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Alaskans Half-Way Home
By SSg Ed Irizarry


August 03, 2005

Camp Victory, Iraq - It has been a long journey for the Alaskan soldiers of Alpha Company, 3rd Bn, 297th Infantry. Now we find ourselves halfway around the world combating terrorism in Iraq. I can't speak for all of us, but I will say... Iraq was the last place I expected to be! Natiional Guard soldiers from the Great State of Alaska - - from cities such as Ketchikan - - just accepted that we had not deployed to a combat zone since WWII. Well what do you know, here we are - deployed to Iraq!

jpg our troops

Our Troops From L-R: PFC Curbow, SGT Hansen, SGT Budke, SSG Irizarry, SPC Smith, SPC Irwin, SGT Poe, SPC Murphy, PFC Dickerson, SGT Barab, SGT Riveria, SPC Davis, SSG Miyasato, SPC Bates, SSG Daniels, SGT Fangonilo, SSG Barlett, SPC Mercer
Photograph courtesy SSG ED Irizarry

Arctic Warriors in Iraq. Arctic Warriors who have trained drill after drill, year after year, waging war in the harsh elements of the Arctic with temperatures that at times dipped to -40 degrees with snow, ice and wind dropping the chill factor to even a colder level. We would brave this Arctic challenge by suiting up into our Bear suits and Gortex. We would lace up our VB (Vapor Barrier) Boots and strap on our snow shoes then load our Akio Sled with our squad equipment and begin our mission.

If you have never walked in chest deep snow wearing snow shoes... well, let's just say it is very amusing to watch someone do this for the first time. Be prepared to have sore ribs from all the laughter. My first thought of myself with my squad towing an Akio Sled came to me in this form... "So this is what it feel like to be a Dog on a Dog Sled Team." And remember, if you are not the lead dog the scenery never changes - just imagine the rest on your own. We learned to build snow caves, digging down to the earth to set up an Arctic tent and light an Arctic stove - think of those tasks and Murphy's Law. Well, you get the picture.

After a night of patrols in Iraq, you wish for -40º temperatures again and the wonderful Alaskan wildlife. Guard duty takes on a whole new meaning when you have grizzly bears in the same AO. Which brings to mind a night on patrol in Alaska when I had a soldier break out of the patrol. Before I could take control of that individual he began to wildly throw his arms in the air and commenced to scream at the top of his lungs. I found myself awed at his enthusiasm. I thought he was either suffering from a robust case of Tourette's syndrome or he was about to demonstrate Mosh pit dancing. What I failed to notice was the large brown bear heading in our direction. Fortunately the big bear also noticed the crazed behavior of the soldier and quickly retreated away from us. I can't say I blame the bear!

On another patrol in Alaska, the rear security ran past screaming something I just couldn't make out. When I finally understood, I turned to see a 1500 pound moose lumbering toward us at the speed of "I can't run fast enough!" Needless to say, you forget about rally points and seek cover behind anything Ol' Bullwinkle can not knock over!

Now in an environment totally opposite to the extremes of the Arctic, we have been very lucky to have been assigned to the United States Army's 299th Infantry and were welcomed with open arms. We have been conducting missions with wonderful results. During our outer perimeter patrols, we have encountered many different situations. We were able to help a family with their son. The child suffered from a seizure disorder and we were able to medivac the child to the safety of the Green Zone for treatment. To this day, the child is still running happily with his siblings.

In the Iraqi farmland west of Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), we were directed by children to seven unexploded ordnances. We called for Explosive Ordnance Disposal to dispose of them and now the children have a safe place to play.

Patrols have helped make good relations with the local Nationals at the Mosque in Al Farat. A large step forward toward security in our AO. Our soldiers man the towers and are the eyes and ears for our patrols on the ground.

We have come a long way and I believe everyone has had a life changing experience in Iraq, for the better. We have become stronger.

I believe I can speak for everyone when I say, " I'll never complain about sub zero temperatures again!"

Half-way to home everyone, Godspeed!



Editor's Note:

The writer of this story, SSg Ed Irizarry, is from Ketchikan, Alaska. Irizarry said they are doing as good as can be expected considering the blistering Iraqi 130º heat. He wrote that "It feels like someone is pointing a hot blow dryer in your face here."

Irizarry sent his story in hopes that it would be published on Sitnews. He said he hoped people can find some humor in it as humor has helped them in Iraq.

Irizarry said, "We here are hanging tough as we can. Though we are getting tired and are awaiting the day we all can come back to the great State of Alaska. Our HOME."


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