One of my best friends and fraternity brother Nate Reierson recently returned from a one year tour of duty in Iraq with the North Dakota National Guard. He is now back in Grand Forks all safe and sound. However our other friend and brother Andy “Jew” Erickson has now taken his place with a different North Dakota National Guard unit. Following is a brief account of Nate´s time overseas that he wrote for our fraternity newsletter:
As I write this, I sit on my five legged cot. A buddy of mine fat-assed the sixth leg. I’m in a leaky tent, but we have electricity, heat, internet, and even a TV station, (Armed Forces Network), and most importantly I sit inside the wire. My favorite place to be. I am near the Syrian border, and it has been a journey of ten months that got me here.
My Company landed in Kuwait on April 24, 2003. It seems a lifetime ago. From Kuwait Airport, we were bussed to Camp Virginia, Kuwait, where another brother and close friend of mine, Andy Erickson, now sits. We retrieved our equipment and waited to go north. My company is a multi-role bridge company (MRBC), and our secondary mission is transportation, so it wasn’t long before we were hauling crappers to Baghdad (no joke) among other things.
After a couple of haul missions I found myself on our advance party at Camp Anaconda, Balad, Iraq. It is located 30 miles north of Baghdad. Here I filled sandbags, setup tents, and all the other sorts of b.s. required to get the camp ready for our people. This is what I did until June.
We then got an order for a boat patrol mission in Baghdad. We loaded up our boats, (think Apocalypse Now without the guns) and headed into Baghdad. We got lost in downtown and ran over a couple of cars, not observing traffic laws is great and I highly recommend it if your vehicle is big enough. We eventually arrived at some little base I can’t recall the name of. From this base we patrolled the Tigris river, looking for weapons runners, any sort of trouble, and unruly ruffians. This mission lasted for about three weeks and was by far my most enjoyable time here. We searched a ton of boats, got shot at, took a few people in, recovered a body and all sorts of fun stuff. This was before the realities of war set in.
After that mission was completed, we returned to Anaconda. It was around this time we had our first casualties. Jon Fettig was killed in an ambush near Ramadi, and Brandon Erickson was wounded and lost an arm. Brandon is a student at UND, Jon left behind a wife in Dickinson. Even now it is hard to believe he is gone.
Shortly after that incident I went down to Camp Virginia, to spend six days with our rear detachment. These six days turned into nearly two months due to various difficulties with transporting us out. I was in a safe environment, but it was a miserable time for me. I was separated from my soldiers and friends. During this time our commander was relieved- it was a welcome change for me.
I finally returned to Camp Anaconda. We then pulled a couple of convoys throughout Iraq, hauling various things to various places. We finally got an order to do what we are trained to do, build a bridge. We got prepared and headed out. We arrived at our destination and got out final preparations in order, and headed out to the bridge site. We were supported by a couple of choppers, M-1 Abrams, M-2 Bradleys, and a few other light vehicles. We started to put in our ribbon bridge. To do this you drop floating sections, called bays into the water with our trucks and assemble them with our boats. For this mission I was the NCO in charge (IC) of the engineer equipment point (EEP). My job was to get all our equipment prepped and down to the water. We completed the assembly of the bridge around noon. Shortly after that the mortars started falling on our site. It sucked. We had AK fire, RPGs and mortars pounding our position. We then witnessed the destructive fire power of the US military. All our security elements unleashed hell. M-1s and Bradleys tore up our attackers, and the choppers pitched in. We continued with our mission. We still had to anchor our bridge with an overhead cable system and retrieve our boats. The mortars fell twice more that day, but no more direct attacks. Darkness fell and the call was made to pull the majority of our company back to camp and leave our boats, key personnel and security at the site. It was a long night both at camp and on the water.
The next day we arrive at the site at dawn and got back to work on the frickin overhead anchorage. Fortunately it was a quite night at the site, It didn’t last long. The mortars started falling again, and fell three times that day. We’d dive for cover and than get back to work. Night fell and found us not quit done. I stayed on site this night, and was behind a .50 cal. This night was a little longer than the last for me. It was quite again, and our company showed up at dawn. We finally finished and pulled out late on the third day. All said and done we had a couple of people with light injuries, a couple of vehicles with light damage, a few enemies killed, a few dozen captured and a crapload of frayed nerves. We were exhausted as we arrived back at camp and had a couple of days of hard earned rest. We than headed back to Anaconda.
We got word when we arrived that we had orders to move to FOB Ridgeway, near Falluja. We packed up all our crap and once again headed out. I went to Ramadi with 12 other people for another boat patrol. This time on the Euphrates river in Ramadi. This mission was a security patrol for the US installations along the river. It was thankfully an uneventful time.
After about a month I went to Ridgeway. I was back with the company for about a week and got orders to head out for a weapons cache demolition mission. Myself and 20 others headed close to the Jordan border for this mission. Here we blew up over 6 million pounds of enemy ordinance. It was here I learned of our greatest loss. Sgt. Keith Smette and Ssg. Kenny Hendrickson were killed in action. I was with Keiths younger brother Rob and it was the most difficult thing I have ever been through. Rob is also a student at UND. Keith was attending NDSU and Kenny left behind a wife, and I believe two kids in Bismarck. The sadness of these losses will be with me for a long time.
After we finished the weapons cache, myself and four others headed to were I am now, with 13 others maintaining the bridge we put in. From here hopefully we will link up with the rest of the company and head straight to Kuwait, but only time will tell.
I have learned a lot about myself and life here, a lifetimes worth. I realize that tomorrow is not a guarantee. I’ve known how close you can grow to a group of strangers. This has been a time where I have experienced every emotion possible, experienced highs and lows beyond anything I have ever known. I have never been prouder of myself, or prouder to be an American. I would give anything to bring back the people we have lost, but would not trade this experience for anything less.