On Oct. 23, 2004, Ohio University assistant basketball coach Kevin Kuwik reported to Fort Sill, Okla., to begin his service as an Army engineer captain as part of the "President's orders to mobilize Operation Iraqi Freedom." In January of 2005, he was deployed to Mosul, Iraq, where he was stationed until Dec. 5, 2005. Below are his journal entries in reverse chronological order.
Wednesday, December 21
"You are released from active duty, not by reason of physical disability, and assigned as indicated on the date immediately following released from active duty." What can I say? These words on the orders were music to my ears when I was handed them as well as my DD-214, "Release or Discharge from Active Duty" paperwork this past Saturday morning, capping off an event-filled 15 months to say the least. I actually still have about three weeks of unused leave time built up so I will technically be on active duty through January 10, after which time I will be able to submit the necessary paperwork to remove myself from the dreaded Individual Ready Reserve list.
So it gives me great joy to report that this will be my final entry and it will be a long one as the past 10 days have been a whirlwind for sure. And I have included plenty of pictures to wrap up the whole experience as well.
When I left you last time, I was twiddling my thumbs in Kuwait anxiously awaiting word on when we would be booked to fly back to the states. Well, it turned out that December 13 was going to be the day (one that I will never forget, to be sure!). And it proved to be a long day at that, actually 30 hours or so, but in the words of one of the officers I worked for over there, "the juice was definitely worth the squeeze" in this case.
We were scheduled for a 1400 (2 p.m.) flight on the 13th so the first requirement for that was for all 187 of us on that flight (the rest of the battalion was to fly back on the 14th) had to have all of our baggage cleared by a Naval customs inspections team at midnight between the 12th and 13th. This entailed us taking over three tents and unpacking and spreading out all our gear on cots and waiting for the inspectors to show up. They came and went through everything to make sure we weren't attempting to transport any war souvenirs or other contraband back stateside, and then we got to repack everything (although believe me we were not complaining!). After that was completed at 0200, we had two hours of waiting before the buses and baggage trucks showed up - not exactly conducive to getting a great night's sleep.
When they finally showed up, we loaded up the buses and prepared to ride over to nearby Ali Al-Salem Air Base for some more customs procedures and briefings. I should point out that I got to experience an unforgettable army phenomena on these buses for the first of many times that day - that of a head count. Basically, it's like when you take a group of little kids to the zoo and have them count off to make sure that you have all of them. We would start in the back of the bus and, one by one, we would all count off all the way to the front - seemingly someone different was jumping on the bus every five minutes and asking for one of these - shockingly, somehow the number came out the same every time. Of course, my philosophy on this was that if someone was going to miss the bus that was taking us to the airport for our flight home to the states, they probably deserved to be left in Kuwait for another year. In any case, all of us got loaded up and we got over to the air base at around 0500.
At this point, we got to feel like a herd of cattle for about three hours as we basically were herded through about 15 different lines. In one line, our ID cards were swiped through a scanner, recording the day that you were leaving a combat zone and therefore no longer eligible for tax-free benefits and hazardous duty pay, among other things. Then we went through about four or five more customs line, where our carry-on bags and our bodies were repeatedly screened and x-rayed, and we filled out some more paperwork and received plenty of briefings as well. Finally around 0830, we made it to the passenger holding area, where we were able to relax for an hour and a half or so - again, not quite long enough to get comfortable and grab a good nap, and of course with a few more head counts and roll calls thrown in there to make sure you didn't forget you were still in the army.
At around 1000, they had us fall out onto the buses for the 90-minute ride to the Kuwait City International Airport. Once we got there, we waited for about an hour or so just off the runway as they started loading our bags onto the ATA plane that was waiting for us (I'm thinking maybe Dick Cheney owns some stock in ATA - all four flights I took between the US and Kuwait in the past year were ATA ones). Finally, at around 1315 our buses drove across the runway out to the plane and sleep or no sleep, you could feel the excitement of the soldiers on the bus. An hour later as we were all settled in and that plane went airborne, wow, were people fired up!
Unfortunately getting from Kuwait to Indianapolis was no hop, skip and a jump. We had about 14 hours of flying time ahead of us, with about a 90-minute fuel layover in between at the airport in Shannon, Ireland. The flight to Shannon was pretty uneventful - seemingly every two minutes a stewardess was putting food or a drink in front of us (a nice change from a domestic flight where you are lucky to get a miniature bag with three pretzels in it and maybe a quarter of a can of Pepsi with lots of ice cubes!). They even showed the Dukes of Hazard on this leg, definitely keeping a good chunk of the males on the plane awake for that!
When we made it to Shannon, it was announced we had to be ready to re-board in about 60 minutes and the soldiers made a beeline (actually, stampede is probably a more accurate depiction) to the terminal's Irish pub. Needless to say, everyone enjoyed a few adult beverages (having an authentic Guinness isn't a bad first drink after a year in the desert!). The duty-free shop did pretty brisk business as well. In an hour, we re-loaded the plane and we were airborne and en route to the promised land.
There was quite a whoop when the pilot informed us we had finally entered American airspace and another one when we pulled below the cloud cover and could make out Indianapolis below. Of course, the most noticeable feature at 10 o'clock at night was the snow on the ground, leading more than a few of the soldiers to grumble a bit - my response was, "as long as it's American snow and American cold, then it's fine with me!" At about 2215 (10:15 pm), we touched down at the Indianapolis airport. Because of customs regulations, families were not allowed to meet us at the airport so there were eight to ten state dignitaries who shook our hands as we got off the plane. We went through customs and then we loaded up buses to head over to the 38th Division armory about four miles away from the airport where all of our families were waiting.
The parking lot was packed at the armory as we pulled in just before midnight - quite impressive considering the time of day and the fact that most of the soldiers hail from northern Indiana, a good two-hour drive from Indianapolis. As we got off the buses, we were lined up in a mass formation right outside the giant overhead door to the armory's gym, where everyone was waiting. When we were all lined up, they opened the door and we marched in to hundreds of screaming and cheering people with signs and banners and American flags waving. Definitely a major goosebumps moment and I still get them just thinking back to it as I type. After what seemed to be an eternity of wandering around, I finally saw my parents, who had driven eight hours from Buffalo to be there. I know it was a huge relief for me but I'm sure it was even a bigger relief for them - they had made a banner for me and before I knew it, a local TV camera crew was interviewing my mom and she was telling the reporter that this was her best Christmas present ever, and I would have to agree.
The greeting at the armory was short and sweet and my parents drove me down to Camp Atterbury, where we were going to demobilize. We got in after one in the morning, at which time we had to unload all our bags and get ready for the 0700 briefings we were scheduled for that morning. The demobilization process went fairly smoothly - over the next four days, we sat in on a ton of briefings, many of them focused on the benefits we are entitled to as veterans, some medical screenings, plenty of paperwork, and turning in all of the gear we had been issued over the past year (and yes, that was a great feeling - you won't be seeing me in camouflage anytime soon!).
Of course, the other part of having my parents down in Indiana was so that they could drive me to our game at Cincinnati on the 14th. I was sky-high in Kuwait when we made all the big plays down the stretch to pull off a fairly big road win at Rhode Island, especially with Leon having four fouls with an eternity to go in the game. Considering the army's track record with these sorts of things, I didn't want to jinx myself so I didn't call Coach O'Shea and let him know I would make it until we were in Shannon the day before and I knew we were just one step away from being back stateside.
In any case, I was excited to get down to the Shoe for this game and knew it would be a tough one with Cincinnati coming off a huge road win at Vanderbilt. It was great to see everyone live and in the flesh for the first time since March and as I spoke to the team, it was extra special thinking of all the soldiers in our battalion being back on American soil and reunited with their families. Of course, I hadn't expected Andy Katz and crew from ESPN to be there, although I guess that made things a bit more dramatic. Obviously, we gave a great effort and more than held our own in the first half and then couldn't get anything to click in the second half (and Cincinnati deserves a lot of credit for that - they were flat-out better than us that half).
I returned with my parents that night to Indiana and at 1:30 in the morning in the hotel lobby, we broke out the authentic chicken wings they had brought from Buffalo, as well as a few cans of Guinness that their friends had brought back from Ireland for a special occasion like this. A bit of an impromptu celebration but a celebration nonetheless.
On Thursday, my parents headed back to Buffalo and I completed my final few days of out-processing. Ironically, Captain Melissa Elliott (my fellow IRR officer) and I went out on one of those nights with about seven or eight IRR officers from another unit that was demobilizing (I know, probably the only 10 IRR officers who probably showed up!). As we compared notes, we came to the ironic conclusion that all of our social security numbers began with 0 - so it became obvious that was the rationale behind us being the ones who got those fateful letters in the mail. Of course, that ruined our previous (and much more enjoyable) conspiracy theory that people called up off IRR were from states that were strongly expected to vote democrat in last year's presidential election (New York and Pennsylvania in my and Melissa's case for example!), thereby making sure to minimize the potential negative impact on the president's reelection bid. In any case, we made sure to avoid holding any of these conversations on cell phones where we potentially could be eavesdropped on all the way from DC (and earmarked as potential threats to national security).
Saturday marked my final day in an army uniform. At 7:30 in the morning (notice how I am transitioning back to using civilian time!), we reported to the post chapel for a safety briefing and a few words of congratulations, reflection and encouragement from the post chaplain. At the end of this meeting, we were each handed a manila envelope which included our discharge orders and all of our paperwork - I felt a bit light-headed as I walked out of there. The first thing I did after this was pack my uniform and boots away and switch into some civilian clothes. With my flight back to Buffalo not until the next morning, I spent the rest of the day giving out Ohio Basketball t-shirts to the soldiers who I had served with and even got a little shopping in at a nearby factory outlet. Usually I cannot stand shopping but after a year in purgatory, even this was an enjoyable experience for me - there was even an adidas outlet where I was able to pick up some stuff for my return to the practice floor!
On Saturday night, our battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Shatto, took out a bunch of our staff officers for dinner and a few drinks and thanked us all for a job well-done all year - that was much-appreciated. We rolled back to post where I finished up packing and at 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning, boarded a shuttle van for a ride up to the airport.
As we drove through Camp Atterbury's gate, that was when it really dawned on me that everything was over. Although obviously happy, I must say it was a little bit weird as I thought about basically starting over a totally different life - no uniforms, no ranks, no scheduled meal hours, plastic forks, half-ply toilet paper and on and on. But I knew that I would have some great people to lean on as I made the transition to include my family, the coaches, players and everyone else associated with the team, athletic department and university, and friends from all over the place - from Lackawanna, Athens, Notre Dame, the coaching ranks and plenty of other people who chose to reach out to me over the past 15 months as I dealt with this seemingly super-sized challenge.
Of course the experience wasn't quite over yet, as when I stepped off the plane in Buffalo and walked through the security checkpoint into the airport lobby, my parents had probably a hundred of my family and friends from good old Lackawanna, New York, waiting there for me with signs and flags - it was definitely a bit embarrassing but also much-appreciated. There is a statistic that goes back to World War II and Vietnam where Lackawanna, a small blue-collar city of 25,000 on the south edge of Buffalo known for the Bethlehem Steel Plant that used to employ nearly its whole male population, sent the most military-aged males per capita of any municipality in the United States, so it was an honor to be recognized by so many of the people that my parents and I grew up with. From the airport, everyone drove to the Matthew Glab Post, the American Legion Post that my grandfather Al Kuwik helped to found, where we enjoyed all the staples of a Western New Yorker's diet - pizza, chicken wings and Labatt Blue.
So as I get ready to type the final few paragraphs of this journal, which really helped get me through this deployment in terms of pushing me to stay positive even at times when there wasn't a lot to be positive about, as well as keeping me in touch with so many people - my family, friends, the entire Ohio Athletics and Ohio University family, and countless other people literally from all over the country - I can't say thank you enough. Special thanks go out to Bob Lee and everyone in the athletic department for giving me the opportunity to do this and for keeping me a part of the Bobcat team every step of the way. And to every single person out there who thought of me and all the soldiers over there for even a single instant during the past year - it truly does make a difference knowing that people appreciate the sacrifice that every soldier is making.
And last, but certainly not least, to the soldiers and officers of the 113th Engineer Battalion, who I had the honor and privilege of standing side-by-side for the past year. Through the high points, the low points, the laughter and arguments, the sunny days, the smiles, the frustrations, the mistakes - through it all, you constantly inspired me with your dedication, your courage, your determination to accomplish the mission no matter how well or not-so-well things were going. We left Mosul, Iraq, a better place than it was when we got there last January and gave hundreds of thousands of people there the opportunity to participate in democracy, something that I think we will all have a newfound appreciation for here back home, as well as helping the Iraqi soldiers and policemen gain the confidence to start to stand up and defend their city and nation on their own. Today I will drive back to Athens with my dad to resume my life as a basketball coach but wherever that path takes me, each and every one of you and all the experiences we went through the past year will never be far from my heart and my thoughts and I truly hope that our paths come to cross again as we move on with our lives.
Thanks to all of you - Merry Christmas, Go U.S.A., and Go Bobcats!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Saturday, December 10
Welcome to the latest installment coming to you from Camp Victory, Kuwait, and hopefully there aren't too many of these left. Things are definitely moving at a slower pace out here but hey, as I keep telling myself, at least it's not Iraq.
As I alluded to in my last entry, Camp Victory isn't too bad a place. It basically is a camp set up in the middle of the desert to serve as a temporary stopping point for units heading into and out of Iraq. The camp consists of a "downtown" portion which includes the headquarters buildings, a small post exchange store, and some food stands and souvenir shops that prey on servicemen and women with some money to burn (thankfully I have resisted the temptation so far). There are also some large airplane hangar-like tents that are set up with a weight room, basketball court and a USO facility that includes plenty of armchairs, couches and recliners set up around big screen TVs, video game stations and computers with Internet access for the soldiers to relax.
Arrayed all the way around the "downtown" are rows upon rows of 70-man (or woman) tents. Again, they are hangar-shaped with plywood floors, lighting and heating/air-conditioning systems. Having 70 in a tent, no matter how big, does not exactly lend itself to a great night's sleep in the first place but the cots we sleep on make that pretty much a moot point anyhow. The shower trailers are in pretty good shape, although one drawback compared to Mosul is that there are only port-a-potties here, no bathroom trailers, and usually not in the best of shape with toilet paper in scarce supply - the first day we were here you saw scores of soldiers walking back from the post exchange with rolls of toilet paper in tow.
But hey, we are one step away from being back in the states so it's nothing we can't handle. The first day we were here, we cleaned our weapons and turned them in to be stored in a large container that will be loaded on the ship for movement back to the states (by the time these weapons make it back to Indiana in 45 days or so, I hopefully will have my discharge papers). Turning my M4 in was a great feeling for three reasons: 1) it is a pain to clean and keep clean, 2) it's nice not to have to trudge all over the place with that thing slung on your back and, most importantly, 3) it's nice to be in a place where you don't need it in the first place!
One other funny tidbit related to the different threat level here in Kuwait involves the clattering of dumpsters when they are being lifted and emptied into the garbage trucks - when we heard this rumbling sound the first day, many of us initially thought of the similar-sounding mortar explosions that we had heard up in Iraq. I do admit to chuckling a bit about how edgy I was just to drive into Kuwait City last January looking back at it a year later after spending eleven months in Mosul - Kuwait is like Disneyland compared to Iraq. But hey, we really didn't know any better back then.
Once we turned our weapons in, our jobs were pretty much complete here in Kuwait. We have a 75-person detail down at Camp Arifjan (also in Kuwait) that is taking care of washing all the equipment and getting it moved to the port to be loaded on a ship. Right now, it looks like our ship load date is going to be December 17 and we will have some flights before that and some flights after - they are keeping us guessing a bit but we should know in the next few days which flight we will be on.
In the meantime, lots of downtime for the 325 or so of us here at Camp Victory. And that has translated into lots of card-playing (with Euchre being the game of choice), movie-watching, book-reading and games like softball, volleyball and flag football. Last night, about 20 of us found a makeshift softball diamond in the sand surrounded by portable lights. We wheeled them into position, fired up the generators and presto, we had our own Kuwaiti "field of dreams" - my dad and brother Mark and the vaunted Lackawanna softball league back home would have been proud.
So while the accommodations here are not going to score me any Marriott points, they are not unbearable either. It is still 65 and sunny during the day and while it does get a bit chilly at night, it still is nothing like the snow and cold temperatures that I hear are waiting for us back in Indiana and Ohio. The only two things that do get under my skin a bit are the sand particles that find their way into every nook and cranny on your clothes and body as you walk around this place, and the phone situation. There is an AT&T long-distance trailer here on the base but it has been out of operation for almost two weeks now, allegedly due to a satellite problem. Basically it takes an act of congress to be able to get on a government phone here and to make the three connections it takes to get a line back to the states. So for any of the 113th's soldiers' family members who might be reading this, if you haven't heard from them or are getting emails that say they can't make any phone calls, I'm here to vouch that they're telling you the truth!
So that's a pretty good update of what's going on over here. Of course, the last few days were made a little more tolerable by the Bobcats holding on to defeat Marist on the road to improve to 3-0. While I wouldn't call it a work of art, I do think that we did a pretty good job on them defensively and showed true grit in holding on when they were coming back and had all the momentum and the crowd behind them. Jeff Halbert and Mychal Green stepped up like the senior leaders they are in making big shots all game whenever things got a little too close for comfort. Hopefully tonight we can build on that with an even better performance against Rhode Island - this will be another great early season test that will serve us well in preparing for MAC play and our quest to defend our MAC title.
Finally, I want to close with some kudos for the Ohio women's volleyball team. Although they lost a tough one to Arizona last night, Geoff Carlston and his team had a truly unbelievable year. Each year for the past three years they have lost key seniors and each year they have had new people step right up so that the program hasn't skipped a beat. Winning a MAC championship is definitely an accomplishment in itself but to repeat and then three-peat when everyone is gunning for you and has your game circled on their schedule is definitely remarkable.
So if all goes according to plan, sometime in the next week or so we will be airborne and heading back home, and I definitely can't wait. I look forward to talking to everyone in person as opposed to through email and this journal, and in the meantime?
Have a great day and GO BOBCATS!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Tuesday, December 6
Greetings from Kuwait, and let me tell you, it feels great to say that. At 0110 this morning, our C-130 touched down here in the Kuwaiti desert and the Iraq chapter of this journey came to an end.
My last few days in Mosul went pretty quickly. On Saturday night, I went to my final Catholic mass - throughout the year this was a good way to get away from the rush of our headquarters and clear my mind, and also helped mark the passing weeks. After that, I listened to the Bobcats' game with American at midnight on the Internet (more on that later) and thankfully it was a better Internet connection than last week. I was operating on the assumption that our flight was going to be Monday morning so I spent my Sunday doing everything for the final time. I finished packing, swept and mopped up my room (which at this point was stripped down to the bare bones with nothing except two beds and four wall lockers), and had my final Sunday dinner of steak and lobster. I even allowed myself a near-beer to commemorate the occasion, funny how they seemingly tasted so much better as the deployment went on. I also went for my last run around FOB Marez and made sure to get up on top of Radar Hill for one last glimpse of that Mosul skyline which I will not soon forget.
Of course, we wouldn't want things to start going according to plan here at the end of the deployment so we had one final audible Sunday night when we got word that the flight I would be on, the second of six for our battalion, was not scheduled to fly out until 2345 on Monday night. That left me one more fun-filled day in Mosul. With all my packing complete and my room ready-to-go, I did some reading and also reviewed some material for the NCAA's annual Recruiting Test that I will have to take when I get back to Athens before I can get back out on the recruiting trail.
True to the Army's "Hurry up and wait" mentality, we started loading our duffle bags on the truck around 1700, almost seven hours prior to our scheduled departure. I had my final dinner at Marez (they do a pretty good stir-fry, by the way), and then we loaded up the busses to drive across the street to the airfield at 1945. I guess you definitely wouldn't want to miss your final flight out of Iraq (or any flight out of Iraq, for that matter), and we were certainly in no danger of that, getting to the passenger area just under four hours prior to departure. That left us with plenty of time to fidget and wait but don't worry, we weren't complaining. The Air Force even threw us a little bone as our C-130 arrived 30 minutes early and at 2300, 53 of us marched out onto the runway two by two and loaded onto the plane with two pallets stacked with our duffle bags as well.
As a final reminder of the environment we were leaving, whereas back in the States flight passengers are asked to remain seated and keep their seatbelts fastened until the plane reaches its cruising altitude, our instructions for this flight were to make sure we didn't turn on any flashlights or headlamps until we reached our cruising altitude and we took off in complete darkness, both inside and outside the plane. But although any insurgents wishing to take a potshot at the plane couldn't see us as we took off, they just might have been able to hear the whooping and hollering of all of us as our plane went wheels up and whisked us away from Mosul for the final time. Now a C-130 is not exactly renowned for its comfort level, as the canvas benches the passengers sit on are firm and unforgiving and you sit basically knee to knee with the guy across from you, but believe me, no one was complaining. As we took off, the guy across from me started talking to someone about his favorite Subway sandwich and that got me to thinking about all the things that I have missed from back home over the past year - I am definitely excited to be getting back to all of that and then some!
We touched down in Kuwait in the middle of the night. I didn't jump off the plane and get down on my hands and knees and kiss the ground or anything like that but everyone was definitely all smiles as we loaded up on busses to be transported to our home for the next 10 days or so, which is appropriately named Camp Victory. I say appropriately named because I feel that the 113th Engineer Battalion was victorious in its efforts over the past year to make Mosul a better place and also set up the Iraqi security forces for success, and also for the 21 memorable victories and MAC Championship that the Bobcats provided me during the 2004-05 season (and hopefully many more this year as well).
Camp Victory is just like Camp New York, where we stayed in Kuwait last December on the way into Iraq. Basically it is a ton of tents in the middle of the desert surrounded by a 10-foot sand berm. I'll have more to say about it in my next entry but I am looking forward to listening to the Bobcats play their next three road games here. I was really pleased with the effort in the American game. Most notably, we jumped out to a nice lead in the first four minutes, a nice contrast to the last few years where our trademark often was getting off to slow starts, falling behind by double digits and then storming back with our press to make things interesting, winning a lot but definitely losing more than we would have liked. So hopefully with everyone anointing us as a team to watch in the MAC this year, we can translate that into jumping on teams early, never giving them any daylight to get back in the game, and then getting our bench plenty of minutes at the end of the game thanks to having a comfortable lead. And we couldn't have done much better in this regard over the first two games. Now let's see if we can take this approach on the road as we play three successively more difficult games with Marist, Rhode Island and Cincinnati.
As a final note, it looks like I'll be back in Athens at the end of the month, just in time to catch plenty of flak from the Ohio State faithful as my Fighting Irish take them on in the Fiesta Bowl. As a legendary Bobcat - Mo Banton - always says, he has three favorite teams: Ohio, whoever is playing Miami, and whoever is playing Ohio State, so I am definitely looking forward to having Mo on my side for this one!
Have a great day and GO BOBCATS!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Friday, December 2
As I type this, I am listening to "Beautiful Day" by U2 and it certainly is as we have just completed our TOA (Transfer of Authority) ceremony and are officially "mission complete" in Mosul. Now we are just waiting to load our equipment up on trucks to be hauled to Kuwait and then we get to jump on some Air Force planes and fly there ourselves - should be in the next few days.
The TOA ceremony was very well done. It was attended by our Task Force Commander, Major General Rodriguez, and our Brigade Commander, Colonel Shields. Our entire 400-soldier strong battalion, minus the 75 soldiers already down in Kuwait putting some of our vehicles through the wash rack, was present in addition to the unit that is replacing us. Prior to the ceremony officially beginning, our Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Shatto, took the opportunity to give awards to our interpreters, who were an integral part of our success this year. It was clear that this was a great honor for them - they kept bowing in front of LTC Shatto as he presented their awards.
The ceremony began with 10 soldiers being awarded Purple Hearts by Colonel Shields. For the deployment, 29 soldiers in our battalion earned Purple Hearts, thankfully none posthumously - a tribute to the bravery and courage they displayed all year, often operating slow-moving engineer equipment in the heart of the city. This was followed by LTC Shatto and Command Sergeant Major Smith casing our colors (our battalion's guidon or flag), symbolic of our battalion being done with our mission here in Iraq. After this, our distinguished guests, General Rodriguez and Colonel Shields, offered remarks to our soldiers, commending them for a job well done and being an integral part of the success of coalition forces here in Iraq. Probably the comment that will stick in my mind the most was when General Rodriguez said that he will remember this battalion as being one that never said "can't" to any mission, as I feel that this was the hallmark of our unit - we went above and beyond in meeting the engineer needs of all the infantry battalions in the area of operations, often with minimal notice, always accomplishing the mission.
Also of note, I took my final ride through Mosul yesterday, as I headed up to the Palace to turn in some equipment and say farewell to the people whom I had worked with when I was up at Brigade Headquarters. It was good to see them one last time, although I was definitely glad when we pulled back into our home base, FOB Marez, and my final trip "outside the wire" was complete (I'm sure my mom feels the same way!).
So now all that's left is for me to finish my final packing and clean up my room - I have already mailed three footlockers of stuff back to Ohio so there is not too much left in this regard.
And of course, there is a Bobcat game to catch on Saturday versus American and hopefully we will achieve a similar result as we did last Saturday versus Saint Francis. Unfortunately my internet connection kept cutting in and out, which was definitely annoying for me, but the guys did a great job of jumping on them early and keeping the defensive pressure on throughout the game, never letting Saint Francis get totally comfortable on offense. I am really excited about our depth this year, as I think it will allow us to maintain a higher intensity level out there on defense and also allow us to avoid some of the occasional scoring droughts that have plagued us in past years - we have some real firepower that we can call on off the bench.
And speaking of the bench, it is a great feeling to think that I will be back there in less than a month - in this case, absence really has made the heart grow fonder!
Have a great weekend and GO BOBCATS!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Thursday, November 24
Ten shopping days left in Iraq! Or something like that, as we still don't know exactly when we will fly. But it's definitely better than 365 days, that is for sure!
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! As much as an ordeal as being stationed in Iraq can be at times, our battalion and I personally have much to be thankful for, as - knock on wood - we are just a few weeks away from completing a successful and, more importantly, relatively safe deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Seeing how life is on the other side of the world has definitely opened all of our eyes to how appreciative we need to be of how good we have things back in the good old U.S.A.
Personally, this holiday is a good time for me to reflect on and give thanks for the truly unbelievable support that I have received from so many great people. Obviously, my parents Ed and Karen, brothers Keith and Mark, and extended family have been a constant throughout, sending me daily emails and anything I could even dream of needing (short of a plane ticket out of here about 10 months ago!). Coach O'Shea, John Rhodes, Brian Townsend, Adam DeMong, Brenda White, and everyone else associated with Ohio Basketball and Ohio Athletics have really bent over backwards to keep me a part of everything even while I am half a world away. Of course, it has been great to keep in touch with the players - the true reason I am in coaching - and they gave me the best possible support and inspiration by the way they stepped up and delivered a MAC championship last year when no one else thought they could do it. Athens, Ohio, and Ohio University are definitely two of the best-kept secrets that I never knew about prior to joining the program five years ago and the citizens, faculty, staff and students definitely have lived up to that billing with care packages, emails, letters and even a welcome home sign in the windows of Copeland Hall when I came home for leave. Believe me, I can't wait to be in your midst walking around campus and down Court Street again!
