UC Berkeley Web Feature
"We're going to be doing these things for a long time": Two Berkeley staffers recount their Operation Iraqi Freedom deployments
Bringing the war back to Berkeley
BERKELEY – This is the second of a two-part series in which the NewsCenter asked four veterans on campus - two students and in this account, two staff members - to recount their experiences of being at war in the Middle East.
Commander Scott Shackleton: Harbor defense officer in Kuwait, U.S. Navy Reserve
Scott Shackleton had less than two weeks' notice that his Navy Reserve unit was being deployed to Kuwait in December 2003. But that was a big improvement over the first time he was activated.
In 1996, he was camping with his father around Mount Shasta when a forest ranger tracked him down to tell him his wife had called and that his unit was leaving in 36 hours. His destination was Haiti, for Operation Uphold Democracy, but because the United States would be invading, he couldn't tell anyone - not his employer at UC Berkeley, where he is the College of Engineering's assistant dean of facilities and capital projects, or even his wife - where he was going, or for how long. His son was 13 months old, and his wife was, understandably, rather freaked out. With the help of friends and family, and a two-day deployment extension from the Navy, Shackleton got three months' worth of household chores done in 36 hours, including installing gates and security lighting.
Deployment was less frenzied the second time around. Shackleton was able to get someone in a similar job at Capital Projects to cover his responsibilities in Engineering while he was gone, and this time the human resources personnel knew better than to cut off his family's medical benefits. His wife also had some idea what to expect.
'You go from everything being fine and normal, to wearing a gun and a bulletproof vest every moment and traveling only in packs.'
College of Engineering Assistant Dean,
Facilities and Capital Projects
Still, Shackleton says, the transition from civilian life to wartime was jarring: "You go from everything being fine and normal, to wearing a gun and a bulletproof vest every moment and traveling only in packs. Every place you go, people have guns. Imagine sitting in a mess-hall tent eating with 2,000 guys and as many guns are leaning up against the wall."
As a Merchant Marine reservist, Shackleton was a rare seabird in Kuwait: most Merchant Marines sail on ships and are not involved with the reserves. In Kuwait, Shackleton was the Commander and Executive Officer for Harbor Defense Command III, with 350 men and women under his command. His task was to coordinate the protection of the port, some of Iraq's oil platforms, and other strategic coastal assets. (Iraq is mostly landlocked and depends on Kuwait's big, deep port to ship its oil.)
He also helped coordinate the rotation en masse of the 125,000 troops deployed for the first Operation Iraqi Freedom phase. It was the largest materiel mobilization by the U.S. military since D-Day in 1944 in Normandy. All OIF 1 equipment had to be funneled through the port in Kuwait and loaded onto military cargo vessels. "It was an incredible logistics project," says Shackleton. "For every new tank or HumVee that went in, an old tank or HumVee had to come out. We had 5 to 10 miles of equipment lined up that had to be cleaned and searched for contraband before it could be scheduled to go out on a ship."
In April, midway through Shackleton's tour, Al-Qaeda attacked the oil platforms using three explosive-laden boats. "Three people in our sister unit were killed," he recalls somberly.
His unit was lucky. "I brought all 350 people back," he says. About 40 of Shackleton's soldiers were female, which meant that when they shipped out from San Diego, "it wasn't just dads leaving, it was moms, too. There were men standing on the tarmac waving goodbye with little tiny babies in their arms, too." According to Shackleton, those women ably performed the same jobs as the male soldiers, including as gunners on the boats.
In Kuwait, where the temperature in the summer reached 130 degrees, Shackleton and his unit lived in an air-conditioned tent city, with tents for showers, bathrooms, gyms, movies, laundry, and Internet access scattered around the massive camp. He and his tentmates pooled their money to buy a TV so they could watch movies, and used cardboard and plywood to make privacy partitions.
As with student Ryan Tung's unit in Iraq, the question of why the troops were there was not much discussed. "You may not agree with what you're there to do, but that's not your job," explains Shackleton. "Your job is to follow orders and look out for the guy behind you."
