Wednesday, December 26, 2007

FOB Pacesetter

In the last few posts, I asked several questions about what to me seemed like odd choices that Kirk von Ackermann made shortly before he disappeared. This post looks at the area surrounding the last base he visited for context.

Excerpt from Death of a Contractor

On October 9th, not long after he and Phillips tried to take half of Ultra Services from Dawkins and create a rival company, Kirk von Ackermann visited FOB McKenzie, a U.S. forward operating base near Samarra. After meeting with a Turkish subcontractor, he left the base behind the wheel of his Nissan Patrol SUV. He was alone.
Prior to December of 2003, Forward Operating Base (FOB) McKenzie was known as FOB Pacesetter.

An aerial photo of FOB Pacesetter originally posted online at by a member of the US Army, kinard_r.

Map inset showing the general location of Pacesetter originally published in the New York Times on December 29, 2003.

FOB Pacesetter was home to an artillery battalion of the 4th Infantry Division. The base has also been referred to as Camp Pacesetter, Samarra East Air Base and/or Al Bakr Airfield. Pacesetter is probably most notable as the first home of the Stryker Brigade in December 2003 (ref). The region immediately surrounding the base is flat and dry and quickly changes to mud under winter rains.

Interview with MAJ Deverick Jenkins
Combat Studies Institute Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, February 21, 2007
JENKINS: We ended up on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Pacesetter and there was just an artillery battalion there. They were responsible for this entire airbase which was possible because it was a pretty wide open space. All you could see for miles was sand and farmers. It was pretty doable security wise. We did visit the 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit one day to pick up commander’s emergency response program (CERP) funds and we were salivating at how good they had it. Of the month we were at FOB Pacesetter, we only had electricity in tents for about four days. We were there when Saddam was captured in December 2003. I spent my worst Christmas ever there.
Capsized in the canal
by Michael Gilbert, News Tribune, February 20, 2005
So many U.S. convoys had been attacked along the highway through Duluiyah that they’d taken to calling it Ambush Alley. A cemetery north of town was the suspected launch site for mortar and rocket attacks on the American camp at Saddam’s old air base nearby, dubbed Forward Operating Base Pacesetter by its new American occupants.

A field artillery battalion from the 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas, was the lone occupant at Pacesetter before the Strykers showed up. With a few hundred artillerymen, the battalion didn’t have the numbers to make a major push into Duluiyah. And the 4th I.D. was concentrating on problems elsewhere – Tikrit, Samarra and Balad.
Map of the region surrounding Samarra from (see 'click here to zoom')

It's not clear which direction von Ackermann travelled after he left FOB Pacesetter.

To the north of FOB Pacesetter is the historic city of Samarra, population approx 300,000.

To the south of FOB Pacesetter is the city of Ad Duluiyah, population approx 50,000. It's about 20 miles between Ad Duluiyah and Samarra.

In 2003, a number of other small American bases were scattered through out the area: in Samarra - Camp Brassfield-Mora, Patrol Base Casino, Civil-Military Operations Center in Samarra; further south in Balad - Camp Anaconda, FOB Lion, Camp Balad, FOB Carpenter, FOB Omaha, FOB Eagle. Von Ackermann's colleague, Ryan Manelick, was killed shortly after leaving Anaconda for Baghdad.

Looking north of Samarra is the city of Tikrit, population approx 200,000, home to the tribe of Saddam Hussein. There were several American bases in Tikrit in 2003. To the south - Camp Packhorse (renamed FOB Remagen) and to the east - FOB Speicher. Inside the Tikrit Presidential Palace, Camp Ironhorse (renamed FOB Danger) and nearby Camp Raider (renamed FOB Dagger). Just south of Tikrit, Camp Arrow in the small city of Ad Dawr. Ad Dawr was where Hussein was captured in December 2003.

It is my understanding that John Dawkins was in a meeting at one of the bases in Tikrit when the call came through that von Ackermann was missing.

For more information on Pacesetter:
Global Security
If you know anyone who was stationed at FOB Pacesetter in the fall of 2003, please email me. I'd like to hear about access and restrictions getting on and off the base, local patrols, curfews and travel restrictions, etc.

Update - satellite photo of Balad

Northeast of Balad, on the other side of the river Tigris, you should be able to spot the air base.

View Larger Map


For Kirk said...

Susie these are fascinating. I've never seen photos of the area before so I really appreciate your posting them. I think somewhere I have an old email that gives the gps location of Kirk's car - I'll see if I can find it for you.

Susie Dow said...

That would be great, thank you!

I've been working on another map which I hope to post in the next week or so. It shows the general location of US camps and bases in 2003.

I'm also hoping to include information on the ridge that bisects the central region in Iraq as seen in this photo. It's an aerial shot of the hills near Bayji, a city north of Tikrit. If you look on a satellite photo, you'll see a ridge of these hills running nw to se between Tikrit and Kirkuk.

These hills are part of the Jabal Hamrin Mountains, rising to about 1,000 feet in the north and tapering off to the south, forming the border between the provinces (governates) of At Ta'mim and Salah ad Din.

Roughly 35°N 44°E on a map.

Anonymous said...

WoW i was stationed on fob mackenzie (pacesetter) in feb 2004 and the 1/4th CAV was still there the area was still unruly and the iraq national guard commanders we very shady especialy after there head commander(Capt. Kalhif) was assasinated on his way home to his town of Baqubah. security got tighter as we dealt with corruption w/ in the iraqi national guard. security was run by the 1 113th field artillery US national guard out of monroe NC. it was set up with a massive guard tower which enabled the soldiers to see from the edge of F.O.B. MacKenzie to the ING compound that was set up about half the distance down the road from the left turn 1 would make to head into the city of Al Diluyah. there were dual check points but 1 way in and 1 way off the base as well after the battle in Samarra and the massive cache of weapons we located in bayji the base was attacked less and was able to make great strides in it's development (such as commissary,warm showers, early warning mortar systems ect. ect...)

Susie Dow said...

Thank you for your comment. Your information is very helpful and of course, raises more questions.

If the area wasn't the safest, why was von Ackermann, a former counterterrorism officer, knowingly traveling alone in a vehicle with a bad tire?

Assuming he was aware of the general status of security in the area, seems logical he would have thought carefully about his travel. (see dual lives for his background on security)

How did he get to the base?
How did he plan on leaving the base?
And how did his vehicle end up abandoned 180 miles away?