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Jack Rice Biography

Criminal Defense Attorney, Former CIA Officer, Media Analyst and Public Speaker 

Jack Rice practices exclusively in the areas of criminal defense and DWI/DUI defense.  He is unique across the entire state of Minnesota and the U.S. as the only criminal defense attorney who is also a former Central Intelligence Agency Officer as well as a former prosecuting attorney. Jack's extensive experience, aggressiveness and passion speak for themselves and he is most proud of his reputation as a fighter for the rights of his clients. He has a national reputation and can be seen frequently on MSNBC, Al Jazeera, CNN, and other networks across the country.  He is also a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

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Lost Boy

The poverty in parts of Iraq is astounding. Al-Ghazalyah is certainly no exception and may be worse than most. There is trash everywhere and raw sewage in the streets. The stench is overwhelming. Many people appear to be living in almost impossible conditions. And all of this while a war is going on.

I have found this look all over the world. It is hard to describe but I have always described them as lost boys. Those that from a very young age have almost no chance to live up to their true potential. This child seems to fall into this category.

His clothes are obviously not his. They are far too large. And very dirty. He has no shoes. And he is filthy. And he must live in this filth. I tried to get his attention but to no avail. As I moved closer, he ran down this hallway and disappeared from sight. How does he live? Does anyone care?

I have been here in Iraq for a few weeks and as I watch events unfold around me, I know that the answers to this problem are not simple one. Do we feed this child and every other child?

What about our own? Our country has needs that are not being met now!

Do we do half measures. Feed half. Wash half. That would result in half the world's kids fat and dirty, the other clean and starving. On the other hand, looking into the eyes of this child, what could he become in the future. Could he be the savior of this country? Could he find the cure for cancer? Could he become the next insurgent that kills American soldiers in these streets?

Sometimes, I think it would be cheaper to feed and wash everybody than it would be to fight them later. But would that be any guarantee to a safer world?

"I Love You Mister"

The school is two stories. It is surrounded with a large wall. The windows have heavy metal screens and the walls have large blue stripes. The outer wall has two children, one in a dress, one in long pants apparently on their way to school. It first caught my attention not so much because of what it looked like but rather because of what it sounded like.

I was visiting the Al-Ghazalyah Police Station when in the distance, I heard kids screaming, in a good way. You could hear them playing and making a heck of a racket. I immediately wanted to go to the school but had to wait. This area is very dangerous and the number of shooting and IED attacks has been increasing. As a result, it needed several American soldiers around me as a moved toward the school.

By the time I was on school grounds, the kids had finished their play time and were supposed to be back in class. However, when they saw me and the soldiers, bedlum broke out. They started laughing and clapping and screaming out the window.

This was a school for boy. Their ages looked to be between eight and twelve. They all wore uniforms. blue pants and white shirts. But that certainly didn't stop them from expressing themselves.

Because their English was limited, they kept throwing out the only words they knew. "I Love You Mister. I Love You Mister. Hello. I Love You Mister." I couldn't help but smile ad say, "I Love You Too" All the while, the teachers were trying to regain control of their classes. I'm sure I was not the popular person inthe teachers' lounge that day. Oh well. Certainly, a day to remember. And I had a hell of a time.

Sometimes, scenes like this only reconfirm my belief that in many ways, we are very much alike. And if we can find a way to build on that, then we really have something going.

Two Brothers in Iraq.

Possibly my favorite photograph of the trip.

I am reporting on the American soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division and members of the new Iraqi Army or IA as it is commonly refered to to in Iraq. Their ability to work together and the ability of the Iraqis to work independently will play a large role in the future of this country.

As the convoy appears in the neighborhood, it truly causes quite a commotion. The are six American humvees and another five Iraqi gun trucks.

Well, that commotion caught the interest of these two brothers. It seems to be a combination of fascination and fear. But notice how closely together they stand. Brothers are sometimes the same world over. And sometimes, you can catch a moment in time.

The Soldier is a Gunner - And She's 5'1"

Krystal Choquette is a U.S. Army MP with the 18th MP Brigade here in Iraq. And she is also a gunner in this up-armored humvee travelling through in Baghdad. She has a 50 cal. machine gun mounted on the turret, has an M-16 in her right hand and a Saw, a belt fed machine gun at her feet. You don't see her eyes because of the sunglasses. And traffic in the streets doesn't hear her voice. She doesn't scream. Instead, she uses a whistle. Everytime she needs somebody's attention, she doesn't ask. She demands it!She stands 5'1" and can't see over the turret without a box. Another soldier helped her attach the wooden box to their humvee. It was the box that the uparmored windows arrived in.

