South West Asia Deployment

With any deployment, it really starts the seven months prior in homeport. When I came back to the battalion in May I was made the communications officer. This meant that I was in charge of over $1mil of radios and $500k in computers. I was responsible for keeping all computer networks running and accounting for all of our radios. I also was responsible for planning the employment of these radios and computers. This was the hardest part because I had to know all of the radios' capabilities and anticipate how they would be needed in a combat scenario. All of the radios are encrypted also, so that added to the complexity of everything. The worst part was, I had not prior training in this, so I ws thrown in fire. I had a department of about 9 personnel and added about 15 others for combat exercises as radio operators. The other tough part was, that as a department head, I had to argue my priorities against people who were three ranks above me. I somehow survived the field exercise, but we had to redo a couple of exercises. The possiblity of a war in Iraq was also looming, so we had more exercises for this reason too. This resulted in working from 6am to 9pm everyday from July to when we deployed in September. We finally deployed in September for our regular deployment to Guam. We had to split off our Air Detachment to go to Kuwait, and I actually went a week early to Guam to get their radios ready to go. With the airdet gone, we were just waiting for the rest of us to get called to Kuwait.

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A picture from the southern tip of Guam. A little cove where we went scuba diving.

Then at the beginning of November we got the word that another 125 of us would be going to Kuwait. Our battalion had been given the task of building a 30 acre parking apron for the Marines to park their fighter jets on. We would also have to help build a camp at another base in Kuwait for possible further troops and also several of us were selected to take part in a planning conference for the possible invasion of Iraq. We ended up leaving a week before Thanksgiving. We got our desert uniforms, our Anthrax vaccines, and got on a plane. At that base, we worked 24hrs a day, 7 days a week building the concrete pad. The only day we got off was Christmas. We had e-mail, but you only got one 15 minute phone call once a week. We were at an AirForce base, so the living conditions weren't too bad. The planning conference started in December and I was included primarily for input on communications, however I also got to contribute my engineering skills. The mission we had to plan was how to get 250 personnel and 150 pieces of equipment up to the Euphrates river and build a 60 meter bridge in 4 days so that the Marines could move their float bridge further North. This was with the assumption that the bridge would be blown by the Iraqis. The problem was that our longest unsupported span was 60meters, but the river is 150meters wide. We spent two weeks working out possible solutions. Finally the officers and chiefs from my battalion and NMCB 5 came up with the idea to make an earth pier to narrow the river. We would then put sheet pile around the end of the pier to keep it from washing away.
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My department while we were in Kuwait. The 30 acre parking apron we built.
How the pad was built, 1000 cubic yards a day. ...And a lot of hard work.
By February we finished the parking apron and the war planning. At this point we moved to canvas tents out in the middle of the desert only 30 miles from the Iraq border. Here we planned out the details of moving our equipment and materials up into Iraq and did a lot of training on bridge construction and general military skills. Between the sand storms and gas alarms, it made for a long month. The communications planning and training was difficult too. We did not get a sattelite request in soon enough, so we would be doing all of our long distance voice and data over HF radio, which is notoriously unpredictable. I also had Commanders and Captains telling me that I had to have communications from our convoy to higher the entire 200miles to our first bridge location. There is not many ways to tell people that we just don't have the equipment to do it, and no other unit in the military was expecting to talk on the roll over 200 miles. I also had to plan and train personnel to keep up communications through a 100 vehicle convoy that at times stretched over 20 miles. The other trick was to make a communications platform that could be set up in under 30 minutes and be taken down in less time. Since we don't have any money or special equipment, I had to design a mobile communications facility out of a 8ft by 8ft shipping box. We built wooden shelves and mounted our radios on them with a generator and an airconditioner mounted on the truck next to it. We had to have an airconditioner for our radios because they won't operate above 90 degrees, which is not the highest temperature in the deserts of Iraq.
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Doing some training in full combat gear. Blowing off some steam.
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One of the many false gas attack alarms. A full bunker drill.
As we got closer to a possible war, the 250 of us started packing for war. It's hard to know what to take when you don't know what you will encounter and how long you will be there. Then one night we were told to move out and head to a staging area about 10 miles from the boarder. We were at this staging area when the rockets from the Marine unit next to us signaled the start of the war. We waited a day for our slot in the convoy and late at night on the second day of the war we crossed into Iraq. I was in the lead vehicle as the head navigator and lead communicator. For some reason they thought I learned something about navigating in BoyScouts. I also knew how to use the GPS unit. The top speed of our convoy was 25 MPH on a road and 15 MPH in the sand because we were having to drive our motorgrader instead of moving it on a truck.
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The crew of my HMMWV. Me, second from left. A picture of our convoy in Iraq.
We drove through the night and into the next day arriving at another staging area while we waited for the Marines to fight their way through An Nasiriyah and to know if the bridge had been blown. While we were here we had that terrible sand storm where you could see 2 feet in front of you. Luckily we were staying there for the day so we didn't have to drive in it. We just tried to batten down and survive the storm. We actually had one tent blow away.
We had to go through this war pretty much on our own, so at this location as all the others, we established a security perimeter of fighting possitions and hardened vehicles. My vehicle was out at the front, and the picture below shows me standing my two hour watch. Each night I had to spend two hours in the turret behind the 50caliber machine gun looking through the night scope for possible attacks. From where we were, you could see the explosions in An Nasiriyah where the Marines had such a tought time.
