Operation Iraqi Freedom Journal - Part 4
In this installment I share my original journal entries from the first half of April 2003, along with comments to clarify my original notations and additional reflections given that next month marks the fifteen year anniversary of this moment in history. Most notably, this would be the month I finally entered Iraq.
April 1st and 2nd: No entries.
April 3rd: The Mopp 4 Fiasco!
While my memory is a bit fuzzy, basically somewhere in the camp someone freaked out because they thought they had found a trace of a biological or chemical weapon. The entire camp was ordered to go to “MOPP 4”. As a reminder, MOPP stands for Mission Oriented Protection Posture and basically it relates to the various layers of special clothing we put on to “protect” us from exposure to a nuclear, biological or chemical agent; there are 4 levels with the 4th being completely suited up–garb, gloves and gas mask. Anyways, Chief shrugged it off and told us to just hand out in the tent. I can’t recall if it was this time or during another SCUD warning that he memorably said, “If any of you put on your gas mask, you’re a pussy!” Later a maintenance 1st Sargent came in the tent completely suited up and he freaked out when he saw us all lying around, playing cards, reading books, etc. We got a good laugh out of it after he left, but I think Chief might have had a talk with the Col. (first of many I am sure) regarding the importance of following orders “from above”.
April 4th: Baghdad (Formerly “Saddam”) International Airport taken. Fighting in the outskirts of Baghdad. 3 soldiers killed in suicide bombing. Another three killed from a Ft. Sill MLRS unit.
This was the first time we heard of soldiers lost from our own home post. Unfortunately many more were to come. If you are counting, at this point it has been 17 days since the war began. It seemed at this point that victory (at least for the conventional part of the war) was imminent. We are still in Kuwait.
April 5th: Room clearing/urban warfare training.
Not sure if Chief knew that MET-Alpha was heading out soon, but we did some training this day.
April 6th: See Geraldo in the chow hall!
This was my only celebrity sighting of the war. Some of you might recall that Geraldo eventually got in a load of trouble just a few days later when he described the location of the 101st Unit with which he was an embedded reporter. He was sent back to the US not long after that.
April 7th: No entry.
April 8th: MET-Alpha launches minus 4.
We finally got word that we were heading north (flying on a Chinook). We got packed up early in the morning, a ruck sack essentially for a couple weeks supply of clothing and MRE’s. This was it…or so I thought. As were loading up on the back of a five ton, Sargeant Veach called myself along with Penieche, Bourassa and Deleon out of the truck. He then told us that Col. MacFee wanted to go on the mission along with several other reporters. We were going to be flying up to Baghdad (or close to it) to inspect what was reported to be something suspicious hidden in the water of the Tigris River. This was going to be the big moment when we found “the smoking gun” that would begin to justify the whole war. Unfortunately, because the higher-ups and reporters wanted to be there for it, there wasn’t enough room in the chopper for the whole team, so the four of us would be left behind and reunited as soon as possible. I can’t recall if Chief came by to apologize before the team pulled away on the truck to the airfield. I was extremely disappointed and angry. I recall walking back into the tent and throwing my gear down next to the cot. I take Chief at his word that he had no choice on this call. It gave me just one more reason to dislike Col MacFee. The stuff in the Tigris? Well as you can imagine it turned out to be nothing.
April 9th: Saddam statue torn down in Baghdad by Iraqis with the help of US forces. Some calling it a day of liberation.
This was symbolically the end of the conventional war in Iraq though it would be three weeks before President Bush gave his famous “Mission Accomplished” speech. It is really painful for me to consider that we are now almost fifteen years later and to look back at all of the violence and loss of life we have seen since then. There were moments during the early days of the war when there seemed to be a strong sense of hope that better days lay right around the corner, as seen in this special CBS report...
April 10th and 11th: No entries.
April 12th: Jump TOC to Tallil. MET-Alpha "Lost Boys" and MET-Bravo take Chinooks. Hydraulic fluid! Hot landing, Deleon almost blown away.
"Jump TOC" means we left or 'jumped' our Tactical Operations Center from Kuwait into Southern Iraq, specifically what we knew at the time as the Tallil Air Base. Today it is know as the Ali Air Base. It is located close to the city of Nasiriyah, which is where some of the fiercest fighting was seen in the war just a few weeks earlier. My understanding at the time was that it was to become the first major air logistics center of the war. As someone who got his bachelors in Biblical studies, I have to admit that it was really amazing to be in this location. Within eyesight was the Ziggurat, an ancient temple which was originally located next to the city of Ur, believed to be the birthplace of Abraham.
"Lost Boys" is the nickname that myself, Bourassa, Penieche and DeLeon gave ourselves after having been split up from the rest of MET-Alpha. The reference to "hydraulic fluid" had to do with the fact that there was a small but persistent drip of some kind of mechanical fluid the entire flight to Tallil. I recall asking one of the crew members if we should be concerned, but he assured me that this was common. I'm not sure how much that comforted me. As far as DeLeon being almost "blown away", this was easily one of the most hilarious moments of my time oversees. What is meant by a "hot landing" is that the Chinook is not going to cut its engines and we are supposed to unload all of our gear as fast as possible so it can get the hell out of there asap. DeLeon was grabbing the last few bags when the Chinook powered up to take off. I remember looking back to see him getting slammed with the rotor wash and for a minute I thought he was going to go full Merry Poppins.
April 13th: Main body arrives late at night. Big lightening and thunder storm. I had guard duty 4-6am.
"Main body" refers to the rest of the Task Force. As far as roving guard duty, this would be the first of several times I would be tagged for this task, both here in Tallil and eventually at the base where we stayed in Baghdad. I recall it being very quiet and peaceful to be honest.
April 14 & 15th: Put up lots of tents (7+?). Last one is ours ("Lost Boys"). Slight wind/sand storm.
Most of the tents we put up were huge, what we called 'GP Large', GP standing for General Purpose. The "Lost Boys" tent was as 'GP Small'. I'll show pictures in the next post. The sandstorm was very mild, but that was all about to change in a big way.