Baghdad Diaries

This diary, compiled by Gunner Palace directors Mike Tucker and Petra Epperlein, consists of notes from the production of the film in 2003-2004 and emails sent from 2/3 FA soldiers during their 410 day deployment to Baghdad and Najaf.

September 06, 2003 

See No Evil

We arrived in Amman. The armored cars that F. said were arriving tonight are sitting at an airport somewhere in Europe. That means that F. and I will drive in with a taxi to Baghdad.


Continue reading "See No Evil"

September 08, 2003 

Halliburton Hotel

P--Arrived in Baghdad. The trip was uneventful. Didn’t see one Army vehicle until Ramadi--the desert is, well, deserted. There isn't any security out there.


One car full of Ali Babas did check us out, but they lost their interest and drove on. Five trips on that road is enough. I promise not to do it again.

Continue reading "Halliburton Hotel"

September 12, 2003 

Minor Combat

Heh P: Good news and bad news. First the good news: The 1AD PAO has set me up with 2/3 FA, an artillery unit from Germany based in one of Uday Hussein’s palaces-or what is left of it. It sounds like something right out of “Gone with the Wind"-plus, it's sitting in the hottest sector in Baghdad, so I think we'll get what we need. Of course, the fact that is has a pool doesn't hurt either.

The bad news:


Continue reading "Minor Combat"

September 14, 2003 

An Adult Paradise

Heh P: My driver took me to Adhamiya today. Ironically, he lives across the street from the Palace, so he promised to check in on me to make sure that I'm OK. Only in Iraq: he's worried about me.


Continue reading "An Adult Paradise"

September 16, 2003 

Uncontrolled Explosion

Heh P: Finally found email. Lots going on here. I think I should stay as long as possible. Pretty safe, although the Palace came under mortar attack two nights ago. At first, I thought it was controlled EOD explosion. By the time I got to my room, a third round hit and all the guys were just standing around like nothing had happened. In fact, somebody found a rat in the hooch which demanded their full attention--never mind the mortars.


Continue reading "Uncontrolled Explosion"

September 19, 2003 

Reality Check

The LTC and the Chaplain invited me to a fallen soldier memorial at 4/27 FA. A young soldier named Kevin Kimmerly was killed by an RPG a few days before.

It's Army tradition to have a last roll call at a soldier's memorial. They call out roll and soldiers answer with "here" as their names are called. When they came to Kimmerly, there was no reply. His named was called twice more, answered only by the quiet sobbing of his fellow soldiers.


Continue reading "Reality Check"

September 24, 2003 

One Night in Baghdad

Routine has settled in: Day=Patrol in the Sun. Night=Raid Houses.


It's getting a little intense. The other night, while raiding the home of suspected bomb builders, one of the suspects started talking to me as he was detained. He pleaded to me, "I'm a journalist. You get this wrong. They call this freedom?"

Continue reading "One Night in Baghdad"

September 26, 2003 

Helmet Head

What´s going on, I didn´t hear from you since Wednesday... bombs are blowing up left and right, ....what are you doing ?! I hope you stay away from wars in the future. Petra


The guys I am with got hit by four IEDs on Weds--including the one that hit an Iraqi bus--many civilians dead, four police wounded and 2 MPs wounded. An uparmored going down a busy shopping street was the target.

Continue reading "Helmet Head"

September 28, 2003 

Jackass Goes to War


Over the weeks, a rhythm has developed. Sleep late to avoid the heat. Try to eat an MRE. Drink water and lots of it. Smoke fake Marlboros from the Haji stand and wait for something to happen, anything. A patrol. An escort. An OP.

Continue reading "Jackass Goes to War"

September 29, 2003 

Burger King

P: We were driving to BIAP the other day---someone cooked up a reason so we could go to the PX and Burger King (believe it or not). We took orders for something like 50 Whoppers. On the way down the airport road traffic suddenly stopped because there was an IED on the road. As we pulled over, we heard that a sniper was engaging the convoys ahead of us. All that for a Whopper.


