Thursday, August 20, 2015

Travelogue: A Soldier's Tour in Kuwait and Iraq with Stan Hampton

Summer Travelogue Series
Hello and welcome to the most unusual travelogue you've ever experienced. Meet Stan Hampton,  full-blooded Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to thirteen wonderful grandchildren, multi-genre author, published photographer, and photojournalist. This man of many talents also served in the U.S. Army. Today he takes us behind-the-scenes during his deployment in Kuwait and Iraq, 2006-2007. 

I'm afraid you won't get tips on where-to-go for a great meal or what tour companies to use for sight-seeing. Stan said, "O
ther than three missions into Iraq, or going further south into Kuwait to a big camp, most of my time 'in Iraq' was working and watching DVDs or listening to music in my tent." Join Sergeant First Class Stan Hampton as he experienced his tour through pictures and stories.

Learn more about Stan and his books after the "travelogue."

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A Soldier's Tour in Kuwait and Iraq with Sergeant First Class Stan Hampton

            It used to be that a journey began with the words, “All aboard! Tickets please, tickets!”
            Then journeys began with, “For the safety briefing, please direct your attention to the stewardess closest to you.” (Or words to that effect.)
            My most memorable journey began on a hot, humid day in southern Mississippi as I and other Soldiers watched a large airplane being loaded with some 400-600 duffel bags (average weight 40-50 pounds each), to be followed by us (some 300 Soldiers) with full backpacks and individual weapons.
            To back up for a moment, the Coalition Forces in Iraq were supplied in great part by logistics (supply) convoys escorted by gun trucks that rumbled out of Kuwait all hours of the day and night. A Wisconsin Army National Guard field artillery battalion was given such a Security Force, SECFOR, mission. They were short of personnel; Cavalry volunteers from Nevada and Arizona, and volunteers from Maine, stood up Company A, and supplied a few individual Soldiers to the other companies.
            Our destination, after two months of pre-deployment training in Mississippi, was Convoy Support Center (CSC) Navistar, a mile south of the Iraqi border. Convoys bound for Iraq picked up gun truck escorts, and convoys coming out dropped off their escorts. During the coming year many Soldiers would spend six months or more escorting logistics convoys on the most dangerous roads in the world.
All aboard!



            Mississippi, July 2006 – someone (I claim it was not I) after watching the loading of the aircraft and as we prepared to board, announced with some trepidation, “That thing better have some big b***s to get us off the ground.” We refueled in Maine, but less than hour over the Atlantic we had to turn back due to a maintenance problem—but that is another story.
Dust storm

            First Dust Storm, 2006 – the average 130-135 degree heat was unbelievable. There are no photographs or video that gets across that feeling to those who did not deploy. People saw the first eerie dusty tendrils stretching toward us from the west, and a lot of people rushed outside to get photographs of this first dust storm. It sure wasn’t our last.
First mission

            First Mission, September 2006 – aside from insurgent activity (which I never experienced), traffic accidents were a common hazard during these convoys. After taking the driver of an 18-wheeler to the medical clinic at CSC Cedar, located off of Main Supply Route Tampa, after such an accident, the gun truck I rode in returned to help with security as the pair of damaged vehicles were recovered. It felt a little strange to be carrying a real weapon with real ammo, and ready to use it. By the way, I was 52 years old when I deployed. This mission lasted from shortly before midnight until after dawn, and I slept for close to 10 hours after returning to Navistar. War is definitely for the young.
Homw away from home

            December 31, 2006 – noteworthy not for the event, but for where I was; a desert with a 3,000+ year old history. Here is my air conditioned corner of home. It was also the first time I heard gunfire in celebration of New Year’s. The night sky over the Iraqi village a mile away was lit up like a curtain of World War II anti-aircraft fire.
American Soldiers are the greatest tourists.

