About Jack

Jack is really a storyteller, international explorer, and humanitarian and everything else rolls out from there. As a writer, its what he does.  As a trial lawyer, its his most important tool.  As a former CIA officer, the only way to truly motivate people is to connect and to tell them a story that they can feel viscerally.  As a media analyst, what better way to make a point.  In the end, he tries to captivate his audience about the world and its people as much as he himself is captivated. 

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I Wonder What Will Become of Ali and his Baby?

March 7, 2006
9:15 a.m.
Downtown Baghdad

He is a young man. Twenty one and he has his future ahead of him. And he is Iraqi. His name is Ali.

I met him at an open air market where he was selling trinkets and old Saddam memorabilia to those of us who happen to fall within earshot of his pitch. I succumb.

Ali is not a big man. He has a round face and receeding dark hair. He is wearing a blue shirt that looks a lot like an Iraqi policeman's shirt. And you know what, it might be. Ali sells weapons, trinkets, actual Iraqi police patches and even old Iraqi currency with photos of Saddam.

He started working here in Baghdad a little less than three years ago and says that things are going well. They need to. He has growing responsibilities. He wife is six months pregnant with his first child and he is very excited.

He lives south of Baghdad but feels like things are okay. He seems hesitant with all of the U.S. troops around to say anything at first but eventually tells me that security is terrible south of the city and that he really worries about his new baby.

After our conversation, I admit that I succumb to his efforts to sell me something. I end up with an Iraqi police arm patch that is dark blue, has the Iraqi flag, and title in both english and arabic. It is only a couple of American dollars.

As we drive away in convoy, I wonder what will become of Ali and his new baby.

Route Irish

March 6, 2006
2:00 p.m. Local Time
Route Irish

I just arrived at the Baghdad International Airport. And now, I’m preparing to run the gauntlet. Route Irish. This is the most dangerous piece of roadway in the world. More snipers, more improvised explosive devices (IEDs), more rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). Two attacks on this short stretch of roadway today. Five yesterday. But this is the only way to get to the International Zone (IZ), commonly known as the Green Zone.

I’m a journalist and I’m here to cover the war for CBS and WCCO radio. A lot has come out about this place and much of it is very inconsistent. As a result, and without any particular ax to grind, I figure that another view is needed. As a journalist, I want to report what I see. As a former CIA Special Agent, I hope that my background and expertise helps to give what I see some context for the public.

Before I leave the relative safety of Camp Victory, we all make elaborate plans. I wrap myself in a Kevlar vest and helmet and climb into a vehicle called a Rhino. It is about the size of a Winnebago but it is very spartan on the inside. On the outside, it is a little bit different. It is tan in color and has been up-armored throughout. And, of course, there is the mandatory rhino spray painted across the hood. Any visible glass on the vehicle is bullet proof. It looks dark green from the outside and casts a similar shade throughout the inside of the Rhino as we travel making the trip even more surreal.

In front of us there is a gun ship, really an up-armored Humvee with soldiers armed to the teeth. I see the soldier standing above in a turret that can swing 360 degrees. He has a 50 cal. machine gun in one hand and an M-16 in the other. He wears body armor, goggles and his face is completely wrapped as he is exposed to the elements including sand and bugs as well as bullets and bombs as we prepare to whip down the gauntlet at break neck speeds.

Behind the Rhino is a Dead Wood. This is another vehicle, also up-armored. But this one is a little bit different. It does nothing but jams any signals. Many IEDs are set off with a signal and this device stops this from happening.

Behind this vehicle are two more gun ships in order to protect us from the rear.

I climb into the vehicle. A young soldier, with Kevlar vest and helmet sits beside me with M-16. And we run the gauntlet. But first, we have to get out of the airport area known as Camp Victory.

And a strange looking convoy we make as we race out onto a roadway. It’s really a freeway with two lanes each direction surrounded by a medium with Palm trees. The slums surround us although many concrete barriers have been built to protect us. It provides a strange closed-in view, liking being in some sort of concrete tube.

