Crowley Chronicles, 6th Edition
The 6th Edition of the Chronicles is dedicated to the members of Mortuary Affairs who have a less than enviable job taking care of our fallen heroes. I often have the pleasure of dining with these Marines in the chow hall and fully understand the tough times they are going through. Their interviews will be contained in future Chronicles.
Once again I have to welcome new readers of the Chronicles – I understand it has branched out into the Blogger world. For those of you who don’t know what a Blogger is do not worry, you aren’t alone. I never heard of one before last month when a Major I work with added me to his site. From what I can gather they are websites that address various world topics in an open forum where readers can comment and ask questions – much the same as what I am trying to do here. At the end of Edition 6 you will find readers comments as well as their questions that I try to answer as best I can. Please feel free to email me at: CrowleyTM@acemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil
28 JUL – I caught a ride to Camp Ripper where I was planning on spending the night at the 2nd Regimental Combat Team (2 RCT). Once I arrived I learned that there was an inbound convoy that could take me forward to Camp Hit with 3rd Battalion 25th Marines (3/25) that night. As usual the convoy was delayed and arrived six hours late. During the wait the 2 RCT SgtMaj showed me the weapons that the units under their command had seized. They had a wide variety from 120 mm mortars seized that week that were responsible for the deaths of several Marines to numerous homemade weapons, improvised explosive device (IED) components, old Nazi weapons, and various other weapons from around the world. In their lounge located outside the Colonel’s office there was a memorial for their fallen Marines. I couldn’t help but notice that huge stack of dog tags hanging from the M-16. Today two new dog tags were added. After an uneventful convoy I arrived at Camp Hit, headquarters of 3/25, located north of the city Hit (pronounced heat) at 0340 and finally hit the rack at 0530.
29 JUL – Got up at 0900 and looked around the base. I worked out in their “weight room”. It left much to be desired but with a little creativity you could get in a good workout. During the afternoon I caught a convoy to Firm Base #1 located in the city of Hit. The base consisted of one large building surrounded by deserted market areas. Due to all the recent fighting in the area all the shops remained closed. I spent a little over an hour here until my convoy departed for Firm Base #2 in the heart of Hit. Both Firm Bases are occupied by Marines from 3/25 – they also have positions in Haditha. The Commanding Officer of Kilo Company, Major Douglas, greeted me and gave me the grand tour. The base consisted of a one story building that used to be the Iraqi equivalent of a YMCA minus the pool of course. Due to the location and limited resources the “base” was quite lacking in everything! I thought Camp Corregidor and Combat Outpost were bad – this was to be the worst living conditions I have experienced in my life. For two thirds of the day the building was without power since they were trying to run the facility off of Iraqi power. They had one generator to power the communications equipment and computers in the command center – this tended to die quite often as well. The building is cramped with hundreds of Marines and Iraqi Security Forces living side by side. The only food provided is Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s are prepackaged meals in plastic) and there aren’t enough cots to go around. Marines and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) sleep anywhere inside they can get a little floor space – you can not sleep outside due to the large amount of incoming rounds. Day and night multiple patrols are constantly going out on foot. Most Marines average between 3-5 patrols a day ranging from 3-5 hours each. Inside the building the temperatures hover above 100 day and night. The building is extremely filthy mostly due to the fact it has indoor carpeting almost everywhere. They used so much glue to install the carpet it is impossible to remove. The dirt and scum continues to build daily – this is what the men have for their beds. One whole platoon had developed some kind of unidentifiable disease that specialists were trying to identify. I couldn’t sleep due to the heat, filth, lights, and noise.
30 JUL – At 0915 I stepped off on my first foot patrol in the city of Hit. I was with nineteen Marines and ISF members. At 0922 a huge explosion rocked the neighborhood we were walking through. No one knew where the explosion came from but soon we learned a convoy leaving the base two blocks away had been hit by a suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED). Two HMMV’s were destroyed and there were a number of Marines wounded. We continued on our patrol. As we prepared to cross a major road, security elements pushed out to stop the traffic at a safe distance. While dashing (slower then I used to) across the road I heard yelling. As I looked in that direction I observed a Marine engaging an oncoming car with his 203 grenade launcher. The car had failed to stop to hand and verbal warnings. Luckily for the driver the Marine still had time to launch a smoke grenade at the vehicle instead of an explosive grenade. The car stopped. We searched several vehicles to include that one.
