Chapter 23: Ranger Rick is Heading Home


    Sunday, April 18, 2004

    From Baghdad, Iraq

    Ranger Rick is Heading Home

    This will likely be the final report from the heart of Mesopotamia. Ranger Rick is heading home.

    By the time I hit Washington, DC just about six months will have gone by since I started on this adventure.

    In that time I have:

  • Been shot at, mortared, rocketed, frozen, heated, and bounced around on a variety of fixed and rotary winged aircraft.
  • Traveled in every conceivable type of wheeled vehicle over every conceivable type of terrain.
  • Laughed to the point of crying. And been saddened to the point of paralysis.
  • Been so tired I couldn't function. And so energized I couldn't sleep.
  • Eaten lobster tails in a fine restaurant. And eaten MREs on the hood of a humvee.
  • Learned to like beer and cheap red wine.
  • Been one of the targets of a murder plot. And had the privilege of working around some of the best, the brightest, the bravest, people on this on any other planet, at this or any other time.
  • Looking back to the first chapter of this Travelogue, I described what I was carrying on the airplane thus:

    I have a three-day supply of clothes and a three month supply of prescription drugs in my possession.

    When I left home, you see, I thought this was going to be a two month tour. Like Gilligan; the skipper, too; the millionaire and his wife; the movie star; the professor and Maryann all of whom left for a three hour tour on the Minnow, my stay got longer and longer.

    Life in Iraq is not any easier for Americans now than it was when I got here last November. In fact, these past two weeks have been about the toughest since the siege of Ramadan.


    The other day, I flew in to Baghdad International Airport from Bahrain on a DHL flight which was very Tom Hanks-ian of me, I think. Unlike the FedEx plane in the film "Castaway," we did not go down in a horrible storm. In fact, it was a very pleasant flight even given the fact that the pilot of the charted Turkish freighter used this high-tech mechanism to block the sun from his port window.







    Dear Mr. Mullings:
    As this is the final chapter, maybe just this once, you could try to keep your mind on what you're writing.
    signed,
    The National Adult ADD Foundation

    I'm trying. I really am. And, anyway; this isn't the last chapter. It's the last chapter from Eye-rack.

    You may have read in the news that things here have gotten a bit hairy. For instance, no one is supposed to drive on the highway between the Green Zone and the airport which is somewhat inconvenient as the subway service between the Palace and the MilAir terminal is spotty at best.

    So, when I arrived back in Baghdad from my Riyadh adventures, I was stuck for a way to get from the airport to my cozy trailer.

    Throughout my stay here, I have been delivered to places I needed to be through the kindness of strangers. This trip was no different.

    As luck would have it a guy who does some business with DHL in Baghdad was at the cargo terminal and was going into town.

    I asked if I could hitch a ride and, happily, he said I could. A friend of his - an Iraqi - picked us up at the entrance to the airport grounds and, for the first time since I've been here, I was driven through Baghdad in a five year-old sedan at a normal 35 miles per hour; not weaving in and out of traffic or driving on the sidewalk or the median and with nary a gun in the car, much less sticking out of a window.

    No one paid any attention to us. In fact, if you didn't know from watching the news that Eye-rack was in the throes of a horrible fortnight of violence, you wouldn't know there was anything wrong at all.

    On the contrary, people were out and about, cars were driving, commerce was happening, and it was all very unsettling. Here's what it looked like out of the windshield of the car:

    Pretty menacing, huh?

    Having written that, I will say that the bad guys, while weakening, are still are real threat to travel and those without a really good reason are not going anywhere for a few more days.

    Having written that Mullfriend Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut showed up, having braved stern warnings; institutional and literal roadblocks; and improvised explosive device alerts.

    Rep. Shays, of course, did not defy Iraqi authorities and common sense to see Ranger Rick, he came to do what he has now done five separate times - usually under the radar - to visit with the people, Americans and Iraqis, who are really doing the work here.

