Scenes from the desert
Army Reserve soldiers have faced a number of deployments in all of America’s major–and most of its minor–military operations. They have been used almost constantly in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Cuba, and now in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As of July 15, 2003, almost 62,000 Army Reserve soldiers were mobilized–primarily because they have critical skills and because tensions still run high throughout the Persian Gulf and elsewhere.
From providing invaluable logistical support to restoring order and maintaining the systems that enable a society to function properly, Army Reserve soldiers always can be counted on to do their jobs with a high degree of both professionalism and commitment. These stories capture some of their experiences as they occurred during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
GETTING THE GEAR OUT OF THE REAR
Thanks to the 66 members of the Army Reserve’s 1184th Transportation Terminal Battalion from Mobile, Alabama, soldiers with the 101st Airborne, one of America’s elite fighting forces, did not have long to wait before they were reunited with the Humvees, heavy trucks, Blackhawk helicopters, and other equipment that would be their lifeblood in the field. Since November 12, the 1184th has been stationed at a port in Kuwait, bringing their hometown stevedore spirit from the Gulf of Mexico to the Persian Gulf. Their mission to make sure the countless tons of equipment arriving there get off the ships and into the hands of those who need it as safely, securely and quickly as possible.
Since their arrival, the 1184th, whose motto is “doing it right,” has amassed quite a record, helping the U.S. military move more necessary cargo through the port than it moved through two ports in the last Gulf War.
“We’ve offloaded 28 ships, which is maybe 40,000 pieces of cargo taking up more than two million square feet of space,” said Col. Janet Cobb, Commander of the 1184th.
“In the space of 22 hours alone, we moved 731 pieces. That’s a lot of stuff. But we’ve got a really good, experienced team. We were over here for Desert Storm doing the same work.”
The 1184th was the last Army Reserve unit to come home from the Gulf in 1991 and, this time around, they were one of the first called to duty. They are on one-year orders and, like most others in the desert, they don’t know when they will be headed home. But, according to Cobb, spirits are high and they take pride in being such a vital–if unsung–part of their country’s participation in this war.
Spec. Richard Abercrombie was a pre-school photographer before he was mobilized and, for him, one of the hardest parts of this deployment has been the culture shock.
“We were ripped away from our jobs and our homes. And, being a southern boy, the redneck-meets-Middle East thing has been pretty strange,” he said. “But, when I need some motivation, I only have to think of 9/11. My company had offices in the World Trade Center and I shudder every time I think of having to explain to pre-schoolers the terrorist attacks that occurred.”
“Sometimes I feel like a glorified parking lot attendant. We’re here to make sure everybody gets what they need, and then we run and hide,” added Abercrombie smiling. “But it helps to remember that, without us doing our job, others wouldn’t be able to do theirs.”
Maj. Dan Arzonico is a software developer in his civilian life, and he doesn’t mind telling you he took a “pretty big pay cut” to be deployed to Kuwait. But he says he has only three reasons he wants to go back to Mobile–his daughters Emily, 11, and Amy, 5, and his wife Nancy, who heads up the unit’s Family Readiness Program at home. He has one reason for being here. “That flag you see flying on the ships that come in here.”
Arzonico is a vessel officer with the 1184th, but for this mission he is tasked with overseeing the 598th Transportation Terminal Group, managing force protection at the pier and off-loading area. He knows the importance of keeping this port up and running.
“Our unit helps the troops get their equipment and get out there. It makes me feel proud,” said Arzonico.
Sgt. Melvin Polk was a full-time Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) administrative clerk with the 1184th back in Mobile, but there isn’t much use for paperwork here. Instead, he uses one of the Army’s newly adopted Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) scanners to record each UPS-labeled item–from Humvees to five tons of heavy equipment transport vehicles.
“It’s not my specialty, but with everything going on these days and with so much at stake, I’m here helping out the best I can,” said Polk.
FLORIDA ARMY RESERVE SOLDIER “LARGE” CONTRIBUTION
As the salty water of the Persian Gulf along Kuwait’s shores laps at the sides of the U.S. Army Landing Craft Utility (LCU) ship “Hormiguieros,” Spec. Joseph Large is on board to make sure it is seaworthy and capable of delivering supplies to the troops on the ground. This Army Reserve deck hand enlisted when he was 32 years old, feeling a call to duty even though he was comfortable in his own real estate business in St. Augustine, Florida.
“I just felt the need to join. It was my time to pay my country back for all of the freedoms it has provided me,” said Large.
Large chose to be on board an Army boat for his job because he loves the water. And, when he’s asked why he’s not in the Navy, he simply reminds people that the Army has more boats, they’re just smaller.
Members of the LCU are cross-trained in all areas of boat operation, so Large is well-versed in every aspect of the craft’s engineering operations.
“You never know what you’re going to end up doing. In the morning, you could be navigating the ship. During the day, you could be tying lines down on the deck. You have to know a little bit of everything to keep the craft going,” added Large.
The Hormigueros’ current mission is to ferry containers from larger ships, which are too weighed down to cross shallow waters, into the port. And, according to Large, the work can become treacherous when the wind and seas get rough. However, the crew is experienced and has had no problems getting the job done.
“Large, as well as the rest of us, have the will, experience and ability to get things done,” said Spec. Vincent Passero, Large’s roommate on board the LCU. “None of us are wet behind the ears.”
TEXAS TORNADO HITS KUWAIT
“Kuwait is a lot like home–hot, dusty, sweaty. Put in a longhorn, a cactus, and maybe a country bar, and I’d be happy,” said Cpl. Bryan Register from Killeen, Texas, who went through Fort Lewis, Washington, to help fill out the rolls of A Company, 5/159th Aviation Regiment, attached to the 12th Aviation Regiment for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In the Army Reserve, Register is a power-train mechanic–basically an expert on the rotors, transmission and everything else used to get power from the engines to the blades of helicopters. It is a job not unlike his civilian position with DynCorp, where he is responsible for inspecting and repairing the fiberglass components that make up the blades of a helicopter.
