Thornhill in Iraq — XIII

Once again, it’s been about a month since I sent out an e-mail update to the group.  The good news is – this will be the last!  As of today, April 22nd, I have 8 days left on the FOB and 9 days left in Iraq!  Boy has time slowed down considerably.  I have attached a few recent photos that will give you a little bit of an idea what I’ve been doing lately.  The first is actually a copy of a photo that appeared in the Ida County Courier, my hometown newspaper in Ida Grove.  If you recall, shortly after I arrived here at the Law & Order Task Force, a guy who went to high school with me showed up.  This clipping from the Courier is of Pat and me delivering some Girl Scout cookies to local Iraqi children.  It’s easy to feel bad for the locals here, but seeing the children really gets to you.  I found out shortly thereafter that the cookies did not last long!
 
The second photo is from about 2 weeks ago.  I am with 4 of our federal law enforcement agents on the day they were leaving the FOB to head home.  Notice how they are smiling and I am not!  If I did not mention it before, this task force includes a lot of people from a lot of different agencies.  This group of agents consisted of 1 FBI, 1 DEA, and 2 ATF.  These guys, like their replacements, are on 3 month rotations.  The effort we (the U.S.) is putting into helping the Iraqis establish their legal system is really tremendous.  The progress is slow, but at least it’s progress!
 
fob-shield-apr-2008-2-019.JPGThe third photo is from last week.  This is me teaching a session at a week-long seminar on fighting terrorism using law enforcement.  This was held at the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Bureau.  The audience is a pretty select group of high-ranking Iraqi officials.  I was fortunate and honored to be recommended to participate in this event by the Director of our task force.  The other members of the seminar “faculty” were flown in from the United States.  The only bad part about the week (that I did not tell Paula until I returned!) was that it was held in the IZ (International Zone a/k/a Green Zone).  If you’ve been watching the news, the IZ has pretty much been taking rocket and mortar fire on a daily basis.  If you want the details, you’ll have to wait until I get home.
 
Needless to say, I am in the process of winding down my work here and am VERY excited to get home.  I have flag football games to get to and baseball season starts for all 3 boys!  It will take me a while to get home as I have a couple stops to make on the way.  With luck, I should be home by the middle of May.  I will let you all know when I get home.  And, yes, I dream about Tomaso’s Pizza and beer almost nightly!
 
See you soon.
 
Ian

Courier Photo
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Thornhill in Iraq — XII

Hello family and friends – Happy Easter!

Forgive me for not writing sooner or more often. Things have been busy here, my best excuse is that I just returned from a little R&R in Qatar! Because of the complications of travel, a 4 day R&R pass took up 9 days of my life. It was well worth it! A fellow JAG lawyer (Air Force) and I spent about 5 days in sunny, warm, and quiet Doha, Qatar. There is a U.S. military base there where we stayed. It was nice just to get away and I enjoyed the quiet and being able to go out in town without wearing body armor or riding in an uparmored vehicle. The highlight of the trip for me was golfing! Yes, I was able to play 9 holes at the Doha Golf Course (see photos). As you can probably tell by that putt, I didn’t play at all last year! It was nice to see grass again and the rental clubs (Pings) were a whole lot nicer than my own. We played in the moring and got out of there before it really got hot. If you are wondering how the locals can golf in the summer when it gets miserably hot, well, they play at night. That’s right, the entire course has lights! Anyway, it was a lot of fun and I hit just enough good shots to make me anxious to play when I get home. I would have played more but, unfortunately, the golf trip was offered only once during my stay.

Not that I’m counting or anything, but I have just under 6 weeks left here in Iraq. Needless to say, I am anxious to come home. With luck, I should be home by the middle of May. The extra 2 weeks is for out-processing and demobilization. I hope to be home in time to see the last flag football games for Bennett and Camden! I will be home just in time for baseball season. It’s probably a little early to start counting down but I can’t help it.

The rainy season is over. I’m glad. As I said before, when it rains here it is quite a mess. The downside of the changing seasons is that it is starting to warm up. I will be out of here before the weather gets too oppressive, but it’s already warm. Today’s forecast high is 98. Tomorrow and Tuesday it’s supposed to be 100! Hopefully I won’t be going anywhere for a while so I don’t have to put on all the gear.