The first thing I notice is the speed. And . . . the obvious tension and silence from all of us inside the Rhino.

We swing back and forth across the roadway. As we approach a bridge, I look through the bulletproof glass and see the soldier in the gun ship swing around in a 360 degree pattern looking for threats from above. Pointing his M-16 at anything, everything. I see this happening again and again. Attached to the back of this gun ship is a sign "Danger" in English and Arabic in Red and then "Stay Back" in English and Arabic in Green.

As we approach vehicles on the roadway the soldiers, screaming and blowing bullhorns, wave them to a stop and slide his weapons toward then in the event that they act aggressively. And we race past.

At this point, I feel sweat on my back and neck. I'm not sure whether it is the Kevlar vest and helmet, which are heavy, or the stress, or both. Either way, the tension is evident. Everybody avoids eye contact in the Rhino.

This lasts for a couple of miles but feels much longer.

Unsure what else to do, I watch out the front window, seeing Baghdad wash past us as we seek more relative safety.

Finally, we approach the Green Zone. And we all start to relax, a little. This small area is also mortared almost everyday. We roll through the gates without incident. We stop in a parking lot and I jump out to talk with the lead gunner. He tells me he does this at least twice but as many as five times a day.

I have to ask, “Are you scared?” He looks down from his turret atop the up-armored Humvee. He smiles. “No” he says. “To be honest, this is a hell of a lot of fun. Never thought I would get the chance to do this.”

He looks about twenty. And I try to remember back that far. To the time when I was bullet proof too! Guess it’s an age thing.

This is my first step on a journey to discuss what is happening. And this first step, just making it in, illustrates as good as any just how violent and dangerous things have become in this area of the world.

So much for another run of the gauntlet - down Route Irish.

Flight To Baghdad

Flight To Baghdad
March 6, 2006
9:30 a.m. Local Time

We arrive early at Ali Al Salem Airbase to prepare for our trip to Baghdad. We have to arrive early because the Department of Defense has to issue me a Kevlar vest and helmet. I then have my pack strapped on a into place with about 200 soldiers preparing to move into Iraq.

I step onto a bus with soldiers, all of us wrapped in bullet proof vests and helmets, they will M4s and M16s. As we step on the bus, the driver is listening to Eminem. Really odd to look at these people and women preparing for war and Eminem chants across the radio.

We drive to the tarmac and there I see our C-17 aircraft. It has a dark grey skin and the back doors are down and gear is piled in the back. We jump out of the bus and climb the steps into the place.

If you expected a commercial plane, you’d certainly be confused. On the inside, it has been completely hollowed out. It almost looks like a space ship, all wires, electronics. A huge open space above our heads.

The floors are metal. The walls are metal. The weapons held in the hands of the soldiers around me are too. It all rattles.

There is one latrine up front but are immediately told that we can’t use it, all 200 of us, because we are just about to fly into hostile territory. True to form, not one butt leaves its seat, mine included.

As we taxi, I can’t see out the window because there is only one. And strangely enough it is about ten feet off the ground all I get is what I feel and hear.
The rumbling of the engines starts low but grows in intensity. You feel it in your stomach and it screeches in your ears. We are all wearing earplugs and it doesn’t help much.

Then we are taking off down the runway. The engines whine to such a pitch as we throw ourselves down the runway that I think there is something wrong. Right when I’m certain there is, we lift off, quickly and throw ourselves into the sky.
We are almost immediately in Iraqi airspace. Every little turbulence makes me hesitate. It makes me wonder if it is just that – turbulence.
Finally, the intercom squawks about are need to prepare for landing.
And we dive! Hard!

We bank right. We bank left.

My ears are popping and I feel the pressure in my chest. And then a kind of weightlessness. The soldier next to me groans and talks about hating rollercoasters. These are all evasive procedures. IAnd they go on and on and on.

