Friday, July 15, 2005

Crowley Chronicles, Part 2; Ongoing Tales from a Marine Historian in Iraq

15 June 05

­­This edition is dedicated to the memory of my friend and roommate Major Rick Crocker from “Elvis” Company 1989 at The Basic School. He was killed in action recently in Iraq. Major Crocker was a reserve officer from California and a police officer with several young children.

Wow, since the 1st edition of the Chronicle hit the street my public has demanded more. Not only do they want more editions published but circulation has increased tenfold. I would like to welcome our new subscribers especially our wounded veterans. For those of you who do not know me, let me take a minute to tell you who I am and what I’m doing. My name is Lieutenant Colonel Tim Crowley and I am currently deployed in Iraq as a Field Historian for the Marine Corps. My mission is to travel around the country documenting what the USMC and units attached to us are doing to help eliminate the insurgents and rebuild Iraq. Part of my duties includes keeping a daily journal which has now become the Chronicle. I try to mix in humor and gear the information towards my family and now of course you, my extended family. I’ll try to attach some photographs each week (if I can figure out the technical aspects).

June 5th – Sunday, our day of rest, but not if you are deployed to Iraq. All days are equal in the desert and it becomes hard to remember what day of the week it is. The chow hall has even moved steak night to various nights. I believe this is a military strategy so no one can ever tell when they are supposed to redeploy to the States. On Sundays I hit the weight room with the staff from 2nd Military Police Battalion. It’s a great group of people and we push each other hard. Their Commanding Officer held a Camp Fallujah power lifting competition before I arrived. He is an old friend of mine but I have to say it, if you walk into his office and see all the big trophies he won you’ll know why he held the contest. That’s one way to decorate the office. Maybe I’ll have to organize some fishing tournaments that I can win. The chow hall has switched to playing Bad Boys II and SWAT at all the meals for days on end. After a few days of the same movie people tend to eat faster and go back to work. Productivity really picks up on base.

June 6th – Today we were greeted with cool temperatures! The high was only in the upper nineties. Since the cold spell set in I decided to do some exploring on base utilizing the shoe leather express. I spent about four hours covering numerous miles and visiting with various units. From 1990-1993 I served with 8th Communications Battalion and decided it was time to see how things had changed. The comm field has come a long way since then and during my tour of their systems I was hard pressed to find any equipment that I recognized. I have become a dinosaur in the communication field. One of the greatest tools to help with morale is email and Internet connectivity, no more carrier pigeons or the mess of having to deal with bird food. My sister Dee can tell you what happens when there is bird food – out here it means mice and cobras. I tried to visit the son of a friend of mine but discovered too late that I had his rank wrong. I never did get back to 2nd Tank Battalion to look him up.

June 7th /8th – Both were slow days with nothing major on the schedule. I’m waiting for a flight so I can move to Al Asad Airbase where I’ll set up my office and “permanent” home. I hit the weight room and at lunch Universal Soldiers II was playing so a number of people watched it from start to finish (notice I didn’t say I was one of them).

June 9th - Tonight I’m scheduled for a convoy with Fox Company, 2nd MP Bn so I slept in late. When I checked in at the MP Bn headquarters to make sure my ride to Fox Company was locked on, I learned that 2nd Platoon from Fox had been hit by an improvised explosive device (IED). The vehicle that was hit had only been in the field for two days after having the latest version of the “up” armor added. There are a number of different levels of armor in use on the Hummers at this point. The military is doing a good job of trying to make sure all the vehicles traveling off the bases have the best armor available. Today it paid off. The armor totally protected the Marines inside the Hummer, not even a scratch. The .50 cal gunner who is somewhat exposed unfortunately received a head wound. His injuries would have been much worse as well without the armor. His turret position blocked numerous pieces of shrapnel and his safety goggles saved his sight by deflecting shrapnel. The good news is he should make a full recovery! The vehicle was towed to a maintenance shop to have new armor installed after I took pictures of the damage. At this point it was 2100 (9 PM) and I loaded up for the convoy to the Baghdad International Airport with a new level of confidence in the armor. Convoys always seem to run into delays. One of the biggest problems is that we are usually escorting sixty Iraqi civilian trucks which date back to the 1950’s. It is amazing they make it on the convoy routes. Sometimes we take them on dirt roads which would challenge many of the SUV’s on the streets of the USA. I’ve found it is a much more enjoyable ride the further to the front of the convoy you are. Between the sand and the fact that many trucks do not have mufflers, good air to breath can be hard to come by. Anyway, we didn’t leave Camp Fallujah until 2200 when all the antiques were finally rolling. Other than seeing a number of flares fired off in the distance the convoy went smoothly and we arrived at the airport right at 2400. Everyone took a quick break to water the sand and we were back on the road with a different convoy of civilian trucks by 0012. Earlier in the day an Army convoy had been hit by an IED on the same route. On the way back, in the same spot they had been hit, our scouts spotted another IED about ten feet off the road. We cleared the area fast and notified EOD to dispose of the problem. We saw numerous convoys throughout the night and returned to Fallujah at 0220. I called my father to wish him happy birthday and called my wife to say hello. After a shower I was in the rack by 0430. (I realize this edition isn’t as funny as the first, but hang in there it will get better – I hope.)