I was also fortunate enough to spend four amazing years and make the best friends one could hope to have at the University of Notre Dame, and despite missing too many weddings, football weekends and other get-togethers the past year, these friends have never let me get far away from their thoughts and prayers, which means so much as well. To all the people who I have come across at various stages of my life, to include former grades school teachers, high school classmates and fellow coaches, as well as people whom I had never even met before, who all took it upon themselves to reach out to me via email or snail mail - to all of you, your thoughtfulness has meant so much and made what could have been a miserable and frustrating year a truly positive and beneficial experience for me. And finally, I must give thanks for the soldiers of the 113th Engineer Battalion who I have stood alongside for the past year, through the highs and lows, heat waves and cold snaps - you all have truly inspired me with your dedication and commitment to duty and I am thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of your team.
And now that the Kleenex moment has passed, it is time to focus on the key tasks at hand - getting home and the soon-to-kick-off 2005-06 Ohio Bobcats basketball season. In terms of getting home, our battalion moved another step closer to this when our Anaconda company (a little factoid for you - our Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Headquarters companies are named after snakes - Anaconda, Boa, Cobra and Viper, respectively) rejoined us at Forward Operating Base Marez to prepare for the final push out of here. For the past year, Anaconda has been serving in support of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment out at Forward Operating Base Sykes, just outside of Tall Afar, a town about 60 miles west of here. Tall Afar was in the news back in August as coalition forces surrounded it and rolled through it and stamped out the insurgents, a la Fallujah, and our Anaconda engineers had a lot to do with the success of the mission. So we continue to prepare for redeployment, signing over equipment that is going to stay here in country, washing and loading everything that is coming back with us, and also preparing our replacement engineers for the missions ahead of them.
As an aside, the air was dripping with irony this week as I read our military's daily newspaper, Stars and Stripes, and came across an article that spoke of the Army's recent announcement that it is discontinuing its program of involuntarily recalling officers who had served beyond their eight-year commitment off of the IRR list. Unfortunately, that comes about a year and a half too late for my good and probably for the stress level of my parents as well. That being said, everything that has happened to me since I got that letter in the mail September 3, 2004 - both good and not-so-good - has made me a stronger and better person and I have had the chance to benefit from meeting some truly impressive people through this deployment. That old saying, "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it," comes to mind and hopefully I have been able to live up to that challenge.
And now on to the topic most near and dear to my heart, the Bobcats versus Saint Francis this Saturday afternoon (2300 over here). My ears will be glued to my laptop (if that's possible!) and the voice of Derek Scott and whoever is his able sidekick for this one. Looking forward to hearing our seniors - Mychal Green, Jeff Halbert and Cliff McGowen - lead us in our quest for another MAC championship in their final go-round in the green and white. Definitely excited for our junior class of Matt Annen, Whitney Davis, Stephen King and Sonny Troutman, who have all worked their butts off day in and day out and improved every day - they truly have been the backbone of what we have been trying to build with our program, both on and off the court. The bulls-eye will be firmly on our sophomores, Leon Williams and Jeremy Fears, after their exciting freshmen seasons - I am sure they are up for the challenge. And finally the newcomers that I am hearing so many good things about - Johnnie Jackson, Ken Ottrix, Tony Chatman, Jerome Tillman and Seth Bauman - hope they are ready to pick right up where our senior class left off last year in terms of accepting roles and putting the team first, which had so much to do with the great successes we achieved. Looking forward to a great year and even more so to being back and being a part of it in a few (hopefully short) weeks!
Once again, Happy Thanksgiving and GO BOBCATS!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Friday, November 18
The days keep marching on (not quickly enough of course!). In two weeks, November will be over and we will be getting ready to board a series of Air Force planes for the flight to Kuwait.
The overall situation in Mosul remains relatively stable. There has been some intimidation of local Iraqi policemen of late but other than that, enemy activity remains extremely low compared to 11 months ago when we arrived here. In addition to the upcoming national elections in December, our military's focus remains on preparing the Iraqi army units and Iraqi police to take up the fight by themselves. The pace is not as fast as we like at times, especially in terms of getting them properly equipped to take up the fight (up-armored vehicles and the like). But hopefully the next year will see significant strides being made in this area as, one by one, Iraqi battalions become ready to take over and patrol their own battle space and the requirement for American forces decreases.
In terms of the 113th Engineer Battalion, our focus is fully on getting our vehicles and equipment ready for redeployment and also on what is known as "left seat, right seat rides." That is the Army's term for preparing the unit relieving you to assume your mission. The "left seat" portion consists of our soldiers in the left seat and the replacing soldiers in the right seat - basically we run the missions and they are along to observe our TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures). After 5-7 days of this set-up, we move to the "right seat" portion, where the replacing unit runs the mission in the left seat with just a few of our soldiers along to observe and critique in the right seat. During this time, our soldiers are slowly phased out of the operations, with the end state being the replacing unit ready to run missions on their own (YEAH!!!). Same thing goes here in our headquarters - for the left seat portion, our radio operators control the missions and handle all communications with our subordinate units and with Brigade headquarters. As we transition to the right seat, we sit in the TOC and are available to answer any questions that arise but the new guys are running the show (again, YEAH!!!).
So the best part of this all is that the new guys have been arriving the last few days. It is great to see them come in - all wide-eyed and energetic and chomping at the bit. Everything is new and exciting - the dining facility, the little mini-mall area, the gym and the other recreation facilities. I chuckle to myself thinking back to this time last year and wondering if that was us as well (I'm sure it was). And then I can't help but think of the old saying, "It's a marathon, not a sprint" - for believe me, it is! A year from now, I am sure they will feel like they were here for about five years like we do.
This week we also had to take care of some personnel actions required for redeployment. We had to endure (and that is definitely the word) a series of demobilization briefings centering on topics like family reunification and finance, legal and medical issues. Concepts like "don't throw things at your spouse or kids when you're mad," "clean up the language that you have been using out in the field all year," and my favorite, "don't go home and buy a new vehicle for everyone in the family and a new entertainment center to boot with all the money you saved all year." But I guess it is all stuff that needs to be said.
We also had our post-deployment health assessment. Each soldier sits down at a computer workstation and answers a series of questions, designed to document potential medical issues down the road resulting from our time over here. Some of the questions asked us to detail any medical issues that we might have suffered from during the deployment. Another series of questions focused on anything that might lead to psychological issues in the future, such as "At any time did you feel like your life was in danger?", "Did you ever see anyone killed or wounded?", and "Did you ever have to discharge your weapon at someone?" Lastly, we were asked to detail the list of potentially harmful things we were exposed to during the year, which included lovely things like raw sewage, burning trash, loud explosions, extreme dusty conditions and on and on (if my kids end up with three eyes or purple skin, we will definitely know why!). After completing the questionnaire, a physician reviewed all of our answers with us, determined if any further examination or check-up was necessary and everything was entered into our permanent records.
So that's where things are at over here in Mosul. Meanwhile, I must finish up by acknowledging Bill Toadvine, our baseball team's associate head coach who passed away from cancer this week. I was deeply saddened by this news, as Bill truly was a class act whom I enjoyed talking to and being around. Bill and Joe Carbone, our head baseball coach, played together at Ohio when the Bobcats went to the College World Series in 1970 and since Joe became head coach for the 1989 season, have been together every step of the way with Ohio Baseball. I admire their program because it truly is a family, with their former players staying in touch and involved in the program no matter where life takes them and Bill certainly had a lot to do with that. Bill was very supportive of me personally when we went through a tough season two years ago and I am very thankful for that. He will be missed by many but I am sure that wherever a Bobcat team is competing, he will never be far away.
Have a great weekend and in Bill's memory, GO BOBCATS!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Saturday, November 12
Hello from Mosul - almost down to one month to go over here and to be honest, the days seem to be dragging a bit as we get this close.
Nothing remarkable to report this week - I guess that is a good thing. I continued cleaning up my gear and packing up and shipped my first footlocker back to Ohio. We loaded some of our non-essential equipment into large metal shipping containers, which were inspected by the customs inspectors and sealed up, ready to be line-hauled down to Kuwait in a few weeks to be loaded on a ship.
With the end being near and lots of redeployment-related activities underway, definitely the biggest challenge is keeping everyone focused (not unlike having a big first-half lead in a basketball game). It is hard not to let your mind wander to being back home next month but when preparing for any mission "outside the wire," we need to keep our head in the game and stay sharp and vigilant.
I am typing this in the wake of the Bobcats' 86-70 exhibition win over Mercyhurst. No Derek Scott over the Internet for this one so I had to follow it on the GameTracker, which can be a bit challenging (and lead to some pacing) at times. At first glance, it looks like our depth is going to be a big strength for us as Tony Chatman and Johnnie Jackson both gave us great sparks off the bench. And, as always at this point of the year, there are certainly some things to work on but I am sure the coaches have these items pinpointed and will give them plenty of emphasis in practice over the next two weeks prior to the opener against Saint Francis.
I am also eagerly awaiting the arrival of the CD with our scrimmage from last Saturday against Boston College so I can get a good look for myself at this year's team. I did get a lot of positive feedback on that scrimmage from the coaches and players.
In the meantime, in case the preseason preview magazines didn't do it already, any chance of us tip-toeing up on any of our non-conference opponents was blown away with our prominent piece on ESPN.com the other day. As a coach, you always fear that hype like this can lead to overconfidence but hopefully we have the focus and mental toughness to recognize this for the challenge that it is and step up to meet it. On the positive side, this type of recognition can really increase the visibility of our program, which potentially could pay dividends if it ever came down to being considered for an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. Of course, we could just win the MAC Tournament again and the point would be moot! Time will tell.
In the meantime, we keep moving closer and closer to getting home. As I've said, there's plenty of uncertainty as to when exactly we will be moving to Kuwait and then on to the States but I am still very hopeful that I will be home in Buffalo with my family for Christmas and that our December 30th tilt with Kentucky will be my first game back on the bench - that is definitely something to look forward to!
Have a great day! GO BOBCATS!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Friday, November 4
Well, we are into our final full month in Iraq and at long last the end is getting near. The days can't go by fast enough. This is a big Bobcat weekend as the Bobcat football team hosts a key MAC match-up with Toledo in Peden tonight and the hoopsters head out to Boston College for a season-opening closed-door scrimmage - that should be a good barometer of where we are at. In any case, it definitely is a good thing that it is one of the last big Bobcat weekends I will be missing - I am eager to get back and get into the flow, not to mention my own bed and porcelain toilets and real silverware!
Probably the two big events for me this week were moving back from the palace to join my battalion at our old base and getting the chance to roll out on one of our IRONMAN sweeps the other day. In terms of moving back, my jobs as assistant brigade engineer and liaison officer to our Brigade headquarters were pretty much complete as we now have our final month of missions laid out. Part of that mission set will include bringing our replacement unit up to speed on what we do so that they can pick up where we leave off. Additionally we are constructing three more combat outposts for Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police forces - this is part of our effort to get the Iraqi Security Forces out into the city to allow them to maintain a more visible and positive presence in the neighborhoods.
The other key aspect of moving back is starting to get my living unit packed up so that I am ready to go (I will have no problem getting motivated to do that!). While most of the soldiers plan on carrying a few duffle bags with them and putting the rest of their stuff into foot lockers that will go in large metal containers, and then travel via ship back to Indiana to arrive sometime in February, I will be mailing that stuff back to Ohio so I don't have to worry about it. So that will keep me busy the next few weeks. Also, with one month left in country, they have cut off our mail as well - thanks to everyone for being so supportive in that category - your generosity and thoughtfulness were definitely a huge boost and helped me maintain a generally positive outlook throughout this deployment.
I also mentioned getting to go out on one of our IRONMAN sweeps the other day. One of the key functions of engineers anywhere they operate, but especially here in Iraq, is that of providing mobility support to ensure that coalition forces have freedom of movement throughout our Area of Operations. To achieve that end, one of our key missions is route clearance, as we sweep routes in and around Mosul looking for Improvised Explosive Devices (IED's) that the insurgents love to hide. Recently, the army has fielded us a Buffalo (I had a memorable mission in one of those back in February) as well as three RG-31's. The Buffalo is a monstrous vehicle with the large robotic arm that allows it to investigate suspicious looking devices along the road side. It is heavily armored with a sloping underbody that provides it blast protection. The RG-31 is basically a security vehicle that is a smaller version of the Buffalo, again with heavy armor and a design that offers maximum protection from blast.
As we fielded this equipment, we assumed this sweep mission (which we appropriately dubbed IRONMAN sweeps) consisting of these three RG-31's and the Buffalo, and approximately 25 soldiers. Basically one of our platoons sweeps various routes in Mosul each day at different times. I went out on an evening sweep and rode in the Buffalo. One of the interesting parts of this mission is all the intelligence that goes into it, kind of like a scouting report for a basketball game. Basically it involves keeping track of the enemy's recent tactics in emplacing these IED's (usually artillery rounds or land mines), both in their locations and methods of disguising them, ranging from emplacing them in chunks of concrete, to bags or boxes that blend in with the multitude of garbage that lines the streets here, to hanging them off of overpasses. The platoon leader gives the soldiers an overview of the route they will be sweeping focusing on specific areas and things they should be looking for.
The night I rode out on the sweep, we spent approximately two hours driving around the city. We stopped to probe suspicious looking devices with the robot arm six times, lifting up and dumping a few bags that just turned out to have garbage in them, and moving some chunks of displaced concrete from curbs which tend to be favorite hiding spots as well. Operating the Buffalo's arm takes some skill and it was interesting to watch the soldier manipulate it to drag concrete out of the way or to stab a bag and lift it up and turn it over. At one point, we thought we had spied a round hiding behind a piece of curb but when the arm dragged the concrete out of the way, it proved to be a dirty water bottle sitting there.
So my trip out with the sweep team proved fruitless in terms of finding anything but just last night, the team discovered two IED's - one land mine and one artillery round. The fun part of discovering them is once they disconnect the firing system using the arm, they get to place some C-4 on the device and blow it in place (an engineer's dream!). But more than fun, the important part of this is that these were two devices that were prevented from being utilized on coalition forces and/or Iraqi civilians, and that's what it's all about!
So as we wrap things up over here, my mind never strays far away from our team back in Athens getting ready for our opener against Saint Francis on November 26th. Everything I am hearing from the coaching staff and players is positive and exciting - if we stay healthy and stay together, there is no reason that we can't have another great year!
Have a great day! GO BOBCATS!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Friday, October 28
Hello again from my home away from home for going on 10 months now - Mosul, Iraq. This was a milestone week as we went under the two-month mark for getting back home and I also hit the one-year anniversary of John Rhodes driving me to the Parkersburg airport for my trip to report to Fort Sill, Okla., and the beginning of this adventure/ordeal/odyssey (based on whatever kind of mood you find me in at any given time).
Depending on how closely you follow the news, you may or may not know this was a big week over here as the referendum results were announced. While the biggest headlines proclaimed that 78% of all Iraqis voted "yes," things actually ended up much closer in terms of getting the constitution ratified - our province of Ninevah (of which Mosul makes up over 2/3 of its population) proved to be "the Ohio of Iraq." To overturn the constitution, three provinces were required to cast at least 67% "no" votes. Two other provinces went well over this threshold so it all came down to Ninevah (which does have a Sunni majority) - while the "no" vote did get a majority, it ended up only being 55%, well short of what was needed.
So this is a positive step as it enables the process to move forward, with national elections for seats in Iraq's legislative body being held on December 15 and then a round of provincial elections being held in February as well. Thankfully, the 113th Engineer Battalion is not planning on being around for either of them!
I also was fortunate enough to have had a unique chance to fire some artillery the other day and it all owes to my Bobcat connections. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, Captain Mike Bugaj, a 1997 graduate of Ohio University and its ROTC program, is stationed here at Forward Operating Base Courage with me and holds the position of Battery Commander of Bravo Battery, 4-11 Field Artillery Battalion. Bravo Battery's main responsibility is to run the FPOC (Force Protection Operations Center) here at FOB Courage, which mainly means that they control and oversee the gates and guard towers and all other security measures here on the base (I'm sure you'll agree with me and all the other soldiers on the FOB that this is a very important mission - keeping us all safe).
However, in conjunction with the other hat that Bravo Battery wears as one of our Brigade's field artillery assets, they are also responsible for maintaining eight M198 howitzers ready to fire anywhere around Mosul as the need arises. To stay prepared for this mission, the battery must periodically calibrate their guns and this past Wednesday was one such day, dubbed Operation "Mosul Thunder." The Battery was scheduled to fire well over one hundred 155-millimeter rounds and before you get nervous, they selected a large open area well to the west of Mosul to fire into with plenty of notice provided to nearby villages and "eyes on" the impact area throughout, in case anyone should inadvertently wander in there.
Anyhow, Mike was nice enough to extend me an invitation to join his soldiers for the shoot. The shoot was scheduled for 0800-1500 and my plan was to join them around lunchtime. Unfortunately, there was a general visiting the base for a series of briefings and because the artillery was so loud (a few windows were shattered and a generator was knocked out), Mike's battery got shut down after a couple of hours (that can be the Army for you!) and it wasn't looking so good for me. But they were allowed to resume after lunch and I was able to join them as they fired off their final 15 rounds or so for the day.
It definitely was quite the experience. Words really don't do justice to how loud and smoky those guns are when they fire, that's for sure. But the teamwork that goes into firing one of those things was quite impressive - in this case, it was 4th Section of Bravo Battery. A two-man team picks up one of the fairly large rounds sitting on a tray-like structure and carries it right up to the opening in the back of the gun. The "Number One Man" then comes up and uses a ramrod to push the shell up into it. After the round is seated, he takes the bag of propellant and loads that in behind the shell - for this shoot, I was told that we used "Red Bag," one of the most powerful propellants out there (unfortunately so for those windows). They throw in the primer, basically a cartridge of gunpowder to get it all rolling, and close it up. Finally, they hook up the lanyard to the back of the gun - this is what actually fires the round. The "Number One Man" takes the lanyard back 25 feet or so (I was told that usually six feet is all that is necessary but because of the vaunted "Red Bag" and all the recoil it produces, a lot of extra standoff is required), pulls it taut against his body and on the fire chief's command of "Fire," twists his body to pull the cord and fire the round. Very impressive.
Anyhow, as part of the VIP treatment that Mike provided me, I was allowed to fire a round. The private who had been doing it was a pretty stout fellow so as I walked up to give it a try, I was a little unsure on how much "juice" was needed to make that round fire, not too much different from finding out how much pressure from your finger is needed to pull the trigger on a given gun when you fire it for your first time. And this certainly wouldn't be a story worth telling if I had a misfire on my first try so you can see there was a lot of pressure there! But I pulled the lanyard to my body, got the command to "Fire" from the chief and not only twisted but probably pulled a bit on that cord, and you can imagine not only the exhilaration but also the relief when that round thundered off into the Mosul sky. A pretty neat feeling. To cap off the experience, Mike gave me the casing from the primer cartridge, a souvenir of sorts and proof that I fired an artillery round in a combat zone - a great day to be a Bobcat for sure!
I had lunch with Mike the next day and he coached me up a bit on what exactly happened again - even for an engineer, this was a fairly complex process. And we also shared stories of him being around for the Gary Trent years and some of our team's accomplishments in the last four years as well. So as I get ready to get back to Athens and rejoin the team in a few - hopefully short - months, I think it would be only fitting that our team unleash some of their own "Bobcat Thunder" on the MAC this season and particularly send some of it Mike's way here in Mosul come tournament time in March!
Have a great day! GO BOBCATS!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Tuesday, October 18
Well, the referendum is over, the polling sites are closed down and I would say that 95% of the 113th Engineer Battalion's mission in Iraq is complete. And it is a good feeling. I would call the election process here in Mosul a solid success - voter turnout was fairly high (somewhere in the 60% range) and, more importantly, there was no violence to speak of. Last night, our soldiers recovered concrete barriers from the final polling sites, culminating 17 days of long hours and hard work. Prior to the referendum, we emplaced approximately 2,000 barriers at 130 polling sites in Mosul and the surrounding regions here in Ninevah province. Compare that to only 55 sites for the election last January and you can see that there has been great progress, not only for us but for Iraq, as conditions were permissive enough to allow almost three times the number of polling sites this time around.
I am not going to lie. There definitely were some glitches, mainly due to trying to allow the Iraqis as much control as possible of the voting process. When things got dicey or looked bleak, American troops on occasion did have to step in and make sure things stayed on track. As we completed the barriers and obstacles at the polling sites on the nights prior to the vote, Iraqi "jundi" (Arabic for soldiers) or policemen were supposed to occupy and guard the sites. This was easier said than done at times. As a matter of fact, there was one point where the chief of police called all the polling sites in a neighborhood and told them those sites were deception sites and they did not need to guard them (sounds plausible but definitely not the plan). Well, it took more than a couple hours to run those police down and get them back where they were supposed to be - thankfully nothing bad happened as a result. Then there were all the ballot deliveries scheduled for the day prior to the elections - there were a few sites where the election officials were nowhere to be found and even one hub site where the head honcho allegedly forgot that the election was that weekend. All of these issues were worked through.
One of the biggest issues on the night prior to the elections were the possibility that people were not going to be allowed to vote if they showed up at a site other than where they were listed on the rolls (due to the cumbersome registration process, this province had been granted exception to this rule, which had been publicized for weeks only to be apparently reversed the day before). Thankfully this was resolved, as it was feared that if people were turned away at various sites that allegations of fraud would be raised. Additionally, the heightened security measures to prevent violence at the polling sites included every person being searched prior to entering the site. Only problem here was as election day approached, it became obvious that there weren't going to be enough female searchers (most polling sites were at schools so many of the female teachers were hired for this duty). Once again, the system adapted and female searchers were cross-leveled between some sites and at other sites, two females would be brought up to search each other while watched by a policeman.
On the day of election, there was a little drama as there were rumors that people in the Kurdish region in the north were voting in their towns and then being bussed to other towns to vote again. The Iraqi Army spun up to investigate this and, thankfully, it proved to be baseless.
But all in all, despite more than a few challenges, there were plenty of good news stories. Stories of whole families showing up to vote in their best clothes, elderly people being wheeled to the polling sites, pictures of many Iraqis proudly displaying the ink on their finger signifying that they had voted (and so they wouldn't try to vote again). In one small town on the outskirts of Mosul, the polling site director did not show up and, being a poor village and very isolated, the American and Iraqi soldiers patrolling through found that the couple hundred citizens were disappointed and fearful that they would not be able to vote due to lack of transportation. So the Iraqi police chief for that region sent a few trucks to a nearby town where every registered voter had voted prior to noon (how about that?!?!) and his policemen transported the election officials and their materials back to the other town where all the citizens were neatly lined up and ready to vote - the commander of the American unit reported that the cheering of the people in line was truly heartwarming.
Now don't ask me how the vote turned out here in Mosul and in Ninevah province because even though I am at headquarters and have fairly good access to information, nobody still truly knows. Just in some of the media accounts I've seen on the internet, I have seen some widely varying numbers. So it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
But again, all in all, this referendum was a success story and gives us a feeling that at least for now, some progress is being made and that there is hope for Iraq on the horizon. Only time will tell.
Have a great day!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Friday, October 14
Today I will have to start out with kudos to my parents Ed and Karen who celebrated their 35th anniversary on October 10th. To me, 35 days is a long time let alone 35 years, and for being such great parents to boot, they have much to be congratulated on. Not to mention my dad having to put up with all those shoes my mom buys and my mom having to listen to all my dad's polka music for all those years! Unfortunately I had to phone in to be a part of the party that my brothers Keith and Mark threw for them but in a few short months, I look forward to congratulating them in person.
Meanwhile, over here in this lovely tourist trap (oh, it's a trap all right!), things are ramping up in a big way for tomorrow's referendum. Being at brigade headquarters for this go-round as opposed to being down at the ground level for last January's elections offers a truly different view of things. Obviously the goal is to transition as much of this process as possible to Iraqi control but it's not like they have a lot of experience running elections so there definitely are some growing pains. From time to time, we will have officials from the Iraqi Election Commission, the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police passing through here, as they all have a key role in tomorrow's events. While I have not worked with them directly, it is interesting to hear the stories of those who have, some good and some not-so-good. Bottom line is it looks as if things are as much on track as could be hoped for the vote.
As engineers, my unit has played a key role in helping secure the polling sites by emplacing thousands of concrete barriers throughout the area. I had an opportunity to roll with one of our teams out to emplace barriers at two rural sites a few nights ago. Our team consisted of four Strykers for security, four of our hummvees, one tractor trailer with a bucket loader on it and three more flatbed trailers hauling about 35 concrete barriers. We rolled out around 2000 and arrived at the first town about thirty minutes later. Once on site, the platoon leader linked up with the town's police chief while the soldiers began downloading the loader and the Strykers set up a security perimeter. The team leader walked around dropping luminescent chemical lights in the locations where he wanted his team to put barriers - the goal was to block all the avenues of approach to restrict vehicular access to the polling site (one gate made of steel cable was emplaced to allow for emergency access). The polling site in that town, as is the case in most, was one of the town's primary schools. As the engineer team got the equipment ready, I walked around the area with our interpreter - we happened upon a corner store where seven or eight men were sitting out in front telling stories. One of the younger ones, who turned out to be a 20-year-old university student, came up to us. He spoke some English with our interpreter but, of course, I spoke my English too fast for him to understand. Through the interpreter, I asked him for his thoughts about the referendum. He said that most people in his town would vote, that as Sunnis they would vote "no" because they had heard the constitution would give too much of the nation's wealth to their rivals, the Kurds, and that he thought the Kurds would cheat with the election by voting in multiple towns. When I asked him about how things were compared to how they had been with Saddam, he said that with Saddam, they had security, security and more security (I guess that's one way of looking at it) but nothing else; with the new post-Saddam era, security was still a bit iffy but that they had so much more in every other regard. All in all, he was positive about the direction things were heading. I should say that the biggest issue that came out was that it was a week before the referendum and the constitution still hadn't been released - in lieu of this, people were hearing a lot of rumors and were subject to whatever they heard from their leaders at their mosques - definitely not the democratic way. (Now it appears as the reason this constitution was not released was that amendments to appease the Sunnis and win more broad-based support were being negotiated).
After this, I walked further through the town where a horde of locals were interacting with the soldiers. Lots of laughing and pictures and candy being passed out - this is definitely the fun part of the job. The interpreter and I continued up the street towards the Christian section of town and walked into an internet café on the corner. The owner was an older man who gave us free Pepsis and had a lot of positive things in general to say about the current state of affairs. The interpreter asked him for me about the Sunni vs. Shiite vs. Kurd issue and he pointed around his shop and said that everyone got along just fine in this town. He said that he was planning on voting for the referendum.
At this point the barrier emplacement was just about complete so we loaded up and headed out to the town that I had been to on a recon just a week before. It was a good 45-minute drive so by the time we got there, it was almost midnight and the town was quiet. We found the town hall/mayor's office that was going to be the polling site and the police woke up the mayor and within 10 minutes he was over there dressed in a dress shirt and suit - no tie but pretty impressive nonetheless. He made my day when he pointed at me and said "Engineer" - good memory. While the soldiers emplaced the barriers, he took the platoon leader and platoon sergeant and myself into his office with three or four of his head policemen and we sat down on couches and had a little chat session. Amidst a lot of small talk and some sweets that were passed around, he indicated that his town was firmly for the referendum (even though, once again, they hadn't seen it). He also said that his town's biggest issue was jobs and also was very complimentary of the American efforts overall.
About an hour later, the obstacles were in place and we were ready to head back. It was over an hour drive but the good part was that I got to ride up in the rear hatch of the Stryker through the Iraqi countryside on a starry, yet chilly night. We returned to base at around 0230, fueled up and it was off to bed - another fun day in Iraq in the rear view mirror.
