I just wanted to do a blog trying to recap some of the highs and lows of our deployment. I have so many memories of the time leading up to the deployment; the time spent at Ft Lewis Washington training to deploy. Then there are the last 10 months of our time together at Kuwait, Victory and Basra Iraq.
Before we actually deployed there were so many trips, expectations, and tasks that we needed to complete. One of which was reading the numerous professional readings to help us understand the people, the culture, the mission and to help us understand the behind the war. The titles were interchangeable in my eyes and most of the readings became one after a while. I’m not complaining, in fact I never slept better.
Then there was the Iraqi born guest speaker from the SCSU to raise our awareness of the local customs, courtesies and the concerns of the Iraqis. Understand he has lived the last ten years or more in the United States and only briefed us based on his two to four weeks spent here every summer and the phone calls home. It amazed me when he spoke of America’s promises after the war that has not been fulfilled. Excuse me I thought, you tell us that not all the people of Iraq have power. My question is of those that had power before war, do they have power now? Then he said the same thing about the water and our countries promises to provide water. From my window I see water plants being built, and the lights glowing in the city of Basra off in the distance at night. Had my inside my head voice not been under control I would have blurted out “If America is so bad why are you still here, go back to Iraq?”
You see, of the locals that I have talked to they see things differently. The one lady I dealt with has known nothing but war her whole life. When you ask her is her life better, she says better than what. Her family has nothing to compare it to because of the war. Her family was used to moving from one hostile area to another less hostile one. Yes they have power, yes they have water, and yes her life is better today.
FT LEWIS, WA (FLWA): What can I say except what an experience? On our way over to serve our country we had the pleasure of staying at North Fort. The old World War II barracks where our forefathers stayed. I’m sure they told the soldiers back then that it was temporary and they were going to tear them down and replace them just like they told us. The place was definitely not the Pierce Motel that you can rent by the hour. At the same time it was far short of your expectations of a Motel 6. Trust me they didn’t leave a light on for us. What made it special was the people that had been to war and back. Maybe they didn’t serve in Iraq, but definitely Vietnam. So many of the civilians that worked with us had already been there and done that, but never received the T shirt.
There was a Vietnam veteran named Glenn in the mess hall that greeted us every morning with the phrase “Would you like an Omelet my friend?” If you said no his automatic reply was “Maybe tomorrow”. His enthusiastic comments every morning made more than one soldier smile.
There were others like him of course. For example the Catholic congregation at church for our going away mass made us feel special as well. The church was located on the base so you can imagine how the soldiers serving there understood us and what we were going through. One older gentleman from the World War II era pulled me aside and reached his shaking hand into his pocket to retrieve his pamphlet on how to pray the rosary. His voice broke as he expressed his gratitude to me and those I serve with.
On a lighter side there was the notorious paint peelers club that was founded by our friend Ms Asset visibility. I won’t go into the details but those of you from my section that were there that day, know. Let me just say we should have gotten the T-shirt that day that said we survived the first paint peeler 2009. She may have been the first but she was definitely not the last.
Let’s not forget the Ninja! This high ranking NCO showed the young punks how to use simulated numb chunks to defeat their opponent. Instead, he defeated himself (literally) in the mud. One observer mentioned that he did a Kamikaze move as he spiraled into the ground.
What about the quotable quotes that was on our wall of fame. Like the one “They want the same information in a different format, let’s just turn the chart sideways!” or “You can’t make this shit up”. Of course you can’t bring up the wall of fame without mentioning the overall cribbage champions Crotteau/Howe who dominated the Ft Lewis series over Townsend/Ulmen. I know that most of us felt that they needed a road map and a compass as their pegs were moved first one direction and then the other.
Who could forget the shower scene? Many a joke has been told about reaching over to pick up a bar of soap in the shower. Let me set the mood: the showers were cramped, the steam was in the air, but the shower looked less gloomy with the single 60 watt bulb hanging from the ceiling. As you walked into the shower you might have to squeeze by one of your 30 roommates or by a total stranger from the first floor. You didn’t want to be the guy to have to work his way down to shower spout #4. My most awkward shower was the day my bar of soap launched itself out of my hands and landed between me and the other guy. It was slow motion as the bar launched high into the air twirling end over end, our eyes met briefly as the bar of soap continued to tumble. When it landed between us I laughed nervously and asked him if I could use his soap. We both laughed I felt as if the whole experience would have made a great opening shot in some X rated movie. It was childish but the scene I just described to you could have gotten a man in prison compromised.
