The 34-year-old reserve sergeant is a member of Headquarters Company, 800th MP Brigade. This is the outfit that took part in the infamous Abu Ghraib Prison debacle.
Girilo makes it very clear his headquarters company was not involved in the scandal with the prisoners at Abu Ghraib. His reserve unit is based on Long Island, New York and the outfit that made headlines at the prison is from Maryland, however, it’s still part of his brigade.
In fact, the sergeant recently received a Bronze Star for doing an outstanding job during his first tour of duty. He helped set up and operate the major POW facility located about 80 miles south of Baghdad in the desert during the Second Gulf War.
The commendation accompanying the award noted in part: “Staff Sgt. Christopher Grilo for exceptional meritorious service as an assistant noncommissioned officer during operation Iraqi Freedom. Sgt. Grilo’s dedication to duty and leadership were instrumental in assisting in the set up of the first interment facility for the war. Grilo’s efforts were pivotal in operating and sustaining an enemy Prisoner of War facility for more than 10,000 POWs.”
“I went into Iraq on D-Plus-1, (the day after the war started). We went up Main Supply Route Tampa, the main road from the Kuwait border to Baghdad, approximately 250 miles away. We went in right behind the assault troops. We followed a Marine outfit and a Seabees unit that was headed for Baghdad,” Grilo said.
“On the way up we’d run into these little white Toyota pickup trucks with guys in them,” he said. “They’d flash an AK and we’d shoot at them. They’d drive off into the desert at night. We were on a mission and we didn’t chase after them.”
Because he was headed for Baghdad in an army truck that lacked armor plating, Grilo and his buddies engineered their own armor plating. They hung sandbags in nets around the cab of their trucks and Humvees to protect them from incoming fire. It worked.
What is his opinion on the lack of armored vehicles for U.S. troops in Iraq?
“Not every combat support unit has armored vehicles. My reserve unit lacked armored vehicles when I was over there last year. However, I think guys hauling fuel should have armored vehicles. Originally it was expected that fuel tankers would be driving in secured areas and wouldn’t come under fire. But now that the enemy is using roads bombs everyone is a potential target,” Grilo explained.
The convoy he was in during the opening days of the war only had machine -guns, Mark-19 grenade launchers an M-16 rifles—no tanks or Bradley fighting vehicles accompanied them to Baghdad.
Grilo’s unit established the major POW came south of the capital shortly after the war began on Mach 25. By June they were releasing their prisoners because the U.S. military thought their mission in Iraq was almost over and the war had been won.
“The majority of the prisoners were Iraqi soldiers who were very happy with the treatment and very cooperative. We had a few bad apples, but not many,” he said. “When they left the POW camp they had clothes and a care package form the Red Cross.”
“U.S. number one. Bush number one,” the POWs said as they walked out of the camp Grilo recalled.
What a difference a year makes.
Today much of the country is in complete upheaval. A substantial number of Iraqis are opposed to the U.S. occupation of their country and have been conducting a very successful guerrilla war against the U.S. forces.
Why would a young soldier with most of his life ahead of him volunteer to go back and try and help stabilized Iraq?
“I just want to be here because that’s where the terrorists are. I took 9-11 very personally,” he said.
But there was more to Grilo’s decision to volunteer for a second tour over there than the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.
“I have a lot of respect for the guys in my VFW post up in Hicksville, N.Y. where I grew up,” he said.”These World War II guys went to war and were gone for years. To me being told that you’re only going to be over there a year and then you come home isn’t right. Now because of the new unrest caused by the terrorists I want to go back and finish the job.
It was the First Gulf War and President George H.W. Bush’s call to arms in 1990 that convinced Grilo to join the Army Reserve in the first place. He signed up just about the time the 100 day war came to an end. He never made it to the Middle East.
However, he was involved in peace keeping activities in Bosnia in 1997 as part of the NATO forces that was sent there to quell the mass killings of civilians. Grilo said it’s taken eight years for democracy to take root in Bosnia. It’s held free elections and the country is now functioning as a democracy without the assistance of U.S. troops on the ground.
He is hopeful that something similar will happen in Iraq.
“The election in Iraq is going to happen this month as planned,” he said. “Hopefully after the election is over Iraq will take more responsibility for their country and things will quiet own over there. After the elections I believe NATO will get more deeply involved in Iraq, just like they are in Afghanistan.”
From Sgt. Chris Grilo’s vantage point, “Saddam Hussein need to be dealt with and we dealt with him. But now it’s about the war on terror in Iraq. The terrorists want to disrupt democracy in Iraq. They also want to disrupt the Middle East. It’s time for the Middle East to embrace democracy like they have in Kuwait and throw the terrorists out.”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, Jan. 2, 2005 and is republished with permission.
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