To close out, I had a humorous experience the other day. As I was walking with a fellow officer from this new unit across the base, he said to me, "Man, you walk slow." Of course, anyone who knows me knows that this is way out of character for me back home - I am usually rushing around somewhere for something. As I reflected on this, I figured either 1) it's been a long year and my body's worn down (I hope not), 2) 120-degree heat has a way of making you move a little slower so you sweat a little bit less or 3) over here, there's no reason to walk fast - you're not going anywhere (unless you're getting shot at, of course!). Whichever one it is, all I know is I'm looking forward to walking as slow or as fast as I like on some American street - Court Street (Athens), Church Street (Burlington), Chippewa Street (Buffalo) and Beale Street (Memphis) are just a few that come to mind!
Lastly, tomorrow is a big day as it will be the opening day of practice for Jeff Halbert and Mychal Green and your Ohio Bobcats - I'm looking forward to getting my email reports from the coaching staff. In the meantime, have a great day! Go Bobcats!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Wednesday, October 5
Well, I have to send a shout out to my Yankees, who overcome a rough start and a maddeningly inconsistent season to turn it on in September and send the Red Sox to second place, a position they have come to know very well over the past 90 years or so. And I figure I better enjoy it while I can because the Yanks are going to have their hands full in the playoffs. Fortunately, I was able to catch a few innings of the pennant-clinching victory on Saturday on the television - access to games and shows on television (and at normal hours as well!) is another thing I will really appreciate when I get back to the States.
Not much is new out here. As we prepare for the upcoming referendum, there is a lot of work associated with selecting and preparing the various polling sites. Last Friday, I had the chance to go out and visit one of the rural sites. I really enjoy those missions because the threat level in these outlying areas is much lower than in the city itself and you can actually walk around and interact with the citizens a bit without worrying so much about getting shot at.
In this particular town, the polling site was going to be the mayor's compound, which doubled as his residence and the town meeting place. It was formerly a getaway for Saddam Hussein so it had some well-landscaped grounds with a 12-foot wall all the way around and a commanding view of all the surrounding area. We rolled out there at around 0700 and I had a 45-minute ride in the guts of a Stryker - no window seats for sure but there are some neat electronic gizmos in there that allow you to track where you are on a map as well as see some imagery of the vehicle's surroundings through some high-tech optics.
When we got there, the platoon leader who was in charge of this town introduced me to the mayor and we chatted through the interpreter about putting some concrete barriers and wire obstacles around the compound to better protect it during the election. The mayor had his own set of bodyguards and in general projected an aura of importance. Interestingly, he did not want to have his picture taken, as there still is a fear at some levels in many Iraqis of being identified as pro-American. The other thing I find pretty fascinating is trying to talk to Iraqis through interpreters - I am interested in how they handle a lot of the slang and figures of speech that we use, as well as how they translate not so much the words but the feelings that we are trying to convey. There is a whole set of recommendations for using interpreters, including how you position your body while you are speaking and listening (to just name a few) but to be honest, I have not had to use one enough to really master this.
After our introductions, the platoon leader went into the mayor's office to spend some time with him and I walked around the grounds taking a look at how to defend the place (which didn't take very long - the architects weren't going to leave Saddam very vulnerable). After that, I spent some time hanging out with the U.S. soldiers who were pulling security, the Iraqi policemen who were guarding the place and the droves of kids who were attracted to the American presence. I got to meet the mayor's son, a fearless 10-year-old who knew just enough English to be dangerous (and the soldiers didn't help this any!).
Because the new unit here in Mosul is wearing the army's new uniform (ACU's - Army Combat Uniform - more grayish in nature to fit into urban terrain better) and I was the only one in the traditional desert camouflage, I think the villagers thought I was important or something (what were they thinking?). The policemen invited me into their break room for some tea - the Iraqi version features about two huge heaps of sugar that has little chance of dissolving in the little shot-glass-sized tea cup - they serve it hot and sweet. To show my gratitude, I gave them each a handful of suckers for their kids - one of them was pretty funny as he kept trying to milk me for more suckers, his family was getting bigger by the minute - but despite the language barrier, we all got a good laugh out of that.
Prior to leaving, the Iraqi Election Commission official - who also happened to be the Mayor's brother (sounds like a good way to assure re-election) - showed up and we went through the defense plan for the site one more time. Then it was back into the Stryker and the long ride back to Mosul.
Other than that, the Bobcat nation will be glad to hear that I got approached by an officer with the new unit the other day and - surprise, surprise - he turned out to be an Ohio University Army ROTC graduate - Captain Mike Bugaj. To make things even crazier, he had been stationed at Fort Lewis the same time I was and knew my good friend from Notre Dame ROTC, Nate Ebeling, well from having served in the same field artillery battalion. Small world. And did I mention how fired up he said he was all the way up in Alaska when the Bobcats made their run through the MAC Tournament and into the Big Dance - Bobcat fans are everywhere! We'll just have to give him reason to tune into the Big Dance from Mosul come this March!
Have a great day! Go Bobcats!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Thursday, September 29
Yes, I have been slacking, I know. Twelve, now it's fourteen (this is the third time I've tried to sit down and knock this one out) whole days with no entries. I promise that I will try to do better next time. With me being up here at headquarters, there just haven't been many missions for me to go on of late (and I am sure my mom is just fine with that).
Things are going fairly well these days. First and foremost, I must send a happy 40th shout out to my partner in crime, Big John Rhodes! The emphasis is on 40 years YOUNG in his case. Unfortunately not being there to celebrate it with him will be chalked up as another one of those missed opportunities along this yearlong journey. But we will just have to create a new opportunity when I get back and I am sure that Rhodey will be more than happy to oblige! In any case, I sent him my well wishes in the form of a picture I posed for out in front of the Palace here where I was holding a Happy 40th sign in one hand and toasting him with a Coors Non-Alcoholic in the other - Rhodey, you're out of sight by thousands of miles but in spirit you're always just a high five away!
Another big win for the Bobcats this past weekend - I am definitely missing out on an exciting football season. Meanwhile, I found myself as the only person still up at 0330 watching the conclusion of my Fighting Irish's victory over Washington to keep their renaissance season rolling right along. Of note, I watched the game in the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) Palace, another one of the many small palaces on these grounds that has been converted to other uses. In this case, this particular one has a TV lounge, a weight room, a cardio room, some shops and a computer and phone lab. Probably the most striking aspect of the experience of watching the game on Armed Forces Network was looking at a big-screen TV that had small shrapnel rips in the screen - the taxpayers will be happy to know that obviously the TV was hit during a mortar attack and was salvaged and is still being put to good use.
The referendum is fast approaching, just a little more than two weeks away. And that means that the engineers are even busier than usual, and that's all I will say about that. It is really hard to get a feel for how the political process is going here. I do not even think the constitution has been officially released to the public so I wonder how the people are even going to know what they are voting for. The prevailing wisdom is that the turnout is going to be a big jump from last January but that there is a lot of sentiment out there to vote "No" as many feel they were not well-represented in the process last time (mainly because they didn't bother to vote!). A "No" vote would mean that the December elections would be for a new transitional government which would then spend the year trying to come up with another constitution and this whole process would be repeated. While all in all this could be construed as a good exercise in collaborative government, I am a bit concerned that this would just extend our nation's military presence over here even more than currently projected as they try to sort this out, and I do not think that would be the best thing in the world.
I was lucky enough to head back to my old base for a night to take part in some of our battalion's plannng for this mission and besides being part of that process, it was just great to see all the soldiers again after a few weeks of being away. Not to mention spending the night in my old "hooch" with some carpeting on the floor and all my cards and letters from back home on the wall - just much more comfortable than living out of a rucksack like I am right now.
Lastly, I took note the other day that it was just two months away from the Bobcats' home opener against Saint Francis on November 26th. Not to mention that practice starts in just over two weeks. So hopefully our Cats are ready to step up to the plate and defend our MAC championship! And soon enough, I'll be right there with them - can't wait!
Have a great day! Go Bobcats!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Friday, September 16
Greetings from the Palace. Unfortunately, I am not sitting in the throne being fanned by my servants and having fresh fruit brought to me on a platter. Instead, I am sweating my butt off (not as bad now as it has finally dropped below 100 degrees) and continuing to slog through gravel to get to the shower trailer each morning.
My first two weeks here have gone fairly well and I would say that the change of scenery has recharged my batteries a bit. It's definitely a different war being fought here at headquarters, as it is being fought mainly with the mind. Each morning when I call back to my battalion on the phone, I sharply report that despite heavy fighting, I did not suffer any paper cuts at the hands of the insurgents the day prior. Properly moisturizing your hands each morning is crucial to being able to shuffle all that paper and not suffer any casualties!
The other headquarters phenomenon is that of the laser pointer. The army is famous for its meetings and briefings and even more so for its heavy reliance on powerpoint presentations - the popular term is "death by powerpoint" and it definitely is more effective than anything the enemy could muster. Additionally, you can not turn around without bumping into a paper or electronic map adorning every available inch of wall space. Consequently, the laser pointer is immensely popular for pointing out locations on maps or slides and is a must-have for any butt-kissing captain aspiring to get a good efficiency report and move up the food chain (I definitely do not fit this bill!). I was proud of myself as for the first eight months in country while I was at battalion, I did not use one. Unfortunately, coming up here to brigade marked the end of that as it is expected that you will brief each time with a laser pointer. So I have been swallowing my pride for the past two weeks in that regard.
I was fortunate enough to be able to get off base the other day to roll out to one of the outlying towns (about 15-20 miles away from Mosul) to check out some security measures that our soldiers had emplaced at their town's police station/town hall. In addition to the cavalry troopers that brought me out there, a civil affairs team also accompanied us. The civil affairs teams interact with the locals and attempt to take a barometer of where they are at in a variety of areas, as well as initiating projects to improve their living conditions - their motto is, "winning their hearts and minds." Anyhow, from the soldier's standpoint, all they do is a lot of talking - what could have been a 45-minute mission ended up being about four hours.
When we arrived in town, we immediately went into the Town Hall where the cavalry commander and the civil affairs leader had a meeting with the mayor. I avoided that one like the plague and made my way around the grounds to check out the force protection for the facility. As I did so, I met quite a few kids as I made a mistake of sorts by giving one of the boys a tootsie pop - after that, I was like the Pied Piper and couldn't turn around without two or three of the little buggers hanging on my arm. Soccer is a hit here in Iraq and I kicked around a ball with a few of the soldiers and kids in the street as we waited. I also met a few of the policemen who had returned from a patrol - they somehow managed to cram 13 into a small Nissan pickup truck, including seven in the cab! Lastly, I went inside to some sort of business office where they were issuing ration coupons for benzene (gasoline) - evidently there is a fairly severe shortage out there. I was surprised by the amount of females working in the office but learned that the town is predominantly Christian, which explained the more westernized view of women.
As the meeting ended, I was told we would be heading to the town's courthouse, which was just a "short" walk away. As usual with everything else over here, the distance was grossly understated. I probably could have covered a pretty good stretch of the way back to Athens (Greece, that is) in the time it took us to get to the courthouse (and we certainly did not take the most direct path either!).
Along the way, the kids would cluster around all the soldiers and we stopped at one of the corner marketplaces where there was a host of small shops and an area along the street to sit and talk. I bought a bottle of Iraqi Coca-Cola and enjoyed a slushee of sorts as well. There were some nice-looking churches and I also met some cute youngsters. I saw quite a few fair-skinned youth and even a few with reddish hair - definitely different from most of the neighborhoods we usually work in.
Of course, there had to be some excitement and as we plodded through the narrow streets around the whole perimeter of the town, one of the Strykers hit a truck, causing a relatively minor dent to its fender. This set off quite the commotion as the truck driver got pretty excited, as did the soldier who was driving who felt the truck should have gotten out of the way sooner - never fear , the civil affairs major came to the rescue, whipping out a $50 bill from the petty cash that they carry for these exact type of emergencies. Any consternation on my part from this episode was quickly replaced with a sense of longing as we walked by one of the scant liquor stores that Christian towns like these are well-known for - the open door and Carlsberg and Tuborg signs were definitely tempting!
Finally we made it to the Courthouse, which definitely did not prove to be worth the march over there - at that point, I was hoping to maybe see a thief's hand cut off or something like that! And after all that, we were all definitely ready to pile into the Strykers and roll back to Mosul - I had seen what I needed to see and the civil affairs crew was fairly satisfied with the feedback they had gotten as well. Much more rewarding and enjoyable than a lot of the night missions that I have gone on where you don't get to interact with the locals and you're always on the lookout for the bad guys popping out - not a bad half-day's effort (and no paper cuts either!).
Back to my daily existence, I often talk about some of the challenges - big or small - that we face over here that I look forward to leaving in the rear view mirror in a few months. Certainly you have all heard me lament the flimsy plastic ware, the heat, the gravel, the dust, and on and on. One other thing that I will definitely not miss is how dark it gets at night. All external lights are left off and all windows are covered to prevent light from getting out, so as to not give the enemy a reference point to fire at. Well, the other night, as I was walking across this still unfamiliar base, I had the misfortune to walk into a three-foot-high concrete barrier that I didn't see coming. Luckily I only scraped up my knee a little bit and no one was nearby as it was pretty embarrassing. I learned the hard way why so many of the soldiers purchase head lanterns - I dutifully bought mine the next day.
Lastly, I will leave you with a great compliment to my unit that was paid to me the other day. I must preface this by saying that there exists a stereotype of national guardsman and reservists among active duty soldiers that is pretty much unavoidable - since the guardsman and reservists only train one weekend a month, the thought is that there is no way that they can be as competent as someone who does it full-time, 24-7 (don't even want to think about what that means for someone off the IRR like myself who doesn't even do one weekend a month!). Anyhow, there was a brigade staff officer whom I had only known for about two weeks. On his last day here at the palace prior to heading to the airfield to fly for Kuwait, he actually sought me out and told me, "Thanks to you all for your great support. If we go somewhere else in a few years, we hope you guys are there with us." Again, in light of that preconceived notion of guardsmen, that really is a great indication how the work of the 113th Engineers has been regarded here. I expressed my heartfelt thanks as well; of course, I didn't mention that for my mom's sake, I personally had better not be there with them the next time!
Have a great day! Go Bobcats!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Sunday, September 11
Well, it was four years ago today that our nation experienced a great tragedy and events that probably have a lot to do with me being where I am today were triggered. Here in Mosul, we held a short service commemorating those who gave their lives on 9/11, complete with a minute-by-minute account of that fateful morning. It was a very solemn, reflective ceremony and hopefully the efforts of our country the past four years have made things safer for our citizens and better for people around the world as well.
In terms of day-to-day happenings, probably the biggest news item is that I have changed jobs and changed locations. I have moved on to a new base, this one located on the grounds of Saddam Hussein's former palace in Mosul. Additionally, I have moved on to serve as the assistant brigade engineer on our brigade staff.
In terms of the change of scenery, it is a big difference. In spite of dried up grass and a multitude of concrete barriers and concertina wire, the palace grounds are impressive indeed. There is one mammoth palace that is the focal point of the estate and probably four or five other mini-palaces that probably belonged to each of Saddam's wives or something. The main palace has been converted into our headquarters so that is where I report to work each morning. Another welcome change is that all the roads are paved on these grounds, which especially makes a big difference when I go running. Probably the most interesting thing that you notice as you walk the grounds is how the various buildings and rooms have been converted to military use - the indoor pool that now serves as office space is a prime example of that! Lastly, the base offers some spectacular scenery and views of the city that sometimes just sneak up on you as you round the corner - Saddam knew what he was doing when he picked out this location and designed the whole estate.
As far as day-to-day living goes, there are some plusses and minuses compared to my former home. Not being co-located with my battalion and all the soldiers I've worked with for the past nine months definitely is an adjustment but at the same time offers a great opportunity to meet some new people. As far as my home goes, I now have a roommate and left almost everything I brought with me back in my old living unit - I brought one duffle bag, as I am only looking to be here 6-8 weeks - definitely makes for some spartan living. On one hand, the internet and phone access is not as good but on the other hand, everything is located very close together and it is easy to walk wherever you need to go. The dining hall is not as big and does not offer as large a selection of food but it is not as crowded, and since the commanding general eats there, you never run out of anything.
Work-wise, it definitely is a big adjustment. It is much slower-paced than being battle captain and a lot less stressful as well. I am much more removed from the day-to-day operations of my battalion. On the other hand, being here at brigade headquarters gives me great insight into what is going on with the whole brigade and also gets me involved with some of the long-range planning (or lack thereof that used to drive me crazy!). The other funny thing about being here at "the flagpole" (reference to the headquarters) is all the saluting that goes on. You have hundreds of people working in the palace so as you walk in and out, you can't turn around without bumping into a horde of privates saluting you (and they're always spaced just a couple of steps apart so that one salute isn't enough) or even worse, a horde of colonels that I have to salute. Bottom line, just walking to the dining facility one building over can require 15 to 20 salutes - I probably haven't raised my right arm that much since my 21st birthday! But all in all, the change of scenery is probably a positive for me and hopefully will help speed our last 80 days or so along.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of big wins this weekend for the Bobcats and Notre Dame. I was not able to catch the Bobcats but was able to check the result online and couldn't be happier for the players, coaches and all the fans - definitely a great and memorable victory. As for Notre Dame, the first year that Brian Townsend was on our staff, the Irish were drubbed 38-0 by his Wolverines and it was a painful Monday morning in the office two days later. However, the Irish have now defeated the Wolverines two years in a row so as they always say in the army, "Smoke `em if you got `em," a reference to the old days where the soldiers could smoke when they got a break but only if they actually had cigarettes, sometimes a hard commodity to come by. Well, victories in the ND-Michigan series are definitely hard to come by so "T," I'm looking forward to savoring this victory over the #3 in the nation Wolverines (in the Big House, no less!) for the upcoming year and look forward to being back stateside to remind you of it here in a few (hopefully) short months.
Have a great day! GO BOBCATS!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Sunday, September 4
Well, it was one year ago yesterday that I received my now infamous letter in the mail from the Army's Human Resource Command notifying me of my call-up. I remember stopping by my house on my way back to the Convo at lunchtime that Friday afternoon to check on my mail. And not even batting an eyelash as I ripped that envelope open, expecting to see my discharge orders. And then the disbelief as I realized what was happening - after seeing the part about being mobilized for up to 545 days and that I was to report to Fort Sill in three weeks time, I didn't even bother to read the rest of the orders (made it a little difficult trying to answer my parents' questions later on).
It is hard to believe that only 365 days have passed since then - it feels (and my hair reflects) a few lifetimes. I didn't end up having to report for duty until October 24th so that made for plenty of farewells in Athens and South Bend and on the recruiting trail, which I jokingly referred to as my "farewell tour" (in the temporary sense, of course!). Then it was on to Fort Sill, and to Fort Leonard Wood, and to Fort Hood, and just when I had had enough of "forts," they sent me to "Camp" Atterbury, and then as I was getting tired of American military installations, they sent me to a Kuwaiti one (but they named it Camp New York, at least), and when I was starting to wonder if I would ever actually see an Iraqi, they dropped me into a mud puddle here in Mosul.
Now I am definitely on the downward end of this whole challenge/ordeal/adventure (depending how you look at it), and for the most part, I feel like I have succeeded in living up to what I wrote down the day after I received those orders - "Turn a negative into a positive." One of the biggest pieces of evidence in that regard arrived the other day, as my MAC championship ring arrived in the mail. Certainly, that owes mainly to the efforts of the 14 players and my fellow coaches who were there for the day-in, day-out grind of the season (although I assure you I was never far away in spirit). And then there are the amazing men and women whom I have had the pleasure of serving with over here. And finally you throw in the wonderful people back stateside who have written and emailed and sent packages to me, many who have never even met me before. Add it all together, and while I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, I certainly will be a much better and enriched person for my experience through all this.
Enough of the nostalgia - no need for a Kleenex. First and foremost, our unit completed the construction of the combat outpost that I referred to in my last email and have received numerous kudos for the effort. I went out there again on the final night of work and it looked great. It took four nights to complete the project and I will say that with each successive night for engineers, there is less and less of the element of surprise and you get more and more nervous that the enemy might have something up his sleeve. But thankfully we were able to avoid any enemy contact and there is great hope that having an Iraqi Army presence at this location will be a significant factor in denying the enemy one of their favorite areas for emplacing improvised explosive devices (IED's) in the road.
The other day I received a most unusual (and pleasant) surprise in the mail, as one of my college roommates, Sean Norton, sent me a package. In addition to the usual goodies (especially his wife Heather's delicious double chocolate cookies - they didn't have a chance and were gobbled up instantaneously), Sean also included a copy of Heather's sonogram - definitely a unique way of telling me about the impending arrival of their first child (hopefully he/she takes after their mom!!!). Congratulations!
I also had a little fun after work the other day as it was time for one of our radio operators, Specialist Kalina, who also doubles as our Battalion Commander's tracked vehicle driver, to take his M113A2 armored personnel carrier for a test drive, which he was nice enough to invite me to be a part of. Our battalion is a mechanized engineer battalion, which means that we move around the battlefield in tracked vehicles, as opposed to light engineer battalions (which use LPC's - that's short for Leather Personnel Carriers - also known as their boots, a fancy way of saying they walk!) or wheeled engineer battalions (which use dump trucks and Hummvees). So the M113 is supposed to be our primary means of maneuver. Two problems with that premise, however. First of all, the urban battlefield that we find ourselves in here in Mosul does not lend itself to rolling around town in tracked vehicles - they tear up the asphalt and are not made for the frequent maneuvering and turning that city traffic demands. As a matter of fact, back in February I saw one of our M113s get caught in a tight spot and roll over the hood of a subcompact taxi that was even more subcompact after that collision. And more importantly, the A2 version of the M113 is a bit antiquated (that's being kind - like wishing your grandparents a happy 39th birthday), and have a nearly impossible time keeping up with the Strykers that our infantry brethren utilize to move through Mosul. Realizing that, the army fielded us M1114 up-armored Hummvees, which have basically taken the place of these M113s.
But we still have the M113s and do use them on occasion, as they do cut a bit of an intimidating figure when they noisily roll through town, hence the need for Specialist Kalina to give his some exercise that night. So we spent a good hour rolling around our base, first storming right down the main drag in front of the dining facility in what we would jokingly call a "show of force" and then heading out to the perimeter of the base where all the guard towers are located. SPC Kalina drove and I rode up in the vehicle commander's hatch, where I definitely ate a good bit of dust but it was worth every bit of it. The funny thing about these M113s is that they will get going and you will think you are going 40-45 miles per hour when in fact you are lucky if you're going 20. If only I could find a car that gave me that same feeling, I might have saved some of my speeding tickets!
And last but definitely not least, I was standing tall at 0400 this morning to listen to the internet audiocast as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took the Pitt Panthers to the proverbial woodshed to the tune of 42-21. Brian Townsend's Michigan Wolverines and the Big House loom large on the schedule for the Irish for next Saturday and hopefully Armed Forces Network will carry that one live over here - I know Charlie Weis and company will bring their slingshots with them and see what they can do. In the meantime, hopefully the Panthers are nice and softened up for the Bobcats to give them a rude welcome to Peden Stadium this Friday night.
Have a great day! GO BOBCATS!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Sunday, August 28
Good morning, Iraq! Not quite, but when I was walking to the shower this morning, I was thinking that we definitely could use Robin Williams over here.
I had a different idea for my journal entry today. I often get asked what a typical day is like over here, as most people have a tough time visualizing what day-to-day life is like in a combat zone (and let's keep it that way!). And it's a question that I usually have a pretty difficult time answering. So while Saturday, August 27th may or may not have been a typical day, I figured that I would give you a rundown and hopefully offer some better insight into a day in the life of IRONMAN 3-ALPHA (my call sign).
0355 - (That's 3:55 a.m. for civilians.) I wake up an hour earlier than usual. To set the stage, on Thursday night I went out to check out one of our missions, a night mission to build a combat outpost (basically a small fort) for the Iraqi Army on a field overlooking one of the notoriously most dangerous parts of town. I didn't get back in until about 0500 on Friday morning and after a quick hour cat nap, I was at my desk by 0700. After working all day Friday, I crashed at about 2000. My friends from Notre Dame probably are a bit disappointed in me, as back in the day I would have chugged a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew and not skipped a beat. I guess old age (or maybe Iraq) is taking its toll. Still, four and a half hours of sleep for two nights isn't bad work.
0445 - After sending out a few emails, I make my daily morning stroll to a deserted shower trailer and do some not-so-quick mental math that tells me we're almost down to 100 days to go in Iraq (I suppose that I'll have to celebrate the 100 day mark with a "near beer" - really living it up, I know). After showering and shaving, I return to my living unit, where I change into my uniform and get back to some emails. I am not even through the first email when the new online phone service that I am trying (Skype--basically a way to talk computer-to-computer with headsets) chimes in that one of my old college roommates, Mike Regan, is calling me from Arlington, Virgina - definitely a pleasant surprise. After a relatively clear 37-minute "catch-up" session with Regs (sans the usual beers - plural, of course), it is time to hit our TOC (our headquarters building).
0600 - For the next hour, I get myself caught up on our progress in building the combat outpost the previous night. Basically the combat outpost is a plot of land surrounded by 10-foot-high concrete walls that we emplace with a crane, with some sleeping and office trailers and guard towers set up inside and a series of concrete barriers, berms of dirt and concertina wire as an outer ring of defense. Our night battle captain gives me a rundown of everything that went on and my first order of the day is to figure out if the expected re-supply of 10-foot walls had occurred the previous night. I send one of our radio operators to take a run over to our barrier yard and my day gets off to a rough start immediately as he reports that despite being promised for the past week, no more walls have been delivered for yet another night.
0700 - For the next hour or so, I fire off a series of emails trying to figure out how exactly we are going to complete the combat outpost the next night with what we are missing. I am not very happy. I get a hold of the cell phone number of the Iraqi contractor who is responsible for the delivery of all the barriers we have coming in. I give him a call (this is the first time I have ever talked to him, as usually people at a higher level take care of all these logistics). It is not the most pleasant of conversations, as he tells me that he will deliver some barriers at midnight that night and I inform him that won't do us any good and that we need them earlier so we can get them loaded up for tonight's mission. Between an iffy cell phone connection and the language gap, it is not exactly the most fluent conversation. However, I think my tone of voice effectively communicates my message, not that it is going to do any good getting those barriers here any quicker. But I feel better at least.
0830 - Our Battalion Executive Officer, Major Paul South, holds a quick staff huddle for the heads of all our different sections (admin, supply, commo, maintenance, operations - that's me). Quite a bit of the talk is about our plan for redeployment back home, which is definitely one of my favorite subjects.
0930 - I get word that there may be some of those concrete walls at our base just delivered this morning. My initial thought is that this is too good to be true and that if so, that local contractor took a tongue-lashing for no reason (except for my sanity, of course). Well, after some driving around, I discover in fact that there is a huge concrete barrier shipment waiting outside the gate to be brought on base and unloaded but sure enough, none of the tall barriers that we need. Gotta love it. And you don't even want to know how much the Army is getting charged per cubic yard of concrete.
1100 - I review our daily report compiled by our operations sergeant that we must submit to our headquarters everyday. It includes what we have done the previous day, what we have coming up and our status in terms of personnel, supply and maintenance. I ask a few questions, suggest a few changes and we send it on up. Additionally, I send out a few emails to my counterparts in the infantry battalions that we support ironing out the details for some of our upcoming missions with them.
