Coeur D'Alene Man Part Of Fire Team At Iraq Airport

POST FALLS, Idaho (AP) -- Life has gotten very routine for Nicholas Christensen at Baghdad International Airport.

``Everyday is very intense and stressful,'' he wrote in a recent e-mail. ``Mortar attacks are an everyday occurrence that you quickly get used to. I couldn't even count how many we've had. Very repetitious.''

Airman 1st Class Christensen, a 2002 Coeur d'Alene High School graduate, is in the middle of a four-month rotation as part of the fire and emergency services team at the airport. The unit protects the entire 34-square mile airport, which includes military and civilian areas and numerous Army and Air Force camps. It also provides mutual aid to the Iraqi fire department and trains their firefighters during joint exercises.

``We have responded to numerous fires, ground emergencies and medical emergencies since our arrival at the end of August,'' Christensen said. ``We work 24 hours on, 24 hours off, but if there's an emergency, it doesn't matter who's working. We all go to help.''

Christensen's training is well-rounded. He's a certified airport/structural firefighter, emergency vehicle operator, hazardous materials technician and is part of a personal watercraft rescue team.

Iraq is ``a whole other world, definitely the real deal when it comes to a combat zone,'' he said.

Some mornings there are a dozen or more explosions by sunrise, Christensen said, recalling one when he was waking up to his alarm on his watch and heard a rocket shoot over his tent and explode.

``The explosions don't bother me, but hearing the sound a rocket makes as it whistles over you is a disturbing noise I won't forget,'' he said. ``It really sounds like in the movies. I always wondered if it did, now I know.''

Car bombs have been rocking the city frequently, he said. One day his unit felt the blast of one that was over 3 miles away.

``Anything strong enough to rattle you and everything inside your tent from over 3 miles away is big,'' he said.

It turns out it was the car bomb that killed 46, including 35 children. The Iraqi public blamed American soldiers for bringing a convoy too close to a gathering, even though the insurgents were responsible.

``Things like that are very frustrating,'' Christensen said. ``They blame us for things even though we're over here helping them stabilize their society and implement their new government.''

Frustrations aside, Christensen said his time in Baghdad has been an education he will not forget. He has visited with Iraqis, Brits and Aussies.

One Iraqi soldier told Christensen that under Saddam Hussein, people would get their throats slit if they did not join the Army at 18. The soldier had seen a man get his tongue cut off for speaking out of turn and another had his earlobes cut off for not listening, Christensen said.

``He spoke of these instances with little enthusiasm, like it happened often and wasn't a big deal,'' he said. ``He also wasn't allowed to speak to his family or go home for three years, watch TV, read the newspaper or listen to the radio.''

Christensen said time goes so slowing in Iraq that only thoughts about his returning to his father's home in Post Falls for leave in January before reassignment keeps him going.

He said that is ``my main motivations right now.''