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USO Tour days 2, 3 and 4

December 5, 2008

Been a few days and being out of touch is somewhat weird, but understandable.

It’s been an incredible experience to date, I have a ton of pictures but can only post my IPhone stuff for now.

I want to first off thank Tracey Thede. Tracey was Ty and I’s USO Rep on days 1 and 2 of our trip and she’s just a fantastic and genuine person. Unfortunately due to ankle surgery she wasn’t able to accompany us into Iraq so we are sad to say she’s gone home. We’re going to abuse her next time we see her though…

Next up is Sully. Sully is basically our protection in theater. To picture Sully just imagine a 250 pound Samoan, with about 5% body fat and armed, ya, that’s Sully. Not only that but he’s the kindest man you’d ever want to meet, knows pretty much every person we’ve seen the past three days and if he doesn’t know them, they know him. If you need something, Sully gets it for you, no matter what. Oh and he can pretty much snap you in half if need be. Not a bad thing to have him hanging around over here. Sully is doing the 18th Airborne proud for sure.

Day 2 was up and running REAL early. The boys below were tasked with getting us into Iraq and our first stop.

Sox Nation taking us out!

Sox Nation alive and well at Camp Beauhring!

Ty's gonna puke!

Ty was nervous, I wasn’t (lie, bold face lie)

So we take the Blackhawks into Iraq and our entire second day was to be spent at Camp Bucca. Camp Bucca is a detainee center located inside Iraq. My first thought was “Hogan’s Heroes”. Maybe we’d crest over a hill and see this little camp and it would be cool.

Not even close. It comes into view and it’s massive. It’s also one of the most crucial locations and missions in the entire theater. So much is said and done state side to send ‘messages’ or further agendas but when you are here, and when you see the truth of what this is, who these people are, how they feel, and what their mission is, you realize we get so little of the truth back home.

The men and women of Boca are commanded by the lone Marine stationed on the base (A fact I referenced that evening at the Boxing match to some boos and hisses from Army and Navy folks). Their mission is to detain truly bad people, and help educate, provide medical care, train and assist all the rest. Every man and woman at Bucca, from US Military to Iraqi detainee is provided the same health and medical care. It’s stunning and the mission is incredible. We were given a complete walk through of the mission these men and women were on by this incredibly kind man.

Ollis shows the way!

Ollis was the man tasked with the mundane chore of showing Ty and my’s sorry asses around for the morning. This actually followed a brief from the base commanders where they explained the base’s mission. It was an incredibly informative and surprising intel briefing.

So Ollis basically walked us through the entire process, from the front gate, into the camp, every step an Iraqi citizen takes in visiting loved ones inside the wire. The security is obviously incredibly stringent, but necessary, but more importantly the steps taken to insure the citizens are treated with respect, dignity, courtesy and care is amazing. Every single opportunity to display kindness, compassion and care is taken.

Our impressions were basically every country has bad people, Iraq is no exception. But at the end of the day the majority of humans are good at heart, and it’s no different here. These men and women have grown up in opression none of us can fathom, so the simplest things, like basica dental care, reading and writing education, are so far from anything they’ve ever known it’s stunning.

Two things resounded with me this morning. The first was stories of detainees who desperately DO NOT want to be let go. They acknowledge that inside the wire, even detained, their lives are enriched far beyond anything they ever imagined.

That was only validated by being allowed to read the incredibly powerful letters written by former detainees, in thanks to the staff at Camp Bucca. The were powerful and moving, and I just wish for one day everyone back home could see the real truth of whats happening over here.

I’ll stop one second to give a shout out to two other men. Our liason at Bucca was “Mad dog” Pederson. And let me say this. Mad Dog fit him as a nickname like short and svelte fits me. This guy could not have been any nicer or more giving than he was. He spent the entire day out in front leading and organizing our visit to insure we had maximum exposure to service men and woman in meaningful time frames. Thanks “dawg’!!!

The second man was 1st Lt Paul Capone. Born and raised a lifelong member of Sox Nation Paul was pretty fired up about the assignment and displayed an eagerness to take care of us. He made sure the day went off without a hitch and that everyone was taken care of and no one got out of line.

Paul wanted to send a message to his brothers Mark and Nick, friends Sean, Mike D, Mike O and Mark.

“I spent the day with Curt and you did not – in Iraq. Love and miss you all”

This guy was just good people but most importantly incredibly passionate about his mission over here and ecstatic at his personal interaction with the Iraqi people. He’s on the front line of the most important battle over here right now, helping these people begin to care for, and about a nation that belongs to them. Great stuff.

