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Sandy Magnus' Middle East Tour
Journal Entry 2

JSC2007-E-004194: Sandra Magnus

Astronaut Sandra Magnus, Expedition 18 flight engineer. (Photo taken following a Houston press conference on Jan. 15, 2008) Credit: NASA

Well here we are at Iraqi base number 3! The days have gone by very fast and we have been very busy. It does not help when we basically move around at night either! At our first base, in western Iraq we ran at 0600 for a 5K and we had a great turn out and a good time was had by all. It is really great to put on an "official" race at the bases and a nice change of pace for the troops, especially since many of them run every day anyway. That early in the morning the heat is not much of a factor and you will see activity picking up as early as 0430 as people get to enjoy being outside before the scorching heat builds up.

After the race we spend much of the day running around and talking with people in different areas and finding out more about life on the base. I do not think I met one person who had not done two or more tours over here, with each one lasting a minimum of 6 months. The longest can go for 15 months. The base was a mixture of Marines, Army, Navy, and many, many reservists and National Guard folks. They tend to do the background work, like admin and logistics, important jobs that keep the bases running. This allows the active duty people to focus on the main job. Everyone is working really hard and everyone has a great attitude. In addition, the common consensus is that things have been steadily improving over here. I cannot tell you how impressed I was with these people, who have sacrificed so much to do the work that they are doing over here.

We transferred out to our second port of call, if I can borrow some terminology from the Navy, via a Chinook helicopter. That was an interesting experience. I had not spent much time on helicopters and this is a big one, two rotors and lots of space inside. After putting on our earplugs, helmets, and flak jackets, picking up our gear, we headed into the copter. The wash from the rotors was strong and also surprisingly hot so you felt like you were facing some superheated tropical gale as you approached. I had a flat box in my hands and it tried to act as a sail to move me in this and that direction. It was pretty funny. The flight was very smooth and around 0100 we were at our destination, base number 2 on the outskirts of Baghdad. The race plan here was for 2 miles and we set up a bit before going to bed since we were getting up at 0530 for registration, race at 0700.

It is amazing how much difference an hour makes over here with respect to the heat build up. It was noticeably hotter at the start of this race. It seems that as soon as the sun gets over the horizon a certain amount it is like turning on a switch and out comes the heat. I have a lot of respect for the soldiers who walk around in full uniform all day, no matter what the temperature. That in itself is an amazing feat! We had another great turn out and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. Again I met some amazing people and I have to tell you the story of two of them. They were two young men who were passing through this camp on their way back to their base, which is one of the embedded locations in neighborhoods in Iraq. These guys were with the first cavalry and they had been located in Sadr City, one of the most dangerous places to go. They had been there for a while and were telling me that every day they do 3-5 mile foot patrols through the neighborhoods. They have incurred huge losses in their unit and as a matter of fact lost a soldier just the other day and their commanding officer had lost both his legs just last week. These kids were proud to be doing what they are doing but admitted that sometimes they think that people have forgotten about them. They were two outstanding individuals and we sent them back to their unit with lots of stuff and well wishes and prayers and the message that they have not been forgotten and that we were thinking of them and appreciating what they were doing. These guys have really HARD jobs and please, everyone, send them some prayers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am running out of time so I have to go for now, but I will try to write more about my impressions of life on the base and the people here as I get more time.