After crossing the street we entered a huge palm grove – it was as if we had entered a different world. From the palm grove we patrolled along a stretch of the Euphrates River. All along the route children came out to see us and people offered us water and food. While searching an Iraqi meeting house I saw something that shocked me – a sprinkler in the yard with water coming out, and there was grass!!! While we were at the house we had a perimeter established to cover a wide area. Children were all around the neighborhood and one of the bolder kids around four years old came into the yard which is usually sealed off. With a little coxing we got him to start playing in the sprinkler. We were all sure it was the first time he had ever played in one. He had a wonderful time until we got ready to leave. I do not think the guard at the meeting house was too happy with the boy and tried to yell at his mother. We took care of that situation. The temperatures were in the 120’s as we continued our patrol. We searched a number of houses and spoke to numerous people willing to provide information. We completed the patrol at 1225 and I was wiped out. I was actually able to fall asleep for five hours; when I woke up my patrol was already back at it.
31 JUL – During the morning we had plenty of fireworks of all types. We had intelligence that an attack was planned on our base and even with stepped up patrols what might have been the “attack” came. Our building is surrounded by huge barriers filled with sand, concrete barriers, concertina wire, bunkers, and a number of amphibious assault vehicles (AAV) in the large field watching the rear of the facility. At around 0800 a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) shot across the field from the rear of our building just missing an AAV and impacted a barrier approximately fifty feet from where I was in the command center. Shortly after that an IED exploded near one of our foot patrols that had just left the compound minutes earlier. Part of a house and store were destroyed but the Marines saw the device in time to take cover. A little later while I was outside mortar rounds started walking in on our position. I could see the first couple land on the far side of the field and then the next six started moving closer towards my location. As the rounds walked in, the Marines around me and I started a controlled stampede into the building. Once inside everyone was laughing and having a good time – that’s humor in a combat zone. The mortars never reached the building. Things quieted down for awhile until a few hours later when one of our foot patrols was ambushed. The fire fight lasted for several minutes and all the Marines came out unscathed. It is always amazing when hundreds of rounds can be fired and thankfully no one gets hit. The mobile PX truck had the pleasure of being at the base all day during the attacks. This was their first visit to the base (and probably their last). The truck was loaded with snacks, soda, movies, CDs, magazines, and various other items for sale. I couldn’t believe the Marines had to buy items that they could get free at the chow halls at real bases. The grunts definitely have it tough. Every time I’m with them I have a greater level of respect for them not because they have to buy their Mountain Dew but because of all they endure and I never hear them complain.
And yes, I did do a number of interviews while with them. I almost forgot – I believe I’m trying to forget because a number of interviews dealt with the death of Major Crocker (my TBS roommate) who was with Kilo Company when he was killed. He was good friends with Major Douglas and was highly regarded by the Marines. Major Crocker had assumed the role as official photographer for Kilo Company since he always traveled with them. He truly believed in his Civil Affairs mission of helping to rebuild schools, hospitals, and to bring joy to the Iraqi children. The CO said he always used his great sense of humor to brighten the days. At the end of operation briefs detailing raids and patrols he would always ask “how many soccer balls should I bring for the kids?” He always maintained a smile and that sense of humor I will always remember from the 1980’s.
One of the people who detailed (once again I can not provide the graphic details) the events of May 26, 2005 to me was a Navy Corpsman attached to Kilo Company. They were in the middle of a company sized sweep through Haditha when they decided to occupy a school to rest during the hottest hours of the day. Security was established and Marines inside the building took off their helmets and flak jackets to relax and cool off. Without warning a barrage of RPG’s hit the second floor of the building that happened to be where Major Crocker was. As Marines returned fire and the insurgents opened up with additional weapons, the Corpsman tried valiantly to help Major Crocker while putting his own life on the line - for now there was no longer a wall between them and the insurgents. The Corpsman was able to get Crocker to a safer area. The Corpsman will always remember looking up and seeing a female Marine returning fire as he dragged the Major to a safer area. He had a huge wound due to the rocket hitting him but since there was only a small amount of bleeding the Corpsman thought he could save him. He worked on trying to reestablish an airway and attempted CPR. Another Marine was helping him while the rest of the company engaged the insurgents. Major Douglas stopped in briefly, he touched Crocker’s leg, said a silent prayer, and said farewell warrior after the Corpsman told him it was over. Major Douglas continued up the stairs to direct return fire at the insurgents. Five additional Marines were wounded in the battle which continued until military aircraft dropped a 500 pound bomb on the enemy location and a number of tanks rolled in to squash the attack. Crocker’s dog tags hang outside of Major Douglas’ room and command post at Firm Base #2. He provided me with a disk of Crocker’s favorite pictures that he had taken of the unit and of a photo Major Douglas took of Major Crocker in front of a tank. Major Douglas told me Crocker was so proud of that picture.
