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Baghdad Diary
Polk County Itemizer-Observer

July 29, 2003

Former mayor finds himself a long way from Monmouth

BAGHDAD -- During the last 20 months, I have been assigned to Albuquerque, Whidbey Island, Salt Lake City, Jackson Hole and Southwest Asia.

Now I'm in Baghdad.

I'm an augmentee with the 728th Air Control Squadron. In simple terms, I'm filling a vacancy they had when they were
sent to war.

I am an air battle manager. An air battle manager is similar in function to a surface warfare officer in the Navy or ops officer in the Army or Marines.

I provide the Air Operations Center the "picture" of the air war. What does that mean? It means that my job is to command a crew of surveillance, data link, weapons and air defense technicians to make sure the boss sees what he needs to see and kills who needs to be killed.

We've been a part of several operations since arrival "in country."

There has been Operation Desert Scorpion, Desert Sidewinder, Peninsula Strike and a few others (all under the umbrella of Operation Iraqi Freedom).

Though we were in Kuwait during the last phase of the air campaign, we convoyed up here and began setting up camp May 13.
We played a major role in the air-to-ground support operations during the "sustainment" phase.

I was transferred from Operation Noble Eagle/Enduring Freedom to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

We live in tents, sleep on cots, eat out of a mobile kitchen.

Our hot meals are UGRs (unit grade ration) and our individual meals are MREs (Meal Ready to Eat, Individual).

In all honesty, the UGRs aren't much different than the MREs except in scale and menu.

Generally speaking, things here aren't that bad. We get to shower at least once a day. We get a hot meal at least once a day (often two). We have MREs when there isn't a hot meal. We have email use (limited but here nonetheless).

Despite the nightly weapons fire and random explosions as well as the austere conditions, we have it pretty good compared to most of the folks who are full-time residents.

It's field conditions, but it could be a lot, lot worse.

The weather is hot, dusty and a little difficult to work in. The highest temperature I've seen was 125 degrees. But that was an unofficial reading.

More often than not, it's in the high 115 to 120 range. It is a little more humid here than I expected, but we are in a river valley so it makes sense.

The wind and sand storms are the worst part of the weather experience so far.

I'm sure more fun will follow, but for the moment the temperature is hot but bearable.

The general conditions are a lot like a fire camp except that there are people in the vicinity who would like to kill you.
The Iraqis are not in our area.

We took over Baghdad International Airport (formerly Saddam International) and it is a complex of small bases.

Since May 13, when I convoyed from Kuwait, I haven't been outside the walls of the airport. My job is here, 12 hours a day, pretty much every day. I keep busy enough.

I joined the Oregon Air National Guard six months after separating from active duty in the Air Force.

Like most people, there were many reasons. The primary reason was to serve my country and keep the experience I had gained "in the system" to help fight and win wars so we stay free.

The idea of a state militia -- a group of neighbors coming together in times of crisis -- makes sense to me. So, with the encouragement of my wife Karen, I joined.

Karen Madden Evans is a wonderful woman of incredible strength. She is my best friend, the most supportive wife a man can ask for. This war has been incredibly stressful for both of us, but probably hardest upon her. She has worked hard to keep our life going, while I've been home for precisely 43 days since I was called up (and 50 days since June 25, 2001 when I left for Kuwait).

It is hard to describe what it feels like to be here, doing the job. For nearly 11 years, I've trained for the opportunity to make a difference.

I'm a better person because I have learned what freedom really costs.

I believe that if you want to be a good citizen you must understand what sacrifice means, how it matters. I've been blessed with an opportunity to play a very minor role in a major production.

I count myself fortunate to have been given this chance to serve my country in the most personal way possible.

The last two years have been an incredible strain upon my personal and professional life. Public service is worth the cost, but it has been costly.

My future is uncertain.

The teaching contracts at Western Oregon University and Oregon State I had when called up have either been filled by others or no longer exist.

Due to circumstances, I retired from being mayor a few years before I had intended. I have a short-term position with my unit as we transition back into a traditional guard unit.

Beyond that, I really don't know anymore.

If I could find a full-time teaching position in the valley I would be pleased. However, at the moment my future is quite literally in the air.

God knows. But he hasn't shared the specifics with me yet.

I'm fairly certain public service in some form or fashion will continue to play a large role in my life. But I'm going to take some time, reflect on the really important things and reprioritize my life.

These last two years have taken a toll. It will take a few years to recover.

(Paul Evans is the former mayor of Monmouth. He is a captain in the Oregon Air National Guard. His unit was mobilized shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.)


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