I really don’t have much else to pass along. I am doing fine and still glad that I came. I am exteremely happy that my tour is only 6 months. I can’t imagine what a year or the 15 months that a lot of people are doing over here would be like. Thanks to all of you who have sent cards, e-mails, and care packages. I really appreciate it. Keep the cards and e-mails coming but there is no need for additional care packages. I am pretty well stocked on what I need and should be good for the duration. You can always keep a cold beverage in your fridge for me and invite me over when I get home so I can tell you all the stories I am unable to over e-mail!

I hope you all enjoyed your holiday. I see the forecast high for Cedar Rapids today is 37 – must be nice!!

Ian

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Thornhill in Iraq–XI

Hello all,

I know it has been a while since I sent an update – probably a month.  Sorry about that.  Fortunately for me, time seems to be moving fairly quickly.  I have less than 3 months to go but am trying not to start the countdown yet.  A couple of weeks ago I heard rumblings that I may get extended for a couple months – that has been cleared up and I am still on track to return home by the middle of May.  I also found out that the Navy Reserve is going to involuntarily recall some lawyers for this next rotation.  Finally, to further ratify my decision to volunteer when I did, my replacement will have to serve 220 days in Iraq – I am only here for 179 days!

Unfortunately I cannot tell you much about the cases/work that I am doing for security reasons.  Outside of that, you’ve already heard pretty much what an average day is like for me.  Feels a little like groundhogs day – sort of the same thing day after day.  To say that I am enjoying this experience would be an overstatement, but I am certainly proud to be doing it and I definitely don’t regret volunteering or hate being here.  Of course, I miss my family and friends a lot.  Dee, my mother-in-law, sent me some photos of the boys from Christmas.  They have each changed so much in the short time I’ve been gone.  It is great talking to them on the phone and, Internet permitting, we’ve even video-called via the webcam a few times.  However, it’s still not the same as being there and I so look forward to spending time with them when I get home.  I also miss driving, television (we have limited access & I did watch the Super Bowl live…starting at 2:00 a.m.), and walking on smooth surfaces!  I could also go for a Tomasos pizza and a beer.

Believe it or not, I also miss the snow.  The best (or worse) winter in Iowa for snow in a long time and I don’t get to enjoy any of it.  Paula has had more than enough with the scooping and the kids staying home from school.  I just talked to them a little while ago and was informed Cedar Rapids received another 4 inches.  I told the boys about it being 70 degrees and sunny here today – they said they wanted to come.  I assured them that they really didn’t!

Attached is another photo – this is from last Friday when we went to the range and did some shooting.  I know, it’s scary to see a lawyer with a gun!  We were practicing shooting around barricades.  That’s a really good idea if you think about it!

I may have some exciting work-related stuff to report in a couple weeks.  If you don’t hear from me though, don’t be surprised.  The pace of life and the pace of the court system here is much more casual than back home.  It gets really frustrating sometimes, but I try to remind myself that we are here to help rebuild THEIR justice system, not make it like ours.

Well, it looks like it’s about dinner time for me so I’m gonna go.  Thank you all for your cards and e-mails and keep them coming!

Ian

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Thornhill in Iraq–X

LCBA Member Ian Thornhill of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cedar Rapids has been deployed to Iraq as a member of the Navy Reserve. He is going to be working on a task force that is helping to re-establish the Iraqi criminal court system. The LCBA will be posting his email updates, with permission.

Hello all!

I know it’s been a while since I have written. Believe it or not, things have been extremely busy around here. At least when you are away from family, you don’t feel so guilty about working 12+ hours a day! I’m still doing fine. I will catch you up on some stuff that has been going on.

On Christmas Eve we had a Christmas party for the entire task force. We held it outside on the basketball court and had one of the Iraqi civilians who works with us cater in athentic Iraqi food. It was good – many thought it was great. I’m just not much into trying new/exotic foods. I had a bad experience with lamb once and those things are hard to forget!