“That’s the great thing about being a Reservist,” said Register. “At DynCorp, we support the military, and I’ve probably had my hands on some of those very birds right there. Now that I’m called up and working on Chinooks, it makes you feel like you’re even more involved in what we’re trying to do here.”
Register seems to do it all–striding from bird to bird on the tarmac, climbing up on top of the monstrous machines to tinker with power trains, and keeping his crew at top efficiency. His new unit even has chosen him to be a member of what in a Chinook unit is like a squad of combat medics–the lean, mean, hard-charging DART team.
“Downed Aircraft Recovery Team (DART) is pretty much what it sounds like,” added Register. “When a bird goes down in the field, 16 of us fly in on another Chinook and try to do the quick fixes that will allow us to fly it back to where we can get it fixed completely. It’s the kind of mission the unit hopes it never has to do. But in a combat situation, with people shooting at them, it happens.”
Register loves his work and, despite the lack of country bars, he’s glad to be doing it in wartime.
“I missed the first Gulf War, so I’m glad to be a part of this one. I believe it’s a war we need to fight, and I get to help the troops out there fight it,” said Register. “I know if I was one of those guys getting shot at, I’d sure hope the people back in the rear were busting their butts to make sure I got the food and ammunition I need to stay alive. It’s definitely the kind of mission that gives you the warm and fuzzies when you think about it.”
But Register will be glad when he can get back home to his longhorns, cacti and cold beverages in the Lone Star state. He already knows that the first thing he’ll do when his plane touches down in the U.S. is get his trusty Dodge pickup truck out of storage and put some of the money he’s saved into fixing it up–a new exhaust system, new tires and rims, and even some power train work.
SOUTH FLORIDA ARMY RESERVE SOLDIERS BUILD POW CAMP THEY WILL GUARD
When the 724th Military Police Battalion arrived at the coalition’s temporary holding facility at Camp Bucca, Iraq, a plan already was in place for a nearby semi-permanent facility. The only problem was that it hadn’t been built yet. So the 18 soldiers assigned to guard part of the new facility found themselves put to work laying down the very concertina wire fence line they would soon be patrolling.
“You know the joke about what MP stands for–‘multipurpose.’ You name it, we do it. We’re out here pulling shifts in the towers and along the perimeter, waiting for this camp to be done so we can start doing what we came here to do. And now they want us to build the thing ourselves,” Spec. Jose Lopez grumbled cheerfully.
Lopez, a deputy sheriff for Broward County, Florida, was exaggerating a bit. Engineering units with heavy equipment would take care of the major construction. However, it was up to his squad to get the work started. And his sergeant considered a little construction work to be good for morale.
“I’ve got 18 soldiers under me who are going to be responsible for watching as many as 1,500 Enemy Prisoners of War (EPWs). Guarding EPWs is difficult, pressurized work. These guys have been waiting for this for months–from home to Kuwait to here. I think a little manual labor like this helps burn off some of the stress and gets them ready to go,” said Sgt. 1st Class Alfonzie Brown from Moorehaven, Florida.
“Of course, I’m a little more used to this kind of work,” added Brown, who is the maintenance man for the Glades County School District, as he pounded in pickets for the fence line. British forces turned control of the camp over to the 800th Military Police Brigade, which has now handed responsibility for this part of the camp to the 724th.
“We’ve been trained for this, and there are lots of prisoners over in the temporary facility. However, you never know what it’s really going to be like until you’re the one dealing with them every day,” said Spec. Yolanda Isaac with the 724th, a physical therapist from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Will they make it harder for me because I’m a woman? That’ll probably be the biggest challenge. But I’m just going to do what I have to do to get my job done. I won’t be mean to them, but I won’t let them be mean to me either.”
“Most of the prisoners are pretty compliant,” said Lt. Col. Lee Coulter, the 724th commander of the camp. “They realize they are protected here. They get food, water, and medical care-even cigarettes. And they know they won’t be here forever. When you think of how most people in Iraq have been living, it’s not surprising that we have some people come here saying they’re soldiers and wanting to get in.”
For Brown, everything about this mission–from the scorpions to the sandstorms to the fence building in the hot desert sun–is an experience to be cherished.
“I’ve been in the military for 27 years, and this is the first time I’ve been deployed,” said Brown. “I’m thrilled. This is history in the making. Everything I see, everything that’s happening, will be in a history book someday. Our country is doing the right thing in this war, and we’re out here doing our part. Some of these young guys may not fully appreciate it right now. But they will.”
ST. PETE ARMY RESERVE SOLDIERS GUARD CAPTURED IRAQI AIRBASE
Three weeks after a fierce battle between Iraqi loyalists and the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division forces resulted in the capture of “Bush International Airport,” Army Reserve soldiers with the 320th Military Police Company from St. Petersburg, Florida, were called upon to guard the base. Located in Tallil, the airbase is strategically situated halfway between Baghdad and the Iraq-Kuwait border, an ideal way station for Iraqi prisoners of war captured during the fighting. It also acts as a bustling supply connection for U.S. troops stationed throughout the war-torn country.
“We do accountability for prisoners more than anything else. Counting heads and making sure everybody goes where they are supposed to,” said Lt. Matt Garcia, the unit’s executive officer and a Tampa insurance salesman. “We also have some military intelligence people upstairs just in case anyone important comes through. And we help when the planes and helicopters stop here to refuel or unload.”
So far, things have been pretty quiet. However, that doesn’t mean the members of the 320th can relax. Recently, there was a firefight about a mile beyond the perimeter of the airbase when several Iraqis attempted to ambush some Marines who were entering the base from the north with a load of prisoners. Fortunately, the Marines successfully captured the Iraqis, who were then led into the airbase in their own vehicles.