Continue reading "Burger King"

October 08, 2003 

Trying to Get Home

P: Sorry...I’m trying to get out of here. It’s not so easy to get a flight. Hoping to get on a flight home with a soldier from 2/3, to wrap-up the story. MT


Continue reading "Trying to Get Home"

October 10, 2003 

Planet Baghdad


I’m back in Berlin. Took three days to get out of Baghdad. There simply wasn’t any room and there were lots of guys who NEEDED to get home.

Continue reading "Planet Baghdad"

October 16, 2003 

I'll be Home Soon Honey

Petra and I went to Giessen last week to visit 2/3 families. While in Baghdad, I made an effort to get guys to shout-out to their spouses and kids so we could edit a short video for the families in Giessen.


I feel a lot for these families. My Dad left for Vietnam on a troop ship on my first birthday. I thought of my mother, who spent three tours waiting for a doorbell to ring or a car door to slam. I spent the first sixteen years of my life around the army--and then another six, from age 17-23, in the Army Reserve. I guess, soldiers like Wilf remind me of myself and seeing these families and their quiet struggles, brings back memories of another time, another war.

Continue reading "I'll be Home Soon Honey"

October 18, 2003 

I Killed The Rat

A few weeks after I left the Palace, SPC Stuart Wilf and SPC Tom Susdorf , my former roommates, started sending me regular updates about life in Baghdad.

Battle Buddies: Tom Susdorf (L) Stuart Wilf (R)

Stuart writes:

Hey Dude, all kinds of stuff blowing up everywhere, two of our guys got hit by a mortar last night (three impacted in front of Hellraiser's building), we've had over 10 mortars impact on our compound and SF’s over the past 4 days. Car bombs are supposed to hit in Adhamiya today, so we're all ready.

Continue reading "I Killed The Rat"

October 23, 2003 

Potato Gun

Stuart writes:

Lots of stuff still blowing up here. This dude made a potato gun-like rocket launcher the other day and tried to shoot it at the palace from across the river, but he was retarded and it blew up about 5 feet in front of him.

Continue reading "Potato Gun"

November 03, 2003 

Ben Colgan

Three weeks away from Baghdad, I received an email from 2/3 informing me that LT Ben Colgan was killed. The news hit me hard. Just weeks before, I had been out with him and his Tombraiders when an IED exploded behind the Abu Hanifa Mosque—one of two IEDs that were meant for his patrol. He was killed in the same spot.

I knew where he died, but I also knew where he lived. He came from the Seattle area like me. I knew the kind of house he grew up in and the landscape he dreamt of going home to.

Everybody in 2/3 loved Ben—they felt safe with him.

Continue reading "Ben Colgan"

November 07, 2003 

War by Remote

I heard about Ben's death on Monday--I spent half the day looking at images of him in Baghdad--and the other half trying to get authorization to fly on an AMC flight to Iraq the next day. In the end, it was impossible to get to Baghdad on short notice.

Continue reading "War by Remote"

November 10, 2003 

The Memorial

Tom writes:

All of us are very upset about Lt Colgan. I feel horrible for his family.


Continue reading "The Memorial"

November 18, 2003 

Multiple Launch Donkeys

Tom writes:

Yesterday I passed an IED that didnt hit me, but got the convoy on the road behind us. They were MPs and the driver was the only one hurt (I was driving our convoy). That shook me for a while. When they run out of conventional weapons I’m sure we will see some off the wall stuff like the donkeys. Well not much else going on except a volley of 2 or 3 mortars a night now.

December 11, 2003 

Survey Attacked


Message from 2/3:

BREAK BREAK BREAK (survey) and 2 Time reporters hit by grenade need medevac more to follow...........

