Busy or bored: Six months on an Iraqi oil rig
Six months is a long time to live in a shipping container on a giant steel grate at least 85 feet above the ocean.
That’s a lot of metal, a lot of salt, a lot of sun, and why sailors with Mobile Security Squadron 7, Detachment 73, at U.S. Naval Base Guam are happy to be home.
But despite the austere living in the northern Persian Gulf, there was something special about the deployment, the sailors said, because of the importance of the mission and camaraderie that grew from toughing it on an oil rig 14 miles out to sea.
More than 60 sailors deployed with the squadron in mid-September — mostly masters-at-arms but also a few gunner’s mates and two corpsmen. Half returned March 24, and the rest arrived on Guam on Friday.
Their job was to train Iraqi marine platoons in guarding Iraq’s two off-shore oil terminals, Basra and Khwar Al Amaya, said Navy Lt. Aaron Bergman, the squadron’s officer in charge, in a phone interview from Guam on Monday. They also were there to back up the Iraqi marines if the platforms were attacked, Bergman said.
Then there was the business of living.
“We were it,” Bergman said. “We cooked our own food, did our own dishes, cleaned, painted, preserved, on top of the normal duties we had to do for training and protection of the platform.”
Food, picked up regularly in Kuwait by small boat, was easier to come by than water.
Indeed, water was everywhere, but was only drinkable after a process to remove the salt.
Maintaining those reverse osmosis pumps — one on each platform — was almost a full-time job in itself, Bergman said.
Life on the platforms was an uneven rhythm of 18-to-20-hour workdays interspersed with the occasional “absolutely nothing to do,” Bergman said.
Sailors used free time to build shelves or desks to enhance living areas. They worked out, read and studied for college courses, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Gregory Chaney, 25, of Dallas, a master-at-arms.
They also went through seven footballs because “sometimes they’d fall in the water,” Chaney said. “We brought the first two, then had the next five mailed to us.”
Chaney was on the sea marshal team, which boarded oil vessels to check clearance and sweep for explosives, riding the ship until it moored at the platform.
“I enjoyed the mission,” Chaney said. “I think everyone did, for the most part. It’s a good group of guys we were all with. Out there, you feel like you’re actually doing something.”
Under the Guam sailors’ watch, about 13 billion barrels of fuel was pumped from the platforms, Bergman said.
“The amount of cash that flowed through there was phenomenal,” he said. “That’s basically what’s supporting the Iraqi government completely. In that regard, we really do feel like we were contributing.”
Chaney said the deployment taught him to appreciate his life more — and not just because his shipping container was stacked three-high, 140 feet above sea water.
“When you see their situation,” he said of the Iraqi marines, “the home life, how they grew up, how little money they make, just how hard their life has been. [It makes you realize] how much you take for granted.”