Operation Iraqi Freedom Journal - Part 1

9/11...

9-11.jpg

...a moment that had a profound emotional impact on any and all Americans who were old enough to grasp the profound tragedy of the moment.  For many, it marked a dark time when a loved one who would of course come home, either that night after a hard days work or when they came back from their trip, suddenly vanished.  In most cases, not even the closure of seeing the body of the deceased family member, friend or co-worker was possible. 

Aside from those mourning this very personal loss, the vast majority of Americans would, in time, largely return to the life they knew before 9/11--that is , aside from longer lines and the occasional TSA pat-down at the airport and the cycle of terrorism news to which most eventually became numb.  For a very small percentage of Americans, however, the events of that day would result in a dramatic change in their vocation.  I was one of them.  In the days and months after 9/11, I felt, as did many others in this group, a strong desire to serve my country.  At the time I was a youth pastor and part-time teacher and basketball coach at a church and Christian school in Novato, CA.  Initially I kept this interest to myself until finally I went to a recruiter’s office sometime in late February of 2002.  That evening I went out for a burger with my dad (also a Veteran of the Army during the Vietnam War).  There, at the Burger King in Novato across from the retired Hamilton Field AFB, I told him about my desire to serve in the Army.  He was surprised but supportive.  I told my mom about it when I got home and her response was needless-to-say less positive.   I officially enlisted in April of 2002 and was scheduled to leave for Basic Training at Ft. Sill, OK on August 4th.  Though my mom did not understand it at the time, she would eventually agree to support my decision, which meant a lot to me.  She, of-course, re-evaluated her position upon word of my orders to go to the Middle East.

 M-270 MLRS in action.

M-270 MLRS in action.

At Ft. Sill I would complete both my Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in my Military Occupational Skill (MOS).  I was trained as a 13 Mike, short hand for a Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) Crew-member, a medium and long-range rocket and missile field artillery system birthed during the height of the Cold War.  After the standard ten days of leave everyone gets after completing Basic and AIT, I was assigned right back to Ft. Sill as my first duty station starting Dec.1st, 2002.  There I was assigned to the 75th FA (Field Artillery) Brigade, also know as the “Diamond” brigade, a nickname it earned for its toughness in several battles it fought during WWII's Battle of the Buldge.  From there, I was assigned to 1st Battalion, 77th FA Regiment (one of three battalions along with a battery sized headquarters that make up the brigade), and then down to Charlie Battery.  I became a part of one of two firing platoons assuming the role of “ammo dog”—that is, I was to drive large trucks (HEMTT’s) that carried rocket and missile pods to designated ammunition resupply points where the M-270 launchers would reload.  Of-course, the majority of the time in a typical week is spent performing maintenance on the vehicles and other traditional soldierly tasks, i.e. mowing lawns at the battalion HQ, sweeping the motor-pool, cleaning latrines, staff and charge of quarters (barracks) duty, and whatever miscellaneous stuff officers can think up.  You know, the cool stuff you always see on the Army commercials like this...

My bad, wrong commercial.  I meant this one...

Anyways, back to reality and the rest of my story.

My time with Charlie battery was short-lived, as word came down that brigade headquarters had been selected to lead a special task force for the seemingly immanent war with Iraq.  1/77 would not be going, but they were looking for volunteers who wanted to go with brigade headquarters.  Well, I didn’t leave the job I loved, my family and friends, and suffer through basic training to watch this thing on CNN, so it took me all of about 5 seconds to raise my hand.  (Of-course I never mentioned this fact with my mom until I returned for fear that she would have killed me before I even got on the plane!)  About a week later I received word that I had been chosen, and I was transferred to brigade headquarters sometime in early January.  I was originally assigned to Security Platoon.  What followed was a lot of briefings, preparing the vehicles (rolling up camouflage nets in near zero degree temperatures was memorable), getting our DCU’s (Dessert Camouflage Uniform), and other procedures you go through as you prepare to leave for a war (such as the preparing of a will and giving your loved ones, my parents in my case, complete power of attorney).

The highlight of this time could only be described as a classic example of an "Army operation".  All of our vehicles were to be loaded on trains and sent to the gulf coast where they would be shipped to Kuwait.  The whole task force personnel was to be flown on a chartered commercial jet to Kuwait sometime later and there we would pick up our equipment.  We spent a long day in very cold temperatures, slowly and methodically loading 70 or 80 vehicles onto the trains, each one having to be shackled to the rail cars four to eight times depending on the size of the vehicle.  As the last of the shackles were being tightened, a civilian runs out from the office screaming, “Wait, wait!”  He goes on to explain that our mission has been given priority and that they wanted everyone over there in three weeks.  That meant downloading all the vehicles, power-washing and patching every lubrication leak to meet strict air transportation standards, and then re-loading them onto C-5 “Galaxy” aircrafts, the largest transportation plain in the US military.  The next several days consisted of long hours at the wash rack, getting soaking wet in very frigid weather as we prepared every vehicle to go airborne.  Eventually the time came, with the whole task force flying out on a total of nine chalks.  Each chalk was staggered in departure, and I was on chalk 3.

Over the next four months of my tour of duty in Kuwait and Iraq (yes it was that short and I will explain why later), I kept a short hand journal of my experience.  I'm going to share those with you in the next several My Life So Far posts. Additional comments that explain or fill gaps in the journal entries are written in italics.

This chapter in my life journey would profoundly shape me to the day of this writing and likely for the rest of my life, as I know it has for the over 2.7 million veterans (and counting) who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and now many other parts of the world as a part of the "Global War on Terrorism".  Remember this as you read or listen to these stories.

CLICK on this link to go to part 2