Thursday, July 12, 2006
Members of 98th resume lives at home after service in Iraq
By SUE WATSON
With all deployed soldiers of the Alpha 98th Cavalry back at home following 18 months’ service in Iraq, most are at work at the jobs they left - busy putting their work and family first, according to Ssg. Keary Jetton, a full-time staff person with the Holly Springs National Guard Armory.
Jetton said the Holly Springs Armory will be kept open, that none of the troops who deployed were lost, and a number sustained mostly minor injuries.
“We had some twisted knees, hernias, shoulder (rotator cuff) injuries and hearing loss from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs),” he said.
Jetton said family support groups in Holly Springs and Hernando made a big difference in keeping families up while soldiers were away.
Several guardsmen who were not deployed for health reasons cut fallen trees that blew down in yards, cut the grass at soldiers homes, mowed at the Armory and fixed appliances. Support groups knitted together by the wives, civic groups, and the local VFW provided lots of care packages, phone cards, and paid for postage.
“It is something we looked forward to,” Jetton said.
“The Rotary Club played a big role with phone cards sent through the support group to us as well as paying for postage on some of the packages mailed,” he said. “They had yard sales and different fund raisers to pay for hand-held radios and microwaves - things not available over there.”
At deployment the unit was split up with some of the guardsmen stationed in Kalsu, a forward outpost base in central Iraq, and a mortar section stationed at Hit, in the Al Anbar Province, he said. Jetton was with the mortar section in Hit.
“We were out in a little Firm Base in the middle of Hit,” he said, a base that was close to the size of three football fields with only one structure and bunkers. The base had been a recreation facility.
“We ran personal security missions for VIPs - like brigade commanders. The whole cavalry troop ran over 60,000 miles in convoy missions and counter mortar patrols. We completed over 800 combat missions. Our unit submitted 27 Purple Hearts for wounds received in action.”
Troops received incoming mortar fire, rocket fire and direct fire and were the targets of Improvised Explosive Devices insurgents set beside the roadsides to disrupt coalition convoys.
Jetton’s unit helped deliver humanitarian aid - school supplies - in friendly areas.
But in Al Anbar Province, a Sunni dominant region, the coalition forces were not welcomed in the main, he said.
“So we didn’t do any school missions there,” he said. “You could just tell the way they looked at you, if you were welcomed. Or they gave us the thumbs down sign. You didn’t get out and try to make friends.
Many areas are plagued with medical problems stemming from lack of hygiene - no running water - and lack of fuel to cook with.
Fuel is rationed in Iraq.
“Even over there they have fuel shortages and I saw lines as long as two miles with people waiting for fuel. Propane bottles for heating and cooking were everywhere.
“They live in mud buildings with open windows. Flies and gnats are very bad. I think a lot of their health concerns are related to this.”
The majority of Iraq is desert except for areas along bodies of water where vegetation is lush with date palms and a high water table providing plenty of water. But just four or five miles away from rivers like the Euphrates, the land is rock and sand, Jetton said.
Most of the population live along bodies of water, but camel and sheep herders and 10 and 12 year old children driving a donkey drawn wagon are found unexpectedly in the desert.
Old caches of old artillery rounds - 155 millimeter by about 2.5 feet long - are found stashed in the desert sand, some caches buried and others piled together. These are the rounds that are used by the insurgents to make IEDs, Jetton said.
“They will put them on the top of the road, in the carcasses of a dead animal, or in a trash bag,” he said. “The patrols I was on, we ran upon three piles of artillery rounds. They still have explosives in them and are mostly set off by remote control using cell phones.
“We pretty much planned on something happening when we went out. If we saw something on the side of the road, we would call in Explosives and they would blow it up. We lost several vehicles in fires due to that. Nobody in the Holly Springs Detachment was seriously wounded but some are shell shocked. Fourth of July fire-works make them jumpy.
“The mortar section I was with received mortar. There was not a three-day period we didn’t get incoming rounds. We would be in a building or a bunker if we were lucky. The unit we were working with lost two soldiers. We received over 60 mortar rounds in the two-and-a-half months we were at Hit.”
The unit also received rocket attacks and rocket propelled grenades (armor piercing grenades). The Iraq Army training with Jetton’s ran joint patrols and had their own equipment including RPGs.
From Jetton’s point of view, the Iraqi units didn’t have the experience with teamwork like the coalition forces have.
“They stayed on the move,” he said. “I didn’t know why they rotated in and out so much. Some had experience, some less. New people were coming in with no experience. Having to defend their country every day, they know everyday anything can happen.”
Jetton said it takes everybody to fight this war.
“We’re all in it together,” he said. “We have to have the marines and air power.”
Jetton felt the coalition forces are doing well in Iraq; that it will be a while before they can leave.
“I don’t see up pulling out soon,” he said. “There’s still a lot of training to be done to get the Iraqi Army up to speed. And it’s better to do it right the first time. They’re getting a government in place. I think when the Americans pull out, a lot of the terrorist acts will subside - once they get their government established and army trained.”
He said the insurgents know if the Americans leave, no one will be trained to help get the Iraqi government on its feet.
Jetton and some of the Holly Springs Detatchment 1 forces spent about 2.5 months at Hit.
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