A Morning to Remember

| January 16, 2013

Live long enough, and you’ll see some interesting things.  If you’re lucky enough, it’s possible you’ll see or be a part of something truly memorable and unusual.  Maybe even something historic.

During my lifetime, I’ve been that fortunate twice.  The first time was when I was lucky enough to be in Korea when Reagan visited the DMZ, and to provide support for that mission (though I didn’t get to see the actual speech).   I’ll always feel honored to have been there.

The second time occurred some 24 years later.  And it was, perhaps, even more memorable than the first.

January 11, 2008 dawned in Baghdad.  Just another brutal, muddy, nasty, cold day – right?

Yes, I did say cold.  Although Baghdad and surrounding area indeed gets hellish hot during the summer, during the winter it also gets colder than you might think.  Baghdad’s at about the same latitude as Columbus, GA, or Dallas/Fort Worth, TX –  and like those cities, it’s inland.  So it does get pretty cool in the winter; today’s high and low there are predicted to be 59 F and 34 F, respectively.

Frost was not common, but was also not unknown.   And the winter of 2007-2008 was reputedly the coldest in at least a decade.

Baghdad gets most of its rain during the winter, too.  And when that little bit of rain hits the finely-powdered silt making up the soil in the Tigris/Euphrates valley system, the result is . . . different.  Think wet, sticky paste.  Slippery, medium yellow-brown paste.

I think I gained an inch or so in height every time I went outside that winter when things were wet.  (smile)

But January 11, 2008 was different.  The sky was steel-grey, and it was still.  Things simply felt different than normal.  Something was up.  And around sunrise, we found out what it was.

It began to snow.  Big, wet flakes.

It didn’t snow much – just a dusting on exposed items and surfaces; most of it melted on contact.  And what little stuck didn’t stay around for long at all.

But it snowed.  In Baghdad.

Those who’ve never lived in a hot, desert climate can’t really appreciate the impact of a low desert snowfall.  It is a truly magnificent sight – if for no other reason than because they’re generally exceptionally rare.  It’s like seeing a horizon-to-horizon double-rainbow.  Yes, they can happen.  But they’re rare enough that not very many people ever get to see one.

Snow was indeed a rare thing in Baghdad. One source said it had been over 60 years since the last snowfall in the area.  Others said it had been over a century.

I don’t know which is correct.  And, frankly, I don’t care.  I only know I was lucky enough to see it in person.

Snow.  In Baghdad.

And, for what it’s worth:  during the snowfall, reportedly things were rather quiet in the city.

Category: Historical, War Stories, Who knows

Comments (30)

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  1. LFR says:

    I was out at TQ in Anbar during 07-08 with C Btry 1/11. I remember getting off a 8 hour watch tower post and walking back to my hut as it was snowing. It was definitely a surreal experience.

  2. Ex-PH2 says:

    You see… there IS hope.

  3. AndyFMF says:

    ….and I was at PB Al Walid on the Syrian Border. The best part about that winter…..the four-five inches of human waste in the streets completely froze. No more getting “dirty”.

  4. CI says:

    Hondo — I remember that January day well. I was on Fob Falcon, and along with my guys, we were outside staring up at the sky in wonderment at snowfall in Baghdad. I went into the TOC and looked at our Shadow feeds and saw much the same from the residents of Rashid.

    In our battlespace, it was a quiet day indeed.

  5. OWB says:

    Good memory all – thanks for sharing it with the rest of us. Reminds a bit of the day, oh never mind. (But if we are ever face to face, maybe you will ask me to share my Reagan story?)

  6. Devtun says:

    In 1991 gulf war, an 8 man team of British SAS (code name Bravo Two Zero) got caught out in the Iraq wilderness during a January blizzard…2 died from hypothermia (4 captured, 1 killed by enemy fire, and 1 escaped to Syria). Books and documentries that came out later indicated an underestimation of the weather patterns in Iraq…and other things.

  7. Green Thumb says:

    Iraq sucked.

    And so did Kirkuk.

    However, I am very much pro-Kurdish.

    Did not see alot of snow; just alot of nonsense.

    Just an observation.

    Moving on.

    Need to go look for my moonshine….I forgot where I put it. Again.

