THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS VOLUME XXI NUMBER 3 Spring 2006
  
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A Soldier's Journal
Excerpts from a hand-written journal offer a forthright account of one soldier's service in Iraq

Red button image Map of Iraq Red button image Map of Middle East

Greg Sears '00 kept his journal from June through November 2004. The editors appreciate the opportunity to publish these excerpts, with Greg's introduction and epilogue.

In 1989, four years into my six-year stint with the United States Marine Corps, I decided that at the end of my enlistment I'd return to New Hampshire to pursue a lifelong dream: get a college degree. I started my academic career at KSC as a part-time student during the 1992 spring semester, with history as my chosen major. That same year, I also got married, became a father, and started working at Keene State in Campus Safety. In 1995, I joined the Keene detachment of the 744th Transportation Company, New Hampshire National Guard. I trained as a supply specialist, which included being retrained in repairing weaponry, the job I had held as a Marine. There were differences between being a Marine and learning to be a soldier, but I discovered a new source of pride: the privilege and responsibilities of being a citizen soldier.

In February 2004, we were deployed to Iraq. I was stationed at Logistics Support Area (LSA) Anaconda in Balad, about 42 miles northwest of Baghdad. My main task was weapons repair.

Sunday, 06 June 2004
Balad, Iraq
LSA Anaconda
1630
Temp. HOT!
Finally, I feel like writing about what's going on around me. Found out today former President Ronald Reagan died. He was arguably the greatest president of the latter part of 20th century. He made an impression on me. He changed parties and became a champion of Republican ideals. He was 93 years old.

I bought some Iraqi currency and some sort of plate from local nationals (LN's – Iraqis working in our company area). I can see why "democracy" might take a while to bloom here.

I'm finding out why people here dress up: you'll burn to death if you don't. Wind is hot and dusty; sun is unrelenting. Anything metal will burn you. The tops of my ears are burned. Ouch!

Friday, 11 June 2004
2320
Watched much of funeral proceedings for Ronald Reagan. Very regal ceremonies befitting a great president.
Need to sleep better. Hope trailers are comfortable. A/C will be nice. Bunks or regular mattresses will be a godsend.

Sunday, 13 June 2004
2210
Tomorrow, like in seven hours, I go on first mission as "gunner" with KBR trucker. We're going to "TQ," wherever the hell that is. I'll get to see quite a bit and it's an overnight mission, so I'll get to stay at different locales in Iraq. I'm excited and a little scared right now.

Monday, 14 June 2004
2315
Southwestern Iraq "TQ"
Army's 229th Birthday
Got to ride as a "shooter" in big KBR rig. Ride was rather uneventful, which isn't a bad thing. Saw outskirts of Baghdad, Fallujah, and the Abu Ghraib prison.
Piece de la resistance of day was swimming in lake the size of Sunapee in middle of the desert. Water was nice and cool.
So here we are, in the middle of Iraq, and it was like an episode of "China Beach." Roy was playing an 8-track player with 70s and 80s rock and we were just enjoying the stars, meteorites, and good company until bugs and time drove us back to find living quarters.

Tuesday, 15 June 2004
2230
Balad, Iraq
Made it back to LSA Anaconda in one piece. Ride home was rougher, hotter than ride to TQ. Had to stop numerous times for suspicious circumstances or accidents. Really hot, thirsty, and hungry by the time I got "home."
Think I'll finally sleep okay tonight.

Tuesday, 22 June 2004
2200
No power right now, so I'm using flashlights to write by. Just like I'm camping. One of our soldiers got shot the other day while out on mission. I just found out today. Most indications point to friendly fire. Thank God for body armor.
I'm taking a military history correspondence course. Very difficult, but informative. Scored 94%. Got two others to finish soon.

Thursday, 24 June 2004
1600
Going to TQ again. No swimming this time, I guess. Also, no riding in Mercedes KBR truck. Riding shotgun with Sgt. Anderson in 5-ton gun truck. Flurry of activity at KBR yard, then sat around waiting. This night was hot. It had been above 130º during day. Had to be in 90s most of trip to Biap, near Baghdad, where we were forced to stay due to MSRs being "hot."