When I asked Major Douglas about his worst day in Iraq, he said his worst day was the whole month of April. He believes they only had five days during the month without receiving indirect fire (IDF) and on most days they were hit multiple times. There was a three day period where the Marines were hit hard. The first day a foot patrol was hit by IDF wounding six Marines. The next day after conducting rehearsals for a large scale operation IDF landed among the company as they moved towards the building. Six Marines were medically evacuated and twenty-four others were wounded and treated at the base. During the Corpsman’s interview he was quick to point out that a GySgt “had a Forrest Gump wound in his rear end”. The following day one of Kilo Company’s convoys was hit by an IED that resulted in one KIA and an additional five wounded Marines. April was a bad month.
The reserve Corpsman relayed that it is so much more emotional performing his duties with the Marines then when he worked in an emergency room. In an emergency room you do not know the patients coming in and you always have a staff to help you. With the Marines he knows all of them and usually he is the only one on the scene to treat their wounds.
One of the most challenging operations that Kilo Company took part in was Operation New Market. They were scheduled to patrol a 40 kilometer stretch along the Euphrates River to weed out insurgents and locate hidden weapon caches. The original estimate was that the foot movement would take no more then five days. During the first two days morale was a little low because of the hot weather and no visible results taking place. Numerous names were given to the patrol but most I can not list here because of the language, the patrol lasted twelve days! It has become best known as the “Death March” in honor of the Bataan Death March. By the third day they started to seize large quantities of weapons and for the remainder of the movement results were extraordinarily high. They seized thousands of weapons and munitions. Even after the twelve day torture all the Marines I spoke to about the operation were all very positive because of the end accomplishment.
A Corporal I interviewed spoke about the 3/25’s first KIA which happened to be in his company. It was extra eerie because the Marine was killed on 3/25/05 (matches the units name). His fellow Corporal was blown up in front of him and the Marines realized they weren’t invincible.
1 AUG – Decided to pass on spending several days at Firm Base #1 at this point in time. I’m too exhausted from being unable to sleep at Firm Base #2 and the living conditions are the same at number #1. I caught a convoy at 0001 to Camp Hit in the back of a 7-ton. Riding with me was a team of snipers that we dropped off, security Marines, and a detainee. The Marines kept telling me to get lower. When you are flat on your back packed into the back of a truck you can not get much lower. The sky was amazing – I could see billions and billions of stars. In the first fifteen minutes I saw seven satellites and a couple of shooting stars. Looking up at a crystal clear star-filled night I almost felt like I was in Northern Minnesota or Canada. Unfortunately I don’t often see such star-filled skies in other parts of Iraq. It was truly amazing. I arrived at Camp Hit and hit the rack around 0200 and was up the next morning to catch a convoy to Al Asad. While I was filming part of the convoy we came head to head with a tank convoy. Smartly we gave way and pulled off the “road” and allowed them to pass. The roads that everyone travels on to get around that area of Iraq are all just packed down sand through the middle of the desert. Luckily I was able to save a few hours by convincing my HMMV to take me to Al Asad instead of Camp Ripper.
2 AUG – Recovery day, I finally slept and missed all three meals! It was time to try to install the lights on my bicycle again. I have neglected to fill you in on that horrid story. Wanting to ride my bike the mile and a half to the weight room at night, I bought lights that are supposed to be powered by the bike. The rear red light works great but I was unable to get the headlight working. I returned it and got another headlight, which I still can’t get to work! And of course I tried to mount the light on the handle bars which came loose once again while I was riding the bike. For some reason the handle bars like to turn around. This will be an ongoing battle with the lights and handle bars. Not only that but I almost had a run in with the fire department again. When microwaveable popcorn is sent over some of the butter tends to melt through the bag, so I grabbed a plastic plate and stuck it under my bag of popcorn to prevent the butter from leaking all over the microwave – but unlike at home nothing here is microwavable. You should have seen the plastic plate go up and melt all around my popcorn. After opening the microwave and letting the mushroom cloud blast over my head I made a dash for my room. I figured this time the firefighters could figure out for themselves what the burning odor smell was.
