By TIMOTHY COX
U.S. Army Specialist Brian Monbeck may not agree with the reasons
for war in Iraq, but he did his duty and recently returned home
with other members of the 101st Airborne Division after nearly
a year in the dangerous Middle East.
The 26-year-old from Celina, works as a cook with the 101st
Air Assault Battalion, a group of about 335 soldiers. After
the invasion of Iraq and ouster of Saddam Hussein’s regime,
Monbeck’s unit set up a base near Qayyarah. The formal
name of the airstrip, Qayyarah West Airfield, became known to
the soldiers as “Q West.”
After following a meandering route through the Iraqi desert
in the early days of the war, Monbeck’s unit finally took
up permanent residence at Q West. There, Monbeck was responsible
for helping prepare nearly 700 meals per day using six, 6,000-BTU
cooking units that are part of the unit’s mobile kitchen
Conditions in Iraq varied greatly. In the early days of the
war last spring, temperatures were moderate, a lot like spring
in the United States, Monbeck said. By summer, though, temperatures
often sizzled over 130 degrees. Add a full uniform, 22-pound
flak jacket, and at times a suit to protect against chemical
or biological attack, and it was nothing short of miserable,
Once the airfield at Qayyarah was set up, the soldiers were
treated to a few more luxuries. Soldiers could access e-mail,
use satellite telephones to make important calls home and watch
television news reports. At one point, commanders installed
a Web cam that allowed family members of the troops to see them
as they spoke with them on Yahoo’s messenger service.
Monbeck’s unit was lucky in that it never came under attack
while on Iraqi soil. The group’s Apache helicopter pilots
made some offensive strikes but the rest of the battalion came
through unscathed. The battalion is one of the few in the 101st
that came through the conflict without any casualties, Monbeck
Occasionally, Monbeck drove as part of a convoy to an airfield
in Mosul where the Army picked up its mail.
“You learn to keep your head on a swivel, always looking
out for something out of the ordinary,” Monbeck explained,
although he never saw any of the guerrilla attacks on military
convoys that have been commonplace since the end of major fighting.
Monbeck said he has seen the Iraqi people change in how they
view the American soldiers in their homeland. Before the war
started and in its early days, people in villages would unsuccessfully
try to block the roads to prevent the military convoys from
But later, at Q West, after Saddam Hussein had been captured,
Monbeck said he saw a different side of the Iraqi mindset.
“They were grateful,” he said.
As for the reasons behind the war, Monbeck said he doubts there
ever were the weapons of mass destruction that U.S. and British
intelligence indicated Hussein had stockpiled. He admits that
Hussein is a deplorable human being who likely has committed
atrocities against his own people. But Monbeck said he doesn’t
believe the American government should have involved itself
But the soldier states his views without criticizing President
Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or anyone else in the
government, displaying the overwhelming sense of duty inherent
to every good soldier.
“I don’t agree with what (Hussein) was doing, but
it’s their country. In our country, we do what our president
says; they should do the same,” Monbeck said.
If a change in Iraqi leadership was necessary, it should have
come from the Iraqi people, not the American war machine, he
Back at home, his mother and wife stopped watching news coverage
of the war. News clips and sound bytes about dead soldiers were
simply too much to take, they said.
“It sends an instant panic through you. It’s too
ugly to watch,” said his mother.
“I’m so excited that he’s back on the right
side of the ocean,” said his mother, Sandy Monbeck, who
welcomed home her oldest son back from war late last week. She
said the “perk” in her son’s voice came back
after the troops from the 101st were safely back on American
soil last week.
One of the most difficult parts of Monbeck’s deployment
came in August, when his wife, Ann, gave birth to the couple’s
second child together. When Monbeck first left Fort Campbell,
Ky., in the spring of 2003, he expected to be home in time for
the birth of his son, Caleb.
“It was a bad experience all the way around,” said
Doctors were predicting complications with birth, although everything
went smoothly. Monbeck found out about the birth while he was
at Q West.
He did not meet the infant until October, when Monbeck was chosen
for a 15-day leave as part of the military’s rest and
relaxation plan to boost morale among troops. Then it was back
Monbeck is now on leave until Feb. 26 when he must be back on
the base at Fort Campbell. His future remains unclear. He is
eligible to leave the military in October 2005 and might stay
or possibly go to school, he said.