Josh Presser: Part 1
Josh deployed to Iraq in 2008 as an Air Force POL and worked with fuels at Tallil air base. In Part 1 of his interview, Josh talks about living through September 11th in White Plains, New York, deploying to Iraq and his experiences as soon as he returned from Iraq.
Part 2 of Josh's interview can be found here.
An interview with Josh's wife Marina Sassone can be found here.
Interview conducted on August 29, 2015 in Valhalla, New York
Present: Richard Hayden and Josh Presser
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Josh Presser: Joshua Presser.
RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
JP: I was in the Air Force active from 2006 to 2014.
RH: What was your rank when you got out?
JP: Staff Sergeant.
RH: OK. What was your MOS?
JP: I had two. My first one was POL which was fuels and my second one was air traffic controller.
RH: What were some of your units?
JP: I was with the 48th Logistics Readiness Squadron in Lakenheath, England. I was with the 20th Fighter Wing, or the 20th Logistics Readiness Squadron in Shaw, South Carolina. I was with – I don’t remember the unit in Tallil, Iraq. It was the three something, the 366th or something. No, not the 366th. That was my training squadron. I forget the squadron name but in Tallil, Iraq. Yeah, I was all over. [laughs]
RH: What motivated you to join the military?
JP: I joined probably for different reasons than most people. I was going nowhere and nowhere fast. My best friend at the time was in the Marine Corps and I had gone down to visit him in 2005 and realized, probably, what I should do. I wanted to go into the Marine Corps originally but he talked me out of that real fast. I joined in ’06 – this was ’05 – I went through hell to get in. I went through hell. I had to go see Commanders and Colonels and all sorts of people to get in but I got in. I was getting in a lot of trouble up here going nowhere fast.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So why did you pick the branch of service that you did?
JP: Mainly because of my best friend. He told me that he didn’t want me joining Marine Corps. He said, “talk to the Air Force.” He said, “go talk to them.” I said, “I’m not doing that.” That’s what I did. Me and my other best friend, we were doing it together. We had the same dates to leave, we were going to the same places, but last minute he had some family things come up and he couldn’t do it, you know? He always thought I resented him for that but I never did. We were supposed to go to boot camp together but whatever. I did it and that was that.
Honestly it was my best friend and I’ll tell you his name – has in the Marine Corps – Pat Gorman, he told me, “don’t do this.” [laughs] “Don’t do this. Go to the Air Force.”
RH: Alright. Why did you pick the MOS that you did?
JP: I picked my original one because it had the shortest time in school and I could get back to New York as quick as I could. It was six weeks originally. Between boot camp and school I was back home in thirteen weeks. So it was pretty quick and I didn’t want to be in school for a long time.
RH: Good to go. How did your family feel about your decision?
JP: Originally my mother and my father both told me I was crazy because this was in 2005. This was still the height of the Iraq war and Afghanistan was still trucking on so they were originally not happy about it. They said they’d support me – and they did always, they always did – but originally they were a little weary about it. Once I told them I wanted to go into the Air Force, after I talked to the recruiter and told them what my job would be, they were cool with it. And then you ask my parents now, they’ll tell you it was the best thing I ever did. My father, especially, was very, very proud of my time in the military.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Where were you on September 11th?
JP: I was in White Plains at White Plains High School. We were in school, probably skipping school actually, hanging out across the street screwing off doing whatever we do. It was weird. The way we found out that something had happened, we were told that two Iraqi fighter jets had bombed the tower and it was wild. It was like, “what? What are you talking about?” I only lived maybe three quarters of a mile from the high school and it was kind of one of those things, they just let everybody go. It was probably eleven o’clock in the morning and we were like, “oh cool. It’s a free day off.” And a bunch of us went back to my house and – probably eight of us, seven or eight of us – and we went back to my house and we turned the TV on. Then it was like, “holy shit. This is real.”