3 AUG – Had to clear all my email that built up during my trip.
4 AUG – Ran into my other roommate from The Basic School, LtCol Ken Cross, at the weightroom on base. I didn’t get in much of a workout since we hadn’t run into each other since last year. He is currently flying F-18 missions over Iraq. We plan to get together and I will interview him and members of his squadron. He no longer has his orange Hawaiian shirt – I can’t wait to tell the General!
5 AUG – My sleep pattern is non-existent and I ended up going to bed at 0620. After all night convoys and living in places where you can not sleep it is hard to get back on a schedule.
6 AUG – Went to bed again after breakfast. I’m still trying to catch up on typing interview summaries while at the same time knocking out new interviews. If only I could type.
7 AUG – Hopefully I’m back on more of a normal schedule. The wind has been blowing like crazy for a couple of days. After breakfast at 0600 this morning I went to my office for a few hours. I had to leave because so much sand and dust was blowing around in there. I cleaned my desk and within a couple of hours it was covered with sand again. Today was my day to catch up on the Crowley’s Chronicles and typed Editions 5 and 6! Hopefully I get some reader comments to add to this Edition in the next day or two.
8 AUG – “Attack of the Blob!” Hopefully people have seen either the original Blob or the newer version so you can picture what took place in my office on this fateful day. I was in high spirits after receiving several care packages and merrily started to open them. As I opened one box and then the next my enthusiasm grew. I couldn’t wait to get all the wonderful items out to the needy Marines. Then it happened (pause for effect), I cut open the third box only to be instantly attacked by a monstrous white oozing creature! As the “Blob” moved up and over the box edge I backed away only to realize it was too late – the Blob was on me! If you have seen the movies you know you are a goner once the Blob gets on your flesh. But instead of eating my flesh the Blob just kind of stuck to everything, and not only that but it tasted pretty good. After wrestling the Blob out of the package I realized it was Marshmallow Fluff that tried to cover every item in the box. Luckily it had been bagged even though parts of it managed to escape and most of the other items were individually bagged as well to reduce the damage. Several of the magazines ended up losing covers but the damage could have been much worse. The lesson to be learned here is not to send any items that can grow to ten times their original size when exposed to 120 degree temperatures and always bag items. Luckily the unnamed party does such a great job bagging all the items that everything could be salvaged. That reminds me, this story had a happy ending. After wrestling the Blob into my trash can I started to think about how he had traveled all the way around the globe to get here. I decided I had to salvage what I could so I used the George Castanza theory (Seinfeld show). Yes, it is true the Blob was in my trash can but it was on the top of the pile. Carefully and bravely I managed to pull the once mighty Blob back out and scooped about a third of what was left in the container into a Gladware bowl for future use. Most of the Fluff had expanded beyond the original container but the salvage effort made his trip worthwhile. This is a typical day in Iraq.
STUMP THE HISTORIAN - QUESTIONS????? (Note: these are my opinions and not official USMC answers)
1. Q. With multiple catastrophic kills in Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) why is the USMC using them in Iraq? CC – Ohio
A. The AAV is currently the only armored personnel carrier the USMC has. The armor provides much greater protection than the HMMV’s. Most often in Iraq it is used for beefing up forward base defense with its weapons capability and armor.
2. Q. Have you encountered any troops from other countries such as Great Britain? What role are they playing? Are there enough of them to make their presence felt? CMC – Pennsylvania
A. Other then Iraqi forces I have not encountered any other military from various countries supporting our efforts. However, there have been 2,017 coalition troop deaths, 1,825 Americans, 93 Britons, 13 Bulgarians, one Dane, two Dutch, two Estonians, one Hungarian, 26 Italians, one Kazakh, one Latvian, 17 Poles, one Salvadoran, three Slovaks, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and 18 Ukrainians in the war in Iraq as of August 4, 2005. As you can see they are out there fighting and dying with us.
3. Q. So far the only group you've encountered that has been unprofessional and had a rotten attitude was the army unit on the convoy that didn't properly secure the Gatorade being taken to the front line. To what do you attribute the bad attitude? Dr. J – New Jersey
A. I spoke to an Army LtCol the other night about that convoy and he was going to address the issue with their CO since he oversees all Army supply convoys in this sector of Iraq. We both agreed it was due to a “short timer’s attitude”. They were close to returning home after being in Iraq too long. They were an active duty unit.