1215 - For lunch, I run out with Captain Mike Daake, who also works in the operations section with me and is headed home on leave tomorrow (I am jealous), across the street to the adjacent base. I mail a few letters at the post office, pick up a few small items at the post exchange and then we shoot over to the dining facility to grab a quick bite to eat - a cheeseburger and some chicken wings that should do a good job of coating my arteries. It's nice to sit down and catch my breath for a few minutes.
1400 - I spend the next two hours before our daily Battalion BUB (Battle Update Brief) working two issues - trying to push through some paperwork for an emergency purchase of those barriers (I get a few good leads but in the end, it comes down to the fact that the army just doesn't work that fast) and how we are going to adjust our plan for that evening based on our barrier shortfall. In the meantime, I take a pretty good chewing from my battalion commander over an unrelated issue that popped up that I probably didn't totally deserve but hey, it's a war zone so you just have to deal with it.
1630 - After a couple hectic hours, I finally get to sit down for our 40-minute brief which basically gives our commander a snapshot of everything going on in the battalion. Our one company is located at an outlying base about an hour away, so their company commander comes up on the internet and uses a program we have to give his update to the commander through the computer, which everyone else in the brief can listen to through a set of speakers - pretty neat stuff.
1730 - After our BUB, I am responsible for preparing our daily report that our commander must brief to his boss at the 1800 CUB (Commander's Update Brief - gotta love the acronyms). I have a template that I go off each day, so at this point of the deployment, it doesn't take very long. As soon as I finish, I take a quick walk over to the laundry before it closes at 1800 to pick up a clean bag that I had dropped off the day before.
1800 - Usually I sit and listen in on the CUB, where each battalion commander briefs the Brigade Commander (that is Colonel Brown, who I have talked about in previous entries) - it is usually pretty interesting as it captures pretty much everything going on in Mosul and offers a glimpse into our upcoming strategy. However, today, I hear that there is a delivery at the gate which may be the four concrete guard towers we are waiting on for that night's mission at the combat outpost. I drive out to the gate only to find that it is the same company but a delivery of different materials. Only problem is that I didn't set up this delivery, do not have a phone number for the contact and don't even know if he speaks English. So I spend 15 minutes with these truck drivers, only one of whom speaks a little English, trying to figure out if and when these towers are coming. Finally, after pantomiming the shape of the towers and pointing to the sky and the number 4, a few of the drivers nod their head and say "Towers - yes." To be honest, I am not so sure that they aren't just mimicking what I say, so when I point at my watch and say 10 o'clock (the time I was expecting the delivery), when they all start nodding and agreeing I m not exactly sure what that means (maybe they are just looking at my driver with his loaded rifle standing over my shoulder, who knows?). Anyhow, I leave there convincing myself that it was a fruitful meeting and that the towers are definitely on their way that night (note: they sure did show up but try three hours after we were expecting them - a whole different sense of time over here and it wouldn't fly in New York City, that is for sure!).
1900 - I make my Mom proud and attend our weekly Saturday night Catholic mass with 15 or so people from our base. The chaplain, Father Vasquez, is Filipino and does a good combat-zone-condensed sermon. We definitely need the General up in the sky on our side for the next few months!
2000 - After mass, I hustle back to my room, change and get a quick three-mile run in. Tonight I hit my favorite route around the base which unfortunately takes me on the downwind side of the dump. If my skin turns green a few months after returning home, I'll know why - it would not surprise me if they found some radioactive contamination there - just kidding! Actually, although the running conditions are much less than ideal with the hot, stuffy air, the thick layer of dust on the ground that gets kicked all over the place by every passing vehicle and all the treacherous holes and gravel that you must navigate, getting some exercise is probably the major reason that I am keeping my wits about me over here.
2100 - I return to the TOC to grab a quick bite to eat and make sure everything is going smoothly for tonight's mission. No significant issues (thankfully).
2200 - I head to my room for the night, where I jump on the internet, put on the GameCast of my Yankees taking on the Royals, knock out a few emails and get to work on this entry. As the Yankees overcome a very listless effort with a five-run rally in the bottom of the ninth to stage a great come-from-behind win, I have visions of sitting in front of my computer in the exact same location and listening to Derek Scott describing Jeremy Fears' fade-away 3-pointer at the buzzer to lead the Bobcats to a stunning comeback victory at Detroit. Let's just hope the Yankees can finish the way the Bobcats did!
So there you have it - a day in the life of Captain Kuwik. As you can see, not necessarily rocket science nor a ton of engineering. Definitely not like anything any of us has ever tried before. But we keep trudging along, doing the best we can and hoping that 20 years from now we can look back and say we helped point this country in the right direction.
Have a great day! GO BOBCATS! Let's get a head start on the rest of the MAC over in Europe.
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Thursday, August 25
Greetings from smelly shores of the Tigris River. It's almost football season and that means that our redeployment is just a hop, skip and a jump away. Actually, not quite that close but we are getting there. The way I would refer to the heat in entry after entry back in June is probably the way I'll be talking about coming home - constantly.
One of my current rituals involves counting down the days we have left. Every morning when I wake up and trudge through three feet of gravel to the showers, I do the math in my head. At that point, I am not yet awake enough to just subtract one from the day before's number. I take the number of days in December (can't tell you what that number is and, anyhow, it will probably change five more times anyhow), add 30 for November, 31 for October, 30 for September and then the number of days in August to get my new magic number. Of course, I don't count that day itself because once I wake up it is over as far as I am concerned (wishful thinking, I know).
Last week, I got to the point where I didn't feel like the countdown was going fast enough so I made the all-important determination that I was going to count the last day as just a wake-up (like everyone always does in the army), so 110 became 109 and a wake-up. Some fancy math but still not quite to Enron proportions. I'm sure I will come up with some more nifty accounting procedures as we go along to psychologically speed things up.
Work-wise, we are keeping very busy trying to keep up with all the engineer requirements in and around Mosul. I rode along on one of our barrier emplacement missions the other night - it was at a local power station that had been converted to a military compound. The evening did not get off to the grandest start as when I was getting situated in the sardine-can that passes as a backseat in the Humm-vee, I somehow triggered the fire extinguisher on the floor, unleashing it all over the interior of the truck. I took a pretty good faceful of it but for some reason, it really didn't affect me - I figure that all of the other noxious fumes that I inhale on a daily basis over here have numbed me to anything like this. Anyhow, we all jumped out of the truck and got a pretty good laugh out of it, just had to wait a while for the air to clear.
Once on site, I spent some time with the American training team that was living and working with the Iraqi unit on site. It was definitely very interesting to get their perspective on the process of training up the Iraqi army. Heard some encouraging things and certainly some frustrations as well. One of the struggles faced in recruiting soldiers to build up their army is trying to find recruits from other areas to come and be stationed in Mosul, as opposed to just taking locals, which would open up their families to intimidation campaigns by the insurgents (this is the number one issue faced by the Iraqi police force). Only problem is that these soldiers from faraway provinces must be promised monthly leave to be able to go home and keep tabs on their family affairs (in Muslim society, the male is definitely the head of the household and on the hook for all the responsibilities associated with that). So the American trainers will spend 2-3 weeks training up the Iraqis, only to have them go on 7-14 days of leave and forget everything they just were beginning to get proficient with. Definitely a challenge.
The mission itself was relatively uneventful and the Iraqi jundi (Arabic for soldiers) were grateful for the added protection provided by the barriers. The biggest excitement came at 0500 when we were loaded up and ready to head back for the base when it was discovered that an air line on a trailer had blown. It left us marooned with about 15 vehicles right in the middle of a not-so-desirable neighborhood but fortunately the mechanics were able to rig it up after about 20 minutes of anxiety to be able to limp back to our base.
I had a neat experience the other day as the MWR (Morale Welfare and Recreation) people set up a nationally syndicated sports talk show, Sports Byline, to come out to Mosul and do three days of broadcasts from over here. The host was Ron Barr, who in addition to doing this show is well known for being the voice of NHL Hockey and other EA Sports video games. He brought along Sarge, a well-known comedian, to do nightly comedy shows as well. Anyhow, I was asked to be a co-host for one of the hours on the show (it turns out I was the first one so I definitely was the guinea pig). During that hour, Tony LaRussa, Bobby Knight and Coach O'Shea called in. The soldiers in the audience were able to ask the guests questions and there were plenty of giveaways from EA Sports and the NFL. Thanks to all the practice I have had on the Tim O'Shea Show with Derek Scott, things went pretty well and the Bobcats got some good publicity on top of it.
Other than that, I have just been trying to keep up with my family and friends, the Bobcats (who have embarked on their European adventure) and all the great people who have been so kind as to email or write me with well wishes and words of encouragement. I couldn't have asked for any better support on the home front!
Have a great day!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Monday, August 15
We're getting closer. Calendars and countdown spreadsheets are popping up all over the place as we fast approach being in double digits for number of days left. I get a kick out of some of the titles on these countdowns, such as "Days Left in the Army" (there may or may not be some adjectives inserted in front of the word "Army"), "Days Until I Can Have a Beer" and my personal favorite, "Days Until I Go Home (Before We Get Sent Back to Iran)."
Either way, our redeployment date is becoming more real and less of a dream. Of course, with the Army, that date is definitely written in pencil and subject to being changed multiple times - don't get your hopes up yet.
My distinction (along with seven or eight other soldiers in our battalion) of being called up off the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) list is also the subject of quite a bit of humor. The active duty soldiers wince when I tell them of my circumstances, or make comments like, "Oooh, you're one of those IRR people."
I've even had people tell me that they are going to stay on active duty just so that they don't start up a life as a civilian and then run the risk of being yanked out of it and recalled. And I have been teased that this time around when all is said and done that I should fly to Saint Louis to personally hand-deliver my resignation letter to the Army's Human Resources Command. I might just do that.
Here in Mosul, preparations for the constitutional referendum and December elections continue. We had a little bit of excitement last week as our brigade got a tip on a suspected chemical munitions production site and raided it - you may have seen a blurb on this on the Internet. Being the engineers, we then got a call to send some electricians to disable/neutralize the machinery on the site.
As a combat engineer unit, we are not authorized any army electricians but being a guard unit, we had three soldiers who are electricians on the civilian side. These soldiers got escorted out to the site where they did everything short of taking out a sledgehammer and made sure no one would be able to hook that equipment up without some significant repair parts and effort. I have still not heard any results on the substances that were found and tested but this should give you a feel for the variety of missions we have undertaken.
Another good example of a non-standard mission that comes our way has been at one of the local television stations that had the brainchild of starting up a television show, "Mosul's Most Wanted" in the spirit of "America's Most Wanted." Needless to say, the bad guys were less than thrilled with this idea and have made some serious threats on the station. Next thing you know, here come the engineers to build the station into a fortress complete with Iraqi security forces and everything.
We also had a pretty good bit of bad luck the other day. In past entries I have talked about all the concrete barriers that we put up at various facilities to provide them what we call "Force Protection." The 10- and 12-foot-high barriers that we are sometimes asked to emplace are too heavy and cumbersome to lift for the bucket loaders that our unit owns. Consequently, all year we have had to ask for help from other units and even civilian contractors to emplace these, and to be frank, not being able to be self-sufficient is very frustrating.
Well, we put in a request for a crane way back when we first got here and our prayers seemingly were answered late last month when a 40-ton crane was delivered to our motorpool. Just this past week, we were asked to send it out to an outlying base to help lift some large items. Unfortunately on the way back, the tractor trailer that was hauling it over the highway somehow managed to drop the thing and flip it over upside down.
Needless to say it was totaled, which definitely was a kick to the gut for us. Probably the only humorous thing in the whole situation was when we were discussing how to recover this behemoth, our Battalion Operations Sergeant, Master Sergeant Mike Thomas, had the line of the day, "Well, sir, I think it's going to take a 41-ton crane to lift that thing." Yes, I would have to agree with that statement. A little humor for an otherwise very unfortunate break (as a matter of fact, it took almost 13 hours to get the crane's carcass loaded up on a trailer and hauled back). What can you do?
Last night was my weekly trek to the phone building to make phone calls back to the states. Usually I try to call my parents and then some of the Bobcat coaches and players. Yesterday, I was able to catch most of my family at my cousin Suzanne's 20th birthday party, which was great. Seemingly I got everyone else's voicemail, although I was able to get a hold of Jeremy Fears - he sounds great, has a little son Jeremy Jr. who is doing great also, and in general is just hungry for the upcoming season and the chance to prove that he can play with any point guard in the country. Should be fun to watch.
The Bobcats will be starting practice later this week for the team trip to Europe. I definitely am going to miss being on this adventure and I assure everyone that I don't have any tricks short of an act of Congress up my sleeve to drop in and surprise the team on this one.
Lastly, I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Fred Cluff, one of the great people I have had the opportunity to get to know in Athens. I met Fred at a Bobcat baseball game the first weekend I was in Athens after being hired and have had some great talks with him over the years. Not to mention the great efforts (and deals) he made to make sure I looked my best on the sidelines courtesy of his men's shop. Fred was a Bobcat through and through and he will be dearly missed.
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Friday, August 5
First off, I have to send a shout out to my brother Keith who was named principal of the elementary school back in our hometown of Lackawanna at the ripe old age of 28. I'm sure he will do great and wonderful things over there and, of course, he learned everything he knows (the good stuff anyway) from his big brother.
Not much new over here. I think I have been out on three missions since my last posting but as they say in the acronym-happy military, "NSTR" - Nothing Significant To Report. However, I was reading a book in my room the other night and I heard probably the loudest boom since I've been here, it even shook my trailer a little bit. It turned out to not even be on our base, though, as an insurgent drove a car laden with explosives into a humanitarian aid convoy on a nearby road, killing five and wrecking three or four trucks. Sometimes you just wonder what these people are thinking.
We are all watching the progress on the constitution that is being drafted very closely, as there is supposed to be a referendum on it in October with actual elections in December if it is ratified. If the transitional government is unable to come up with a constitution by August 15th, then we are back to square one and another transitional government will be elected in December elections. Obviously, this process is crucial to what we are trying to accomplish over here and the bad guys know that as well and are determined to try and disrupt it as much as possible. From the engineers' standpoint, every polling site, registration site and election commission office is a potential target and must be protected as much as possible. That translates into lots of concrete barriers and concertina wire - should keep us plenty busy.
Definitely one of the best parts of my experience here has been the opportunity to serve under Colonel Bob Brown, the commander of the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division that we are in support of. I think that I have mentioned previously that Colonel Brown played basketball for Coach K at West Point before Coach K was hired at Duke so we definitely have talked hoops a few times. Anyhow, I was up at Saddam Hussein's former palace here in Mosul which serves as Brigade Headquarters the other day when I happened to bump into Colonel Brown in the hallway. Next thing you know, he is sharing some of his insights into leadership and goal-setting and success in general, with plenty of stories mixed in. He is undoubtedly one of the premiere leaders in the Army, a big reason why this Brigade has been so successful in restoring order and stability to Mosul. So I couldn't have felt any more fortunate than to be soaking in his pearls of wisdom.
I think we're down to 120-some days or so. We made it through July and now football is right around the corner. I know that Bobcat fans are fired up for the Frank Solich era and it sounds like Ohio Football will be getting plenty of television exposure, although I hope I will be able to keep up with what day of the week the Bobcats are playing on. Meanwhile, hopefully the Fighting Irish are ready for a resurgence and my hometown Buffalo Bills are ready to ride the right arm of J.P. Losman. And then, before we know it, Midnight Madness will be reigning across America.
To close, I have to share that I was walking up the road on base the other day and somehow a few clouds got in the way of the sun and actually made things feel cool for a fleeting five minutes. Gotta be a good omen!
Have a great day!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Wednesday, July 27
It looks like if I was going to get stuck in the Middle East for a year, this was the right year because it sounds like it's been an ultra-hot and humid summer back stateside.
I had my pass this past week and it ended up being to an exotic resort in (hold your breath, please) - Iraq, of all places. That's right, we got sent to this resort town in the mountains right along the Iranian border, in a Kurdish portion of Iraq. Although not exactly five star (or even four star, for that matter), it was a very relaxing couple of days, which was just what the doctor ordered for me.
Definitely one of the neatest experiences was flying in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter out there and back. The bird holds nine passengers and there were only three in the one I flew out there in, so I had a great window seat. Only problem is that there isn't a window, just plenty of ozone between me and the ground. Quite a rush actually.
After we got picked up at my base, we had to pick up a load of people at Saddam's old palace across town, so I got a birds-eye view of Mosul from about 150 feet off the ground. Good stuff. Then we flew out to the site over the Iraqi countryside - lots of sheep and goats and plenty of dusty fields. Then into the mountains, which were plenty breathtaking and down to this hotel which sits on a lake nestled in the basin between the mountains.
The beauty of the whole trip was I showed up 15 minutes before we were supposed to leave, walked out on the runway with my rucksack right to the chopper and then next thing you know, I was walking into the hotel. No getting there two hours early or waiting in long lines at the security checkpoints or having to go through the special body cavity search if you have *SSSS* stamped on your boarding pass. Not a bad way to fly, as long as you don't mind having machine gunners sitting on both sides of the helicopter right there in front of you.
The hotel was in a spectacular location but definitely had seen its better days. The carpeting, bathrooms, furniture - everything was a little "tired" shall we say. There was a nice pool at the hotel that we put to good use - I will say that chlorine is a foreign concept out here.
The hotel set up some great family-style meals for us and the Kurdish cuisine was excellent. Lots of lamb and chicken done up in a variety of ways but they even mixed in some spaghetti and hamburgers for us. We did enjoy sampling different foods at the various meals, though.
As for recreation, lots of lounging around the pool - I was able to read a few books while I was there. They also set up a boat trip around the lake, which was great, and then a bus excursion up into the mountains. The bus excursion was pretty neat - we stopped plenty of times along the way where we climbed up along the road and saw some spectacular vistas. Our tour guide was an elderly man who had a great eye for spotting wild fruit along the way - we sampled plenty of grapes and some other fruits that I don't even know the names of. They were all pretty sweet and tasty, no need for pesticides up there, and fortunately they seemed to agree well with my system as I wasn't glued to the toilet the rest of the night after we returned.
Our bus driver did not speak a lick of English so that made things a little interesting. For instance, as we wove our way up the mountain to the top, we just assumed we would turn around at the top and make our way back. Instead, we crested the mountain top and kept going down the other side, probably only 10 kilometers or so from the border. I thought maybe we were the lead element for an invasion into Iran. But we got about halfway down the mountain, stopped at a few scenic overlooks and made our way back.
It was also great to watch the locals at the hotel during our stay. The first day or so, the majority of the guests were very westernized in their dress and mannerisms and that night there was music out at the pool and plenty of singing and dancing well into the night. The next few nights, the clientele was much more traditional - the women were veiled and I even spied a few mandresses among the men. Definitely plenty of culture.
We flew back on the chopper which was pretty exhilarating and then it was back to the grind. But I think we are down to somewhere around 130-140 days to go so the light at the end of the tunnel isn't totally a hallucination anymore.
Enjoy the rest of your summer - for one time, I can't wait for the fall!
Have a great day!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
PS - For all of you who did not sleep all week hoping to catch a glimpse of my unit on the television (like my mom), CNN rewarded you by preempting the piece on Friday. I hear that it may be available online in the international news section on CNN.com under the title "Mosul farms."
Monday, July 18
Another day, another dollar in Mosul, Iraq. Actually, maybe we're up to three dollars a day.
Anyhow, just wanted to pass on the word that there is a chance that our unit may be featured on CNN this week. Yesterday, Jane Araf - one of the network's foreign correspondents - spent a good chunk of the day visiting our Battalion TOC and checking out the Ironman Line. She talked with our battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Shatto, quite a bit and also interviewed quite a few of the Iraqi villagers who are impacted by the berm. It will be quite interesting to see what kind of light she portrays the story in, as the security benefit of the berm certainly does have a cost associated with it in terms of affecting the villagers' ability to get into the city as well as accessing their fields.
Since CNN is a 24-hour operation, I wouldn't even be able to begin to tell you when to watch it in hopes of catching the story. But perhaps there is a chance the story may also be on CNN's website so that might be a better option. And she has spent three or four days here in Mosul so there should be some other stories that give you a feel for what's going on here as well.
Other than that, I went out the other day to look at a few of the Iraqi police stations that we will be fortifying in the upcoming weeks. The insurgents continue to target the policemen in an attempt to create a feeling of lawlessness and chaos in the area. The police officers at one of the stations we went to had been attacked with a suicide bomb just days before while out on a patrol. The attack killed four of them and their chief was injured as well. He was present, albeit bandaged up, when we arrived. While we, the engineers, examined the security measures in place at the station, the infantry guys we were with spent time reaching out to the chief and his men, who were in pretty good spirits and resolved not to back down from the terrorists.
Our unit medics also had a good news story last week as they conducted a medical screening for all the children in a nearby neighborhood. I have included a few pictures of this, which serve as a vivid reminder of what we hopefully will accomplish here - a better future for the youth of Iraq.
Lastly, probably one of the most overlooked - but critical - things that we do are our convoys "outside the wire" to get us to our mission sites. For even a 10- to 15-minute round trip of just a few miles out and back, there is quite an extensive amount of preparation to get ready for it. I have included some pictures of our soldiers getting ready for our movement yesterday to take the CNN reporter out into the city.
Hope everyone is enjoying plenty of summer fun back home.
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Wednesday, July 13
Greetings from the sauna otherwise known as Mosul. Just about hitting 120 degrees during the day and even without the sun, the night isn't much better. I had a near-death (this is a joke coming, Mom) experience yesterday when I got back to my living unit and the A/C wasn't working.
Still not much new to report. Enemy activity is much lower and the situation is relatively stable compared to when we got here but they definitely are still out there. Just the other day, one of the Stryker vehicles got hit by an improvised explosive device that was hidden in the exposed part of a water main. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries. But it illustrates how creative the insurgents are in disguising some of these homemade bombs - they hide them in potholes, ripped-up sections of curb, piles of trash (and believe me, there's plenty of that lying around) - they even hang them off overpasses.
As I was driving around the city the other day, I observed quite a phenomenon. Nearly all of the taxis and many privately-owned vehicles have removed their trunk covers. This is due to the fact that the trunk is a notorious hiding place for vehicle-borne explosive devices. It is great to see the citizenry pitch in to try and help keep their city safe.
Additionally, I observed some monstrous lines at gas stations, up to 2-3 miles long, even longer than what I saw back in January and February. It is amazing that such an oil-rich country would have that problem but evidently they don't have the infrastructure to refine it here. Anyhow, they have quite a problem with black marketers, people who harass or intimidate the gas station owners into giving them gasoline in cans and then take it around and sell it for a huge profit.
Just the other day, one of the gas station owners refused to do this and, as a result, all of the hoses at his station were cut. Just one more thing for coalition forces to have to provide security for - you may think that this is not our problem but having a public perception of an improved quality of life is so crucial that this is something that can't be ignored.
One thing that there will be no shortage of in Iraq when U.S. forces leave is concrete barriers. Besides being the IRONMAN battalion, we are also known as the "Barrier Battalion" here in Mosul, as we typically emplace hundreds of barriers each week around our bases, combat outposts, police stations, government buildings, etc.
As an interesting tidbit, these barriers - which come in all different shapes and sizes - are named for different states. The ones we use the most are Jersey barriers (8-feet long by 3-feet high), Texas barriers (5-feet long by 10-feet high) and Alaska barriers (5-feet long by 12-feet high). They are used for a variety of reasons: slowing traffic down to prevent drive-by shootings or bomb-laden vehicles from ramming into gates or buildings; and to provide protection from small-arms fire or shrapnel from explosions.
The Stryker unit we are attached to here in Mosul is rapidly approaching its redeployment date (unfortunately, we will be here a few months longer than them), so there is plenty of planning going on. One of the big questions involves which equipment (mainly vehicles) stays and which equipment goes. Typically, rather than shipping units' sets of equipment across the ocean every year when they rotate, a unit will just fall in on the equipment of the unit it is replacing (the equipment is known as stay-behind equipment). If this does not happen, sometimes the equipment will be sent to Kuwait or Qatar where it serves as a float of sorts for all units in the theater. The bottom line is the more equipment you can leave here, the less you have to clean up and load up on the ship, and the quicker you can get through Kuwait and back home. So I hope our redeployment planners are all over this!
Other than that, it looks like I may be up for a four-day pass at the end of the month, a mini-vacation of sorts to somewhere here in theater just a short flight away. Many in our unit have been going on pass down to Qatar. It is significant because it will be my first day off since I left home back at the end of March, as our operations section (the one that I am in) is the only section in the battalion that operates 24/7. So needless to say, I am looking forward to that.
Hope all is well back home. Have a great day!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Monday, July 4
Happy 4th of July! Plenty of red, white, and blue streamers and decorations at the dining facility and around our FOB today, and a special menu of steak, lobster, crab legs, and barbecue ribs. There were also some games and activities planned. Unfortunately I was working a regular day today, so it really didn't have that 4th of July feel. Not to mention the picturesque Iraqi landscape, the morning call to prayer, and the lovely aroma of our garbage dump here on the FOB. Just a little different than grilling burgers and dogs and having a few ice cold brews back home.
Yesterday, one of the guys asked me what I would be doing for the 4th if I wasn't over here. Thinking about it, last year at this time I was up at Sullivan Lake in Minnesota at the cabin of my good friend Brent Tadsen with his family and plenty of my friends from Notre Dame. We helped Brent's dad, Roger, put together his pontoon float for the annual 4th of July Boat Parade on the Lake. As with anything Roger does, this was no minor production - we had a music system, a flag stand with flags from all the services, and an elaborate wooden frame to fit on each side of the pontoon with various red, white, and blue decorations affixed to it. Once we got it ready, we stepped back as Roger took a host of veterans, including our ROTC classmate Donny Nestor who had served over here during an earlier rotation of Operation Iraqi Freedom, around the lake. Well, it looks like I'll be eligible for riding in the boat parade next year - Roger, if you read this, maybe you can put me in an inner tube and tug me along!
In my last entry, I mentioned walking up to our TOC first thing in the morning to the sounds of a loud explosion at a nearby Iraqi police station. Last Tuesday night, myself and two fellow engineers found ourselves rolling back to that police station to assess how to better protect it from a future attack. On the unfortunate side, the truck with the bomb in it had been able to roll up right alongside the building and detonate, causing extensive damage to one wing of the building. On the positive side, unlike in November, when the insurgents launched an intimidation campaign against the police, and overran a bunch of police stations and forced them to be abandoned, this time the policemen at this station responded to the adversity by digging in and holding their ground. They had pushed the extensive rubble into makeshift barricades on all the roads leading to the station. As a sign of goodwill, the infantry unit who escorted us for this recon took some captured weapons and ammunition to the police to help boost their confidence. I even had the chance to talk (through an interpreter) with the general who is the head of the Iraqi police here in Mosul to get his input into our defense plan. Then, a few nights ago, one of our platoons was able to go out there and emplace concrete barriers, concertina wire, and fighting positions to provide some more permanent protection for the station - the Iraqis were very appreciative.
On another positive note, our unit supported the first "March Against Terrorism" held in the outlying village of Quyarrah. Nearly a thousand people turned out in the small town for a march of a few hundred local religious and government leaders. We helped with the emplacement of concrete barriers for roadblocks but the march itself was entirely secured by Iraqi Security Forces - a very positive step that hopefully will continue to grow and spread to other villages and cities in the near future.
Other than that, I would have to say we're going through a bit of mid-tour burnout resulting from doing the same thing with the same people day in and day out. It's probably compounded a bit by the hot temperatures and the fact that we're missing out on our summer with family and friends back home. But the good thing is that we're starting to plan for our redeployment, so hopefully that will help us keep the light at the end of the tunnel in focus.
