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Source: US CentCom.

29 October 2007
BY Cpl. Nathan Hoskins
1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs
.

CAMP TAJI, Iraq – For the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division’s medical evacuation unit, the horrors of war are all too real. But, those missions of transporting hurt and dying patients are over for a few troopers.

About a dozen Soldiers from Company C, 2nd “Lobo” Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, loaded up onto non-MEDEVAC UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for a change, and began their journey home, Oct. 25. They are the first group of Soldiers from the 1st ACB to redeploy.

“It feels good to be going home after 15 months,” said Rochester, N.Y., native, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bryan Sills, a MEDEVAC pilot for the Co. C “Witch Doctors.”

Like most units in Iraq, when the final orders came down, Co. C. was extended to 15 months. This made the deployment more difficult, said Orchard Park, N.Y., native, Sgt. 1st Class Jon Spiller, a flight medic for Co. C and the brigade’s senior medical noncommissioned officer. “This was my third deployment and it was probably the roughest one I’ve been through; mainly because of the extension,” Spiller said.

Even after they knew the extension was going to affect them, it didn’t really hit the Witch Doctors until the 12-month mark, Spiller said. “Once we heard about it, we all prepared for it, but when you hit that 12-month mark and you know you should be going home, you kind of feel a little different about it,” he said.

The extension aside, Spiller felt the Witch Doctors did some good while they flew over Iraq. “I really think we made a difference over here. We helped out the best we could. I’ll be happy when everybody gets home,” Spiller said.

Day in and day out for 15 months the troops from Co. C saw the horrors of war, but they made it a point to be a part of the change taking place in Iraq – even if that meant making amends with those who seek to kill Coalition Forces, said Spiller.

One patient in particular was an insurgent who had a gun shot wound to the leg, said Spiller. “We seemed to kind of connect. We couldn’t really talk because we were in a helicopter and plus he didn’t speak English,” he said “I just kind of did some hand gestures and helped him out.” Spiller, as a sign of kindness, tried to give the wounded enemy fighter a bracelet he was wearing at the time, but the man only gestured as if he didn’t deserve such a gift, said Spiller.

“I know a lot of our medics are doing things like that, where they want to make sure these people understand we’re here to help them whether they like us or not,” he said.

But those times are now memories with which to tell stories to their friends and families – for the most part. Spiller can’t wait to see his wife and three kids, he said. After three long deployments, another shorter deployment and basic noncommissioned officer school, he estimates that he has been gone from home almost five years straight, said Spiller.

Although he just got done saving lives in Iraq, Spiller heralds his wife, Kris, as a hero for keeping it together through all of his deployments. “She’s tried to keep her sanity. She’s definitely kept the household together with me gone. I’m just looking forward to being back at home with my kids and make our family whole again,” he said. Spiller plans to spend lots of time with his wife; his son Tyler, 15; and his two daughters, Victorya, 13, and McKellen, 8, when he gets home. That doesn’t mean his mind isn’t on good ‘ole American sustenance.

He is already thinking about the steak he’ll eat if he arrives in the evening or that quaint little coffee shop if he arrives in the morning, he said. “If it’s dinner, steaks; if it’s around breakfast time, we have a couple little places we like to go. I’ll have a nice coffee cappuccino, sit down, enjoy the view and be glad to be home,” said Spiller.

For some of the Witch Doctors, arriving home means time with the family, for others it’s that and the start of a new life altogether. Bay City, Mich., native, Sgt. Robert Witbrodt, a UH-60 Black Hawk crew chief for Co. C, will be joining the civilian ranks soon after his arrival home, he said. With three tours in Iraq complete, Witbrodt will be heading to school to study engineering, he said.

Still, he is proud of what he and his unit accomplished while in Iraq, said Witbrodt. “I like the mission here. Saving lives is pretty (darn) great. Sometimes it’s hard on you, but it’s rewarding,” he said. Other than school, Witbrodt is fairly laid back about what he’ll do once stateside. “I don’t really have any big plans other than just spending time with my wife and maybe a little snowboarding, but that’s about it,” he said.

Although each Soldier’s plans are varied, all that really matters to them is that they’re headed home. The rest of Co. C will soon follow their fellow Witch Doctors, but will first hand over their mission to another MEDEVAC unit taking their place.

Photo – With 15 months of medical evacuation missions behind them, Soldiers from Company C, 2nd “Lobo” Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, load up their gear onto a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter before they start their trip from Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, back to the United States Oct. 25. Photo by Cpl. Nathan Hoskins.

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Source: US CentCom.

22 Sept 07
By Cpl. Ryan C. Heiser
2nd Marine Division
.

HADITHA DAM, Iraq — Mention of the U. S. Navy usually conjures images of huge battleships cruising across the oceans, but the Navy is also responsible for much smaller boats and waterways. The Navy has fought on rivers and lakes at home and overseas since its establishment during 1775.

During the War for Independence, sailors fought on tiny boats against the huge warships of the Royal Navy on colonial waterways. The War of 1812 found sailors on the Mississippi River aiding Gen. Andrew Jackson during a major British assault on New Orleans. With the beginning of combat operations in the Republic of Vietnam during the 1960s, the Navy joined forces with the U.S. Army to form the first Riverine squadron, known at the time as the Mobile Riverine Force.

