Two years ago today my assistant at EOD Group Two, RP2 Nelson Lebron and I began our Iraq adventure. This is the first of a series of posts which will be published periodically to tell our story. While they will not be daily posts, they will be sprinkled in on this site on a regular basis. Hopefully they will be something that will help those who have not been in the remote parts of either Iraq or Afghanistan what it is for Navy personnel to go to war, not as ship’s company, not with their own unit, but as individual augments to other commands. This is a different way to go to war…this is our story.
July 2nd 2007: I rolled into the parking lot for the Naval Mobilization Processing Site (NMPS) Norfolk. As usual parking on Norfolk Naval Station was a bitch to find. It had been a number of months since I had to make this commute having transferred from the Marine Security Force Battalion where I had served the past three years but thankfully I remembered to leave early because traffic was as gooned up as ever going down I-264, I-64 and I-564 to head into the base. At that point I really missed my designated parking spot back at the battalion.
I looked around and finally found a spot and then after wandering around a bit found the NMPS offices. I walked upstairs to the classroom in which we were to meet was located and found it empty, save for a couple of NMPS staff members. I reported in my DCU’s, or Dessert Camouflage Uniform issued to me by EOD Group Two. They are an older type uniform and unlike the Marine Pattern Digital Camouflage are not wash and wear. I had worn them in March when I went to Jordan for the Jordanian Army/ UN Peace Operations Training Center course on Iraqi Culture, Religion, Politics and Language. In fact until the Marines came out with their digital uniforms they were common to all of the services. I looked around the empty classroom with every table stacked with folders filled with a butt-load of paperwork. I found a spot, not hard to do with so many to choose from and sat down. I took an aisle seat about three rows back and plunked my EOD issue Blackhawk backpack down, grabbed my Book of Common Prayer and did the morning office before anyone else arrived while drinking the large cup of black coffee I had gotten across the street.
Shortly thereafter others began to arrive in twos and threes, most dressed in utilities or officers in khakis. A few Seabees had woodland BDUs on and a couple of folks wore DCUs which were obviously from previous deployments to the sandbox. RP2 Lebron, who I will now refer to as Nelson from this point forward then showed up and we waited for the orientation and administrative stuff to start moving. We surveyed the situation and looking upon our fellow sailors realized that this would be a different deployment.
What we noticed as we talked the varying ranks and uniforms really jumped out at both of us. Most of our fellow sailors had never been deployed even in peacetime in such a manner. Most of those who had deployed had done so on ship with the exception of the Seabees and maybe a Corpsman or two. They spanned the spectrum of age, rank and rating. There were the officers, mainly Lieutenants, Lieutenant Commanders and Commanders. We also had one Captain. These officers were Line Officers including Surface Warfare Officers and Aviators as well as a number of Doctors and Medical Service Corps Officers and some other Staff Corps officers. The enlisted likewise spanned the spectrum of the Navy. Fire Control Technicians, Operations Specialists, Gunners Mates, Boatswains, Yeomen and Storekeepers, Intelligence Specialists, Corpsmen, and even Culinary Specialists. They had qualifications as Submariners, Enlisted Surface Warfare, Aviation Warfare among others. Some like me and Nelson had volunteered, others were voluntold. The one that brought us all together was that we were US Navy Sailors and going to war, not with the shipmates that we had served with, but with strangers, well except for me and Nelson.
Now Nelson and I have deployed a lot and had served together in Okinawa and at EOD where I did a “drug deal” with his chaplain and the detailer to get him to EOD. The guy is a hero, in the year and a half prior to our deployment he had been deployed to Afghanistan where he as an E-5 was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal. On his way back from Afghanistan he was pulled off of his flight to the states and sent back to his old ship, the USS Trenton to assist in the evacuation of Americans and others from Beirut. I think that he has done about nine or ten deployments now. Unfortunately this has actually hurt his career since the biggest part of making rank as a Navy enlisted man is to do well on the advancement exam. Unfortunately there were many times when he was forbidden to test because he was deployed, and when eventually allowed to test during a deployment was not provided the appropriate materials to study. Even if he had them it would have been difficult since we were always on the road, just as he was in his last four or five deployments.
Nelson is a NY Rican and both a New York Golden Gloves boxing champ, a high school valedictorian, a full contact kick boxer, martial artist, MMA fighter and has fought on Team USA and won last year’s Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic. He is the real deal. Proficient in many weapons systems from his service with the 3rd Recon Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment and Naval Special Warfare he is the ideal body guard for any Chaplain going to do the job we had been given to do, to work with Marine and Army advisers supporting two Iraqi Divisions. Our mission would evolve and expand once we got there, but we didn’t know that yet.
As people filed in a Chief Petty Officer brought us to attention, the processing site Commanding Officer came in and spoke with us and then led us in the Sailors Creed. With that we set down and began to get our orientation to how our mobilization, training and movement would unfold as we got ready to go to Iraq.