“With all of the prisoners of war coming through here, I’m getting an education–in the culture, the people, and the language. It’s the kind of experience that will help me down the road,” said Sgt. Emiliano Carrero, a Puerto Rico native and Orlando, Florida, resident, who never intended to be an Army Reserve soldier. After eight years in anti-terrorism with the Marines, Carrero switched to the Army in an attempt to get into a Special Forces unit. His unit got called to Iraq just before he was slotted to join the Special Forces.
Lt. Judy Hall, 3rd platoon leader for the unit, views the experience somewhat differently. “Would I rather be at home with my daughter? Sure,” said the Clarksville, Tennessee, transplant. “But my country called and this unit needed a lieutenant. So, I’m here to do whatever they need. If they’d just give me a mop, I could do wonders with this place!”
DESERT DJ PLAYS FOR IRAQI POWS
Ben Watkins was a disc jockey mixing music tracks for his local state college’s radio station this time last year. These days, he is still mixing tracks. However, this time he is doing it for the Enemy Prisoners of War (EPW) camp in Iraq. Watkins, an Army Reserve specialist from Mankato, Minnesota, is part of the 13th Psychological Operations Battalion from Arden Hills, Minnesota. His mission in the EPW camp is to record simple instructional messages to help the prisoners understand and follow the rules of the camp.
“I was a DJ for weddings, parties and the college. I also did radio advertising. Growing up in the nineties helped because I learned half of this stuff simply by being around video game consoles and stereo equipment all the time,” said Watkins.
At the camp, Watkins records tracks of his own voice in Arabic telling the prisoners what to do, where to go, and how to respond in the event of an emergency. He also helps design posters and handbills to support his recorded messages. A theater major in college, Watkins first learned about the Army when one of his fellow actor friends, who also is an Army recruiter, said he thought Watkins’ skills would make him an ideal candidate for psychological operations. So, the summer following his college graduation, Watkins completed both his basic and advanced individual training. Two weeks later, he was deployed to Kuwait to help out with the war effort. His skills and enthusiasm have earned him praise.
“His experience in the theater, as well as his audio technology skills and his grasp of audio editing help out the group a lot,” said Staff Sgt. Joe Boz. “In addition, he does his job with enthusiasm, and that’s great too.”
According to Watkins, the messages he records are not about controlling the prisoners, but about relieving the prisoners’ stress and the anxieties that come from being in unfamiliar surroundings. He also is using his talents to help out the other soldiers in his group. One activity involves designing a slide show video on his computer to send back home to the families of his battalion so they can see what it is like in Iraq.
At night, Watkins runs a makeshift movie theater, playing movies pooled from the other soldiers on an outdoor projection screen where sound is projected through speakers so that both American and British soldiers can enjoy the movies and relax.
While he may be a world away from mixing music and acting in plays, Watkins is using his talents to make life easier and more comfortable for the prisoners in Iraq. It is a job he finds rewarding–and, of course, there is nothing a born performer likes more than a captive audience.
MEMBERS OF THE 354TH STRIKE IT RICH
Army Reserve soldiers from the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade from Riverdale Park, Maryland, have struck it rich. In a compound that had been home to Special Republican Guard officers, the soldiers found at least $4 million in crisp U.S. bills that had been hidden in sealed compartments in an L-shaped bunker.
“I’m just awed,” said Col. Dave Blackledge, Commander of the 354th, which had just arrived in Baghdad to assess war damage, and support relief and reconstruction efforts. “I guess we can rebuild Iraq now,” he joked.
According to a statement written in Arabic and witnessed by five men whose signatures attested to the contents of the compartments, the money was hidden on March 16, just three days prior to the start of the war.
Capt. Krispian McCullar of Virginia Beach, Virginia, and 1st Sgt. Dale Blosser of Mt. Sidney, Virginia, were the first to break through the five-inch thick wall made of brick and mortar that housed the currency–40,000 tightly packed and bank-wrapped $100 bills.
Several soldiers said their interests were piqued by the small wire cages that lined two sides of the bunker, apparently to hold small guard dogs or chemically sensitive birds. They also were puzzled by the presence in the enclosed courtyard of a new glass-walled room that seemed to be a guardhouse. The cages and guardhouse all suggested close surveillance of the bunker and its contents.
After everyone was given the opportunity to fondle the money, Col. Blackledge rounded up every packet and made sure the box went to a secured location.
ARMY RESERVE SOLDIERS RESCUE VALUABLE ART IN BAGHDAD
Aided only by flashlights and a few Iraqi civilians, members of the Army Reserve’s 308th Civil Affairs Brigade from Homewood, Illinois, successfully rescued more than 350 paintings from the basement vaults of the Iraqi National Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad.
“This museum is the equivalent of the Smithsonian in the United States,” said Col. Vincent Foulk from Urbana, Illinois. “The paintings all are from the modern era, created by artists such as Hofaid AL-Drobi, Laila Alattar and Albed-Alkader Alrasam, and many are considered masterpieces.”
The paintings were put in the basement when the museum’s curators feared they might be stolen during rioting. The museum already had been ransacked several times since the war began, with vandals stealing or destroying many valuable artifacts. There even was evidence that looters had tried to remove toilets, breaking them en route as they struggled to get away.
So the curators were greatly relieved when the members of the 308th offered to let the Iraqis use their vehicles and soldiers to help move the paintings to the Saddam Cultural Center, where they would be protected from further damage.
After documenting the paintings, they were loaded onto a Light Medium Transportation Vehicle and driven to the Cultural Center, accompanied by an armed guard. The members of the 308th also helped Center workers, who openly wept when a particularly valuable and undamaged painting was displayed to the curator, unload the artwork.
“We feel safe now that our art is being protected by the soldiers,” said Donny George, curator of the Cultural Center. “At first, we were afraid Iraqi soldiers and looters would just burn the place down. Now, with the arrival of the American soldiers, we are getting the help we need.”
