An ocean away - Elyites get together on American airbase in Iraq

by Lt Col Steve Saari

Hello from Balad Air Base, Iraq, located approximately 40 miles north of Baghdad along the banks of the Tigris River, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle. <BR><BR>I am deployed with my wife SMSgt Kris Saari and Senior Airman Silas Simone, another former Elyite. We are here helping fight the Global War on Terrorism, helping the Iraqi people, and specifically flying Close Air Support missions for the US Marines/US Army and Iraqi Security Forces. <BR><BR>Unless you are here, you wouldn’t realize the positive difference our Armed Forces have made and are making for the Iraqi people. We are helping to weed out the insurgents, protect the national infrastructure like power lines, oil pipelines, water storage, etc. We are helping to train the new Iraqi Army, Air Force, Security Police, rebuild schools, hospitals, etc. It is an extremely difficult task and will take a lot of time and will. <BR><BR>Our enemy is a difficult one who hides amongst the local populace, uses mosques, schools, hospitals, etc. for hiding places or weapons storage. The “Rules of War” don’t seem to apply to them. They drive normal, not military, vehicles, and dress like the indigenous population. Sometimes they even dress up in stolen uniforms, walk into military facilities or Iraqi Security Force lunchrooms and literally blow themselves up, along with anyone else who just happens to be there for lunch. They are killing far more Iraqi non-combatants than they are US Armed Forces or Iraqi Security Forces. <BR><BR>Most of these suicide bombers are not Iraqis, but rather Al Qaida-backed, Islamic extremist, third country nationals who sign up to die to help prevent “freedom” from taking root in this area. It is so hard for me to thoroughly understand their motivation. <BR><BR>We have been very busy flying over here. The weather has been extremely hot and dry…not a drop of rain since early May. The average highs are about 110 degrees and the hottest we’ve seen was 128! <BR><BR>We sometimes get dust storms with 45-50 mph winds that arrive as a “wall of dirt.” It takes another day after the storm for the dust to settle from the air, in the meantime you can literally taste the dirt in your mouth and nose. <BR><BR>We are living in tents on base with between 6-10 people per tent. Kris and I enjoyed our camping accommodations last summer at Timber Wolf Lodge on Bear Island Lake just “a little bit more.” <BR><BR>We send our best to our friends, family, and the Echo readers. We are safe and sound here. It is much better to be fighting the War on Terrorism from one of Saddam’s old air base’s than it would be fighting from our own! <BR><BR>Remember…Freedom is not Free. <BR><BR>