Next up was a visit to the local depot and Ty and I got to climb around the MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle. No pictures on my IPhone for different reasons but check this out.

That looks mine resistant to me....

That looks mine resistant to me....

I got to climb around inside, and it was awesome, The turret sporting the M240 on top was remote control and the “best machine gunner on the base” gave me a little assist in familiarizing myself with it. The ranking office on site and a patrol leader walked Ty and I through the logistics of the vehicle and how they operate out in the field. It was just cool as hell.

Even cooler was the fact that a patrol had just come in. They were cleaning their weapons and basically defusing and trying to relax when we were led over. It hit me for the first time pretty hard just how much stress is on these folks over here. I could see as I was walking up they were pretty spent. I don’t imagine it was nearly as much physical as mental though. Ya it’s grueling physical work, but even more important is that once you cross the ‘wire’ you are ‘hot’ and it’s no friggin joke. There are no second chances, there are no ‘down times’, you are on target and on mission every second, because your life, and your brothers life is on the line. That may sound cliche but these men and women have to think and act in that manner. It’s incredible to watch.

The great part was that once we got over there we had a chance to talk with them a few minutes and laugh over some back home stuff. It was a thrill for us. They had a die hard Yankee fan in the mix, and he was cool as hell. We thanked them and moved on.

Next up…

Clint Eastwood I am not....

Clint Eastwood I am not....

Ty and I were taken to the firing range. We were permitted to fire the M4 Assault Rifle and the M92 Handgun. I’ll give you a million excuses why I sucked. My shoulder stock was not the right length until adjusted, the sights were set for another shooter, yadda yadda, all true, but none of that would have changed the fact that I sucked. Ty outshot me pretty easily but man what a rush. The M4 was set to burst fire, a 3 round burst, the second magazine and damn was that insane. Pretty sure my three bullet spread would have only hit the same target if the person I was shooting was around 14 feet tall. I started at the knees and the third round left the chamber around 10 feet above the target I think. It was cool as hell and a huge thanks the the men that assisted us. Fwiw the big boy on site was an Air Cav man, proudly wearing his dark blue hat, and it was pretty damn cool looking. Couldn’t help but think Apocolypse Now….

After the range we had our meet and greet and dinner. Oh by the way these boys eat damn good, all day long. We got to sit around and shoot the breeze with them during dinner and then we were headed off to the main event. The Camp Bucca Boxing Title Fights. This night was one of the coolest nights of our lives.

The event started with about 3 minutes Ty nor I will ever forget. We stood for the Start Spangled Banner, and at that very second it hit us both in I think the same way. The young lady singing belted out a thunderous rendition, but the power of being there, in theater, surrounded by men and women, some who’d lost brothers in arms, was so powerful I cannot really explain what it meant. As they all brought up their hands in salute (getting chills writing this by the way) I got pretty damn watery eyed. It was just powerful stuff and I am sure anyone that has served can understand how moved we were.

After that the hooping and hollering was on. 6 fights, 4 for belts.

In match one…

Oh, first off Felix was on the grounds. Felix was a man that operated for the 3 hours that night at a Dustin Pedroia like intensity level, every second of every minute there. Funny as hell, inspiring as hell and just an awesome guy.

I was asked to introduce the first fight. I started by offering an observation. I wondered aloud what it said about the branches present that there were a ton of army, a ton of navy, some air force, and one Marine. And the Marine was the man running the show… Boos and hisses soon followed.

Match one pitted 5’6″ 137lb Albert Cho from Cathedral City, Ca, Task Force 134, against 5’6″ 140 Robert Banks of the 320th MP from Pittsburgh, PA. (Home of the greatest NFL Franchise ever… More boos and hisses!)

Albert won the 3 round fight in a decision.

Fight 2 saw Bryan Leon, 5’10” 153 pds from Jersey City, NJ, Unit B 2-113th, against Roosevelt Smith from Davenport, Iowa at 5’7″ 157lbs from the 339 MP. Bryan took home the Lightweight title in a 3 round decision. And it was clearly apparent after this fight that there was an enormous NJ contingent on hand….

Fight three featured the ladies. Yep, the ladies. Abby Hartup of the 304th MP, at 5’9″ 155lbs from Murfreesboro, TN went up against Rebecca Archuleta from Las Cruces, NM. At 5’3″ and 145lbs from teh 586 ESFS. Rebecca had a long haul as she was way short on reach and size, but let me tell you something. She lost, but she took a punch better than just about any man I’ve ever seen. They got after it and got at it.