My journal entry would not be complete without a bit of sarcasm. I certainly have commented on more than one occasion on the quality (or lack thereof) of the plastic eating utensils in the dining facility. As a matter of fact, yesterday I broke my knife trying to cut some lobster loose from the shell. Anyhow, in case anyone is wondering where the money we are saving on these forks and spoons is going, I think I finally figured that one out. It's going toward the $120 pair of Oakley wraparound sunglasses that I just got issued the other day. They are supposedly anti-ballistic or shatterproof or something special like that - for $120 they probably should provide x-ray vision as well! Now don't get me wrong, I'm wearing them all the time and figure we probably deserve them for spending a year over here. But I can't help but notice the irony.
Well, that's all I have for you this week. If I was back stateside, I would be heading out on the recruiting trail for the next three weeks or so. I am definitely going to miss my usual eight or nine days down at the Disney Wide World of Sports in Orlando for the Super Showcase and AAU Nationals. But at least spending my Fourth of July over here in Iraq has given me a strong reminder of how fortunate we are to live in the "Land of the Free and Home of the Brave."
Happy 4th! Go Bobcats!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Sunday, June 26
Well, summer finally (officially) began this past week so if what we have been experiencing is just spring in Iraq, the next two months should be lots of fun.
First off, as I came on shift the other day at 0600, I got to watch Game 7 of the NBA finals on the Armed Forces Network. That means no more basketball games for the next four months - I guess that I'll have to dust off some Bobcat games from the archives to tide me over.
This morning at 0600 as I walked to the TOC, there was quite a boom. It felt like it was just across the street but turned out to be four kilometers (2.5 miles) north of us at an Iraqi police station. That should give you an idea of the potency of the bomb - it turned out to be a suicide bomber who parked his truck in front of the police station - early reports indicate something in the neighborhood of 5-6 Iraqis killed. It shows the difficulty of overcoming the insurgents as there are just so many targets out there when you include all the different Iraqi security forces out and about in the town in addition to the American forces. It is just about impossible to protect all of the locations when these forces are static, let alone when they start moving around town.
I gained an interesting perspective on things earlier this week when I went out for an engineer assessment of a few sites off the FOB. At one of the sites I visited, a set of 10 American trainers had just moved in with an Iraqi unit to begin the process of training them up over the next year. They are staying in a cleared out five-story building that is adjacent to a police station. All I can say is that our living conditions are palatial compared with theirs - serious plumbing and electrical issues, no dining facility (MREs all the time) and no television/internet access at all. Basically, they are cut off from the real world.
At another stop on this trip, we were in the vicinity of an Iraqi hospital. It was fairly modern and in good condition, although it did feel odd walking through its parking lot and entryway in full battle rattle right in the middle of all the civilians there for appointments and visitations. However, what probably struck me the most was the beautiful garden and landscaping around the hospital - probably the first grass I've seen in a few months over here.
Unfortunately, I missed out on the fun but this week our unit sent a team up north to a town right up on the Turkish border that is renowned as being "the Wal-Mart of Iraq." This is where we obtain a lot of the hard-to-get items that we find ourselves in need of from day to day and just can't run up the street to Lowe's or Home Depot like we would back home. From the sound of things, we spend a few thousand dollars on a trip like this and come back with various items like printer toner cartridges and power tools. Anyhow, it sounds like the most notable aspect of the trip are the hordes of children that swamp the soldiers trying to get candy and whatever else they can get their hands on. On this particular trip, we also brought back a rental crane with operator for use on some of our missions in the upcoming months where we emplace giant concrete barriers. Only problem was that in the screening process, the operator got kicked off our FOB because he was determined to be a security risk. I guess nothing is ever easy in Iraq.
Lastly, back in Athens, I was extremely saddened to hear of the sudden passing of Dan Lowe, a recent OU graduate and intern in our athletic department, and probably the most devoted Bobcat I know. I will forever remember "D-Lowe" (as he was better known as) for his camouflage pants and painted face leading the O-Zone in the "winning team, losing team" chant at the culmination of a Bobcat victory. Upon hearing the news, I watched our highlight video once again last night and there D-Lowe was on CBS as Sonny Troutman drained a three to give us a 25-22 lead over Florida, right where he belonged - going crazy in the middle of a group of OU students. D-Lowe, you will be missed.
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Sunday, June 19
Happy six-month anniversary to me! That's right - yesterday marked six months since we flew out of Indianapolis and arrived in Kuwait, just in time for a white... I mean sandy... Christmas. Six months later, here we are enjoying 109-degree heat, walking outside to get to the toilets and showers, trudging through loose gravel everywhere we go and eating with plastic flatware that seemingly breaks when you try to stab a square of Jell-o! What more you could ask for?!?!? Well, for one thing, we can only keep our fingers crossed that six months from now we'll be back on American soil. Or should I say American concrete sidewalks and American paved roads?!?!?
The next order of business should be wishing my dad, Ed, a Happy Father's Day! I am sure he's doing something today that I'm very jealous of while I am stuck over here, and that's playing golf. There's certainly no shortage of sand and dirt for it here in the Middle East but good luck finding some grass. Anyhow, Dad, thanks for everything and hope that all your drives are straight and your putts are true. Of course, they usually are and it's too bad that isn't hereditary!
Not too much exciting going on over here. On the FOB (that stands for Forward Operating Base), probably the exciting points in my day of late are going to the Dining Facility, making my daily trek to the laundry and getting my weekly haircut. KBR (one of those fat cat government contractors - stands for something, Brown and Root) runs the laundry facility on the FOB. You turn in your laundry bag between 0800 and 1800 and it is ready for pick-up anytime after 0800 the next morning. Pretty good service - they haven't lost anything yet and probably the only issue is my white socks that are now grey. As for getting a haircut over here, I think that I have previously alluded to the fact that every barber in the Middle East has his own gimmick. Some of them try to give you head and shoulder massages (notice that I said try to), others snip your eyebrows and your nose hairs, some get out the shaving lather and the old-fashioned razor (that thing is menacing looking), and some of the ones here even light a cotton swab and proceed to try and burn all the little hairs in your ear. Yes, that does take a little getting used to.
From what I've been hearing, it sounds like coalition forces up here have captured some pretty important bad guys as of late and it always is interesting to watch the lag between when we hear about it and when it gets officially reported through the media. Sometimes there is a pretty big gap but often it is nearly simultaneous. We also had an issue this week when a combat outpost that we were building for Iraqi security forces to occupy was vandalized prior to the move-in - wooden port-o-potties were burned down and the metal living containers were trashed pretty significantly. A strong reminder that not everyone is seeing things the same way over here just yet.
And I would be remiss if I didn't close with a comment about the weather. Our intelligence officer today in his daily brief made the comment, "It's going to be cooling down around the middle of the week," at which time everybody snapped out of their daydreams and looked up at his presentation, only to discover that the "cool" mid-week highs will be 102. Fun, fun.
Hope that everyone has a great weekend - thanks so much for all the well wishes and prayers.
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Saturday, June 11
Greetings from Mosul. Hope all is going well back home. To start out with, yesterday was one of those hectic days where you seemingly are always on the go but when you look back, you didn't get very much of anything accomplished. I walked back to my CHU around 2200 (10 p.m.) and I was pretty worn out. To top it off, I've been having problems with my internet access and since I've been using one of those internet-based phone services, that's cut into the phone calls that I have been able to make as well.
But this was a special weekend so I trudged all the way across the base to the phone hut (about 30 phone booths, with long-distance cards on sale - 130 minutes for $20) at about midnight. And I called two young men whom I could not be prouder of - Terren Harbut and Diamond Gladney - because sometime in the past few hours these two young men were on center stage in The Convo, not leading the Bobcats to that first round MAC Tourney victory against Marshall this time but instead walking with the Ohio University Class of 2005.
I've said it over and over - the 2004-05 edition of the Ohio Bobcats would never have come close to achieving the milestones that they did without the selfless leadership, team-first attitude and work ethic that Terren and Diamond displayed over the past two years. But put that aside for a second and consider that Terren just completed 21 hours this quarter in the sport industry program and that Diamond has maintained close to a 3.0 grade point average for his entire time at Ohio. And all that from two kids whom plenty of people wanted to label with the dreaded "junior college stigma" when we recruited them. To "T" and "Smooth" - great job, sorry that I couldn't be there today and please email me some digital pictures with your families. I couldn't be prouder of you and I look forward to getting back stateside so that I can congratulate you in person.
Back here in Iraq, I am proud to announce that tonight our unit just completed the "Ironman Line," named after our Battalion mascot. Basically it is a six-foot high berm spreading for 50 kilometers around the city of Mosul intended to keep the insurgents from sneaking into and out of the city via the back roads and fields. Our soldiers have been putting in some serious hours on the bulldozer the past two weeks in some hot and dusty conditions to make this happen and they did it in four days less than they were supposed to. Hopefully it will be another step towards making Mosul a safer place for its citizens.
The other big event associated with this operation was the discovery of a fairly large underground ordnance cache by a few of our soldiers out digging the other day. It turns out that while two of them were pulling security in the fields where the dozers were working, they came across a young boy who was very intrigued by their camera. As he repeatedly asked them to see their camera, they kept saying, "No, you're Ali Baba" (universal translation for the "bad guy"). He kept denying this and insisting for the camera and finally they said, "Well then, where is Ali Baba?" Lo and behold, the boy pointed to what turned out to be his own house and said, "Ali Baba there." Next thing you know, he pointed out to the field saying, "Qumbala," the Arabic word for "bomb."
Well, the soldiers decided to investigate a bit and sure enough found some loose dirt, started kicking at it with their feet and next thing you know, a garbage bag appeared, the first of many, revealing land mines and mortar rounds and plenty of bomb-making devices. They followed up in the boy's house and it turned out that they ended up detaining the boy's father. How about that for a story! Potentially that effort denied the bad guys a chance to use those devices on Coalition Forces. Good stuff.
Other than that, just enjoying this dry, dusty heat and thinking how refreshing a cold Guinness would be right about now. And wouldn't you know it, right after I remarked about how the quality of the plastic flatware had improved with the opening of the new Dining Facility, sure enough, the next night I broke a spoon on a perfectly good piece of cheese cake. Is that a jinx or what?
Until next time, have a great day!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
PS - By the way, we've had an embedded reporter, Bill Wilson, out of the Rochester Sentinel in Indiana with us for the past few weeks. You might want to check out some of his articles that appear in various Indiana newspapers at www.rochsent.com/files/wilsoniniraq.html - they might shed a more unbiased view of our unit as well as some insights on things that I do not feel comfortable talking about.
Wednesday, June 1
Sorry that it's been awhile. My boss, Major Hines, is on leave and things have been pretty busy. We are in the middle of a very big operation (which I'll tell you about when it's over), which has made for very little sleep. And very few emails returned and journal entries written as well.
All in all, things are moving along. Today is June 1st and, of course, it is great to have May in the rear-view mirror. I would be remiss if I went through one of these entries without mentioning the heat - it gets steamy in the afternoons to say the least. Luckily I am in an air-conditioned building the majority of the time.
One of the neater experiences that I've had since I've been here was the opportunity to see the latest Star Wars movie last Friday. We have what is called the CAC (I still haven't figured out what that stands for), which basically is a recreation center for the soldiers. It is like one of those indoor practice football bubbles (not quite that big) and inside, half of it is a 500-seat movie theater and the other half has a stage (for karaoke nights), plenty of games like foosball, pool, shuffleboard and darts, and a library and an internet café. It's pretty nice. Anyhow, the buzz on post last week was that Star Wars was going to be shown Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. So Captain John Pitt, our intelligence officer, and I decided to go see it on Thursday. Although the screen wasn't what most of us are used to (it was projected on the unevenly shaped end wall instead of a screen), it was definitely worth the price of admission (FREE!). Just kidding, I thought it was a great movie. The sound and picture weren't perfect but it was actually the director's cut that George Lucas sent over here to the troops - pretty neat.
Less than 24 hours later, I was back at the CAC, this time for the memorial service for the engineers who had been killed in the roadside explosion that I mentioned in my last entry. It was the first one of these services I had been to and it was very sad. The soldiers' commander, platoon sergeant and squad leader all said a few words in their memory, a video tribute set to music was played and they received a "firing of volleys," the playing of taps and their "final roll call." A roll call is something that happens so many times in an army unit, every time that the platoon sergeant or first sergeant needs to make sure that everybody is in formation. In this instance, after the first sergeant called the names of a few of these fallen soldiers' comrades, who dutifully bellowed, "Here, first sergeant," the first sergeant called out the rank and last name of the soldier being remembered. Not getting a response, the first sergeant shouted even louder the rank, first name and last name. Still not getting a response, one more time the first sergeant raised his voice, this time calling out the soldier by his rank, first name, middle name and last name. Sadly, the first sergeant's repeated exhortations go unanswered, a stark reminder that the soldier has moved on to his next formation up above. The service closed with soldiers filing by crosses set up with the soldier' helmets hanging on them two by two, snapping to attention and saluting their comrades one last time. It was very powerful, something that I will not soon forget.
As part of this big operation that we are in the middle of, I have been out and about around Mosul quite a few times the past 10 days, putting the engineer's eye on a few locations that we will be working at for the infantry units we support. The other day, I was out doing this recon standing out in the rear hatch of one of the Stryker vehicles and we did some serious off-roading. The end result was me getting back to the base, taking off my goggles and looking like a raccoon where the dust and dirt that we kicked up had coated my face all around them. Definitely gave me that Pigpen feel.
Another good story (now that it's over) occurred when we were out reconning in four of the newly arrived up-armored Hummvee's that were so prominent in the news such a short time ago, for the army not providing enough of them. Well, let me tell you, everyone who made noise on this one back in the states definitely made an impact, as they have been pumping them out back home and pushing them over here. The armor and some of the new features are quite impressive, however in the seeming rush to churn them out, we are encountering quite a few maintenance issues and finding that repair parts are hard to come by as there is such a focus on producing as many of these trucks as quickly as possible. Anyhow, we had quite an experience thanks to this rushed production - these trucks have frequently been overheating and stalling. As we were headed back to the base in one of the not-no-nice traffic circles in town, we missed our turn, forcing us to turn around about 50 meters later. Only problem was that as we jumped the median to come back to the circle, one of the vehicles in the convoy pulled the dreaded stall on us. That definitely will get your attention. Sounds like time for the mechanic? Not quite. Not to fear, one of the occupants jumped out and right before my eyes performed what has become the common first aid procedure for this new vehicle - lift up the hood and pour some water on the engine. As I watched wide-eyed, the soldier did this, jumped back in the truck and it roared back to life. The wonders of modern technology.
I also was very excited to receive a copy of a Bobcats' championship season DVD tribute that was shown at the championship banquet. It was very well done, brought back some unforgettable memories, and I definitely have watched it more than once. Again, it was a great reminder of the resilience and determination that our players have come to be known for, and Mychal Green's missed 3-pointer at the buzzer at Miami was a vivid testimony to all the heartbreak that we have overcome the past two years, culminating with Leon Williams' tip-in to win the championship and a valiant effort against Florida in the NCAA's.
Finally, I have tried to share with you the difficulty that a year over here creates in terms of all the important events that you miss back home. This past week, after 22 years of selfless service in the Erie County legislature and 29 years of elected public service overall, my dad, Ed, held a press conference to announce that he would not run for re-election this fall. This past year has been a tough one for him because of a huge budget crisis that the county has been in but more than that, I know this was an agonizing decision because of the close relationship he has formed with his constituents, faithfully walking door-to-door every two years for re-election despite knowing that he could spend the same time on the golf course and still win going away with seventy five percent of the vote. I know that the hardest thing about this decision for him was worrying whether his replacement would provide the people of our hometown of Lackawanna and the rest of the district the same dedication to the constituents that he has shown time after time over all these years. And again, it was disappointing for me not to be there at his side with the rest of my family - another significant event that being over here has made me miss.
So, for the 113th Engineer Battalion - we keep marching on, doing our job with our head held high but eagerly awaiting the day that our plane will touch down in Indianapolis and this chapter of our life will be behind us. And in the meantime, I am happy to report that with our new dining hall, I have now gone a month without having any plastic forks break on me - how about that!
Have a great day!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Monday, May 23
Sorry it's been awhile. I have spent the last four days fighting a pretty bad head cold, mainly the product of moving between 95-degree heat outside and sub-zero air conditioning inside. Nothing much new for me although I have switched back to the day shift which is a nice change.
Back in Athens, tonight is our senior banquet and I am very disappointed that I will have to miss it. This is one of my favorite events every year and this year's group of seniors and what our team accomplished under their leadership makes it extra special. I spoke about what each of them meant to me in my journal entry on March 2 prior to our senior night game against Buffalo and the two weeks I was able to spend with them during our run to the MAC championship only deepened those feelings.
To Diamond, Terren, Bridge and Clay - for the great example you set, for the great team players that you were and for the numerous times you showed tremendous heart fighting back from large deficits, you will always be remembered as CHAMPIONS in my book, and next year there is going to be a banner hanging in The Convo that will remember you and your teammates as such forever. And just as importantly, I look forward in a month or so to seeing the picture of each one of you in your cap and gown as distinguished graduates of Ohio University.
Lastly, on a very sad note, ever since the elections here in January, our battalion has had the great honor of working side-by-side with the 73rd Engineer Company. This past weekend, one of their Hummvee's was hit by an improvised explosive device while they were patrolling, resulting in the tragic loss of two of their soldiers, Specialist Cremean and Lieutenant Seesan. My thoughts and prayers go out to my Sapper brethren, their families and all the soldiers of the 73rd Engineers.
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Sunday, May 15
Halfway through another month - wow, time is flying (not quite!). We had a fairly eventful week so there is plenty to talk about.
Most notably, the engineer battalion that will be replacing us sent a delegation of leaders out here for three days to get a feel for the lay of the land. Nothing definite yet on exactly when they will be here or when we will be getting out of here but it was good to see for ourselves that the people who are replacing us do, in fact, actually exist. Of course, I reminded them that the sooner they showed up here, the sooner they could get their deployment over with and be done with Iraq. I don't think they quite bought that logic, however.
Work-wise, we are doing lots of missions to help make the roads safe for travel by trying to reduce the emplacement of roadside IED's (improvised explosive devices) as well as assisting the infantry units in capturing the bad guys through the emplacement and use of traffic checkpoints. And we still get some missions to help fortify Iraqi facilities, such as police stations and hospitals, from attack as well as the facilities that are being used by the American trainers who are coming here to help train the various Iraqi security forces.
There were lots of "booms" this week as well, really for the first time since before the elections in January. Thankfully, most of them were friendly "booms"; however, I had just finished my run Wednesday morning and was walking to the Dining Facility for breakfast when there were two loud explosions across the street on the other side of a building. I saw a cloud of smoke and lots of local national workers who work in the nearby laundry facilities scrambling into concrete bunkers so I thought that might not be a bad idea as well. It turns out two mortars had been fired, probably aimed at the Dining Facility, but they came up well short. One of them actually "swished" into the rear end of a garbage truck, tearing the rear end apart but basically absorbing all the impact and making the round ineffective. I think there were a few minor injuries but thankfully nothing worse. While I guess this shows that there still is a threat out there, attacks like this happen so fast that there is no time to panic (probably a good thing). You just try to fortify all the buildings as best as possible and go about your daily operations; you can't just sit in an underground bunker all day.
Another major event this week was an appearance by well-known country singer Toby Keith, who gave a number of performances in the area at the various bases. Now I enjoy country music about as much as I enjoy being in Iraq so this was not a big thing for me but most of the soldiers were very excited about this, which was great to see. I have enormous respect for the various entertainers who volunteer to come over here and perform for the troops - it does make a big difference for morale.
And yesterday we had our big engineer pow-wow across town, which gave me a chance to cruise through Mosul on a route that I hadn't taken before. The most notable site on the way was the University of Mosul. It is surrounded by a large wall (no surprise there) but although the architecture is different, it is not hard to pick out dorms and classroom buildings and even athletic facilities. Unfortunately, the school has not survived the recent years of war unscathed - lots of graffiti (both pro- and anti-American) and lots of blackened spots and damaged walls where rounds have impacted. I thought maybe I could swing by and schedule a game for the Bobcats for Coach O'Shea and company with the school's hoops team. It might be a little tough on the travel budget and on the nerves as well but seeing as I really haven't seen any 6-foot tall Iraqis, let alone 7-footers, I think it might be the closest thing to a sure win that our defending MAC champion Bobcats could get on the schedule at this late date!
That's all from Mosul, hope that you aren't experiencing "spring" temperatures of 94 degrees wherever you are today!
Have a great day!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Sunday, May 8
Happy Mother's Day from the sweet-smelling banks of the Tigris River.
First off, I have to send a shout out to my mom, Karen. I've included a snapshot of my Mother's Day greeting to her because I know that she's done as much for me while I've been over here as any soldier's mom out there. She sends me emails, cards and packages too numerous to count, her first grade class sends me artwork, she has had me mentioned in church bulletins as far away as Texas, she designed a card to send to all of our family and friends back home asking them to write me (and they have) and she has me being remembered by prayer groups in seemingly all 50 states. Heck, I even got a package from a cashier at Wal-Mart who she got to talking to about me. Not to mention that she wrote a letter to the editor of the Buffalo News expressing her concern about Congress and the President making sure that the soldiers over here are adequately protected (we probably need to ask for some sturdier plastic flatware as well!). About all she's not taking care of is doing my laundry and packing my lunch and she probably could figure out how to do that if she really had to as well! I am lucky indeed to have such a great mom.
Not too much new to report over here. Weather-wise, we had a lot of rain this week, which made for plenty of mud (no driveways or sidewalks to speak of on this base). No sign of the big sandstorms or rainstorms that supposedly have plagued the troops in other parts of the country. Two days later, however, you'd never know we had any rain as it is back to being dry, dusty and hot and the forecast calls for 90's all this week.
A few highlights this week. First off, when I went out with a Stryker platoon this week, I had the opportunity to ride up out of one of the rear hatches - definitely gives you a great view of things as you roll around town. The technology on those Strykers is amazing. The whole crew in the vehicle wears special helmets that have a headset and microphone wired in. I was able to wear one of those and that was an interesting experience listening to the banter between the squad leader and the driver who kept tailgating the Stryker in front of us. Not to mention some of the other topics of discussion, with a definite male spin to things!
Additionally this week our Dining Facility reopened, which was a very big deal. You may remember that I mentioned back in late January or early February that we had a chance to eat in the new dining hall. Well, we hadn't eaten in there but three or four days when they closed it down again, deciding to wait until it was one hundred percent complete and with additional force protection measures installed inside to try and prevent a repeat of past experiences. Although the extra safety emphasis is a good thing, eating out of "mermites" (big plastic storage containers that are filled up with food at a central cooking location and trucked around base to each unit) for the past three months left us with a very limited selection and not always the warmest food. The new dining facility includes a main line, a grill for burgers and fries, a stir-fry section, a pasta/pizza bar (heaven for me) and a dessert/ice cream section to die for - the contractors who run the place do a mean chocolate-covered cheesecake. So spirits have definitely been high this week with the much-improved food service.
Lastly, our headquarters building was renovated (a carpentry project all done with 2x4's and plywood) this week with a revamped layout to include new workspaces, tables and chairs. Clearly, however, the centerpieces of the project are the two 42-inch plasma TV's which we use to display some of the amazing electronic maps and aerial footage that we have access to. Bobcat fans will be proud to know that when we broke the first one out of the box and needed to test it out to ensure it was operational, I ran to my room, grabbed my personal DVD player, hooked it up and threw in the DVD of the Ohio-Buffalo MAC championship game. And once again, Leon's tip-in fell through and pandemonium broke loose at the Gund - I can't think of a better way to christen that big screen! Last night, when our last mission was complete, we switched the screen over to Armed Forces Network to the Kentucky Derby and got a small slice of good old Americana.
Hope life is well for everyone back stateside. The mom of one of my college roommates, Sean Norton, just sent me some great brownies - Mrs. Norton, I hear they are still hiring in the bakery section of our new dining facility. Maybe you and my mom could do a tour of duty over here - the civilian contractors get paid a lot better than the soldiers and can do three month rotations if they want! Just a thought! Take care.
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Saturday, April 30
Greetings from Mosul. As I write this, 8,000 miles away one of my best friends, Donny Nestor, is getting married in Charleston, South Carolina. Donny was a classmate of mine at Notre Dame, was in ROTC with me and became an Army engineer as well (he actually still is on active duty and already served a rotation here in Iraq earlier in this conflict). Anyhow, it's tough knowing that I'm missing such an important event in a friend's life with lots of my other close friends at the wedding and having a wild time of it, I'm sure. Often when I'm over here, my mind will flash to things that I miss from your everyday life back home - being at practice, being on the road recruiting, going for a run on the Hocking bike path, going out for a drink after work, even running over to Walmart to pick up a few items. But those things will still be there for me when I get back - in the case of Donny's wedding, it's my one shot and I'm missing it... definitely a bit frustrating. But that's out of my control, so in terms of what I can control, I had a "near beer" (as much as I can't stand the stuff) today, to toast Donny and Krissy's big day!
Not too much new going on over here. I actually went out on an engineer recon (short for reconnaissance) to pick out some locations outside of Mosul for traffic control points, checkpoints where vehicles entering and exiting the city can be searched. It's probably the closest I've come to using my engineering degree in a long time. It was a pretty nice day and we spent four or five hours driving around the area. We would stop and get out to "walk the ground" at various potential locations - a joint effort between the infantry company commander who patrols that area and myself as the engineer representative. We picked out two or three places where our unit will come back and emplace barricades and towers to form these checkpoints. It was a beautiful day but definitely on the hot side. The body armor that we wear probably weighs 60-70 pounds and you definitely can feel every single one of them after you've been in the heat for awhile. On the way out of the city, we had some great air support for our convoy - two helicopters circling a couple hundred feet above us ready to open fire at the first sign of trouble - a pretty intimidating sight.
After we picked out the locations and talked about designing the layout for each one, the Stryker unit I was with patrolled through a few small rural towns on the way back to Mosul. I was riding in a Hummvee with a good window view of the town and what was surprising to me was that it was noon on a weekday and all of the kids were out and about the streets of the town, jumping up and down and yelling for candy from the soldiers. It made me wonder if the town had a school. And I'm not going to even get into the sanitary conditions - my only advice would be not to build a house on the low ground in these towns! On the outskirts of the town, our convoy seemingly stopped in the middle of nowhere. I thought maybe we were having some maintenance difficulties but then I saw the company commander get out of his Stryker, walk over towards a field where three young kids were playing and throw a few handfuls of candy in their direction. It was a memorable picture as the kids gathered up the candy and waved at our convoy.
Many people have asked me about the situation with the newly forming government here. To be honest, I probably know as much as anyone back home does from what I read on the Internet as we do not get any special information on the political goings-on over here. Seemingly, the violence and attacks on our forces have been picking up in the last few weeks but it is too early to tell if that's a clear trend or just a temporary spike in activity. Thankfully my unit continues to fare well in terms of staying safe and let's hope it stay that way.
Back in Athens, I hear that the Bobcats are working hard in the weight room and in individual workouts as we prepare to defend our championship next year. There's an old Chinese military saying that goes, "Sweat more in peace so you bleed less in war." It challenges you to push yourself as much as possible in peacetime training so that when it is time to put your skills to the test in combat, you will do so successfully with as few casualties as possible. Hopefully our team does the same during our "peacetime" this spring, summer and fall so that come the 2005-06 season, we are ready to give Bobcat fans many, many victories as we do battle in the ever-challenging MAC.