            Doing the Tourist Thing, 2007 – someone once claimed that American Soldiers were the greatest tourists there are. Based on the number of film and digital cameras, and cell phones in use, I believe it. Long story short, after escorting some asphalt trucks to a small plant in Iraq, we checked on the progress of the “Bitumen Road” under construction, and visited a Persian Gulf War battlefield littered with Iraqi tanks taken out by A-10 ground support aircraft. I am carrying a replica 1863 Cavalry guidon; whenever I went into Iraq I carried guidons, Army bears, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) shoulder patches (the parent unit of our Nevada Cavalry squadron), and 11th ACR pins, that I mailed, with letters, to my children and grandchildren. Not long after this photo was taken, Iraqi Police showed up from a nearby post. Talk about the OK Corral! But, after several tense moments of armed Americans and Iraqis facing one another, all ended peacefully—but that is another story.
Camp Virginia

            Camp Virginia, 2007 – the Iraqis and Kuwaitis wanted the border crossing near Navistar for trade/economic reasons, so as soon as the Bitumen Road was completed, we had to move. In May. Two months before we were to leave Kuwait. Air conditioned tents look the same no matter where you go, but Camp Virginia was like a vast desert metropolis compared to the little hamlet of Navistar.
Company Headquarters Building

            The Front Porch, 2007 – the porch of our Company Headquarters building. And another sand/dust storm. Once, after a long storm, I entered the large mess hall (dining facility), and I could barely see the opposite end of the huge interior. The dust hanging in the air was that thick. Breakfast still tasted good, though a little crunchy!
the Great Ziggurat of Ur (Talil Air Base)

            The Birthplace of Writing, June 2007 – my original enlistment was up in October, and I wanted more time to think about staying in the Guard. So what better place for a writer to do a one-year extension, than the Great Ziggurat of Ur (Talil Air Base) in ancient Sumeria, where writing was invented? This was after the ceremony. Italian food followed shortly afterwards.
Going home

            Going Home, July 2007 – there are no words to describe “The Day” of loading duffel bags, and waiting for buses to take us to Ali Al Salem Air Base. That night, with gun truck escort, we were driven to Kuwait City to catch a midnight flight home.
Ft. Lewis, Washington

            Fort Lewis, Washington, July 2007 – and there are no words to describe the smell of rain in the air, the smell of trees and green grass, and hearing real trees rustling in the wind. Or the caress of the cool night air. Or the feeling of being at the end of the deployment.
Back home

            Home, July 2007 – after demobilization processing we flew back to Las Vegas. A pair of old buses, escorted by siren-blaring police cars, carried us from McCarran Airport all the way down the Strip to the Armory on the north side of Las Vegas, where families and friends waited.
            By necessity, I have omitted a lot of details, including feelings of loneliness, looking forward to mail, holidays with an extended Soldier family and friends, dinner at an Italian place surrounded by tall blast walls (in case of mortar or rocket attack) at Talil, and the emotional shock and grief about fellow Soldiers Killed In Action and Wounded In Action.


            So, this is my travelogue from 2006-2007.
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Mainstream Military Fiction
Better Than a Rabbit's Foot by S.S. Hampton
Back Cover:
Sergeant Jerry Stanton is a young soldier serving in the War in Iraq. He is a gunner on a gun truck nicknamed “Lucky Bear,” one of those tireless workhorses that escort supply convoys from camps in Kuwait to destinations scattered throughout the war-torn country. In the early morning hours before a scheduled mission, a dust storm howls across his camp and threatens to bring convoy operations to a halt. Worse, the camp receives word that a gunner from his company was killed by an IED while on a convoy mission in Iraq. Unlike most soldiers, Jerry doesn’t carry a lucky charm, but upon receiving news of the death of the gunner, he begins to mull over the merit of a good luck charm—only, what would work for him? Perhaps mail call will provide the answer.
Read an excerpt from Better Than a Rabbit's Foot at MuseItUp Publishing
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Author Stan Hampton
Stan Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, and a published photographer and photojournalist. He retired on 1 July 2013 from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class;he previously served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007) with deployment to northern Kuwait and several convoy security missions into Iraq.


            He has had two solo photographic exhibitions and curated a third. His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others.
            As of April 2014, after being in a 2-year Veterans Administration program for Homeless Veterans, Hampton is officially no longer a homeless Iraq War veteran.
            In May 2014 he graduated from the College of Southern Nevada with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Photography – Commercial Photography Emphasis. A future goal is to study for a degree in archaeology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology (and also learning to paint). He is currently studying in a double major in Art and Creative Writing at University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
            After over 14 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters.
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Hampton can be found online at:





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Thank you for your service, Stan. I was certainly enlightened by your account of your experiences in Kuwait and Iraq. 