Any my mother’s working in the city. My uncles and my aunt live in Brooklyn. It was pretty wild. Yeah, it was pretty wild. We were in high school and we had friends that were already in the military, friends going into the military and yeah. It was wild.
RH: What was White Plains like in the weeks and the months after September 11th?
JP: White Plains was an awesome place after 9/11. The unity that had evolved from this horrific thing because, I mean, White Plains is one of those places where it’s a commuter town. A lot of people work in the city so a lot of people knew somebody or lost somebody or this and that. I remember going, walking through the streets of White Plains with American flags on, big American flags chanting that USA chant – I hate that chant by the way, the USA chant. [laughs] I absolutely hate it. But we were walking around as kids doing that chant and it was wild. I remember being by the Galleria and it was hundreds of people. It was big big. It was crazy. It was wild.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Where did you go to boot camp?
JP: Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.
RH: What was that like?
JP: Hot. [laughs] It was hot. Boot camp was a mind fuck for the Air Force. When I went through, boot camp was still only six and a half weeks long. I went April 24th of ’06 and I got out of there, I think, June 9th of ’06. Boot camp was just – we ran a lot. We did that kind of stuff. We drilled a lot, a lot of drill and we also spent a lot of time by ourselves sitting in the dorm rooms. I call them dorm rooms, they’re barracks essentially. They’re this big long bays and everything but we called them dorms.
We sat there and, as you know, the military doesn’t buy the highest quality uniforms so there were strings all over it and we used to sit there and clip strings and nail clippers and that’s what we did for six and a half weeks. I mean, we did our stuff out in the field and we did stuff like that but it wasn’t tough at all. It was pretty easy, actually. My experience of boot camp was pretty easy.
RH: What was your follow up training like?
JP: I went to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. It was about a seven or eight hour drive north. We took a bus from San Antonio up to Wichita Falls. Similar to boot camp, a little more freedoms, it was good though. It was like your first, “here’s the military. Here’s the Air Force.” This is what it’s like, kind of, but you’re still in training. You’re still really nothing.
It was good. My first job was, like I said, POL. It was Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants. That was my job. I drove a fuel truck and basically our main job was putting gas on airplanes, putting jet fuel on airplanes. We had a ground side where we worked the diesel and unleaded gas and we worked with other things like cryogenics – liquid oxygen, liquid nitrogen and stuff like that. Especially liquid oxygen that the F-16s use to breathe.
It was pretty easy. We hung out a lot after school. It was an hour march to school and it was an hour march back from school and it was hot. It was hot. [laughs] We would get out of school at three o’clock or four o’clock, whatever time it was, and we had a friend that we all hung out with who was from Texas. His parents drove him a car so he had a car and once we got to the right proper phase where we could go off base and after school we could go out in civvies and all that type of stuff, we used to cruise around drinking beer. We went through the streets of Wichita Falls and it was awesome. We had a blast but when it was over, I was ready to get the hell out of there. It definitely sucked.
RH: Where in the US were you stationed when you deployed?
JP: In the US?
JP: I deployed out of South Carolina to Haiti but when I deployed to Iraq I was stationed in England. When I was stationed in the US, I was stationed in South Carolina. I did time at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi in Biloxi. That was when I went back to retrain into air traffic and I was stationed at McGuire Air Force Base in Jersey.
RH: So let me ask you this. When you deployed to Iraq, where were you stationed?
JP: I was in Lakenheath Air Force Base in England.
RH: OK. What were the locals like there?
JP: In England?
JP: They were alright with us. At the time Bush was president so they also had their prime minister which was…
RH: Tony Blair, right?
JP: Tony Blair. And they weren’t so fond of him just like the American people at that point – what was this, ’06 to ’09? – kind of lost interest in George Bush. They were alright. I don’t know. They didn’t care much for us. They used to protest outside the base a lot. They used to handcuff themselves to the fence and it was kind of weird but it was alright. It was fun. It was a fun time.
RH: Good to go. Did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
JP: I was just in Iraq.