I have attached a photo of me from the party. I am holding a book I received in the ‘white-elephant’ gift exchange. I’ll tell you why I no longer have the book in a minute. As you can see, I am proudly displaying the colors. Many of my colleagues joked that they were happy to see me in such bright, sniper-enticing clothing! Don’t worry, we’ve had no snipers since I’ve been here and the party was not in the line of sight of any tall structures. Besides, there can’t be that many Iowa State fans living in Baghdad!

Back to the gift exchange. Many of you have probably done this – we have done it in the past at my office. Everyone anonymously wraps a gift. It could be a good gift, it could be a not-so-good gift. Then everyone draws a number from 1 to whatever. Number 1 picks a gift and opens it. Everyone who follows can either choose to pick a gift or take a gift that has already been unwrapped and displayed. If the gift that you opened gets taken by someone, you then get to choose whether to open a new gift or take one from someone else and so on. We included a rule (because we are lawyers, etc. and like rules) that once a gift was ‘stolen’ twice, it was off the market and the 2nd theif got to keep it. Anyway, this wonderful book was taken from me…and so were two other ‘good’ gifts that I got thereafter. In the end I got stuck with a fruitcake and some candy! One of the local vendors was watching the festivities with his young daughter (about Donovan’s age) so when we were done, I gave the little girl the candy and the fruitcake. I’m not sure if giving her the fruitcake will help or hurt our image with the locals!

You may be wondering what gift I put into the mix. Well, as luck would have it, my wonderful co-workers at the U.S. Attorney’s Office sent me a care package that arrive a few days before Christmas. In amongst the many great things they sent me was the horrible white elephant gift I got stuck with there last Christmas! It was a candy dot maker. Believe it or not, that thing got stolen twice! By the way, I have a pretty good idea who included that in the care package and I will get even!

New Years here was uneventful. I didn’t even stay up until midnight. Good thing too as the local custom is to shoot off their guns into the air to ring in the new year. Those rounds have to come down somewhere! I did not want to be roaming around outside for that.

The other picture attached here is me standing in front of a wall that separates the farthest perimeter of our compound from ‘the Red Zone.’ There is a busy street on the other side, I know because I looked over it. Notice the coat – it’s been cold here. The forcast for tonight calls for snow! During the same day this photo was taken (between Christmas & New Year’s) I got to tour the prison which is also part of the complex in which I live. It is an Iraqi prison, not a Coalition prison. Being in coalition custody is certainly better, but there are international advisors that are working with the Iraqi prison system to make it better. There are a lot of people being held by the Iraqis for local crimes who have not yet seen a judge for the first time. Some of them have been in ‘pretrial’ confinement longer than the maximum sentence for their alleged offenses. Our task force is also working on that problem and having some good successes. It really is a sad reality.

I have also taken a few more trips outside the wire to either go to the IZ (International Zone) or other military bases. I just cannot get used to wearing body armor and traveling in an armored vehicle in order to get anywhere. I am really looking forward to hopping in the car and driving my kids to Dairy Queen, with the windows down, when I get home. With a little luck, I should be able to do that in a little over 4 months!

Talk to you soon,

Ian

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Thornhill in Iraq–IX

LCBA Member Ian Thornhill of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cedar Rapids has been deployed to Iraq as a member of the Navy Reserve. He is going to be working on a task force that is helping to re-establish the Iraqi criminal court system. The LCBA will be posting his email updates, with permission.

Hello All!
 
Everything is going well here.  I just wanted to send out a quick ‘Merry Christmas’ to all of you.  I hope you have a great holiday.  I have attached a photo of my work trailer all lit up for Christmas – it brings a little bit of the season to us here.
 
Again, Merry Christmas!!!
 
Ian

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Thornhill in Iraq–VIII

Hello all,
 
It’s been a while since I sent you an update of what is going on here.  The problem is, other than the long work hours, there is not a lot else that I do on a daily basis.  Having said that, however, I have been on a couple of interesting trips outside the wire recently that may interest you.  I have attached a recent photo of me all geared up for one of these trips.  The only thing missing in this photo is the kevlar helmet.  I know some of you have seen this equipment already from photos I sent while in training in South Carolina.  For those who have not, the total ensemble (including helmet) weighs about 50 pounds.  The vest has a large metal plate in the front and the back and a smaller plate on each side.  The ‘wings’ on the arms and the remainder of the vest is made up of shrapnel-resistant material.
 
