Mideast notebook: Troops in Iraq battle rats, rising burger prices
May 28, 2003
Is the price right?
Outside the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq, the storied high-rise where so many journalists stayed during the war, soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team stand guard day and night.
On occasion, though, the sentries step inside the Palestine’s Aladin Coffee Shop for a cold drink and a bite to eat.
They always order hamburgers, a little taste of America in the Wild West that is Baghdad.
The first couple of times the soldiers came in, a hamburger cost a dollar and so did a Pepsi.
But a couple of days later, the price had gone up to $2 for a hamburger and $2 for a Pepsi.
When the troops showed up for dinner that same night? You guessed it, the price had jumped to $3 each, said Staff Sgt. Tommy Saunders, of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment.
“I just had a big argument with the waiter,” said a frustrated Saunders, 24, of Fitzgerald, Ga., who was out to protect his soldiers from the next hamburger caper.
With the value of the dollar in Baghdad fluctuating as much as the price of a burger and soda, there’s no telling how much a hot meal will cost the boys from Charlie Company next time.
“We always pay them in American money and every time they ask for more,” Saunders said.
Come on, Irene
When V Corps commander Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace moves, so does his Personal Security Detachment.
The team of highly trained warriors is charged with making sure Wallace stays safe anywhere he goes. On Wallace’s recent trip to downtown Baghdad, a detachment gunner in Wallace’s armored Humvee swung like a metronome in his turret, scanning left and right as the convoy sped downtown.
The detachment members in the rear used their Humvee to block the general’s flanks from the sights of any lurking gunman.
“We’ll take a bullet for him,” said team leader Sgt. Jess Martin, whose feet hung out the door of the rolling Humvee and whose weapon was always at the ready.
Despite the pressure, Martin spices up the beginning of every mission by shouting in his radio, “Irene! Irene!”
The words were made famous in Mark Bowden’s book “Black Hawk Down.” In that true story, the Black Hawk pilots used the word “Irene” to signal that their mission was a go before making their ill-fated flight into Mogadishu, Somalia, to capture a covey of warlords.
So every time Wallace’s convoy revs up to leave Camp Victory — V Corps’ headquarters in Baghdad — Martin sings out “I-rene, I -rene” through his radio, and the Humvees take off.
“I’m sure they’re going to get sick of hearing that pretty soon,” Martin said of his team with a laugh.
The V Corps Public Affairs Office at Camp Victory in Baghdad is the envy of many a soldier living at the massive palace complex.
Situated on an island in a manmade pond, the building benefits from a lakeshore breeze that eases the sweltering heat.
But there’s a downside to all this largesse: Rats.
And we’re not talking about the pesky journalists who swarm the place.
“We’ve killed nine rats so far,” said Capt. Tom Bryant, public affairs operations officer. “And this morning we got a mouse.”
Thankfully, the rats, measuring about a foot from nose to tail, are on the wane. The PAO’s have strategically placed rodent traps around their compound.
“I haven’t seen a rat since we killed six or seven in a 48-hour period,” said Maj. Dean Thurmond, deputy V Corps PAO.
Or maybe the rodents left for fear of the PAO shop’s boss, Lt. Col. Joe Richard.
“He beat one to death with a broom. It was just walking under the sergeant major’s cot one night. It left a puddle of blood,” Thurmond said.
Richard had no remorse.
“If there’s one thing I hate,” Richard said, “it’s rats.”
All in the family
The first time Pfc. Kenneth Gilbert’s father saw him in uniform was on the flight line of the Kirkuk airfield.
The 20-year-old soldier assigned to the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade out of Vicenza, Italy, enlisted while his father — Army Brig. Gen. David Gilbert, the commanding officer of Special Operations Central Command — was fighting in Afghanistan.
Then the young solider shipped off to a war of his own — the conflict to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
So, a month ago, Pfc. Gilbert got word to head from his post at the government building in downtown Kirkuk to the airfield a few miles away. Something to do with his father, he was told.
“That’s all I knew. I figured he was either coming in, or he was dead.
“There was no chaplain, so I figured he was coming in,” said the younger Gilbert, who will celebrate his 21st birthday in Iraq.
“Yeah, he was proud,” he said of the man, a “real-life G.I. Joe,” who had inspired the youngster to go Army. “It was the first time he’d ever seen me in uniform.”