RH: OK. How many times did you deploy to Iraq?
JP: Just once.
RH: What were the dates of that deployment?
JP: I think I left December 27th, 2008 and I came back – it was the end of May at some point – May of ’09.
RH: Where in Iraq did you deploy to?
JP: Originally it was called Tallil Air Force Base. When we got there they had changed the name to Ali Air Base. I think it was about seven miles outside of Nasiriyah.
RH: What, specifically was your job?
JP: My job was fuels, putting gas on airplanes and also ground fuels. Keeping, pretty much, the base running. We had diesel routes. We used to keep the light-alls running. We had generators that we had to keep running. Then we had big tanks, fuel tanks, downtown that we used to have to service also. We used to go down there and fill them up also.
RH: So you were, basically, refueling within the base or did you go outside the wire at all?
JP: Pretty much it was all on base but there was a fuel tank outside the gates that we used to have to hit up once every two days or once every three days that we had for probably half of the deployment. Then we handed it over to KBR, the contractors. We handed that over to them because that’s who we received our fuel from. They drove from Camp Cedar which was like seven miles away and – or maybe ten miles away, whatever it was – Camp Cedar, that was the place that held all the fuel for Iraq, period. At any given time they had ten million gallons of jet fuel on hand. That’s where we used to get our fuel and we turned it back over to KBR probably the beginning of ’09, I want to say maybe February of ’09, and we lost that outside the wire. Then after that we didn’t go downtown too much.
RH: What do you remember most about deploying to Iraq when you first got there?
JP: The first thing that I remember is we flew out of Al Udeid out of Qatar. It was like a two hour flight on a C-130 and we were doing a combat landing and all that coming into Iraq. The first thing I remember, it was December. Yeah, it was still December and it was balls cold. I was so surprised. We just came from Al Udeid which is eighty-five degrees every day and a hundred percent humidity and we get to Iraq and we needed our gore-tex and all that type of stuff. I remember that. And then it was just the sound, it was just the hum of generators running and the smell of burnt fuel and the burn pit. The burn pit was going every day, hours at a time. It had that eerie smell. It was always lingering there.
RH: Can you describe the area around Tallil Air Force Base?
JP: There was nothing there. You looked out and you could look in any direction and it was just desert. It was just sand for as far as you could see. We were essentially an Army base. COB Adder was essentially our base and we had a little portion for the Air Force and that was that. Around the base there was one thing called the Ziggurat. The Ziggurat of Ur. Also, they said that Abraham from the bible’s house was there. We went to the ruins and everything and, literally, if you looked in three hundred and sixty degrees, you just saw nothing but dirt except for this big temple and ruins from Abraham’s house is what they told us. [laughs] I mean, what do I know? But there was nothing there. Nothing there.
RH: What was a typical day as a POL like?
JP: A typical day was up at five. I worked the day shift. We were split into two crews. We had days and nights. Minimum twelve hour days so we would wake up at five AM. We’d all meet up right outside of tent city and we had a van that the night shift had brought home. We would swap with them and that was kind of just the way it went. When your shift is up, you gave it to the next shift and when their shift was up they gave it to you.
We would all – I don’t know, there was ten of us – we would hop in the van and we’d go down to the DFAC and have breakfast every single morning. We didn’t miss a day where we didn’t all go and have breakfast. I think I really liked that to be honest with you. I liked doing that. After that it was a half hour, forty-five minutes at the DFAC at most and go down to the POL yard. It was actually, we were pretty lucky because what we did, we were right on the taxiway of the flight line. We had our own Cadillacs. In the Cadillacs we had two showers. We had washers and dryers in the Cadillacs so we didn’t have to use everybody else’s stuff because our stuff stunk like fuel, like diesel and jet fuel.
