View Full Version : Marines recount duty in Iraq

05-17-03, 04:17 PM

Marines Recount Duty in Iraq

Utah Marine reservist Derrek Child, of Provo, gets a huge hug from his wife, Loraine, during homecoming at Camp Williams. (Steve Griffin/The Salt Lake Tribune)
By Dawn House
The Salt Lake Tribune

HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- After the long flight from the Middle East, the first of 175 Marine reservists stepping into the darkness from the giant 767 early Wednesday dropped to his knees and kissed the tarmac.
"There were no casualties," exulted 1st Sgt. Ron Dickenson, 45, Charlie Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. "And we're home!"
Several other Marines bent to touch the ground before loading their weapons and duffel bags onto five buses and a flatbed truck for the 60-mile ride south to their base at Camp Williams. After the debriefing and filing paperwork for two weeks of liberty, they would share a homecoming celebration with their families several hours later.
The reservists hadn't seen their loved ones since March 8 when they left for Iraq.
"I live over there in West Point, close," said Cpl. Travis Jemmett, 26, looking northwest at the twinkling lights. "Too bad we're being bused the other way right now."
Jemmett's 23-year-old brother, Matthew, is still in Iraq with a second Marine Reserve company from Utah. For weeks, the brothers tried but failed to make contact.
Charlie Company's task was to take on Iraqi troops along the Tigris River by the Iranian border.
Company C Marines were frustrated by delays that put them three weeks behind the initial fighting. Six C-5 cargo planes finally were loaded with the reservists and thousands of pounds of equipment and light armored vehicles, including their primary LAV-25s, armed with 255 mm cannons.
The last C-5 lumbered onto the Kuwaiti airport on April 10.
The Marines rolled across the Iraqi border the next morning. North at Ah Nasiriyah, where 19 Marines had died, bombed out U.S. armored vehicles and wrecked Iraqi tanks underscored the fierce fighting they had missed.
"The wreckage was massive," said Chief Warrant Officer Ken McAlpine, 44, of Phoenix. "It was hard seeing what happened to our brothers in arms."
Charlie Company veered northeast from the Euphrates River and pushed onto Al Kut, a city of 300,000. The Marines commandeered Iraqi "softskin" trucks, creating a convoy that would be a decoy to opposing forces. Iraqi troops, however, had tossed aside their weapons and disappeared into the desert.
"It was like rolling into Paris after its liberation in World War II," said Dickenson, an Elko County, Nev., bailiff. "Children waved and shouted and their parents gave us the thumbs up signs. It was gratifying."
The next three days brought demonstrations from thousands of Iraqis. Interpreters and intelligence officers insisted that the mobs were staged and paid for their angry theatrics.
"If you singled out someone in the crowd and smiled," said Maj. Douglas Clark, "they'd smile back and give you a secret thumbs up."
The company also took repeated sniper fire. They were ordered to the Iranian border to set up checkpoints to stop terrorists from slipping in. The Marines arrested dozens of suspects and confiscated caches of weapons and cash.
Some of their harshest recollections are of starving children and Shiite women picking through live munitions, looking for scraps of firewood. It was the Marines' job to dispose of the live ammo Iraqi troops had stored in schools, hospitals and civic buildings. Open sewers, filth and intense heat sickened many in the Utah company.
Their final stop was Basrah, where it fell to Clark, 32, an Internet company marketing director from Chesapeake, Va., to set up a democratic form of government. Drawing on his military training and civics lessons reaching to his junior high school days, Clark sat down with sheiks, clerics and community leaders. An election was held and the top 10 vote getters from 40 hopefuls formed a city council.
The council, in turn, suggested candidates for a local police force. The Marines screened the applicants, issued picture identifications and gave out firearms. The U.S. Department of Defense pays local police salaries.
"Our main point was that the city council worked for the people -- not themselves -- and the police force was to protect the people, not the city council," said Clark. "These were new concepts, but the leaders were receptive."
What the council wanted was protection from Baath Party loyalists, drinking water, power, food, medicine and for the Americans to stay far away from their women.
"We said we would respect their culture," said Clark.
When Charlie Company was ordered to Kuwait on April 30, 10 days after entering Basrah, residents said through two local English teachers that the Americans would again withdraw -- like U.S. troops had done in the 1991 Gulf War.
Clark tried to reassure the council and turned over his duties to another Marine commander.
Company C has since been ordered to Okinawa, Japan, to relieve Marines whose six-month duty rotation had been extended to 11 months on the eve of the war with Iraq. Training exercises are planned for Thailand, Singapore, Australia and Malaysia.
Cpl. Jared Clayton, 25, of Riverton knows about service extensions. His tour was to have ended shortly before a freeze in January halted Reserves' scheduled releases from active duty.
Deployed less than eight months after his marriage, he and his bride dropped plans to build a new home. The 25-year-old bond broker said that he started his reserve career when he was 17, and he will likely continue.
"Nobody complained when they learned they wouldn't be going home for six more months," said Clark.
"It sounds trite, but these Marines are the best and brightest. They'll risk their lives, they'll do what's needed, no matter what."