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Monday, March 4, 2024 at 4:49 PM
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Adventure Doc -- Brent is Back in Baghdad

Adventure Doc -- Brent is Back in Baghdad
Sunset in Baghdad

Author: Brent Kunzler

So, here I am back in Baghdad. I did not think I’d be coming back to my old job, working as an in-country medical provider for a security company. The villa we are housed in faces the Tigris River and beyond is the city of Baghdad. To the north is the American embassy (still taking frequent rocket fire). Across the river and slightly north is Sadr city; a suburb, or section of Baghdad that is still a hell-hole to live in with frequent shooting and bombings (not as bad as Chicago). This place, the villa, I am very familiar with as I spent 8 years working here. I had been in most of the areas including Al Hada and south to Basra at one time or another.

The difference now is obvious. The overhead sounds of patrolling helicopters is gone with the US military pullout. The place is unusually quiet compared to when I left. Eerily so, as far as I am concerned. I used to feel comfortable with the flyovers of helicopters. Now, there is nothing replacing them and therefore security is a concern. There is no US military presence per se, which makes living here sort of weird. There is still a PSD mission to supply security to foreign companies working here. However, the threat now is not of insurgents but of Iraqi (Iranian) militias. And there is always corruption. It is a way of Iraqi life, but the intimidation by Iranians is the real threat now. I am no expert in political eddies and currents, but it is a presence everyone is aware of here.

The trip over was another example of the basic reason people hate flying. I remember the days when flying was fun and something that was looked on as an exciting experience when I was young. Contemporary travel nowadays is not thought of as exciting, but rather a necessary evil if you are not going to drive to your destination. I’d first like to thank all the terrorists for screwing up a pleasurable experience. In past days, families would go to the gate and “see you off." Now that is not possible and it is a hurried, harried, horrible mess to go through security, get searched, take your shoes off and etc... People don’t dress up, they dress down. Anything with metal on it is tucked away in a suitcase. Toothpaste and shampoos are looked on as hazardous items to be tossed out before searches or not brought at all. People wear sweats, shorts, T-shirts, or other light clothes along with slippers that are easily removed because some dufus wanted to be “a shoe bomber!” The traveler has gone from classy, to appearing homeless. Manners have been lost and, in some cases, mental defects flow to the surface with stress and are revealed to others, as a “nutbag or Karen or whatever term is in vogue now.” Food, if you get served at all (other than crackers and a coke”) is microwaved, disgusting crap that is guaranteed to give you constipation or worse, diarrhea. Diarrhea and traveling is bad.

What flying does give you is a look into society and the resultant mess and mass of humanity into the variegated soup of international travelers. One thing that stands out to me is that people are different, and no matter however different and from different cultures, you see them drawn to McDonald's, Wendy’s, KFC, in the airports, and all those differences still order a double cheeseburger and fries. The Chinese kids are yelling about the chicken tenders, or the Mexican kids asking for McDonald's happy meals. I guess in the end, everyone is homogenized.

There are a few travelers, I think Chinese, who are dressed in full-on surgical or hazmat suits. Japanese travelers have generally worn face masks for quite some time. I don’t know why that trend started. Maybe it was all the other coronaviruses coming out of China. Now, of course, everyone is wearing masks and some not wearing them correctly, or grudgingly wearing them, but the majority of us are good little minions and follow the rules. I personally believe they are worthless, but hey, whatever.

People watching is the one thing about travel that is universal. People watch people. People are entertaining to watch. Short, tall, fat and skinny, colorful clothing, crazy family members, funny looking, glamourous, and drab. It’s the variation in people that is interesting.

So, I was picked up at Baghdad airport by the security detail and with body armor put on, we traveled through very light traffic and very quiet neighborhoods. I remember back in the day, traveling with heavy body armor, helmets, guns, and armored vehicles we would drive at 80 mph (well not that fast) through congested traffic, and the noise of the day would have everyone on edge. It’s much different now.

The compound I am in is guarded still and there are spike traps set up to prevent attack by a vehicle. But the likelihood of that happening is very little. The probability of a gunfight is also very low, and maybe the alertness of the guards isn’t what it used to be, but so far, relatively safe. Luckily it is not Chicago. The threat, no matter the level, is not zero. So, you do those things you know you should do as far as personal security. Wear your armor, be alert to your environment, and don’t do things that are stupid.

This is a short deployment and though I don’t mind it here, I’ll still be glad to get back home.

On the whole, I am surprised by how nothing really has changed in Baghdad. Same compound, same faces, and same smells, sounds and same heat! 115 today! Life does change with time and marked by our age. And though we expect things to be different, it really isn’t much different in Baghdad as when I left 6 years ago.

 

Brent Kunzler has always done those things that are different, difficult, and dangerous. Up until he broke his pelvis in a parachuting accident in Cambodia, that was his life's theme. Since then he says he has gotten older, a little wiser, and slightly more careful. 

 

 


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