the scene that much more surreal. to see more images click here