June 24, 2006
For Port man, summer burns through Iraq

[Editor's note: Newburyporter Adam Ledwell, a captain in the Air National Guard, has been sharing his observations on the war in Iraq with us. This is his most recent letter, which was sent to The Daily News this week. The 31-year-old is the middle child in a family of four boys. He has an older brother, Joshua, and younger twin brothers, Graham and Ben.]

We are currently in what they call the "Shamal" season here and it is hot! The weather is dominated by a high pressure system that parks itself over the entire region for the whole summer.

The Shamal is the hot winds that blow each day causing dust storms, dust devils (small tornadoes), turbulence and poor visibility through the whole region. It is unfavorable for aviation operations but it is what we have to deal with nonetheless.

We usually don't go outside during the day without goggles and dust masks. The winds die down some at night but always return the next day. Rain is a distant memory. It has not rained since late April and it will not rain again until October.

I expect that a total lack of rain is appealing for all of you in New England who have endured flooding and excessive precipitation recently. I have noticed an abundance of umbrellas in pictures I've seen taken at friends' spring weddings.

The flight line temperature climbs to around 120 degrees in the heat of the day and we have not even reached official summer yet as I write this! The greenhouse-like cockpit of the Black Hawk will warm to around 140 degrees in flight as the sun shines in. Our door vents, which provide a refreshing draft of cool air when flying in the states, now feel more like a hair dryer on high power so we keep them closed.

Our one saving grace is the micro climate cooling system that the army installed in preparation for this deployment. Each crew member wears a vest attached to a hose that runs cooled glycol from a central system. It is like wearing the evaporator coil of a refrigeration system on your body. Typically after a mission we get out of the aircraft to complete post-flight checks and take off the vest, body armor and flight equipment, leaving only the sweat-soaked t-shirt underneath. In the hot winds and low humidity it only takes a minute or so until the shirt is dry.

As the weather heats up, keeping morale high in the company is a constant challenge. The National Guard unit designated to replace us is currently on active duty for their pre-deployment training just like we were last August. Knowing they are on their way is an important milestone in this journey and helps to raise spirits and brighten the light at the end of the tunnel.

We have also completed construction of a recreation area attached to our barracks building that we call the "BoSox Bar and Grill." Framed in scrap plywood to block the blowing dust, it is a makeshift bar complete with stools, table, a grill and a pool. Yes a pool. One of my guys had an inflatable wading pool sent over.

Since all water is trucked in and we are restricted to "combat showers" to promote conservation, getting the water proved to be a challenge. Our solution was to bribe the fire department with bottled Gatorade (a rare commodity) that we flew in from a remote supply depot following a mission. Instead of shooting water onto the flight line for hose testing and maintenance we convinced them to drive over and shoot water into our pool.

The first significant breakthrough in Operation Green Grass was achieved recently in the form of a planter full of healthy grass. The key was to protect the grass from the harsh desert sun as it grew. Most of the operation was conducted indoors with brief exposure to direct sunlight only in the pre-evening hours. The next phase will be to duplicate the efforts outside on a patch with an area in excess of a square meter. We believe the key will be appropriate shading during the heat of the day. More to follow on this in the next update.

Unfortunately, the worsening weather has not reduced our mission load any so I am still pushing my pilots and crew chiefs through long, oppressively hot days. Based on our current pace, I expect that my company will complete in excess of 1,000 air missions before we leave here in November.

My intent is to maintain our unblemished safety record throughout our remaining months. When I'm not flying I find myself sifting through intel reports, trying to figure out what the bad guys are up to and what we can expect from them. It's a dynamic war. The news of Zarqawi's death was a boost for everybody, but people here recognize that the road to peace is long and we still have miles to go.

I hope all of you in the Newburyport area are able to make it down to Market Landing Park on July 1st to support our benefit concert for the high school music department in memory of our friend, Jim.

Thanks to everybody for continuing to keep in touch!


(Comity.org Webmaster's note: Visit this link without for more insight about the Recurring Dream Foundation, established in memory of James Esoldo. The organization's inaugural event, The Waterfront Dream Festival ~ held on July 1st at Market Landing Park ~ launches the charitable works chartered in the RDF mission statement.)
(This article replicated online with permission of the Newburyport Daily News, an Eagle Tribune Newspaper.)
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