Continue reading "Survey Attacked"

December 14, 2003 

Saddam Found in Hole


Continue reading "Saddam Found in Hole"

December 15, 2003 

Paris Hilton


Stuart writes:

Tom's sitting next to me, he's an idiot. He passed up Paris Hilton's phone number! He could have got it but he's a dumb boy. But we do still have the possibility of Brittney Spears phone number. Nevermind, he lost that one also. Dumb.

Continue reading "Paris Hilton"

December 24, 2003 

Wilf’s Dream


Stuart Writes:

I had a great Christmas dream last night. Our families came to visit for Christmas, it was like family day at basic training, only at war instead. My dad and little brother came driving up in this redneck motorhome, and my dad started unloading cartons of cigarettes from it (he doesn't smoke, I don't get that part). So I went into the TOC to do something, and this mortar hit right outside of the TOC Everyones families were crowding around the crater pointing to it and saying, "Wow! Look at that! Neat!"

Continue reading "Wilf’s Dream"

December 27, 2003 

Person of the Year


On December 10, Jim Nachtwey and Mike Weisskopf from Time Magazine were wounded while covering 2/3 for Time's Person of the Year feature. That feature came out on December 21st. Three soldiers from 2/3 were on the cover, including one of my subjects, SPC Billie Grimes, a young female medic from Indiana. Wilf, was the centerfold.

Continue reading "Person of the Year"

January 01, 2004 

New Year, Old War

Tom writes:

The Time article was ok, but not many people were thrilled with the satellite photo of the palace. Survey (Tombraider) is kinda passive on the whole thing. A mortar round hit our hooch wall last night, scared me. No injs/however some damage to HMMWVs and other equipment. I hope things are good at home. CSM Cooke was a great guy. Take care and HAPPY NEW YEAR.


January 05, 2004 

Coming Back?


Right now, I am trying to get permission to come back around Jan 20th for about ten days--AF will try to get me papers to fly as it doesn't look too safe to drive in from Jordan.

Continue reading "Coming Back?"

January 12, 2004 

Jessica Lynch

Stuart writes:
Think I could learn the Star Spangled Banner before you get back. I already know the beginning of it--I think that might fit in nicely. But I also thought about the whole playing naked thing. That would be awesome.


Continue reading "Jessica Lynch"

February 14, 2004 

Back at the Palace

F and M&D drove me to Adhamiya today. Everybody is still here, but it feels very different. When you drive in, the first thing you see is the Alpha Humvee that was hit in December. We went out back and sat in the sun next to a very sad looking pool. It's heated, but the novelty seems to have worn off. The soldiers seem spent. Too many IEDs. Too many attacks. Too much stress. Everybody just looks forward to redeploying in the Spring. Some of them are already packing. Everybody is counting the days.


Continue reading "Back at the Palace"

February 19, 2004 

Mohammed Tyson


I was out at Charlie Battery last night when Supercop brought in Mohammed Tyson zip-stripped--he was the young Iraqi interpreter that I filmed with the detainee last time. They say he has been taking photographs of vehicles and passing intelligence on to an insurgent cell. If it is true, he is responsible for at least four deaths.

Continue reading "Mohammed Tyson"

February 23, 2004 


P: After I got off the phone with you earlier, I walked back to the TOC. When I was about half-way, a mortar hit up on the end of the compound. I kept walking. Then another hit. And another...


Continue reading "Boom"

February 27, 2004 

Krieg Lite

One thing that I've never seen mentioned in the news is that US forces are not allowed to drink during their deployment except during R&R. I know there is some illicit drinking going on--you can buy a beer right across the street at the banana stand and I assume liquor makes it in--but overall, this is a dry deployment--the first alcohol free American War: Krieg Lite.

When it is 120 degrees outside, beer tastes good and the Army knows that so they have sent thousands of cases of near beer to Iraq.

Continue reading "Krieg Lite"

March 01, 2004 

We Live in this Movie

This has become their movie, not mine—each person with their own reference. For the older officers and NCOs it's M*A*S*H. They brought aloha shirts for poolside BBQs. For others, it's Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. You can see it in the way they ride in their Humvees: one foot hanging out the door—helicopters with wheels. For the teenagers, it's Jackass Goes to War.