Finally, BAM. We hit the tarmac. And we our at the Baghdad International Airport. Welcome.

Holding On To Anything

March 5, 2005
10:42 a.m.
Somewhere Over Baghdad

I talked to a young man from the upper midwest. I'll call him Joe. He graduated from high school in 2003 and now he is doing something that he never dreamed of. He is with the 101st Airborne division and his job is one of the toughest here.

Joe patrols Baghdad looking for weapons caches and taking down bad guys. He and his platoon of about 30 guys work intensely. They, in their armored up Humvees, travel silently but often make a lot of noise when they arrive.

He is young. Very young. His eyes dark. His skin dark. To me eye, he has the all American look. As we sit next to each other on our way into Baghdad, he talks about his life. He shows me pictures of his girlfriend. He met here two days before he left for Iraq but he tells me he loves her. And he worries that she will be their when he gets home in six months.

And he is disenchanted. He wants to be done with this. “I’ve knocked down enough doors and it is not getting any better. It is getting worse.” Joe wants to go home.

However, it is not that simple. He is proud of what he and his buddies are doing. And as he puts it, “Sometimes I love. Sometimes I hate it.”

And we travel, he pulls out an exam book. He tells me that he wants to be a Marshall and that he is studying. He shows me!

Then he goes back to his girlfriend. He promises to send her flowers and again says that he wants her to be their when he gets home.

I guess I’m starting to understand. Living like Joe does here in Iraq, he needs to hold onto anything that he can!

Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

March 5, 2006
7:47 p.m. Local Time
Kuwait City

I have had the opportunity to visit Camp Arifjan in Kuwait in order to see how our troops are supported in the field, everything from up armoring Humvees how Movement Tracking Systems or MTS's are used in the field so that soldiers and their commanders can keep better track of each other on the battlefield. Amazing!

Notice the attached picture very closely. Obviously, you will see the Kuwaiti license plate but look at the flag on the windo. That is right. There is a Minnesota Vikings Fan even out here. How about that!
The uparmored Humvee was attacked by IEDs and RPGs. The window took a direct hit from an RPG but both soldiers, from a Wisconsin Reserve Unit survived. I can't amagine the sound of the explosion from the inside of this vehicle
I leave for Baghdad tomorrow morning at 0530.

I'm excited but also aware of the potential risk. We fly in on a C-130 and take Route Irish, the most dnagerous stretch of roadway in the world, into the Green Zone.

And believe it or not, from there, it is going to get interesting.

My First View of Iraq

March 5, 2006
5:17 a.m. Local Time
Somewhere Over Iraq

We are flying over Iraq and I am looking out my little porthole and watching the sun rise from 30,000 feet. Black earth with the occasional light ing is below me. In the distance, I can see red/orange as a bright line against the blackness. Then, the color of fire slowly fades into yellows, greens and blues. It is stunning.

It is also very surreal and strangely peaceful. I guess because of what I know that is happening in the blackness, in Iraq.

I must admit, this is my first vision of Iraq and it is not what I expected. I guess . . . if the world were so simple. Sadly, it is not.

I expect to land soon in Kuwait. And on to another day.

Why I am Here and When We Finally Leave

March 4, 2006
9:30 p.m. Local Time
Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany

We sit on the runway at Ramstein Air Force Base waiting to have the plane de-iced. I suspect that our entire planeload of people are dubious as to whether we will ever leave Germany. As I sit next to SSgt Luis Nazarrio, an Air Traffice Controller out of Puerto Rico, I look out the small oval window of the plane.
Across the tarmac, and through the snow, I can just make out the shapes of two dark C-17 Globemasters, very large planes. They are illuminated from behind so I only really see them in sillouette. A de-cing truck is making a valiant effort to clear the wings of one of those planes.

