1-24th soldiers didn't have to wait long to see combat in Iraq
November 9, 2004
FORWARD OPERATING BASE MAREZ, Iraq — After less than a month in Iraq, nearly every unit in the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment has seen action.
Several 1-24th soldiers, members of the 25th Infantry Division’s Stryker Brigade Combat Team, will get Purple Hearts, and hundreds already have qualified for the Combat Infantryman Badge.
A few weeks ago, less than 5 percent of the battalion’s light infantry soldiers had any combat experience. But an abrupt and forceful introduction to life near Mosul, a city in northern Iraq, caused that percentage to grow exponentially.
A few days after arriving, a mortar slammed through an aluminum trailer where a soldier lived. Fortunately, the soldier was not in it.
Mortar rounds continue to hit the small camp daily. Outside the wire, explosives have engulfed vehicles and gunfire has sprayed around soldiers on patrol.
Still, they seem unruffled in their new environment.
“It’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” said Spc. Steven Chelossi, a Stryker driver for Company C. “I didn’t expect full combat, but I was expecting more fire. I was expecting a lot more action.”
Mortars landing 100 yards away scarcely raise an eyebrow these days.
“We really did a good job of preparing everyone before coming over here,” said battalion commander Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla. “For six months we talked about it.”
The previous battalion sent updates and experiences along with mission briefings so the 1-24th soldiers back in Fort Lewis, Wash., could train with real-life scenarios.
Soldiers arrived knowing the hazards and expecting a combat lifestyle.
“The living conditions are a little bit better than I thought they would be,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Owens with the headquarters company. He expected to live in a tent with field showers, the way things were during his time in the first Gulf War.
“The first time we had to make [the showers] ourselves,” he said. Here, the showers are in trailers, and they are cleaned daily.
Soldiers expected to miss family and have few places to go off duty, but they didn’t expect the gut-wrenching adjustments they’d have to make after they arrived. About 50 soldiers have contracted stomach bugs or respiratory illnesses.
About five soldiers a day visit the medical aid center with serious diarrhea. They want something to get them back out on missions fast.
“The guys unfortunately can’t stay home for the day and get over it,” said Capt. Bradley Warr, the battalion’s physician assistant.
Medical staff have given out cases of hand sanitizer and reminded troops of the consequences of poor hygiene to overcome the problem.
“It’s kind of like school kids, a lot of people touching things and not taking care of themselves,” Warr said. “Nothing that we didn’t anticipate.”
Despite combat, illness and separation from home, soldiers rate their short experience pretty high.
“I’ve never eaten so much ice cream in my life,” said Carr, praising the chow hall.
Many soldiers have built porches outside their trailers and added carpeting inside.
They could do with a few more telephones to call home and a real post exchange for supplies, Chelossi said. But in general, the first month has been fine, mortars and all.
“It’s a lot better than we thought,” he said, adding one caveat: “It smells. I didn’t expect that.”