When this 20 year old was young, she was a tomboy. So, when she joined the Army, she wanted something aggressive. And this was the best job for her. She wasn't allowed to be in conbat. She's a woman and that is military policy. Well, guess what? Combat is all around her and if the stiffs in Washington DC don't know that, they have a lot more troubles than we know about.

Many have debated whether women should be in the Army. Well, if you talk to Krystal, I suspect all of your questions would be answered. The question is not about gender. The question is about competency. And that is what she is all about!

American/Iraqi Operations Conducted Around the Country

Maybe the biggest question on the minds of the American people is, When will the Iraqi Army stand up? Well, I can tell you from first hand experience that they are attempting to do so as we speak.

I have been watching joint operations being run by both the Iraqis and the Americans. Are the Iraqi troops comperable to the Americans? Based upon my experience, not even close. Are they getting better? Yes, absolutely. So how long? The $100,000 question. Who knows? Do we have the patience?

I stood right in the middle of these men as they ran operations in Ghazaleeyah and elsewhere outside of Baghdad. In fact, during one of these operations, I went into houses with only Iraqi troops while the Americans sat on the sidelines.

I had a chance to talk to Iraqis about their efforts as well. What I can say is that they are very brave people doing an impossible job. They are being killed in large numbers and many are driven to it out of patriotism. Many are driven to it out of money. Either way, if the Iraqis themselves are unwilling to defend their own country, we under no circumstances will ever been able to leave.

I spoke with an Iraqi Officer about the hopes for his country. He is committed even though he acknowledges that working with the Americans is very dangerous for he and his family. As he puts it, "it is our future."Iraqi Col. Abdullah Hazam

That takes guts. How many of us would put our lives on the line. And by the way, it appears to be far more dangerous to be an Iraqi soldier than to be an American one. The number of deaths and injuries certainly supports that conclusion.

Our Convoy is Hit by an IED!

I know that it is possible. I know that it has happened before but for some reason, I don't think it will happen to me and to the convoy of five Humvees that are beginning to patrol in an area southwest of Baghdad.

I'm traveling with a Reconnaisance Surveillance Squadron with the 10th Mountain Division. The men are preparing to jump into these five up-armored humvees. And I should add that these humvees have seen some wear. Shrapnel holes and bullets holes, patched over, but still visible.

The men wear chest protectors and helmets. They all have fire retardent gloves and eye protectors. They check and recheck their weapons as I approach. I am there this cover their story. To try and explain what they face everyday and how it impacts them.

I'm probably not ready for what is in store for me.

I'm in the fifth humvee with Captain Matt Brown out of Eau Claire. Our driver is Jonathan Kindem of Zimmerman, MN and our gunner, Sgt Ryan, from upstate New York.

Captain Brown is a very serious man. He is tall, has dark hair and looks you straight in the face. He is also a very serious soldier. He has spent the last six and a half years of his life preparing for this day and days like this. And thank goodness because today, he will need that training.

As we introduce ourselves, Captain Matt, a serious and smart guy, hands me gloves, eye gear sound ear protection. It is not quiet in a humvee and, as he puts it, "if the worst happens, you might need them." I'm already wearing body armor and a helmut.

Finally, it is time to go. We climb into our humvee and take the fifth, the last, position as we leave Camp Liberty. It is about 10:30 in the morning and it is already starting to warm up. And a little bit windy which means there is a little sand in the air as well. It works its way into every available crevice.

We leave the heavily fortified entrance and head out into the streets of Iraq. We travel quickly, staying in a relatively tight convoy insuring that no other vehicles get between. We swing back and forth down the roadways and try to avoid cars because of possible explsive devices. And people on the road are immediately waived off, aggressively, if they attempt any sudden moves. Each gunner on the top of each humvee armed with an M-2 50 cal. machine gun follows everything.

We are traveling up to Huryah to establish some security. Things have been unstable since the bombing up the Mosque at Sumarrah and this should help. Of course, the best way to get their is up Route Sword. And that is where it happens.

As we come across traffic, forcing our way through the city, we take the entrance ramp onto Route Sword. As it wraps around, I see the other four humvees in front of me. And then, I feel it more than see it. Mostly, in my chest.

But then, immediately, I see the dirt flying in all directions, right next to humvee number two. Oh my God! Our convoy has been hit by an IED, an improvised explosive device!

We drive through the attack and then come to a complete stop in the middle of this freeway, Route Sword. Several of the humvees move into oncoming traffic and we take both sides of the freeway and absolutely shut everything down. I watch assessments being made by Captain Matt and his team.

At first, it is pretty confusing but then we find out more. One of our soldiers has been hurt. The gunner. The one in the second humvee. He was most exposed to the blast. While he was protected by steel and bullet proof glass, the impact is still there. We don't know how bad but we have to get him back to base and get him to the hospital.

