100th Battalion's values live on in Iraq
By Harold P. Estabrooks
The 100th Battalion was formed of Americans of Japanese ancestry, or Nisei, in the early days of World War II and went off to fight with extraordinary valor in the mountains of Italy and the forests of France. It later became the first battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team but retained its own identity and colors, as it does today as part of the mobilized 29th Brigade Combat Team.
BALAD, Iraq — Our area of operations is north of Baghdad, close to the town of Balad. We are bordered by the Tigris River to our north and the main supply route to our south.
The area is mainly farmlands made fertile by canals built by Sudanese slaves a few centuries back. The canals do a great job for the fields but pose significant obstacles to our soldiers. The Iraqis grow wheat, tomatoes, okra, sunflowers and cucumbers and have some really nice orchards full of grapes, apples, oranges, pomegranates and dates. The farmlands are also great places to hide caches of weapons and ammunition.
We patrol 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is hard on the men but that's why they joined the 100th. We have lots of contact with local people, who are poor and lack just about everything we take for granted in the States. Water, electricity, plumbing, healthcare, roads — there is dire need for all of this, and government will have to figure this out.
There are a zillion kids, but they have trouble with the word "share" and have no time to wait. They speak a little English like "Mr. Mongoria" — mongoria is candy and they know the soldiers have a little something for them. They are like any other kids, they love to laugh and have their pictures taken, and they love to outfit their bikes with the latest gadgets.
I get to meet with the local sheiks — family leaders, much like the "matai" in Samoan culture. I believe that one of the reasons we are doing as well as we are is directly related to the Island culture. Our soldiers are much more open to differences in culture and ways of life.
I get to meet with some of the local politicians who are well educated and want a better future. But I think that everyone is still in the "survival mode," taking care of "me" and "mine." It will be a while before they come to understand the "we" and "us."
Some of our missions are to clear routes of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and VBIEDs (vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices), counter rocket and mortar, cordon and searches, counter sniper, patrols (both mounted and dismounted), raids and ambushes. We have a platoon that works an entry control point. We also work closely with the Iraq army and police.
The Iraqis are good soldiers but sometimes their loyalty to their village gets in the way, so we try to use them on operations that do not require them to patrol in their villages.
The average daytime temperature is around 110 degrees and on bad days it goes to 120 in the shade, but we have not had a problem with dehydration or heat injuries. All of the water that we consume is bottled; we have a good ice source.
The chow is the best we've seen during this deployment; the food at Schofield Barracks was good but that at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Polk, La., was without a doubt the worst of my 19-year career.
We are housed in hard buildings, in two- or three-man rooms, and again it is the best we have had. Compared to the rest of Iraq, we cannot complain.
We have a PX and movies but our soldiers are very busy and get little time off to do anything but sleep.
This is good for me as they are too tired to get into trouble. We have an excellent laundry service so clothes stay clean. The soldiers will be spoiled when they get home.
Latrines and showers are in trailers that are well kept by international workers and offer the soldiers a good shower at the end of a patrol.
Our headquarters is a refurbished Iraqi air force building. We have power in the morning and evening off the grid and run a generator during the heat of the day. Our e-mail has been off and on; they tell me it is fixed, kinda. We shall see.
We are limited in telephone connections but we have a satellite phone for emergencies. Overall, it is a good place to hang out our shingle.
The soldiers who day in and day out execute all that we dream up and fight anything that the enemy can throw at them are the greatest. Every day they fight; every day they get hot, sweaty and dirty.
One side of me wants to hug them but then my training kicks in so, for the most part, I am the disciplinarian. I am hard but fair. For the most part, they would rather go to the dentist than see me in my office.
By far, my heroes are the mechanics. They keep it rolling along and this is very much a mechanized fight. Our training took us from light infantry to motorized infantry.
We have had quite a time getting all the vehicles that we need but we are finally up to strength on the M-1114 factory-armored Hummers.
We have the good old M-2 .50-cal., the MK-19, 240 mm grenade launcher, and the M-240 machine guns as the main weapon systems on the Hummers. The mortars stay busy with counterfires and are using 120 mm. They are awesome.
The men all have the advanced combat helmet, inceptor body armor, and good ballistic eye protection. All this gear just adds to the heat but the soldiers are disciplined and wear their gear.
The one thing that I know now, more than ever, is that I am from the greatest country on the face of the Earth and it is the people who make it so. The outpouring of gifts and love from the Islands and the Mainland has been beyond what I ever expected, and it is humbling.
I want our soldiers to live up to the expectations of the veterans of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, their families and our Islands.
We are very proud of the battalion and look forward to returning to Hawai'i and to meeting again the greatest generation.
One thing I have borrowed from the Nisei and use in every address to the men:
"No Make Shame."