“We had no problem volunteering for this mission,” said Spec. Jennifer Pritchard from Dixon, Illinois. “I feel honored to be able to help save a part of this country’s culture.”
RETURNING BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT TO THE STATUS QUO
The 490th Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve unit from Abilene, Texas, is moving toward returning Baghdad International Airport to the Iraqi people–an important step in helping Iraq regain its footing as a normal, thriving city.
“When we first came here, the terminal was in very bad shape. Most rooms were in disarray,” said Maj. Kevin Countie, Commander of the 490th. “There was no power or water, and the support vehicles were in a bad state.”
Members of the 490th quickly cleaned up the area and restored electricity and water. More importantly, they restored many of the ground support vehicles used to assist the arrival and departure of civilian aircraft. Aided by Iraqi civilians employed by the airport, the 490th has repaired many of the cargo-handling vehicles, air conditioning trucks, airfield tugs, and water and lavatory trucks.
Fortunately, the 490th has several soldiers with civilian experience in aviation maintenance. Stall” Sgt. Raymond Baker, the 490th’s public works team’s non-commissioned officer in charge, works for Eagle Aviation in Abilene as an aircraft technician. In addition, he has training in automobile maintenance, which has proved especially valuable for repairing the ground support equipment essential to restoring civil aviation operations at the airport.
The short-term goal is for Baghdad International Airport to be able to support limited operations, including local Iraqi flights, regional Middle Eastern flights, and international carriers, such as British Airways, which had flown into Baghdad in the past.
The first flights are being limited to government or business-related flights in support of civilian-managed humanitarian assistance operations. However, the unit’s long-term goal is for the airport to again serve the Iraqi civilians who wish to fly in and out of Baghdad.
“As soon as the airport restores its civil aviation operations, a lot more humanitarian aid will be able to come in,” said Baker, “which will speed the job along and get us home Easter.”
ARMY RESERVE SOLDIERS TRANSPORT SEVEN RESCUED POWS
Spec. Cory Caranza is part of the four-man ambulance crew that transported seven recovered American POWs from a Kuwaiti hospital to a plane that would take them to Germany. For him, all of the passengers were a high priority.
“In the time that we’ve been here, we’ve transported thousands of patients–with gunshot wounds, shrapnel, sucking chest wounds, broken limbs,” said Caranza, an Army Reserve ambulance medic with the 437th Medical Company from Riverside, California. “Being an ambulance medic requires steely nerves, a cool head and lots of training.”
It helps that this Army Reserve medic, like most others in his company, has seen it all before. Back home in Redlands, California, Caranza is a full-time ambulance medic, as well as a full-time student in fire technology trying to rise to the top of the stack of applications for the San Diego Fire Department.
Sgt. Sergio Delgadillo also is an ambulance medic at home in Orange County, California, where he handles all kinds of medical transfers.
“Out here, our mission is to do the same things we do at home. So, we’re well-trained and experienced. That helps a lot,” said Delgadillo. “The only difference is the schedule.”
“Back home, you work a 12-hour shift. When you’re done, you’re done. Out here, it’s 24-7. You’re off when no one is calling for you,” he said. “Our very first mission here, we’d just gotten our ambulances, and we had a run that started at 11 a.m. and was supposed to be over by 1 p.m. Next thing we knew, two hours had turned into a twenty-four hour ordeal.”
Spec. Andre Cisneros, a student in Riverdale, California, said, “You’re always waiting, always listening for the radio. It can wear you out. But what keeps you going is that everyone is relying on you.”
And while a patient is a patient is a patient, what makes it special for these Army Reserve soldiers is that the patients relying on them are fellow soldiers.
“You’re out here because your country needs you,” said Spec. Paul Nakamura. “But you love it because the troops need you. We’ve seen a lot of casualties, a lot of people in pain. But when they see us, they’re happy. They know they are getting out of there.”
“We see the most hard-core soldiers at the weakest moments, and we’re there to help. It’s an honor for me to be out here. Not many people can go home and say, ‘I’ve been to Iraq, been to Kuwait, came out here and fought for something better.’ I can,” added Caranza.
This story is in honor of Spec. Paul Nakamura, who died in June during an enemy attack on his vehicle.
ARMY RESERVE SOLDIERS HELP ENSURE PUBLIC SAFETY
In the battle-torn city of Baghdad, distributing important public safety information to its more than five million residents can be a difficult, if not daunting, act. However, this has not deterred the members of the 315th Psychological Operations (PsyOps) Battalion, an Army Reserve unit from Upland, California, from getting the job done.
“Our mission basically is to encourage mine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) awareness primarily through leaflets, posters and face-to-face communication,” said Sgt. Stephen Ray Cook, an assistant team leader with the 315th.
The leaflets, two-sided flyers containing computer-generated illustrations of various types of UXO and instructions on what to do if you encounter it, are being distributed to individuals of all ages. Children, in particular, who are at the highest risk from UXO hazards, have become a major focus of the mission.
“We want to make the civilian population aware of the dangers of UXOs and mines left behind from the conflict in order to avoid any future civilian casualties,” added Cook.
“They are the ones who are suffering, and that’s why we are here,” said Staff Sgt. Tomas Brousseau, team leader for the 315th. % am glad to be serving here. I think it definitely is a worthwhile mission.”
ARMY RESERVE SOLDIERS WORKING TO HELP HOMELESS IRAQI CHILDREN
A U.S. Army Reserve civil affairs team, with the assistance of mental health soldiers, is working to help homeless orphans in Baghdad. However, according to Cpl. Stacey Simms from Rochester, New York, who is serving with the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion from Greensboro, North Carolina, the task has proven both rewarding and frustrating.
Shortly after fighting was over, passersby noticed a group of about two dozen children playing around a pool in a traffic circle. The children, laughing and having fun, seemed oblivious to the thousands of people who work and live in the densely populated area. But what appeared at first to be a happy, peaceful scene soon turned into a nightmare as people realized the children were homeless and living on the streets around the traffic circle.