Backup has been called and they respond quickly. The IA, the Iraqi Army, has also been called to provide additional support. In addition, all sides are looking in the surrounding area for any sign of the perpetrators. I follow Captain Matt from the humvee as we meet with the team and discuss the need to control the area.

The Iraqi Army soldiers arrive. American reinforcements arrive including Abhrams Tanks. The freeway is wired off and the search in the surrounding area begins. The weight of these massive machines is felt before it is heard. They demand respect.

As the investigation continues, we find that two 122 mm mortar rounds were buried in the medium and were triggered just as we drove by. Only one of the rounds went off. EOD, explosive ordinance disposal, comes for what is left.

Of course, as we wait and search, I hear gunfire in background and notice all of the bulletholes in the surrounding building. The places reflects what it is, a warzone.

Finally, we clear the scene. The soldiers race through the streets, getting our soldier back to the hospital. All the time, keeping an eye out for more IEDs. In fact, we come upon even more dangerous ground but avoid any additional problems.

Things go on like this for some time. I suspect it is only a few minutes but it seems a lot longer to me. Eventually, we make it back to Camp Liberty and get our man to the hostpital.

We stand around near the entrance. Are we calling it a day? Are these men ready to retire and say they did enough? Hardly! In fact, they found the exploded ordinance and pass it around like a trophy! They tell war stories and make fun of each other. Not particularly in a callous sense but, from my point of view, as a coping mechanism. Captain Matt says as much. And can you blame them? These are ordinry asked to do an extradordinary job.

After a few minutes, the men put another man in the gunner position on humvee two. And, believe it or not, we roll back out into the streets of Iraq.

The men I travel with thank me for coming out with them. Frankly, it is I who should be thanking them. We all should be . . .

Does Yousef Have a Future?

His name is Yousef. He stands in a doorway as I walk down a dirty street in a town called Al-Ghazaliyah. Trash is everywhere. Often wonder what happens to all of the plastic that I have ever used in my life, everything from plastic bags to soda bottles. Well, I'm here to tell you that it has somehow ended up on Al-Ghazaliyah.

As I walk by, I'm drawn to Yousef. He is very small, too small. He has big, dark brown eyes. As I approach, at first he appears to be scared. I get down on my knees in front of him and smile. I show him some of the things that I carry.

Yousef walks up to me and grabs my hand. He holds his face against it. And then, with those big beautiful eyes, he looks up at me. He pats my helmet. His father walks up. I smile.

"Ismee Jack Rice. Ana Sahafe. Ana Amrikee." I'm Jack Rice. I'm a journalist. An American.

The man points at the little boy. "Yousef" he says. Yousef continues to hold my hand. To press his face against it. It feels warm. And it makes me want to weep. Such want. such poverty.

I come to learn that Yousef is two years old. He is a Shiite in a poor Shiite neighborhood that has see a lot of attacks by Sunni insurgents.

And yet, why should Yousef care about such things.

When I'm on the air, we talk about policy a lot. We talk about the war and whether it should or should not have happened. And that will continue. However, when I look at Yousef, I admit that I think of it differently.

As a result, when I think about Iraq, I will often think about Yousef and wonder what the best policy would be for him. To insure than he has a good life and maybe, from a self preservation point of view, whether the things we do will drive him toard us, like he did to me, or whether it will drive him toward the insurgency.

I eventually let go of his hand and pull away. I must. The soldiers are leaving this block and it is not safe - for Americans or Iraqis. I look back and he waives. I swallow hard and move on. What can I do?

I wonder. Does Yousef have a future?

Saddam's Palace From the Inside

Welcome to an insider's view of one of Saddam Hussein's smaller palaces. This one in in Southern Baghdad between Lake Walleye (yes, Walleye) and Lake Victory. He used it for business meetings and occasionally stayed here himself.


A Trip to the PX Causes Reflection

March 10, 2006
8:55 p.m. Local Time
Camp Victory, Iraq.

I guess we all feel exceptional. We all feel like we are special and that if anything bad happens, it won't happen to us. I'm certainly guilty of that and I told my wife that very thing before coming to Iraq. But after tonight . . .

I decid to go to the PX here on Camp Victory in Southern Baghdad. After all, I'm scheduled to leave this base tomorrow and who knows if I will have a chance to buy trinkets for the wife and kids before I go.

At 8:04 p.m. I walk out of Saddam's palace where I am spending the night. Right in front of the palace, a bus is scheduled to stop at 8:05 p.m. It is dark as I step out of the huge wooden doors. As I step in the street, I see the bus driving away; I miss it by literally ten seconds. I call to it but . . . nothing.

So, that means I have to wait. And, of course, I do. About 30 minutes later, a white bus appears with a sign in the window, "Blue Line." This is the bus I am going to take to get to the PX.