According to Shackleton, fewer than 1 percent of men and women in his unit ever complained about their deployment. They did voice one major complaint, however: "The thing we all hated was how the press was so bad - inaccurate and just relentlessly negative. We'd be present for some incident that got reported and later we couldn't even recognize it in the account," he says. "It made us mad about how the press never talked about the good stuff that was going on in Iraq: that we've basically rebuilt an entire country behind the scenes. I met people who had running water for the first time, that could feed their families. But the U.S. news is only about the deaths."
Back in Berkeley, Shackleton says he isn't bothered by the anti-war flyers passed out on Sproul Plaza or the many debates and panel discussions held to discuss America's exit strategy. "Everybody's entitled to their opinions. That's what's great about this country," he shrugs. "You know, I'd like to see this war over, too, see all those guys come home. But we have a job we set out to do, and our reputation is riding on this. We cannot just walk away."
(Photo by Dan Cheatham)
Captain David Buckey:
Air Operations Officer for Commander Task Force 51, U.S. Navy 5th Fleet
As chairman of UC Berkeley's military affairs department, Captain David Buckey teaches naval science along with running the campus's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program. But he is also a student - he's enrolled in Berkeley's master's in education program, focusing on athletes and academic achievement.
"When people here find out I'm in the military, they always say, 'Thank goodness you're not in Iraq!'" Buckey recounts with some amusement. "I don't volunteer that I've been already — twice. It's not usually pertinent to what's going on. If someone asks where I've been stationed, I say, 'Pretty much everywhere.' They don't usually ask if that includes Iraq."
In March 2003, Buckey watched as the first Tomahawk missiles were launched into Iraq from the USS Bunker Hill; he was on an adjacent ship, the USS Tarawa. "When things start, there's a quietness that happens," he says. "You refocus on what you have to do: how your little job meshes with someone else's little job."
It's not quite the right adjective for Buckey's job, which was coordinating the activities of ships in the Gulf to ensure the aircraft on those carriers supported Marines "in country." This meant he oversaw Navy air-traffic controllers in Iraq who followed Marines as they established forward operating bases, making sure they got whatever they needed. On several occasions flying in himself, Buckey monitored airspace planning - "figuring out how to get helicopters in and back safely when there's a thousand other things up in the air as well, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and jets."
Although Buckey has been in the Navy for 25 years, Iraq is his first war. He was in college when the Vietnam War staggered to a close, and was "flying a desk" in Norfolk, Va., during 1991's Desert Storm.
Was he glad for the chance finally to do the job for which he'd prepared his whole career?
"No," he says flatly. "For one thing, for a long time I was a communications officer for nuclear command and control operations. That's a job you never want to have to perform. I'd rather there was no war. When you're young, you think you're bulletproof, that something will happen to the other guy, but not you. Those of us who've been around longer know better."
This is a lesson he tries to instill in UC Berkeley's ROTC students. "I want to make sure they fully understand the profession they're joining," he says. "Sure, it's about the interesting things they'll get to do and places they'll go, but there is a somber side to that. We lose people, whether in war or in training accidents during peacetime. The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is the most dangerous place on earth - worse than Baghdad. Planes are going from 140 mph to 0 mph in 1.6 seconds."
Most of the students in the ROTC program are well aware of the dangers they may face. It has been four years since September 11: only a handful of students remain in the program who joined up prior to that. They are "the last students who may have thought that ROTC was just a nice way to pay for college," says Buckey. "I'm very, very proud of the ones who came after them. They have the full knowledge that there's a war on terror, and that we're going to be doing these things for a long time."
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For Buckey, "these things" may be part of the job post-September 11, but they still take getting used to. Even though he was not actively involved in combat, making the shift from planning to fighting a war did effect a change in him.
"Seeing the deaths, when bodies came back to the ship - knowing that some of the people taking off from my ships, on missions I send them on, are not coming back - makes the job very personal," he says. "I may be here in Berkeley, but I'm still worrying about my people spread all over the Northern Gulf."
- Part One: "No showers and giant rats," two student veterans share their Operation Iraqi Freedom experiences, January 17, 2006, UC Berkeley NewsCenter
- "From jarhead to bowl maker: Grad student Ehren Tool's art of war," October 27, 2004, UC Berkeley NewsCenter story on a 1991 Gulf War veteran and ceramicist
- "Berkeley and the ROTC: Enrollment is climbing, and student attitudes are shifting," October 11, 2002, UC Berkeley NewsCenter story