Forgive me if I have mentioned this before, but traveling from one place to another here is a major undertaking.  It requires putting on all the gear and jumping into a convoy of armored vehicles.  In addition to the uparmored suburbans like the one I rode in when I first arrived here, our security also has bigger, more menacing armored vehicles that we use.  The good news about these is that they provide greater protection than the suburban.  The bad news (if you can call it that) is when I get in one and have the helmet on, I’m about 2 inches too tall to sit completely upright.  I manage to slouch in my seat or get into some other manageable position.  In this environment, comfort is overrated!
 
One of the trips I took recently was to the U.S. Embassy.  It is located inside the IZ (International Zone a/k/a Green Zone).  The Embassy is currently housed inside another Saddam palace, although I do not know the palace’s history.  This is a temporary location as a new Embassy building is currently under construction.  Of course the security is quite tight but once inside, it’s hard to tell there is a war on.  It really looked like any other government building you’ve been in.  There were a lot of people working there including many civilians.  The building itself is very ornate and I must admit, after walking on dirt and rocks here at the FOB, walking on those nice smooth marble floors was a joy!  Oh yes, I can’t forget to mention the swimming pool.  That’s right, there is an outdoor swimming pool there.  Unfortunately I did not have the time, or the interest, to go swimming.  As I was leaving the Embassy I ran into a good friend of mine from my active duty Navy days.  He is a civilian and was visiting the Embassy on business for his civilian job.  What a small world.  As an aside in the ‘small world’ category, one of the Air Force attorneys that showed up at my task force a couple weeks after I did is from my same home town – yes, Ida Grove, Iowa, population 2200.  He was a year behind me in school (total high school size – approx. 200) and I haven’t seen him in about 20 years.  I have attached a photo of him and I in front of the task force Christmas (palm)Tree.
 
Another of my recent trips took me to a U.S. detainee detention facility.  Not too much to say about it – prison is prison.  Even if there was more to say, obviously I could not.  But I will say this, the place was very clean and professionally run.  I think, in general, there are two types of detainees here – the one’s who are suspected of committing crimes and the one’s who otherwise present a security risk.  In my job here, I am focused on the criminal suspects.  Soon I should be getting a tour of the Iraqi prison that is here near our facility.  I will let you know what that is like in a future update.
 
Time for me to go for now – it’s mail call.  Always a great day!  We have to pick up our mail at a central place outside of our FOB and bring it back here (another convoy).  When it returns, we all pitch in to unload and distribute the packages.  I hope there is something for me!
 
Here’s wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
 
Ian

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Thornhill in Iraq–VII

I’m not sure how long it’s been since I last e-mailed – maybe a week. I’m really not even sure what day it is!  Anyway, I do not have a lot of new stuff to report as I am still settling into the job and have yet to travel outside the wire since my arrival.  That may change and, if it does, I’ll let you know after the fact.  I did get some inquiries about the food here so I thought I’d give you all a little insight on that.

We eat at the DFAC, which is Army-short for dining facility.  Makes sense!  Anyway, the DFAC is basically akin to a cafateria.  Both the entrance and exit of the DFAC are guarded by armed guards at all times.  These are ‘third country nationals’, mostly from war-torn parts of Africa.  Despite the certain horrors of their childhood and life back home, they are the friendliest and most polite people I have ever met.  They salute everyone entering or exiting the DFAC and always have a smile on their faces.  I make it a point to shake each guard’s hand every time I enter and exit the DFAC.  That’s not just me being me, which is most of it, it’s also making sure these guys have a favorable impression about Americans in general and me in particular.  They are part of the group who is responsible for the overall security of the FOB and all of our movements outside the wire.  I want to be on their good side!  That being said, a lot of these guys are here for the money – that is to say, they are working here in an effort to earn a level of income they cannot earn at home.  I imagine most of them will take their earnings home with them and live a much more comfortable lifestyle than otherwise possible.