We finally got the word that it was safe for us to move up and that our bridge hadn't been blown. They still needed us North of the Euphrates to fix the road and build a bridge to speed the Marines' supplies to the North. So we packed up in the middle of the night and headed off.
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Me keeping the camp safe. Trying to pitch a tent in the sand storm.
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A troop recovering his tent from the wind. Moving out at night.
The drive up was eery with a brown haze left over from the dust storm. We passed many Iraqi civilians just wandering down the highway. You had to be cautious because you never knew who might have a weapon. We went under one overpass that had a bunker on it. We watched as 10 Iraqi's ran into the bunker. As we passed under the bridge I braced myself for attack because there was no way to tell if they were friendly our not. Luckily they were friendly. We got North of the Euphrates and arrived at our site. We went immediately to work building a 50meter bridge and establishing our communications and camp security positions. I got the communications up and running and then found myself on security react, going out into the desert whenever our lines say something out in front of them. That added to the excitement. While we were there we had a lot of local sheep farmers come through our camp. They had to walk 30 miles ever day barefoot to take their sheep to the Euphrates and back. These were the people that Saddam had left to fend for themselves in the South of Iraq. We finished our bridge and got ready to move again. We got the word and headed out again.
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Sheep in camp. Putting our bridge together, 24 hrs a day.
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Our bridge ready to be pushed out in the background. Providing our own security.
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Getting ready to leave. Loading our convoy in a sandstorm.
After passing the Sadam Canel (an area of heavy fighting just the day before), we finally made it up in the middle of the night to an airbase just outside of the city of An Numiniyah on the Tigris River, about 50 miles Southeast of Baghdad. I had to find the entrance to the came in the dark with only the GPS. Then we had to possition our vehicles and unpack in the dark as seen in the pictures below. While we were unpacking you could hear explosions just a couple of miles away from the fighting in the town. We sent two small detachments our from here, one back to the Sadam Canal to build another bridge, and one just outside of Baghdad to clear the Rasheed Airfield for humanitarian aid flights. The Iraqi army had piled debris on the runway to prevent it's use. We also did some work at Sadam's palace next to the babylonian ruins. At the base near An Numiniyah, we did dust supression for the Marine aircraft and helicopters. We also built berms and toilets for the Marines. While we were here we got word that the Marine Civil Affairs Group needed our help to get the city of An Numiniyah back on it's feet. I volunteered to lead the group since this was right in line with what I am interested in doing in the future. Since this was the biggest experience of my time over there I have a separate web page HERE talking about my experience in An Numiniyah. In brief, I lead 25 guys in getting the water and power back running, getting the garbage men, police men, and teachers working again, and helping run town hall meetings and school board meetings. The Iraqis were very happy that we were there and felt "a burden lifted from our shoulders" with Sadam out of power.
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Unpacking at night. Sheet piles on the Sadam Canal.
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Repairing a pipe to get the water running. Babylonian ruins from one of Sadam's palaces.
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One of our troops getting a kiss. Helping an injured boy in An Numiniyah.
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A blown-up Iraqi tank that we took to the dump. One of our guys playing soccer after we fixed a generator. Notice the kid has no shoes.
Finally, to talk a little bit about how we lived. First, you pretty much slept when and where you could. The first 3 weeks I slept in the back seat of a Humvee averaging about 3 hours of sleep a night. After we got to our last base things slowed down and I could pitch a tent as you can see in the picture below. I took my shelter half and set it up by itself so that I didn't have to wake someone up climbing into my tent late at night receiving some secret message on the radio. We also didn't have enough water for showers or laundry until about the 4th week out. About once a week you took a water bottle and poured it through your hair like in the picture below. You then used baby wipes for cleaning your feet and other dirty/smelly places. You could only take what fit in your back pack, so a pair of underwear and T-shirt had to last you about 4 days. We would joke, four days equals inside, outside, front and back. It was a great day in the week when you got to put on a fresh pair of underwear. The dust was everywhere, and would get into everything, including your goggles and scarf. We pretty much had a sandstorm per week. When we did get water, you hand washed your laundry and took Navy showers, ie water on just to get wet, soap up, and then water on to rinse giving you about 2 minutes of water. For toilets, the first week we just cut a whole in the top and bottom of a cardboard box, dug a whole in the sand, and then sat on the box. Then we built what are called burn outs. It's just an outhouse with a tarp on the front. You do your business through a whole on the bench which drops into a half of a 55gallon drum, which then has gasoline added to it at the end of the day and burned. You didn't want to be down wind. For number 1's, we just dug a trench, and if the wind was from the wrong direction, you were doing your business in full view of the camp. Modesty went away very early in the war. That was just life.
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How I slept. Taking a weekly bottle shower.
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Sand got in your eyes, a lot. Doing laundry in his helmet.
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Our luxury bathrooms being built. A typical camp layout.
About May 2nd we got the order to pack up and head back to Kuwait because our deployment was close to over. So we packed to convoy again and headed back down the road. It was nice to finally see the Kuwait boarder which we had left 3 months prior. Once back in Kuwait we inventoried our equipment, cleaned it, and packed it for return to the states. On the 28th of May I got on a plane in Kuwait (the temperature was 120 degrees Fahrenheit) and we left for the good old US of A. We flew west, making the deployment an entire circle of the earth since we went west to Guam back in October. We were greeted on the ground by family and reporters, but most of us just wanted to go to bed and rest from 7 months of hard work. We were just glad to have made a contribution to the safety of the world and to the people of Iraq.
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On our way out. Home sweat home.