Every day we’d come in. My first week or so I was just a driver. That was my main job. I used to put gas on the planes and disperse it around. But then I got moved into a position – it was me and another guy. He was a Staff Sergeant. At the time I think I was an A1C getting promoted to Senior Airman and I became fuels storage. So we were in charge of storing all the fuel, repairing the bladders and I had that one thing that I used to go downtown and outside the gate and do. I wouldn’t really call it downtown. It was outside the gate but it was where a lot of contractors lived.
First thing in the morning when we would get to the job, we would check the bags, the bladders – we called them bags. We checked the bags to see what’s going on, where we were taking fuel out of. If we needed to swap it was just hoses running all over the place and it was valves so we would move them around as needed. We would take our KBR receipt every day. We’d get around six trucks and we would offload all that fuel and disperse it into the bag. For my job in the AOR we were pretty small because we had zero Air Force assets at that base except for Predators and they didn’t take jet fuel. They took 100 low-lead. AVGAS, we called it.
We worked with an Army medevac unit was there. Blackwater was there with their Bell 412s. There was Army Chinooks and Apaches that were at one corner. We had Navy P-3s that were there. We were a pretty big transient base. We had a lot of transient stuff that would come every day whether it was medevac missions, whether it was the Russians flying in their IL-76 or their AN-12s. Or even, they brought an AN-124 in there. It was the second-biggest plane in the world. When it landed, it couldn’t come off the runway. We had two parallel runways and they had to keep it on the runway, offload it on one runway and it spun around and left off the same runway it pretty much came in on.
But we were a pretty big transient base. I know the Navy was out there doing recon type of stuff. We had the medevac mission that the Army was running and then we had Blackwater who were running their Bell 412s and who knew what the hell they were doing? They were wild. They were just running wild. They had, probably, six Bell 412s there. They had an old blown out hangar from Saddam’s air force and they just hung out in there and did whatever the hell they wanted. But they were cool guys. They offered me a job afterwards. [laughs] I was like, “I’m good.”
RH: Good to go. Now did you guys actually refuel the planes or were just refueling the trucks?
JP: Both. We would actually refuel the airplanes. When Blackwater was coming back, they would call us when they were ten out and we would meet them down there and we would refuel their helicopters. Same kind of thing with the medevacs. What did they have? H-60s. When the Blackhawks would come back and we were already kind of standing by because sometimes they were going right back out to get more people so you were already down there.
The Predators did their mission, you know, whatever they were doing up there. But our Predators were loaded with Hellfires. They had Hellfires on them. So we would do that once a day. With the Predators, we took the AVGAS truck – the 100 low-lead truck – and we would drive it across the runways to where we had to go and they had barrels. They had eight barrels out there with pumps on them and you would just fill the barrels. You weren’t actually filling the Predator itself.
But aside from that, we were also in charge of all the main generators that were running the Air Force side of the base. I think we did some Army generators. I don’t remember but we might have. We did all the light-alls. We did the light-all route. That pretty much went all around the Air Force side to include the outskirts of the flight line, to include out by the burn pit, the security checkpoints getting onto the flight line and everything. We had to take care of that also. My job, essentially, was storing the fuel. We were doing so much stuff. We were building stuff and it was pretty wild.
RH: So you probably interacted with people from a number of different services, correct?
JP: Yes. We dealt with the Army mostly. We also dealt with the civilian contractors working with KBR. Those guys we were with every single day.
RH: What were some of your interactions with service members from each branch of the service and then some of your interactions with the civilians like?
JP: With the Army guys, they used to give us a lot of shit because they saw rotation after rotation after rotation just roll through and they weren’t leaving. This was still when they were doing eighteen month deployments. We did almost damn near six months and this is the third group that they’ve seen come through.
The Navy guys, they were alright. We dealt with the flight line guys mostly. The Marine Corps wasn’t there. There was a Navy air wing unit that had the Navy P-3s and I’m not sure if there was anything else there but the Army was there because it was basically an Army base so that’s who we dealt with mostly. We’d walk with them in the DFAC. Once you came out of the flight line area, it was all Army.
