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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]

September 23, 2006

TAJI AND TALLIL

Finally I have something to write about- I’ve been on two trips since I last wrote. The first one was to a Forward Operating Base I’d been to once before called Taji. The other was a new one for me- Tallil.

Taji was pretty good, but it was a short trip. I just went down there to cover a change of command ceremony, and come right back. We flew down via Blackhawk the same day as the ceremony, and were supposed to come back that afternoon, but the way things go over here, we had to spend the night. I’d spent the night in Taji before, and it was quite comfortable, but this time things were a little different. Upon receiving a room assignment and realizing that there were no linens in the room, I proceeded to wrap up on a bare mattress with my towel for the night. Unfortunately, whoever was in the room next to me had a fondness for death metal- very loud death metal, I might add, and a continued to play it loud enough for my walls to vibrate until past midnight.

The nice person that I am, I didn’t want to be the annoying neighbor, but after about an hour I pounded on his door (just guess it was a male because of the music choice). Five minutes of pounding later I gave up and headed back inside to suck it up, and after a while I realized the CD was repeating itself. The guy must have been out on a night convoy, and left his CD player running…War is hell (or so my commander always says). Ha ha. We completed the mission and that is what matters.

Other than that, I was planning on grabbing another story while I was down there, so the next day I set out (with my editor), to find one. Unfortunately, there was a communications blackout because a Soldier had been killed that very morning. They go to an immediate ‘blackout’ (i.e. no internet or phones can be used), when there is a death so that the names of the dead cannot be leaked before the next of kin is notified. In the civilian newsworld, the names of the dead are not released as a matter of ethics, but here they have this severe method of censorship. I think it’s good, but an interesting way to protect the rights of the victim’s families.

On a sad note, there have been several deaths here recently. I think we had something like three deaths in three weeks in the command group that I am attached to. I guess that means that things heated up for a while over here, but I think they are quieted down now. As public affairs, unfortunately one of our jobs is to cover memorial ceremonies- write stories and take pictures for the family’s use. Not something that my team really enjoys. My roommate’s husband is a Marine who does the same job as we do, who was deployed in Ramadi last year and covered about 70 or 80 memorial ceremonies in seven months. That sucks.

Another random observation is what we have to do when we get mail. Did you know that we have to destroy the labels on packages we receive from home before throwing the boxes away? This is something that we don’t even think of at home. Here we are warned to tear up people’s address from the states, because some of the worker’s on the bases here have taken those addresses out of the trash and threatened people’s families back home. That is just spooky. A few times when insurgents have been found over here, they have stacks of addresses of people in the states- soldier’s families- in their pockets! Man, they are nuts.

Moving on to my second trip; Tallil. Tallil was a great trip- I was there for three days yet again covering a ceremony (there are so many of them right now because a huge element in theatre has changed over. Thousands of Soldiers have been replaced because their year is up). On the first day we had the opportunity to go out and see some ruins- the Ziggurat of Ur. Maybe some of you have heard of this- it is the supposed birthplace/resting place of Abraham in the Bible. We spent a whole day with our Iraqi tour guide getting a story and lots and lots and lots (did I say lots?) of footage for a news package by our video guys (I seem to think they thought they were working for the discovery channel- they were so excited).

The Ziggurat was originally constructed about 2,000 years ago in for the moon god Nanna. The structure still has its original foundation which is pretty remarkable. On the grounds is also a group of royal tombs of various kings and queens who died and were buried with their servants, food, etc. Kinda spooky. Finally, there is what they call “Abraham’s house”- a large house rebuilt on its original foundation which is believed to be Abraham’s father’s house (aka. the house where Abraham was raised). As for proof that the house was actually where he grew up, there isn’t much, but historians are quite sure that the city that once existed there was his home city, and they found a brick outside the house with his father’s name on it.

After the interviews and tour, the tour guide invited us back to his house to have tea. It was amazing. I felt so lucky to have this experience to sit down with some local Iraqis, and just work on forming that bond of good faith between our nations. We talked about what he’d like for the future of his nation, how two of his cousins died when they joined Sadam’s revolution, and how a mortar hit the shed beside his house just two weeks ago. Also, he had a million cute kids running around, and he shared the home with his brother’s family, his father, and who knows who else. The whole experience was surreal, and one that I’m sure I won’t forget.

Other than that, I did another ceremony in Tallil, and then another story about troops training Iraqi soldiers. Overall I thought Tallil was a pretty good base, and I can’t wait to go there again. There were a lot of Italian, Australian, and a few Polish troops there.

One last observation is that we are on restricted water usage here on base after an accident messed up something to do with our water pumps. Because of a story I wrote on our water system about a month ago, I know what we use about 1 million gallons of water every day for bathing, etc. Now, we have to take ‘combat showers,’ and we are supposed to use only porta-potties. War is hell. Haha.