June 10th – Slept for six hours and then packed up my room. I was scheduled to fly out that night, or should I say the next morning at 0330. Keeping crazy hours can really throw off your daily routine. After packing I went over to the Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned tent where I had been working for the past couple of weeks. I said good bye to everyone and picked up the rest of my gear. You have to get to the landing zone (LZ) two hours before your flight; this gives you plenty of time to get an Aunt Annie’s pretzel, pizza, or Cinnabon muffin. See picture of the “terminal” – luckily I brought the Mountain Dew with me. While you are sitting in the “terminal” numerous helos come and go. This wasn’t a problem until one pilot decided to come our way during take off. The bad thing about sitting at a blacked out LZ at night is you can’t see the sand cloud coming until it’s too late. Everyone sitting there got their fill of sand in our eyes, ears, mouths….. I’m sure the pilot was watching through his night vision goggles (NVG’s) and laughing. It was probably the same helo that threw out my sea bag last trip. It was a warm night in the mid to upper eighties but I was looking forward to a cool flight. I decided to get some water and as I made my way to it in the dark I heard people yelling for me. My helo was an hour early. Later I would regret not finding the water in time. By the time I got to my bags everyone else was walking towards the helo. I loaded up with my 200 pounds of gear and started to run so I could catch up to them. I also didn’t want to miss the flight. I made it to the helo and had a good sweat going. I took the last seat and had my bags positioned across from me where I could watch them. As the helo took off I realized it wasn’t going to be a cool flight. The temperature in the helo had to be close to 120˚F and the sweat was pouring down my face. The fact that we wear helmets and flak jackets doesn’t help keep you cool either. At our first stop the crew chief said we all had to get off so they could refuel. They had to drag me off as I tried to hold onto my bags. I figured it was just an excuse to get me off so they could go on bombing runs utilizing my bags. They had us stand in the “jet wash” of the helo bringing the temperature closer to 130. I wished I had drinking water instead of Mountain dew! We completed our flight without incident and arrived at Al Asad Airbase around 0330, ahead of schedule. I was still trying to get sand out of my ears from the LZ. Around 0430 I made it to Major Crespin’s room where I was going to sleep. My first impression even in the dark was that of horror. I’ve seen my share of projects over the years having worked in Newark, NJ and while spending the past ten years with DEA – and this, my friends, would fit the definition. My fellow historian LtCol Benhoff said he was taking care of me when he arranged for me to live at Al Asad. Two other Marines from Camp Fallujah I know have been here for a couple of days and all they have to say is that I live in a “rat hole”.