The children, ranging in age from about 6 to 16 years, were not only homeless, but orphans as well. Many had been living in orphanages before the war, but had been released or managed to escape during the fighting in Baghdad. They had been on the streets almost two weeks before their plight was brought to the attention of the civil affairs soldiers.
Simms immediately contacted the U.S. Army’s 113th Medical Company from Stanton, California, another Army Reserve unit stationed in Baghdad that specializes in combat stress control. Among other specialties, the unit includes psychologists and social workers, all trained to deal with these kinds of situations.
Together, members of the 422nd and 113th questioned the children with the aid of locally hired Iraqi translators in order to determine if, in fact, the children were homeless, and to place as many of them as possible in orphanages where they would at least receive shelter and food. After contacting five local orphanages, Simms was able to find only two that would agree to take a few of the children–but only for a period of one week. Administrators at the orphanages were concerned that the children might be delinquents who would cause disruption within the orphanages. Simms and his team also made arrangements to deliver donated food and other supplies to the orphanages.
In another act of kindness, Simms and the combined ream of soldiers from the 422nd and 113th also rounded up more than a dozen more children, who they transported to a U.S. Army compound for further evaluation. Once at the compound, the children were provided with food and water, and were met by various Army Reserve psychologists and social workers. Sadly, most of the children did not know their last names, who their parents were, or even how old they were.
It was clear that life on the streets had been rough for these children. One young homeless girl was pregnant, and did not know who the father of her expected child was because she had been raped. This was the second time in her short life that she had been raped.
A second young girl had a dislocated shoulder, and her sister, Aswan, had a hairline fracture of her right arm. When asked through a translator what she would want if she could have anything at all, she replied, “To live with the Americans.”
Unfortunately for these children, there are no facilities in Iraq to house them. And, even those children who were placed for a week in the two orphanages expected to be out on the streets within a matter of days because they feared a repeat of the beatings they were forced to endure in other orphanages throughout their childhoods.
“I would rather be free, even if I have to live in the streets,” said one child. It’s a reality that is difficult for Simms and the other soldiers to bear.
IRAQIS THIRST FOR WATER AND INFORMATION
Sgt. John-Paul Kilanski, an Army Reserve soldier with the 822nd Military Police Company from Arlington Heights, Illinois, is in charge of security at the front gate of Camp Bucca, the coalition’s new internment facility for Enemy Prisoners of War (EPWs) captured in Operation Iraqi Freedom. His job is supposed to be pretty simple–protect the EPWs and the U.S. Army Reserve soldiers charged with their care from the forces of Saddam Hussein outside.
However, the war is almost over and the enemy doesn’t come around much anymore. What Kilanski is dealing with these days is more of an occupational hazard–maintaining order among the Iraqi men, women and children who come to the gate for information about family and loved ones.
“One of them says he has a letter from a colonel promising him information about who he is looking for. I’m trying to get somebody to come out. But they’ve got to stay away from the gate. I don’t want a vehicle driving out and running one of them over,” said Kilanski, who his fellow soldiers refer to as a soft touch.
In the meantime, a translator with the Free Iraqi Forces has come forward with language skills, as well as three bottles of water. But with temperatures reaching 105 degrees in the shade, three bottles of water are hardly enough. Many in the crowd are desperate for food and water.
Staff Sgt. Daina Carauskas joins Kilanski at the gate–bringing with her a few more bottles of the unit’s own limited supply of water. Soon, she and Kilanski are deep in conversation with the English-speaking Iraqi spokesman explaining what is going on inside the gate.
Six thousand prisoners, at last count, are. being held the camp, which is being changed over from British to American control. This means six thousand faces must be photographed and six thousand identification tags created. Eventually, six thousand International Red Cross family notification cards will be mailed out to concerned Iraqis, such as those outside these gates, letting them know their loved ones are alive, well and getting the care called for by the Geneva Convention.
“I can tell you that whoever is inside is being cared for,” says Carauskas. “They’re getting food, water and medical care. But the notification process takes time. We’re doing our best.”
To help pacify the growing crowd of Iraqis, Carauskas passes around a piece of paper on which they can write down the names of the people they want to know about. The paper quick darkens with printed names. However, as the day wears on, the list is not enough. More in the crowd ask for food and water as the sun continues to cover the area with relentless heat.
Suddenly, there is a shout from the back of the crowd where man sits on the ground cradling a small girl’s head in his lap.
“She’s dehydrated. Come with me,” says Caraukas, as she leads the father and daughter to the shade and Kilanski ducks into the guard post to dig out a bottle of water from his own allotment for his 12-hour shift. As the girl revives, Kilanski heads back down the road to deal with the crowd.
“I wish we could do more,” he says. “But there just isn’t enough for everyone inside and all of them out here too. At least, not yet We are just doing the best we can.”
ARMY RESERVE SOLDIERS HELP DISTRIBUTE DONATED GOODS TO ORPHANAGE IN BAGHDAD
The Iraq office of DHL Worldwide Express, working with members of the Army Reserve’s 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion from Greensboro, North Carolina, has donated more than $20,000 worth of food, bottled water and other supplies to five orphanages in Baghdad. The goods were transported in two cargo trucks furnished by the 422nd, who also helped load and unload the trucks.
The donated goods included staples such as rice, beans, sugar, salt and some canned meats, as well as milk, bottled water, tea, disposable diapers and cleaning supplies. They even threw in a few new toys and soccer balls for each orphanage. The total cargo weighed 12 tons and completely filled two 40-foot containers.
According to Cpl. Stacey Simms, the 422nd’s civil affairs team leader, who w assisted in delivering the goods by Staff. Sgt. Jame Muldoon and Spec. Denis Brundige, the staff and children at each orphanage were clearly happy to receive the donated food and other supplies
“Some of the directors of the orphanages were very surprised to see us pull up with these two big trucks,” said Simms. “Others said they were really relieved because they were running low on food, drinking water and supplies for the children.”