But the civilian guys were cool. I remember they would tell us stories because they were running fuel from Camp Cedar. We were in southern Iraq. We were a hundred and fifty miles from Basra but we were right by Camp Cedar which, like I said, had all the fuel for the AOR. So these guys were running up to a place called Scania which was just outside of Baghdad. They would bring full trucks up, swap the trucks out and bring the empty trucks back. And then there were guys that were stationed north, civilians for KBR, that were driving for the northern part of Iraq going up to Mosul and those type of places.
And you listen to some of the stories that these guys had and they weren’t young guys. I remember one guy, he was the convoy commander. They called him the Goat. That’s what they called him. That was his name, the Goat. I don’t remember how many times he had been blown up. I mean, he walked with a limp. He was just this crazy old dude and cool as shit. But yeah, he had been blown up a few times driving empty trucks back from Baghdad. When I got out there he was kind of the convoy commander so there was no tank on the back of his truck. He just drove an empty semi. It was the front end of a semi.
Then there was another guy that they called Bullseye. His first trip up to Baghdad – you do this for a month then come out to where we are and learn how to drive the roads and then we’ll send you up to Baghdad later in time. And they called him Bullseye. He went up to Baghdad and his first trip the Iraqi police – they cut him off or something. Guys dressed in Iraqi police uniforms came over and they put a three shot group about this big [creates a circle with about a three inch diameter with his hands] in the windshield right around where his head would be so they called him Bullseye for the rest of the time. [RH laughs] He was a little Filipino dude. But those guys were awesome. Those guys were awesome.
We dealt with the Army. If they needed gas from us, they would bring their blivets out to the FOBs. Some of the FOBs were out on the Iran border. This was then, this was 2008 and you’d hear some of the stories about going out to the border towns. These guys were driving all over the place. So were the Army guys. They were up in Mosul and out in Fallujah and down in Basra and in Baghdad. It was cool. There was no animosity. They probably had more animosity to us but I had the same answer every single time they were like, [makes a deep voice] “yo, you’re in the Air Force and you’ve only been here bla, bla, bla, bla, bla.” I said, “yo, everybody had a choice.” That’s what I used to tell them. I told them the same thing in Haiti. Everybody had a choice. You chose that and I chose this. I got air conditioning and you don’t. [laughs]
RH: Alright. So what were some of the notable events that occurred during your deployment, maybe aside from the ones that you already told me?
JP: Obama had just been elected. Obviously, November of ’08 was the election and he had won. We had deployed in December and it was January or February or whatever. No, it was January because we had only lasted like twelve days and the whole rotation before us didn’t get attacked at all, really. I think they had one indirect fire. We lasted twelve days. Our first twelve days was clear. It was calm, it was awesome, nothing to worry about. You left your flak vests and helmets at the tent. We actually brought ours to work because we figured that we would be at work more than likely when an attack happened so we left all ours at work.
And then we were sitting in my tent. It was me and two of my buddies. We lived in the big Alaskan huts and we were watching the inauguration. Obama put up his hand and we got hammered. [laughs] They just kept launching the rockets at us. I remember the first one. The first one went off and no alarms, no nothing. And we were so stupid. We were so stupid. We ran out of the tent. I mean, it’s not like the tent was going to do us much good but we ran out of the tent because he thought a Predator crashed. We thought a Predator went down.
So we ran out of the tent and off to our right – my tent was kind of on the wall for the Air Force tent city. You could see what looked like fire kind of coming up. There was still rocks falling and all that type of shit. It hit the tent and everything. We went outside and then the alarms went off. The alarms went off probably thirty, forty seconds after and we get down they launched, I think, another three or four more. I can remember thinking, “that rocket was on a perfect plane with us. If they turned that tube just a little bit, that’s on our heads.” That’s all I kept thinking. We were laying in the doorway of my tent because we had the sandbags there. But then after that it happened pretty regularly. That was the closest that I remember it coming. Yeah, Obama put his hand up and as his hand was going up, the fucking rocket came in.
