Uncle Jimbo, posting over at Blackfive notes
In yesterday's WashPo Kiki Munshi lets us know about conditions on the ground in Baqubah, Iraq while sunning in California.
The writer is a retired Foreign Service officer who returned to duty to lead the provincial reconstruction team in Baqubah, Iraq, from April 2006 until January 2007 JULIAN, Calif. --
Last year at this time, I traveled from Forward Operating Base Warhorse into the Iraqi town of Baqubah several times a week to meet with the governor, the provincial council chairman and other officials. Yes, it was dangerous. But it wasn't suicidal.
Today, though, such trips would be almost impossible. Baqubah is a battlefield, the site of a major push against al-Qaeda and other insurgents. The houses that haven't been destroyed are riddled with bullet holes. Many of the Iraqis I worked with are dead, and many others have fled.
Of course Micahel Yon, who actually is in Baqoubah has a different story to tell
MICHAEL YON EMAILS: "Baqubah has gone quiet. Very little fighting. There might be more to come, but overall the people have turned against al Qaeda and are pointing them out day by day. The people are pointing out the bombs. Baqubah received its first food shipment in 10 months just a few days ago, even while light fighting was still on. I was there for the food distribution and am writing a dispatch on it. The primary object now is to start to restore a sense of normalcy in the city. Remember Ramadi? That crazy city of death and fighting? Writers hardly want to go there any more because it's quiet. I am very curious if Baqubah will go that way. So far so good. There are serious sectarian issues here in Diyala Province, but with al Qaeda on defense instead of offense, the people in Baqubah have a chance to do what those in Ramadi and other cities are doing: reclaim their lives."
And while Kiki Munshi is too scared to visit Forward Operating Base Warhorse, Gina Whitney and the Bootleggers decided to entertain the troops at that very place which gives Kiki the shivers.
By Spc. Ryan Stroud,
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs
Jul 7, 2007 - 7:29:09 PM
With the sun setting in the distance behind Forward Operating Base Warhorse, located outside Baqouba, Iraq, Gina Whitney and the Bootleggers, a country band located in the United States, took the stage in the Wood Dining Facility to rock the Soldiers of the 3rd "Grey Wolf" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, July 5.
The Bootleggers "rocked the socks off" a packed group of Soldiers with original material off Whitney's next album and covered classics like Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About," Patsy Cline's "Crazy," and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama."
With this being her third time overseas in a war zone, Whitney, formally traveling under the name Gina Notrica, said her mission was still the same - to entertain the Soldiers, give them a piece of home and to include them as much as possible into her performances.
"Every night, I try to find someone to sing 'Sweet Home Alabama,'" said Whitney. "It's an important part [of our show] to have the Soldiers involved. That's why I'm here, to raise morale and take them away from their setting out here... and to help them to have fun."
Whitney's mission is to also share a special song with the Soldiers. A track entitled, "Time to Go," off her next album, called "High Heels in a War Zone," is a song about her father, who is an Army and Korean War veteran.
"My dad was in North Korea when he received word that my mom, who was pregnant at the time, was having complications with my [unborn] sister," she said. "The guys in his unit pulled together the money to send him home to be with my mother. Three days later, his whole unit was killed in an attack.
"Though 'Time to Go,' is about my father, I would like to dedicate that song to the Soldiers," Whitney continued. "That song came from when I was talking to my dad about being afraid to fly, and he told me, 'When it's time to go, it's time to go.' That's when I first heard his story and understood how he felt and what he had to deal with.
"[This song] comes from my dad being in the Army and the survivor's guilt he felt," she said. "I know these guys deal with [different emotions] on a day-to-day basis, that's why this song is important for me to perform for them."
While the Grey Wolf executive officer, Maj. Robert "Bubba" Cain, sang the lead to "Sweet Home Alabama," Spc. Andrea Guara, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, and a native of Dallas, Texas, was also asked to come up to the stage to sing with Whitney, an experience which was both exciting and nerve wracking, said Guara.
"I first met Gina before her concert and she was a really nice, really sweet lady," said Guara. "Once I found that out there was going to be a concert, I gathered as many people as I could to go see the show.
"[Whitney] was singing some really good music and I got excited and started singing back," said the excited Guara.
"Then Gina started singing 'Redneck Woman' by Gretchen Wilson," she continued. "If you are a female from Texas, you have to know that song.
"I was sitting in the crowd, singing along and Gina pointed me out to come sing with her," Guara said with a huge smile on her face. "I was really scared and really nervous, but it was a lot of fun."
Guara's experience was just what Whitney was hoping for - a fun time with a chance to escape, Whitney said.
"It takes you out of a war zone state-of-mind and makes you happy," Guara said.
"It takes you away from Iraq and makes you feel good because you are at a concert and feeling like you're back at home again," she continued.
"The whole experience made my day," Guara concluded. "It was a lot of fun."
But Whitney wants to make sure the Soldiers know the pleasure was all hers.
"This means so much to me to be here and to perform for all the Soldiers," said Whitney. "I've played in bars and corporate events, and I'm very blessed to be doing this for a living, but this is the most rewarding thing I've ever done."
As the concert drew to a close, the Bootleggers packed up their gear and headed out to catch another flight to another destination in Iraq. With more shows to play, Whitney knows her band's schedule is tough, but well worth the loss of sleep and hectic traveling schedule they face to perform for more Soldiers.
"It can be grueling to perform nine shows in nine days, but I can sleep when I get home," Whitney said with a big laugh. "But this is worth it; this means the world to me.
"There are a lot of performers out there, but I hope the Soldiers know how sincere I am about what they do and getting the chance to perform for them," she said.
If only Kiki was as dedicated to her profession, we wouldn't have to clean up the mess she makes.