Thursday, September 22, 2005


September 22, 2005

We arrived at Al Assad Air Base at 0200 hours, the night bright with stars and lights from inside the belly of the C-5 Galaxy that had ferried us for the last 14 hours. Among the group of Marines accompanying me were 17 K-9 handlers and their dogs. During a 4-hour refueling stop in Rota, Spain, the handlers had the opportunity to walk their dogs and get some fresh air. I had no idea how many dogs were actually in the cargo hold and was amazed as dog after dog came off the C-5, all acting like typical house pets, jumping at their handlers and licking their hands, happy to be out of the roaring plane. However, looks can be deceiving – each dog is specially trained to detect a variety of substances, from narcotics to explosives, as well as acting in the capacity of attack dog on command. These are no simple house pets; I enjoyed watching them but made sure to steer clear of them when their handlers walked by.

We also had several AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters inside the C-5, dwarfed by the size of the huge cargo hold. A passenger compartment lies above the cargo hold and can only be accessed by ladder once inside the aircraft, or by using roll-away stairs similar to those used on some of our older commercial aircraft. Each seat in the upper compartment faces rearward, and there are no windows, much less movies or snacks to make the flight enjoyable. Toward the end of our flight, the crew warned us the flight into Al Assad would be a bit different than what we’d experience at home, as the approach would be fast and the descent steep. The ride in was similar to an roller coaster ride, complete with unexpected dips and turns. Fortunately, roller coasters don’t face the threat of being shot by SA-7 missiles.

We were met by several dust-covered Marines once inside the air terminal and briefly welcomed aboard. Everything occurs in the hours of darkness – it’s safer that way. As our seabags came off the plane, still strapped to their pallets, we split into groups. Many were going on to other bases – Falluja, Baghdad, and smaller forward operating bases (FOB’s), while several were to remain in Al Assad. Al Assad is a joint air base, meaning each service component has personnel assigned within its gates. It is also home to the II Marine Air Wing, or II MAW. Hundreds of Marine aviators, aviation support personnel and other MOS’s are deployed aboard the base. We finally hit the rack at 0400 hours and had a restless night.

This morning, Lieutenant Colonel Tim Crowley, the current Field historian on deck, took us for a brief tour of the base. Tim had borrowed a vehicle from the II MAW S-4, and was more than happy to show us around. Nearly every Marine on base walks or runs everywhere they go, and the use of a vehicle is usually reserved for troops leaving the base, or by those units owning tactical vehicles such as HMMWV’s or 7 tons. During our drive, I was surprised by the sheer number of Russian MIG’s littering the area surrounding the airfield. Saddam’s Air Force had obviously made great efforts to move the aircraft from their hangars before US Forces bombed the airfield. None remain operational, though some still resemble the mighty flying aircraft they once were. Hidden among oasis trees as well as scattered across the open desert, most have been spray painted with graffiti by US troops, their guts strewn out across the ground.

Throughout the day, we were introduced to officers and troops from various subordinate units on Al Assad. Our most interesting stop was the Sgt. Major’s office at Regimental Combat Team 2 (RCT 2), adorned with a dozen weapons seized by RCT 2 from Iraqi insurgents. The weapons, many older than me, ranged from pistols to mortars. Homemade rocket launchers made of PVC pipe displayed the ingenuity of their makers. By dinner, we had visited many units, and finished off our “tour” with a stop at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) building recently built on base. The MWR building houses pool tables, fussball tables, a big screen television, and an internet cafĂ©. A home away from home, it provides the young Marines and soldiers a welcome bit of relief from the hot sun and long hours. Only the impact of indirect fire from insurgents would break many of these Marines away from their games.

We have requested air transport to Falluja, but may have to rely on ground convoy due to other operational commitments. It is there that I will attempt to embed with subordinate units of the 2nd Marine Division, my old Command at Camp Lejeune. Many are headed to the field, and I hope to join them in fight against the insurgency. Until then, I’ll continue to explore Al Assad, and attempt to develop some well-needed contacts within the aviation community. You never know when they’ll come in handy when you are in the field.


tander said...

I have a request or a question. What do you think about selling what you do and defending it. I looked on my first blogs last week and it makes me sick the lack of informed people. Alot from the liberal parts of the country. Smart, educated, but they do not know anything about what is really going on. Do think it would be asking to much from the men and women that protect our lives with their lives to also sell to the same people they protect what it is they do. If so check out some liberal blogs, I am sure you our your friends will have alot to say. We do not need another president to be elected who downgrades our armed forces and gives n Korea nukes, China information, Saddam over 16 billion dollars, and lets Osama go. Please consider it. You guys need to help. I am sorry it is this way, but it is.

Ben Perry said...

Craig, Be careful over there. Do you think you'll be back by May? The Law Dawgs are planning a trip to Rolling Thunder 2006 and would like to hook up with you in the Virginia area if possible. Also, did you bring your Law Dawg Colors with you? If so, send us a photo of you with the colors so we can add it to the Law Dawg's web site.

Semper Fi,

Ben Perry
President, LDMC

dad said...

Craig's safe arrival in Iraq - the second time around - can only be bettered by his safe return. When he was on his first tour of duty in a protective detail covering the Governor (a Brit) of Basra, we were amazed at his skills in portraying the "real life" scenarios that unfolded around him on a daily basis. It was a great change from the constant media coverage of the daily killings and ambushes. However, I do salute the media for counteracting the spin our government puts on how "we are winning the war on terrorism". Craig - get a copy of the recent NY Times "magazine" -there's an article in depth about the Afghanistan aspects that sheds a balanced historical perspective on lessons learned but ignored.
TIME's recent coverage of events in their last issue is slanted against the admin., but still is worth reviewing for the perspective of the ineptitude of portions of our political establishment. Keep up the fine writing, and come home soon so you can collaborate with me on projects planned. Dad

Michelle said...

Hello from Houston. As we had a bit of wind come through here this past weekend, we were still thinking of you and hoping for your safe arrival. We are glad to hear you have made it and are making some new friends. Let us know if you need anything.

Ron Buck said...

Hi Craig,

Love your writing. There is an Elementry School here that wants to send a bunch of shoebox sized care packages. Can you give me the details on where to send them.