Camp Bucca IRAQ – Part two

The following is a “work in progress” to be included in my first book, Beautiful Trainwreck: Off the Rails. The book is a combination of blog entries, individual works toward my publication as a PhD, and other weird things I share about this odd life of mine I never thought was interesting. The following information regarding Camp Bucca, Iraq is being assembled by my journal entries, Wikipedia articles, personal correspondence and unclassified field reports gathered after almost a year. Currently, the incidents included below have been verified accurate by several sources and I have just as many incidents pending I cannot yet completely confirm the accuracy of so they cannot yet be written into this blog. Camp Bucca – Part 2, is an account of the intensity of the environment and the pre-curser to me releasing Camp Bucca – Part 3, which is my observations of human behavior occurring in the combat environment, under the fear of death. I will re-release this piece again as my work progresses.

Elizabeth Jacobson
Killed In Action (KIA)
September 28, 2005 (aged 21)
Safwan, Basra Governorate, Iraq

Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart Medal
Air Force Combat Action Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal

Look at her, Trainwrecks. She was my sister

WARNING: THIS ENTRY IS NOT INTENDED FOR CHILDREN. For the rest of you, buckle the fuck up. This ride is going to get bumpy.

Previously in part one, I shared what Camp Bucca was and why it was there. Our time at Camp Bucca, Iraq was not time we spent in a foreign country hating everything around us. It was a place where we tried to make a difference. I feel it is important people not only know this place existed but how it affected those who were there.

Most of these pictures have been shared by my brothers and sisters and are a testament to our experiences there. Personally, I went back to Iraq after I said I wouldn’t return because I was just trying to figure other people out and it didn’t always work out the way I expected. This was my opportunity to truly understand what I learned and I thought this would somehow help me do something with myself someday. I really had no idea what I was doing.

The Psychology of human behavior fascinated me, and this was the place to take what I learned in school and run with it. I realized I wouldn’t learn the things I was interested in if I didn’t return to where my interests lie. I knew long ago if I ever wanted to understand people in their most raw form, I would have to understand them in their most vulnerable form.

This is the reason I went looking for trouble even though at this point I had developed a good life back at home. You bet your ass I found what I was looking for. I found what made me who I am today. We each had our own reasons for showing up that first day we signed in for training for the assignment at camp Bucca, Iraq.

Only the dead know the end of war – PLATO

Midway through 2007 found me back in Iraq. It was hot as Hell and the conditions were (Forward Operating Base) FOB-typical. It wasn’t terrible, to be honest. On most days you could get a decent omelet and cup of coffee in the chow hall. However, during periods of increased tension, few of the local nationals would show up to work for fear of losing their life. On many days our dependence on local economies would bite us in the ass as commodities like food and having our toilets pumped would quickly disappear as the levels of danger would rise.

Camp Bucca was one of the largest Theater Internment Facilities (TIF) to exist in Iraq. At one point during it’s existence, it was supposed to house over 30,000 individuals suspected of terrorist attacks against US Forces. Think about how many people currently live in your town. Camp Bucca was smaller than most American neighborhoods. You could easily walk from one side of the compound to the next in twenty minutes. The anger and hatred pervading the air was so thick it felt like you could cut it with a knife. It was hot, it was a shitty assignment and it was incredibly dangerous. Just as Dr. Herndon, one of my PhD Professors at Walden University announced at my first academic residency, “when you have no other choice you simply just embrace the suck.” He made me laugh when I heard him paraphrase that. Embrace another day at Camp Bucca.

On 9 June 2007, 6 detainees were killed instantly & 68 wounded as well as one Iraqi corrections officer wounded when a rocket slammed into Compound 8, in the Theater Internment Facility (TIF) at Camp Bucca, Iraq. On 10 June 2007, a seventh detainee, who had been medically evacuated to Balad Air Base – died from wounds he sustained in the attack. On 23 June 2007 an eighth detainee who had been hospitalized in critical condition since the attack at Camp Bucca, died from cardiac arrest.

On 21 June 2007 another detainee died of cardiac arrest during a routine medical transfer from Camp Cropper to Camp Bucca. Four days later, on 25 June 2007 a soldier assigned to the 178th Infantry was injured when the vehicle he was operating drove over a buried explosive. In the blink of an eye his life was changed forever.

On 1 July 2007, a detainee died from what was reported as natural causes while in the intensive care unit at the Theater Internment Facility hospital at Camp Bucca. Conditions at Camp Bucca were often described as austere and undesirable. Regardless of what uniform you wore or your nationality, a percentage of people who visited Camp Bucca would never leave. Not alive. That was a simple statistic we learned to live with and it was instantly as real as the heavy pollution in the air we breathed every day – courtesy of Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), a war profiting company. It was just another day at Camp Bucca.

