By Cathy Hopkins
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 21, 2009 - Darren Costine retired from the Army in 2001, but with 22 years of service under his belt, the former first sergeant said, the Army is still in his blood. Costine, who lives in Chester, Va., is a weapon system support manager for rotary aircraft engines and ground support equipment. He works in the Army Customer Facing Division at Defense Supply Center Richmond, the agency's aviation demand and supply chain manager. His active duty experiences in the Army included tours in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, South Korea and Alaska.
In February, Costine went to Iraq as a member of a DLA Support Team. He said he had wanted to deploy a couple years earlier so he could join his son, who was deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. But that didn't work out, and he ended up leaving as his son was returning.
Costine found a totally different Army than he remembered when he arrived in Iraq. "The weapons were different. I used an M16 when I was in," he said. The Army's primary individual combat rifle now is the M4. "The soldiers' attitudes are very much a wartime attitude. A lot of soldiers now are coming into the military and going straight into deployment."
While deployed, Costine supported the Army directly at several forward operating bases, including Camp Speicher, in Tikrit; Camp Warrior, outside of Kirkuk; and Camps Diamondback and Marez.
"Each place was different. One had concrete buildings that also served as our bunkers," he said. "I could touch everything in my living quarters by standing in the center of the room." Living conditions varied greatly from base to base, he added. At one, Costine discovered that the restrooms came complete with bullet holes.
"Speicher is considered a rest and relaxation base, and Warrior, Diamondback and Marez are 'hot spots,'" Costine said. He spent close to four months at Warrior.
"I could see the city of Kirkuk from the base, and compared to the other bases, it was a small and underdeveloped area," Costine said.
"We were attacked at least five days a week," he recalled. "Sirens would go off telling us we needed to take cover in the bunkers, and it was common to see columns of smoke coming up over the city and to hear gunfire almost daily."
Diamondback and Marez are close to the Turkish border. "I think their proximity to the border makes them hot spots," he said. At Diamondback, he provided support to three brigades.
Costine was the sole DLA representative embedded with the Army Materiel Command blast team at Warrior, Diamondback and Marez. A blast team has experts in ground and air vehicles, weapons, ammunition, and supply. It provides front-line support for items that can't be handled through normal supply systems. His expertise as a weapon system support manager allowed him to help the logistics assistance representatives on the blast team.
"Work days were long and busy, processing non-mission-capable reports," Costine said. "It was nothing to have people come knocking at your door in the middle of the night needing help getting a part." He said he averaged 67 supply assistance requests daily, adding up to a little more than 10,000 during the six-month tour.
"I would work the items from the DLA perspective, and the [logistics assistance representatives] would work it from the [Army Materiel Command] side," he said. "Once we found the best method of getting the part, it would be taken off the report."
Costine worked with other DLA support teams through weekly teleconferences originating in Baghdad.
"We would review questions and potential issues," he said. "We looked for an answer on items we needed immediately, and looked for fixes to ensure they were on the shelf next time."
This was Costine's first visit to Iraq, and one of the differences he noticed immediately was a lack of trees and grass. "It was nice to see all the greenery when I got back," he said.
"Temperatures were between 112 to 114 degrees in the daytime," he said. "Bottled water was stacked everywhere on pallets. If the air conditioning broke, that was an emergency work order, and a crew came out within 40 minutes to fix it." The nights felt cold at 80 degrees because of extreme temperature changes, he said.
Costine said he received some memorable support from stateside DLA employees, who were ready and willing to assist him during the deployment. He recalled one employee from the Defense Supply Center in Columbus, Ohio, who "bent over backwards" to help.
"Daniel Haughey would have given me his home phone number if I asked for it," he said. "He became my go-to guy and did wonders to support us." Costine arranged for a flag that had flown over Mosul to be given to Haughey to show his appreciation.
"I feel as if I've accomplished something; it was something gnawing at me," Costine said. "I would go again."
(Cathy Hopkins works in the Defense Supply Center Richmond public affairs office.)