Have a great day - enjoy those "May flowers" and springtime in general for me!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Thursday, April 21
"Are we almost there yet?" I'm remembering what it was like to pester my parents from the backseat on the ride down to Florida for our annual family vacation. And we still have eight months or so to go - yikes!
Like I said, not too much new out here. It's still hot and dusty. The food is getting a bit... predictable, shall we say. And the first day of practice for college hoops is approximately 177 days away - can you say "sloooooooooooow motion?"
Only one mission for me the past week. I went out with one of our platoons to fortify a combat outpost (essentially a fortified building along one of the main drags in town) that had recently been handed off from a company of American soldiers to a company of Iraqi soldiers. The mission involved emplacing about twenty 12-foot high concrete barriers with a crane around the building, constructing five bunkers to serve as fighting positions, and some additional engineer work to make the place a little harder to get at for the bad guys. As our soldiers got to work (it took us about six hours smack dab in the middle of the night during curfew), I got to spend some time with a Marine captain, who along with two other Marines, has the challenging task of living with and advising/training/mentoring these Iraqi soldiers. Not to mention that he doesn't speak Arabic and doesn't even have an interpreter with him! But despite that, he was fairly upbeat about the experience - four months after the elections, much of our focus is now on partnering up with Iraqi units and training them to accomplish the missions we've been performing. But it's going to take awhile, believe me.
Another thing that is very interesting to watch is our capabilities in terms of gathering intelligence. Without getting into detail on the specifics of how we do this, I am constantly amazed on the information we are able to gather on the enemy, which allows us to prevent quite a few bad things from happening.
Other than that, the 113th Engineer Battalion keeps pushing forward. Our battalion call sign on the radio (kind of like our mascot) is "IRONMAN" and as of late, we have been opening our staff meetings to the tune of Ozzy Osbourne's "Iron Man" blaring in our conference room. Now that will get you ready to drive through the streets of Mosul!
Hope all is well back home,
CPT Kevin Kuwik (becoming better known as "Ironman 3-Alpha")
Wednesday, April 14
Hey everyone - hope that real silverware is treating you well. There's not a better dining experience out there than having your plastic fork break on you when you're trying to cut a piece of meat - happens a couple of times a week to me.
Not much new out here - since I've been back, I've been taking a turn pulling the night battle captain shift in our headquarters and it definitely gives me a new appreciation for life before television. My shift starts around 1630 (4:30 p.m.) as I sit in on three meetings where I get caught up on what went on all day and help to plot out our next 2-3 days of missions.
After that, I settle down for a night of monitoring the radios with our radio operators, keeping track of the missions we have going on and reacting to any variables. With things having slowed down quite a bit since the elections, the hours drag on - basically I have gone from going 100 miles an hour from 7 a.m. until 2 or 3 in the morning before I went on leave to looking at the clock every 15 minutes now, counting down until 0600 in the morning when my shift is over. It was hard enough listening to Derek Scott calling a Bobcat game for two hours on the internet; now I'm staring at the radio for 10 hours. It has allowed me to read a few good books however.
One of the humorous things about the night shift is that with the curfew in place and no one allowed in the streets at night, every emergency movement must be reported in. And seemingly every night, there are multiple calls over the radio of, "there is a pregnant woman at grid coordinate (insert here) moving to the hospital" - leading to the running joke among our radio operators that the Catholics are taking over Mosul (note there are over a million people in Mosul - it is just that on some nights this is seemingly all that's going on).
When I get off at 0600, I'll usually surf the net and fire off a few emails. Then I usually catch a few hours of sleep. After I get up, I try to get in my daily run around our base, shower up and get right back at it again for another fun day in Iraq.
This morning, I actually went on a ride-along on one of our missions. Basically we escort the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Detachment - the Bomb Squad in layman's terms) out to sites where our troops have found improvised explosive devices or unexploded ammunition. Once on site, our soldiers provide security while EOD uses their little dune buggy robot to run some explosives out to the device in question to blow it up (don't worry, we stay at a safe distance away).
Today's mission went off fairly smoothly. To be honest, the craziest part was just getting there. One of the scariest threats these days is suicide bombers driving cars trying to plow into our vehicles and detonate themselves. So I can't say that our drivers exactly follow the rules of the road, especially in areas congested with traffic - you don't want to stop moving. The driver with his horn and our machine gunner out the hatch with arm signals do their best to get everyone to pull over before we get to them but we are dealing with some drivers who make New York City cabbies look like defensive driving experts.
I was riding in the lead Hummvee today and basically it got so crowded at one point that we had to make a third lane in a two-lane road that was already bumper-to-bumper traffic. A few cars got "nudged" out of the way and we even had to fire a warning shot up in the air over an oncoming truck that just wouldn't slow down. Not exactly diplomatic but the decisions are split-second and potentially lives are at stake.
Anyhow, we did make it to the site, set up our security and were able to detonate the device in question. Once again, our interpreter proved invaluable, using a bullhorn to get all the residents in the area to get into their houses before the big boom. I pulled security with the soldiers during the process - my contribution was spotting an individual who suddenly appeared on a rooftop in the neighborhood - probably just a curious resident but just in case, having two or three machine guns swiveled your way has a way of making you find a new spot. We finished the mission, returned to our base and I got my midday nap in.
Well, that's the latest and greatest from here. Hope everyone's getting those tax returns done (I get to wait until I get back) - I have a pretty good idea where a lot of that tax money is going but don't worry, we're getting a good deal on those plastic forks. Have a great day.
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Wednesday, April 6
Hello from Mosul. Stayed up until 5 a.m. to watch the National Championship game on Tuesday morning - a great game and a great finish. Since North Carolina beat Illinois, and Illinois beat Louisville, and Louisville beat West Virginia, and Marshall beat West Virginia - well, we all know what the Bobcats did to Marshall this year - I guess we have a claim to being the best team in the country on any given day.
Another milestone to my year away from home is the start of a new baseball season. I must admit - 2004 was quite the year for me, and not necessarily in the way you want it to be. It started out with the Bobcats breaking hearts left and right to the tune of a 10-20 record with too many great comebacks ending up just a little short. Add in the fact that we were losing three seniors (Jaivon, Thomas and Delvar) who did a lot for us, and understandably there might have been some cause for concern. Allow that uncertainty to fester all spring and summer, say until September 3rd, when you go to the mailbox and find out you've been called back to active duty when you thought you were already done with your obligation, and to boot, might even be heading over to Iraq. Yes, that might qualify as somewhat of a significant emotional event. Then, while you are still staggering a bit, have your beloved Yankees blow a 3-0 series lead to the Red Sox and have the Red Sox go on to win their first world series since 1918. Throw in the Notre Dame football team bumbling and stumbling to another below-expectations season, and then cap off the year by getting on that plane heading over here and missing Christmas with your family, and you're left with not exactly the best feeling in the world.
Fast forward (thankfully) to 2005. The unit and I are settling in over here in Mosul, the Bobcats pulled off our own version of March Madness, and now the Yankees continue to restore some order to our universe by opening up the season with two wins over the Red Sox. All I can say is that it took the Red Sox 86 years to recover from the disaster of selling Babe Ruth to the Yanks - hopefully it takes the Yanks about 85 years less!
Things are fine over here. On Monday, I had the opportunity to go with our guys on a mission about 15 miles south of Mosul to help fortify a small town police station against attacks by the insurgents. It was one of the rare day missions we've had, so the ride was interesting in and of itself. We went through the countryside - quite a few sheep and cattle dotting the landscape. The layout of the towns themselves is very interesting - the signature of pretty much every house is a walled-in courtyard. Obviously they are a few centuries behind sanitation-wise, the concept of a town dump or landfill just hasn't made its way over here - garbage laying all over the place. And when it rains, there's a lot more than just garbage running through the streets and permeating the air. Additionally, I finally put my finger on something else I hadn't been able to figure out - in an underdeveloped country like this, landscaping is a non-entity. There are large rocks just laying all over the place and the landscape has not been leveled out anywhere. One of the towns we drove through was notable because the English underneath the Arabic had all been spray-painted over.
When we finally arrived at the gas station, it was clear that this was a significant event for the town. I think every policeman was there waiting for us, as was the chief and the mayor as well. One of the infantryman we were there with informed me that the mayor had 11 wives and 56 kids - and they say us Catholics are bad!?! Security around the police station tried to keep the townspeople away so at checkpoints on either side of us, throngs of people massed.
As a bit of a sidebar, for missions like this, having a good interpreter is crucial as we interact with the locals. Each unit usually will have at least one and we brought ours with us for this mission. Our interpreter, or "terp" for short, is originally from Baghdad (where his family still is) and has really become an integral part of our unit - the soldiers have really taken to him and he teaches weekly Arabic classes to them as well. Sadly, because of the divisions still existing in Iraq concerning the view of the American forces, our interpreter cannot use his own name - he goes by Yan - for fear of retribution against him and his family.
Anyhow, as we arrived, our sergeant in charge and Yan met with the police chief and went over the plans for the wall of concrete barriers to encircle the station and then our bucket loader and crane went to work, moving the pre-existing short concrete barriers aside and putting in the 12-foot-high barriers in their place. Meanwhile, I interacted with some of the policemen and some of the little kids in town as well. As a rule, I would say the little 5- and 6-year-olds were great and innocent but the 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds had been spoiled by previous soldiers and impudently hounded me in broken English, "Mee-ster, Mee-ster - Money! Food!," all the while swarming me with their hands out.
I was fortunate enough to try some Iraqi hot tea courtesy of the policemen. It was drowned in sugar (or is it the other way around) - very sweet and definitely different from what my mom always fed me when I had a sore throat. Additionally, one of the families offered me some of their bread - a pita-like substance that was pretty tasty as well. As a sign of goodwill, we shared some of our MRE's (meals ready-to-eat) with the Iraqi policemen (except the pork-based ones, of course). I took the lemon pound cake, peanuts and potato sticks out of my MRE and went over to a swarm of kids to give them all some samples. The vultures wasted no time in circling - before I had even given away two or three morsels of the cake, I was surrounded by about 20 shrieking youngsters. Of course, I chose all the youngest ones and then, making my mom who is a first grade teacher proud, gave out samples to all the quiet kids standing in the back of the group. Some of the shrewder ones figured out the game (not that I minded them standing in the back and being quiet) but some just didn't get it. Oh well.
As we neared completion, things got a little crazy. Realizing that this would be the last time the engineers would be in his small town, the police chief started requesting through Yan all sorts of little additional jobs for our equipment to perform. Of course, at that point we had been there for five or six hours and just wanted to get out of there. Potentially, this could have created some ill will when we left but once again Yan did a masterful job diffusing the situation and we left to handshakes, smiles and, most memorably, to about five or six teenagers trying to push against the 12-foot-high wall of concrete barriers in front of the station, not being able to budge it, and subsequently jumping around and cheering. As we drove out of the town, the families were all lined up along the roadside for a half mile waving at us - a pretty gratifying feeling.
So onward we march - saw the 10-day forecast today and those 87's and 88's are coming up quick. Funny thing is, I'll be missing them dearly come the dog days of June and July.
Hope all is well back in the land of porcelain toilets - go Bobcats (and go Yankees!)!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Saturday, April 2
Hey everyone! Hope all is well. An easy way to track your deployment is by the big events that you miss. Certainly I already missed quite a chunk of our 2004-05 season (although fortunately not the really important part!). But now this weekend I will be missing something that every coach looks forward to - the coaches' convention and the Final Four.
Every year coaches from across the nation - Division I, II, Junior College, High School, you name it - converge at the site of the Final Four to go to the games, attend professional development clinics, meet various basketball-related vendors, and of course, to socialize a little bit. It is a great opportunity to catch up with old friends as the season itself keeps you pretty busy and can make communication difficult.
Of course, in keeping with the competitive nature of coaches, I would be lying if I didn't admit that, amid all the chit-chat and handshakes and storytelling, there isn't quite a bit of comparing of the past season's records and successess (or lack thereof) going on in the back of each coach's mind. So coming off a conference championship, this would have been an extra sweet year to be at the Final Four, especially when you come across the other MAC coaches.
Not to be, however. In the meantime, we are marching on here in Mosul. There still is a fair amount of violence - tragically, another American soldier was killed here in town on Thursday. Fortunately our unit has avoided this unfortunate occurrence thus far - keep praying.
Yesterday was a significant day for our unit, as we were awarded our combat patches, signifying serving in a combat zone for 90 days or more. On the uniform, a soldier will wear his or her unit patch on the left shoulder, and the American flag on the right shoulder. The combat patch is the patch of the higher unit that you are working for and goes on the right shoulder above the flag. Back stateside, it is a sort of status symbol, signifying that you have faced the toughest challenge the army has to offer.
Our unit is attached to the 1st Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, so we were awarded the 25th ID patch. At the ceremony, the Brigade Commander, Colonel Bob Brown (who ironically played hoops for Mike Krzyzewski back when Coach K coached at West Point), presented our commander, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Shatto, with the patch, and in turn each soldier was presented with a patch as well.
Then Colonel Brown spoke to the soldiers. He thanked them for their exemplary service thus far, citing their great work in fortifying the polling sites in Mosul during the elections, among other things. He then gave a history of the 25th ID, which is headquartered out of Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. The unit traces its lineage back to World War II, where it courageously fought the Japanese all the way back across the Pacific Ocean in an island-hopping campaign.
The ferocity and speed with which the unit chased the Japanese made the Japanese refer to the unit as "Lightning," hence the unit's nickname, "Tropic Lightning." Colonel Brown explained that the patch reflects this, as it is in the shape of the terra leaf, prevalent throughout Hawaii, with a lightning bolt in the middle of it. He finished off by recognizing the special commitment made by those in the guard and reserves, picking up and leaving their jobs and families behind.
So here it is, about 2 a.m. on Sunday morning and it's time to head to our MWR (morale, welfare, and recreation) room to watch the Final Four - wish I was there in person but I'll make up for that next year when the Final Four is in Indianapolis.
Until next time - have a great day!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Monday, March 28
Hey everyone! You'll all be happy to know that I made it back to our tropical paradise over here in Iraq in one piece and am quickly re-acclimating to a nice lumpy twin bed, walking outside to go to the bathroom, and plenty of dust. And did I mention the 130-degree heat that one of the soldiers on my flight who had been to Mosul two summers ago told me all about? Can't wait to enjoy that!
The trip back was fairly uneventful. I got back to Buffalo to see my family for a few nights after our game in Nashville. Probably the best meals I'll have for awhile, plus I did a little bonding with my mom and dad, going to see the movie "Hostage." Tuesday morning I put on my desert camouflage for the first time in 15 days and flew from Buffalo to Atlanta. After spending half the day in Atlanta, I caught a flight with about 300 other soldiers returning from leave and hunkered down for a 15-hour flight from Atlanta to Kuwait with a two-hour stop at an Air Force Base in Germany. As riled up as everyone was on that leave flight home, that's how mellow everyone was on the flight back. With the time change, we got into Kuwait on Wednesday night and since our flight to Mosul wasn't until Thursday night, that left us most of a day to chill out and get adjusted time-wise.
Thursday night we flew into Mosul on a very comfortable Air Force jet (not quite) and arrived around midnight. The night crew in our headquarters was excited to see me and I probably stayed up for three hours talking about the Florida game that they had watched on Armed Forces Network - unfortunately, when we got down 20, they cut away from our game and didn't return until we tied it - so they missed the best part. As my boss said, "You guys were one basket away from finishing off the SEC champs!" And I got to see Sergeant First Class Hank Stone, who had hooked me up with that leave slot (he is taking his leave in a few weeks, by the way - much-deserved, I might add!), and I gave him some Bobcat NCAA tournament T-shirts for himself and his kids, an NCAA tournament program and, probably most important to him, the USA Today article with his name in it - "Sir, this is the only time I'll ever be in the USA Today sports section - very cool."
Since then, things have been fairly slow. Probably the most interesting thing happening was on Easter, when the officers pulled all the guard duty so that the soldiers would have the day off. Our base is surrounded by a huge fence that has guard towers spaced out along it to keep an eye on anyone (or anything - you have to watch out for those sheep) getting a little too close to the fence. Each unit on the base is responsible for some of the towers, which are occupied around the clock. So on Easter, I had a four-hour guard shift from 7-11 p.m. (1900-2300 military time). No big deal, you just sit up in the tower with a machine gun looking out over a vast expanse of land with night vision goggles, talking on the radio every once in awhile to stay focused. The interesting thing is that as part of our vaunted multinational coalition, Kurdestan has sent a few hundred soldiers to help us out with guarding our base. So for my shift, I was joined by a Kurdish soldier, Omar, who thankfully knew a few English words and had a Kurdish-English dictionary with him. In my four hours, he taught me to count to 10 and the days of the week in Kurdish, he talked about his family and girlfriend, asked me a bunch of questions and even taught me a few Kurdish swear words which he directed towards Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Not wanting to short-change him, I taught him a few American off-color terms, some slang and some locker room lingo (just kidding, mom!) - I think he felt very enlightened.
Other than that, the other neat occurrence was having one of my radio crew, Specialist Garrett Marshall (a.k.a. "Peanut"), tell me that he's been playing with the Ohio Bobcats as his team for his March Madness 2005 on X-Box and that we've been "tearing it up." Hope that holds true to form for the 2005-06 season!
Hope all is well back stateside - hold it down for me for eight or nine more months. Have a great day!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Tuesday, March 22
Well, again it's 1:30 a.m. in the morning and I actually have a flight to Atlanta in about seven hours. Not to worry, as I watched the final play in the Buffalo game another five or six times just now. To get maximum enjoyment (and since you do know the ball is going to go in!), each time you watch I recommend picking out a different group of people - the coaches, the bench, the cheerleaders - and watching their reaction from when Jeremy starts his drive until Leon actually tips the ball in. The emotion is unbelievable. Anyhow, as I catch up on my sleep the next two to three days that I'm living on an airplane, you know what I'll be dreaming about!
I'm going to pick up this entry on the Sunday after the MAC championship. After waking up, I spent some time down in the lobby with my parents and then joined the team in our fourth-floor meeting room for our breakfast. This was a more-special-than-usual breakfast as the MAC Tournament Championship trophy was sitting there in the middle of the table, a reminder of all our hard work and a great comeback versus Buffalo. After breakfast, we loaded up the team bus and headed back down to Athens, speculating on who we would play and where as we watched the video of the great win. We got more than a few honks along I-77 as the Bobcat bus passed happy fans! Again, another great memory!
Upon returning to Athens, we were whisked over to the Maplewood Inn for our Selection Show party, where the band and cheerleaders and a horde of cheering Bobcat fans greeted us. No matter how much we held our breath when each 11, 12 or 13 seed was announced, it was great knowing that we were definitely going to be called at some point. When we finally showed up on the bracket opposite Florida, everyone went crazy. That was tempered a bit by the announcer from CBS shortly thereafter talking about the second-round matchup between Villanova and Florida - a bit of a slap but something that we had faced and overcame all year so no big deal.
Monday and Tuesday were busy days in terms of watching videotape of Florida, having practice and definitely dealing with an onslaught of phone calls from friends who had just figured out I was back in the states as well as the media. While I am not really one to say no to people and definitely am not bashful about talking to anyone, the media crush was definitely uncomfortable to say the least. While I am grateful for the attention it brought to myself, the soldiers I am with over in Iraq and especially the Ohio basketball program, I couldn't help but harbor feelings that too much attention was being placed on me rather than the kids who had busted their butts all year to prove the experts wrong and win a MAC championship and a trip to the Big Dance.
Probably the coolest experience of the week was my appearance on ESPN2's "Cold Pizza." It was scheduled for 8:15 a.m. on Tuesday and wanting to look my military best, I scheduled a 7:30 a.m. haircut with one of the biggest Bobcat fans in Athens, Alan Trout. Unfortunately, Brian Townsend and I met at 7 a.m. and spent about 45 minutes going over notes from the tape we had watched of the Gators, which made me a bit late for my appointment. Alan quickly squared me away and the consensus of the crew at the barber shop was not only had the Bobcats had a great season but they all hoped that their favorite "Cold Pizza" reporter, Kit, would be the one to interview me (obviously, it was an all-male crowd). Promising to send her a shout out from everyone at Karsay's, I hurried over to The Convo to find Ohio University's resident technical whiz and huge Bobcat supporter Paul Ladwig being a little nervous about me making it on time - he had a camera and microphone all set up for me in the stands of The Convo for a remote feed to ESPN2. The earpiece was slapped into my ear and I found myself sitting in a studio chair, staring into a faceless camera and listening to people talk into my earpiece, definitely a different experience. The interview went well and thankfully I wasn't asked any trick questions like the square root of 5,824 or the capital of Turkistan. Probably the funniest moment was when I was asked what the biggest adjustment to being over in Iraq was - if you watch the tape, you will see me grinning from ear to ear because my first thought (but not my answer) was not being able to enjoy an adult beverage every now and then (Kenny Kerr, that one's for you!)!
In terms of the most frustrating part of the week, it certainly was all these reporters trying to get me to say that I was single-handedly taking on the insurgents over in Iraq. Obviously, anything dealing with the military is foreign to most reporters, especially sports ones. But listening to the way everything was portrayed, you would think I was holed up in a foxhole all day shooting at the bad guys and eating roots and berries to stay alive. Or maybe a one-man team looking for Osama bin Laden. If all that was true, I don't think my mom would let me get on that plane to head back! As I've said to many, I'm not one of the infantryman who bravely patrol the streets day in and day out. Instead, I'm one of the planners who goes out on a few missions each week to get a better feel for what I'm planning and to show the soldiers that I'm there with them. That being said, anything can happen any day over there.
On to Wednesday of NCAA week. We chartered the Ohio University plane out of the airport at Albany on Wednesday afternoon, flying down to Nashville and checking in to our hotel. Everything about the NCAA tournament, from the hotels to the meal money, is first class. Wednesday night entailed a film session and practice over at Vanderbilt University. Thursday morning involved watching more film and a shoot-around over at the Gaylord Entertainment Center where the game was to be played. We had a great dinner and then it was time to chill out at the hotel and watch Thursday's set of NCAA games. My parents, my brothers Keith and Mark and my Aunt Donna and Uncle Bill all showed up to share in the memorable experience with me.
Friday morning brought a 6:45 a.m. wake-up, a four-mile run to get the blood flowing a bit, 7:30 breakfast and then the bus rolling over to the arena at 9 a.m. As I did each night at the Gund for the MAC tournament, during the hours before the game I just sat on the bench taking in all the sights and sounds, as I knew these memories were going to have to tide me over for a while. Probably the most memorable part of pregame was Adrian Moss, a player for Florida who had prepped at Fork Union Military Academy, coming up to me, shaking my hand and thanking me for my service to our country - very classy, indeed. And then it was game time. During pregame, we talked about the heart we had shown, individually and collectively, to allow us to reach this point. What I will not forget about this game is the fact that after we tied things at 25, Florida had to go to a zone defense - in theory the SEC champs should not be playing zone against a MAC team. Unfortunately the zone worked pretty well and we once again found ourselves facing a 20-point deficit. But as we did all year, the kids came scratching and clawing back, definitely aided by a boisterous Bobcat crowd practically blowing the roof off the place. I should add that more than a few people I talked to noticed President McDavis standing up in the middle of it all leading the cheers. Anyhow, the crowd willed us all the way back to tie things up at 60 - the place was going berserk! Unfortunately, we all know how things ended up - a 17-footer that missed the rim and backboard badly somehow was turned into a three-point play by the Gators and our upset (according to the "experts") was not to be.
I really don't like dwelling on losses but I do know that once again these MAC champions made Bobcats proud!
And as I head back over to Iraq, I know that they will continue to make us proud this spring, summer and fall, on AND off the court, as we get ready for another run at the MAC championship!
See everyone on the Internet (remember I'll be eight hours ahead)! Go Bobcats!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Monday, March 21
WOW!!! Sorry it's been awhile (it's a little ironic that I seemingly have better Internet access in Iraq than I do traveling with the Bobcats) but I wanted to catch up at the end of what's been quite the magical ride. I flew back to Buffalo today to see my parents and brothers before I head back and I will say it's 1:30 a.m. and I doubt I will able to sleep tonight because I've watched the replays of Leon Williams' winning tip-in versus Buffalo probably 10 times (thankfully the ball still trickles over the rim and into the net every time!). Not to worry, as I have about 20 hours of flying in the next three or four days to catch up on my sleep! So here's my MAC Tournament installment.
My last update was the morning of the Kent State quarterfinal match-up. Obviously, beating Kent State with all they've accomplished lately as well as how they denied us the regular season championship was pretty sweet. I think this win took the pressure off us a bit because we felt that it clinched a postseason berth (at least the NIT) for us, which was one of our goals. I also was concerned about the Miami semifinal match-up because Kent State pushed us a lot harder than Bowling Green pushed Miami.
But what more can you ask for than Ohio and Miami in the MAC Tournament? I still had fond memories of coming from 10 down with two minutes to go in 2003 and knocking Miami out in overtime. When I talked to the team before the game, I reminded the kids of some of the big rivalries they had in high school and also what beating Miami would mean to all the players (especially John Rhodes) who had ever worn the Ohio uniform. It was a hard-fought game and Miami's zone defense definitely kept us off-balance. But my man Sonny Troutman showed what a winner he is by nailing three big 3-pointers down the stretch and I will forever remember Mychal Green's turnaround fade-away jumper that clinched the win.
And then it was on to face the Buffalo Bulls in the championship game on ESPN2. There was definitely some extra significance to this one with UB being my hometown school. And I definitely felt some bad karma with us having beaten them twice already and them being a senior-dominated team and us being much younger - you almost felt like they were the team of destiny. And it looked like it the way they started shooting 3's early - I wasn't even in Iraq and I was feeling shell-shocked! In pregame, we talked about overcoming adversity but we weren't planning on being down 19, that's for sure. But as always, our kids showed their tremendous heart and battled all the way back. To watch Leon Williams and Jeremy Fears play the way they did was so special for me - I have spent so much time getting to know them and their families and it was great to see them perform so well on such a big stage. The winning play will forever be etched in my mind - the way the ball hung on the rim and the total bedlam that ensued.
The celebration was amazing. I'll remember sprinting down to the other end of the court screaming my brains out and then looping back to enjoy a group hug with the assistant coaches - John Rhodes, Brian Townsend, Danny White and Adam DeMong - we have gone through a lot together and, along with my fellow soldiers in Iraq, there's no one else I'd rather have in the trenches with me. Then it was getting interviewed with Coach O'Shea by ESPN at center court as chaos reigned all around us in the form of celebrating Bobcat fans. Coach O'Shea has been so supportive of me through this whole process and there probably isn't a mid-major coach who's under closer scrutiny than he is so I was so happy for him. Then I turned around to get hugged by my Uncle Bill, a state championship-winning high school football coach here in Buffalo who has always been my inspiration to get into coaching. Then there were pictures and net-cutting and trophy-raising and more hugs and more pictures. I spent some time with my mom and dad - it was great to have them there for the whole tournament.
But again, if you're in coaching it should be all about the kids. And I saw Leon Williams circling around the floor, being more demonstrative than I've ever seen him. It's Clay and Cliff McGowen hugging each other. It's seeing Sonny Troutman hug that championship trophy like he hugs his grandmother Marcia. It's seeing James Bridgewater leading the team in our "We're going to the Big Dance" dance. It's Mychal Green hugging me and saying "This one's for you, Coach." I say it again - unbelievable.
