2009-10-23 / Neighbors

Blog sheds light on Army life in Iraq

By Daniel Wolowicz camarillo@theacorn.com

HIS STORY—Army major and Camarillo resident Brian Nomi sits in Saddam Hussein’s former throne during his recent yearlong deployment to Iraq. The photograph is one of many Nomi posted on his Web log—or blog—about his time as a lawyer and officer at Joint Base Balad in northern Iraq. HIS STORY—Army major and Camarillo resident Brian Nomi sits in Saddam Hussein’s former throne during his recent yearlong deployment to Iraq. The photograph is one of many Nomi posted on his Web log—or blog—about his time as a lawyer and officer at Joint Base Balad in northern Iraq. For U.S. soldiers and their families, an impending tour of duty in Iraq presents a long list of fears and worries.

Brian Nomi, an Army major and Camarillo resident, is aware of how it feels to face the unknown in the weeks before a deployment, which is one of the reasons why he kept an online blog written during his year spent at Joint Base Balad in Iraq.

The U.S. Army major’s online wartime diary about his year on the base, a sprawling military complex tucked into farmland about 60 miles north of Baghdad, offers a firsthand view of a soldier’s daily life in Iraq.

The Web log features photographs, videos and posts from a country many Americans still know very little about.

The blog has attracted loyal followers—many of them soldiers who are headed to the base and grateful for a glimpse into their future—and has garnered the attention of Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper, who calls Nomi’s blog “fascinating.”

“His blog helped a lot,” said Ray Calef, a sergeant first class from Iowa who will deploy next year to Balad. “I think it gives an informative view of what life on (the base) is like, and I have filled my wife in about it. It helps her to understand what life will be like for me when we deploy.”

Nomi, a graduate of Rio Mesa High School and a Camarillo attorney, returned last month from Iraq, where he provided legal services to soldiers dealing with personal issues back home.

Since U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq two years later, tech-savvy soldiers like Nomi have taken advantage of digital photos, video and the ubiquity of the Internet to offer a personal look inside the trenches and command centers of a 21stcentury battlefield.

For Nomi, like many who post their daily activities online, the blog was also an easy way to correspond with friends and family interested in what’s happening overseas.

“The photos and descriptions are a good way to share (what’s going on) rather than re-creating it for every single person that asks,” he said during an interview early last week at his Camarillo law office.

A reservist since he left active duty 11 years ago, Nomi had been deployed overseas twice before going to Iraq. He served in Korea, where he met Dream, his wife of 10 years, and then in Germany in 2003.

Nomi said he was surprised early last year when he was called to serve in Iraq. The fact that he was married with two young children—Judith, 5, and Rebecca, 4—and had an active law practice made deployment more complicated than before.

Nomi’s blog explores the enormous base—larger than the city of Camarillo—with the eye of a curious tourist trying to explain to the folks back home how, despite the fact that half of its 30,000 residents carry weapons, the base is like most American small towns.

He describes its two swimming pools, movie theater, gyms, social activities and food.

He’s the first to admit the base’s accommodations made his deployment far easier than that of most soldiers in Iraq.

“Many soldiers live in much worse conditions and have to change their schedule daily,” Nomi wrote. “Even worse, many soldiers must work outside in the intense heat of the day or go on missions along the dusty roads of Iraq with people occasionally roadside bombing them. They are doing the hard work here.”

Despite the base’s amenities, Nomi said it did little to ease the pain he felt being away from his wife and two daughters for so long.

To help connect with his family back home, he wrote e-mails daily and spoke to his young girls using Skype, an online video service.

Although the infrequent mortar and rocket attacks on the camp were unnerving, he said, he never lost any sleep over them.

“The entire year I was there, nobody on my base died as a result of enemy action.”

The only time Nomi left the base was in early March when he was in Baghdad for a law conference. The trip included a visit to Saddam Hussein’s former palace and a brief meeting with Vice President Joe Biden’s son, who is also serving in Iraq.

There are several posts about his work on the base, which Nomi said mostly consisted of giving legal advice to young soldiers who were facing divorce.

Most of his clients were in their early 20s and had been married only a few years.

“Perhaps they got married right before they were deployed for emotional reasons,” Nomi said. Others, he said, marry for the health benefits spouses receive from the Army and a pay bump given to soldiers.

Reports on divorce rates for soldiers vary, but all indicate that rates are high among military personnel—especially those in the Army—who are serving extended tours of duty overseas.

“One thing that I see again and again is the spouse back home, be it female or male . . . have affairs while their spouse is (in Iraq). It’s very sad to see that,” the major said.

He said his job made him appreciate his wife more.

“Although it’s somewhat counterintuitive, our relationship improved over the year, which I can say is certainly not the case for most of the people who went to Iraq.”

Nomi said the U.S. is “winning” in Iraq and the country is becoming more peaceful; he said most people in the United States don’t see the progress being made there.

“That’s another reason I did my blog, because I want people to really know what’s going on over there. I think the mortality rate of people in Iraq is lower than the mortality rate of people here in the United States, actually,” he said. “I think that the coverage of Iraq doesn’t show how well things are going for the average soldier over there . . . or the progress we are making with Iraqi reconstruction.”

To view Nomi’s blog, visit www.briannomi.wordpress.com.

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