RH: It never hit the fuel, did it?
JP: No, thank God. No. I remember stories of guys that I had known that had deployed prior to me in Balad outside of Baghdad who used to call it Mortarritaville because they used to get attacked so much it was unreal. But they hit the fuel there and it was a pretty big mess.
RH: Did you interact with the Iraqis at all?
JP: Yeah. [laughs]
RH: What was that like?
JP: They were terrible. We hated them. On the base there was a concrete plant they had built or that was already there. When we took over there was a concrete plant there and all they did was build T walls and T barriers. As soon as we had gotten there, we put in a work order to have our whole yard – and we had a pretty big yard – our whole fuels yard repaved because we were driving on rocks with these big thirty-two ton fuel trucks and in the tires we were picking up FOD and bringing it out onto the flight line. You know, you’d have a transient C-17 come in and pick up a rock and that was it. He was stuck there for a week and they didn’t want that. So we actually got the approval to repave our whole yard. It was contracted out, obviously, and we had LNs – local nationals – that were doing the work. God, they were terrible.
One of the things that I remember the most was they always had TCN escorts with them. They were the Air Force guys, they fell under the security forces or CE squadron or something and their job was to sit and watch these clowns all day. I remember we had our own Cadillac in our little yard and these guys just didn’t understand the whole concept of a toilet. They would stand on the toilet sideways and shit on the floor next to the toilet. [laughs] And it happened countless, countless times. It was like, what the fuck is wrong with you? Why don’t you understand this? [RH laughs] Why don’t you get this thing? I said, “I’m not cleaning that.” We used to make the TCN escorts do it. I’m not doing that. You’re crazy.
But they were alright, I guess. They would try to bring GPS trackers onto the base and pinpoint their location of where they are so they could launch more rockets with better coordinates. I don’t know. I didn’t care for them much. I knew why they were there but I didn’t care too much at all.
RH: What do you remember most about the airmen that you served with in Iraq?
JP: Some of the best dudes that I ever spent any time with. Some the guys – I had a Tech Sergeant that I went out there with – and I’m more than happy to tell you his name because he was probably one of the greatest dudes – taught me more useful stuff not only about the job but kind of just about life. When I first came in the military I was kind of a shithead. I got in a lot of trouble and kind of didn’t care and kind of was the same way I was when I left here when I first joined. But this guy, he kind of took me under his wing and he made me a much better person working for him. Basically, he wasn’t the guy who was in charge of our little twelve man team down there but he might as well have been. The Master Sergeant we had out there, I don’t know, he was kind of doing big Air Force stuff, kind of dealing with the commander and stuff like that – keeping him off our back. This guy, he was just awesome. He’s actually from upstate New York.
RH: We can give him a shout out. What’s his name?
JP: Matthew Brooker. Tech Sergeant Matthew Brooker. And then the airmen, the other guys, they were younger than me. They had been in the military less time than me but we had such a blast out there and it was – I’ve never been that close with a group of people in my life and you can even ask my wife. When we came back, it took probably three weeks where I didn’t want to do anything but hang out with the guys that I just spent damn near six months with. Granted, a couple of the guys that we were out with were just tools and whatever – it’s always going to happen.
My core group, there was probably five of us. We were all stationed in England together and we had left out together and we were all on the same crew together. When we deployed, we were, I think it was six of us. Six of us from England. We met, I think, it was four or five dudes from Ramstein were there. There were the two guys, I think, or the three guys from Misawa, Japan. I’m trying to think where else. That might be it. We had nobody that was stationed in the US that had came over and was in our unit.
We kept our crew pretty close. Like I said, we did everything together. We went to lunch together. When we finally got moved out of the tents, we moved into the CHUs after probably three months to four months or whatever it was. Then we were just in a row pretty much. You know, you never get as close with anybody. You get close on a different level when you’re down there because you bitch about the same thing every single day. [makes a gruff voice] “When are we getting out of this place? When are we getting out of here?”