4. Q. We keep hearing reports that it will take a long time to properly train the Iraqi troops so they can eventually take over. How are they doing in this process? You've mentioned the quality of the ISF officers who were once leading the troops for Saddam Hussein, how were their training procedures? Are our troops prepared well enough before arriving or is it a lot of on the job training? Dr. J – New Jersey
A. We have established training facilities all over Iraq where Marine and Army forces are training Iraqis. The training is progressing at a good rate but they have to deal with recruitment issues like the US military. You can only recruit and train so many soldiers at a given rate. Their former military and officers had Iraqi training. Iraq is a third world country that we rolled over twice setting all kinds of records for warfare. Their prior training is not on an acceptable level for US standards. We are trying to raise their level of proficiency and professionalism through our training and tactics. When our troops arrive here they train for at least a ten day period with the troops they are replacing. In every environment and even in each city there are different tactics to be learned. This could be your fourth tour in Iraq but you still need to be trained by the departing Marines. Training and learning is continuous.
5. Q. The press has quoted several sources this week that said the casualties are high because "The Reserves" are not as combat ready as the regular complement of soldiers. What is your feeling? JCC – New Jersey
A. When 14 Marines are killed driving down the road in a vehicle it doesn’t matter if you are active duty or reserve. You are driving down the road – everyone looks for IED and SVBIED’s but you can’t always see them and do not know they are there until they blow up. I think you would have to actually break it down and look at each death individually and ask if it would have made a difference if they were active or not. There is a higher number of Reserve deaths recently because there is a higher number of Reservists in the most violent areas. I haven’t broken down the deaths by Active and Reserves but in the future I’ll see if someone has – I think I need to find a staff to research this question. If you look at two hot spots close to where I am – Haditha and Hit, you will see that the only Marines there are Reservists fighting the insurgents. So of course any deaths in these cities will be Reserves. Ramadi is patrolled by Active Duty Marines and Army but they have suffered a large number of losses in that city as well over the past year. The biggest factor is where the insurgents decide to pool their resources and make a stand – that is where you will have the greatest number of deaths regardless of duty status. A bullet or bomb doesn’t care if you are Active Duty or Reserve, enlisted or officer. I feel the Reserves perform to the same high level as the Active Duty and all the military I have interviewed in Iraq have stated the same fact.
Thank you for sending Tim's photographs. I've gone through them all several times, each time learning something new. How proud we all are of Tim and the others like him. MS – New Jersey
Reading the Chronicle and I am surprised you can actually write. BM - Connecticut
Sir - Outstanding!!! I seem to have misplaced editions 1 - 4, can you re-send. Thanks. Great stuff!!! AJC – Pennsylvania
Thanks so much for letting us view your life in Iraq. The photos are great and the Chronicles are providing us a view of life in Iraq. I have always loved the Marines. My father was a Marine in World War I. Be safe. Our thoughts are with you. SS & DS – New Jersey
We are now able to view all of the pictures. It is an amazing look at what is going on in Iraq from multiple perspectives. These photos tell the stories that the news never touches upon. It helps me understand why our troops are there from the soldier’s perspective, not the governments. Tim, you still have a flare for photography. Stay safe and well. MC - Massachusetts
SUPPORT YOUR TROOPS and IRAQI CHILDREN:
Several new projects have started or have been given new life in various parts of the country to help the Iraqi children as well as the Marines due to the Chronicles. I would be honored to accept packages on behalf of the children and the Marines until December. Many good projects die off because people who the packages are sent to constantly rotate – prior to my departure I will provide a new point of contact so packages can reach the needy.
The children need school supplies as well as small toys such as Matchbox cars, dolls and other small items for boys and girls.
Items for Marines will be delivered to our front line Marines who live everyday in the harshest environments. I would love to surprise them with snacks (that withstand the heat) as well as any non-pornographic magazines new or less then two months old (DO NOT send all the old magazines that have been piled in your garage for the past ten years). If you are sending larger quantities of packages (over two at once) please email me so I can make prior arrangements for boxes.
If you can help, please send packages to:
LtCol Tim Crowley
MWHS-2, Det A
FPO AE 09502-8092
LtCol Tim Crowley
Note: The care packages are sent Priority Mail to a federal post office facility so a domestic shipping rate is charged; the government sends them to Iraq. They take 2-3 weeks to arrive. Put items in plastic bags to contain contents if packaging is damaged. A customs form must be filled out; these can be obtained at your post office along with priority labels. Free Priority Mail boxes can be ordered from the Postal Service web site USPS.com and will be delivered to your house.