I jump on, still grumbling to myself about how the last guy was early and that I wasn't late for the bus. Well, after we take off, I realize that I have to transfer from the blue line to the gray line. So, I get to the bus stop and get out and wait. It is dark and a little cold. This happens at night. After all this is the desert.

As the bus with "Gray Line" printed on the window comes to a stop, I prepare to jump on. However, before I can, a young soldier named Paul Gardner from Vancouver, WA steps off.

"The PX is closed. A couple of morters came in and hit over on Riva Ridge." This is about 200 meters from the PX. According to Paul, "they closed the food court and the PX." He adds, "You can hear them off in the business but never so close."

So, what am I to do. I turn around and come back to my billet.

A little too close for confort.

Here is the thing. If I had made the first bus, I would have been near the spot where the mortars hit. And the bus I was on is not up-armored. In fact, it has no armor at all. So, if the mortar had hit us, it would have turned the bus itself into shapnel.

We all think it won't happen to us. And as I came to this war zone, I truly believed that it couldn't happen to me. But because I missed a bus, through no fault of my own, I was nowhere near the explosions.

Maybe that is the strange part. Nobody is immune. Even in this place, a fortified base, if you're in the wrong place . . .

As I right this blog, another huge explosion hits close enough that I feel it in my chest. That makes four today alone!

Nobody is immune. Nobody is immune. I think I I am starting to get it.

A Throne Fit for a King . . . or is it a Dictator?

Saddam was more than willing to spend, and waste, the money of his people. You can find it in all of his building, all of his extravagance. This applies all the way down to his toilets.
A throne fit for a King . . . or is it a Dictator?

And it works. I tested it myself. My own version of quality control!

Crying in Baghdad

There was a time before I had children and I would see poverty or want or sickness and feel bad about it, and that was about it. But then my wife Marlo and I had our own kids, and that changed everything.

I arrive early at the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters in the Green Zone. They want to show me some of the projects that they are working on. To show some of the good things they are doing for the Iraqi people. I am excited about this because I want to see all sides of the Iraqi story, the good and the bad. Of course, this means I must head out of the relative safety of the Green Zone and into the city.

The first step is a security briefing.

More than two hundred separate attacks have taken place in the last two days alone, many of them centered in Baghdad. Is a civil war coming? It is being debated. After the briefing, the fun begins.

I first strap on my Kevlar vest and helmet. I am then introduced to my driver, an Englishman, and my personal protection officer, an Australian. They are both in their early thirties, very experienced, and very tough. And interestingly enough, these men are not soldiers. They are private security guards and very experienced in war. But trust me, after talking with them for about five seconds, it is obvious they mean business.

We move toward the vehicles. But these are not just ordinary vehicles. As I step toward the vehicles, I'm curious to see the extent of the protection. I jump into a black Humvee that has been up-armored with steel and bullet proof glass. Our vehicle is followed by another Humvee with additional personal. The lead vehicle has additional security. All are designed to get me and others around Baghdad alive.

A little comment about the vehicles themselves before we get to the destination of this story. The vehicles, according to a man I talked with, were purchased after Michael Jackson ordered them and then changed his mind. Anyway, back to the story.

So, I leave the Green Zone in convoy with my team of security with members of the military and the Army Corps of Engineers. I wonder what I will find.

One of those things is the Alwaiya Children's Hospital in the Karada District of Baghdad. The hospital takes care of more than 1 million people who have nothing. They have no money and this is the only place they can bring their children.

We leave the Green Zone and immediately are barraged by the city itself. People are everywhere. Traffic is everywhere. Poverty is everywhere. We race down streets and my security team, holding their weapons, search for potential threats.

Iraqi police in their blue shirts are everywhere. They help control traffic although at one intersection, when cars kept coming, the Iraqi fired his AK-47 in the air to get their attention. I'll tell you what, it certainly gets mine.

There are sirens everywhere. Police. Soldiers. Ambulances.

We drive for miles and wind through the city eventually ending up in a part of the city that looks particularly poor. The convoy drives down a side alley and security jumps out of the lead vehicle and started operations to protect us.

Our Humvee comes to a stop and I stepinto the street. Two story building surround us and eyes peer from windows. We must present quite a site. All of us in kevlar. I can hear the call to prayer over the loudspeakers of the local mosque. This only solidified where I am. Downtown Baghdad. The tough part!

In front of us is what would be best described as a two story, dilapidated hotel. The stucco is falling off of it and the structure seems ready to fall down.. But as we start walking inside, I see workers trying to fix walls and ceilings and floors. This is part of the work the Army want to show me. This is one of the projects the Army Corps of Engineers is working on.