The DFAC has a few rules.  First, you must ‘clear’ your weapon before entering the DFAC.  This involves the use of a ‘clearing barrel.’  Basically what each person with a weapon does is aim the weapon into the barrel and take a series of steps to ensure the weapon is unloaded.  The barrel is designed to catch that errent round safely, however, actually discharging your weapon into the clearing barrel will initiate an investigation!  Nobody wants that.  Next you pass by the guards and they check to make sure you are not carrying any bags, backpacks, or other containers.  No, this isn’t like college where they didn’t want you sneaking out with food.  In fact, you can take as much food out as you want (except for the 2 drink limit) and go through the line as many times as you want.  Anyone guess why no bags, etc. are allowed?  Remember a couple years ago when a suicide bomber entered a DFAC at Camp Victory (I think it was Camp Victory) and blew himself up?  That’s why.  No matter how hard you try, you can’t guarantee no bad guys will infultrate your camp.  This rule is designed to decrease the risk should one slip through.  The third rule is that you must wash your hands before entering the DFAC.  There are sinks located next to the entrance for this purpose.  I think all of these rules are good rules!

Once inside, it really does look like a cafeteria.  You grab a tray (non-disposable) and a disposable plate and plasticware.  Then you have a choice of two lines.  The main line offers a more highbrow selection, which has included prime rib (not really), shrimp, veal, crab legs, chicken, chinese, etc. along with the ancillaries like corn, rice, mashed potatoes, assorted vegetables, and the like.  The other line is the ‘short order’ line.  Daily it has hamburgers, philly sandwiches, grilled cheese, pizza, and hotdogs.  Occasionally it has buffalo wings, chicken strips, and my personal favorite…..corn dogs!  The corn dogs are there about once a week.  I love corn dogs.  These certainly are not state fair quality corn dogs but they’ll do.  When I am heading to dinner I always tell myself ‘I feel like having (whatever), unless they have corn dogs.  If they do, I’m having those!’

In addition to the two lines they also have a taco bar, a baked potato bar, a salad bar, and a fruit bar.  Yes, I have taken part in all of these and really do try to balance out my meal, especially on corn dog day!  They also have a variety of potato chips, bread, etc.  Wait, there is more.  They also have a sandwich bar where a guy, much like in the Subway tradition, will make you a sandwich of your choice.  I have not yet tried this out, but I’ll get there.  And finally, there is the dessert bar!  I have made a conscious effort to avoid the dessert bar and have succeeded so far.  I did peak though!  They have cake (including cheesecake), cookies, and pie.  They also have ice cream.  This comes in two forms.  You can grab individually wrapped ice cream treats (i.e. a Klondike Bar, etc.) or you can have a guy dish you out some genuine Baskin & Robbins ice cream.  Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it!

Drinks you say? Yes, there are coolers containing various drinks from a wide variety of milk and juices, to gatorade, soda, and fake beer.  I tried a non-alcohol Beck’s….not good.  There is also coffee, tea, and water.  In fact, all over the camp you will find bottled water on pallets for the taking.  Very important item to have, especially when it’s 125 degrees during the summer.  (As a quick aside – does anyone want to hear how cold I feel today because the temperature is only in the upper 60s?).

All of what I just told you is typical of lunch and dinner, but they also serve us breakfast around here.  At breakfast you can get scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, oatmeal, grits, hash browns, pancakes, French toast, dry cereal, bagels, muffins, and fruit.  You can also have a made-to-order omlet!  I have only done this once because generally the line is too long for me, but they are good!

One last thing – if you are up at midnight you can go to MidRats.  Basically this is the 4th meal of the day!  Actually, although I work normal (but long) hours, this is a 24 hour/day operation.  Some of the people working here eat lunch or dinner at midnight.

I almost forgot – it was Thanksgiving last Thursday and they did put on quite a spread.  Nothing like I could get a home, but it was a great try.  We had turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, green beans, corn, corn bread, etc, etc.  It wasn’t bad, but the stuffing looked a little scarey so I didn’t try it!

