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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

144th ASMC and Iraq... Part Five (The first 6 months)

After suffering through three months of pre-deployment training, we finally had arrived in Iraq.  Flying into southern Iraq on a hot November Day.  I recall the flight on a C-130, as we took off, gained altitude quickly, and then quickly descended to the landing strip at Ali Air Base, or Tallil, near Nasiriyah, Iraq.  One of the soldiers in our company vomited on the flight across the border into Iraq, not sure if it was a combination of dehydration and sir sickness, or just one or the other individually.  Luckily for me I was far enough away that I didn't even know it happened until we had landed and exited the C-130.  Again, thinking of this time makes me sort of nostalgic, I can still se the place, smell and taste the dusty air, and feel the heat, even though it was November. 

It was only a few short days until we were on the road to our individually assigned locations.  Our company, like others, was broken into several teams and distributed around the southern part of the country.  Those that were not assigned to a team were tasked with being part of a military transition team, working with Iraqi forces in some aspect, a difficult mission for those assigned, that came with significant combat action for many.  Strange, since we were medics, but a vital piece of the ongoing plan that was being implemented in Iraq at the time.  I had a choice prior to leaving the country for which mission I would prefer.  I was asked if I would rather be assigned as a team leader at one of the four locations a team was being placed, or if I would prefer to take one of the military transition team spots that we were being tasked to fill.  I chose to take an NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge), or team leader position, since I felt that would allow me to possibly leave at the earliest convenience for my mid-tour break in order to see my newborn daughter.    She was less than a month form being born after we landed, I already knew I wouldn't be able to go home for her birth, but was pretty much guaranteed by my company command that I would be afforded the opportunity to go home with one of the first available leave slots granted, that would eventually happen, on New Years Day 2006, almost a month after her birth.  I, and my team, were assigned to Combat Support Center Scania, a rest and refuel point between Tallil in the south, and Baghdad in the central part of the country.

Our initiation into operations at Scania was quick, my guys literally started the next morning, after arriving after midnight the same day.  We were quickly integrated and our predecessors had all left a few short days after we arrived, and we took total control of medical operations for the camp.  We were quickly introduced to an ongoing local national burn clinic that the units before us had been participating in, we also took up this task with great pleasure and continued to provide burn care for locals for the first six months of our deployment.  Unfortunately there would be an incident in May that was both tragic and unfortunate for us all that would eventually get the wheels of motion spinning for all local national support to cease.  New medical rules of engagement laid out the directive that no care could be provided to locals unless the injuries sustained were caused by U.S. or coalition forces, this mission stopped, but our care for the troops and all coalition partners continued.  With the end of local national care, also came the reality that we were in a war zone.  During those first six months the only sound of violence was at the test fire pit as convoys rolled out and the crew served weapons (50 caliber or other turret mounted weapons system) was test fired. 

Well, we soon found out a war was waging, and we would just be counting our blessings until it was our time to leave, and hoping that a stray rocket or mortar would not find flesh.  A significant wish knowing 6 months of the deployment remained.

The deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom is well detailed in my journal, many entries are found in my book, Combat Support "The True Burden Of Sacrifice."  The book can be found online anywhere books are sold.  It also can be purchased at any local bookstore if ordered.  Below is an excerpt from the book:

The Best-Kept Secret in Iraq
Monday, November21, 2005
Finally, a chance to put some words down after three days of what seemed like non-stop work, but I can’t complain. Here I am at Camp Scania, a combat support camp two hours south of Baghdad and three hours north of Tallil Airbase, our introduction to this war-torn country. We left Tallil at approximately 1900 hrs on Friday, November 19, and rolled up one of the main supply routes (MSR Tampa) in the darkness. When I say darkness, I mean complete darkness as we made our way off Camp Cedar, just outside of Tallil. Then we picked up a couple dozen trucks that were convoying north. Along with the six vehicles we had, four Humvees, and two LMTVs (light medium tactical
vehicles), we were escorted by three gun trucks with turret-mounted fifty-caliber machine guns for security.

We hit the pavement and for some reason, once the entire convoy was on the hardball, we stopped. It was dark—and all the training we had the last few months told me this wasn’t good. We weren’t supposed to stop on a road in Iraq unless it was absolutely necessary. Nonetheless, we sat there for some time, and a little more, and more yet, then after an hour we finally started to roll. As we proceeded north we crossed the Euphrates River, the bridge was guarded by some Italian or Polish troops, then pushed along for the three-hour voyage to Camp Scania. Our trip was eventless—no IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), no small arms or RPG attacks—but that wasn’t unexpected for the number of convoys the coalition forces roll north and south daily. Incidents occur only a small percentage of the time. I saw at least ten other convoys as we waited and traveled.

The mortar attack on the camp wasn’t last week, or last month, but it did occur on the August 27, coincidentally my birthday. I’m not sure that has anything to do with anything, but I found it odd that of all 365 days in the year the one mortar that fell on the camp I’m now living on came on my birthday. Due to our stalled convoy, we arrived at my new home around midnight. After I met the soldiers we’ll replace, we went to midnight chow and found our C-hut, the wooden hooch we’re living in, and got ready for bed. That night I got about three hours of sleep. The next day was spent getting briefed and getting pertinent instructions from the Troop Medical Clinic (TMC) leadership we’re replacing here at Scania. It was a long day full of head-splitting information about the operations of our TMC. We have nine medics, including me, a lab tech, and a medical service corps officer who is the administrator of our clinic. A small group, but I got things rolling right away. A majority of the group that we were replacing left the next day, and I made a schedule to cover our clinic with three eight-hour shifts that began immediately and has worked out fine.
In all, this place is a pretty good assignment, especially since the person in charge is me. Not to mention that our command is three hours away and I can run this place as I see fit. The gym is sweet—state-of-the-art equipment, and there’s an Internet café and calling center. However, I have access to the Internet at the clinic as well as phones, so I don’t have to leave work for either. Laundry service has a four-hour turnaround and is free, and the dining facility is the best I’ve eaten in since being mobilized. I should mention that the clinic is in sort of a primitive
setting, an old Iraqi building, but we have all the things we need to do our job, plus some luxuries of home. Oh, there’s also a TV with a satellite receiver in the clinic. We only get ten stations because it’s Armed Forces Network TV, but we can see most of the sporting events and shows we would see at home when they air, although that tends to be during the early morning hours.

The three soldiers that stayed here with us to bring us up to speed have been invaluable. All of them are soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, same place as my cousin Chad. They’re active Army guys so I expected good things coming in, but the guy I’m replacing, SFC Blas, is someone I would love to work with anywhere, He has a great work ethic and is the type of soldier that everyone strives to be. Lieutenant (LT) Grey and SGT Moore (x-ray) are the other two who stayed behind, and although I was busy with SFC Blas, our LT and x-ray tech got invaluable insight from each of them. To show our appreciation for all the effort they put into getting us up to par, we gave each of them one of our unit coins tonight. Although the coin isn’t being passed down from a General (GEN) or CSM, I figured since they were active Army, there wouldn’t be another soul they’d meet during their careers who had this coin. They seemed appreciative. The coins came from three of the soldiers (SGT Kadleck, SPC Clark, and SPC Perkins) working for me because all our unit coins have been handed out, and the 1SG informed me we have none left. The three who gave up their coins will receive new ones once we have a new shipment.

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