Other Army Reserve soldiers helping out in the effort included Staff Sgt. Doug Hopkins, Spec. Robert Paul and Spec. Eric Harvey, all with the 422nd, as well as Capt. Hugh Reusser and Capt. Suellyn Mahan, both from the 113th Medical Company (combat stress control) from Stanton, California.
Since the war, operations at orphanages throughout Baghdad have been hampered by a lack of electricity, safe drinking water, and many other necessities. But thanks to the efforts of Army Reserve soldiers all around the country, public utilities are starting to work again, the Iraqi population is getting back to work, and the country gradually is returning to a state of normalcy.
BRINGING A SMILE TO A CHILD’S FACE
Some say that bringing a smile to a young child’s face is the most gratifying experience on earth. That is just what the members of the Army Reserve’s 411th Civil Affairs Battalion from Danbury, Connecticut, did for the children at the Al Radu Children’s Hospital in Baghdad, when they arrived with much-needed items such as diapers, clothing and toys.
“This is the whole reason we are here,” said Sgt. Ryan Roa, a member of the 411th. “It feels great when you can put a smile on a child’s face.”
The children, all bed-ridden and under the supervision of their mothers, were clearly delighted with the gifts.
According to Roa, the unit had been assisting the hospital for about a month and a half when they were asked to deliver the more than $500 worth of items purchased for the children out of discretionary funds from the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. In addition, the unit has been handling other forms of civilian assistance, such as distributing food, reporting missing persons, setting up neighborhood advisory counsels, restructuring the police force, and coordinating garbage collection.
“This is the whole reason we went into civil affairs. To help people,” added Run, who described the unit’s primary mission as to act as a liaison between the civilian population and the military.
“It feels great when you can put a smile on a child’s face. I think that’s what everyone wants to do.”
ARMY RESERVE SOLDIERS FROM THE 422ND EVALUATE BAGHDAD’S FIRE DEPARTMENT
As military operations in Iraq shift from combat to stabilization activities, Army Reserve soldiers with the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion from Greensboro, North Carolina, are conducting assessments of, and coordinating support for, various agencies in Baghdad. Among the members of the 422nd making a real contribution is Maj. Brent P. Gerald, a captain in Greensboro, North Carolina’s Fire Station 11 Hazardous Material Special Team and an expert in evaluating potentially hazardous fire conditions.
During a meeting with Dr. Ali Saeed Sadoom, General Manager of Civil Defense of Iraq, Gerald learned that 13 of the. city’s 25 fire stations were operable and, of the normally 700 fire department employees, more than 430 had returned to work. Three of the city’s ladder trucks and 30 of its 96 tanker pumpers also were available. So, is Baghdad going to burn? “No,” says Gerald.
“This city does not have a lot of fire-load–things that can burn. There is very little extra space in homes and, therefore, few storage items that could prove hazardous. In addition, the houses are made of cement,” adds Gerald.
Most of Baghdad’s approximate 2,200 fires last year occurred in refineries and power facilities. And, fortunately, almost all of those facilities were isolated from the general population. So, does that mean all is well with the Baghdad fire department? Not neccessarily.
According to Sadoom, probably the biggest problem facing the city’s fire department these days is providing payment for the fire fighters.
“The average entry level pay for a fire fighter in Baghdad is $3 per month. And, while the fire fighters have received checks for this month, what good are the checks when the banks are closed?” asked Sadoom.
While Gerald said that some emergency funds might become available for the fire fighters, that decision would be made through diplomatic channels based, in part, on reports such as the one Gerald will be filing based on his review.
A father of two, Gerald said he is enjoying his time in Iraq. “It’s good to be able to do this. I feel great about working on something that relates to my civilian profession and something that is so exciting and rewarding.”
CIVIL AFFAIRS TEAM TRAINS NEW BAGHDAD POLICE
For civil affairs soldiers, the whole idea is to be soldier-diplomats, to act as the instructive and transitional link between war-fighting military commanders and the civilian population, which eventually must be left to its own devices. The invading 3rd Infantry Division is still in charge of Baghdad’s security. The job of the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion from Greensboro, North Carolina, is to enable it to someday withdraw in good conscience, in good faith, and with good feelings all around.
Currently, members of the 422nd are assisting interim Baghdad police chief, Gen. Zuhair al-Ne’amy, in bringing order back to Baghdad. Ne’amy has the word “interim” in his title for two reasons. First, in democracies, a city’s police chief is appointed by an elected mayor. Ne’amy was installed in the position by the Marines and kept on by the 422nd, and the U.S. military does not want to give the impression that it is calling the shots here.
Second, Military Intelligence is still conducting a background check on Ne’amy. The 422nd knows full well that anyone who carried a badge under Saddam Hussein may not be the kind of cop they want policing the new Iraq. However, with looting and crime still rampant, they know there is little time to waste. Ne’amy had the faith of the Marines and has been regaled as a “good man.” For now, that has to be enough.
As for the hundreds of former police officers lining up every day to be rehired, the 422nd knows that membership in Saddam’s party was compulsory. Not every former cop is a bad cop, and circumstances simply don’t permit the 422nd to risk merely casting them aside.
Capt. Timothy Popek and Capt. Mike Self, 422nd soldiers who are both police officers back in the Greensboro area, are in charge of deciding which applicants get a chance to start fresh.
“We talk to people we’ve learned to trust, people who have been with us since we got here,” said Popek, a Guilford County policeman back home. “Our two bodyguards here were with us for our first bank robbery, shooting right along with us. When they say someone’s all right, we believe them.”
However, applicants have quickly surmised that the way to get in with the Americans is to finger someone else, and the word-of-mouth screening method rapidly has become confusing.
“Everyone’s pointing at everyone else,” said Self. “A lot of it comes down to intuition. It’s really got to be what they do from here that matters. Then we’ll take it case-by-case.”
