By Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 5, 2007 – As the United States celebrated its Independence Day, soldiers continued working, standing guard and going on patrols staged from Coalition Outpost X-Ray near here. Instead of fireworks and family picnics, soldiers from Troop C, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, focused on their missions to clear the area of insurgent threats and just living from one day to the next at the outpost, Capt. David Fulton, Troop C commander, said.
"It's a great holiday to reflect on, and in many ways it is a soldier's holiday, because a lot of soldiers have sacrificed for our freedoms, which is in keeping with the spirit of Independence Day," Fulton said. "At this time, everyone's thoughts are with family back home, and it's a typical experience here to miss the wife and kids and the things that they're doing on the home front."
But the Troop C soldiers don't have the luxury of celebrating the holiday, the captain said. "We're doing a real-world mission, and it's not going to pause or stop, so we're just going to continue doing what we're doing," he said.
For soldiers who operate out of the outpost, being here for the holiday had its own meaning for them.
"Our role on this July 4th is helping the people of Iraq earn independence from tyranny and people who suppress them," said Cpl. Charles Breeding, a medic for Headquarters Troop who is attached to Troop C. "I have a job to do, and I signed a paper to serve, and I'm also following in the footsteps of my father, who during his 20 years of service spent a lot of Fourth of Julys away from home too, but when he went on (rest and recuperation leave) during the Vietnam War, it was spent in-country. So, at least we have the chance to spend our leave at home."
Breeding said he was proud to spend Independence Day as a medic to help his fellow soldiers. He misses his family, he said, but he also knows he has a job to do.
"My wife and a lot of the wives and kids out there are some of the true patriots, because they're the ones who are also making a lot of sacrifices while we're away," he said.
Sgt. Jason Feaga, a mechanic for Troop C, works long hours in a maintenance bay repairing vehicles. Sometimes he stays up late just waiting for parts to arrive via a convoy to the outpost. Feaga admitted he would miss a few things over the holiday.
"I'll definitely miss spending time with my wife and daughter," Feaga said. "My daughter is walking now, and I'm going to miss hearing her say a few of the words she's learned. If I were home now, we'd be going to a picnic or doing our own fireworks at home, and we'd also gather a few friends and family to play guitar.
"It doesn't really bother me that much anymore, though," he added. Feaga is on his second tour in Iraq and his third deployment overall - he served a 15-month stint in Korea. Each time, the deployment kept him away from home on the Fourth of July.
Soldiers live for weeks at a time at Coalition Outpost X-Ray with only a few days in their rotations set aside for them to return to Camp Taji, the troops' base camp, to do laundry, go to finance, go to the post exchange to pick up a few toiletry items and do other errands.
Although life at the outpost is not exactly like living at a four-star hotel, things are much better here than they were just a month and a half ago when the outpost was first established, Fulton said.
"We've been working really hard to make this like home," he said. "Before we got here, there were no showers, no hot meals, no electricity and no air conditioning, and we were doing real Army living for a while here."
The outpost has several large buildings that were essentially huge empty bays where, in the beginning weeks, soldiers slept on cots and were subjected to the extreme temperatures common to Iraq.
But Army engineers and other support troops from the Garryowen Squadron's Troop "Darkhorse" Forward Support Company worked with Troop C to improve the conditions. Within a few weeks, the outpost had showers, air conditioners, four- to six-man rooms with real walls and ceilings, real bunks, a mobile field kitchen trailer from which hot meals are served, a well-staffed aid station for medical services, Internet access and phone lines allowing the soldiers to call home.
There was also a massive clean-up effort in which overgrown weeds and trees were cut down and the area was sprayed for insects.
"This has been scout construction at its finest," Fulton said with a laugh, noting that his troops are mainly scouts.
One of the scouts, Spc. James Murdough, goes on patrols, stands guard and also works in the troop's training room. For him, the experience of working out of the outpost is something he has really enjoyed.
"The rooms here are much bigger than my room on Camp Taji," he said. "Time seems to go by quicker when we're out here, because we're doing our jobs and its something we all enjoy doing. We have a good cook, and the food beats the heck out of (field rations)."
Despite being away from home, Fulton said, the troops have adjusted well to their new digs.
"It's been really amazing; there's been limited complaining and a lot of hard work," he said. The troops spend a lot of time in the surrounding village, meeting the people and building trust on their daily missions, he added.
"Living in the area where we work makes for better relationships with the people who we're getting to know every day," the captain said.
"We try to walk everywhere and interact as much as possible with the local populace," Fulton said. "You have to be on the ground, doing dismounted patrols, or else you aren't going to get very far in building relationships with the people, especially if you're just riding around in a Humvee or Bradley (fighting vehicle)."
Having the outpost also makes it easier for the troops to conduct their patrols in the area.
"We're a lot closer now, so living here makes it a lot easier for us to get into our sector very quickly," Fulton explained. "Before, we had to drive all the way into the area from Camp Taji, which took a lot more time."
Troop C soldiers are building a dining facility for the outpost, which will be completed in a few weeks.
(Army Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp is assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Public Affairs.)