After a few steps, I hear the cries of children. A few steps later and we walk out into a courtyard full of mostly women holding their children. All of the children look sick, malnourished or injured in some way.

More than a hundred people are waiting to see a doctor. I looked at a young woman in her early twenties holding two little girls as they all sit on a concrete floor. One of her daughters is less than a year old, the other no more than two. They both seem small, weak really. And they look so like my own children. Dark air, dark eyes. Small hands.

I continue, trying to get something out of my eyes, maybe it is sand.

I see more poverty, more hunger, more sickness. I also see few doctors or facilities or medicine. Apparently, these kids, many in their bare feet, wait for hours. I head to the second floor. The stairs are concrete that is cracked and breaks apart under my feet.

As I get to the top of the stairs, the cries increase. There is a crush of people, many holding their babies and young children. I talk with a doctor about his job. He tells me, through a translator, that the system is overwhelmed but that the Americans have been trying to help.

There are three rooms up here and their should be six, eight, ten times that many.

I walk into one room and realize that it is the premature baby ward. The floors are covered with dirt and concrete dust. The walls are peeling.

Along those walls are incubators were very tiny, little lives in them. Young men and women with red puffy eyes stare at their children. I see their faces and see their pain. I want to help but can’t.

I approach one man. He is about thirty, and little heavy set. He looks very tired, disheveled. He points at a baby in front of him, in the incubator. He is so small, The machine is helping him breath. I introduce myself.

Al an Wa’A’Salon. Ismee Jack Rice.

He tells me that this is his first child. A boy. And then, in English, he looks into my eyes and says, “Very Sick. Very Sick.”

I look around the room, I see the same looks on the other parents crowded in a place barely fit for a garage, not a hospital.

At this point, I’ll be honest, I barely keep it together. This could be me. These could be my kids. All of them. The pain in the eyes of their parents could easily be mine. But for luck and maybe geography . I close my eyes tight and keep them closed. Trying not to cry out.

A man leads me outside and across a courtyard shows me the new hospital including child emergency room that is being built. It is beautiful. It looks like something in the states. It reminds me, in a way, of where my children were born. Not luxurious and very good.

This facility costs 2.8 million dollars and it is being paid for by us. It is being financed by the Army Corps of Engineers and being built by local Iraqis. It is part of the reconstruction effort and it directly impacts the people of this country.

The policies that lead us into this war seem questionable to a lot of people. Blowing up things does sometimes as well. However, walking into this hospital and looking into the faces of people who need so much, so desperately, I can’t help but feel that the investment that is being made here will pay dividends. That this is a good thing. That we should be doing this.

There was a time before I had children and I would see poverty or want or sickness and feel bad about it, and that was about it. But then my wife Marlo and I had our own kids, and that changed everything.

Now, it is personal. Now, the pain is mine. The anguish, mine. And in some way, the responsibility is mine too, maybe all of ours.

Why Am I Sleeping in Saddam's Palace?

March 9, 2006
11:16 p.m. Local Time
Just West of Baghdad in one of Saddam Hussein's Palaces

I know that I have used the term surreal a lot lately. I guess I can't really help it. Since coming to Iraq, I regularly have to pinch myself. After all, I'm just me.

How does a guy who grew up without connections, wealth or power end up sitting in a 40 foot by 40 foot bedroom in one of Saddam Heussein's palaces inside Iraq. It seems so wrong at so many different levels.

Working in Saddam's Palace

I walked into his bedroom and looked at the bed that he occasionally slept in. Weird. Very weird.

This Palace is one of the smaller ones in which he used to conduct business. It sits right on the edge of a lake the is to this day stocked full of fish. The Palace is covered in marble and as I sit in this room, I can't help help but continue to pinch myself.

In the middle of this extremely large bedroom in which I sit working ia a massive crystal chandalier. The room also contains large gaudy furniture.

Everything is this place seemed to be designed for one purpose - to impress. And while it appears very nice, a lot of it is kind of cheap junk.

Of course, the terrible part, as a Marine Corps Captain said while we coming in here, "what is most repulsive is that he was building all of this while his own people starved."

Tonight, I will sleep in this Palace. If any place has ghosts, I suspect this is the kind of place they would congregate.

Diversions Are Important in Iraq

March 9, 2006
4:30 p.m.

Diversions Are Important in Iraq.

The food.

Let’s see. How should I describe it. In a word, unbelievable. As an aside, I can’t say this is tru for all of Iraq but for at least of the three bases that I have seen, rest assured our soldiers are eating well. In fact, and this is the weird part, some tell me they are eating too well.

In order to test this theory out, I have tried to use myself as a test subject. I have been eating at a rate that IO find astounding. The amount and quality of food is incredible. You want a pork chop. They got a pork chop. Rice. Fresh vegetables, fresh fruit. Anything you want.

