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Minnesota National Guard
Eric Bowen Blog 2-17-07

BREAKING NEWS: Bravo Company 2/136 moving to TQ

FALLUJAH, ANBAR, IRAQ - Bravo Company 2nd Battalion 136th Infantry, 34th Brigade Combat Team, Minnesota National Guard, currently based in Fallujah, Iraq, just received the official news that it will be moving from Fallujah to "TQ" TQ is the base where to rest of the 2nd Battalion 136th Infantry is stationed

Bravo Company has been in limbo for the past month since the surge was announced, and the entire 34th Brigade Combat Team's tour in Iraq was extended by four months Before the surge was announced, a Marine Corps infantry battalion was scheduled to replace Bravo Company in Fallujah, and they began to arrive this week in accordance with the pre-surge planning

With the arrival of Bravo Company's Marine Corps replacements this week there has been a debate as to how best to use Bravo Company The Marines were expecting to take over Bravo Company's present offices, housing, motor pool, and equipment including things like crew served weapons and radios

With two units contending for the same scarce resources, the decision was made to return Bravo Company to Army control, and let the Marines take full responsibility for the security of Camp Fallujah, which is primarily a Marine Corps base

The mood of Bravo Company Soldiers was generally positive at today's announcement TQ has better amenities, like phone service, and recreational facilities And the rumor mill claims that the chow hall there is better

There has been no official announcement as to Bravo Company's mission at TQ, but the general expectation is that it will be considerably safer, not involving the sorts of offensive combat operations that the company has been engaged in around Camp Fallujah for the past 6 months


BALAD (AKA: "ANACONDA"), IRAQ - Disembodied voice, closely followed by two distant explosions, "Take cover Take cover We are receiving an indirect fire attack" I've been here for 4 hours, and this is the second time I have heard this announcement A few of my fellow passengers pick up their body armor, and jog to the nearest bunker, but most don't even seem to notice

I put on my body armor, and taking note of the lack of a general sense of urgency around me, I wander outside to check out the scene There is a small cluster of transients gathered nervously inside the entrance of the nearest bunker, but the local civilian employees are still chatting in the smoking area Protected from incoming mortar rounds apparently, by cigarette smoke and laissez fair

I'm at the Balad fixed wing passenger terminal (AKA: "The PAX Terminal") waiting for a flight to Kuwait In this case "terminal" describes a group of long green Army tents with plywood floors, and sandbag walls There are three tents that I've gotten to know over the past few hours

The first tent is the ticket counter, where three KBR employees stand behind desktop computers There is a large whiteboard that lists the days flights arriving and departing for places named: BIAQ, TQ, Kuwait International, Ali Al Saleem, Mosul, and Al Asad, to name a few

The second tent is innocuously named B-2, but it is really a never-never land of cots and sleeping Soldiers, where you go to wait indefinitely in hopes that there will be space for you on a flight that is going your way People can wait here for days, I had been told to allow at least 3 days to get from Fallujah to Kuwait

I wait here for a few hours, and then go back to the first tent to check on my status My first choice flight has been cancelled There is another flight in two hours, but it doesn't have any seats The woman tells me be back at 7:20 am to see if there are any no shows for the full flight

At 7:30 I'm waiting at the counter in hopes of an open seat A new shift has started since that last time I was here, and the woman working the counter seems irritated by my Press ID, and the fact that I'm making her call to check on the status of "line 10", the flight to Ali Al Saleem, Kuwait She doesn't seem to have any desire to answer a direct question, but she takes my Press ID and tells me to go to a third tent

Tent A-3 has lines of benches setup like a church pews, and they are full of Soldiers Outside is a small group of civilians, and a few older more senior Soldiers I join the outside group, and soon start a conversation with a middle aged Sergeant from the Tennessee National Guard who is on his way to Qatar on a 4 day pass A Lieutenant Colonel from the Maryland National Guard joins our conversation She is stationed in Kuwait, or "confined" as she describes it, and is returning to her unit from a "vacation" in Iraq She has a 7 year old daughter at home, who she hasn't seen since July

