Monday, December 26, 2005
Holiday Blues and Museum Artifacts
The uniform of BGen. Augustus Collins, 155 BCT, donated by the General for accession into the Marine Corps Museum
Iraqi Army (IA) and Iraqi Police (IP) comic books, distributed by coalition forces in support of "information operations" in Iraq, 2005
Original applications for Fallujah resident and contractor Identification cards, bound for the Marine Corps Museum, December, 2005
Well…it’s the day after Christmas and even in Iraq, a small dose of “post Christmas day blues” has spread throughout the camp. Just like home, the days leading up to Christmas generated an air of excitement about the camp. As Christmas eve approached, the troops became animated and playful, wearing stocking caps instead of boonie covers and greeting one another with “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Ooh-rah!” Non-stop religious Services were conducted by the various Command Chaplains and packages were rushed from the Fallujah post office to waiting 7-tons or HMMWV’s for transport to the troops before Christmas morning. Laughter and good cheer was the medicine of the day.
As of this morning, everything’s back to normal. Christmas decorations are being dismantled and the excitement of Christmas has passed. The Marines of II MHG and 5/14 Provisional Military Police continue on with their convoy security patrols. The grunts of Regimental Combat Team 8 (RCT-8) headed out this morning, just as they have every morning to conduct cordon and knocks, searches, and raids against high value targets in town. The helos continue to fly over the camp, one buzzing overhead as I write this post. Today, at least one CH-46 medevac landed at Fallujah surgical, bearing wounded Marines. A Cobra gunship providing security escort passed overhead as the 46 touched down to drop off its payload. Life continues, and so continues the carnage and violence that separates us from our counterparts at Camp Lejeune, Quantico and Camp Pendleton. Christmas has come and gone, the goodwill and cheer a fading memory as Marines put their noses to the grindstone and push forward with their daily routine.
Our work never really stopped. It was merely downplayed by the joyous feelings that Christmas brings to each and every Marine deployed. Opening a care package on Christmas day, no matter how big or small, was just as exciting to us as that gift we tore into as a 9 year old at home, many years back. The Marines here are kids at heart. Yesterday, we were all thinking of home, of family and of Christmas’ past.
Today, we are back at work, our minds refreshed, the holiday over. I am back to conducting interviews with the Marines of 5/14, and will be departing Camp Fallujah in a couple days to spend a week with an infantry unit north of my current location. Once again, I am looking forward to getting out of Camp Fallujah and the garrison environment it has become. Going to the field is a welcome relief I am fortunate to experience.
In addition to the interviews I conduct with Marines across the area of operations (AO), my duties include collecting unique artifacts for accession into the Marine Corps Museum. I’ve always had a fascination with historical memorabilia and militaria, and though I’m neither a historian nor a museum curator, this deployment has helped turn my fascination into an official duty, if only for the duration of this deployment. I’m actually charged with looking for such items on behalf of the Marine Corps Museum, some of which may one day be found on display in a museum or archived for the use by military historians.
Museum artifacts come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve had to alter my preconceived ideas about what actually constitutes an artifact. My pre-deployment concept of an artifact was a simply a weapon or a uniform, perhaps a war trophy of some sort. However, artifacts are much more varied than just guns, trucks or uniforms. Imagine the value of an original, unmarked booklet of ballots from the Iraqi national elections held December 15th, 2005. In 50 years, that very book of ballots will be a museum curators dream. Though merely a ballot book to most, a museum curator immediately sees its value to future researchers and historians.
I’ve been fortunate to come across some great artifacts while deployed. A box of artifacts sits in my workspace at Camp Fallujah, waiting to be mailed to the museum curator at Quantico. I’ve picked up many items, such as original election and referendum ballots; coalition “propaganda” handbills posted on Iraqi lamp posts and an Arabic copy of the Iraqi constitution circulating the streets of Fallujah. I’ve received a cassette tape filled with anti-American rhetoric, captured from insurgents in Iraq, and possess an Iraqi martyr flag found balled up in a vacant Fallujan home by Warrant Officer Fay. We are hoping to get our hands on a collection of weapons captured from the insurgents by Marines from RCT-2, to include some fantastic AK-47’s, RPK’s, pistols, knives, swords and various hand-made rocket launchers and RPG tubes made with PVC pipe and sheer ingenuity. Just this evening, a young Marine popped into my work space and hand delivered one of the camouflage utility uniforms worn in Iraq by Brigadier General Augustus Collins, Brigade Commander for the 155 BCT, II MEF (Fwd). General Collins was kind enough to offer his uniform when I asked if he'd be interested in donating it to the museum. A man of his word, the General promised and delivered. The 155 leaves Iraq this month after spending the last year in the Babil Province, fighting the insurgency and turning over parts of the AO to the Iraqi Police (IP) and Iraqi Army (IA). His uniform may one day adorn a mannequin at the Smithsonian or other museum, as General Collins was the first African-American General in the Mississippi National Guard, and the first to command a National Guard Brigade in combat while serving subordinate to a major Marine Corps chain of command.