Here is the one big surprise. At the end of every meal, Baskin Robbins is available. Not just available in my mind, I would argue that it is almost mandatory. In fact, I believe that since my arrival, when I am on a base, I have eaten more Baskin Robbins here in Iraq then I have probably consumed in the last 20 years. I’m not joking.

Talking to one soldier yesterday, he told me that he did have one concern about the food. He was afraid that he may not fit into his uniform if he is not careful an thinks that if he stays much longer, his parents may not recognize him once he gets home.

Obviously, he is joking . . . a little bit.

Morale is very important in a war zone. It gives the troops a break from the intensity of the battle, a diversion from the monotony that comes from living day to day here, and a vacation from the Spartan living conditions.

Extra Curricular Activities.

Rule One for military personnel: No alcohol. No sex. Really! I’ve asked multiple soldiers about this rule. They all look at me with a weird look. I suspect the alcohol is not easy to get. The sex, well. I have no personal knowledge (this is for my lovely bride) but have a feeling that there are young men and women here and that the Pentagon can make all of the rules that they want but things happen. In fact, one young sergeant told me that that is pretty easy to get. Go figure . . .

Other rules. Last night a movie was playing for the troops: Blackhawk Down. Of course, considering the fact that I will be on a Blackhawk myself in the coming hours, I must admit that I found a little dark humor in that.


Of course, I already mentioned the karaoke in a previous blog. Enough said.

Work Out Opportunities:

Besides weightlifting, there is one truly unique option for working out. Swimming! However, as far as I can tell from the Green Zone, the only available pool is Saddam’s pool. Now, I should add that I myself have taken a dip in that pool. Oh come on! You’re trying to tell me you wouldn’t do the same thing?

Often times, the biggest diversion of all for these men and women is work. You heard me. They are often working 12-15 hours a day, and 6-7 days a week. They are so busy, they have little time to get into their beds and realize just how much they are missing at home. But when it is late at night and nobody is around, I bet they still know . . .

In The Thick of It.

As Baghdad seemingly blows apart, I can't imagine a better place to be so that our listeners can get a first hand view of the action. In the last two days alone, there have been more than 200 attacks in this country. Worse, they have resulted in the deaths of at least one U.S. Marine, two Iraqi soldiers, the discovery of more than 50 bodies, the kidnapping of 50 Iraqi security personnel, the assassination of a senior Iraqi general and multiple attacks on Shiite and Sunni mosques.

While this is certainly a national and international story. However, because our troops our here, and MN Guard members will soon be here, it is a local story.

That is why I am here!

The Scud Missile as Art

March 8, 2006
8:35 p.m. Local Time
Republican Palace

Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace is certainly opulent. Over the top even. But it also has this strange propaganda-esque feel. I was looking for communications guy from the military when I walk by this huge open room which appears to be a massive banquet hall.

I step inside and am first struck by the domed ceiling with painted horses and the Dome of the Rock. But as I walk into the room, my attention is drawn to a massive mural on one wall.

At first I try to figure out the point. Then it is clear. These are Iraqi Scud missiles being fired at some unknown target. The center most Scud has the Iraqi insignia painted upon it.

Only in Iraq would one make the Scud missile an object worthy of a painting.

This is One of the Most Surreal Experiences of My Life

March 8, 2006
9:30 p.m. Local Time
Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace

This is too surreal! I’m in Baghdad, outside next to Saddam Hussein’s Republican Palace. The place that this man was sworn in as President. The place where this man spent most of his time. The place this man considered home even though he had multiple palaces throughout the country while his own people lived in squalor.

To make things more strange. I'm standing next to Saddam’s swimming pool, diving board, blue tile and all. I can imagine Ude and Kuse swimming in the pool and plotting their next horrible deeds as Saddam ruled from on high. I wrap my long sleeve shirt around me this evening because it is starting to get a little cold.

Now, as if all of this isn’t enough, this is Wednesday night and apparently this is a special night for the men and women of the U.S. armed forces. Was it target practice you ask? No. Ordinance disposal? Wrong. Perhaps, Arabic classes? Wrong again.

No. Wednesday night at the coalition base here in Baghdad is . . . karaoke. And tonight? Oh baby!

So, as I listen to incredible and often horrible renditions of “I’m Proud to Be an American” and “Lady,” I have to wonder just how weird this it. I also wonder what Saddam would say and do if he could see and hear what I am seeing.

The crowd of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines love the show. They scream and clap and wave their lights.

So, with all of this around me, you would think that this is enough, that it couldn’t get any weirder than this. But, my friend, you ain’t seen nothing you.