Fight 4 was an AWESOME match. Dishuan Jones, at 5’7″, 165lbs from San Jose, CA and unit NPDB-5 went up against Adam Harry from Jacksonville, Fla. Fighting for the 887 ESFS at 5’10” and 163 pds these boys just flat out boxed and brawled for 3 rounds. The crowd got way into it and way crazy. Adrenaline and testosterone was present in huge quantities at this point. Adam was bloodied about 10 seconds in and bled the whole fight. The best part was I think he liked it. Every time I got a look he was smiling like a cheshire cat. They fought an incredible match and in a split Decision Dishaun Jones won the Middleweight Title and belt.

Fight 5 was an awesome match as well. Jeffrey Williamson from Woodbridge, NJ and unit HHC 2-113th at 6′ 179lbs went up against Michael Hightower, also from NJ (Newark). Fighting for unit C-250th BSB, at 6’1″ and 178lbs these men were pretty polished fighters. The nights one and only TKO came when the ref called it late and Michael was proclaimed the light heavywieght title winner. Williamson went to the canvas twice (though I am pretty sure one fall was a slip). It was an incredible fight.

The one the folks seem to be waiting for ended the night. The Heavyweight title fight featured 3-0 Edward Gore from Columbus, Ohio. Unit c 3-13, at 6′ and 184lbs up against Josue Gallegos of Kansas City, MO. Fighting for Unit NPDB-5 at 5’7″ and 180lbs these men repeated match 4. They got after it early and often.

boxing-fans-from-all-branches-even-1-marineSitting next to the lone Marine watching the crowd go nuts!

Big boys throwing the haymakers!

Big boys throwing the haymakers!

For all the marbles!

For all the marbles!

It's ON!!!!!

It's ON!!!!!

Edward Gore ended up the winner and 2008 Heavyweight Champion of Camp Bucca.

It was just an awesome night and an awesome experience. Little did we know it was only going to get better.

We were due to fly out of Camp Bucca and into “TQ”, as it’s known (Camp Al Taqaddum). We had heard and thought that would again be on a Blackhawk Helicopter. That was not the case. About 30 minutes later we heard the prop sounds of something way bigger and faster than a Blackhawk.

Watching in the dark over the blast wall….

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's both??? Bongo and Joker show up...

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's both??? Mongo and Rookie show up...

This weird looking and sounding machine taxied onto the runway in front of us. “Bongo” and “Rookie” had shown up in their V22 Osprey to give us a lift. This machine is just as cool as it gets.

“Bongo” and “Rookie” were the men piloting this machines call signs. I would later learn that “Bongo” is pretty much the man responsible for the creation of the deadliest insertion and extraction aircraft on the planet. The lethality has nothing to do with it’s armament, but the fact that it can deliver a unit of the most lethal ground combatants on the planet pretty much on a dime, anywhere in the world and be gone before the dust cloud settles.

Oh and I asked them both about their call signs. Bongo told me it had “Something to do with this guy named “Mongo” in Blazing Saddles….. Rookie was self explanatory as he looked like he’d just turned 16….

The gentleman were kind enough to allow me to sit in the jump seat (on the first of what would end up being 4 flights on the Osprey this day!!!). Basically the take off experience went something like this. You rolled forward a bit, hovered off the ground still moving forward, the engines moved from cold to ‘hot’ and the aircraft went from a chopper to a ‘jet’ in less than 10 seconds. At that point you go ‘vertical’, and I mean vertical, fast. About 30-45 seconds later when your organs descend from your larynx, if you have not puked (which I had not) you settle in for the ride of a lifetime.

I was allowed to take this ride wearing night vision, which basically made the flight a clear sky unlimited ceiling night flight….

The only ‘hiccup’ came when I happened to have my mic com button depressed and think I said something like “I’d bet you couldn’t make my buddy in the back puke before we land”…..

What I can only describe as intense evasive maneuvers, and about 30 seconds later, I feared I’d screwed myself. I was not REAL close, but not that far away, from frantically searching for a location to spew that wouldn’t cover the instrument panel….

I also heard that the men in the back, who were asleep, were asleep no longer…

We touched down at TQ and were taken to our Billet at around 0030 hours. Needless to say we were wiped, totally wiped and exhausted.

I’d like to post this next picture, even though I know Shonda will likely have my ass for it.

It's true....

It's true....

This is my billet AFTER I was done. As I walked out I knew I had to take this picture because no one would believe me. This is how it looked when I entered, and when I left. I just for the life of me couldn’t fathom walking out of this place and having one of these men and women come in and clean up after ME… I already felt like crap because they had to tote our luggage on and off every flight.

I know it’s not up to regs but it was the best I could do. I couldn’t remember what to do with the OD blanket on the bottom or remember what the regs were for the top fold. Did the best I could….

