Muay Thai – Kickboxing – Children’s Classes – GRIT

The Adventures of Antman in IRAQ [PART 1]


If you prefer context and timeline on how I ended up in Iraq read the prequel here If not, jump right in and enjoy.

A collection of emails and stories sent to friends and family
including a collection of photos.

The adventure was the experience of a lifetime.

What I saw, what I did, how I felt, what it meant and who I got to share it with is what made it special.

The people I met were the most amazing part and they are included in the photos and memories.

‘Never confuse comfort with happiness’


On the way to Baghdad Airport

For a time, the most dangerous road in the world. Photo Op. Park the amoured cars. Run 300m to the statue, pose, run back. Worth it.

Hi everyone

Just a quick one to let you know that I arrived safely, 38 hours travelling and still going.

I am inside a secure compound inside the international zone (green zone). I have been busy learning since I got here and are now ready for bed but I have to get my room first, unpack and get some sleep. Hitting the ground running is an understatement, weapons checks, skills checks, debriefs, tours and more briefs.

I will tell you more about it tomorrow. It is a bloody long way away and when you get here it is like another planet. It is warm and sunny but the locals are not friendly. No stories or photos yet just business but so far I think I am well suited to it, it is a serious place. Start work at 7am and work until bed time, they cook for me, clean for me, do my laundry, better than being married.


In the Green Zone

Hi Everyone

This is the first Iraq newsletter. I thought it might be nice to keep interested parties informed and updated. As I am very busy learning and getting to know my job so I am writing a group email. I will try and do this regularly. If you get time to send me a reply and say hi that would be great. I will try and get back to you ASAP but my job is 24/7. On call emergency manager in requires constant vigilance when the weather report say rocket fire is predicted.

I arrived yesterday after 38hours of travelling. I got picked up at Baghdad airport by a 2 car 4 man protection team after an hour trying to get through Iraqi customs without paying too much ‘Tax’. The two guys in front of me got hit with $80us each; I got away with $1. Corruption is just a part of the efficiency. The drive to my new home was a good opening. Lots of bullet holes in buildings, blown up bridges and destroyed buildings. Saw some kids playing soccer and got caught in an impromptu traffic jam. The Iraqis have old beat up cars, mercs, Hyundai, corrolas etc. No road rules except get out of the US Armies way, as they shoot anything that pisses them off. Arrived via two large check points to the Green Zone and then through two more check points to my new home. Each check point is life threatening experience of its on. A bottle neck for IED’s and nervous guards pointing rifles at you.

The IZ
Driving into the IZ from the back seat of an Armoured Merc

The compound I am staying in is inside the International Zone (Green Zone) and is itself a protected area with a team of 30 Fijian Army controlling the exit/entry. I have to manage 30 Fijian security officers! Inside the compound is where the Parsons group plan, design and manage the building of some 2 billion dollars worth of building projects across Iraq. I got a bunk, got a tour, got some briefs and 48 hours after leaving Canberra went to my room to unpack. Was up by 5:30am and at the ops room, my office, by 06:00. 

Meals are fully catered in a big mess hall and so far the food has been great, I will return fat! There is a gym here and even a punching bag, well kind of. Not at all what I am used to. The bag is not useable unless you are a little dragon and weights room so it is a nice surprise. Today I had more briefings and tours. Just felt like a sponge today. 

Did weapons training to update my skills and realised how out of practice I am. Immediately put through weapons handling and tactics to test I know what I am doing. Stressful but they don’t hire people to teach them and the riskiest time is when you arrive and have no clue about the environment. Same as every war zone in History. If your skills don’t match your CV, your gone on the next plane. I get a vest, a helmet, a Glock, a machine pistol to play with so by the time I leave I will be much more familiar. I am now practicing in my room to my get skills up again because if I need them I really need them. 

Might not be a good punching bag here but I need different fighting skills now. I not a techno weapon nut but when you have a purpose I can sit and dry fire and strip my weapons all night. Because if you need them to work you need them to really fucking work. I went for a walk around the Green Zone for about an hour, which is moderately safe currently, if you remember; they drive on the wrong side of the road and too do what the Marines tell you to because they WILL shoot you. 

The marines on duty are what you expect from a movie, they yell at you and expect obedience while pointing a rifle at you with the finger on the trigger. A bit nerve racking to be honest and hard to not yell back. It is safe in the wear a vest, carry a gun type of way and not my normal Canberra environment so you have to wake up a bit to the real world.