On 12 July 2007, a detainee died from a physical assault by other detainees. This was the second detainee to die from detainee on detainee violence within the week. On the same day, the Associated Press (AP) reported that Camp Bucca was among several sites in Iraq that had sensitive information posted on non-secure web sites. The detailed Camp Bucca documents, posted on the public web site of CH2M Hill Companies of Meridian, Colorado revealed classified locations of where prisoners were being held, locations of fuel tanks, and the locations of security fences, guard towers and other security measures. Less than three months later the intensity of planned deadly attacks would rise to critical levels.

In August 2007, two separate news articles reported Camp Bucca’s detainee population stood at approximately 20,000 inmates. It was rapidly becoming an animal we could hardly control. The attacks were intensifying and becoming more common. Stress levels were absolutely through the roof. People were encouraged to work out their differences with boxing gloves or other contact sports to release overloaded pressure of recent attacks on the compound and our convoys. Troops were giving themselves permission to experience things they never considered before. Some found religion and some found love. Everyone found a side of themselves they never considered before.

I would often wander my curious self on up to the ECP or find out when the next convoy was going out and looking for volunteers. Having a specialty in a combat zone meant Zack, Ski and I enjoyed near unlimited autonomy to perform our duties. What this meant was I had the freedom to move anywhere in the compound and even to other locations I needed to perform my tasks at near any time and I had the opportunity to meet some really unique people in the process. Anyone who knows me realizes I was like an excited kid in a candy store in the middle of a war. I got to visit and talk with anyone I wanted whenever I wanted. We never really took a day off during that time because we became so close and honestly to us, our work was too exciting to ever really look at it as work.

One night I would be hanging off the side of a guard tower positioning a camera system wondering what would kill me first. On the one hand there were known sniper locations nearby with an easy line of sight shot at my over-enthusiastic ass and on the other, a lot of troops would throw their piss bottles on the roof of their tower and occasionally those would explode if you stepped on one or dropped a heavy piece of a camera system on the roof that was covered with them. I don’t know what happens to piss after it has baked in the sun for months, but I cannot imagine it’s very safe to get sprayed on you.

In October 2007, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced it was suspending its visits to Camp Bucca due to the deteriorating security situation in the area. The compound had been getting probed and attacked sporadically. The Red Cross visits all detention facilities in Iraq to monitor the conditions detainees are receiving and make recommendations where they perceive improvements could be made. Incoming artillery was considered a normal thing. To maintain their neutral status, they refuse coalition security when traveling in Iraq, which causes them to suspend visits when they deem conditions too hazardous for their personnel.

Shortly after, Sgt. C and I were hanging out and smoking a cigarette next to my radio tower and satellite uplink. As Sgt. C and I sipped coffee we watched a low-flying round scream directly over our heads like an oversized nerf football. True to his nature, as I gasped in horror, Sgt. C slowly drew a long cancerous drag from his cigarette without looking up from the ground he was staring at and quietly commented how much it must have sucked to be in the quadrant of the base that was just struck. It was just another day at Camp Bucca.

On 31 October 2007, it was announced that Camp Bucca would be expanded once again to increase its capacity from 20,000 to 30,000 detainees. The once tiny nest of stingers was now overflowing with angry bees and had grown to a hive of magnificent proportions. The $110 million project was to be overseen by The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and would include a $17.6 million retrofit of “13 existing compounds to add concrete pads to prevent tunneling, better segregation areas, and better shower and latrine facilities” as well as new housing, a waste water treatment plant, a water treatment plant and a $3.2 million brick factory for prisoner labor.

On 27 Oct 2007, a Security Team was traveling from Umm Qsar when they came under attack by Rocket Propelled Grenades and small arms fire. One US Soldier was killed, and three other members were injured. On 20 November 2007, another security convoy operated by personnel from the 887th ESFS was traveling north of Safwaan city, Iraq from Camp Bucca and was struck by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). A few days later, on 23 November 2007, after a series of rocket attacks on the compound, a riot originated in compound 31 and quickly spread to compound 32. Despite the continued widespread fear from the constant aerial bombardment, the guards were able to quell the riots and there were no serious injuries. It was just another day at Camp Bucca.

Later, when we returned to the US, Sgt A would talk about the incidents he experienced through tear stained eyes in our commander’s office only to be told to get lost. Sgt A spoke about his friend that was maimed and his friend that was killed. As I stood next to that man and watched his dignity crumble, I felt a piece of mine torn away as well when I didn’t jump into my Commander for being such a POG piece of shit. Sgt A lost his purpose as he drove out the gates of Scott Air force base and to this day none of us have seen him. I don’t think he wants to be found.