That’s it for now.  Keep the questions coming and I’ll see you soon.

Thornhill in Iraq–VI

LCBA Member Ian Thornhill of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cedar Rapids has been deployed to Iraq as a member of the Navy Reserve. He is going to be working on a task force that is helping to re-establish the Iraqi criminal court system. The LCBA will be posting his email updates, with permission.

I have a few photos of my living quarter:

Row of living quarters. Mine is about ½ way down on the right.

This is my home away from home. No one told me what “TA” stands for. I’m going with “Talented Attorney!” And, yes, that is a combination heating & cooling unit!

Inside view from the front to the back. Shower is not pictured but is on the right in the bath room. See that fancy knob in the middle of the toilet tank? That the flush mechanism. Pull up & hold to flush – I spent a good 2 minutes trying to figure that out!

Inside view facing the entry door. Yes, that is a fridge in the bottom right hand corner. No Internet, phone, or T.V. in here though. Again, over here this is high class living.

Thornhill in Iraq–V

LCBA Member Ian Thornhill of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cedar Rapids has been deployed to Iraq as a member of the Navy Reserve. He is going to be working on a task force that is helping to re-establish the Iraqi criminal court system. The LCBA will be posting his email updates, with permission.

Sorry for the delay. Here are a few photos I promised to send. The one of me is at the Baghdad Airport shortly after I first arrived. The next one is of my office.

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Thornhill in Iraq–IV

LCBA Member Ian Thornhill of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cedar Rapids has been deployed to Iraq as a member of the Navy Reserve. He is going to be working on a task force that is helping to re-establish the Iraqi criminal court system. The LCBA will be posting his email updates, with permission.

Hello all,

I have been assigned to a team that is working on major crimes investigations dealing with Iraqi on Iraqi crime. Obviously I cannot give you the details but we are talking big stuff here. I still haven’t quite figured out my job yet except that I will not be doing much pure lawyering, rather, I will be coordinating and actively participating in the investigations. Right now I’m just trying to get settled in and get up to speed on the criminal process here and some of the pending cases. I feel fortunate to be on the team I’m on. There is a potential for some high profile stuff. Much of the task force will be turning over in the next month and I believe I’m going to be the 2nd most senior guy (by rank – not because I recently turned 40!). The work will be challenging and the bad guys are REALLY bad guys. I’ve prosecuted a lot of people – people who have done bad things – but I never believed any of them were evil. The stuff I’ll be dealing with here is evil. The real reward will be doing justice – or at least getting the ball rolling in that direction.

O.K., enough of the dark stuff. I can’t remember if I told you what my daily schedule is so I’ll do it again. The work day is 0730 to 2000 (8:00 p.m. for you civilians) Monday through Saturday, and 0900 to 1800 (do the math yourself this time!) on Sunday. I will get a half day off every 2 weeks and one full day every month, although I’m not sure what I will do with the time. Also, during that 12.5 hour day I am permitted to eat and encouraged to work out.

There are 3 main luxuries (and I use that term loosely) here – the dining facility or DFAC for short (the military shortens everything except the lines!), the gym (not the Y but not too bad), and the laundry. Of those, only the gym requires me to do the work myself! Paula thinks I’m on vacation – no kids and someone cooking for me and doing my laundry!

I can’t go into the make up of the personnel on this FOB but every day I see soldiers either heading out or returning from missions in the “red” zone. These kids (many are just kids) are upbeat, professional, dedicated, and most of all, true heroes. It is truly a privilege to be out here with these men and women. They are doing far more dangerous stuff than I am. I’m told Baghdad has quieted down significantly since the summer. I still occasionally hear gunfire and explosions, but it’s apparently nothing like they experienced here a few months ago. Let’s hope that relative calm persists while I’m here.

I know I promised some more photos – that will have to wait until next time. Keep the e-mails coming. I’ll be happy to answer any questions I can, but keep in mind, there is a whole lotta stuff I can’t talk about, so don’t be mad if I tell you that.

Ian