RH: Good to go. Alright. What was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
JP: I don’t know. I would say probably closer to the end when we really started counting down the days. Probably the last few days was the toughest. The days dragged. You knew you weren’t leaving until you saw that flight come in with your replacement. So you knew you weren’t leaving until these guys got there and then you had to spin them up which would take a couple days. So we would check every day with the terminal and, “is this flight coming? Are these guys on this flight?” “No, no. They a’int coming in. They a’int here yet” That was probably the worst. When we hit our point where we thought we were leaving, and then we went past it, that was probably the toughest part. It was the end. The beginning it was all new. The middle was you’re in a routine, you know what the hell’s going on, you’re doing the same shit every day and in the end it was like, “alright. I want out. I’m done. I want to go home.”
RH: Did you have any transformative or significant events that informed your deployment?
JP: Probably that whole when we got attacked the first time when Obama was sworn in. It kind of just gave you perspective because I don’t know. I guess I was kind of naïve when I went out there. What was that? 2008? I was only twenty-three years old. I was probably pretty naïve. I thought they guys living, there’s nothing out there. They’re not that smart. They’re just launching shit. No. They were the enemy. They were pretty smart. They were pretty smart and they had TVs obviously and as soon as Obama put his hand up, it was wild. I’ll never, ever forget that. You heard it come right over the tent.
After that we would get attacked and then it was kind of like, “yeah, they’re just launching more shit at us.” You’d be in the DFAC and you’d get attacked and I remember being underneath the table reaching up for my grilled cheese [both laugh] sitting there eating it underneath the table like, “alright. Come on. You done yet?” You didn’t want to get caught sitting at the table. God forbid some Colonel or something walked by, he would have your ass. He’d probably send you back to the States. That was probably the one thing that made that deployment different.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Before we move on to coming home, is there anything I left out about the deployment?
JP: No. I mean, it was pretty standard. I think we did just shy of six months, five and a half months or something like that. It was your run of the mill deployment I guess. I don’t think I’m missing anything.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Can you talk a little bit about your immediate post-deployment experiences?
JP: So, leaving Iraq we couldn’t stay at Ramstein. I remember this, I remember it very vividly. We couldn’t stay at Ramstein so we booked a hotel in Frankfurt. We had to get our non-availability letters from Ramstein but we were going to Frankfurt for the night, our first night back.
We were so excited. We landed and we finally got out. We supposed to only be in Al Udeid in Qatar four a couple hours. Literally, we got to the country and we were supposed to leave right away. It was the LT-11 or the DC-20 – whatever the plane was that we were supposed to fly out on – we were at this point where we were about to get on the plane and one of the mechanics for the plane said, “oh, this plane a’int going nowhere.” I said, “what do you mean it’s not going nowhere? We’re leaving! Yeah, it is going. We’re leaving!” [RH laughs] It was the rotator and he was like, “no, they had a bird strike at eight thousand feet.” And my first thing was, “what the fuck was a bird doing at eight thousand feet? Why are you so high?” And yeah, we were stuck there another three days. Oh dude, it sucked. We slept there damn near twenty-four hours laying in the pax terminal which we couldn’t get through customs again because when we had did it the first time there was only ten of us. Now we were a full plane load of four hundred people. People were coded differently. People could get out on MILAIR – a military flight. We were fucking coded that we had to fly this stupid airplane, this stupid, broke airplane. And we were stuck there for three days. Oh, we were so mad. We were so pissed. [RH laughs]
But when we got home, like I said earlier, I wanted to just hang out. I was excited to see my wife. I hadn’t seen her in months and at this point – what is it? – it was June of ’09. We got married in January of ’07 so two and a half years, at most. She had been living out in England. She came out in July of ’07 so she was there shy of two years still.
RH: Was she in the Air Force as well?
