View Full Version : Marines relieved to begin journey home

05-12-03, 05:26 PM
Marines relieved to begin journey home
By DENNIS O'BRIEN, The Virginian-Pilot
May 12, 2003

CAMP SHOUP, KUWAIT -- It's official: The war is over for Charlie Company.
The weary Marines returned to the relative comfort of this base in northern Kuwait late Saturday, and one of the first orders of business was to turn in their ammunition. Someone else stands guard now. For the first time in almost two months, the men of Charlie Company can relax.

``I slept like a rock last night just knowing I was in Kuwait,'' Lance Cpl. Brian Norman said.

The men never thought this place would be such a sight for sore eyes and sore everything else. But it is.

It's hard to believe it has been only seven weeks since the Marines piled into their light-armored reconnaissance vehicles and sped north to make war with Iraq. Time flies when you're being shot at.

And though they hadn't heard gunfire in some time, the potential for it had weighed heavily on their minds through every interaction with the Iraqis. The men knew they would not be completely out of harm's way until they were back across the Iraq-Kuwait border.

Charlie Company spent the past few weeks gradually moving south as new units assumed Task Force Tarawa's area of responsibility. One of the stops on the way back was Nasiriyah. The visit was awkward, to say the least.

In Nasiriyah, Charlie Company had experienced its fiercest fighting of the war -- more than a week of battling an enemy that used guerrilla tactics and hid among civilians. This time around, the men said, the city's citizens greeted them with smiles and waves. But the Marines said they were still on edge, worried that enemies might be lurking behind the seemingly innocent.

``I find it hard to believe there wasn't even one guy out there with an AK who wanted to shoot us,'' Norman said.

But there were no shots fired this time. Eventually, the Marines were able to let down their guard enough to buy local shopkeepers' wares, such as trinkets, Zam Zam cola, fresh produce, and bread from Alkarim's Deli.

The men also suffered from what appeared to be a case of Nasiriyah's revenge, as a 24-hour stomach flu ravaged the company.

But it turned out to be the Norwalk virus, which has been making the rounds among American forces in Iraq, and not the food.

Upon their return to Camp Shoup, the Marines were rudely welcomed back by a nasty sandstorm.

As they started cleaning out their vehicles and digging into sea bags full of clean clothes they had left behind, grains of fine sand found their way into everything.

Not that the men were about to complain after almost two months of living like animals. When they stayed at Camp Shoup in February and March, the Marines were none too fond of the conditions. But compared to the wartime lifestyle up north, even Shoup's austere accommodations are a step above.

The Charlie Company men made swift use of the camp's showers and quickly donned fresh clothes. And there would be no grousing about the food. Their first dinner back in the Camp Shoup chow tent: pseudo steak, chili mac, potatoes, ice cream and the old, familiar instant coffee.

In fact, after a day back here, good old Camp Shoup is pretty much the same as it was when the company left on March 20. But the men returning certainly are not.

``If any of us were kids when we left here, some of the situations we were in up there made them a man,'' Cpl. Andrew Belt said.

``I think we've definitely matured and will be able to handle any situation in life, knowing how crappy it can get.''

Agreeing, Cpl. Robbie Gribbons said, ``It was hard to have gone through a place like Nasiriyah and not get a little perspective. This was a great experience, one of those things you dream of when you go into the Marine Corps but never think will happen -- a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be right in the meat and potatoes of the hardest fighting of the war.''

In a few days, Charlie Company will head south again, this time to the coast of Kuwait. There, they will drive onto Little Creek-based hovercraft, taking them to Norfolk-based ships, which will then begin steaming toward the shores of North Carolina.

Two months ago, the Marines couldn't wait to get out of Kuwait and into Iraq. And once their work was done there, they couldn't wait to get back to Kuwait.

``Now I just want to go home and see my wife and little boy,'' Gribbons said.

``I missed his first birthday, missed his first step, and I can't wait to chase him around Wal-Mart and everywhere else.''

The wait is getting shorter every day, but Charlie Company will have to be patient. The Marines are not due back to their Camp Lejeune, N.C., base until late June.

Dennis O'Brien has been with the Marines of Task Force Tarawa since they left the coast of North Carolina in mid-January. You can reach him at dennis.obrien@pilotonline.com



05-12-03, 05:28 PM
Marines battle boredom in Kuwait
By DENNIS O'BRIEN, The Virginian-Pilot
May 4, 2003

CAMP RYAN, KUWAIT -- With the heavy combat phase of the war behind them, the Marines of Task Force Tarawa are once again battling boredom. And Lance Cpl. Walter Williams is on the front line of that conflict.
``The more you hear you're going home, the more you want to go home,'' said Williams, 21, of Norfolk. ``It's pretty much the main topic of conversation here, and it's pretty much the biggest challenge.''

Williams' mission: Keep Marine morale up.

A 1999 Granby High School graduate, Williams was a radio operator during the war. Now he operates a different radio -- one that plays 50 Cent, Eminem and other artists in Camp Ryan's morale tent.