I have lots of other impressions from that memorable weekend in Cleveland. But most of all, I can't say enough how amazing our fans were. T-H-E B-E-S-T!!! They weren't just a sixth man for us, they were the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth men as well! Driving back in the bus from Gund to our hotel, we got stopped at a red light. There were about eight fans in Bobcat green at that corner in front of a local watering hole going crazy cheering for our bus! And before you knew it, about 20 more emptied out of the place to join them - how special for our kids! We pulled into the hotel to be greeted by another throng of Bobcat fans in the lobby. Amazing! Now I challenge them to fill The Convo to the rafters next year - I've seen footage of Geno Ford dribbling out the clock to beat Miami and you can see fans all the way to the top - these kids deserve the same!
Next up will be my NCAA Tournament installment - let's try and make that a yearly edition!
And I say it loud and proud - GO CATS!!!!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Thursday, March 10
Greetings from Cleveland, Ohio... that's right, for those of you not following the Bobcats closely, I had enough of the Army and decided to go AWOL and come back home. Just kidding, I'm back in the States for my 15 days of leave that everyone is entitled to, just in time to be with the Bobcats for the Mid-American Conference Tournament - it is great to be back.
I flew in Sunday afternoon to my hometown of Buffalo - it was great to see my parents and brothers and have a home-cooked meal. Monday morning my dad and I drove down to Athens for our first-round tournament game versus Marshall. Because of the uncertainty of military travel and wanting my appearance to be a surprise, I hadn't told anyone on the team that I was coming, so when I walked into Coach O'Shea's office two hours before game time, he just about fell out of his chair. Next up was surprising the team - Coach had me wait to come into the locker room until 10 minutes before tip-off, and then let me give some words of encouragement to them - that was great as well. I got a great reception from the crowd, we scored the first 10 points of the game and then held on for a 72-66 victory.
I've been with the team and around Athens for the past two days, and yesterday after practice I rode the team bus up here to Cleveland for our quarterfinal game with Kent State tonight at 9:00 - it will be a battle. Kent State has been somewhat of the team to beat the past few years in our league so this will be a big game for us in terms sending a message to everyone else about what we're planning on doing the next few years.
Everyone keeps asking me what my plans are for my leave - I tell them hopefully lots more of Bobcat basketball! And real food, and real showers, and real beds!
It's great to be back home - go Cats!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Wednesday, March 2
Hey everyone. Checking in from picturesque Mosul (not quite) - it's almost midnight and we have three night missions running so I'm sitting in our TOC with the night crew listening to the radio and getting this journal entry done.
Big game for the Bobcats tonight at 3 a.m. vs. my dad's alma mater - the University at Buffalo. I'm looking forward to listening to it but definitely disappointed that it is senior night and I won't be there. I couldn't be any prouder of our four seniors - they are a big reason why our team chemistry has been so good and they are all on track to graduate by this August at the latest.
Who knows how this season is going to finish up - the MAC is a bear - but there is no doubt that this team has exceeded everyone's expectations by far and, with one week to go, is definitely in the hunt for a conference championship and a postseason appearance. A lot of that has to do with the leadership and excellent example these seniors have provided for our younger players.
James Bridgewater has been here all four years with us - probably our biggest competitor and undoubtedly our most electrifying dunker - competes all the time and pushes everyone on the team.Clay McGowen came to us from Old Dominion - he has worked his butt off in the weight room, on his post moves, and in the classroom. A lot of the success Leon Williams has experienced as a freshman probably owes to Clay pushing him in practice with his ability to play post defense and block shots, and the relationship Clay has developed with Leon which goes back to summer school last August when Clay took Leon under his wing and worked with him in the weight room and at Ping.
The winning background Terren Harbut brought with him from Dixie State College at the junior college level has had a lot to do with us being able to lose Brandon Hunter, Steve Esterkamp and Sonny Johnson in the same season and now, two years later, be back to where we were then and hopefully poised for even greater things. Terren has the ability to be that vocal, fiery leader every team needs, has set an excellent example in the weight room exceeding Brandon's squat record, and has really developed his game away from the basket to make himself a much more versatile player.
Finally, Diamond Gladney - another guy whom I can't say enough good things about. Diamond has been the epitome of a team player, working his butt off on and off the court, being that positive, encouraging teammate that everyone needs, and in our most recent streak, a guy who's given us a great spark off the bench.
With that being my tribute to our seniors, let's get back to things over here and a new batch of pictures to help bring everything we're doing here just a little bit closer to home for everyone. The weather's just about right for the time being - mid-60's - but give it a few weeks and I'm sure we'll be getting a good dose of that refreshing (more like stifling) desert heat!
Hope all's well back home - go Bobcats!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Sunday, February 20
Sorry it's been awhile, things have been fairly busy. Wednesday was quite the exciting day for me and I have some pictures to go along with it so that will be the topic of today's entry.
First off, Wednesday was a big day because our incoming task force general was visiting all the units - basically a half-hour dog-and-pony show where he meets our unit's leadership and we let him know what our capabilities are. Since this meeting occurs in our TOC (Tactical Operations Center - our headquarters), our crew spent the entire day before getting everything cleaned up and very presentable for the "big dog." Over time, these meetings take a toll on you but luckily, as battle captain, I got to stay out in the front part of the TOC and monitor our other operations going on. It was even better because the general was escorted by our brigade commander, a full-bird colonel who just happened to play basketball at West Point for Mike Kryzczeweski. The colonel stayed up in the front part of the TOC with me during the meeting and we talked hoops - he still keeps in very close contact with Coach K. And he grew up in Michigan so he is very familiar with what a good league the MAC is.
After that, our unit was conducting a test fire - consisting of driving out to a range here at our base and firing up some ammunition to make sure our weapons still work. It should be pretty obvious that making sure your weapon is operational is a pretty important thing to do and shooting off some rounds is a good stress reliever to boot. I fired off 30-40 rounds with my M4 carbine and then took a turn firing off some rounds on the 50-caliber machine gun. Not a bad afternoon and I have some good pictures as well.
Finally, I was scheduled to head out and observe one of our platoons do a night mission of closing down one of the combat outposts that our forces had used during the elections. By closing it down, I mean returning it to the state it was before our forces occupied it. For this particular one, it consisted of knocking down a six-foot berm that had been bulldozed up around it and recovering two bridge systems that we had put in along sections of the access road that were not trafficable when it rained heavily. We headed out around 1900 (7:00 pm), had two stops along the way and then planned on about 3-4 hours on site (leaving me plenty of time to get back for the Bobcats' 3 a.m. tip-off against Akron). Unfortunately, the site was basically a swamp and I should have known it wasn't going to be a very easy night when the HMMWV I was in got stuck right when we arrived at the site. After we got it pulled out, we proceeded to get the bucket loader with us stuck about 45 minutes later.
We got that pulled out and then things went smoothly for awhile as we got the berm knocked down and the first of two bridges recovered by midnight. The second bridge was a little more difficult because of the mud it was buried in but by 0100 it had been recovered and our HMMWV and other equipment was lined up and ready to roll back, just waiting for the bridge to join us (if this is confusing, basically I'm talking about a folded-up section of bridge that sits on top of a tank-like chassis - you'll see in the pictures). Not so fast - the bridge proceeded to get stuck and the fun began. The other bridge rolled down to help pull it out of the mud and 15 minutes later, it was stuck as well. By now it was 0230 and things weren't looking so good. As a matter of fact, it took about two and a half hours for our tracked M88 recovery vehicle to get out there so by that time it was 0500, we hadn't had any sleep and I had missed the Bobcats' game. Not so hot.
Thirty minutes later however, things were looking up as the M88 had pulled the first bridge out and had dislodged the second bridge. Lest we get a bit overconfident, though, the M88 succeeded in getting stuck itself so in layman's term, our tow truck was stuck - not good. So the first bridge had to drive back down and try to pull the M88 out (we all held our breath) and when it thankfully was successful, the M88 pulled out the second bridge and there was joy in Mudville. Not so fast, however - at this point it was 0700, the sun was up and we faced the unenviable task of rolling right through the best parts of Mosul (not!) with our snail-like engineer equipment. Well, thankfully we had a safe 30-minute ride back to the base (not a lot of people waving at the Americans in this part of town, however). Before I got to go to sleep, I had to sit through a 45-minute meeting, spend another half an hour coordinating events for the day, check in on the Bobcat game on the internet (not good) and finally, at 1000, I was able to sneak to my living unit and steal three hours of sleep. Just another day in Mosul.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't say that there was joy in Mosul at about 0200 this morning as I jumped around in my living unit and probably woke up some terrorists when Jeremy Fears' 3-pointer at the buzzer went in and Derek Scott went crazy as a short-handed Bobcat squad showed a lot of heart in coming back to beat Detroit. Just wish I could have been there for the backflip!
Have a great day - go Bobcats, beat Eastern!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Saturday, February 12
Writing to you minutes after a BIG win for the Bobcats over first place and archrival Miami - The Convo sounded like it was hopping over the Internet. I'm especially proud of our two freshmen - Jeremy Fears and Leon Williams. I had the chance to call them today before the game and ask them to step it up against two of the best seniors in the league - Chet Mason and Danny Horace - and they didn't disappoint. No time to rest on our laurels - another big one against Akron on Wednesday. With it being a weeknight game, hope everyone in Athens can make the effort to get to The Convo and ensure that our guys continue to have a great home-court advantage.
Definitely some interesting events in Mosul as well this week. First off was the weather as the rainy spell continued, leaving our base as a mudhole... I'm so glad you don't have to shine these desert boots like you do the black leather boots the army wears back stateside. By Thursday, as things were getting significantly cooler, I walked out of our headquarters building to be greeted by... SNOW!! Now that was probably the one thing this New Yorker definitely thought he could count on heading to Iraq - none of that white stuff. God only knows I've shoveled my share of it over the years and as you know back in Lackawanna where I come from, not even a couple feet of snow is enough to get schools closed. Well, we got nowhere near that much but it still was a surprise and I even watched some of the soldiers throwing snowballs at each other.
Things got much nicer on Friday, on which we were scheduled to have an engineer planning meeting with all the engineers in the area. The meeting was to be held across town, which meant we had to move in a convoy (a group of four vehicles or more traveling together). This was to be significant because it was the first time I had traveled through Mosul in the middle of the day (there is a curfew each night so there is no traffic when you do night missions, and for a period of time before and after the elections there was a no-roll period where cars were not allowed in the streets). Bottom line, this was my first glimpse of a real day in Mosul.
To start out, moving off base here is not as simple as walking out the front door, hopping in the car and driving across town. There is a significant amount of prep prior to rolling which includes lining up all the vehicles, making sure all the radios are working, getting the machine guns set up on the trucks, getting clearance to travel a certain route and then giving a convoy brief to everyone where the convoy commander goes through all the rules - including the route and how the convoy will react to various scenarios.
After we got this brief, we rolled out the gate and headed into town. The first thing that struck me was all the little kids lined up on each side of the road waving at us - definitely tugs at your heart. Moving away from the base a little further, we came to a mass of vehicles seemingly double-parked for at least a half mile - we had to drive on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately, the majority of the population knows to get over to the side when we are rolling through. As we made our first turn, we heard two loud pops to our rear. Not seeing anything, we proceeded on but over our radio we heard the machine gunner in the last vehicle report that he had seen an explosion a couple hundred meters in the opposite direction. To be honest, this probably sounds a lot worse than it was - it happened so fast, there wasn't any time to even get worried about it. We continued on to our meeting, which was held at one of Saddam Hussein's old palaces - a beautiful interior that we have taken over and put to good use.
The return trip was uneventful - more of a chance to see Mosul. One of the most striking things is that although it is a city of over a million people, you would never know it because there are no buildings over three stories high. Additionally, on the way back, I got a chance to see that logjam of cars from the other direction and realized that this mass of humanity was all lined up for gas - I'll bet over 500 cars waiting to get some and not moving at all. Evidently that is one of the biggest problems facing Iraqi's - a bit ironic considering that this region produces so much of our world's oil. The last thing that struck me was all the blackened potholes in the road - one of the biggest threats that coalition forces face is the burying of explosive devices in the roads - and this was stark evidence of that.
Well that's a snapshot of life as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Looking forward to checking back in in a few days. In the meantime, go Bobcats!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Sunday, February 6
Another nail-biting, down-to-the-wire home win for the Bobcats! Not very easy to listen to, that's for sure, but we'll definitely take it. Now a tough one at Bowling Green and then the 1st-place Red Hawks invade the Convo - if you're a true fan of the green and white, you better be there for that one!
Today was a pretty slow day - time to catch up on some emails and relax a bit. The Super Bowl will be on tonight - actually it's at 2 a.m. here - and our commander has canceled everything tomorrow morning so we can stay up and watch it on the Armed Forces Network.
As promised, I finally got out and snapped some digital shots to give everyone a better feel of what life is like here in Mosul (with my trademark sarcasm included, of course!).
So enjoy, and here's hoping you're hearing from me in a few days after a hard-fought Bobcat win in Anderson Arena. Go Cats!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Friday, February 4
Hey everyone, I just got Internet hooked up in my room ($30 a month) and I couldn't sleep so I'm firing off some emails and getting hyped up for the Bobcats vs. Western Michigan on Saturday!
I finally got to take some pictures of our living area to give you a better feel of what things are like out here but they'll have to wait because I had a pretty interesting day yesterday that I'd like to share.
The original plan was for me to go out and recon (short for reconnaisance) - basically check out - a road that coalition forces use quite a bit and is in need of some serious repairs that my unit will probably have to take care of. As part of our operations and plans section, we are responsible for scouting out various missions before we undertake them to give our guys some guidance on what needs to be done and any issues they might be dealing with.
Because of security reasons, you never travel with any less than four vehicles so I rode out with a platoon of strykers and I rode in a "buffalo" - one of the army's new high-tech toys. It basically is an elevated mine-clearing device that sits six and has a giant robotic arm with a camera on it that allows us to inspect potential mines/explosive devices.
So we rode out to check out about a 20-mile stretch of road. I took my notes and that part of it was pretty harmless. About halfway through, however, one of the strykers we were with lost power so we had to pull over in the middle of the countryside. While we were checking that out, we discovered that one of the strykers had a flat tire that needed to be changed so we were looking at being stuck there for a little bit. Now we had quite a bit of firepower with us so it wasn't like you worry about being overrun or anything but the longer you are in one spot, you definitely think about someone taking a pot shot at you.
Anyhow, the tire got changed and nothing happened so we continued on. On our way back into Mosul, we just happened to run into an infantry platoon who had called in a bunch of possible IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) - basically homemade bombs that can be disguised in anything from a concrete block to a water bottle to a trash bag. The infantry platoon was waiting for EOD (Explosive Ordinance Detachment) to come out but since we were there and had the buffalo, we got to check all these out - basically we moved around these concrete blocks with our robotic arm so we could identify if there were wires leading into them. And I was sitting up in that buffalo about 25 feet away from these bombs. Now the buffalo is designed to withstand these things and the other four guys I was with in there had done it before and weren't concerned at all so I didn't get too nerved up. But it definitely was an experience. When all was said and done, we found six or seven of these devices within about a quarter-mile stretch of road. EOD came out to take care of them (they set up explosive charges and blow them up in place) and we rolled back to our camp.
Just a little different from a typical day for me in February of making recruiting calls, watching game tape of upcoming opponents and getting out on the practice floor with the Bobcats! Have a great weekend!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Wednesday, February 2
As I start to type this, the Bobcats are in a nail-biter in my hometown versus The University at Buffalo Bulls. I just heard Derek Scott say "this team is some kind of fun to watch" and I'm wondering to myself, "how in the world am I stuck over here listening on the internet?" Anyhow, Sonny Troutman just played some great "D" to preserve a 2-point win and I'm smiling from ear to ear. And very glad that my family was able to be at the game as well.
Prior to the win, today was a good day because it was a bit slower and I was finally able to call my parents for the first time in a few weeks. I won't mention how badly I got fleeced by AT&T - actually I will, a 60-minute calling card yielded me four minutes of talk time. After talking to my parents, I was able to get a hold of fellow assistant John Rhodes before the team headed to the arena for the game and then talk to all the coaches and all the players. And they rewarded me with a big win - thanks guys. And let's not have a letdown versus Western Michigan on Saturday!
Over here, the elections went fairly well. Relatively speaking, there was a low turnout in Mosul due to all the violence and intimidation that has been going on but the numbers were considerably higher than what was expected - as a matter of fact, additional ballots had to be rushed in. One of the best stories I heard was at a polling site which had over 200 people milling around it as the polls opened but everyone was afraid to actually walk up to vote. Finally a very elderly woman had the courage to walk up and everyone else followed suit.
For our unit, despite only having been here a few weeks, we were thrown into the fire as we were responsible for emplacing over 800 concrete barriers at all the polling sites in Mosul to protect against vehicle borne explosives - a serious threat out here. Our soldiers ran all night for two consecutive nights to get the job done and it can be considered a mission well-done as there were no vehicular incidents at the polling sites. And then we had to turn around and spend two nights hauling them all back in.
Not to get preachy or sentimental but the last two days were very meaningful for me. First, I ate the first meal in the newly-opened dining facility that replaces the one destroyed by the December bombing. There was a commemorative flag that everyone there signed which will be on permanent display. Then tonight I watched "Miracle," the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic gold medal team and its dramatic victory over the Soviet Union. I can't say for sure how Operation Iraqi Freedom will be looked back on in history but what I do know is that the men and women that I am serving with over here, with as ordinary of backgrounds as they come, display that extraordinary resilience and dedication that makes our country what it is. And as much as I'm missing not being with the Bobcats this season, I'm gaining just as much through the chance to experience everything that I have.
So, go USA, and go BOBCATS!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Saturday, January 29
A great win for the Bobcats over 1st-place Bowling Green! We seemingly couldn't get over the hump all second half but the defense really bore down over the last five minutes and we pulled it out, making four wins in our last five games. Now it's back to my hometown to play Buffalo on Wednesday - they beat us pretty good last year in front of many of my family and friends so hopefully we can get a little payback.
The game was a good escape from what has been a very busy week for me. Obviously, the elections in Iraq are a huge story and will take place tomorrow, and Mosul is at the forefront of all that. Our unit has worked through the night the last couple nights to get all the polling sites ready and hopefully safe to vote at. But there definitely is some uncertainty here as no one knows how many people will really come out to vote. Not to mention how much violence there may be. So tomorrow probably will be one of the most memorable days of my life, one way or the other.
One of the best things about doing this journal has been some of the emails it has sparked. Every day, I can usually count on hearing from a good number of my family and friends as well as some people I've never even met or haven't heard from in awhile. I have quite a backlog of emails to return as soon as things slow down a bit. Anyhow, I just received an email that really made my day and I thought I'd share it with you - it's from the grandson of one of my dad's longtime friends. Here it goes...
my name is chase suto, dana britton is my papa.
sorry with lower case letters, something is wrong with this keyboard. mrs. kuwik was my teacher last year. mrs. kuwik was a very nice teacher. i play army at my house all the time and my name is Kevin Kuwik when i play army. my papa told me that it would be nice to pray for you to be safe. i will pray for you.
your friend chase suto i am 8 years old
Definitely a great email. Well, I've slept about nine hours the past three days and 2 a.m. is fast approaching here so I guess I'd better try and steal a few winks.
Have a great day - go Bobcats!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Thursday, January 27
Greetings from Mosul. Just finished listening to the Bobcats hold on over Toledo. Toledo's had some tough luck this year but it's the first time we've beaten them since I've been at Ohio and they were the MAC preseason favorites, so I'll definitely consider this one a good win. Now it's a showdown with first-place Bowling Green on Saturday - hopefully The Convo will be hopping and give the guys that extra boost to keep things rolling.
Things are busy here. Listening to the games on the Internet is pretty much the only time I get to sit at the computer and return emails. We have a number of things planned to try to make things safe for people to go out and vote here in a few days. So hopefully these elections go as well as can be hoped for and then things slow down a bit. We'll see.
In the meantime, probably the biggest news from the soldiers' standpoint is that all flights into Mosul have been suspended until further notice - should mean about a week of no mail. The younger soldiers live for this - it is not uncommon for some of them to get 2-3 letters per day from their wife/girlfriend back home. One of the soldiers in our TOC (Tactical Operation Center - where I work) had some pretty good chocolate chip cookies the other day from his fiancee - they traveled pretty well. Our secretary in the basketball office (and my mom away from home), Brenda White, sent me some of her famous banana bread and that was a hit as well. Now if someone could figure out how to get some Courtside Pizza or a chicken parm from Grinder's out here, we'd be all set.
Have a great day - please keep the soldiers out and about in the city of Mosul (and everywhere else out here in Iraq) in your thoughts the next few days.
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Thursday, January 20
Greetings from Mosul - 5 a.m. in the morning and there's a big smile on my face as I type - the Bobcats followed up a great 26-point win against Kent State with that elusive road win at Central Michigan. Now it's time to play against my favorite opponents - the Miami RedHawks at Millett Hall. Can't wait for Saturday night - I mean, Sunday morning here.
Things are very, very hectic here. Talk about hitting the ground running. As I described to my mom - a teacher - on the phone the other night, imagine moving her school clear across the world and starting classes within a week - not a lot of time to set up and get organized. Throw in the craziness of things over here with the elections and you pretty much have organized chaos.
Living-wise things aren't too bad. I definitely owe you some pictures but I just haven't had a chance. I'm slowly getting settled in my 7-foot-by-20-foot living unit - I'm sure I'll be calling it a cell soon enough. Probably the two toughest things about living here are the mud/dust - alternately it's the dustiest place in the world and then it rains and becomes the muddiest place - and the showers. We have these shower trailers and while the unit we are replacing is still here for a few more day, the number of people living in this area way exceeds the capacity. Back home, I'm used to taking two showers most days - here I definitely try to limit it to one every two days. Sounds slimy, I know, but with these showers you almost feel dirtier after you get out of there!
Like I said, work-wise it's been hectic as we've replaced this unit over the past week. For the most part, my job involves keeping track of our unit's current operations and helping plan future ones. However, I have gone out with the soldiers on a few missions the past week to get a better feel for what we're planning. Usually we try to go out at night when there is a curfew. I've ridden in the army's latest and greatest piece of equipment - the Stryker vehicle - basically a super-well armored wheeled vehicle that can really move. Mosul is an old city with over a million people - the Tigris River runs down its center (and really stinks by the way - modern sewage is a few centuries away here!).
I've also had the good fortune of seeing one of my old buddies from Notre Dame ROTC - JJ Merriam. JJ is a JAG (legal) officer here for the brigade we are supporting and is here in Mosul. When I was on active duty at Fort Lewis, I was in the same unit as his wife Barb and now six years later he and I are in the same spot courtesy of the army as well. He stopped by my camp the other day and we scooted over to have lunch at one of the nearby camps - lots of good memories.
Well that's the latest - go Bobcats beat RedHawks!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Sunday, January 9
Greetings from Iraq! After months of wondering and waiting, I really am finally here. And it's still just sinking in.
A few days ago, we flew in on an Air Force C-130 plane - not exactly the comforts of the commercial airlines but it got us here quickly and safely. Definitely a better way to go than driving through Iraq from Kuwait, though.
So what do I think so far? Well, the camp is as muddy as can be and at night it gets about dark as can be. Additionally, getting to sleep with 50-caliber machine guns rattling and mortar rounds exploding does take a little practice. Once it gets dark and curfew hits for the locals, things get a little interesting. But the base is as well-fortified as can be, so you get used to it and try to sleep when you can.
We are living in 7-foot-by-20-foot container housing units - basically like a college dorm room. It's not even close - beats living in tents by a mile! We have trailers with toilets and showers in them - after three weeks of port-o-potties, a real toilet is a welcome change!
The food is pretty good but we only get hot breakfast and dinner. Then it's an MRE for lunch - basically a pre-packaged meal that lasts for a long time - not too bad either. I had a pretty good chili and macaroni for lunch today.
Work-wise, I'm working in our operations section. Our battalion headquarters has staff sections for personnel, intelligence, operations (that's us), logistics and supply, communications, and maintenance. My section is responsible for planning all the operations and training that our battalion undertakes - keeps us busy all day and night. My boss, the S-3, is Major Hines. I am his assistant and also our battle captain. We have a few senior sergeants and a host of radio operators in our section as well.
As I type, I'm listening to the Bobcats vs. Marshall game on the internet - up 11 with 4:47 to go. A heartbreaker versus Ball State the other night but I was proud of how the guys fought back after Ball State could not miss in the first half.
Looking forward to finishing this win off and then taking a shot at Northern Illinois on Wednesday. I will really miss the Northern Illinois game because it will be a homecoming of sorts for our freshman point guard Jeremy Fears, and I know his hometown of Joliet will be out in force for that one. I met some great people while I was up in Joliet recruiting Jeremy last year, and it would have been great to see them at this game. And I know Jeremy will do them proud!
Hope everyone's doing well - email or snail mail is always appreciated. GO BOBCATS!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Wednesday, January 5
Hey everyone, I'm actually writing this on the 6th, at 2:12 am, as I sit on the computer cleaning up my inbox for the first time in a few days, and more importantly, get ready to tune in to Derek Scott and hear the Bobcats take on Ball State. That will make for a pretty sleepless night, but hopefully we can shake our road blues and get some momentum heading back to The Convo on Sunday.
I haven't had an entry in a few days because we've been swamped - early mornings (a given with the Army) and late nights as we do all the planning and preparation for our move. I always thought moving a basketball team and its traveling party of 20-25 for a road game was a pain, but that pales in comparison to moving all our soldiers and all our equipment.
Since I last checked in, there have been plenty of adventures to go around. First off was my first sand storm on the 2nd. Although people who have been out here for a while tell me it was an easy one, the amount of sand that got in my ears and teeth and in general all over my body was quite the nuisance. I never thought I'd long for a good old Buffalo snowstorm, but at least the snow melts and becomes water and goes bye-bye!
The last two days I've been running around trying to locate some items we need before we move, especially a mount that allows us to place our 50-caliber machine guns on top of our HMMWV's (military Hummers). There is a welding crew at a nearby camp that was very helpful in fabricating exactly what we needed - this is the same crew who helped us with the up-armoring that we've installed on our vehicles. Without them we'd be dead in the water (I guess "dead in the sand" would be more appropriate!).
These fabricated mounts required a special size bolt that we couldn't locate at any of the nearby army camps, so my mission today was to go into Kuwait City and find some. Additionally I was trying to get some keys cut for some of our vehicles, some paint to make some signs, some color copies of maps, and some fluids for our vehicles (we basically have none until our shipment comes in). So one of our mechanics, Specialist Fancher and I, took a ride down to Kuwait City to see what we could find. And it was an eye-opener to say the least.
To start off, we took the 50-minute ride and reached Kuwait City right around lunchtime, which proved to be a disaster. Anyone who wants to complain about drivers in New York City or Chicago or Los Angeles, come check out Kuwait City at lunch time. Where to start? Intersections with no traffic lights or stop signs, people driving the wrong way on a very busy two-lane street, crazy merging techniques, people backing out of parking spots into busy intersections - it gives new meaning to defensive driving. Specialist Fancher was white-knuckling it, and definitely not enjoying himself, and I was just glad he hadn't been drinking a lot of water lately or we might have had some problems. We were trying to follow some haphazard directions to a True Value, and after quite a bit of trial and error, we finally did find it. An hour later, with the help of a Hungarian lady who spoke some English, we had the bolts and some paint.
Next stop was the key shop, where not surprisingly, it took an hour to get 10 keys cut. In the meantime, Specialist Fancher sat in the car and watched our weapons, and I ended up behind the counter bonding with the workers and trying out the English-Arabic translation application on their computer (windows XP, not bad) - typing in my questions in English about motor oil and color copies and then having the Arabic translation show up for them. To thank them for their help, I went back to our SUV and pulled out three MRE's (Meals, Ready-to-Eat) which they were very excited to get.
