Sunday, November 13, 2005

Getting out of Dodge

Today is Sunday, although every day here blends together and there really isn’t any noticeable change of pace from day to day around the camp. I’ve had a lazy day – no interviews, just taking it easy. I slept late, went to the gym for a half-assed workout and spent the better half of the afternoon packing my gear, checking it sense in going west without packing everything I need to live for a couple of weeks. The luxuries at Camp Fallujah are not to be found in Al Qaim.

Showtime at the LZ/AAG-DAG tonight is close to midnight, with an early (zero-dark thirty early) morning departure. I am quite relieved to be going back to the field. Sitting around Camp Fallujah without a standard duty schedule tends will wear on you and make you wish you were anywhere but here. I feel sorry for the Marines stuck inside the wire at Camp Fallujah for 6 months to a year. What a drag. I'm excited to get out of here and link up with the Division for a spell.

RCT-2 is conducting OPERATION STEEL TRAP out west near the towns of Husaybah, Al Qaim, Rawah and other locations in and around the western edge of Iraq. LtCol Chris Starling, VMI Class of ’88, is the Operations Officer and is expecting us. I e-mailed Chris to ensure that the RCT was fully aware that a couple of spare LtCol’s would be wandering around the AO. By the time I return to Fallujah, I’d like to have about 50 interviews captured from Marines who are currently in the fight. I hope to embed with a company level unit at some point and follow the young Marines who are making history. We Officers just take the credit.

I’m already planning my return flight back to the Mississippi Rifles in early December. They will be departing soon, and I don’t want to miss them before they leave. Another 25 interviews or so with the “Dixie Thunder” should suffice. I will most likely spend several days at their forward operating base (FOB) and another couple with thier subordinate task force units scattered south of Baghdad.

I conducted some interesting interviews in Camp yesterday to help pass the time and add to my collection – I interviewed LCDR Seth Phillips, one of only 7 Jewish Rabbi’s in the U.S. Navy. Rabbi (LCDR) Phillips only had 45 minutes to spend with me, so we zipped through a quick interview at the Camp Fallujah Chapel. The Rabbi grew up in Richmond, VA where he currently lives in the west end. As a Virginian who has spent quite a bit of time in Richmond, we immediately shared a common interest. A unique and informative interview….Rabbi Phillips is the acting Battalion Chaplain for 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines (3/6). Regardless of denomination, his most important task is to provide counseling, comfort, and guidance to those deployed. I asked him to urge his fellow Chaplains to volunteer for interviews over the next few months.

I also interviewed Corporal Mark James McKenna, a reserve Marine who was activated for OIF. A Squad Leader for the MEF Headquarters Group (MHG), Motor Transport Section, II MEF (Fwd), Cpl. McKenna is leaving Iraq today, heading home after spending a full tour of duty with MHG “Motor T.”

The “Motor T” Platoon is primarily responsible for security convoys and escorts throughout the AO. Cpl. McKenna participated in a total of 81 security convoys during his deployment, sometimes as a vehicle gunner and other times as the vehicle commander. Usually riding in “Gun 1,” MHG’s call sign for the first HMMWV of the security convoy, Cpl. McKenna has seen his share of the Iraqi countryside. Escorting “green gear” (Marine equipment) as well as civilian trucks and tractor-trailers, the MT Platoon has yet to experience a single catastrophic loss in their Platoon since deploying. The convoys vary from short trips of an hour or less, to a 640 mile round-trip convoy to Trebil, located on the Jordanian border.

The convoys have intercepted dozens of improvised explosive devices (IED’s), taken routine small arms fire from insurgents and witnessed the devastating effects of vehicular suicide bombers, referred to as SVBIED’s. Many young Marines in these convoys experienced their first taste of combat during these excursions, including Cpl. McKenna. Interestingly, he kept a hand-written, personal journal detailing his experiences, emotions, and after-thoughts of each convoy. When asked if he would allow his family to read the journal, he hesitated and finally said no, at least for some time to come. He wasn’t sure his entries would be understood, or accepted, by someone who had not themselves experienced the harsh reality of combat.

This will be my last post for the next week or two. Til then...


Papa Ray said...

Hope you have a safe trip. Don't follow those Combat Jarheads too close, you will cramp their style and you might get in the LOF.

Too bad you can't give out beer to go with your interviews, you would get more honest answers.

I was interviewed out in the boondocks by an enterprising reporter from some newspaper in Austin. I had just returned from the bush and had no interest in talking to anyone. I am afraid that I might have hurt his feelings when I told him I would talk to him if he could get me a few days off in Saigon.

I was kidding of course, only pogs and remfs went to Saigon.

Continue the Mission.

Papa Ray
West Texas

Ed said...


FYI, LtCol Starling's brother Phil was my class president.