Williams also runs a library of donated and pooled books, and shows DVD movies each night on a 19-inch Sylvania TV bought for the camp by Morale, Welfare and Recreation officers. The movies come from the pooled private collections of Marines who brought portable DVD players to the war. Friday nights features: ``The Fast and the Furious'' and ``Remember the Titans.''

Sleeping alone in a cot amongst the morale tent's folding metal chairs, Williams rises each day at 6:15 a.m. local time. He slips on sweat pants, a sweatshirt and running shoes, treks to the camp showers to wash up, then heads for chow.

This morning's fare, consumed while sitting on a plastic chair at a plastic table, is scrambled eggs, mystery meat, croissants, white bread and fruit washed down with a Dixie cup of orange juice.

After morning muster at the administration tent, Williams heads to his realm, where by 9:30 a.m. his first customers are queued up to use the tent's PlayStation or PlayStation 2. Bored Marines can sit down on metal chairs and whittle away the day playing games such as BroadSword, Worms or Madden 2002, while munching surplus care package goodies. As at the front, mail service is spotty here, too, with Priority Mail packages arriving in May with January and February postmarks.

As the day goes by, other Marines pop in to write letters or play spades and other card games on the tent's folding tables -- the only non-workspace flat-topped surfaces in camp.

``The worst thing about this place is being bored,'' said Lance Cpl. Jamie Penn, 21, of Winston-Salem, one of about a dozen women out of the several hundred Marines at Camp Ryan. ``The morale tent helps you get away from your unit, where you see the same people every single day, and at least see some new people.''

By noon, when the sun hangs high, it's over 100 degrees. Every three days or so, hot winds send sand through seams and strain the cotton bedouin tent, which slaps against its wooden poles and lurches on its guylines. As if the camp's over-sized lizards and spiders weren't enough of an irritation, the weather is never nice.

``It's kind of like Virginia Beach, without the stores, and no water, and 40 degrees hotter, with no air-conditioning, with the sand blowing around all the time,'' Williams said. ``That sand blowing gets in your mouth, your eyes -- every opening you have -- and it stings when it hits you.''

When it's really bad, the hot desert winds can become downright hazardous.

``We had this one sand storm that blew all the Port-o-Johns over,'' Williams said. ``And this one guy, who works in the chow hall, was in it. He came out looking blue -- like a Smurf!''

Williams said the sight ``boosted my morale for like a week! It was so funny. Everybody remembers seeing the `Smurf man!' ''

During the war, threats from the north rained down here in the form of Scud missiles, which hit nearby a couple of times. Williams and the rest at Camp Ryan, like the Marines up north, spent most of the war living and sleeping in their chemical protective suits, and the specter of a chemical-laden missile shook the soul each time a missile came their way.

Ideally, the ``Scud alarm'' would go off while the missile was en route, but when the missiles hit closest -- one landed about two miles away -- the Marines here first felt the ground shake, then heard the alarm.

``When it hit the deck, everybody looked at each other for a split second,'' he said. ``Then we took off and ran to the bunker -- everybody's like: `Where's the alarm at?' And then it went off.''

Other alarms, sounding for missiles headed elsewhere in Kuwait but triggering sirens here nevertheless, often shattered the night calm and sent Marines scurrying for shelter.

``You're laying there, trying to sleep, and you hear the alarm in the middle of the night,'' Williams said. ``You go from a dead sleep to trying to find your gas mask, and run to the bunker.

``Then you sit in there, wondering if it's going to hit, wondering if I'm going to die, wondering if I'm going to see my mom again, my sister, my girlfriend -- just sitting there hoping and praying it doesn't hit.''

On watch during the war, Williams hopped in Humvees and drove toward the Iraqi border to boost radio signals sent to headquarters from the front. He listened as Marines in combat called for artillery, called for medivacs, reported casualties.

``You know how many people died, have been captured,'' he said. ``So you know you have to be there to get that transmission through. You have to keep that signal up.''

With action on the front dying down, around April 1 Williams was asked to put his broad smile to work keeping Marines' spirits up. The morale tent doesn't offer much by state-side standards, or by the standards of some other units around here, which live on fixed bases with permanent morale facilities.

``My mom asked me if I was playing basketball or swimming in the pool,'' he said, referring to an e-mail exchange he had with Annie Walters using a computer in the radio tent. ``I'm like, `Mom! That's the Army!' ''

And no matter how hard Williams tries to make Camp Ryan's morale tent home-like, he knows it can't compare to the real thing. Kuwait is a long way from his Titus Town neighborhood.

``I miss everything about Norfolk,'' he said. ``I miss seeing my family, my friends, going to MacArthur mall. When I get back, I'm just going to walk around the mall in amazement. I haven't seen one in so long. And I have a little change saved up, too.''

Staff writer Dennis O'Brien is with Task Force Tarawa in raq. He has been with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Marines since they left the coast of North Carolina in mid-January.