Cleaning up before clearing out
January 11, 2004
CAMP DOHA, Kuwait — With his face speckled with mud, Pfc. Dave Oja took a smoke break after nearly 24 hours of scrubbing Iraqi soil from his truck at the wash rack.
Thousands of troops who’ve spent a year in combat would love to be in his soggy boots.
Soldiers know the marathon showering of vehicles and equipment is the final hurdle for units heading home.
“It’s the last step to get out of here,” said Oja, 22, of Rudyard, Mich. “Everyone’s pulling together.”
Oja’s unit, the Germany-based 94th Engineer Battalion, was one of the first V Corps units mobilized last January to support the war. Known as Wolverines, soldiers from the battalion arrived in Kuwait in late December to prepare for the trip back to bases in Vilseck, Hohenfels and Grafenwöhr. They should all be home by early February.
Before soldiers can load their equipment onto boats at the Port of Ash Shu’aybeh, they have to clear a rigid agricultural inspection by military police working as customs agents. Last week, Oja and his comrades crept into the hard-to-reach places with pressured water hoses and washrags.
“There’s a lot of little nooks and crannies,” Oja said.
Soaked through to the skin, Pvt. Dustin Munson, 19, of Shirley, N.Y., lit a cigarette and checked his watch. The mechanics had worked for 24 hours, with just a two-hour break, Munson said. Despite the soldiers’ best efforts, sergeants working for customs still found dirty places the soldiers overlooked.
“It sucks. They’ll reach their finger at something you didn’t see,” Munson said. “After a year in Iraq, it’s hard to get these trucks clean. But no soil will leave this country.”
The arduous duty is really nothing compared to what the battalion has done over the past 12 months, soldiers said.
Wolverines smoothed roads for 3rd Infantry Division’s drive to Baghdad, building logistical infrastructure just behind the front lines, said Lt. Col. Paul Grosskruger, 42, a 1983 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who hails from Andrew, Iowa.
Once in the Iraqi capital, 94th soldiers spearheaded Task Force Neighborhood, a cleanup operation then-V Corps Commander Lt. Gen. William Wallace devised to rid Baghdad of mountains of garbage and lakes of sewage.
Sweltering under the summer sun, occupation duties turned deadly as Iraqi insurgents began using roadside bombs to ambush passing troops. In July, two engineers from battalion’s 535th Engineer Company were injured by an improvised explosive device, known to troops as an IED.
On Nov. 11, Spc. Marlon Jackson, 25, a heavy-equipment operator from Jamaica, was killed by an IED. Two other troops were wounded in the attack, Grosskruger said.
By Christmas, the battalion traveled south to Camp Virginia, Kuwait. Once their equipment is cleaned, they will load gear onto boats and fly home.
“It’s been a time for closure,” Grosskruger said. “The troops can see, we’re going home. We made it through Iraq.”