At first Iraqis loved us, but now they hate us Seabee David Frey explained after returning from the Middle Eastt
Twenty-year-old David Frey of Port Charlotte, Fla. is a Navy Seabee who just returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq.
He is the son of Joan Frey of Port Charlotte. He graduated from Port Charlotte High School in 2002.
He is a steel worker who knows how to use steel for building construction. During his initial tour over there his unit, Naval Mobil Construction Battalion 4, built bridges for the Marines and refurbished damaged schools for Iraqi school children.
“Our job is to support the Marine Corps by building anything they need,” Frey said at his stepfather, Ron Larrivee’s home in Port Charlotte. ”If they need a bridge to get across a stream we build it. If the Marines need wooden barracks instead of living in the desert in tents we do that, too.
The most positive response his unit receive from local Iraqis was during his first tour when they were rebuilding damaged schools.
“We were in Ad Diwaniyah, west of Baghdad, working on several schools in the area,” Frey said. “We fixed school windows, walls, reinstalled doors, installed ceiling fans. We did whatever they needed to open the school again.
“They loved us for what we did for them. The teachers thanked us and we had to keep the kids off us while we were doing the rebuilding,” he said. “That was pretty good.”
Before they fixed up the schools, Frey’s construction battalion spent much of their time erecting steel bridges for the Marines. Eventually these bridges were also used by the civilians.
“They’re called Johnson Bridges. They’re about 25 to 30 feet wide and 100 to 200 feet long. They are trucked to the site in sections and we assemble them like an Erector Set,” Frey explained. “We’d work in 12-hour shifts. It took us no longer than two days to build one of these bridges.”
Although Seabee units are not generally in the line of fire, everyone driving on he roads in Iraq is subject to being attacked by insurgents. They use improvised explosive devices hidden in the road and set off electronically by a concealed enemy combatant.
When the insurgents weren’t blowing up U.S. vehicles traveling Iraqi roads they were lobbing rockets and mortars into heavily protected American sectors.
“They’d shoot rockets into Camp Fallujah from time-to-time. They couldn’t aim their rockets and hit a specific target. They’d just fire them into the air and they would fall indiscriminately into our compound,” Frey said.
SW-3 Eric Knott was a steel worker working at Camp Fallujah back last September when a 155 millimeter rocket detonated close by him. He died from shrapnel wounds.
“The insurgent’s rocket hit right where I would have been if I hadn’t been involved in the construction education project with a bunch of young Iraqis,” Frey said. “Knott was welding a steel gate under a tent when the rocket hit about 15 meters from him. They have a kill radius of 40 to 50 meters”
One of the more potentially far reaching programs Frey was involved in during his second tour in Iraq was the Iraqi Civilian Apprenticeship Program. This is an on the job training program where young Iraqi civilians are trained by Seabees to do basic construction work.
“Since my specialty was steel working, I showed my trainees how to properly space rebar in concrete foundations, tie the bars and cut them with a torch,” he said “We worked with a couple of dozen young men at a time at construction sites near Fallujah.”
Home base over here for the Fourth Battalion was Camp Fallujah, a Marine base near the city of the same name northwest of Baghdad. It’s one of the most lethal areas in the country for American service personnel.
There’s a big difference between the reception they first received from Iraqi civilians two years ago and the vibes they received from them during his second tour of duty.
“When I was first over there people along the edge of the road would wave at us as we went by in convoy,” he said. “They don’t wave anymore, they don’t even look at us.
“They can’t show they like us or they insurgents will kill them,” Frey said. “They don’t want to have anything to do with us because they could get in trouble.”
So what’s the long range prognosis in Iraq as seen through the eyes of a young Seabee?
“We’ll eventually get out of there, but it won’t be any time in the near future. But that’s not my call,” he said.
After almost a month of leave at home Frey recently returned to his home base at Port Huenemine, Calif. where he will spend the next few months training. He expects to be redeployed to Japan for at least a six months tour in the foreseeable future.
He’s still got two more years to serve before his first hitch is up. What then?
“I plan on reenlisting. When I do I’m looking for shore duty oversees in Europe, hopefully somewhere in Spain,” Frey said.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, March 27, 2005 and is republished with permission.
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