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PROFILE: The Worst Part of a Tour in Iraq?  The Cold, Says a UC Student

While recently stationed at “Mortar-itaville” about 30 miles north of Baghdad – where temperatures reached upwards of 120 degrees in the shade – one of the worst enemies that Greg Elliott faced was the cold.

Date: 7/11/2005 8:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Submitted by Greg Elliott
UC ingot University of Cincinnati student Greg Elliott, 20, spent fall and winter quarters far from his accustomed College of Applied Science classrooms.  Instead, as a member of the Ohio Air National Guard, Greg volunteered for service in Iraq.  In fact, he was one of 23 members of the 123rd Air Control Squadron, headquartered in Blue Ash, to choose to serve there, shipping out last September.   

Greg inside the afterburner of an old Iraqi MIG

“I was practically begging to go,” states Greg, now a second-year electrical engineering student.  “There were a lot of reasons that led to that.  My Dad and all my uncles did military service.  Plus, I was wearing the uniform of the Air Force reserve, and people kept asking me if I’d been in Iraq.  It bothered me, and I felt that if I was wearing the uniform, I should be willing to completely fulfill what that meant.”

So, rather quickly, Greg, a 2002 graduate of Fairfield High School and a resident of Fairfield, found himself part of the 332nd Expeditionary Air Wing in Iraq.  He was pulling escort duty and performing maintenance on radios, radar antenna and other equipment required at the base which provides air control for all of Iraq.

During the day, temperatures reached between 120 to 130 degrees in the shade during the summer, according to Greg, but that wasn’t the worst of it, he contends.  “I pulled night shift almost my whole time there.  For me, the cold was the worst,” he explains, adding, “As hot as it got during the day, it got very cold at night [in the winter].  You’d be out fixing antennas, keeping radios up and going, cleaning joints and filters all the time, and it would be very cold to be out at night doing this kind of careful work.”

And then boredom set in.  Greg worked 12-hour nights, but then, sleep was sometimes difficult with mortars flying overhead and the occasional breakdown of the air-conditioning unit that had him, literally, waking up in a sweat.

“There’s a lot of downtime, and you can’t go to town or anywhere off base.  So, I finished the first novel I ever read in my life,” he laughs.

Greg wasn’t exactly laughing about some other novel experiences.  He recalls, “I was asleep in the tent.  It was about 1 p.m. one day.  I woke up to hear the whistle of a mortar becoming clearer and closer.  It sounded like it was coming right over my tent, but it fortunately landed nearby instead, shaking the whole tent.”

Greg poses in front of an old portrait of Saddam Hussein

Another time, Greg was assigned escort duty, meaning he had to escort Iraqis who worked on the base to their assigned tasks and remain with them throughout the day.  “Most of the locals working there have done so for 40 years.  And, actually, most of them thanked us for our presence.  Things were really bad for them under Saddam, and I respected them.  They risked their lives just to come to work,” says Greg. 

One day however, he saw a worker putting a metal object into his pocket after showing it to another worker.  Greg became concerned because if it was a cell phone, it could be used as a precise targeting beacon.  Recalls Greg, “I told him to show me what he had, but he just turned to walk away.  I had to pull the bolt on my rifle.  I guess I scared him, and he immediately put up his hands.  We searched his pockets, and it was only watches that he was selling.”

Greg said these and other experiences helped him to learn how to watch out for himself, such that he actually hopes to return to duty in Iraq.  He does admit, “My Mom told me she’d break both my legs before she’d let that happen.”

Yes, people were killed on the base all the time due to mortar attacks.  Car bombs near the entrance of the base are also a recurring reality.  Still, Greg wants to go back.  He explains, “I felt like I was doing something important.  I worked harder and took pride in what I was doing.  We had the mission at hand, and the day I left was just before the elections there.  The locals were really excited and pumped up.  To be part of that is big.”    

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