Happily, tent A-3 is the waiting area for passengers who have been manifested on the next flight It would have been nice of the KBR lady at the counter to explain this to me Within a few minutes a seasoned Army master sergeant begins a roll call of the flight manefest He is on his way to R&R, and has been press ganged into the job by a KBR employee who can't seem to be bothered to do it himself

We stack our bags on the side of the road, and a group of civilian contractors palletizes them so that they can be loaded onto the aircraft in one forklift friendly bundle Then we board busses to the flight line, and proceed to pack 72 humans into a C130 bound for Kuwait The seats are just as uncomfortable as last time, but I'm on my way home

Posted by Eric Bowen at 4:20 AM

The Mechanics

FALLUJAH, ANBAR, IRAQ - Normally, mechanics at the company level are just responsible for basic servicing: oil, tires, light repairs, basic stuff For anything serious, they just pass it on up the chain to the next higher level of maintenance

The vehicle's operator is responsible for first level maintenance: known as Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services (PMCS) This basically means checking the oil, and making sure the lights work

Company level maintenance is second level and the next level is the battalion, or "third shop" as it colloquially known in the Army There are additional levels beyond the third shop, ending at "depot level" maintenance This same scheme applies to all Army equipment, such as radios and weapons, not just vehicles

Bravo Company is technically part of the larger 2nd Battalion 136th Infantry, but the rest of the battalion is located on another base several hours away on the other side of Fallujah And so practically Bravo Company has been on it's own as far as it's normal maintenance chain Fortunately, Camp Fallujah is a major Marine Corps headquarters, and there are higher level Marine Corps maintenance units available to help out the Bravo mechanics

However, according to SSG Hausauer, a Bravo Company mechanic, the third shop on Camp Fallujah was so slow, that after the first month they just started doing higher level maintenance themselves They ordered additional tools and manuals, and started teaching themselves how to do things

The Bravo Company mechanics were trained as Bradley Fighting Vehicle mechanics, and didn't have any previous experience working on HMMV's, but they dug in and figured it out Over time they worked their way up to doing most major HMMV maintenance themselves including replacing engines SGT Resindez the chief troubleshooter, figuring out many of the new problems as they came along

The Marines don't use the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and so there weren't any other Bradley mechanics on Camp Fallujah to turn to The Bravo Company mechanics started figuring out the high level maintenance tasks on this vehicle as well, including pulling turrets

Every several weeks the mechanics have had to go "outside the wire" with their tracked tank retriever, to recover vehicles that had broken down, or been damaged by IED's Normally when they head out to do a recovery they have a security element provided by the Camp Fallujah Quick Reaction Force (QRF), which is staffed 24 hours a day by Bravo Company Soldiers

Trips outside the wire to recover battle damaged vehicles are real combat missions into hostile areas, and the mechanics have to be prepared In addition Camp Fallujah experienced frequent indirect fire attacks (mortars and rockets) during the first 9 months that Bravo Company was there Including having mortar shells land right outside the motor pool

During the Iraq summer with temperatures climbing to over 120 degrees, and the Bravo Company mechanics experimented with working nights, in an effort to stay cooler Unfortunately, the Marines were only working days, and they couldn't get parts or deal with issued that required help from the Marines at night, and so they ended up continuing to work days in the scorching heat

With the pending move to TQ, it is unclear what the Bravo Company mechanics will be responsible for, during the final four months of their extended tour

Posted by Eric Bowen at 4:57 AM

Thank you for your support!

This trip has been really more of a labor of love and voyage of personal exploration than "work" I don't think there is any hope of it breaking even financially, but it has definitely been worth it personally, and I have learned a ton about how to do the next one

I have received hundreds of very supportive and thankful emails from family members and citizens who value and appreciate what I'm doing I have also received generous cash donations from the following individuals:

Jeff McIntosh
Blue Skies Glassworks
Cindy McLean
Mark Keefe
Mohan Komanduri
Rod Stroud
Paul Brazelton
Betsy Bowen
Deborah Doran

And of course none of this would be possible without the amazing support of my lovely wife, Sara Thanks!

I'm not sure what the next trip will be, but I am definitely inspired to look for other opportunities for independent photojournalistic coverage of stories that aren't being told

Posted by Eric Bowen at 5:34 AM
Article source plus photos and video: http://ericiniraq.blogspot.com/2007/02/technical-difficulties.html

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