Friday, 25 June 2004
Biap, Iraq
We slept outside, underneath stars. Considering the situation, it was rather peaceful to see the stars and crescent moon so clearly. When I dozed, I dreamt about going to somebody's house for a visit. While waiting for my hosts to bring me refreshments, I was greeted by two tiger cubs. Startled, I asked if the hosts were aware of the tigers and they said they were. Then the house flooded, for some reason. I woke up.
At about 0730 we went to chow hall. Food was nasty, coffee the worst I've had on this deployment. We left for TQ at 0900.
1015. Outside Fallujah. I could see two gun blasts from windows of city, to our left. Next, Sgt. Anderson was firing his M16A2, not at anything in particular. I was boxed in and didn't want to risk shooting Anderson, so I just waited things out. Lots happened to others in convoy. A trailer burned and tires in green truck got shot out. Met a Marine major general who thought he was Patton. Total ass. My knees really hurt.

26 June 2004
0845
TQ, Iraq
Mom and Dad's 44th Anniversary
Obviously, we're concerned with trip home. Fallujah had been whacked after our encounter and other convoys were having better luck. As it turned out, only problems were IEDs [improvised explosive devices] that were discovered by EOD [explosive ordnance detection] and a car bomb that only succeeded in blowing up the occupants of that car.
Both knees hurt this trip. There's no room in cab for long legs like mine. I felt 80 years old.
When I got back to Anaconda, at 1530, I was greeted by package from kids. Included nice photos, a card from Kathryn and Gabriel, and two front baby teeth Gabriel lost a couple of weeks ago.

29 June 2004
2230
Two new soldiers joined up with our unit. One looks pretty young – and gullible.
Time for sleep. I'm very tired tonight. I miss Gabriel. And my cat.

Sunday, 4 July 2004
All's right with world now: I got Dire Straits Greatest Hits in mail today.
Chow halls were decked out for holiday. Got served BBQ at lunch and dinner, but food was pretty good.

Thursday, 22 July 2004
2150
Stars & Stripes reports Reserve and Guard units might be extended up to 2 years and beyond. I'll go bonkers if that happens.
I'll start chipping away at correspondence courses again. I'll take interesting ones, especially geopolitical stuff.

Tuesday, 27 July 2004
2205
Just got the "all clear" siren. Jets scare me more than the mortars or rockets.

Saturday, 31 July 2004
2215
"Blue Moon"
Moon looked like blood had been poured on it at about 2030. Second full moon of month; it hits the haze and turns colors.
Man, I miss having my old Minolta. I hope the SOB who has it at least knows how to use it.
Daughter e-mailed from a friend's house, going to a Swamp Bats game. Nice hearing from her.

Thursday, 5 August 2004
2155
Just came inside from watching jets (F-16s) take off. Those things make some noise, but they are cool to watch at night. The white/blue flames remind you of a rocket ship. And they always go in pairs.

Thursday, 19 August 2004
2315
I don't like the smell of this dust over here nor the smell of shattered burned glass. I never realized dust and glass can smell until today.
I guess it was about 1430 or 1500 when we heard alarm for indirect attack and heard the booms from rounds. Five of us were in the supply trailer. We just finished talking about sirens and Sgt. Andretti and I were near the door. Next thing I see is Sgt. Jeter herding us away from windows and saying "Get your s--- on." Next thing I'm doing is yelling "F---, they hit me in the leg. F---." Sgt. Andretti said she got hit in the back.
How Sgt. Jeter managed to not even get a scratch is a miracle. Glass from window and fluorescent tubes made flashes. I heard sickening sound of somebody yelling for help outside – Sgt. Reeves. His left leg was mutilated (no broken bones, though). I got a good-size puncture wound on left leg (thigh) and Sgt. Andretti was hit in right shoulder. Her shrapnel got deep into skin; mine bounced off and I found it later on when I took pants off. We were all treated (Huron complained of hearing loss); Reeves will require work. Shell landed 20 feet from the door to our shack.
There must be some purpose for this – I need to glean something positive out of this. Kathryn and Gabriel are lucky to still have a dad; Barb and Noel lucky to have oldest son. That was a damn close call.

