June 01, 2004

boom ... ... boom ... ... BOOOOOM!

So, I'm sitting at my desk minding my own business when I hear a "boom". No one else really seemed to notice, I thought it might be a door closing or something, and then I heard another "boom". I kind of stop and look around and am just thinking that it's nothing when we all hear a big BOOOM. You could actually feel the air pressure change in the trailer, the whole place really shook. So we leave our thin-roofed trailers for a bomb shelter where we sit and wait. After a few minutes it's decided that the shelling has stopped (it was mortar fire) and we go back to work.

5 minutes later they start again. We go to the shelter. We go back to work. 5 minutes later repeat.

While I'm sitting in the bomb shelter I'm examing its construction trying to form an opinion as to how sturdy it is. It's got four concrete walls for support and it has sandbags on top of a concrete roof for protection, it used to be a laundry room -- in fact it still is a laundry room, so I sit down on top one of the dryers. Okay, I'm not a physicist or anything (or wait, yes I am) but wouldn't you want those sandbags a few feet *above* the roof? That way when the mortar round blows up on it, all the energy is absorbed up there instead of by the roof itself. This is how most seriously armored military vehicles work, it's called "ablative plating". See, if I lived here (oh wait, I do) I would go to Home Depot, get some 4x4's and plywood, and build a workbench-like structure on top of the shelter and put sandbags on top of it. I could do it in an off day. I'd do it here but there's no Home Depot and by the time I got permission to do it I'd be back in the States.

Side note: there's a big f'n sign on the bomb shelter door that says "KEEP DOOR CLOSED AT ALL TIMES". No shit, you're inside, stuffs blowing up outside, the big steel door has to be closed to do you any good. Guess what. It's open. So I walk across the room and close it. Someone comes in and opens it and leaves it open behind them. I walk over and close it again. The most senior person here is sitting right next to it and she doesn't even budge to close it, nor make any effort to make sure other people do the same. Great leadership and fundamental understanding of the purpose of the door (not to mention the meaning of the sign). The two security guys go in and out and leave the door open behind them too. I close it. Grumble.

So.... now what. The shelling has stopped and it's lunch time. I can go to the CPA/Palace to eat, or I can stay here. The upside to the CPA is that it's got all the food. The downside is that it's the target that the mortars are aimed at. I figure that the thing is built better than a brick house -- it was built to be a target by bigger stuff than mortar rounds -- and waddle on over for lunch.

At lunch I sit next to career Army guy who tells me that what we heard were all mortar rounds. The third one in the first round (Mr. BOOOM) sounded big to me because it was close to me. To him, at the CPA, they all sounded like 40-60mm mortars, which he tells me are medium sized. I ask about the construction of the Palace commenting that it seems to me that the roof, even though the ceiling is 30' above us, look like it could take a direct hit and shrug it off. He says that at medium sized one would. A big one, however, more like 120mm, he thinks would at least punch a hole. Great.

Anyway, we're eating lunch when we hear "all personnel retreat to the basement" come over the loudspeakers. Given the crowd this takes about 10minutes to get down there. After we'd been down there for a while a MP yells "turn off your cell phones". I turn to the person next to me, pretty much everyone here is a military expert in one way or another, and say "wait a minute, you mean someone's built a guidance system for a mortar round or rocket that homes in on public communication frequencies?" and he says "no, they home in on you back at the base and improve their aim that way. We did this way back in Vietnam". "Oh, just signal strength and direction?", I ask. He confirms with a nod. Mine's off.

About a half hour goes by and we leave the basement. I get back to work and see what all the fuss is about on the Internet. A new President of Iraq was named today. It wasn't the US's first choice, actually, but I guess some people are cranky about it anyway. That's when the shelling started. Later a car bomb went off and blew up a Kurdish political office. That's when we went down into the basement. Apparently that was a really big boom, and killed a lot of people (mostly/all Iraqi's) but in the CPA/Palace I didn't even hear it.

Story is here: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=540&e=1&u=/ap/20040601/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq

The location of the car bomb, btw, is right near where I live outside the Green Zone.

Conclusion: this is insane.

At the same time I still kind of like it, again, in a really messed up way. It's very good at ... keeping you alert.

Posted by rick at June 1, 2004 03:33 AM