During the time my team was in-country, militants identified as Takfiri regularly launched rockets into our compound on an average of 5 per month. I would honestly often lose count from week to week in my notes and asked others to help verify how many. The Takfiri had a very easy system for attacking us.  They would regularly pound our compound with rockets which were widely believed to be provided and set up by Iranians who would teach the extremists how to launch them.

Mere hours after learning how to launch the munitions, they would then return to their nearby country (about 25 miles away), and the rockets would quickly be put into service. From September 2007 to late April 2008, the lethal explosions at Camp Bucca continued, with the most intense barrage coming during the Ramadan period (October) when 12 aerial bombs (widely believed to be stolen from a British camp in nearby [about 35–40 miles] al Basrah) landed on us in a span of 8 days. Ramadan of 2007 was “the beginning of my end.” It changed me forever.

On 14 November, 2007 while Zack and I were working on the perimeter with the Tactical Automated Security Systems (TASS), a 107 mm rocket exploded on our position. We were lucky to be just outside the kill zone of the impact but the blast left me with a traumatic brain injury that would permanently change me in ways that took over a decade to fully grasp. When the round impacted, I thought I had somehow been transported to another dimension. Another universe where only terror existed. The world slowed down and stopped as my left ear drum ruptured and bled. To this day, people get frustrated with how terrible my hearing is. The force of the explosion felt like my face was being ripped off my fucking skull. It felt like I had hit a brick wall going a hundred miles an hour on my motorcycle. I walked in circles and drooled for days. I got completely rocked and everyone knew it. I later scared Sgt. C when I began driving erratically. He admonished me for putting his life at risk while I excitedly tried to explain to him what happened. One of my best friends screamed at me because I almost wrecked a vehicle and was acting very strange. That night I was ordered mandatory bed rest to get my shit together. I kept drooling.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TRAINWRECKS. On 1 January 2008, the base was attacked with rocket fire launched from the nearby city of Umm Qasr and no injuries were reported. British counter artillery returned fire as reaper units descended upon the area to search the area for the personnel responsible for launching the rockets at the base. A week later on 8 January 2008, a security convoy operated by personnel from the 887th ESFS traveling to Umm Qasr, Iraq from Camp Bucca was struck by an EFP/IED, injuring three coalition forces and a local national.

The security situation was improving but still had much to accumulate before the region was once again considered stable. On 14 February 2008, The 72nd Military Police Company arrived at Camp Bucca, They took over control of the Detainee Air Transportation Mission (DAT) from the USAF. Our time was fulfilled and we were being relieved. It was an incredible feeling. We were getting the fuck outta there.

On 24 February 2008, Camp Bucca was attacked with rocket fire that killed a FOB employee. The rocket ripped right through his head, separating it from his body before the fuse ran out and the round exploded. Several other civilian contractors were wounded from the explosion during the incident.

The rocket attacks came less than a week after our convoy from Camp Bucca was attacked by an improvised explosive device buried near the road. We had been relieved of duty and were awaiting Blackhawk helicopters to rotate us out. We were finished with our duties and still feared we would never leave that place. The carnage just kept going. It was just another day at Camp Bucca.

I have kept my journal and my notebooks locked away for years and avoided them because I am a coward. I’m not sure if some of the stuff I wrote will ever make it to my blog or to my book and that is okay. I’m not sure if some of the things I have talked to others who were with me will be written about either. I am opening up more and it feels great to have the support of others. Human beings change when they fear death. I am not afraid of who I became at Camp Bucca. I’m not afraid of what I have come to accept of myself and of others and I realize I am different now. There is just a lot going on. I realize people look at me today because of who it is they are seeing and not what I am glad they don’t know.

Camp Bucca changed many of us because of the experiences we had. Those who shared the experiences we did will forever be attached to one another in ways only combat veterans can understand. Today it makes me feel free to have such a great opportunity to move forward and pursue a new direction in life and career. Today I am becoming the Psychologist I am supposed to be. Today I spend every moment I can looking into another person’s eyes and smiling at them. When I look at people I see them, the REAL them.

I have almost lost my life during foreign conflict overseas and then I almost gave it away during my war at home. I now cherish every moment I spend connecting with other people before I really do die this time. I realize I’m no longer Sgt. Juliano and now I’m supposed to be Dr. Juliano. I’m different now.

I always will be. And now I accept that it’s okay.

On 17 September 2009 it was announced Camp Bucca closed down detainee operations permanently.

You’re Welcome. Internet.

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