“I don’t really know exactly what police culture they had here before,” added Self. “We just want to impress upon them the idea of trust. If you’re not regarded as being honorable and trustworthy, you’re in the wrong business.”
“The public hates the police here,” Popek said. “And the police know it. Some of these guys will take off their uniforms right outside the gate and walk around in civilian clothes. Then they walk back in here and put their uniforms back on.”
So one of the 422nd’s very next priorities is new uniforms, which hopefully will help convey to the public that things are different now.
Another difference is the military accompaniment all new police officers are bringing on their patrols. Recently, members of the 519th Military Police Battalion from Fort Polk, Louisiana, began going out on patrols with the new Iraqi policemen, training them in the techniques and tactics that MPs bring to similar peacekeeping and civil-order missions.
Like the 422nd, the 519th wants to train the new police force to make its own decisions in the field. However, they a are empowered to impose their own policing standards on the Iraqi partners–arresting anyone, including the officers the selves, who get out of line.
The arrival of the MPs also has enabled the civil affairs crew concentrate on the new station house. Baghdad’s new central police station is its former police academy–a dusty, dingy white-walled building with low ceilings and long corridors, a facility where neglect and looting have taken their toll. The phones and computers have been stolen, the light fixtures torn from the ceilings, and the doors removed and windows broken. However every day, another office gets cleaned up.
Another problem being confronted is pay. From the translators and the bodyguards to police officers and even Chief Ne’amy, every Iraqi back on the job is working for free And even Baghdad’s new “finest’ cannot be expected to choose integrity over food forever. The 422nd hopes to cut through some of the red tape by using confiscated cash from robberies, etc. to pay wages as well as fund other activities.
“The funds also could be used in a reward system to pay citizens who bring in ill-gotten gains and to pay for information on where criminals hiding,” said Popek. “In addition, there’s the basic stuff of policing–communications, computers, bars for the n station’s windows and locks for its doors, and new light fixture–that any force policing a city of five to seven million would be lost without.”
We’ve got a wish list that we’re bringing to the ORHA (the White House’s recently appointed Office of Reconstruction a Humanitarian Assistance) to sign off on,” added Popek. “That’s all you can do–go through channels and bring your requests. That’s the way it’s got to be done.”
In the meantime, Popek, Self an the other members of the 422nd are concentrating on what the can do with what they’ve got–taking applications and encouraging the growing ranks of Ira police officers to keep working o faith and doing what they can for themselves. Progress is evident.
TRACKING SERVICE MEMBERS INJURED IN BATTLE
One of the worst aspects of war is the inevitable casualties that result. Tracking those casualties is the responsibility of the 3rd Personnel Command (PERSCOM) Casualty Area Command (CAC), which must submit a report of all current casualties each day to the Casualty and Memorial Affairs Operation Center, a part of the Army Personnel Command in Alexandria, Virginia.
“The CAC reports to the Department of the Army, which notifies the service member’s next of kin,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Sharon Price, a military personnel technician with the Army Reserve’s 678th Personnel Services Battalion, Detachment 4, from Louisville, Kentucky, who is a contract specialist with the Army Corp of Engineers in her civilian life. “It is important that, within 24 hours, the report goes forward to the Department of the Army so that the next of kin can be informed in a timely manner.”
CACs are divided into primary and alternate commands, with the primary CAC responsible for the initial reporting of a casualty, while the alternate CAC adds supplemental and progressive information not in the original submittal. Progressive reports are done every five days until the person has become an NSI, or non-serious injury.
“The primary CAC for the Central Command area of responsibility is located at Camp Doha, Kuwait. Established by 3rd PERSCOM in early 2002, it is responsible for tracking casualties from Afghanistan to Djibouti, Africa,” said Staff. Sgt. Torrey Moore, a 3rd PERSCOM soldier with eight years of service, who works as a computer technician and manager of a Double Quick convenience store in Indianola, Mississippi.
According to Moore, the CAC has processed more than 750 hostile casualty reports and 2,000 non-hostile reports, mainly dealing with accidents and illnesses since Operation Iraqi Freedom began.
CAC also has responsibility for casualty and patient tracking. In casualty tracking, all casualties more severe than NSI are tracked and reported to Brig. Gen. Sean Byrne, Commander of 3rd PERSCOM.
According to Price, casualty tracking also involves keeping units informed about the status of injured troop members, as well as helping injured service members keep track of their personal belongings.
Patient tracking keeps tabs on patients in Level 3 and Level 4 hospitals, which are progressive care facilities that offer procedures such as lab work, surgery, dental treatment, and physical therapy as opposed to simple healthcare antidotes. Patient tracking continues as patients are moved out of theater–usually to Landstuhl, Germany, or Rota, Spain–and then onward to their home unit where tracking stops.
“There have been days when I didn’t want to come in because I didn’t want to see the casualties from the night before,” said Spec. Donia Gullion, a personnel specialist with the 678th and business marketing major at Indiana University Southeast. “You just have to separate yourself and keep in mind that we are tracking for units and reporting to families about their members.”
RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES ASIDE
The first U.S. military Jewish chapel service was held in May at Baghdad International Airport. Eight Jewish worshipers attended the Sabbath morning service.
“It’s part of our American way to say that, whatever faith group you are, you have the right to worship,” said Lt. Col. Mitchell S. Ackerson, brigade chaplain for the 220th Military Police Brigade, an Army Reserve unit from Gaithersburg, Maryland. “I think that is part of why we are here.”
Ackerson, who was in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War organizing chapel services for soldiers, said the services usually are a morale-boosting experience for the soldiers.
“For many of them, it’s definitely a plus,” he added. “They get to go to services, and we read letters from Hebrew schools and Jewish day schools throughout the United States that echo the warm feelings of all Americans around the world for our soldiers.”
