After returning to Germany I became a Bradley Commander ( I had been one prior to ODS, but that's another story). PFC Zappone, who was my lead SAW gunner, became my driver. With our gunner, Specialist Hicks, we went on to qualify our Bradley as "Top Gun" in the company and the battalion. I got married, and that same year moved my new family to Fort Benning, Georgia, as I was selected to be a drill sergeant.
Drill sergeant duty was the second highlight of my career. It was challenging, but rewarding. For two years I had 4th Platoon "Warhogs", 1-50th Infantry Battalion, on Sand Hill. With ODS under my belt, I took this responsibility seriously, as many of my new offspring were on their way to Bosnia to deal with the Serb situation. I put extra effort into their marksmanship training, and 4th Platoon consistently out shot the other platoons in the company. To me this was an essential Infantry skill. Watching them knock down targets on the range was my reward, as was watching them march across the parade field on graduation day. They were now steely eyed, flat bellied warriors who liked to kill and break things. Click HERE to see platoon photos
My next assignment was on Main Post, at the Dismounted Battlespace Battle Lab. Here I worked at the BattleSimulation Center, and assisted with the integration of new technology. Promoted to Sergeant First Class.
My final assignment was with the 2d Infantry Division, 2d Brigade on Camp Hovey, Republic of South Korea. Here I worked as the Assistant Operations NCO for 1-9 Infantry (Manchu's), and NCOIC of the 2nd Brigade "B" TacticalOperations Center. I retired from there in 1998, and returned home to Rhode Island, to be near Family.
As a Civilian
Starting in 2000, I returned to Kuwait as a civilian contractor, employed by MPRI working on the Kuwait Obsever/Controler Team (KOCT) as an Observer/Controller for Operation Intrinsic Action- a force on force and live fire training exercise taking place in the Kuwaiti desert. Here I mentored young platoon leaders and platoon sergeants who rotate over there as part of a contingency force. I was basically a coach and referee. This is a pilot program the Army is testing; using qualified retiree's as OC's, so as not to drain the active force of qualified NCO's. I would do this off and on for three years, usually 30 to 60 days at a time, 2 or 3 times a year.
Here is a link to a good article written by a member of a unit (TF-3-15 IN, 3d ID) we trained just prior to the start of OIF:
At home I continued my education in the computer field, my goal to become a certified computer network administrator.
Recently, I have been contacted by our old Platoon Leader, 1LT Walter, and squad members SPC Dempsey PFC Rosado, and CPL Alejandro. It was great to hear from these guys, and hope to get together in the future.
2003. I had the opportunity to return to Kuwait yet again as an Observer/Controller to help prepare the Infantrymen of the 3rd Infantry Division for Operation Iraqi Freedom. They trained relentlessly, and a tribute to their hard work was the fact there were no notable fratricide incidents. They were the backbone of the assault, and did a fantastic job. Once the war started and the 3rd ID crossed the line of departure, some of the OC’s returned to the States. Myself and some others escorted 4th ID convoys from the Kuwait port to the Iraq border. These were the units that were supposed to move through Turkey but were not allowed, so had to come south. They hit the ground running, and didn’t have much time to get “spun up”. During this period Camp Doha came under missile attack. I had the opportunity to watch a Patriot launch from not far away …. Very impressive! Stayed there for 90 days this time.
I have received computer training at the Community College of Rhode Island and the Katherine Gibbs School, attained A+ and Network+ certifications, and have started working in the computer field. I started out working contracts with Home Depot, Johnson & Johnson, IBM, and Coldwell Banker. I have also worked at a local municipality, in their IT shop. Currently subcontracted to HP working at Bank of America in Boston. My GI Bill benefits made this goal possible. I would like to thank some special folks who were instrumental in my transition from the military. It was a big step, and without them it would have been much tougher. They know who they are.
Things I Still Remember...
OBJECTION!! Prior to leaving Germany, two soldiers in our company decided to become conscientious objectors, stating that they were Muslim. Other Black soldiers were surprised to see this. They were then trained as combat medics and deployed with us anyway. Some Female soldiers in our support battalion got pregnant on purpose to keep from deploying. Some of these women were to later abort their pregnancy.
