IRAQ WAR – MOBILIZATION (10 Feb 03 – 11 Jun 03)
3 Doors Down – When I’m Gone
So hold me when I’m here
Right me when I’m wrong
Hold me when I’m scared
And love me when I’m gone
My phone rings, 3PM, 7 Feb 03.
“SPC. Kim, how are you?”
“I’m doing fine, CPT Taylor, how are you?”
“I’m probably doing better than you will. You’re getting mobilized. Be prepared to leave within 48 hours.”
And that’s how it all began. I had just turned 19.
We were in Long Beach for almost a month before heading out to Ft. McCoy, WI. There was great anxiety of the unknown and the excitement of the adventure that lied ahead. We didn’t know when we would make it to Iraq, and with each passing day, weeks, and months, we lost a lot of our motivation. We would end up spending about 3 months in Wisconsin, 2 months longer than expected, having gone through every training session at least twice. The Army didn’t know how much manpower was needed, and our company eventually got divided. Our 3rd Platoon stayed back, while 1st and 2nd platoon left us behind one cold April evening bound for Kuwait and Iraq.
This was the first picture we ever took as a platoon. March 03 in Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin.
I was the radio operator on this particular training exercise. Note the huge military issued BCGs (Birth Control Glasses)
We were pretty excited about receiving our first desert uniforms DCUs (Desert Camouflaged Uniforms). It made us feel like we were that much closer to the actual deployment. We would end up waiting another 2 months.
“I can’t swim!” shouts my sergeant. The little canoe was capsized and within moments, we were swimming out to help. But in the case of the one closest to the camera (Urmanita), he’s heading towards the white blob you see further down the stream, attempting to rescue the pack of beer that was nearly lost during the accident.
We didn’t get to go out very much, but in the rare cases that we did, we made sure we enjoyed ourselves. At age 19, my first experience of being drunk led me to wake up the next morning and proclaim “I am never drinking ever again.” I was wrong.
There was a club that we liked to go to, called Club Rhino’s in Onalaska, WI. The women were beautiful, the police were more reactive than proactive, and they just knew how to party. This girl is holding up the infamous paint roller, which they used to dance with. It was a sort of a novelty prop.
Wisconsin was a desolate state. But that didn’t mean that the people weren’t great. This is just one of the instances where girls that never knew I was even in the army would freely agree to take pictures with me or any of my buddies. They were fun loving, open minded, and when they did find out we were in the army, very supportive. I don’t go clubbing that often anymore, which is sort of ironic because I must have gone more often when I was under aged with a fake ID than I have since I turned legal. But I still have yet to find a club anywhere else that I felt really comfortable with, where girls weren’t so artificial and guys were just looking to have some fun.
We started taking more pictures from this point forward. The platoon you see in front of you will later be divided into several different camps in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti, and Kenya. At first it was tough letting go of people I got to know so well. But later on, I adapted to it and accepted the inevitable.
This is one of my favorite pictures. It’s sorta mundane, I know, but it shows the two distinct uniforms with American flags patched on the right shoulder. The flag is backwards because when soldiers used to carry actual flags while charging into battle, the flag would fly backwards, with the stars facing forward. The two distinct styles of uniforms symbolized that we were willing to fight to win anywhere in the world.
Fitz (Fitzgibbon) was the infantry man of our platoon. Here, he’s testing out his sniper scope on his M16 while I play spotter alongside him.
This is one of the spur of the moment pictures I took before we went out on the range to qualify with our rifles.
Fitz is geared up.
I’m looking through Fitz’s sniper rifle. On the other of the scope, I was witnessing a row of advancing tanks.
I was the M-249 A gunner (assistant gunner) by default. I was assigned the M9 Berreta pistol, so it became normal for me to carry the extra barrel of the M-249 machine gun to swap them out when it got too hot, along with the 200 rounds of ammo, swap out the ammo belt when it ran out, and direct fire.
During one of our 15 mile road marches, we came along this sign a few times but never came across an actual tank crossing.
I don’t remember this picture being taken. One thing that the army does is make you get a bit creative. One of those things being taking every opportunity to relax whenever you can, because you won’t get that many to begin with. I still shouldn’t have fallen asleep though.
At the gas chamber. People ask, what is the purpose of doing this? Well, it’s to let you know that even when you can’t see the chemical agent (as is the case here, tear gas with no smoke), you still need the gas mask. It helps you trust your gas mask, that it will function when the time comes to use it. And yes, they do work quite well.
We were all very hooah (army term to express either motivation or acknowledgement), and after we took off our gas masks in the chambers, we did 40 pushups and ran the hell out of there. This is Sanchez’s turn.
This is what I looked like after my 40 pushups.
Macky (Mabugat) about to throw up.
We tried hard as hell to keep our eyes open.
Fitz, being as white as he is, was burning red and couldn’t open his eyes.
Sanchez was able to open his eyes but still looked as if he just got bitch slapped.
No matter. We went back in for seconds. Sanchez on the left and Roberson on the right.
We had some time over a weekend, so we left one early Saturday morning and left for Mall of America in Minneapolis, MN. It’s so freaken huge that it has an amusement park with roller coasters inside, and a sign that warns the melancholy reality. You can get lost in there, so you better not go alone if you’re under 16.
Just because it’s huge doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.
We finally got the call to leave in May. Here we are, all packed up with everything we’ve been living in for the past 3 months and everything we’ll live with for the next 12 months, ready to go.
Relaxing against the wall before we get the word to embark.
Urmanita, Sanchez, Lodevico, Fitzgibbon, Basilio, Miceli. Miceli was new to the unit, but I had trained with him at Ft. Jackson, SC the summer before in 02. It was a huge coincidence that he joined our unit at this point, although I did not like it at all.
Now the funny picture. Within 2 hours, we would be told that we would not be leaving after all. This was the second instance, the first being Turkey. There was a plan to get the Army into Iraq through Turkey. Their congress voted on it and after some controversy, shot down that idea. We were always on these 24 hour stand-by’s which killed our morale.
Here’s me teaching a claymore mine awareness class. It was one of the first experience in leading an actual class with the United States Army. Later, I would also lead patrolling and ambush classes. I was also working on teaching myself how to tie different ropes for different uses. I would never get around to teaching it though, because we were then deployed overseas for real when that time came.
We drove out a few hours to get to a famous go cart racing city out in the middle of nowhere. Here’s a awkwardly designed museum with a wrecked car that was deliberately positioned rammed in front of it.
3rd Platoon in go carts. We must have went on about 7 different tracks that day. But the cars were slower than we would have liked them to.
Pitching a tent. Among several training exercises that we kept ourselves busy with by doing over and over again every month. How to evaluate a casualty, marksmanship, off reading, calling in artillery support, calling in evac, and claymore mine awareness were some of several things we went over.
Miceli. Obviously, we didn’t like him very much. None of that changed during deployment.
The infamous flipped over humvee. Fitz and Roberson came out relatively unscathed but were still hospitalized. Here I am pretending to be rescued from certain death. We went off roading this day with 5 humvees. Only 1 came out alive. This one was flipped, another blew out the transmission, another had 2 flat tires and another refused to start. We were banned from off roading after this day.
But none of that would matter. We would soon be leaving for Kuwait.