According to Ackerson, when the soldiers are forward deployed, it often is difficult for them to have religious services, especially in minority religions where there are fewer chaplains. So, these kinds of services provide a strong boost to morale. They also offer a sense of community.
“It is important to identify with your community, and these weekly services are a good way for the soldiers to meet and get to know the rest of their Jewish soldier community,” said Ackerson. “I believe people should have the right to pray, wherever they are and regardless of their faith. So, we are just doing our job–taking care of the soldiers’ needs the best that we can.”
GETTING THE MAIL OUT
While combat units continue to battle sporadic enemy elements in and around Baghdad, 3rd Personnel Command (PERSCOM) soldiers battle to stay ahead of the mountains of mail flowing in and out of Camp Arifjan, Iraq. The work is all part of an elaborate mail distribution system set up to deliver between seven to 11 cargo plane loads of mail weekly to soldiers deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Camp Arifjan Army Post Office (APO) currently provides mail services for more than 17,000 soldiers, which amounts to approximately 40,000 pounds of mail daily. That is the equivalent of about three completely loaded 40-foot trucks. In addition, the facility also provides postal finance services.
“We provide support for mailing packages, letters and buying stamps,” said Capt. Treva West, Adjutant General Postal Detachment commander for the 755th, an Army Reserve unit from Texarkana, Texas. “And, while we don’t do money orders yet, we plan to in the future.”
On any single day, there can be more than 70,000 pounds of mail passing through Camp Arifjan, coming into the APO via airplane, DHL-Direct truck delivery and other APOs for intra-theater transit.
“People should understand how hard these soldiers work,” added West. “Seeing the mounds of mail, you would think it was art insurmountable task. But we get it done every day.”
Working in two shifts, 28 soldiers from the 755th are being assisted by about 30 soldiers from 3rd PERSCOM and by several mail clerks from the 800th Military Police Battalion from Uniondale, New York. For Cpl. Charles Nash, a personnel specialist with the 3rd PERSCOM from Jackson, Mississippi, the work is not a problem.
“For me, it’s comfortable because I worked for UPS back home. It’s good training for understanding the postal system,” he said.
Recently, mail being sent back to the United States has increased dramatically, with postage sales rising from an average of $2,500 to more than $4,000 daily. This is a result of the decrease in fighting, and soldiers having more time to write letters.
With the high flow of soldiers in and out of Camp Arifjan, West notes that it is important for units to leave a forwarding address that will allow his soldiers to expedite the flow of mail.
“Whether the unit is moving north to Iraq or redeploying to the States, they should fill out a change of address card. Also, to cut down on the amount of ‘locator’ mail, soldiers should let their family members know their new addresses,” said West.
Locator mail, or mail sent to units that have since moved on, can still be routed to its proper destination using a computer locator database designed by Capt. Jeffrey Clements, a member of the 755th and a computer programmer in his civilian life. The software is continuously updated when units move, requiring a new routing scheme for mail to reach the relocated soldiers.
JUST ONE OF THE GUYS–AN IT GUY THAT IS
Army Reserve Maj. Edward McGowan is one of those IT guys. The ones who know everything and anything there is to know about computer networks and system configurations. However, in McGowan’s case, he also knows a whole lot more. As the information management officer at 3rd Personnel Command (PERSCOM) in Jackson, Mississippi, it is his job to ensure that all of the information technology used in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom operates smoothly.
It is a job full of bits and bytes. First, there is the massive personnel database known as ROAMS (Replacement Operations Automated Management System), into which every person who arrives in theater is entered. Then there are the secure Web sites that 3rd PERSCOM constantly checks to arrange the transportation necessary to get replacement troops from home, casualties returned to duty, and just about everyone else wherever they need to go. And there is the email–both classified and garden-variety–that keeps everybody in touch with everybody else.
Ordering components, building networks, keeping systems up and running–all of this is the responsibility of McGowan and guys like him. And it is a job that makes them rather popular.
“They call us the smart guys. They all know our names. We’re always in great demand,” joked McGowan.
“We’re truly dependent upon the computer networking systems to do our job,” said McGowan’s boss, Lt. Col. James Mason, supervisor of replacement operations for 3rd PERSCOM and a Europa, Mississippi, high school principal. “If you don’t know at least a little about computers, there are very few places left for you in today’s military. And, without people like McGowan, the military’s almost not going to function.”
McGowan is more than qualified for his job. A computer sciences graduate from Jackson State University who interrupted work on his M.B.A. to go to Kuwait, McGowan manages the information systems at Education Service Foundation, a major provider of student loans based in Jackson. He also runs his own one-man consulting business, Information Technology and Systems Consulting, Inc., from his home.
None of that, however, prepared him for what he faced upon his arrival in Arifjan in February–an empty office in an empty building.
“In my business, I subcontract most of the work–find out what a company needs and set it up with the right vendors,” said McGowan. “Here, though, this place was just being set up. I basically built our system from scratch–ordered the parts, ran the cables, configured the satellite phones, hooked up the laptops. Pretty much everything.”
These days, McGowan’s work primarily involves maintaining the systems–ensuring everything works. But with new units continually arriving that need to be integrated into the system, McGowan still needs to keep the connections coming.
“The good thing is that I’ve learned a lot about management here. That’s going to help me with my M.B.A.,” added McGowan. “It’s been a great experience in that way.”
According to Brig. Gen. Sean Byrne, commander of 3rd PERSCOM, everyone who arrives in theater is scanned into the system and, when they move, the database is updated so that everyone back in the rear can have access to where they are and who they are.
“We’ve got more than 99 percent accountability of everyone here–Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, civilian contractors, civilian media, Department of Defense employees, everybody. The technology, as well as our IT guys, have made all the difference,” said Byrne.
“When I get back to my business, I’d like to do some consulting work for the military. I know exactly what they need,” added McGowan. “After all, there’s more than one way to serve your country.”
COPYRIGHT 2003 U.S. Army Reserve
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group