  8. Jacobite says:

    Totally experienced something similar to #3 Andy’s experience, in 2003/4. Frozen sewage beats the hell out of slop, no lethal ‘rain’ falling in through the turret ring. 🙂

    And ya, the Bravo Two Zero story is incredible.

  9. SJ says:

    Hondo: if you had learned from the posers, you would have turned your Reagan experience into being a secret squirrel mission hat even the Secret Service agents did not know about.

    Great post.

  10. Al T. says:

    Our paths crossed. I got there about 30 days later. Beats the monsoons in Nov 2008.

  11. Winter Soldier says:

    I recall that as well. Was at BIAP at the time, hopping all over MND-B on construction missions. Almost as memorable as the elections in ’05.

  12. NHSparky says:

    Best morning I ever had in the Navy…Gulf of Thailand, 1989. Surface transit to Pattaya. Just got off watch and asked to do a “Lookout Watch U/I” (under instruction) on the bridge. Sun was coming up, sea was glass, and at least a half dozen dolphins were jumping around the boat.

    Days like that you never forget.

  13. RandomNCO says:

    It never snowed while I was there. But I do remember that it rained nonstop for about a month.

  14. Alberich says:

    I was in Balad – with a bunch of Alaskans. We got some of the snow as well. Only we wanted to take credit for it…

  15. JonHorton says:

    Heh… I was on my .50 cal in Ameriyah neighborhood, doing a patrol, and thinking to myself, “snow… in Baghdad? WTH?”

    At least my driver stayed warm and dry.

  16. Hondo says:

    OWB: if you’d like to share that story, I for one would love to hear it. I can post it as a guest article, or Jonn can.

  17. Jabatam says:

    I was there on FOB Falcon that day

  18. Jabatam says:

    CI what unit were you with? I was with (I think) the only transition team on the FOB. We had a couple of hooches in the SW corner by the T-building

  19. Country Boy says:

    In 06′ it snowed in Mosul… hell of a thing the locals were amazed and our gunners froze..

  20. Country Boy says:

    dang… I meant 03′

  21. WiTexan says:

    My Dad was teaching at West Point early in his career, and was front & center during MacArthur’s Thayer Award Speech (Duty, Honor, Country). To this day he talks about it. I listen to it myself regularly, and it never fails to move me.

  22. Twist says:

    I don’t recall it snowing when I was there, but I remember freezing the boys off gunning in my HMMWV in Mosul the winter of 05-06.

  23. Ex-FC2 says:

    I was aboard USS Guam during Operations Desert Shield/Storm. General Gray came aboard one day and promoted a couple of Marines whose MOS was pretty tight for advancement at the time. I think they were helo techs of some sort. Not sure about that. It was pretty cool to see.

  24. CI says:

    Jabatam – I was with 4/1. My hooch was upstairs in the BDE HQ building. The few times I had to wander in to the T Bldg, I damn near got lost.

  25. SSG Medzyk says:

    I was south of you at Camp Delta/Al Kut. The El Salvador Army (Cuscatlon Battalion) we were quartered with were standing outside totally flabbergasted at the snow fall. We were pretty amazed too, I mean shit, snow? In fucking Iraq? But nearly all the El Sal troops had never imagined anything like this.

    The Georgian army next to us, used it as another excuse to get drunk 🙂

  26. We were in Yusifiyah. I had gotten off an 8 hour guard shift at 0400 and was sleeping in my fart sack when my soldiers came in excitedly telling me that it was snowing. At the time I didn’t give a shit because I was sleeping, we didn’t have any heat, and I sure as hell wasn’t getting out of my warm sleeping bag just to look at some piddly ass snow. Looking back on it I wish I had.

  27. OWB says:

    @ #16: Thanks, Hondo, but it’s one of those stories best told in person. Semi-secret squirrel (almost) stuff. Sort of. But I did have a security detail assigned to guard me for a while.

  28. Twist says:

    @27, This cat is now curious.

  29. Busa-Jerry says:

    I remember it well, I was at COB OLD MOD then.

  30. AtDrum says:

    I have actual video from my CHU at Speicher of the few seconds of Hail. Actual freaking HAIL in Iraq…