Saturday, 21 August 2004
[Yesterday] I walked back to company area via path we used to take to go to the old chow hall (long gone). As I approached a corner of the fence, a round came in somewhere close. A Filippino male fell on his knees and then ran for cover. Moments later another round seemed to get closer and shook the area a bit. I was standing in wide open, scared stiff.
Finally, after creeping forward like I was trying to walk through a hailstorm, I bolted back to Supply, which was a couple hundred meters away. I made it quickly, despite my leg hurting.
I put on IBA [body armor] and helmet and just sat in my chair while my heart raced and I just kept thinking about what had happened the day before.

Sunday, 22 August 2004
1830
Only spooked once today: while at shower point a soldier put his helmet down very hard and I just about had a stroke. My actual injury is about the size of a baseball now.

Monday, 23 August 2004
2255
Combat stress team came by for follow-up today. I talked to them about my skittishness whenever rounds came in or certain sounds startle me. They say it is normal. Coincidentally, alarm went off while we were talking outside, so we all huddled in trailer with our gear on.
Leg feels better, just looks gross. Still can't believe that crap happened to me.

Wednesday, 25 August 2004
2310
Still trying to recuperate after yesterday morning's barrage of rockets. Damn things sounded like they were going to land right on top of us again.

Wednesday, 1 September 2004
2330
Went to JAG today and re-did my will. Feel a little more at ease now. Got some neat packages and letters today.

Wednesday, 8 September 2004
1020
I'm waiting out an "indirect attack" siren in my shack. I'm so sore from my antics of yesterday – softball in 120º heat, then 2 or 3 games of basketball in evening. My muscles, knees, and right ankle are sore.
Family of kittens underneath shack. They are mostly tiger cats, but one is black and looks like a little monkey. I finally got photos of them.
Another day filled with stories of death. Two casualties in 644th Trans Co., one dead, and a female SSG who's critically wounded (face, arm).
I'm reading America's First Dynasty, The Adamses, 1735-1918.

Saturday, 11 September 2004
2124
3rd anniversary of 9/11 NY, Pentagon, PA plane crash
Another mortar/rocket just touched down here. They started pretty regular attacks in early afternoon. Hard to say if they correspond with times we were attacked three years ago in U.S. Some seem fairly close, but I'm somewhat hypersensitive to that thumping sound.
Got my New Testament out during one of the alarms.

Wednesday, 22 September 2004
2235
First day of autumn
Several controlled blasts went off today and got my heart rate sky high. It sounded like salvos of rockets coming in here. Baghdad is still wild; second American hostage was beheaded.

Friday, 24 September 2004
2210Gabriel's birthday (7)
Highlight of day was talking to Gabriel. He laughed a lot and that made me happy.
Relaxation session this morning with combat stress people didn't help much. Tough to relax with generator roaring and jets taking off. SPC Morrison, female specialist, does aromatherapy on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Saturday, 25 September 2004
2225
I'm listening to Van Halen and think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. I'm so sick of Clint Black, Vince Gill, and that honky-tonk sound. Even fake beer satisfies better.

Thursday, 30 September 2004
2330
A lot of incoming rounds today. Hope that activity doesn't pick up.

Sunday, 3 October 2004
1040
Just showered up using that Burt's Bees stuff Erika sent me. That stuff is really nice. It's like being at a spa. Then you leave the shower point and remember, "Oh, I'm in Iraq."

Wednesday, 6 October 2004
2300
Rudely awakened at 0700 by "kaboom" of rocket/mortar. Then alarms, then outgoing counterattack. Must be insurgents' way of getting ready for Ramadan.
We're moving, finally, probably Friday. Supply is moving first, then we're dragging everybody down with us. Living in trailers will probably be okay. I think it'll be safer over there, too.

Friday, 8 October 2004
0006
Found out I can go to Qatar on 14 October. Yesss…!
We're supposed to move to trailers really, really soon. Okay. Not today, probably tomorrow. Just get us over there and be done with it.

Tuesday, 12 October 2004
2240
I'm in my new trailer. It's pretty nice, actually. Only down side to this arrangement is we aren't well fortified against mortars/rockets. Hesco barriers and cement T-blocks are on order. Ramadan is fast approaching.
I need some cash from Finance and a nice carry-on bag for trip to Qatar. I hope that works out.
Going to lie down on my new bed with sheets, pillowcase, and comforter!