It is 10:30pm now. The days are long, and it heats up from about 10deg in the morning to about 35deg by 2pm. Nice and sunny, no trees, no clouds, and no hills. It is pretty barren wasteland with no views, old concrete buildings and nothing fancy at all. Plenty of T-Walls to look at though

Iraq is safe, well not really. Day four and I am just getting used to the Black Hawks flying over on and off during the night. The weather cools down enough to get a good sleep. So far there is little activity at night, no gunfire, no Indirect Fire etc. I think the bad guys like a good sleep as well plus they don’t have all the equipment to operate at night. Which is quite civilised but wont last long as like everything, they will adapt. 

I expect this will turn into something more as Iran starts backing anything anti US and the old Bath party military get more disgruntled and want more. The militias here will ark up soon.

From the comms tour at our compound

Yesterday I did a TOUR. It was great; saw all the checkpoints of which there are 5 main ones. Some just for vehicles, some for people and vehicles. They are highly protected and stretched over a long road. I took a few photos, sneaked in a few. Mobiles are not popular near check points as they are often used to remotely detonate a bomb on a person or in a vehicle. The check points are spread out to slow vehicles, check them, search them etc and there are booths for searching people (Iraqis) who want to come into the Green Zone for work plus they all need escorts and correct badges.

If you are an Iraqi you need a pass, an appointment, by which an escort from the company you are seeing comes out and walks you through. This is a very time consuming for Iraqis especially considering it is their country but my point of view it is still pretty lax and a prime place for a suicide bomber. Crowded, slow paced and an easy target. I wont be hanging out here for lunch.

The British checkpoints are the best, they know this shit better from so many years dealing with the IRA. Much better procedures and barriers for the guards.

I walked out into the Red Zone (Baghdad) where they line up and mingle, waiting for their turn. The place has been here so long kids now live in the area. There are tanks pointing down the road and US and Iraqi soldiers. Definitely feels like you are leaving Kansas and not a simple trip for a local coffee, when you have the ability of an albino to blend in like I have. Don’t worry, I am not in uniform, dressed very ‘local’ you could say. But you cant learn about the environment from inside the protected area.

Yesterday a US soldier got hit by one round from a sniper at the checkpoint I was at, the bullet hit the plate in his vest, he fell over, he got back up, just shocked! Despite the deaths and bombs and procedures the area outside the gate is very vulnerable for a suicide bomber who wants to take out Iraqi workers coming to work with the Yanks. The bad guys probably don’t bomb the area because so many of them come to work for the yanks during the day to earn money to fund their activities. It wont last though, the more normal it gets, the more likely it will be targeted. I think I will be avoiding the check points on my morning walks.

Check Points for entry into the IZ for Iraqis
Check Points for entry into the IZ for Iraqis
The highlight of the tour was being run off the road by US private protective security detail who even inside the Green Zone like to cover the whole road and drive like they are in contact, more like in an action movie. The biggest danger in here seems to be bored US soldiers or private security all acting tough, and they have guns, lots of guns just not many brains.

(There is less military unit here, more contractors and embassies etc. Most of the soldiers are on specific US bases)

The tour also took me to the national icons we have always seen on TV, the cross swords, the parade ground, tomb of the unknown soldier, Saddams sons Palace, Saddams Palace (the US Embassy). Saddam had air-conditioned and bullet proof rooms to sit in and watch military parades.

Not a well-maintained Canberra landscape!

At the Cross Swords (yes a Phoenix cap)

April 9th

It rained today, well trinkled. Today was pretty much a liaison day. Which means a walk around and talk day. Get to know everyone, learn about their jobs and roles and how I am meant to interact. I meet some of the most fascinating people I have ever met. I think a large portion of people here are socially dysfunctional searchers and adventurers. Not everyone of course, I mean I am normal. 

I meet an ex British Army SAS Colonel, an Irish police men who has been here 12 months because he thinks it is safer than Belfast, A US Intelligence Lieutenant, a US marine Colonel, an engineer from India, a contractor builder from Texas, an Iraqi IT expert, an Irish terrorist, a Scottish *&*(^%: I couldn’t understand what he was, A New Zealand ex SAS soldier, about five aussies. A real melting pot. I sat in a meeting with the US management of a construction contractor I am providing security advice to and I didn’t understand about 75% of what they where talking about, all abbreviations and jargon. Made up words to sound impressive is something about the American I am yet to grasp. 

Funny how when you are in place like this you say ‘g’day’ more than you do in Australia, you are glad to meet aussies as everyone else doesn’t really make sense, the yanks can be a lot like Klingons, they are like us but as we know it. It really makes you appreciate how good Australia is. 

