Racing Heroes Tour -- Iraq (December 11-17
By: Arie Luyendyk Jr.
Hi everyone here is my blog from the last few days hope you enjoy!
The highlight of Baghdad was visiting the bases of Victory and Slayer. We started off by checking into our accommodations for the night in a building Saddam had built for his daughters wedding. It looked directly across a lake to a couple of large buildings we would tour for the day. Saddam had built many palaces but this collection of buildings separated by large lakes was quite a spectacular sight to see. Anything from Government buildings, his sons houses, palaces constructed as tributes to wars he believed he had won and even a brothel for his mistresses ironically placed next to his mothers in laws house he had built. The largest building I toured was the "Victory over America" building located next to the "Victory over Iran" building (If Saddam had survived a war he believed he had won it). The "Victory over America" building was never completed and suffered bombing from the US. The top floor had a football size ballroom and was impressive to see. I also was taught a lot of facts about Saddam, such as how all the lakes on the property came from the drinking supply as the people of Baghdad suffered in a terrible drought. Water is a symbol of power to the Iraqi people and Saddam had the lakes man made despite the water shortage. Since the US troops took over the property they now use the water for the city of Baghdad and the US troops.
The last stop of the day took us to a hostile area, a base called Sadr City. We were unaware of how this base operated but it is infamous to the other troops in Baghdad. Just 5 months ago it was under attack and suffered damage form insurgents. The troops there were very much on alert and were happy to see us, as we were there first ever visitors. The base is in the middle of the city located on the outer part of Baghdad. The base is lined with huge cement "t-walls" but it's so close to residents that some of the houses actually look down at the base. It was nerve racking when the troops were saying how much action goes on and how they were surprised that the Blackhawk's that dropped us off would land there. It was great to see them though and we left safely-- it was definitely worth the visit.
After leaving the heart of Baghdad we set off for northern Iraq. We left early in the morning in a C-130 but had a mechanical that put us on the ground at the wrong base. After a long delay we were saved by two Blackhawk's that took us on the hour and a half trip to our next base.
We arrived at around 3:30 and it was a lot colder at this base especially after sitting behind the gunners for that long on the Blackhawk.
At the small base I was able to meet a few troops who took care of bomb control. They use robots to approach I.E.D's (Improvised Explosive Devises) I was able to control one of the robots inside the MRAP (a large tactile vehicle) and it was funny I rolled it over to a piece of wood then picked it up and went after Geoff hitting him with it, it was hilarious!
After hanging out there we took off and went to Spyker an air force base north of Baghdad. We went and signed autographs at the biggest most impressive tent filled with a huge gym, movie theater, computer room, pool tables, pin pong (which I kicked some butt on) and anything else you could imagine. These guys here are lucky to have such a great place to retreat to. After a few calls and games I was off to bed.
Today we linked up with the Marines, the Osprey picked us up and we headed off to a few bases. The Osprey is about the coolest aircraft I have ever flown in. Part helicopter and part plane it was awesome! I sat up with the pilots on the first leg and they did some maneuvering and I had the biggest grin on my face ever. The acceleration and the way it maneuvered caught me off guard; it may be a new career path if racing doesn't work out.
We spent some time with the marines after we landed and I have to say that these guys are tough. The army had some great facilities and I was impressed with the troops but this was a whole new level. They were building new barracks when we arrived and also had a gym they had build by hand outside (They called their "prison gym"). Compared to the state of the art gyms the army had at some of the bases this was pretty rugged. Their uniforms were the color of the sand and the whole base was covered in "moon dust" which is a light powder of sand that covers everything on the base including us. We said our goodbyes and the Osprey picked us up again and brought us over to another marine base. I got hooked up to a line and was able to hang my head over the open hatch in the back of the osprey, which was probably the scariest thing I've done in a while (not too fond of heights).
It's hard to remember everything we go off and do because our day I filled up with so much but the one thing that stands out is that the soldiers have a lot of pride. They have pride in their squadron and their position on base, they all miss home but they enjoy what they do. The one thing that seems to bother them is the mass media and how they portray the war. So much is being done to help the Iraqi people and set up an infrastructure to guide them into a better future that it disappoints them when the good stories are not told. Helping rebuild schools and roads, getting clean drinking water, training the Iraqi police and military, these are things that don't make it to the US media only the negative incidents do. There is a lot being done here in Iraq and the cities are safe!
Today started with a scare, Geoff Bodine woke up sick in the middle of the night and I helped him thru the dark marine base with nothing but a small flashlight. We found the sergeants quarters and got him to the medics, he had some stomach issues and got some help.
After a quick sleep we were up again and on our way to the shooting range. I had asked if we could shoot some weapons the night before and the sergeant made it happen for us. The area was broken up into three distances and we had our shot at the M-4 and the M-9 it was fun to shoot the three round military burst that the M-4 put out, I have to admit I was not to accurate with that switched on.
After a good breakfast we met back up with Geoff and flew in the osprey to a large base in the west of Iraq. At this base there had over 17,000 troops, we toured the large base and checked out the view from on top of a hill it was massive. We stopped by some troops building a stage for Kid Rock. He was coming there in a few days to performs at the base, they seemed excited to show off how much they had built in just a few hours.
After our meet and greet where we signed autographs we were welcomed by a C-130 plane to take us to the next base where we would sleep for the night. We were a bit disappointed it wasn't the osprey but when we loading into the aircraft we were the only passengers so we felt like VIP's!
The crew asked if I wanted to sit up front to view the take off and so I jumped up there and wore a headset to hear the communication between the pilots. After a few minutes they asked if I wanted to fly! I was super excited at the once in a lifetime chance to fly a C-130. I took control of the 84 million dollar plane and handled the yolk as the co-pilot manned the pedals. The heads up display shows everything you need to know: the horizon, airspeed, altitude, angle of lean, g-forces. It was like driving a car and playing a video game all at once. After I got a feel for it I was able to turn left and right and got the large cargo plane to pull a little over two G-s with a huge smile on my face! Control called in and we got in trouble so we had to get back on course. It was a crazy experience, not many civilians get to fly C-130's let alone over Iraq.
We made our decent into southern Iraq and the sky was glowing red as we passed over the oil fields. They pull the oil from the ground but don't refine the natural gas so they burn it off as waste. It makes for a quite a scene especially from 17,000 feet where you can see how massive the oil fields are. We landed and got to bed it was a long but great day.