    Two of the people who are really doing the work here are Ambassador Dick Jones and a senior Foreign Service Officer, Minister-Counselor Ron Schlicher.

    You know what's going on in Fallujah. You know it is probably the most dangerous place on Earth right now.

    These two men - and a bunch of security guys - went to Fallujah the other afternoon to negotiate for a peaceful end to the violence. They spent three days and two nights in the belly of the beast. They didn't solve it, but they bought everyone some much-needed time to cool down.

    It is a cliché in Washington and, for that matter, in Baghdad, to make fun of State Department people. I am not innocent of it. A couple of weeks ago I accused a Statie who didn't have something or another ready on time of "being from the Inshallah wing of the US Department of State."

    Jones and Schlicher didn't go to Fallujah in morning suits and bowler hats. They went in body armor and Kevlar helmets.

    It was, perhaps, the bravest single act I have personally witnessed since I have been here.

    -----

    Last week, after I finished in Riyadh, I went to Bahrain. In the mid-1990's I spent a good deal of time in Bahrain as well as the other Gulf States as the director of emerging markets for EDS, the company which had been founded by Ross Perot.

    I met with some Congressional staffers who were in the country and with some businessmen who which would like to build a cement plant in Iraq, as well as with the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Finance, Sheikh Ebrahim Al-Khalifa.

    Sheikh Ebrahim has been a good friend for over a decade and, when I was working in the Middle East, was a valued and trusted ally.

    The only two countries in this part of the world which have an absolute ban on liquor are Kuwait and, of course, Saudi Arabia.

    Dear Mr. Mullings:
    Speaking of Saudi Arabia, wasn't there just a little something in the news about the US Embassy in Riyadh? Just after you had been there? And been arrested for taking photos of the Iraqi Embassy?
    signed,
    Colin L. Powell, Secretary of State

    Well, yes. There may have been something, now that you mention it. This, from the Washington Post on Friday, April 16, 2004:

    The United States yesterday ordered the evacuation of most U.S. diplomats and all U.S. family dependents from Saudi Arabia, and "strongly urged" all American citizens to leave because of "credible and specific" intelligence about terrorist attacks planned against U.S. and other Western targets, the State Department announced."

    Ranger Rick would like it noted, however, that when he left Saudi Arabia on Saturday, April 10 all was well.

    Anyway, drinking is permitted in Bahrain and several Bahrainis seemed eager to partake:

    I had the feeling I was in a Mel Brooks movie and these guys were about 50 frames from jumping down off their stools and engaging in a spirited rendition of "Hava Nagila"

    Maybe not.

    -----

    The end-game of getting out of Baghdad is approximately the reverse of getting in here, with the exception of knowing what to expect as opposed to when I showed up and … I … knew … nothing.

    If all goes well, I will be heading toward the West sometime next weekend, and strolling up to the Starbucks on South Union Street in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia Monday or Tuesday morning.

    There is a standard farewell that people who are leaving suggest to those who are staying behind: Don't get shot. Don't get blown up.

    The reply is often: "Don't forget us when you get home."

    I didn't get shot. And I didn't get blown up. I thank God for that. And I thank those of you - thousands, judging by the e-mails - who's prayers helped prevent those things from happening.

    A friend of mine wrote a few days ago about how important what I've been doing here has been.

    This is what I wrote in reply:

    I am one of hundreds of thousands of people over here, soldiers and civilians in Iraq as well as US embassy employees in Bahrain, Saudi, Jordan, etc. who are doing the nation's work without any public applause. It is they who deserve it.

    All I have been doing is standing along the side of the road, cheering the members of the marching band as the parade has gone by.

    The sun is setting on my stay in Baghdad, but, like these two young men, there are many who are remaining, vigilant and dedicated, to continue the vitally important work.


    I will not forget they are still here.
    Ever.
    And I will pray, every day;
    That they, and you, continue to
    Be Safe.

    -- END --

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