Now I must admit the devil in me wanted to give them the various pork meals we had in the box, but I thought better of that idea. Good move. Next thing I know, the one named Jamel (from Syria and who spoke the best English) was in the back seat and directing us to where we could get the motor oil, transmission fluid, and anti-freeze, as well as guiding us to an ATM. Now I am under no delusions that I got thoroughly ripped off at every turn, but at least we found what we needed with the bare minimum of Arabic ("shogren" means "thank you").
It was a relatively uneventful journey back to our camp, where I am in the process of getting packed up little by little.
And now it's time for the Bobcats to tipoff, so I'll touch base in a few days. GO BOBCATS!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
PS - We finally got our mailing address:
CPT Kevin Kuwik HHC/113th Engineer Battalion APO AE 09334
If you know how to squeeze a large screen TV and a DirecTV dish into one of those Priority Mail boxes, that would be much appreciated (ha!).
Thursday, December 30
Happy New Year's Eve from Kuwait! Things are good here - the rest of our unit is arriving today and tomorrow, and some of us are flying up north as well, so we should all be in Iraq shortly.
This week has been busy as I have been planning and coordinating a lot of the training our soldiers will receive here in Kuwait before heading up north. I've been driving all over the desert checking out various training areas and firing ranges. My parents got me a handheld GPS (Global Positioning System), which has been very helpful in not getting lost because the maps here aren't so hot. One sand dune looks just like the next one and there definitely aren't any street signs - where's Mapquest when you really need it!
One of the requirements prior to crossing the border is test firing your weapon to make sure that it still is in working order after traveling overseas and carrying it around here in dusty desert conditions. We went out to the range yesterday to do this. When I say a range, usually back in the U.S. firing ranges are a big plot of land in the middle of nowhere called an impact area with ranges all around it forming a huge square that is closed off from people and everyone can fire into without worrying about hitting anyone.
Out here in the middle of nowhere, things aren't so formal. The areas designated as ranges often have Bedouins, a nomadic people roaming through them with herds of camels, sheeps, goats, etc. When this happens, you have to shoo them away so you can do your firing. Well, as you'll see in the picture, we got out to the range for our test fire only to find about 150 camels roaming around in the middle of it. It looked like a mess. Then we realized that we actually were a half mile away from where we were supposed to be - things weren't exactly well marked. So we went down there and there were no camels and we did our thing.
Today we drove down to Camp Doha, a fairly large Army post just outside of Kuwait City, where I received a ton of equipment specially designed for soldiers out here in the Middle East. We got some great cold-weather gear (fleece jacket and pants), a pair of warm- and cold-weather boots, warm- and cold-weather gloves, some long underwear, a new lightweight helmet and some Wylie sunglasses - much cooler than anything I ever had when I was on active duty. In typical military fashion, however, a 60-mile drive and 20-minute issuing process turned into an eight-hour ordeal - we almost missed a turn and ended up in southern Iraq - that would have been interesting!
That's about it from here - hope everyone has a wild and crazy New Year's Eve for me!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Saturday, December 25
Merry Christmas to everyone from Kuwait! It's about 11 p.m. out here and I can't exactly say it felt like Christmas today.
The day started out just like any other. I stay in a large tent with about 20 officers and senior NCOs. My friends will laugh when I tell them that there are plenty of people in that tent who get up before me, as I am well-known for minimal sleeping (but don't worry, by far I am the last one up working or doing emails so I still am probably getting by on less sleep than anyone else). Anyhow, some of my peers slightly more advanced in age than myself love to get up between 5 and 5:30 and today was no different.
I like to get up at the first crack of light and go running but that isn't usually until 6:30-6:45 so in the meantime, I am semi-sleeping while flashlights constantly flicker in my face. I don't like to run in the dark because god forbid one of the guards in the guard towers who hasn't slept all night might get a little jumpy with that trigger finger! My plan to run this morning was foiled as I awoke to rain beating down hard on our tent. When the lights were finally turned on, we happily discovered that these tents are hardly waterproof and so all our stuff was soaked - a great Christmas morning morale booster!
After braving the rain and gale-force winds to run about 300 feet to the shower trailer in shorts, a t-shirt and shower shoes, I got cleaned up to dress and go to Christmas mass at a nearby camp. The mass was held in a military chapel (a double-wide trailer) and said by the archbishop of the military archdiocese of the United States, Archbishop O'Brien. The trailer was packed and it was a nice mass. Afterwards, we had an excellent Christmas lunch of turkey, ham, chicken, plenty of other fixings and, as always, great (and probably too many) desserts. I even let myself take my first attempt at one of those "near beers," a Beck's N/A - let's just say I probably would have enjoyed cough syrup more.
After that, we had an afternoon training class dealing with some of the current hot topics up in Iraq. By this time, the weather had really turned gorgeous - 70 and sunny. After we headed back to our camp, I got my daily run in, had some dinner and came over to our headquarters tent to work on planning some of the training we're doing in the upcoming weeks to get ready to move north. After that, I got a call in to my parents to wish them a merry Christmas (it took me about 20 minutes of dialing to finally get a line to the U.S.) and worked on some emails.
So that's what Christmas is like in Kuwait - hopefully next Christmas I'll be back home and done with this journal but odds are that I'll still have one more Christmas entry from over here.
Hope everyone has a great Christmas and even better New Year's!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Wednesday, December 22
Hope everyone is doing well - not much new here in Kuwait. Warm days, very cool nights, and lots and lots of sand.
Our main job here is planning to move all our people and equipment from here to up north in the next month or so. There was a bomb blast at a dining facility at a camp near Mosul - that is something that everyone here takes notice of, and uses as an example of how to improve our security procedures.
Other than that, it will be weird not being home on Christmas for the traditional Kuwik family Christmas ham and the amazing array of cookies and baked goods my mom spends days preparing. I know they have a big Christmas spread planned here on post, and from how the food's been so far, I'd say it will be pretty good (tonight we had steak and lobster tails - not too bad). I am also looking forward to Christmas mass which will be at a nearby camp to ours.
Other than that, I finally was able to download some pictures from our move - so hopefully I can mix some of my typical humor into the captions.
Have a merry Christmas!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Monday, December 20
I don't have a ton of time but I wanted to let everyone know I made it okay - I have some good pictures that I hopefully can get up here pretty soon.
We flew out of Indy around 2 p.m. on Saturday (we had a two-hour delay because we had too much weight on the plane - they took off all the crates of water we put on and had people move to different seats to balance off the weight). We had a six-hour flight to Shannon, Ireland (how about that?) - we got there at one in the morning their time (so much for my first trip to Ireland). After a 1.5 hour layover we flew to Budapest, Hungary, for two hours. Another 1.5 hour layover and then on to Kuwait - arrived around 3 p.m. on Sunday (an eight-hour time difference). The flight was long but not too bad - we flew on an ATA commercial plane and all the officers sat in first class - pretty nice. When I got to Ireland, I was able to call John Rhodes and get an update that the Bobcats beat Duquesne - not a pretty one but after the heartbreak of last year and a pretty young team, it's nice to be 4-2. Remember the key is to keep getting better, which I feel our teams have done the last two years so hopefully we can do that this year as well.
We bussed from Kuwait to the camp we're staying at -basically a thousand tents in the middle of the desert with huge sand berms and wire fence all the way around. We are staying in large tents with plywood floors and lights and heaters - unfortunately the heaters went out when the generator died in the middle of the night and we froze.
Probably the most humorous story was when I walked into the dining facility (the food was pretty good) and saw coolers of drinks - Gatorade, milk, etc. Then I saw a cooler full of Beck's beer and almost fell over - then I realized it was non-alcoholic and I quickly came back to reality!
Other than that, I got my four-mile run in this morning - sand, sand and more sand. Probably the biggest adjustment so far is living with your weapon - back in the U.S., you'll get your weapon out of the arms room for a day of training but then you turn it in that night and don't have to worry about it. Here it goes with you everywhere.
Hope everyone has a great Christmas - I'll check back in when I can.
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Wednesday, December 15
Hey everyone, sorry it's been awhile but things have picked up quite a bit since I last checked in. Initially I was planning on heading over at the end of the month but late last week, I found out that I am flying out this Saturday with about 130 soldiers. We'll head to Kuwait, where we'll be for the next three weeks or so, and then it's into the frying pan (although I hear it's relatively cool there right now).
Since I got that heads up, I've been hustling to get caught up on all the training required to deploy as well as getting my gear together and packing. In terms of the training, there are quite a few informational briefings required (which we call "death by powerpoint") as well as quite a few common soldier tasks. These tasks include firing your weapon, land navigation in a vehicle as well on foot, and a variety of soldier skills such as first aid.
Probably the most exciting was a live fire exercise that we did where we fought a simulated battle where our base camp was attacked by insurgents (basically pop-up silhouettes of people and vehicles down-range). Before you do a live fire, you do two or three practice runs with either no ammunition or blank ammunition so the soldiers get comfortable with the task. Then, after a very thorough safety briefing, you go through it firing live ammunition (again, there are nothing but plastic targets down range). This is a good exercise because it gets the soldiers familiar and comfortable with having "real" bullets in their weapons. When I finished all my training requirements yesterday, it was nice to finally exhale. My parents also fought a nice little northeastern snow storm to drive down here to see me and it was great to spend some time with them.
So it's finally time and to be honest, I've had enough of waiting and talking about it. I'm sure it really won't sink in until that plane touches down over there but I'm definitely ready to go and do my thing and then get back to coaching. People ask if I'm nervous - I don't think I am but I think that is more a function of being busy than anything else. As I wrote to myself when I got my call-up orders back in September, "Turn a Negative into a Positive" and that's what I am trying to do, in the people I meet, the experiences I have, and the things I do in the next year. My parents sent me a few books on the Arabic language and I am going to try and learn some of that. Who knows, maybe I'll recruit a stud basketball player who speaks the language some day.
Anyhow, thanks to all of you for keeping tabs on me. When Bob Lee first asked me about doing the journal, I said yes but definitely wasn't sure how it was going to turn out. But it's been a great thing for me as I've received some very uplifting emails, often from people I've never met before. So hopefully I can keep the ball rolling when I get over to what is fondly referred to as "the sandbox."
Hope everyone has a great Christmas! And I promise I'll have my digital camera back in action once again!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Wednesday, December 8
Well, tonight was my turn as the staff duty officer - basically every night one officer and one non-commissioned officer are on duty at battalion headquarters in case anything comes up - and I am using it to get caught up on a bunch of emails and to work on figuring out what exactly I will be taking with me.
In terms of emails, down here at Atterbury, I never have access to a computer during the day and then only a little bit of time at night so I've been quite a bit behind. But tonight I've been able to fire off about 25 emails, so please, keep them coming even if I don't get back to you right away - every day I'll get an email from someone whom I wasn't expecting, and that is definitely a high point of each day.
In terms of training, in the past two days, I've finally completed my SRP (Soldier Readiness Processing) for deployment. Now I've gone through this process at Fort Sill and Fort Hood, so it does get a bit tiresome. There are a bunch of stations where they check out your medical and dental records, set you up for a will and powers-of-attorney, check that you are in the payroll system and a bunch of other details like your emergency contact information and your security clearance. Probably the worst thing about it is that all three times they've determined that I need more shots - last time it was smallpox, this time it was a menogcoccal shot (or something like that!). I also picked up my desert camouflage uniforms today - now there's a good dose of reality for you. And lastly, I got to fire my assigned weapon - an M4 carbine, basically a shorter M16 rifle. We fired it four times - to zero it, on a pop-up range, with our protective chemical masks and suits on, and finally, in limited visibility/nighttime conditions. Hopefully I won't have to fire it again for awhile.
Lastly, I had to listen to my second Bobcat game on the internet... and I like being there in person a lot better! Unfortunately we're still working out the road kinks a bit but I think as we get more comfortable with each other that we have the pieces to get it done - American would be a great first step.
One of the training events I have coming up is land navigation - both mounted (in a vehicle) and dismounted (on your feet). Hope I don't actually stumble 250 miles to Athens (just kidding!).
Have a great day!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Monday, December 6
Well, lots to report since the last time I checked in. At that time, I was playing the waiting game, waiting for orders to a new unit (preferably one that actually had a slot for me). They came last Wednesday afternoon and they had me reporting to the 113th Engineer Battalion out of Gary, Indiana, on Sunday the 5th (they were mobilizing at Camp Atterbury, just south of Indianapolis).
So since I wasn't doing anything down at Fort Hood anyways, I got a pass to leave early and got a plane ticket to fly back to Athens for the Bobcats' games against Butler and Navy. And to top it off, I didn't tell anybody so it was a good surprise when I popped into Coach O'Shea's office Thursday afternoon at about 1 p.m. Coach decided it would be a good idea for me to surprise the team just before the game so he had me hide out all afternoon and then I walked into the locker room 10 minutes before tip-off. I'd like to take credit for a great win over Butler but actually the guys stepped up and played some tough defense against a very good shooting team - we held them to 35 percent from the field and 23 percent from the three-point line, which I thought was especially good since they had just comfortably beaten Miami.
Anyhow, it was great to see all the guys on the team again as well as plenty of familiar faces in Athens. We followed up Thursday's win with another solid win against Navy on Saturday so, all in all, it was a great visit to Athens - now it's time for the Bobcats to work on a few road wins!
On Sunday, I traveled to Camp Atterbury and linked up with my unit. Today, I met the commander, got a feel for what we will be doing and got a bunch of new camouflaged equipment issued to me. Now for security purposes, we are not supposed to talk about the specifics of our mission but we will be heading out in the next 30 days or so to Northern Iraq, where we will be providing a variety of engineer support to a unit that is already there.
In the meantime, the next two weeks will be pretty busy for me as I perform all the training tasks that this unit has previously accomplished - tomorrow we will be conducting NBC (Nuclear Biological and Chemical) and Night Fire, where we fire our weapons with our chemical protective masks and suits on, as well as firing in low visibility conditions - should be nice and cold and rainy and lots of fun!
Hope everyone's getting that Christmas shopping done, and go Bobcats, beat St Francis!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Tuesday, November 30
I am happy to be checking in after the Bobcats' victory in their season opener over San Francisco. Glad to see the returnees from last year get to feel what it's like to have a winning record (let's keep it that way for a while!) and it was great to see all the new guys contribute as well. Personally, I sat in the library at Fort Hood and listened to the game on the internet - not exactly my favorite way to catch a Bobcats game, a pretty powerless feeling as a matter of fact. But it's great to be 1-0 - now we turn to Butler who we owe for a tough loss last year as well.
Sounds like I may have my orders sometime tomorrow. Whispers are that I might be headed up to join a unit that's mobilizing at Camp Atterbury in Indiana but I'll believe it when I actually see them.
Fort Hood is quite a spectacle. It is the largest post in the U.S. with something like 400,000 acres. There is a seven-mile road on post which has motorpool upon motorpool of military vehicles lined up. Legend has it that back in the 1980s when President Reagan and the Soviets agreed to joint inspections of each other's military, we made a point of bringing the Russian inspection teams down this road so they could be intimidated by the size of our force. Of course, many of these motorpools sit empty today as quite a few units from Fort Hood are deployed to the Middle East.
Other than that, still playing the waiting game. Lots of big games for all the Bobcat teams this week - looking forward to hearing about a lot of W's.
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Wednesday, November 24
Hope this finds everyone well and geared up for some turkey. I wish I had some more journal entries or pictures for you but I don't because I'm currently living the old Army motto of "Hurry up and wait!"
After getting my orders for Fort Hood last Thursday, I flew down here from Fort Leonard Wood on Sunday with three other engineer officers. My trip was relatively easy, especially when you consider there were two busloads of Army truck drivers who were lucky enough to get a 20-hour bus ride from Fort Leonard Wood to Fort Dix, New Jersey, so if you were on I-70 on Sunday and saw some arms and legs hanging out windows, that's probably who it was!
Things at Fort Hood have been, ahhh, a bit disorganized. The phone numbers we had to call when we got to the airport here in Killeen Sunday night went unanswered, so after an hour of waiting we commandeered a van hauling some privates over to the post. We showed up at the brigade headquarters of the battalion we were assigned to only to get a "we didn't know you were coming today." Even more, turns out the battalion we were assigned to had 100% of its assigned officers - no slots for us. After another hour of waiting, they finally found us rooms (but no keys or linens). As a matter of fact, I still don't have a key and have been "tactically" getting into my room (i.e. unlocking the door after opening the window next to it).
We watched eight hours of briefing videos on Monday, still with no idea where we would be headed but expecting a new assignment. Then, on Tuesday morning, the battalion commander of the unit we were assigned to showed up out of the blue and said he could really use us - a cause for excitement. But by Tuesday night, we got word from the post's moblization center that all mobilizing units at Fort Hood were full up with their officers and a new assignment would be forthcoming somewhere else. However, in typical expedient Army fashion, the orders probably wouldn't be here until next Friday the 5th.
So it's another 7-10 days of waiting - fun, fun. So in the meantime, looking forward to the Bobcats' home opener with San Francisco on Monday - we definitely owe them for our loss to them out there last year. I'll probably be listening to it for as long as my nerves can stand on the internet somewhere.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and your families!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Friday, November 19
28 down, 517 to go - maybe I should count down by weeks to think about a smaller number!
Today we finished up our engineer officer's refresher course. This week we focused on the construction aspect of the Army engineer's job, mainly on some of the software that is being used to plan and manage troop construction projects - some pretty high-tech stuff. Additionally, we received an intelligence brief on certain parts of the world where some not-so-nice things are going on - any guesses??
And we finally did receive our orders. I will be headed down to Fort Hood, Texas, this Sunday with three other officers from my group. There we will be assigned to the 111th Engineer Battalion, a reserve unit out of Abilene, Texas. I don't know much more about my job or the unit's mission but the word is that we will be heading to Iraq in early January. Ever since I got to Fort Sill last month and asked around a bit, I had pretty much assumed that I would be going to Iraq so, to be honest, I'm just relieved to finally know, even if it isn't exactly a tourist hot spot.
Other than that, I got a chance to watch our team play Boston College and Saint Michael's on tape today and I liked what I saw. If we keep working hard and improving from game to game, I really think we can make some noise this year. I'd say hi to the guys on the team but I know they are studying hard for finals and will not waste valuable study time surfing the net!
Hope everyone is well - keep those emails coming!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Friday, November 12
Nothing much new to report. Just wanted to check in with some pictures of the way we live here at Fort Leonard Wood - all I can say is at least we're not living in tents.
Other than that, it will be disappointing for me to miss the exhibition game versus Saint Michael's tomorrow. Obviously, it will be our first time with the lights on so I would have enjoyed seeing that, especially our newcomers. More than that, prior to coming to Ohio, I spent the 2000-01 season at Saint Michael's working for Coach O'Shea's brother, Tom. It was a great season as we defeated Division I cross-town rival Vermont in an exhibition, opened up the regular season with 13 straight victories, won the Northeast-10 Conference regular season and tournament championships, and finished 27-4 with a No. 3 national ranking in Division II. We lost in the regional championship to Adelphi, who was 28-0 and No. 1 in the nation - it truly was an amazing year. Additionally, one of my best friends in coaching, Bernie Cieplicki, works at Saint Mike's as an assistant and I was looking forward to spending some time with him this weekend. But obviously, that wasn't in the plans so I'll just have to put on a happy face and look forward to watching my alma mater Notre Dame take on Pitt tomorrow.
Hope everyone is well - can't wait to see the Bobcats on tape next week.
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Wednesday, November 10
Greetings from Fort Leonard Wood, home of the U.S. Army Engineer School. I'm not exactly racking up the Marriott points here but other than that, basically I'm back in college...
The living conditions do leave just a little bit to be desired as we are in some old WWII barracks. I received quite a few inquiries after my pictures from Fort Sill were posted asking whether those very inviting beds could be purchased on E-bay (actually, you probably could find some in a junkyard somewhere) and, believe it or not, the beds here are actually older and the barracks are very, shall we say, well-used. One good note - the food is outstanding as, except for our barracks, this post has really been built up since I was here for the officer basic course back in 1996.
Work-wise, we are in class from 0800 to 1700 (5 p.m.) everyday, receiving some engineer officer-specific training in a classroom setting (powerpoint and everything). Our class consists of five captains including myself and since I know my players are wondering, there is no homework and most definitely not any study hall (ha!). Topics we will cover in classes include the Military Decision Making Process, Terrain Analysis and Military Project Management.
Our class is scheduled to end next Friday (the 19th), and we expect to get our assignments (finally) next Thursday or Friday. From the sound of things, it looks like we will be individually attached to a reserve or national guard engineer unit that has been called up, filling in the unit's empty officer slots (reserve units are rarely at 100% to start with and when you throw in soldiers who are non-deployable for a variety of reasons, that number will go down even more). We will link up with our unit at a mobilization site somewhere in the U.S. and the train-up will take up to 90 days, after which we will head on to our assignment.
Well, that's the latest and greatest from down here in the middle of nowhere. Hope everyone's excited about the fast-approaching hoops season!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Saturday, November 6
Well, Fort Sill is in the rear view mirror and Fort Leonard Wood (FLW), here I come. First off, though, is a quick weekend back with my family in Lackawanna, New York, as I finished Wednesday at Fort Sill and don't have to report to Fort Leonard Wood until Monday. So I'm on a four-day pass and I wanted to update you all as I don't know how computer access will be at FLW.
Things finished off pretty well at Fort Sill. On Tuesday, we went to the M16 range to qualify with our M16 rifle. Before you qualify, you must first zero your weapon. Basically this means you make sure that your front and rear sights are in proper position so that your weapon is pointed where your eye is - no two people look through a weapon the same way. You fire at a 25-meter target in three shot groupings and adjust after each one according to where your shot group landed on the target. Once you have zeroed your aim on to the center of the target, you move on to qualification. You fire two 20-round magazines at a target that has 10 silhouettes of varying sizes meant to simulate a human body at distances ranging from 50 to 300 meters. The first 20 shots are fired from inside a foxhole with sandbags in front of the foxhole for support and the second 20 shots are fired from a prone position outside the foxhole with no sandbags for support - much more difficult. You must hit 27 of 40 to qualify, 33 of 40 to qualify as a sharpshooter and at least 38 of 40 to qualify as expert. Now I haven't fired in a few years and the weather was awful (windy and rainy) but somehow I managed to go 20-for-20 from the foxhole and 19-for-20 from the prone position for a score of 39. Well, hopefully I won't have to use it but if so, I guess it's good to know that I can shoot straight!
On Wednesday, I turned in all my equipment and had my final training class - a three-hour anti-terrorism brief which included some very interesting information. I packed up all my stuff and had an early flight out Thursday morning as I headed home to see my family.
Next up is 2-3 weeks at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. From people who have gone through this program before me, it sounds like things will be a bit less comfortable. We will be staying in rundown World War II barracks and rather than being supervised by a reserve unit, we will be under the direction of a group of drill sergeants - I'm sure it will be fun. It also sounds like I won't get my follow-on assignment until the end of my time at Fort Leonard Wood - I do know that the first group of officers like me who went through Fort Sill and Fort Leonard Wood attached to a reserve engineer unit from Tennessee that is headed to Kuwait, so we'll just have to wait and see what the commander-in-chief has in store for me.
Keep those emails coming - looking forward to hearing about the Bobcats' opener with Saint Michael's next Saturday - hopefully everyone in Athens can get to the game and show their support.
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Monday, November 1
Well after one week, I can finally look at myself in the mirror, see camouflage clothing on, and not do a double-take, so I guess that's a good sign.
First of all, thanks to everyone who dropped me an email - it is much appreciated. Things are still fairly laid-back, but I know that the Army does have a way of testing your patience at times, and when that happens, the support will come in handy in helping me to stay optimistic.
Week 2 started off with a very early wake-up (even for me), as we had our first PT (physical training) session at 0530 (more affectionately known as zero-dark-thirty in the Army) this morning. Nothing too strenuous, just some stretching, push-ups, and a two-mile run - it just takes a bit getting used to exercising in the pitch dark.
Our other main focus today was some refresher training on firing the M16A2 rifle, which we will be doing later this week. It's been a while since most of us have fired, so we refamiliarized ourself with the weapon, taking it apart, putting it together, and learning some of the key points in proper firing technique. If I have any problems, I know I can give Ohio Athletics' resident hunting whiz, Joe Carbone, a call to get my technique straightened out.
This past Saturday, some of us got away from the post and headed up to Oklahoma City for the day. Plenty of good food, some shopping, and we went to the Oklahoma City Memorial, a very powerful remembrance of the bombing which occurred on April 19th, 1995. It was nice to feel like a civilian again for a day.
It looks like we'll be out of here this Thursday or Friday and headed up to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for some more specific Engineer training. Word from those who have been through here before us seems to indicate things will be just a little more uncomfortable up there - living in World War II-era barracks and being supervised by drill sergeants rather than reservists - kind of like going on the road to Bowling Green to play in beautiful Anderson Arena.
Thanks again for all your thoughts - Go Bobcats!
CPT Kevin Kuwik
Thursday, October 28
Five days down, 540 to go (hopefully less!). Greetings from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, home of the Army's Field Artillery school, and consequently a place where you seemingly can never go five minutes without hearing a boom.
So far, so good down here. Basically for the 10-12 days that I will be here, I need to complete various administrative processing steps (finance, insurance, medical, dental, legal, etc.), as well as various training classes that the army requires of all soldiers being mobilized. These classes range from basic soldier skills (rifle marksmanship, protecting yourself from a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack) to more specific current-day issues like urban warfare and riot control.
Living-wise, it's definitely been an adjustment after being away from active duty for so long. We are living in pre-fabbed, aluminum buildings similar to the trailers that you see when a school is overflowing and needs to add space, although these barracks are much larger. Each barracks is one big room with rows of beds separated by wooden wall lockers which are like portable closets for your possessions - there are about 40 beds in one. In the back, there is a laundry room as well as a large shower/bathroom area. My barracks is just for officers - there are only three of us right now, myself and two lieutenant colonels. Not to name any names, but I'm definitely feeling not having my own room because we have a mega-snorer in our midst (not that I should be throwing stones)!
As far as my day goes, I wake up around 0545 (another adjustment for me - going back to military time) to get ready for "chow" at 0630. After chow, we usually head to one of the administrative areas on post around 0730 to spend the morning taking care of various administrative details that must be completed before we can be deployed. Today, for instance, was our medical day. First I found out that because they couldn't locate my shot records, I had to get three shots that I already had (BTW I am scheduled for an anthrax shot next week - not sure if I want that one anymore). Then I sat down for a screening of my medical records with a doctor - he did utter the words "fit for duty" at some point. After some more chow at 1130 (they are serious about that "three hots and a cot" thing), we spend the afternoon from 1300 to 1600 (1 p.m. to 4 p.m. for you non-military types) in training. The highlights so far have been refreshing our military movement techniques crawling through the mud on Tuesday, and in an urban warfare simulation, getting the chance to lead eight soldiers in a simulated exercise of clearing a building that our trainers had booby-trapped and hidden hostile forces in.
At 1600 we are done for the day. I usually try to get a run in, grab some dinner, and then relax a bit - probably the first time I've "relaxed" since kindergarten. Without a car, my options are limited, but I have already read a few books, try to get online a bit, and once or twice, catch a cab to sneak off-post.
So that's the latest and greatest from your "Army of One." Thanks again to everyone who was so great to me during my last few weeks in Athens - the support I received was very touching. I won't be in one spot long enough to get mail for awhile, but if you get a chance, email is usually the highlight of my day - my address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take care - Go Bobcats!
CPT Kevin Kuwik