XMAS 1990: Christmas in Saudi, 1990. The Advance Party, nicknamed the "Dirty Thirty" arrived in Damam, Saudi Arabia December 16th. We were housed in a camp called Cement City. Major Lough, our Officer in Charge, organized a Christmas party for us. There was to be a gift exchange, using names drawn out of a hat. The present I found was a toilet seat from the females latrine, complete with pubic hair. I stenciled our Battalion symbol on the inside of the seat - the Black Knight chess piece. The kid who received it - one of the commo specialists, liked it. Across from our tent was a medical unit, female tent - the lines on the outside always had panties and bras hanging on them. One of my 2 soldiers hung a sign outside the door of our tent which read "killing is our business, and business is good!" I liked his attitude. We stayed there 2 weeks, then moved out to the open desert in the North, to prepare for the arrival of the rest of the Battalion.
NORTH TO THE TAA: We rode on commuter buses up Tapline Road, to the Northern Saudi desert. It was New years Eve. I happened to find a six pack of near beer (no alcohol allowed in that country). Lieutenant Murray, the Battalion Scout Platoon Leader and I proposed a toast to what lay ahead. He would later win the Silver Star, and leave the Army.
MORNINGS: Stand-to. This is a morning ritual our unit practiced every morning once we moved out into the desert. Started one half hour before sunrise, and ended one half hour after sunrise. This goes back to earlier wars, a popular time to attack. Every soldier was expected to be packed up, in his fighting position, scanning his sector. I would move from position to position, making sure everyone was up and ready. After stand-to, we would eat an MRE (meal ready to eat), really looking forward to burning the trash in a fire pit to warm up - December mornings in the desert can be cold.
KNIGHTS: The night (early morning actually), when the air war started. Myself and 30 others from the advance party had been in the desert for a few weeks, when, late evening on January 17th, the main body of the Battalion (approx 500 soldiers) linked up with us. They were driven out to the desert in a long convoy of school buses. I remember seeing one bus arrive with its windshield smashed out, having apparently rear-ended the vehicle to its front on the long drive North. Our Fighting Vehicles and other equipment had not arrived from Germany yet. The Battalion slept under the stars. At around 4:30 AM, we were woke by the blaring of chemical alarms. Having been through the drills in Southern Saudi Arabia, I didn't take it too seriously, but all 500 soldiers were in MOPP level IV (full chemical gear) in the blink of an eye. My 1st Sergeant, a Vietnam Vet, was the first one dressed. The company commander did his required chemical detection drill, and eventually gave us the all clear. While it was still dark, we could see jets flying North over our heads at a high rate of speed. We knew things had kicked off.
CHEMICALS: There is no doubt they were in the area. Shortly after the cease fire, our platoon stopped next to a large bunker that had been cracked open by a large bomb. Painted next to the iron door was crossed beakers - the standard military symbol for Chemical warfare. This particular bunker was probably destroyed during the air war, but the contents just don't "disappear". Our unit was later identified by the DOD as having been near the Kamissya Ammo Depot, which held chemical weapons, that had been destroyed by our engineers.
SMOKE Once the oil wells were lit on fire, the air around us was pitch black, to the point it blocked out the sun light, and any heat from the sun. When you blew your nose, it was black snot. I ended up being diagnosed with asthma when I came home. I'm sure many others were, too. Speaking of smoke, I saw many of my buddies start smoking cigarettes over there - athletic guys who otherwise would never consider it. Nerves.
The Dragon Wagon: Our company M88 tank retriever. This was one big machine. While on the DML, at one point it was parked under a highway overpass to block traffic at a control point. The crew fired it up to spin it around (pivot steer) 180 degrees. It roared and shook the Earth. The Iraqis near it dropped to their knees and prayed to it.
Ninja Bitch: We were briefed upon entering the AO (area of operations), not to look the female indigenous populous in the eye, so as not to insult anyone. The females all wore robes and scarves anyway. Later a rumor began that Iraqi special forces were dressing up as women to move around un-noticed. Hence the designation.
ODF: "Out Der Flappin". This is something that came with us out of Germany. A spin off of "out there flapping in the breeze" Der just a slang, but also GI German. Broken down into an acronym...it's the Army way!!!! Used to describe anyone "out of touch"
Rag Head: Well, we can all figure that one out...the greeting of the day was pretty much "send a Rag Head to meet Allah!!"
