Spring in Iraq feels like summer

April 7, 2008

Editor’s note: In his series “Letters Home,” local resident Ted Vickers, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marines, provides periodic updates from Iraq.
Well, summer is here ... at least something resembling summer in my mind. Constant sunshine, temperatures rising above 100 degrees on a daily basis, that hot dry summer air baking down on man and beast alike.

If I were back in Grand Junction it would be the perfect time for grabbing an inner tube and leisurely floating down the Colorado River, letting the current push me along while relaxing in the tranquility of cool water and warm summer air. Unfortunately, it’s only April here in Fallujah, Iraq, and summer is still a long way off.

The distinct change in seasons brings about other distinct changes in Iraq. First, the heat. It’s only April and it’s already over 100 degrees. And for those who use the phrase “at least it’s a dry heat,” try saying that when you are wearing 80 pounds of gear, weapons and ammunition. We have body armor that can stop a sniper’s bullets traveling 2,500 feet per second, but just yesterday on a mission setting up satellite equipment on a roof in downtown Fallujah, I swear I sweated through my body armor.

Following closely the change in weather come the flies. They are your basic houseflies that you find in the States, except for every one in the states, add about 50 here. These things are everywhere. It’s a constant battle between Marine and fly. We set up traps outside our living quarters and office spaces, yet they keep coming. Every Marine I work with has become a skilled expert in the employment of a fly swatter; a pseudo sniper if you will. Personally I have over 50 confirmed kills, yet they still keep coming.

Like the summer storm cloud lumbering its way toward the Grand Valley, we have giant sandstorms that turn the sky a reddish-orange color, making it seem as if we were on Mars. The so-called sand is not your typical beach sand. It’s more like dust, and it finds its way everywhere. Inside office spaces, vehicles, machinery, in your ears, nose and throat. Walking through these storms you develop a fine powder encompassing your entire body, making you look like a freshly coated sugar cookie. Nowhere is safe; the minuscule dust finds its way into everything.

Unfortunately, in Iraq another thing that marks the beginning of summer is a rise in violence, as if the heat, flies and sand weren’t enough. I’m not sure if the insurgents just don’t like the cold or if it’s just that they are so miserable with the other blessings that the onslaught of summer brings that they become violent. All I know is that over the past few years this has been the case. And just like the past few years, it is happening again. However, this time it is different.

The rise in violence in Basra and spilling over into Baghdad has not spilled over in to Al Anbar (the West). And unlike the past, it’s not the Coalition who is tasked with countering the rise. Now the Iraqis have the lead. Violence is never a good indication that things are going right. Especially in a counter insurgency, when even if you are completely dominating in every aspect of kinetic warfare the simple fact that there is kinetic violence gives the insurgency legitimacy. However, there is one exception and that one exception is becoming the norm in Iraq.

When the host nation rises up and decides to 3tackle the violence allowing the occupying force to take a secondary role, it is a good sign. Watching the evening newscasts or reading the paper, all you see is “more violence in Iraq.” But it’s what is behind the violence that is important. The fact that the Iraqi government is standing up to the enemy should be celebrated in America. It’s no secret that the American public wants this war to be over. And it’s no secret that every one of us who put our lives on the line daily to make this country a safer place would rather be home as well. But we do it because we see first-hand what a difference we are making over here. The fact that the Iraqis are taking the fight to the enemy is a great sign. It shows progress, it shows that we can start assuming secondary roles, and it is one step closer for the legitimate government of Iraq to take charge of their country allowing us return home.