Sure there was time out for good behavior; we got almost 3 hours one night. We would have gotten all four if we didn’t have to drive back and forth to get our leave slips signed. What a way to send soldiers off to war right! But the evening out was well worth it, we went to our last supper that night in the good old USA. After that we went for a night cap of ice cream and talked nervously of our travels the next day.
Movement Forward: 24 hours in an airplane oh my! We traveled ahead in time through several time zones and ended up 9 hours ahead of those we left behind. During our trip here we went from Ft Lewis Washington, Kansas, Bangor Maine, Germany, and finally Kuwait. We all looked like death warmed over with hat hair, wrinkled uniforms and fuzzy faces. Old Chuck looked like he had been rode hard on the chain gang. I bet you thought I was going to say something else?
Temperatures definitely weren’t what they were back on the old homestead. I left Minnesota on 2 February with temperatures at 30 below, Ft Lewis was 30 above when we arrived, and now on 6 March in Kuwait it was 60. It can’t get much better than this I thought to myself. Trust me it didn’t, the temperatures crept a little higher each day and it finally reached well over 130 one day.
We were in tents stacked like sardines awaiting movement into Iraq. We each had 3 duffle bags, and a large ruck sack complete with our choice of carry on. We had a few tasks to complete including shooting our guns on the rifle range. We were cautioned on the way to the range if a camel should cross the range you had to yell cease fire! I’m not sure what the cost was exactly but the cost varied between brown and black camels. I do remember you could buy a 1985 4 x 4 Chevy ¾ truck for the price of a camel. That day nothing crossed our path except for the thought of what in the hell am I doing in this god forsaken place. Looking out the curtained covered windows (You weren’t suppose to look out due to force protection) of the bus you saw sand to the front, left, right and rear. In fact in the days ahead you found out how fine the sand was and where the sand could get in the cracks if you know what I mean.
Our first sandstorm was similar to a Minnesota blizzard driving along I94 headed to Fargo. Lucky for us we were trapped in a mess hall when the day became night. We were eating breakfast one morning when the sand storm struck. It suddenly got dark outside as the winds increased. Fine sand particles were in the air in the mess hall as the storm unleashed outside. It wasn’t pretty afterwards but it was an experience. That night I discovered why my friend rolled his sleeping bag up each and every morning. I had sand in my sack and in my crack that night. The next day when it rained the downpour became mud as the air was cleaned by Mother Nature. It’s was kind of funny as the mud drops hit the earth, splat, splat, splat.
Victory Base Complex (VBC) Iraq: Well we’re finally in Iraq and ready to start learning from our counterparts from the 10th MTN. It didn’t take us long to discover that they were a lot like us. Even though they were active they still blew off steam the only way possible. They had fun, threw a beanie baby or two or whatever else was on hand. They worked together, ate together, and looked out for each other. Most importantly they welcomed us into the fold. Granted our sleeping accommodations made us miss the old vinyl covered mattresses in the World War II barracks back in Ft Lewis. But the cots and my 30 tent mates were happy to be inside out of the elements. They talked of moving us closer to where we worked but most of us had already settled into a routine. It wasn’t until just before we headed south to Basra that we found out the tents they wanted to move us to have regular beds with mattresses. It’s OK though, the indentation on “my not a kid” anymore hips went away with time.
It was there that I learned the humor of the civilians from other countries that were there to support us. One day when Peter (name changed to protect his feelings) went to pick up his laundry, the little Asian lady behind the counter said to him in her best English “Big man, little package”. Now I wasn’t there but the Asset Visibility lady was, she swears the laundry lady wasn’t talking about the size of his laundry bag. I might add that his laundry bag was the size of a back pack that my 2 year old granddaughter might carry. Its funny how nick names are born, right BMLP (Big Man Little Package)?
We were excited to continue our deployment and head to our final destination of Basra Iraq. You see the Division we were replacing was moving from the comfortable country club setting of Victory to the yet developed base of Basra. They were taking over the Basra base from the British. It wasn’t pretty down there by any means.