June 12th – First full day after resting in my new home. Everything is a long walk. The chow hall is at least a ½ mile, PX and barber shop are a little further, and the weight room is over a mile away. This base is in the middle of the desert with nothing to stop the winds. Everyday we have several dust storms and the temperatures have been around 115. I decided to run down to the weight room which rivals many private clubs in the USA. They did a fantastic job outfitting the facility. Anyway, the mile plus run with a 25 mph head wind and 100+ temperatures made it one of the hardest runs I’ve been on. I had to take about 20 minutes at the gym to recover before I could lift. I picked up some books to read and used them as an excuse to walk back to my room. On the way back I actually saw a water hole that was filled with snails and fish! Too small to break out the fishing pole but I saw fish in the desert. There is a warning about touching the water, the snails carry a disease that is harmful to people. Everything here can kill you, even a small snail. Believe it or not we also have a swamp across the street from where I live. Where else but in the middle of Iraq in a desert can you get mauled by mosquitoes? I’ve never heard anyone mention mosquitoes and desert in the same sentence before. Iraq is a wonderful vacation spot!

June 13th – The Chief of Staff was so happy when he brought me to my new office. It is huge compared to other offices. In fact there is a smaller office down the hall that has four LtCol’s in it. Once I stepped inside I realized why it was currently empty – no air conditioning. The walls don’t quite reach the ceiling and it is located next to the rear door of the building that is always open. I’m currently using a desk in a different office waiting for an air conditioner to get installed – it could be awhile.

June 14th – Time to move again. The billeting Lt asked me to move into a smaller room so they could put two people in the room I was occupying. Luckily the room was right next door. I spent the next 4 ½ hours cleaning the room and its bathroom, taping up the windows to keep the sand out, and sanitizing the floors. I swept out a number of dead cockroaches which could be a good sign or a bad one. If the bug spray killed them that’s good but if they died of old age in there that would be bad. While cleaning the shower I saw some kind of wildlife jump out of the curtain. Luckily it was a large lizard and not a camel spider or scorpion. I wished my son Tim was here to catch it. As I thought about Tim catching lizards I had flashbacks to Florida where lizards used to bite him. I figured this being Iraq, the lizard could probably kill me as well with a bite. I “netted” him with a t-shirt and put him out front by a cactus. After surviving the lizard attack it was time for my electrical nightmare to begin. I’ll admit I’m not the most technically knowledgeable individual you will ever meet, in fact my three year old son Michael probably knows more about electricity than I do. At least in the USA you can plug things into a socket without worrying. Here in Iraq there are about twenty different plugs coupled with various power converters, surge protectors, and multiple colors of plugs. I made the mistake of trying to use a shop vacuum to give the room a final cleaning. When I plugged it in and hit the on switch my room lit up like the Fourth of July. Flames burst from the cords connecting the Iraqi made surge protector and there was a small explosion which produced a mushroom cloud. At this point I thought about getting my camera to take pictures but I figured if I didn’t get the fire under control I would have to move again. The smell of burning electrical appliances could be smelled throughout the building for hours. During the fire I had another flashback to the mad Turkish barber swinging his ear burning torch. Due to the fire and the fact that the central air conditioning doesn’t work well, it was hot in my room. A LtCol down the hall gave me a brand new fan still in the box. Well, my electrical problems weren’t done for the day yet. Due to the power converter going up in flames, I plugged the fan into a different power strip. Things were great for the next hour with a cool breeze emanating from the fan. Then the fan went up in flames. I think I need to move a fire extinguisher into my room. Anyway after several mishaps I think I finally have a safe electrical system in place. We’ll see.

June 15th – Carolyn’s birthday! Rumor has it that she told the kids it was her 25th birthday. How come when it’s my birthday she always adds ten years to my age? Once again we had two strong sandstorms today. On the way back from dinner we could see one closing in. We just made it inside prior to the brunt of the storm hitting. Unfortunately we spent the next several hours getting bitten by sand fleas. They must have been blown ahead of the storm and decided to take refuge on our bodies. They are tiny bugs comprised of nothing but teeth. The other Marines in the office weren’t too happy when they saw the sand fleas crawling all over the furniture.

June 16th – Today I hit the Indian barbershop on base. The haircuts are only three dollars and you don’t even have to buy burn cream or bandages when they are done. The barbers do a strange head “massage” consisting of a lot of clapping and knuckle popping. I think I need to start rolling video tape at all the various barbershops. No electrical fires today but the day is still young. This weekend I will be traveling to Camp Ramadi where I’ll work for a few weeks. Stay cool, safe, and bug free in the good old USA!


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