14-19 October 2004
Qatar Pass (Central Command, near Doha, the capital)

Wednesday, 20 October 2004
2320
Balad, Iraq
I turned on TV this afternoon and happened to catch repeat of Tuesday night's Red Sox/Yankees game. Sox won 4-2, came back from 0-3 deficit to tie ALCS. Curt Schilling pitched with injured right ankle for 7 full innings.

Thursday, 21 October 2004
2305
SSG Richardson (1st Platoon) saw me walk out of my room at 0900 and said, "How about those Sox?" I gathered they must have won, and they had, 10-3. Again, it'd be nice if they'd let me find out myself. Still, I watched parts of the game.

Friday, 22 October 2004
2228
It's going to be St. Louis Cardinals against Red Sox in World Series. Could be a close one.
Day went by in oddball manner. People are working different hours so I think they're all half asleep.

Friday, 29 October 2004
0900
Recap of week: Red Sox won World Series 4-0 sweep over Cards on Wednesday night. I watched game yesterday.
Awarded Purple Heart on Tuesday. Had to go in front of about 800 soldiers. It was presented to me by LTG Metz, Commander of Multinational Forces. Also got a cool coin and had Burger King meal.

Monday, 1 November 2004
0815
Found out Patriots got beaten by Pittsburgh Steelers.
Election tomorrow means a lot to us, but I'm feeling ambivalent to it all. Bush is known quantity, and essentially it's Cheney by proxy.
With Red Sox winning, I guess I should count blessings. We'll see how Congressional elections pan out too. That makes a big difference in how country and N.H. runs.

Tuesday, 2 November 2004
0875
Election Day
It's actually raining out – steady drizzle. My Army correspondence course on Iraq was right on the nose: rainy season starts 1 November. It rained sporadically yesterday.
First rocket/mortar came in almost 2230 last night. The sound one of those makes is sickening.

Wednesday, 3 November 2004
0745
I don't have a clue as to who won presidential election. We only get AFN sports, no news.

Thursday, 11 November 2004
2300
Fighting in Fallujah seems to be bringing out worst in local insurgents. Regular rocket attacks from about 1700-2100. One or two seemed pretty close to our living area.
No mail for anybody in battalion last 2 days.
Best thing to happen this week: One minute of Shania Twain's image on TV.

Sunday, 14 November 2004
Thank God for "down" days. Sleep late, move slowly and not feel guilty about it.
Rockets/mortars have returned with a vengeance to LSA Anaconda. Injuries occurred at DFAC#1 [dining facility] the other day when one hit there. Late afternoon, early evening appear to be preferred time frame.
I need to write letters to people, although I often don't see the point. E-mail has effectively negated the intimacy of well-written letters. But I must try to restore the ritual. Of course, our mail comes sporadically now, so people could be sending letters galore and I'd just never know it.

Tuesday, 16 November 2004
0850
Two days in a row I've awoken abruptly, today from a dream that seemed real, and yesterday from a rocket attack that came whooshing over our heads at 0600. One struck a 5-ton truck. One landed behind our new trailers.
This is my project for the day: filling sand bags. Good way to get out of the office.
I miss doing those Army correspondence courses, they kept my mind occupied and I usually gleaned some new information. Our Internet connection is so weak and unreliable, it just doesn't get past home pages.

Sunday, 28 November 2004
1845
I've been nursing a bad cold since Thanksgiving and feel like crap again. A few others in unit are sick so I suspect it's just my time to get sick.
Mortar/rocket attacks have dwindled over last few days. We've even been allowed to take IBA off unless in Red Status.
Going to work can be agony sometimes. [last entry]

Our unit was in Iraq and Kuwait until mid-February of 2005. We moved into trailers on a different part of the base in Balad and "hardened" them (put sandbags around each trailer) to protect ourselves from mortar and rocket attack. I had a new roommate and he and I watched a lot of movies and talked about our families. I stopped writing in my journal. I simply didn't have much more to say. I could talk to a "battle buddy," replacing the emotional scribbling I had taken up about a third of the way through our deployment.

We redeployed to Fort Drum, New York, and made it back to New Hampshire near the end of February 2005. I reconnected with my children, found a new apartment, and went back to work at Douglas Co., Inc. The leg that was struck with the shrapnel hurts sometimes, and I had surgery to repair damage done to my shoulder from my service in Iraq. They are little reminders of what it sometimes means to "go forth and serve."