Our captain's voice breaks into my thoughts, this time to tell us that we are again being delayed. A groan comes from the troops and from yours truly. We are all very frustrated. You know, hurry up and wait.

The Captain then refers us all to the C-17's I have been looking at out the window.

Both planes are medivac flights preparing to fly directly into Baghdad to bring injured troops back to Ramstein which has a great hospital.

And with that knowledge, we are all silent. And I guess a little more of the reality of this trip comes into view.

We finally leave German airspace at approximately 11:45 p.m. local time, almost two hours after the airport is supposed to close. They have apparently taken pity upon us.

Auf Weidersehn Deutschland! But I still am thinking about those two C-17's and their ultimate cargo!

Photos from Germany. Yes, Germany

Waiting for a flight that many of these soldiers think may never come. If you look closely at the insgnia on these uniforms, you will notice they are all American soldiers but of different services.

In addition, as their uniforms are beginning to change, the services can't keep up so the same branches may actually be outfitted differently. This photo was taken at Ramstein Air Force Base.
Having dinner with a Air Force Staff Sgt. and an Army Captain in Frankfurt, Germany.
A very small contingent of us are traveling throughout the region. I am the only one from the upper midwest.

Standing in the Haupt Wache in Frankfurt. Great food including Bratwurst und Heiss Apfelwein.

At a rally against the Iranian Government in Frankfurt, protestors stand up against the oppression of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Clearly, the people of Germany are very involved and it got pretty rowdy. The number of Polizei was incredible.

This Time For Sure

Saturday. 5:32 local time.
Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany.

I left Minneapolis three days ago. In that time, I ended up on a continent that I didn't expect. I have yet to put on a new set of clothes and the sleeping has come in fits and starts. However, all that being said, I must say that I'm having a heck of a time so far.

The men and women who serve this country are some remarkable and yes, funny people. I have eaten with them. Talked to them about their lives. Talked to them about how they broke it to their parents that they were on their way to Iraq. I've talked to them about their spouses and kids. Amazing stories, all.

As I write this, I am preparing to step onto a DC-10 for Kuwait. As I look around, these people are smiling and laughing. "The 40 Year Old Virgin" is playing in the USO and you can hear the laughs. However, and there is a big however, I can see the strain and the tension in the corners of those laughs. I can see some subdued faces.

Upon arrival in the Middle East, I suspect there will be more. Of course, I thought I would be in the Middle East already, so if you first don't succeed, try, try again.

You Never Know Where You Will Find Friends.

It was after midnight and the snow was flying hard. In fact, there was more snow on the ground than Frankfurt had seen in 25 years. And it was cold too!

I'm an on the backend of day 2 on airplanes. I haven't changed or taken a shower. And it shows. Or should I say, it smells. Of course, I'm not the only one. About two hundred men and women of the armed forces are all in the same boat.

We struggle out of four buses. About 200 U.S. troops and yours truly. They are all in uniform, and I'm, well, a civilian. So we all line up to get into a hotel because we are stuck here for the night. I'm about 50 people back so rather than patiently waiting, I take a calculated decision to head to the bar. I order something with alcohol in it. I am a little proud to say that I am the first but certainly not the last. I would like to call myself a trail blazer but think others must have been given orders.

Lots of Germans in the place turn and look. I'm not sure how well we are going to be received. Let's face it, we are very unpopular around the world.

As I sit at the bar, soldiers are surrounding me and we do our best. . .

Here is the amazing part of the story. I go up to the bar to pay my tab and the woman behind the counter just looks at me. And she says, smiling, "Oh, it has been taken care of. One of our patrons picked up the entire tab." That's right. A German saw us coming and picked up everything.

Sometimes, even with bad press, people still like us. And I think that that is important. I'm not suggesting that we do everything that we do as a nation for popularity and love. However, I think that it is important that we are perceived as a country that stands for freedom. And if we are doing something inconsistent with that, then we should reconsider what it is that we are doing.

You never know where you will find friends.