BASRA, IRAQ: 4 April 2009 we had boxed up the equipment in Victory, called the moving company and headed off to our new digs. Nothing was ready except for the cubicle furniture already set up in barn 3. We called it the barn because we were in stalls (cubes) in this rather large barn, with concrete walls, and in the roof over head. We later came to love our barn during incoming attacks versus being outside in a bunker sweating your butt off listening to the echoing voices of the Base Defense Operations Center (BDOC). You see there were many speakers not all in sync so you would here “This is the BDOC” from multiple speakers with 1 – 3 seconds delay between them. Once the speaker was done near you, the speakers in the distance could still be heard.
This is where reality hit in the middle of the night the alarm would sound and you would drop to the floor and crawl under your mattress. When the BDOC sounded again you were instructed to head to a hardened structure. You grabbed your body armor, helmet, and your weapon and off to the bunker. For a while there it was common for once or twice a week to be in the bunker. You learned early on to stay at work if there was a threat of the neighbors acting up.
My friend MAJ Flikke described our recent out burst from the neighbors in her blog. I couldn’t describe it better when she said:
Your knee and your foot hurt where you hit them on the floor or knocked them against the bed frame. The alarm and the incoming message continue to sound. The big guns outside explode with sound and fury. You are no longer confused, but you are wide awake. You remember exactly where you are and why you are here. You check your watch – midnight. You know that the quick reaction force is on the move to the place from which the incoming came. The alarm stops and the fury of the guns die down. You also know that you will be required to go to a bunker until the ALL CLEAR is given which could take anywhere from a half to four hours. Now you have a choice: do you bring your blanket with you to the bunker or a book. I chose the blanket and tried to sleep, my Buddy chose a book. This isn’t your average wakeup call – for one thing it was way too early.
Trust me after the loss of our three comrades early on, the voice of the night was what could bring you awake in an instant. The voice had a way of bringing you back to reality in a heartbeat.
What does all this mean? Well I’ll tell you, it means for the most part that we came together as individuals and became a team. There wasn’t a star quarterback at the front of the pack, or matching jerseys, just soldiers that wanted to play in the big leagues. There would be no need for a ticket taker to be at the front gate collecting money. The game that we play for those that we supported was for the most part transparent. No one knows what we do until we’re not there to do it. As long as the operation is running smooth no one even looks our way. Once there is a serious oversight on someone’s part, it suddenly becomes our problem and we should have taken care of it yesterday.
Some of my team mates I will never see again and that’s OK, others I will keep in touch with as I grow older. A wise man once said some people bring a smile to your face as they enter a room and others bring a smile to your face as they leave. Most of my team has made me smile as they come into the room, and a few will see me smile as they leave. Truth be told, I will miss them all, for it takes all types to make what happened here possible.
Our team could not have been successful without our civilian contractors. Mark, Tonya, Isiah, Patrick, Ken, and Rose without your guidance, patience, and quiet understanding we could not have made this journey without you. You can play on our team anytime!
Last but not least I need to make honorable mention of LTC Muskrat. Here was a lady that came to us after we were already in country. Her story of being out for 17 years and being called back to serve still make most of us smile. Her real name is LTC Mary Yusckat. Because of my hearing I mistakenly heard her say my last name sounds like muskrat instead of musket. Another nickname was born and her smile and laughter that produces happy tears will not be forgotten. Mary you were an inspiration to us all, and your patience with dealing with the “Man” is remarkable. You truly were an inspiration to us all!
Sometime February 2010: To my family and friends both old and new I thank you for your support, your sacrifices, and your friendship! If you’re ever in Minnesota in the winter knock on the door of my ice shack and say hi. Or join me at the cabin as we gather around the fire to say a silent toast to our Soldiers serving. Let’s not forget that we are Americans first and foremost as we live our lives and enjoy our freedom. I ask at a minimum that on Veterans Day and Memorial Day that you participate in the day and that you reflect on the sacrifices of our brothers and sisters that have gone before us. Share the memories, tell a story or two and never let our youth forget the sacrifices that so many have given so we can live the life that we do!
Susan to you I say “Baby, I’m coming home!”
That is all,