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Maritime Logistics Community News : December 2008
34 NAVY SUPPLY NEWSLETTER SPRING 2008 Reflections of Baghdad When I look back, my six months in Baghdad went quite quickly. Unlike the majority of my fellow ‘brothers in arms’ who were to use a nautical term, ‘press ganged’; I volunteered to serve in the Middle East Area Operations (MEAO). Prior to putting the uniform back on in June 2007, I was working in Port Hedland (Fly in/Fly Out) 3 weeks on and 6 days off, working on the Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) $2.2 billion project. Being a Navy Reservist working in a Tri-service but predominantly Army run, Headquarters Joint Task Force (HQJTF) 633 at Camp victory (Cv), Baghdad was a huge challenge for me initially. I was like a ‘boat out of water’, and had to make the adjustment from ‘civvy street’ to Chief Clerk as soon as I got off the plane. My challenge was exacerbated by the fact that I did not have a handover nor previous operational deployment experience. Unlike most orderly rooms or onboard a ship, in the ship’s office, you have a counter where the staff have to present and ring a bell or call you for attention. The orderly room (aka the ‘hub’) at HQJTF, was a major thoroughfare where personnel had to transit through to see and talk to the ‘Sin Bosun’ naval term for Padre, the Cash Officer or the victualling Store (aka Q Store or Storeroom). My staff consisted of two young female clerks, one RAAF (Movements and Leave) and the other Army (Pay and allowances). We all worked long hours, some more so than others and some of the HQ staff and visitors took it for granted the office was open ‘24/7’. The other challenge was dealing with ‘prima donnas’. It was a really fluid environment, where troops and aircraft arrivals and departures, in particular late arrivals, dictated your working hours and the various ‘damage control’ tasks associated with the events at that time. You had to be flexible and able to handle pressure and changes at a moment’s notice. Most staff had little or no time off and we all adjusted our little recreation or PT training accordingly. The other down side of the job was hitting the deck or taking shelter when the camp came under indirect rocket or mortar attacks (on average, one attack per week). If you really wanted an adrenalin rush, then that was freely available by taking the Rhino ‘Express’ from Cv to the International Zone (IZ). The Rhino is an armour plated bus escorted by two Humvees, that takes approx. 20 mins to travel along Route Irish, the most dangerous road in the world. Most of my time was spent booking accommodation for long term personnel, short term and overnight visitors. Like other Task Groups in the MEAO, HQ was a revolving door for personnel marching in and marching out. Every week the telephone list had to be changed and every fortnight we welcomed new arrivals and farewelled those who had completed their six months ‘tour of duty’. HQ had three vehicles, which were always booked out every day and most popular on weekends when staff went to the Px. I walked everywhere as it was good exercise and a good way to lose weight. My walking consisted of 4.5 km walks around the lake morning and night and twice to the DFAC a total of 13 kms each day, losing just over 4 kgs during my deployment. Going to the Dining Facility (DFAC), and eating the same old meals was monotonous as the eggs were powdered, as were the mashed potatoes. Most of the food, in particular the meat, was pre-cooked in Germany and flown over to Iraq. Once in country, it was reheated, boiled, fried and grilled to ensure there was no flavour left, and above all, no chance of anyone getting food poisoning. I must admit, I enjoyed breakfast as it gave me the opportunity to talk to an American reservist (LTCOL) who was one of three resident Psychiatrists. I could get my daily counselling whilst eating my toast and porridge. Our sleeping quarters consisted of trailers with double bunks and lockers, nothing fancy. Luckily my fellow cabin mates did not snore. The ablutions consisted of three toilets and three showers. With reference to the toilets, they were not built for Australians or Americans, as the toilet seat was very close to the door thus ensuring your knees were up against the door. I had flown out of Baghdad in the RAAF C130 Hercules arriving at Ali Al Salem Air Base (AASAB) in Kuwait late in the afternoon. Like others before me, as a member returning to Australia, I had to be processed; which entailed returning my weapon, body armour and other associated equipment too numerous to describe. Everyone who has served in the MEAO has had to transit through the Australian Forces Logistic Level Asset – Kuwait (FLLA-K) where you also undergo your post deployment medical and psychological de-brief. You have a day to yourself where you can really unwind and prepare for the journey home as well as contemplate the reunion with loved ones. Convoys of trucks and buses arrive and depart AASAB daily. Rows of diesel generators are required for lighting and refrigeration. The Dining Facility can and does feed approx 600 people per hour. Other facilities typical of a base this size and run by the American forces include McDonalds, Subway, Green Beans (24 hour coffee shop), KFC, Chinese Restaurant, Px and 24/7 Gymnasium. In conclusion, all Australians can be justly proud of its serving men and women (including a large contingent of reservists undertaking CFTS), throughout the entire MEAO including our sailors serving in ships in the Gulf region. Our service personnel are fully aware of the dangers associated with their deployment; however, they are well trained, well equipped, dedicated and professional. I wish them a safe and a fulfilled deployment, and more importantly, a speedy return. BY CPoWTR BoB BRIMSoN