The Navy officially stood up the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, responsible for fielding a new Riverine force in Iraq, Jan. 13, 2006, in Little Creek, Va. Sailors in the new command began training during June 2006 in preparation for their upcoming deployment. Less than a year later, during March 2007, Riverine Squadron 1, Riverine Group 1, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, deployed to Iraq’s waterways in support of Regimental Combat Team 2, in Al Anbar Province.

Now, for the first time since the Vietnam War, a Navy Riverine unit is wrapping up their tour of duty, turning over their area of operations, and preparing to come home.

When we controlled the rivers during Vietnam, it was a huge hit to the enemy and a major U.S. success. [My bolding.] It’s the same here,” said Navy Chief Petty Officer John V. Flanagan, a damage control chief with the squadron. “Manning boats and guns is the Navy’s job. We just scaled down the boat, the gun, and the size of the operations. It feels good to be the first ones back in this position. Those are big shoes to fill, but I think we did pretty well.”

Flanagan, as well as the other sailors in the unit, commonly referred to as riverines, is pleased with the success the squadron has had in Iraq.

“My measure of success is this, in seven months we’ve only been shot at twice and we never hide. We are doing things right and the enemy stays away. They know if they mess with this unit they will be leveled. It’s the most significant Brown Water Navy contribution to the war so far. They came in, ramped up training and deployed in less than a year. We haven’t lost anyone and we’ve completed every mission. That’s success plain and simple,” said Flanagan, who is serving on his third deployment.

The months leading up to the riverines’ deployment were filled with various schools, exercises and training sessions. Every riverine in the squadron attended the Marine Corps School of Infantry East, in North Carolina. Boat captains and crewmen attended Special Missions Training Command, to learn more about the watercraft. Gunners went through the Marine machine-gunners course, and selected sailors even attended the Defense Language Institute for an Iraqi immersion course. Riverines assigned to Maritime Interdiction Operations Teams, a ground combat element, went through a specialized combat course provided by Blackwater, a private civilian security firm. In addition, most of the riverines also completed a combat lifesaver course.

“The training was great,” said Chief Petty Officer Michael E. Bennett, a boat captain with Detachment 3, Riverine Squadron 1. “Before we deployed, we met some of the riverines who served during Vietnam, and they emphasized the importance of what we are doing and got us excited about coming. Then, when we got here, the Marine Dam Security Unit trained us and prepped us for the takeover of (Haditha Dam). We’ve been set up for success since day one, and when we got her,e we just wanted to work and help out. We wanted to leave our footprint and get experience.”

The riverines are responsible for the security of the Haditha Dam, but in addition, they work with other units within the regiment on various combined arms operations.

“We’ve worked with Marine Anglico guys, They were awesome. We provided support for the Navy Seals sometimes. We worked a lot with the regiment’s Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, doing blocking positions and sweeps, and provide security for various units,” said Bennett, a 35-year-old Seguin, Texas, native. “A lot of times, we transported people and gear, because the waterways are safer than roads to travel on. Once, we even worked with the Air Force on an operation. We don’t care, we just want to help out.”

Many of the riverines say their new role in the war has given them a better perspective for the type of life a Marine or soldier might have, and most of them are happy to share that warrior heritage.

“We definitely have more appreciation for Marines, soldiers, and groundpounders in general,” laughed Bennett.

“We are proud of the fact that the only difference between us and the guys on the ground is the water under our boat. We share hardships, we know what that type of lifestyle entails, and we’re proud to have a claim in that,” agreed Flanagan. “There’s no rivalry or bickering, because we’ve been trained by everyone, Marine, Army, Navy, even civilians, its one team, one fight.”

Photo – Navy riverines with Detachment 1, Riverine Squadron 1, Riverine Group 1, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command man their machineguns during a patrol on the Euphrates River. The squadron was stood up, trained, and deployed in less than a year, and is the first Navy riverine unit to be deployed since the Vietnam War. Photo by Cpl. Ryan C. Heiser.

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While I did not write this article, Cpl. Ryan C. Heiser did, I believe it one that should be shared. Our men have done well since their inception of the Navy (and all other branches), and it is about time we all stood up and said so. Let’s support our men and women. Pass this story along.

This is why I have chosen this post for today’s Linkfest. Please join us at the Linkfest and remember, no porn!

Posts I’ve trackbacked to (go read them!): The World According to Carl: Historic Photos Of Tallahassee — Andrew N. Edel, The World According to Carl, Outside the Beltway, Blog @ MoreWhat.com, Nuke’s, Right Voices, Conservative Thoughts, Blue Star Chronicles, Stop the ACLU, The Amboy Times, AZAMATTEROFACT, Dumb Ox Daily News, Stix Blog, Right Truth, Pirate’s Cove, Perri Nelson’s Website, The Bullwinkle Blog, 123beta, and Adam’s Blog, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

People who’ve trackbacked to this post:
1. Stix Blog: Why Fred Thompson should be elected.
2. The Florida Masochist: Weekly dolphins prediction.
3. Right Truth: Sunday Reading List 10/21/07.

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