JP: No. She was a civilian. I was really excited to see her. I mean, that was the main thing. I was ready to get home and see my wife but once I got back, it was weird. She was one of the bartenders at the club on base which in England at the time was huge. You go there on a Friday and Saturday night and the place was jammed. There was a line out the door. There’d be five hundred people at this place just going berserko. But people that I had been friends with prior to the deployment I kind of really didn’t give a shit about. You know, you weren’t with me. You didn’t just spend the last six months doing what I was doing. I don’t know. It was weird.
It was a mindset that I had in my head and all I wanted to do was spend time with the guys that I had deployed with. It was like two guys, especially, we were all close and one of them was much older than me but he had been in the military less time than I had. Not by much, maybe a year or two. But you know, it’s always, “how long have you been in? Bla, bla, bla.” Yeah, we were all pretty much the same. It was just like, “alright, we’re back. Yeah. Nice to see you honey. Can I go hang out with my buddies now? Can they come over here now? Oh, we’re doing this. Can I bring these two with me?” And my wife didn’t really understand it and it kind of pissed her off until, I think, some people spoke to her and were like, “give him some time.” And then it was just kind of like the flip of a switch, I thought at least. She’ll probably have a different story for you. But then it was like, “hey! I’m back. What’s up? How are you?” This and that, bla, bla, bla.
Coming back in the beginning there was no big welcome greeting. There was none of that. Like I said, we left as a group of eight. We came back as a group of eight or six or whatever we were. It must have been eight of us, at least eight of us. We landed back in Heathrow, because once we flew from Frankfurt on British Airways or some commercial airline back into Heathrow, every day there was two busses that used to leave the airports that used to come up to the bases for people coming and going and this and that. And that’s what we took. We rode up there with people that were coming home from leave, people that were just PCS’ing out there and I was like, “this is so weird.” We got back to the base, the bus pulled into long-term parking on the base, there was fucking nobody there! It was my wife, the Tech Sergeant Brooker’s wife, a couple people. Not many of our guys that we worked with were there and it was like, “hmm. Maybe the whole out of sight, out of mind thing really is true.” I don’t know.
It’s weird because you see the way the Army deploys and they deploy as a big fucking brigade or whatever they are. There are four hundred guys and when they come home they have these big ceremonies. It’s this, it’s that and it was not like that. It was not like that at all. We flew back on British Airways. [laughs] We come back into Heathrow airport, we didn’t fly into the base and there was really nobody there to greet us. I remember that distinctly because we walked across – because the long-term parking lot was across the street from our shop – we walked across the street and we walked into the shop and everybody was like, “oh, hey. You guys are back?” “Yeah. We’re back.” Business as usual for them. They kept running. Man, it was like, “hey cool. Yeah. What’s up?” It was weird. It was definitely weird and I remember that distinctly because it was like I said, the Army thing. It was weird.
RH: Alright. How did the airmen around you change after the deployment?
JP: Like I said, we were just a lot closer. The guys that I was with, I was a lot closer with. I had one of my best friends though. He had gone to Balad in 2007 which I was supposed to go to but I didn’t because they kind of deployed everybody when you got to the base. I think he had flown in the day before me and he left and I didn’t go. I was the first one to go God forbid something happened but I didn’t go. And I remember he deployed again in ’08. I left in December and I think he left in February back to Balad. I would call him every other day because we were just using DSN lines to call back and forth and I would call him up in Balad and bullshit. He came back a couple months after me, probably two or three months after me. When he was gone I helped him out. He did the same thing for me.
The people around me though, my friends, we were close. Like I said, the guys that I was with, we were a lot closer. And then we all kind of left England at the same time and then we all kind of went our separate ways and I haven’t spoke to some of them in a while. I know one is still in. He’s stationed in Japan. I know my best friend Deville, he’s stationed in Vegas now. He’s been in Vegas for a while. And my other friend, he got out of the military. He lives in Michigan. And that was it. He did four and out.
Part 2 of Josh’s interview can be found here.