From the Frontlines: Dust storms and star sightings

It's not a dust storm but ...
 it is close.

Hi everyone. What a hectic week at Camp Liberty, Iraq. I guess that is a good thing. It means time is passing by, and we're that much closer to accomplishing our mission.

Let me address my snapshot of that hazy day Friday.  It's dust, plain and simple. You just learn to deal with it.

And now, here's the news. Soldiers with the 225th Engineer Brigade continue to train the Iraqi Army on engineering tasks like clearing routes of IEDs and general construction. We're also wrapping up projects in and around Baghdad - projects like school plumbing to make sure Iraqi children have drinking water and running bathroom facilities, and fixing up clinics and playgrounds.

Most of the focus now is on the June 30th Security Agreement deadline for our forces to leave major cities in Iraq. There will be more reports on the fact that our Soldiers will reduce our "footprints" in these cities between now and then. It gives the Iraqi Army a chance to take leadership in those cities as our soldiers continue advising and supporting the Iraqis in maintaining security. That means progress continues to be made, despite incidents of insurgent attacks.

The key here is continued partnership and coordination. This week, I saw more of that during a visit to Al Rasheed in northeast Baghdad. That is where soldiers with the 9th IA Engineer Regiment continue to get the training they need to take over when our soldiers move out.
Check out the photo above of the trainers and the students. Look at the front row - the Iraqi soldier with his arm around one of our guys. There is a friendship, a bond, that has developed here. That will be critical in the months ahead.

Oh, guess who dropped by for a visit as part of the USO Tour? Do you recognize the gentlemen below?

Here's a hint, "That's Allstate's stand."  Actor Dennis Haysbert, aka Jonas Blane on "The Unit" on CBS, along with Max Martini and Robert Patrick

and former NBA Great David Robinson 

stood behind former LA Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda, who had the troops rolling with laughter.  The man was a hoot. Move over David Letterman.  

I want to pick on my friend and colleague Fred Childers back at KSLA about "The Unit." It is a rumor that Fred and other "not to be named" reporters used to pretend to be the characters on "The Unit." Fred, did I get the story right? If not, you will have to travel thousands of miles to the war zone to come and get me. So I feel that I am safe with this one.

You have to stay sharp here. Last week, I qualified on my M4 at the rifle range and scored 36 out of 40 hits. Not bad for an old Major.

The food is not bad either. On occasion, we do eat MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), meals in the light brown plastic package that most everyone is familiar with by now.

My PAO team went on several other missions this week, including a visit to six schools and a hospital to check on when we call QA/QC, which stands for quality assurance/quality control, making sure any kind of job is done right. I will try to send photos when I get a chance.

One more note. I am not the only soldier who lives in the Ark-La-Tex in the 225th. In Bossier City, Curtis Smith worked for the school system for over 20 years. His wife is the former Robin Brady. They have one daughter that is in college.

Here in Iraq, Lt. Col. Smith is a liaison officer with the 225th who works on the staff in our higher headquarters, 1st Cav. Division. His staff helps with funding for essential services for Iraqis like trash pickup, clean water, electricity and waste removal. It provides important infrastructure for the future of Iraq. On a lighter note, Lt. Col. Smith reports that Iraq does not have golf courses and he misses a good round. And yes, he, like me, misses the best food in the world - the food back at home.

This photo below is of Lt. Col. Smith taking part in the April 6th Smith Memorial Run. It was held in honor of a fallen Medal of Honor recipient SFC Paul Smith (no relation).

Well, it's late on this Saturday, May 2nd, and time to get busy with other projects and missions. The days are long, but I am happy we keep busy trying to work our way out of a job.  Before I go, I want you to know that I read your emails. I cannot respond to all of them, but I really do thank you for the kind thoughts and well wishes.   God bless. We miss the Ark-La-Tex!