Please say hi to Stan and ask questions. I guarantee you he'll have some answers!
And add your email address to the Follow by Email box at the top of the page so you won't miss blog posts on the J.Q. Rose blog. Thank you!!

15 comments:

Heather Brainerd said...

Stan, thank you for your service and for sharing this glimpse into a soldier's life.

Marsha said...

Thank you for your service, Stan. I'm glad you're home safely. When you mentioned the 135 degrees temp, I cringed. We've just broken several weeks of 106 & 107 temps. I've nearly died and that's with AC. I don't know how you and the others endured the circumstances, but thank you for doing so. Best to you in your writing and thank you for sharing your experience. I'll share.

J Q Rose said...

Heather--just a glimpse. I know he has a lot of stories to tell about the experiences there. Thanks for stopping in.

J Q Rose said...

Marsha--Stan told me when they rode in the vehicles there was AC in them, but move two inches away from the vent and there was no coolness. I cannot imagine surviving in that heat along with having to wear those army clothes too! And no water to jump in to cool off in the desert!

Anonymous said...

Heather,

Hi. I'm glad you enjoyed this glimpse. As with anyone who deployed, there are a lot more stories that I didn't have space for - this was a long post compared to most. As for serving, it's been my honor and privilege.

Thanks for visiting!

Stan

Anonymous said...

Marsha,

Hi. Well, I only went north three times. Anyone who went on a mission in a gun truck rode with ballistic windows rolled up; the open turret in the roof was a great conduit for broiling desert air to pour into the truck, let alone the vehicle absorbing the heat from the sun. Add helmet, big ear phones shoved under the helmet, Individual Body Armor (think 35-pound armored vest), ammunition magazines, near elbow-length fire retardant gloves, sleeves rolled down - yep, you lost weight on those missions. Some guys on a short mission could drink a 6-pack of water and never go to the bathroom. And if you did, well, there's no pit stops, so that's why take an empty Gatorade bottle - even the female Soldiers.

Anyway, didn't mean to be so wordy.

Thanks for visiting! Have a great week!

Stan

helenafairfax.com said...

Thanks for the glimpse into your time in Iraq, Stan. I find it hard to imagine how that heat must have been. Add to that the fear of attack and the trauma of losing friends. It's no wonder you remember so well the freshness of the rain on your return. Thanks for the insight.

J Q Rose said...

Hey Stan, I don't think you're too wordy. I think you help us truly appreciate what our soldiers go through in service to our country. I'm glad you're telling your story. Have you considered writing a memoir?

J Q Rose said...

Helena, thanks so much for stopping in.

Anonymous said...

JQ,

Hi. I tried that once, many years ago. And I'm not too sure how a memoir from me would work, especially about my deployment. I only went north three times, and other than the traffic accident on my first mission, and an OK Corral stand-off with Iraqi Police (no one trusted the Iraqi Police) that ended peacefully, I never saw anything. In writing up awards and so on in my admin position at the Company, I dealt with Soldiers who had been through much worse. So, I'm not sure about that.

Stan

Anonymous said...

Helena,

Hi. Actually, going home on 2 weeks Rest & Recreation leave, we stopped at Rhein Main in Frankfurt to refuel. I really could smell the grass around the terminal building! In Kuwait and Iraq, the only green grass I saw was a big manicured field and right square in the middle of that patch of deep green, was the headquarters building for all of Kuwait. I didn't smell any grass then. But oh yeah, when we arrived at Fort Lewis in the late afternoon, talk about sensory overload - grass, trees, wind, scent of rain in the air, etc.!

Anyway, thanks for visiting! Have a great week!

Stan

J Q Rose said...

Stan, I bet your family would love to know about your tours overseas and your life as a soldier. Those 13 grandkids will be curious about it for sure. Telling your story is a gift to your family and friends. Think about it.

Helen and Lorri said...

Thanks for sharing this, Stan. Your writing keeps getting better. How's the college and the photography coming?

J Q Rose said...

Hi Helena and Lori, Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Helen and Lorri,

Thank you. Well, I graduated last year with an Associates in Photography, and as of this past spring, I am now a student at University of Nevada-Las Vegas, with a double major in Art and Creative Writing. As for photography, didn't get much done this summer. I'm gearing up for more this fall, though, including a special photography project.

Thanks for visiting, and have a great week!

Stan