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Nearly nine years ago on April 7, 2003, I tagged along with soldiers from the US Army’s 3rd Battalion, 69th Regiment Armor Task Force “Speed And Power” who were serving as the “Point of the Spear” for the 3rd Infantry Division during the Iraq invasion. Entering Baghdad, the 3-69 Task Force fought their way into the Baghdad airport and then took the sprawling Saddam Hussein Al Faw palace grounds which would later be renamed Camp Victory.ambien online pharmacy
Today, that base – Camp Victory – was handed over to the Iraqi government as part of American efforts to move all U.S. troops out of the country by the end of this year.buy ambien online
“The base is no longer under U.S. control and is under the full authority of the government of Iraq,” said U.S. military spokesman Co. Barry Johnson.ambien for sale
One of the most memorable photos I remember taking during those early months in Iraq was of a soldier from Charlie Company who had just entered the Al Faw palace. After the soldiers assaulted the main palace and took control of the structure, one soldier stepped to an upper opening and signaled all was fine. At the time, it felt as if the main objective was nearly complete. I didn’t have any idea that the war would continue on for most of a decade.buy ambien without prescription
As it turned out, the battle for the grounds wasn’t as intense as that for the Saddam Hussein International Airport just hours earlier or the many other battles along the way from Kuwait through Karbala, Najaf and Al Kifl to name a few but this one was important.
It had been a tough road up to Baghdad. After I crossed the Euphrates River in a zodiac boat with soldiers assaulting Objective Peach and commanders decided almost immediately to continue the assault to the airport. Journalist Michael Kelly somehow caught up with 3-69 after the remarkable river crossing at Objective Peach while they paused to prepare for the push. He wanted to be along for the final run into Baghdad.
I had been with 3-69 the entire way and making room for another journalist was just not available up front. There was room in the battalion train but Michael would have to travel well back in the column and he would arrive after the soldiers captured the airport.
I had met Michael back in Kuwait weeks before. I had always admired his work. Standing there in a dirty t-shirt near the Euphrates trying not to show his disappointment, he wished me the best, told me to be careful and then said he would see me at the airport.
Things were moving pretty fast and furious during those moments after Object Peach and after jumping into the vehicle I was riding, I remarked to the guys how stupid I was, “Man, I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of myself with Michael Kelly. That was Michael Kelly!”
During the assault on the airport, I rode with Capt. Todd Kelly in his Bradley as his company was the first through the walls of the Saddam Hussein Airport on the outskirts of Baghdad. The company had moved so fast in the early morning attack, that it seemed the Iraqi Army had no idea the Americans were even there on the airport grounds. With no fight, the company sat on the airport tarmac and waited for the rest of the battalion to catch up.
I sat there listening to the radio traffic during the relative calm at the airport when suddenly things instantly took a turn for the worse. As the other elements tried to catch up to those already at the airport, frantic words started coming over the radio and made me feel for the first time in weeks utterly helpless.
Michael Kelly was traveling in a vehicle with a soldier when the vehicle was fired upon by Iraqi soldiers. The vehicle carrying Kelly and Army Staff Sergeant Wilbert Davis veered off an embankment and into a canal below. Both men died in the accident. Kelly was the first American reporter officially killed in action in Iraq.
I had just become friends with Michael Kelly and listening to the events transpire over the radio of their death has got to be one of the hardest things I have ever experienced in my life.
I was helpless to help. Michael Kelly was 46 when he died. Today, I am just a few months short of my 46th birthday.
The last story Michael Kelly filed describes the the battle for Objective Peach and was published the day he was killed heading to Baghdad.
After 3-69 and other 3rd ID elements took the airport, there was a pause in the battle for a day or so before the battalion moved and took the palace grounds of nearby Al Faw.
The sprawling complex would become the main American base through the entire war where the highest-ranking generals communicated with commanders in the field and political leaders in Washington. This was the place a jailed Saddam Hussein tended to tomatoes and cucumbers in a small, walled-off enclosure during his trial and later execution.
I traveled through Camp Victory a number of times through the years but as it grew into an American base complete with Taco Bell and Burger King and at one point housing nearly 46,000 people, it was definitely never the same place it was in April 2003.
During the brief battle when soldiers were still under fire from the grounds on the first day of entering Al Faw, I remember calling home on a sat phone to Dale Maurer, a family member who is a master electrician in Ohio, seeking help and advice on how to get an Iraqi generator running. Al Faw was completely powerless and dark and in pretty rough shape from a few direct U.S. bombing missions. Any sort of power and lights would have been great, I jokingly told Dale any help in getting this generator up and running would be vital to the war effort.
Today, as the Americans departed. Camp Victory was a bit more substantial than the day 3-69 rolled through the gates of a powerless and destroyed palace.
By the numbers supplied by the U.S. military:
— The incinerators destroyed an average of 178,000 pounds of waste a day.
— A water purification plant produced 1.85 million gallons of water a day.
— A bottled water plant filled 500,000 one-liter bottles a day.
— Three separate plants produced 60 megawatts of power a day.
Well, back in 2003, they never did get that Iraqi generator working and Dale couldn’t understand what all the loud noises and explosions were coming from the other end of his phone.