We got to spend the morning touring TQ and another HUGE highlight ensued. We had a great opportunity to sit and BS with the men and woman there while awaiting our departing Blackhawk. While we did I was asked to participate in a re-enlistment ceremony, which I absolutely agreed to. I was allowed to read off the swearing in of (and I pray I get his name right) Michael Kirkpatrick. What an incredible honor, and it didn’t end with this one.

At this point we were awaiting our chopper only to get surprised again, another Osprey ride! SWEET!

Grindal and Angry on the scene! HOA!

Grindal and Angry on the scene! HOA!

Marine Pilots “Grindal” and “Angry” arrived in the V22 Osprey to take us out west to Waleed. This was huge because it’s so far out not many folks make the trip.

These boys pictured below….

Semper Fi BABY!

Semper Fi BABY!

These guys were just AWESOME! Literally out in the middle of nowhere, they are on the border to Syria and doing an incredible job, flawless. They gone from trigger pulling elite soldiers to Ambassadors and you’d never know they weren’t. They are working the border, in conjunction with locals to assist the Iraqi people in doing the vital tasks needed to be done to secure their own country. This was one of the funnest times we’ ve had here because our bird was delayed and we were allowed to just hang out and BS for a few hours with a bunch of them. Patrols came in and out and I hope we got to meet and sign for every soldier out there. I also met the first pooch out there on bomb detail and his handler, a HUGE Sox fan from Mass. It was just cool as hell. Here’s another shot of some of the guys…

The rest of the men at Waleed.

The rest of the men at Waleed.

After a few hours our ‘taxi’ had arrived. “Grindal’ and “Angry” decided to drop in…

Nice and easy boys...

Nice and easy boys...

Almost there, almost.....

Almost there, almost.....

Holy #$@! I think I just swallowed 11lbs of dust!

Holy #$@! I think I just swallowed 11lbs of dust!

From there it was off To Al Asad. Saddam Husseins personal airfield… Ya, personal airfield. Ya, million of citizens in poverty but I need my own airfield with gold plated toilet seats and hardened bunkers, because I am a man of the people…

Another flawless, smooth and spectacular flight from Grindal and Angry brought us to the airfield at Al Asad…

"Appraoch this is G38, I have no idea what the hell I am doing..."

"Appraoch this is G38, I have no idea what the hell I am doing..."

Marine Corps Esprit de Corps was on display for all to see. Our schedule was really skewed and the base was HUGE. I was adamant about not having to rush these folks through lines and making something intense and personal, anything but. Obviously they put another woman in charge (just like our stud Shelly at TQ) to run the show. We managed, I hope, to sign something for every man and women there as well as get them pictures. It was a blast and the schedule at the end of the day allowed us to again hang out for about an hour with some folks at the airfield.

HOA! at Al Asad. Ya come F with us now!

HOA! at Al Asad. Ya come F with us now!

Ya that’s me wearing the Marine Corps cover given to me by the men at Waleed, and doing it terribly. I think the lid was too small but I also think I have no clue on how to make it look cool! These folks were just awesome and Ty and I had a blast hanging out and BS’ing Sox baseball. That’s absolutely been the highlight of this trip, just hanging and chatting.

I am forgetting so much from the past two days and I am sorry to anyone who’s name I might have forgotten or messed up. We’ve met so many awesome men and women and I am trying hard as hell to remember them all.

We can’t thank you enough for the memories you’ve already given us and we hope you understand how honored we are to be allowed to visit each and every one of you.

The day ended and we moved on. The nice surpise was the Bongo was in the cockpit again, this time “Joker” was riding shotgun. My ‘challenge coin’ collection grew, as did my unit Badge collection when he presented me with his Commanders Coin and the unit badge from his uniform, The Fighting Griffins are a pretty proud bunch being led by a man obviously without peer in the respect department.

Our night ends here, and it’s about 2 hours from when I thought I would be sleeping and about 3 hours from our wakeup call. Here are a few more shots and I have also put photos up on my Flickr page at Check it out here…

Words cannot begin to express our deep seated respect, pride and honor at being given this once in a lifetime opportunity. Only a few days left and I will hopefully be able to let you all in on where we are and show some incredible images sometime later tomorrow or Monday before we head back.

I have two goals besides the obvious to accomplish before we leave (well more than 2)

1) Fire an M1A1 main gun

2) Fire the chain gun on the Bradley

3) Collect as many unit hats and T’s as possible

4) Finally get the high fade haircut I’ve always wanted and Sully’s promised me!

See ya soon!

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