Mideast notebook: Tires in high demand for troops in Iraq
August 13, 2003
The No. 1 most-wanted light vehicle part in Iraq? Tires, according to Sgt. 1st Class Phillip Galloway, motor sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division’s 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade.
Galloway, from Springfield, Mo., said that while “the amount of mileage and the heat” are both factors in vehicle breakdowns, the generally poor condition of the roads and lots of shrapnel chew up tires at an especially fast rate.
“In some areas, guys constantly go flat,” Galloway, whose team is responsible for the care and feeding of about 150 Humvees, told Stripes.
Helicopters also take a lot of maintenance in Iraq, but for the copters, dust and dirt are the enemy. Aviation maintenance workers are meticulous about fixing every component as soon as it breaks or looks worn, according to Maj. William Howard, a Black Hawk pilot from Roanoke, Va.
Helicopters are “not like a Humvee, which might have a light out on the dashboard or something, but you still drive it,” said Howard, executive officer for the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment. “When you get in a Black Hawk, everything works, because it’s all essential.”
Things heating up
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any hotter in Iraq, welcome to Ab al-ahab el limor al bismar al hab, or the “August days that are so boiling, the pins melt out of the doorframe.” Friday’s peak temperature in Baghdad was over 135 degrees Fahrenheit, with some soldiers reporting temperatures of 148 degrees in the full sun.
And in the un-air-conditioned warehouse that passes for sleeping quarters for the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the low temperature Thursday night was 120 degrees, according to 1st Lt. Jason Tolbert, a Woodville, Texas, native who is with the squadron.
After Aug. 15, “it starts getting cooler,” one Iraqi said. How much cooler? “More like 115 or 120 degrees.”
Soda stops stopped
The cost of a cold can of soda in Iraq is either a bargain or costs the same as in the States, depending on where troops buy it.
At the little stores many commanders have allowed Iraqis to set up either right outside their camp gates or right inside (usually run by friends or families of translators), the going price is two cans for $1.
On the streets of Baghdad, however, the cost is 400 dinars a can. With the current exchange rate of 1,500 dinars to the dollar, soldiers who offer a dollar bill can get four cans. A glass bottle of soda is even cheaper: 250 dinars, or about 20 cents. But don’t try to walk away with the bottle — it’s not included in the price.
Unfortunately, with the spate of attacks on U.S. personnel, many troops are no longer allowed to stop on patrols to buy anything from local merchants.
Current coalition regulations allow Iraqis to drive around with up to $2,500 U.S. dollars or the equivalent of $5,000 in Iraqi dinars (which at current exchange rates would fill two large cardboard boxes).
If someone has more than that in the trunk or glove compartment, coalition forces start suspecting that the person carrying the money is up to no good. He may be a black marketer or an arms dealer, for example, said 1st Lt. Greg Lee, a Gaithersburg, Md., native who just took command of the 1st Armored Division’s 1st Brigade, 2nd Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, out of Friedberg, Germany.
“We know there are no banks, and people keep their savings at home,” Lee said. “A lot of people here have their life savings under the mattress.”
But in the absence of a fully functioning government, Iraqis can’t legally make major cash purchases, such as a house. So after analyzing local prices, coalition forces decided that $2,500 is about as much as anyone can legal spend in one trip to buy anything legal, Lee said.
If a U.S. soldier in Iraq talks about “zipping” someone, he isn’t planning to help someone dress. He’s describing the act of subduing someone by tying up his hands.
The term comes from the flexible, disposable handcuffs, or “flexi-cuffs,” that troops use. The devices are also known as “zip-strips,” because of the little sound the serrated plastic makes when it’s tightened.
Band on tour
The U.S. Army band Government Property is in its second week of a seven-week tour performing for troops in Iraq and in the region. The 10-member group plays a variety of music, including covers of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Garth Brooks, Guns N’ Roses and Bob Marley and the Wailers.
The band’s performances begin at 7 p.m. Upcoming performances are as follows:
Wednesday — Kirkuk Airfield
Thursday — Post Freedom
Friday — Life Support Area Diamond Back
Saturday — Camp Performance
Aug. 20 — Task Force Gunner
Aug. 21 — Tikrit Palace
Aug. 22 — Tikrit Airfield
Aug. 23 — Camp Speicher
Aug. 24 — Quyyarah
Aug. 27-31 — 1st Armored Division area of responsibility
Sept. 1 — Victory Base Labor Day celebration
Sept. 3-10 — Quatar R&R site
Sept. 13-21 — British sector tour
Sept. 23-26 — Bruce Willis and the Accelerators USO tour
Stars and Stripes reporter Lisa Horn contributed to this report.