I have traveled to Iraq to get a boss that is an ex US Marine Colonel who wrote the book on unarmed combat! He thinks he knows everything which usually means he is full of %$# but I have to bite my tongue, not advertised any knowledge or interest. He is 6ft 8 so regardless of what he did he is big enough to be a 8th Dan at table tennis and still be hard to fight. He told me he was an 8th Dan at some thing, I tried to act impressed, but I just couldn’t, just wanted to choke him out! But I am meant to be resting! If I can find some mats or just some dirt might have to ask him to show me some stuff! Plus I can’t see the point over here, we all have guns! 

Had a good Aussie BBQ tonight with the New Zealanders. Good T-Bone and salad. I am eating so much. With US catering you can’t avoid the good old protein diet. 

Be well. Enjoy the peace, safety and fun of Australia. We all take it for granted far too often. Life here is cheap; it costs between $50-$80 to have a local killed. I would be more expensive but thank fully harder to get, and I wouldn’t get killed, just kidnapped, then tortured, then maybe killed on you tube. Joking mum! Last month the Iraqi police had 250 people killed, 50 in one incident when the bad guys stopped the bus, robbed the cops on the way home (they are unarmed outside of work) then killed everyone with machine guns. The next day another 1000 people where lining up out the front of recruiting! 


The ‘crossed swords’

Hi Everyone All the initial surprise and learning is gone, now I have to work and get things done. Iraq itself is a dangerous and chaotic country. Luckily I am sheltered from a lot of it but for the locals there is not much to hope for. 

Last month the new local police had 250 people killed but reckon they killed 345, which is Baghdad only! The average murders, non insurgent terrorist related, of 35 people a week! In Iraq there is at best 75 incidents a week that are reported, an incident is a suicide bomber, a vehicle bourne bomb, an attack with smalls arms fire or indirect fire. 

There is slum ‘Sada City’ of a few million people, where even now the US won’t go. Places on the news like Faluja were controlled once but are now getting back the way they were before Nov last year. Basically, these areas are far to busy to even risk traveling in unless you are a fully armored military unit with a purpose and ‘just visiting’. 

I went to a local international zone shop today and got some headphones and a mouse for the computer. Good fun talking to some of the locals and getting their perspective. It was an internet cafe beside a prayer room. I glanced over to what was on the computers and 2 out of the five surfers were looking at porn! Not sure if this was before or after payers. I glanced away of course. 

Part of my job to get on with people, I know right, especially the locals and anyone with insight that has been around a while. Getting the local shop owners to ‘trust’ me is important. Me trusting them, not so much.

The view of the PX area from the tower

I ventured to the US embassy today. The most impressive building I have visited in Iraq, Saddam certainly did look after himself. It was huge, dramatic and a dominate feature. Trust the Americans to occupy it. Most locals still can’t ever get a look out, Saddam the US, from there perspective that is oppression. The US has been fixing it up though and it is a building worth preserving. 

No photos though, no cameras allowed. I will try and get some next visit. I have been here for a short period and it struck me immediately that if the US really wanted to win friends, you don’t occupy the previous dictators palace and replace him. Make it a hospital or something, let the locals in, get officials in and help them run their own country.

The gardens at the US Embassy (I snuck a camera in)

Good morning

I am up at 5:30 to get ready to go to my little office, it is a bunker really but it is comfortable. It is still dark and it is cool enough to wear a light jacket. It is the quietest time, except for the helicopters to and from the hospital, so it nice to just start slowly and try to come and read some emails. My office view.

Sun rise from my office

Yesterday was uneventful with meetings. It does not matter where you are in the world you can’t hide from meetings.

After lunch the mood changed. Meetings were less important.

A few rockets were heard going overhead, close over the roofs, then nothing, no sound, which was good. A few minutes’ later explosions started going off, all a few hundred meters away. Not close, not dangerous but still disconcerting. For the people that have been here a while it was just background noise. For me it was tension hidden behind good acting. I need to learn how to tell a rocket size by its sound and the direction by the noise. I am getting to practice this.

About 6pm on the way to another huge dinner an explosion rocked the compound, people were diving for cover, getting under desks and laying still. No more explosions and after a few minutes I decided it was safe to move around and return to normal routine (I copied the guys who have been here a while). The explosion was about 100m from the compound, as close as I ever want them to get. My job in this situation is to be the incident controller which basically means I must ensure people get down and stay down until I send out word to go to hard cover bunkers and wait until everyone is accounted for. I then stand everyone down when it’s safe, or safeish because it is relative. The hard part for me is I can’t be scared, I can’t act scared, I have to work, display leadership, be confident and good at it. That is pressure. So this was good practice. Real rocket fire aimed to hurt takes practice to be calm during and serious deep breathing.

Really big Explosion in Baghdad

Diner was great, Hawaiian chicken!


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