As much as they project cultural icons into their lives, through my viewfinder you can see that they are defining their own experience; a movie different than anything anyone has seen before. The other day, while recording freestyles, a young SPC looked at the camera, charged his weapon and said,"For y'all this is just a show, but we live in this movie."

Update: Some of the war tapes that the soldiers from Gunner Palace sent me from Iraq will be used on the dvd to tell their story--it could be the first war movie shot by soldiers themselves--I'm curious how it will be perceived.

March 03, 2004 


I was drinking coffee this morning when three large explosions hit up the river. I went into the TOC and heard on the net the Kadhimiya mosque was bombed with dozens killed.


It's upsetting-- this happened as people were simply marching in a procession to the mosque.

Continue reading "Kadhimiya"

March 10, 2004 



HHB drove me to BIAP. We did the ritual PX/Burger King run. I said my goodbyes. Knowing that I'll see them in two months, made it easy.

Continue reading "MEDEVAC"

April 10, 2004 



Stuart writes:

I'm sure you've all heard from the news that we've been extended. Sadr thinks he's going to take over Iraq or something, and it's out of control here again.

Continue reading "Extended!"

April 15, 2004 

The Uprising


Tom writes:

We have another KIA and 2 WIA in the last 4 days. Bravo Btry soldier was the KIA. We were involved in a 6 hr firefight yesterday night and we have now found out we are extended in Iraq for at least 3 more months. We are going to move to another location to break the enemies back and corner him off. I cant say when or where we are going but its not going to be easy. -Tom

On April 5, 2004, SGT David McKeever was killed in an RPG attack. In the same timeframe, a young female soldier died at 2/3 after she was ambushed. The LT that replaced Ben Colgan was shot in the head, but his Kevlar saved him and he will recover. Others were wounded.

April 17, 2004 


Stuart writes:

Of what I've gathered, this is what's going on: most of the ICDC are screwbags--have been taking pictures of the compound and distributing them to people that want us dead. We're supposed to have an attack on us real soon here, they want to raid the palace is the intel we've got.

All the new guys are here, and they're pissing me off by walking around like they've been here for a year, and they've been here for a week. I hate hearing them talk about "well 600 isn't really that many people to die when you think about it.”

When 4 of those 600 were people you knew, it's way too many.

I’ve got 5 months and 13 day's left in the Army, then I'm off to be a rockstar. Forget college. Forget jobs. Forget growing up, I'm GOING to be a rockstar.That's about all I can think of right now.


April 18, 2004 

Mortar in the Pool


Continue reading "Mortar in the Pool"

May 09, 2004 

Orders for Najaf

This was sent about a year to the day that 2/3 deployed.

Stuart writes:

we're on our way to Najaf in the next 72 hours. Our unit, which has been here the past year (one year, 2 hours and 25 minutes as of now), will now deploy to one of Iraq's 3 hot spots to continue to die for Iraq.

This isn't the life for me.

This life is killing me.

May 23, 2004 

365 Days

2/3 has been in Iraq for a year now. They expect to be gone at least another two months. After seeing this war firsthand, I don't have any easy answers. In fact, I may have no answers. With each trip to Iraq, my opinions have become dulled--it's all become personal. When I watch the news, I think of people I know in Baghdad. I think of the families I've had dinner with, the friends that I've drank endless cups of tea with and the soldiers that I've rolled with. I worry about all of them. During the last year, if anything, I've learned that war isn't what most of us think it is: it has nothing to do with what most of us know and it's definitely not what you see on the news.

I've asked soldiers what they think about the war and their answers are surprisingly simple. After a year, the war isn't about WMDs, democracy, Donald Rumsfeld or oil. It's about them. Simple. They just want to finish the job they were sent to do so they can go home.

© Nomados Film 2004, All Rights Reserved  |  powered by MT  |  design by cubus