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Well, it has been a very interesting first three months over here just outside Tikrit, Iraq. Located on the west bank of the Tigris river, Tikrit is located up along highway "1" northwest of Baghdad, about 1/3 the distance between Baghdad and Mosul. It is the hometown of the former dictator, Saddam Hussein. The population here is about 75,000.
The thirty-two-bed hospital where I work is located on FOB (Forward Operation Base) Speicher (pronounced Spiker), one of the many U.S. military base camps here in Iraq. FOB Speicher is a former Iraqi Air Force base. It is located just northwest of the town of Tikrit. The barracks where we are living once housed the students of the Iraqi Air Force Academy. After the initial invasion, locals looted and ransacked the base stealing anything and everything that they could sell for money; light fixtures, sinks, air conditioners, toilets, heaters, motors, scrap metal, etc. If you could sell it for money, they took it. So when the U.S. forces returned to set up a FOB here, there was not much left to work with. About 80% of the buildings were in major disrepair with bullet holes, bomb damage, no electricity or running water. Our troops had their work cut out for them to make this place functional as well as livable. One of the first things they had to do was to clear out all the tons of unexploded ordnance in the area.
Now eighteen months later, there have been major improvements in certain areas while other area are slowly being worked on. While the military has taken care of most of the major elements; roads, electricity, dining facilities, gyms, and morale recreation centers, the sleeping areas have been left up to the individual units. Every battalion size unit is given $25,000 a month to use for fixing, repairing and making the living and sleeping areas comfortable for the thousands of troops here. During the winter, the temperature drops to the upper 20s to low 30s. So the units bought heaters for the rooms. During the summer, with ground temperatures getting up around 130+ degrees, air conditioners were bought. To keep the troops entertained, satellite TV's were bought so they could watch their favorite sports and movies. We have a BX (Base Exchange) here on the FOB, along with Pizza Hut, Subway, Burger King, a Beauty Salon and Spa, Barber Shop, Alterations/Cleaners, a Photo Lab, a Bazaar and Gift Shop. Other facilities include a gym, three great dining facilities, a post theater, a recreation hall, and use of the old stadium. All the basics of a small military base.
With all the ongoing construction and troop movements, there is a very large amount of DUST created on all the back and side roads on the FOB. And here lately, its been the rainy season here in Iraq. From late January to early March, it rains every couple of days. So all the DUST turns to MUD. To combat this dust and mud problem, the US Army Corps of Engineers and KBR contractors have brought in TONS upon TONS upon TONS of well-tumbled river rock to cover the dirt roads and pathways around the FOB.
The day I arrived here at FOB Speicher, we had a briefing by our company commander on the local situation. One thing he said was that no one would be leaving the FOB. If I could not leave the FOB, how could I look for rocks? The FOB is very flat and desolate place. When I look around, all I see is lots of dust, sand and miscellaneous leaverite limestone. All the river rock I saw reminded me of the river rock back home in the Texas Hill Country along the Guadalupe River, basic limestone. Not until I noticed some color did I take a closer look. All the rocks were very dirty and dusty, so to lick or spit. Heck, I pulled out my canteen to rinse them off, and to my surprise, I had struck the "Mother Lode" of all collecting sites. What a place to have a field trip. And this brings us to the "Rock" portion of this report. But first a little background on the source of the rocks, the Tigris River.
The Tigris River starts her journey in the Taurus Mountains of southeast Turkey. It flows 1165 miles southeasterly into Iraq after briefly forming the extreme eastern portion of the border between Syria and Turkey. Once in Iraq, the Tigris zigzags slowly to the southeast, and its valley flattens and widens. There are at least five major tributaries that flow into the Tigris in Iraq. They are the Adhem, the Diyaleh, the Great Zab (Zab Ala), the Lesser Zab (Zab Asfal), and the Zakko or eastern Tigris. But only two of them, the Great Zab and the lesser Zab flow into the Tigris above Tikrit. As a result of these two major tributaries, and the melting snows from the Taurus Mountains in Turkey and the Elburz Mountains in far western Iran, the Tigris is more subject to major flooding than the Euphrates River. This produces a large amount of erosion from several locations, thus, the wide variety of rocks.
To date, I have found and identified Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic rocks to include different Agates, Conglomerates, Fossils, possibly Jade, Jaspers, Lavas, Limestone's, Petrified Woods, Quartzes and Quartzite's. They range in a very wide variety of colors, from blacks to grays to whites, from greens, yellows, oranges, reds, maroons, purples to combinations of two or more colors in unique and unusual patterns. Some of the unusual rocks I have found include Astronomy Rocks, Diseased Rocks and Finger Rocks. Some of the unique ones I have found went through tremendous Tectonic Forces to create the beautiful and colorful artistic designs in them.
With the question of where they came from, one would have to explore the rivers to the north, with southeastern Turkey, extreme western Iran or extreme northern Iraq to choose from. But due to the geography and geology of Iraq and the border areas, I strongly suspect that at least 90% of the rocks washed down from Turkey. The other 10% probably came from extreme northern Iraq with maybe a trace from extreme western Iran.
So far, I've collected well over fifty pounds that I could easily place into over a half dozen categories. I have to limit myself, because at this rate, I'll be one very overweight soldier returning home.
Back on the 18th of January, I found my first fossil near the helipad of our hospital, multiple "Gastropods" in a dark gray matrix. I took a S.W.A.G., (Scientific Wild Ass Guess) as to how old it is and I'm guessing about 150 million years old. And then on the 4th of February I found my second fossil, some "Fusulinids" in a tan matrix of different shapes and sizes. They range in size from about 1/16 of an inch to about 1/4 of an inch. Some long and skinny, some short and fat. Being an index fossil, they are at least 245 million years old. Being well formed, I suspect they are around 275 million years old. And then recently, on the 2nd of March, I found a baby Trilobite in a light tan matrix. It is 3/4 of an inch long and a shape I have never seen before. With an average of one fossil per month and their scarcity, they must have traveled a very long distance.
Over these last three months, I've picked up several nicknames from my fellow soldiers, including "Sergeant Rock Pockets" because the pants we wear have large cargo pockets on the sides and that's where I carry my rocks. I'm also called the Rock Man, the Rock Doctor, Sergeant Rock, and probably my favorite, the Rock Warrior because if we are ever attacked, I've got plenty of rocks in my pockets to throw at the enemy.
So far, there are about a dozen other soldiers who have gotten "hooked" on collecting the many different rocks around the FOB here. I guess they saw me with my head down looking at the ground and picking up some rocks. When they asked me what the heck I was doing, I explained to them. So now, almost no day goes by without someone stopping by to ask me about a rock they found. But to all Rockhound Cheechako's, one must explain the difference between keeperites and leaverites.
Well folks, until next time… Happy Hunting and Safe Collecting.
And by the way, for yall folks who are wondering what the heck are Astronomy Rocks, Diseased Rocks and Finger Rocks are… Well, I have to have something to write about in my next report. And I will also be reporting on my trip down to the Persian Gulf country of Qatar and the rocks and fossil I found down there - Yonis.
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