CBU’s: Cluster Bomb Units. These were small balls, about the size of a big orange, that were dropped by either our aircraft or artillery. MANY did not explode on contact due to the soft sand, so they were everywhere. Luckily most troops were disciplined enough to leave them alone, but American’s being brought up on baseball couldn’t resist the urge to pick on up and throw it. Many troops were killed or maimed from these.
LETTERS FROM DOD
I just received my third letter since the end of the war from the Department of Defense. The first indicated my unit was near the Iraqi ammo depot that was destroyed by US Engineers, which contained nerve gas munitions. The second claimed my unit was not that close. This one states my unit was in the area, and there is a higher than normal (twice) death rate of soldiers who were in that area from brain cancer. Many Gulf ware vets now have ALS. Hmmm……..
They claim nerve gas doesn’t cause brain cancer!?! Only death!!! Hmmm……. They say radiation, like microwave radiation, might cause that. Well, here is a little insight to that. Prior to our deployment, we spent some time training in our local training area in Freidberg, Germany. One afternoon, while out PLT was conducting a dismounted patrol, our lead element all complained of headaches. We moved up to them, and felt it too. We moved out of the area, and the headaches went away. We later noticed a Patriot missile battery set up on the high ground in our area. Its radar was in “direct lay” (horizontal to the ground) position. This is what caused our headaches. I’m sure there were various types of radar, to include ground surveillance radar, scanning the open desert during ODS. A very probable cause of some of these symptoms. Not to include the nerve agent pills we had to take.
There was also indications that the Iraqi troops who lit the oil wells on fire were chemical warfare troops. Hmmm……is it possible chemical munitions/agents where placed in these fires?
My Opinion of Operation Iraqi Freedom:
Well, freedom isn't free - can't forget that. We could have gone into Iraq back in '91, when we had 7 + Divisions on the ground. Many of the reasons we used in '03 were valid in '91, with the exception of Hussein's disregard for the subsequent UN resolutions. I was surprised back then we did not do that, but the politicians in DC had no plan for Iraq. Anyone thinking we were to be greeted as liberators just didn’t know the facts, or the “ground truth”
The WMD issue was/is real. It has become a shell game. As the UN inspectors came in the front door, the weapons went out the back. Reminds me of the Keystone Cops. I would look at Syria, Jordan, and even Iran - much closer. My experience with people of that region is you can not take their word. I try not to stereotype, but it happened so often. Many of the Iraqi mortar pits had cases of ammo from Jordan. Iraq's air force flew its remaining Mirage jets to Iranian airfields. Our naivety, reinforced by the poor UN inspection, will result in WMD's surfacing in NYC or else ware.
Donald Rumsfeld can be blamed for much of the current problem over there. He has always had an issue with the Army. He put too much faith in Special Forces. The weak CJCofS, is no help what so ever. Although I fault Colin Powell for shutting down ODS too soon, he had the right idea concerning the number of troops needed for an offensive operation. Unfortunately, there is a climate in the Military for leaders to "make their mark" by trying something new. Well, if its not broke, don't fix it. There are basic tactics that will never change. It takes a strong leader to recognize that. The insurgency was allowed to build during the 10 year period following ODS.
Once the decision to invade was made, The objective, the country of Iraq, should have been isolated. A strict Martial Law should have been put in place. You can’t start out easy then get tough. When I was stationed in Istanbul, Turkey in 1979/80, it was under Martial Law, and eventually worked itself out. The HUMVEE situation was ludicrous, but the DOD wanted to put a friendly face on the occupation, and Hummers don't scare people like M1 Abrams do. Unfortunately, they offer NO protection, and many soldiers died in them, to include a friend of mine.
Paul Bremmer deactivating the entire Iraqi military! And we wonder where the insurgents, weapons and munitions are coming from? We just asked for that!
IED’s. Well, I hope we are looking closely at the videos that show up of our vehicle being blown up. It is very apparent they use a vertical feature as a stadia line or sighting post. Usually a telephone pole or a lone tree. One word of advice to the troops there, don’t linger near that type of feature!
