by bkachinsky | Sep 20, 2009 |
Our first day in Baghdad we hit the ground running…litterally.
The first stop was the military working dogs (aka: attack dogs) These dogs are intensely trained to not only attack enemies but also detect explosives, drugs, bodies, and much more.
After a brief introduction we got to suit up and meet the dogs…
Don’t let my facial expression fool you. I was scared out of my mind and those dogs are strong. So strong that we all got taken down, well, all except Osato. Dave’s has superhuman strength so he doesn’t count.
These dogs are so well trained, they can go from savage beast to calm as a kitten in seconds using the right commands by their trainers.
Our next stop was insane. We got to visit Saddam’s palaces and headquarters. All of these palaces and crazy buildings were surrounded by a huge lake that was manmade. We were told that many of the water came from rivers that were rerouted to fill this manufactured body of water. This left the water supply and resources to be very limited to the rest of the city and the people who lived in it. Pretty sad.
The cranes and construction was abandoned after the palace was bombed and this particular palace was never finished. The cranes and everything were left and remain there to this day. This is the “victory over America palace”. Ironic.
Across the water from that palace was one of the most bizzare structures i’ve ever seen. Saddam hated everything American and didn’t allow anything American into the country. Except the Flinstones cartoon. He was such a fan that he built his own version of Bedrock which was intended for his grandkids to live in.
Yabba Dabba Do!
This place was in a bit of disrepair but I could still see all the amenities that it had including many bedrooms, bathrooms, fireplaces, servant’s quarters, etc. Climbing around in there was crazy. I don’t know who actually designed the layout but it was nuts and definitely would make for a good episode of Cribs.
I did my best Barney Rubble impression and then we headed out to our first Meet and Greet with some troops. It was the first of many meet and greets. These were perhaps the most rewarding part of the trip because we got to interact with the troops, talk with them about their specific duties and learn all about life in Iraq first hand. Since the majority of troops are armed at all times, they let us see what it was like to carry those big guns around for a bit. They are heavy, powerful and dangerous.
Amidst this crazy action packed day the hardest working members of our crew were Nate and Judd. They were back near the center of the base building our ramps for the demos. These two were serious miracle workers. They battled the intense heat, dusty air, and many equipment/material malfunctions and still came out on top. They built two quarter pipes and a box jump in record time and had it up and running just in time for the first demo to start that night. I still don’t know how they did it but they were solid, smooth and perfect. I mean, this is Nate we’re talking about.
The demo that night was epic. Without going into detail about the tricks that went down, i’ll tell you about the more important stuff. The atmosphere was like out of a movie. We had a concrete pad where the ramps sat and were surrounded by bright floodlights and hundreds of troops. We even used a T-wall as a subbox out of the 6ft. quarterpipe.
When looked into the crowd before the show I saw anticipation and machine guns. It was rather calm actually. When the show got underway the crowd erupted. Soldiers who were straight faced minutes prior where now smiling, yelling, clapping and having a blast. The show went on for an hour and was action packed from start to finish.
To understand what this was like for the soldiers you have to realize many of their day to day activities on base are strict, monotonous and often times boring. They don’t get a ton of entertainment aside from musical acts and comedians.They certainly have never had anything like this. The show was a hit and after all the autographs, photos, high fives and handshakes I found myself with a more fulfilling feeling than I have ever had in my years of riding BMX. Soldiers are the most appreciative and respectable audience i’ve ever seen.
They didn’t want anything else other than a handshake and to show their thanks. Many of them received giveaways and one lucky Soldier got a brand new DK bike. DK was nice enough to donate 6 bikes to giveaway on this tour and Gary was the first recipient of a new ride. Thanks DK!
I have to talk about Gary for a bit. Gary is a BMXer from North Carolina and has been stationed in Iraq for quite some time. He’s so dedicated to riding that he built a 6ft. mini ramp on base and did so while battling heat, lack of wood and a lot of red tape. His hard worked paid off and “Operation Dust Pipe” was born.
I can’t thank Gary enough for not only letting us ride his ramp but also for inspiration. If he can still find time and energy to ride after long days of PT and other duties of a soldier, we call can. Oh yeah, on top of all that he sacrificed his leave to stay on base and hang out with us and help Nate build. Instead of Rest&Relaxation, Gary chose Remain&Ride. Kick ass.
The rest of the time on this base was filled with more fun stuff like MRAPs (mine resistant vehicles), Hummers, more meet and greets, more BMXers, weapons, etc.
Sidenote: The food in Iraq was actually pretty awesome. The soldiers on these larger bases eat well and rightfully so. Some dining halls were the size of football fields with everything from Hamburgers to Lobster and everything in between. There were 4 meals served per day and of course all the bottled water you could ask for. It’s important for them to stay well fed and hydrated. There was even free Baskin Robbins so you know I wasn’t complaining.
Our first couple days in Baghdad were amazing to say the least and there is plenty more that we got to see and learn about that wasn’t allowed to be photographed but trust me, it was awesome. We said our goodbyes and got one last night of sleep in our contained housing units (CHUs) before heading south to Basrah.
To be continued….