Letters from the front.

Tags: HeroStories

Julian Gill wrote a lot from Iraq. We've been fortunate enough to be able to share some of those letters. It's a great piece of real history.

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Below you’ll find several letters that I sent home and abroad to friends and loved ones while I was in Iraq. This is by no means every letter I sent; but, I believe they’ll be sufficient to give you a good picture as to some of my experiences. Enjoy…

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Dear Everyone,

Let me first of all apologize for taking so long to get this note out to you all. Secondly, let me apologize for not sending personal notes to each of you individually. I have been incredibly busy and haven't had the time. (I'm fortunate to have finally found the time be able to get this off, especially when you consider my typing skills.) But with your patience I will eventually get around to sharing personal stories with everyone. Enough on that. Let's get started.

My train up at Ft. Carson began in early July. (Ft. Carson is the home of the Army's 7th Infantry Division.) Out of the 140 soldiers that went through the initial mobilization call up, only 15 of us were selected for deployment. Out of that pool only 8 of us were combat soldiers. The rest were mechanics and admin guys, 5 and 2 respectively. (The mechanics here are having a hell of a time trying to keep Humvee's on the road with all the IED (improvised explosive device) activity.) The 15 of us linked up with a mish mash group of soldiers from @ 8 different states. All together there were 25 of us. We were informed that we were a test group. The Army apparently wanted to see how (or if) a group of misfits would hold up against a group of regular Army soldiers (members of the Army's 3rd Armored Calvary Division). There was about an equal number of them. Long story short, we out shot them, we out hustled them, we out trained them. We out soldiered them in any and every way possible. Needless to say, and for obvious reasons, the cadre at the training facility were both pleased and disappointed. We were just pleased. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Our train up there started out as you would expect - hurry up and wait! We spent the first day at the SRP (soldier readiness program) site. That day consisted of line after line of mostly medical review stations - another 6 shots, to include smallpox...eck! - but also included JAG, family readiness, a visit with a chaplain, as well as a few others. The following day we went to the post Central Issue Facility. There we received another duffle bag full of gear to tote around. (It complimented the two we all received before leaving Modesto.) Most of the stuff was relatively useful, however about half of it was a redundancy of what we had already received. (That's another thing the Army is good for.) After those two relatively chilled back days the fun began.

On day three the shit kicked in. We started training hard, with an unspoken (and sometimes spoken) sense of seriousness and urgency. We all knew where we were going and the importance of getting up to speed in the allotted amount of time we were being given. Over the next three and a half weeks our training consisted of a series of different combat scenarios. Most of them were geared toward combat in an urban terrain, as well as combat in convoy configurations. Fortunately, my previous tour with the 101st had included a significant amount of similar training. Many of the other prior service soldiers also had the same type of previous training. As such, although some things were being done a little differently, we were able to cruise relatively smoothly through that facet of our cycle. Although most of the convoy combat training was relatively new, it was all pretty much straight forward common sense stuff. It also went well. Most of our weapons training was conducted with live ammunition and culminated with a huge live fire assault on a mock Iraqi village with pop up targets. We also spent @ 3 days getting certified as Combat Lifesavers. When our training cycle was complete, the cadre told us that we had done as good or better than most of the previous units that had undergone that train up regimen. On our last day, the division held an awards ceremony for our combined train up cycle. Why, I do not know, but the training cadre and my fellow soldiers awarded me with the Division's Command Sergeant Major award. Needless to say, I was quite honored. Two other awards were given, both to soldiers in our "misfit" group.

The day following our 25 day train-up, we left for Kuwait. On the way we made a few stops, the best of which was a pit stop in Ireland for fuel. We had a 2 hour lay over there which we made the most of - to get our last drink on that is. It was @ 1:00 a.m. their time on a Sunday night. Nevertheless, those blessed souls opened the pub just for us. (Hey, they were just doing their part to help out the coalition forces.) We had a wonderful, albeit brief time. I think not a soldier one left the Emerald Isle without at least a good buzz working. Twenty two hours after we left FT. Carson, we arrived at Ali al Salem Air Force Base in Kuwait. From there, we were taken somewhere way out in the desert in the middle of nowhere. When we got to our final destination, and offloaded our busses, the heat was so hot that it was hilarious. Yes, hilarious. All we could do was look at each other and laugh. It was 130 degrees, with a 40 mph north wind. It was a literal blast furnace. Keep in mind that at that point we were in a "war zone" and had to wear our full compliment of body armor, Kevlar helmet, weapons, etc., etc. Also keep in mind that when we left Ft. Carson it was 50 to 55 degrees and hailing. Fortunately, we didn't have to stand around in that heat for very long. We were assigned a tent in what is the largest tent city I have ever seen. Quite honestly, aside from the incredibly hot heat hot windy hot heat hot...the digs weren't that bad. They were certainly better than what we had at Fort Carson. (At Carson approximately 200 of us were stuffed into a metal building @ 25 ft. wide by @ 150 ft. long, with no place to store our gear.) All the tents in the city were air conditioned and housed 16 men. The latrine facilities were almost new and were permanent portable (trailers that weren't going anywhere anytime soon). The chow wasn't too bad either. Although we were told that we would be leaving for our final respective destinations (The 25 of us weren't all going to the same place.) that same day, our flight was cancelled - several times. Three days later we finally climbed into a C-130 and left for Baghdad, locked and loaded.

To be continued...

That's all for now everyone. Hopefully in a few days or so from now I'll pick up where this one left off and really bring you all up to speed. Understand that much of what I do here I cannot, and would not tell you about. Doing so would only cause needless worry and concern. As such, I'll do the best I can to keep my messages light. Know that I am well, both physically and mentally. I have been attached to a very squared away unit, and am surrounded by some of the best soldiers I have ever worked with. They have welcomed me into their fold as if I had been here with them from day one. In my next e-mail, I'll begin to introduce some of them to you all.

Okay, Much Love to All! - Julian, Todd, J.T., Big J, J…or whatever else you all are calling me these days