(c) 152nd Field Artillery Association, 2009
Monday, July 18, 2005

For 152nd, it's heat, sand, Burger King

By DAVID HENCH, Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright © 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

For the soldiers of Maine's 152nd Maintenance Company, daily life in Iraq has become a monotony of long days in the heat, weighted down by body armor and weaponry, of dust and sand and of the countless trailers that house the thousands of troops stationed at Camp Liberty.

In many ways, it is an environment similar to Fort Bliss, Texas, where the 100-plus Maine soldiers trained for two months before deploying to their forward operating base in Iraq in April. But in Iraq, there is the frequent sound of explosions and small arms fire erupting throughout Baghdad, a constant reminder of the war zone and the danger there.

The sounds help drive home the importance of the security missions many of the 152nd have been assigned when they are not maintaining military vehicles.

"If there is a place where 25 or more soldiers or civilians can gather, we have to safeguard it," wrote Spc. Sri Lausier of Portland, one of several Maine soldiers who wrote to share their impressions of Camp Liberty with readers of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Force protection can be a thankless job, she said, with civilians and contractors resenting the searches they must undergo and soldiers irritated by routine identity checks, but it is a mission the Mainers take seriously. Two members of Maine's 133rd Engineer Battalion were killed in December by a suicide bomber in the dining hall at Forward Operating Base Marez. A third was killed by a roadside bomb last April.

"We are the ones doing our best to ensure that nothing like that happens to us or anyone else again," Lausier said.

The Mainers tend to work three 12-hour days and three six-hour days followed by a day off.

"What gives us the most satisfaction is (air conditioning), going to the post pool and technology," wrote Sgt. Alpha Williams of Hallowell. "It is nice to be able to get on the computer and be able to communicate with loved ones back home." Using instant messaging with a webcam allows soldiers to actually see and talk to their families, Williams said.

Williams described the living arrangements as "like a big trailer park." There are two soldiers to a room, six to a trailer. Many have added refrigerators and DVD players to their rooms to make down time more tolerable.

The rooms are air-conditioned, a welcome relief from 115-degree heat made even more grueling by the protective but bulky Interceptor Body Armor soldiers wear on duty. The bathrooms are nice, they report, compared to the portable toilets in Kuwait.

The base has a shop area where there is also Burger King, Popeye's Chicken, Cinnabon and a market area where Iraqis sell their products. The dining facility serves four times a day, and "offers enough food so no one would ever go hungry," said Staff Sgt. Robert E. Seavey of Old Orchard Beach.

Blowing sand is almost inescapable. "Some days it's even hard to see the sun," Seavey said.

"Taking a shower during a sandstorm is almost pointless, as you are as covered in sand and sweat when you get back to your room as you were when you left your room," Lausier said.

It has not rained since the beginning of April, and it is not due to rain for months.

"Seeing some trees or green grass actually makes me pretty happy now, even if it is pretty foreign looking," said Spc. Raymond Roussel of Gardiner.

Many of Maine's soldiers are referred to as Fobbits - someone who never leaves the "wire," which is the security perimeter around the Forward Operating Base, said Lausier. Her glimpses of the city beyond the camp come when exercising, running to the top of a hill that reminds her of Portland's Munjoy Hill or around the 3.5-mile perimeter of a lake that reminds her of Back Cove.

Those who do get outside the camp perimeter have been moved by the stark contrast between the poverty of many Iraqi citizens and the extravagance of Saddam Hussein's palaces, estates and private hunting areas.

At one security point, locals working at an Iraqi police station like to show off what they know of English and are eager to teach Arabic, said Sgt. Cullen Wilson of Old Town. Children have picked up useful phrases like " 'Hey mister, give me Pepsi,' " he said.

The days blur together and that's not necessarily a bad thing, he said.

"The days seem to go by all the same, but go by quickly and the weeks seem to go as fast," Wilson said. "Fast is good because the homesick feeling for my wife and daughter is one that doesn't go away."

Spc. Tyler Bickford of Limestone, who helps maintain radios and communications for the higher headquarters the 152nd is assigned to, said he appreciates the equipment the soldiers have been issued.

"The gloves that we got issued to us at Fort Bliss came in handy because of having to handle equipment that has been in 110-degree heat all day," he said. "The new chemical equipment we received seems much less cumbersome. I just pray we never have to use it. The Interceptor Body Armor is good, but hot. It seems that it would provide more protection than the former version, though."

The brigade the 152nd is assigned to is from Louisiana and the unit includes platoons from Washington and Iowa.

"We are a melting pot of three states, a mixture of mechanics, teachers, carpenters and storeowners," said Capt. Christopher Moody of Appleton. "Despite the diversity, we all have a common goal of accomplishing whatever mission is thrown at us with quiet professionalism."

"We are scheduled to be here for approximately a year, so the unit has settled into the mindset that we are in a marathon, not a sprint," Moody said. "Despite the time away, our soldiers are getting a valuable experience that will stay with them for a lifetime. Most will come away from this experience more mature, articulate, and globally seasoned. Maine has a longstanding tradition of excellence in soldiering, and the 152 carries that torch forward."

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

Photo by Christopher Moody

Dust blows over Camp Liberty, where the 152nd Maintenance Company of the Maine Army National Guard is stationed. "Some days it's even hard to see the sun," said Staff Sgt. Robert Seavey of Old Orchard Beach.
Photo by Christopher Moody

Staff Sgt. Robert Seavey of Old Orchard Beach works on a computer in the parts trailer. The 152nd maintains military vehicles but sometimes goes out on security missions.