Our National Guard/Reserve commitment: God bless them! The Reserve combat component was not able to deploy during ODS, as their level of readiness was below standard. Much effort has gone into that program to bring them up to standard. At the same time, Regular Army troop strength was cut. The big thinkers figured the reserves could pick up the slack. They also found out during the Vietnam War that no one cared about the draftees, which contributed to the loss of public support for the war, which eventually contributed to the loss of the war. But, if you take a kid out of the local grocery store, garage, or church, everyone in the community will be able to place a face with the situation. Unfortunately, they are still under trained, and is shows in the casualty figures.
2007 – Hard to believe the war is still going on. I have since started riding with the Patriot Guard Riders. www.patriotguard.org . The Patriot Guard Riders were formed in 2005 as a result of radical protesters protesting at military funerals.
2010 - still there, and still in Afghanistan.
Perspective: The Alpha and Omega. (The Beginning and the End) Ironically, Iraq, formally known as Mesopotamia, is the location of the beginning of civilization, (some say the Garden of Eden) and modern warfare. Sometimes it’s easy to forget why things are happening the way they are. Keep in mind Iraq is made up of three predominate religious groups or sects – Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds. The Sunni’s were the minority, but were in control of the country. Saddam was a Sunni. These groups are made up of family clans. The minority Sunni’s oppressed the majority Shiite’s – in many cases very brutally. Saudi Arabia is predominantly Sunni, where Iran is mostly Shiite. This is where support for each side has slowed our progress. During ODS, most of the troops on the front lines were Shiites, and the officers over them were Sunni’s. In many cases the officers kept the troops in the trenches at gun point. The Republican Guard troops were Sunnis.
Bin Laden claims the reason he now hates the USA (although he loved us while we supported him against the Russians in Afghanistan) is because we occupied his homeland (Saudi Arabia) during a holy religious period (the Ramadan) during the Desert Shield buildup. We (Westerners) are considered dirty or “unclean”. Again, he is a Sunni from Saudi – aligned with Saddam by that alone, if nothing else. We have been pretty quite concerning Saudi, only because of our dependence on their oil. 9/11 was all about religion, and 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.
I’ll never forget the one thing that visibly disturbed my platoon leader was the suppression of the uprising immediately following the cease fire. During the cease fire negotiations, General Schwarzkopf allowed the Iraqi military to maintain use of their helicopters after the war, thinking they would use them for logistical purposes. Well, when the Shiite and Kurd uprisings began, the Iraqi military flew their armed helicopters against the crowds, strafing and killing many. We were manning checkpoints during this time, and were required to call in “spot reports” to higher every time it happened. We all wanted to go out and help some how, but where not allowed to leave our position. We (meaning the USA in general) let down the majority of the Iraqi population during this period. They have not forgotten that, but I’m sure that is one of the wrongs our current policy is trying to right.
It IS a civil war. One that has been in progress or smoldering for thousands of years. The major stumbling block now is how the three groups will divide the oil wealth, because if they physically divide up the country 3 ways, two groups will be left without oil fields. And like most Arabs, they don’t trust each other.
And handling an insurgency should be nothing new to us. In fact, we should be experts by now – after the 10 year Vietnam War, which was mostly an insurgency. But 20 years of peace has taken its toll.
December 15, 2011: All combat troops are now out of Iraq. Just as many predicted, civil unrest began almost immediately. Time will tell if it was worth it. It would be sad if 4,500 US troops were sacrificed for nothing.
July 2014: There is a all out civil war taking place over there now. Radical Sunnis have taken over many cities in northern and western Iraq, and are poised to move on Baghdad. Pretty much an indicator that our efforts have failed.
What our leaders failed to acknowledge is that we effectively chose sides when we initially entered Iraq back in '03. The Sunnis were in control, let by Saddam Hussein. By moving against him and his leadership, we effectively sided with the Shiites and Kurds. This is what motivates ISIS, and this has very dangerous security implications for us at home. Obama in his infinite wisdom, pulled our troops out, purely for political gain, leaving behind a power vacuum which will destabilize the region.
April 2016: Where do I start? For one, apparently, according to Obama, the Global War on Terrorism is now over, and a new phase has begun in Iraq, focusing on ISIS. Freaking amazing. It's almost like this administration does not want us to win this war!
I could ramble on, and over time probably will. Over and Out for now...