Just as I am contemplating my next move, I see to very tough Army Rangers move onto the karaoke stage. Rangers are about as tough as it gets and I’m a little surprised that they would be involved at all with karaoke. And then I just about fall over. The music starts and they belt out, I kid you not, “It’s Rainin’ Men.” You heard me. . . .

So, to finish this off, I feel only one action is appropriate, I pull of my shirt and dive into Saddam’s pool with the sounds of “It’s Rainin’ Men” in my ears.

The water is absolutely freezing but I laugh out loud. How can I not? This is undoubtedly one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

I get out of the pull shaking and try to dry myself off as a half a dozen marines step on stage to perform another ditty. Oh my . . .

I Wonder What Will Become of Ali and his Baby?

March 7, 2006
9:15 a.m.
Downtown Baghdad

He is a young man. Twenty one and he has his future ahead of him. And he is Iraqi. His name is Ali.

I met him at an open air market where he was selling trinkets and old Saddam memorabilia to those of us who happen to fall within earshot of his pitch. I succumb.

Ali is not a big man. He has a round face and receeding dark hair. He is wearing a blue shirt that looks a lot like an Iraqi policeman's shirt. And you know what, it might be. Ali sells weapons, trinkets, actual Iraqi police patches and even old Iraqi currency with photos of Saddam.

He started working here in Baghdad a little less than three years ago and says that things are going well. They need to. He has growing responsibilities. He wife is six months pregnant with his first child and he is very excited.

He lives south of Baghdad but feels like things are okay. He seems hesitant with all of the U.S. troops around to say anything at first but eventually tells me that security is terrible south of the city and that he really worries about his new baby.

After our conversation, I admit that I succumb to his efforts to sell me something. I end up with an Iraqi police arm patch that is dark blue, has the Iraqi flag, and title in both english and arabic. It is only a couple of American dollars.

As we drive away in convoy, I wonder what will become of Ali and his new baby.

Route Irish

March 6, 2006
2:00 p.m. Local Time
Route Irish

I just arrived at the Baghdad International Airport. And now, I’m preparing to run the gauntlet. Route Irish. This is the most dangerous piece of roadway in the world. More snipers, more improvised explosive devices (IEDs), more rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). Two attacks on this short stretch of roadway today. Five yesterday. But this is the only way to get to the International Zone (IZ), commonly known as the Green Zone.

I’m a journalist and I’m here to cover the war for CBS and WCCO radio. A lot has come out about this place and much of it is very inconsistent. As a result, and without any particular ax to grind, I figure that another view is needed. As a journalist, I want to report what I see. As a former CIA Special Agent, I hope that my background and expertise helps to give what I see some context for the public.

Before I leave the relative safety of Camp Victory, we all make elaborate plans. I wrap myself in a Kevlar vest and helmet and climb into a vehicle called a Rhino. It is about the size of a Winnebago but it is very spartan on the inside. On the outside, it is a little bit different. It is tan in color and has been up-armored throughout. And, of course, there is the mandatory rhino spray painted across the hood. Any visible glass on the vehicle is bullet proof. It looks dark green from the outside and casts a similar shade throughout the inside of the Rhino as we travel making the trip even more surreal.

In front of us there is a gun ship, really an up-armored Humvee with soldiers armed to the teeth. I see the soldier standing above in a turret that can swing 360 degrees. He has a 50 cal. machine gun in one hand and an M-16 in the other. He wears body armor, goggles and his face is completely wrapped as he is exposed to the elements including sand and bugs as well as bullets and bombs as we prepare to whip down the gauntlet at break neck speeds.

Behind the Rhino is a Dead Wood. This is another vehicle, also up-armored. But this one is a little bit different. It does nothing but jams any signals. Many IEDs are set off with a signal and this device stops this from happening.

Behind this vehicle are two more gun ships in order to protect us from the rear.

I climb into the vehicle. A young soldier, with Kevlar vest and helmet sits beside me with M-16. And we run the gauntlet. But first, we have to get out of the airport area known as Camp Victory.

And a strange looking convoy we make as we race out onto a roadway. It’s really a freeway with two lanes each direction surrounded by a medium with Palm trees. The slums surround us although many concrete barriers have been built to protect us. It provides a strange closed-in view, liking being in some sort of concrete tube.

The first thing I notice is the speed. And . . . the obvious tension and silence from all of us inside the Rhino.

We swing back and forth across the roadway. As we approach a bridge, I look through the bulletproof glass and see the soldier in the gun ship swing around in a 360 degree pattern looking for threats from above. Pointing his M-16 at anything, everything. I see this happening again and again. Attached to the back of this gun ship is a sign "Danger" in English and Arabic in Red and then "Stay Back" in English and Arabic in Green.

As we approach vehicles on the roadway the soldiers, screaming and blowing bullhorns, wave them to a stop and slide his weapons toward then in the event that they act aggressively. And we race past.

