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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]

July 24th 2006

BAGHDAD---

AlexandraSo, its been a little while since my last entry, but to be honest, there isn’t anything very exciting to talk about. I did get to go on my first trip outside the “wire,” where I visited Taji (an Army base here), and Baghdad.

It was great to get out and travel a little bit, because as anyone here on Camp Anaconda will tell you, you get tunnel vision here. It’s kind of the same as if you live in a small town and never leave. You get used to the culture there, and don’t realize that life is different on the outside. That’s pretty much the way it is here. At Anaconda we have a false sense of security because there isn’t any fighting right in front of us.

Well, it was a really fun trip- it was great just to go anywhere. Our first stop was Taji, a smaller base than Anaconda. To get there we took a Chinook helicopter at about 1 a.m. It was pretty exciting for me because I had never been on a helicopter before. Some of the guys I was with were joking around with me because they said that most people get sick (physically), on their first ride. I got some Dramamine from one of the guys to counter any sickness that might occur, but, in the end it was absolutely fine. On a Chinook, you sit parallel to the aircraft, and can’t really see out the windows, and it was only a 15 minute ride.

The next day in Taji, we were escorting some civilian media around, and while we were, my broadcast counterpart and I got some stories. Other than that, I just took a lot of pictures to show everyone else back at Anaconda what it was like. I liked Taji a lot. It looked like a regular Iraqi town that the Army had simply turned into a base, instead of an Army base plopped down in the middle of Iraq. A lot of the buildings looked like Iraqi houses, and there were a lot of trees, etc., to make the base visually pleasing. Also, the PX (post exchange), was way better there than it is here, and well, when you are deployed these little things really matter.

After a second night in Taji, we got an early flight to Baghdad. This time we were flying in daylight so we got to see everything when we flew over the city. We took Blackhawk helicopters, which are smaller, so this time we had a good view no matter where we were sitting. Just flying over Baghdad was amazing. Helicopters fly pretty close to land, so we could actually see people sleeping on the rooftops of houses. We flew over forests of palm trees, rivers, and lush, green land. From the air, Baghdad looked different than I expected. I expected it to be more slummy-looking and run-down. All of the houses looked very similar in shape and size- like a huge housing development- but they were pretty big houses (either 2 or 3 stories). Maybe it was my angle of view, but it didn’t really look that bad.

Then our two days in Baghdad were awesome. Of course while there I didn’t go outside the “Green Zone/ International Zone,” or off the base, but what I saw was awesome. Basically Coalition forces have just taken a chunk out of the center of Baghdad and made it their own. The Green Zone is complete with a Palace, two outdoor swimming pools, an ex-5-star hotel, and a convention center. There are countless statues and displays of the beauty that are capable of coming out of this war-torn country. I mean, I was in a palace drinking a Chai latte from the coffee shop, while surfing the net. That is crazy.

I was also surprised and pleased at how many different countries’ soldiers I saw represented there. I saw; Georgian, British, Australian, South Korean, Iraqi, Italian, and many more soldiers there. Also, there were a ton of contracted South American security forces there, and it was so fun to practice my minimal Spanish skills with them.

While there we visited the Public Affairs headquarters, and I got to see how AFN radio runs things. Their little radio station was set up with the best equipment in a tiny trailer. It was so cool. I actually got to get on the air for about a minute, which was also cool.

During a visit to one of the landmarks there, we were stuck inside for an hour and a half because of a car bomb threat. Apparently the threat was quite close to us, and no one could go outside. It was still kind of a strange experience though, because here we were inside a beautiful building with polished marble floors and vaulted ceilings, but we were waiting to see if there was an explosion or not- very odd.

Also, on the way home, I won’t go into detail, but allegedly a helicopter in our group was shot at. Can’t really say much more than that, but, I guess these things happen all the time, so no one else thought it was a big deal.

Anyway, traveling was tons of fun and probably the thing that is going to make this deployment go by faster. I want to see as much of this country as I can before I leave, to get the fullest understanding I can of what is going on here. I can’t wait to go out again, but in the meantime, we are all just working getting our weekly paper done.

On a final note, for anyone who thinks I’m working too hard over here (well, I am, but that’s beside the point), don’t worry- I got to see my first movie yesterday. We actually have a very nice movie theatre here at Anaconda, and I saw the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. It was a lot of fun, but I’m not sure why it was PG-13 when it should have been rated “Arrrrrrr.” Sorry, had to say It ;).

-aLeX