(Andy is second from the right in the photo above)
Yesterday was a memoriable July 4TH. Like most Americans I have wonderful childhood memories of fireworks and picnics with my family, usually in my beloved Pittsburgh, PA at scenic Point State Park in the heart of downtown.
This 4th of July was obviously different. I worked my usual shift in the morning. In the evening I was invited to a BBQ that the US Army PRC (provincial reconstruction team) was having.
They are the people who criss cross Iraq building bridges, clinics, hospitals and comunity centers in order to improve the lives of the Iraqi citizens.
I have become friends with an Army Major named Paul who is a West Point Graduate and engineer who is a company commander for the PRC teams. He also has a young child and will be leaving Iraq soon. He has spent a year here which is standard for the Army. I will miss him.
The day was eventful initially for the increased number of attacks on the base. I counted 6 in the morning and afternoon. I wondered if the increased attacks (the average is 1-2 daily) had something to do with the holiday.
I picked up some non-alcoholic beer at the BX (base exchange) after work and headed to the party. In Iraq alcohol is forbidden (although like anything that is "forbidden" people are pretty industrious) so only the non-alcoholic beer is sold. When I arrived at the party I felt like I was in a soldiers of fortune magazine. Dressed in civillian clothes were guys with every imaginable accent. English, South African, Australian, Irish and French. They were part of a company that provides security to the PRC teams as they operate throughout Iraq.
The goal is to have these projects appear more civillian and thus less vulnerable to attack. All of these guys had substantial military experience fighting for their national armies in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Now they were working as contractors to provide security for the reconstruction effort.
The most interesting conversation I had was with a former British soldier who fought against the Serbs during the war in Bosnia and than ended up marrying a Bosnian Serb woman. He now lives in Bosnia. As they have acssess to the country they got steak from a city in Iraqi Kurdistan called Irbil.
It was simply the best steak I have had in my life!
I also met the American active duty army troops who work under Paul. They all seemed to greatly love there work [which allows them] to interact with the Iraqi people and [helps them] re-build [their] communities. Paul is leaving soon and his replacement had just been pulled from Afghanistan to take over his command. In Afghanistan he was an infantry commander doing patrols along the border with Pakistan. Needless to say he was happy with his relatively safer new surroundings.
We spent the July 4th evening eating juicy steak and drinking non alchaholic amid sand bags and blast walls with "fireworks supplied by the locals". There was a palpable sense of camraderie among the troops of various services and nations all far from home and celebrating together. We all would have much rather been elsewhere last night but it was a remarkable 4th of July that I will never forget.
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!!!!!!!!!!Andy