At this point, I feel sweat on my back and neck. I'm not sure whether it is the Kevlar vest and helmet, which are heavy, or the stress, or both. Either way, the tension is evident. Everybody avoids eye contact in the Rhino.

This lasts for a couple of miles but feels much longer.

Unsure what else to do, I watch out the front window, seeing Baghdad wash past us as we seek more relative safety.

Finally, we approach the Green Zone. And we all start to relax, a little. This small area is also mortared almost everyday. We roll through the gates without incident. We stop in a parking lot and I jump out to talk with the lead gunner. He tells me he does this at least twice but as many as five times a day.

I have to ask, “Are you scared?” He looks down from his turret atop the up-armored Humvee. He smiles. “No” he says. “To be honest, this is a hell of a lot of fun. Never thought I would get the chance to do this.”

He looks about twenty. And I try to remember back that far. To the time when I was bullet proof too! Guess it’s an age thing.

This is my first step on a journey to discuss what is happening. And this first step, just making it in, illustrates as good as any just how violent and dangerous things have become in this area of the world.

So much for another run of the gauntlet - down Route Irish.

Flight To Baghdad

Flight To Baghdad
March 6, 2006
9:30 a.m. Local Time

We arrive early at Ali Al Salem Airbase to prepare for our trip to Baghdad. We have to arrive early because the Department of Defense has to issue me a Kevlar vest and helmet. I then have my pack strapped on a into place with about 200 soldiers preparing to move into Iraq.

I step onto a bus with soldiers, all of us wrapped in bullet proof vests and helmets, they will M4s and M16s. As we step on the bus, the driver is listening to Eminem. Really odd to look at these people and women preparing for war and Eminem chants across the radio.

We drive to the tarmac and there I see our C-17 aircraft. It has a dark grey skin and the back doors are down and gear is piled in the back. We jump out of the bus and climb the steps into the place.

If you expected a commercial plane, you’d certainly be confused. On the inside, it has been completely hollowed out. It almost looks like a space ship, all wires, electronics. A huge open space above our heads.

The floors are metal. The walls are metal. The weapons held in the hands of the soldiers around me are too. It all rattles.

There is one latrine up front but are immediately told that we can’t use it, all 200 of us, because we are just about to fly into hostile territory. True to form, not one butt leaves its seat, mine included.

As we taxi, I can’t see out the window because there is only one. And strangely enough it is about ten feet off the ground all I get is what I feel and hear.
The rumbling of the engines starts low but grows in intensity. You feel it in your stomach and it screeches in your ears. We are all wearing earplugs and it doesn’t help much.

Then we are taking off down the runway. The engines whine to such a pitch as we throw ourselves down the runway that I think there is something wrong. Right when I’m certain there is, we lift off, quickly and throw ourselves into the sky.
We are almost immediately in Iraqi airspace. Every little turbulence makes me hesitate. It makes me wonder if it is just that – turbulence.
Finally, the intercom squawks about are need to prepare for landing.
And we dive! Hard!

We bank right. We bank left.

My ears are popping and I feel the pressure in my chest. And then a kind of weightlessness. The soldier next to me groans and talks about hating rollercoasters. These are all evasive procedures. IAnd they go on and on and on.

Finally, BAM. We hit the tarmac. And we our at the Baghdad International Airport. Welcome.

Holding On To Anything

March 5, 2005
10:42 a.m.
Somewhere Over Baghdad

I talked to a young man from the upper midwest. I'll call him Joe. He graduated from high school in 2003 and now he is doing something that he never dreamed of. He is with the 101st Airborne division and his job is one of the toughest here.

Joe patrols Baghdad looking for weapons caches and taking down bad guys. He and his platoon of about 30 guys work intensely. They, in their armored up Humvees, travel silently but often make a lot of noise when they arrive.

He is young. Very young. His eyes dark. His skin dark. To me eye, he has the all American look. As we sit next to each other on our way into Baghdad, he talks about his life. He shows me pictures of his girlfriend. He met here two days before he left for Iraq but he tells me he loves her. And he worries that she will be their when he gets home in six months.

And he is disenchanted. He wants to be done with this. “I’ve knocked down enough doors and it is not getting any better. It is getting worse.” Joe wants to go home.

However, it is not that simple. He is proud of what he and his buddies are doing. And as he puts it, “Sometimes I love. Sometimes I hate it.”

And we travel, he pulls out an exam book. He tells me that he wants to be a Marshall and that he is studying. He shows me!

Then he goes back to his girlfriend. He promises to send her flowers and again says that he wants her to be their when he gets home.

I guess I’m starting to understand. Living like Joe does here in Iraq, he needs to hold onto anything that he can!