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This blog chronicles the experiences of Elon journalism major Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown, who was deployed to the Middle East in June 2006 as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves 210th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. Hemmerly-Brown is from Blue Hill, Maine, and is the daughter of Jane and Daniel Hemmerly-Brown. As a public affairs specialist, Hemmerly-Brown writes stories, takes photographs, produces a newspaper and works with members of the news media. She is scheduled to be stationed in Iraq for about a year, and plans to return to her studies at Elon following her tour of duty.Messages can be sent to Alexandra at: IsisIndy@hotmail.com. Her mailing address is: Spc. Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown, 210th MPAD, Camp Anaconda, Balad, APO AE 09391.

[Return to Hemmerly-Brown's blog home page]

November 9, 2006


Coming outside of my room, or “hooch” as we fondly call our tiny trailers, the past few days I have been able to see my breath. Something must have suddenly changed up there in the desert sky that told the sun to go on vacation for a few months because, unlike in the States, the transition from summer to winter, A., happened overnight, and B. is very abrupt.

A few days ago it was still so warm that we had the air conditioners blasting, and wore shorts to workout after our work day…but not now. There was the ceremonial digging out of winter gear much like what we go through in the States when we retrieve our sweaters out of the attic at the first sign of frost. Now you can see much less of soldiers walking around the base (as if it was easy to discern one uniform-clad soldier from another before), as they are covered up by black polar fleece, gloves, hats, neck-warmers, and whatever other kid of warm weather gear they can find. Funny how the weather changed so suddenly.

And then there is the rain. Well, the rain hasn’t hit us in full force yet, but I have heard since I arrived here that the rainy season is nothing to be coveted. We have had some pretty impressive lightning storms here- thunder louder than I’ve ever heard in my life. One night we had thunder so loud (and I’ve since learned that lightning actually hit a nearby structure), that I honestly thought my housing area had been hit by an incoming round (a mortar). When it rains here, because it is all sand and gravel, the rain really doesn’t absorb well into the earth, it just becomes one huge mud puddle. Flooding is inevitable because the water has nowhere else to go, and we are left with a few feet of water in some places. Awesome…time to get out the fishing-waders or a canoe…can’t decide. At least this is one time I am really glad to have to drive Humvees- they won’t get stuck & do well in water!

Other than the water, I’m enjoying the cold. It makes me think of home, especially with the approaching holidays. Actually, it’s just great to feel something other than hot all the time. I used to go outside at 10 p.m. to walk to the bathrooms, and be sweating by the time I got back. After feeling nothing but hot since March, I say let it rain!

Things in the “newsroom,” here went from bad to worse since the last time I wrote, but now things are back to normal. With a very short staff, the only other writer left here also went on emergency leave for two weeks only a few days after another girl left on emergency leave. For few weeks, there was only two people producing a weekly newspaper: myself and my editor! It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but a great learning experience.

I upped my story quota from two stories per week to about five. We also had to edit all submitted stories, solicit/ create ads, and layout the whole paper- it was crazy. I learned to become much faster and more efficient. There were a lot of 12-hour workdays, but, it’s over now. The last member of our five-man print team just returned last night, so we are complete again. Phew, what a relief.

Iraqi childrenI would have to say my best experience in the past month was going out on a convoy to a nearby town where school supplies and other donations were handed out to the residents there. It was awesome just to see the kids, and especially talk with the women in the town. It was crazy to see these women, most of whom were younger than me, with two or three kids clinging to their mother’s dresses. One girl I spoke with who knew the most English out of the bunch, was only 16. Wow. The funny thing was they were all really impressed with my hair. They could see that it was blonde even with my helmet on, and (inside the town Sheik’s house- relatively safe), begged me to remove my helmet so they could see my hair. I was pretty wary of doing that, but the other soldiers I was with let me know it was ok, and I took it off for just a second. They women all smiled and made excited noises as they grabbed at my hair. I guess they don’t see blondes much!

The kids were great, although vicious towards each other if one was in the way of another getting some hand-outs. Yes, those kids will really slap each other around! In the end it was impossible to keep the hand-out process organized, and all the kids were on the ground grabbing frantically at whatever they could get their hands on, most likely loosing a chunk of hair or acquiring a bruised lip in the process. But it is because these people have nothing that they will stop at nothing to get what they need for themselves and their families- at any cost. Anyway, I have included the story I wrote on that mission, and the photos give a pretty good idea of what the kids here look like- check it out!


>>Click here to download a copy of a recent story by Alexandra from the Anaconda Times (PDF format)