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Idaho National Guard
Boise Weekly - Not Your Everyday Newspaper: Features: Feature: Postcards from Hell, Part II
It was mid-morning on the first Sunday of 2005, and Capt. Kory Turnbow, new to Iraq, already had his hands full.He'd been assigned to live at an Iraqi army barracks even though he spoke no Arabic.On this day, he was taking a brigade-level staffer on a meet-and-greet, driving a sluggish Toyota Land Cruiser--top heavy with protective glass--through a scrungey industrial neighborhood in an unfamiliar city and was trying to keep control of his four-rig convoy via walkie-talkie because there was no radio in the car. And then there was the lowboy coming the other way, carrying a massive load and crowding the decayed asphalt street. So much had changed.Turnbow was studying law at the University of Idaho when the Idaho National Guard's 116th Brigade Combat Team was mobilized for active duty in 2004.The 29-year-old, trim and bespectacled with receding hair, had arrived in Iraq by Christmas as the eager commander of Bravo Company, made up of 96 soldiers, from teens to gray-hairs--people who are teachers, grocers, farmers, firefighters, painters, students and cops from Moscow, Orofino and Grangeville.Once in Iraq, though, the company was broken up and its platoons scattered to several different bases.Most wound up "behind the wire" at forward operating bases (FOBs) isolated by blast walls and razor wire throughout northern Iraq--or southern Kurdistan, as the locally dominant Kurds insist it be called. Turnbow himself was detailed to a special missions team and was sent "outside the wire" to an Iraqi Army barracks of 15 soldiers in Taza, a city of 30,000 just south of Kirkuk.In a rare circumstance among American soldiers, he was immersed in a fuller version of life in Iraq.Like much of the country where Americans don't live, the Iraqi barracks typically went without electricity for 18 hours a day and was a place where soldiers would "turn on the tap and hope something good came out," Turnbow says. He was still adjusting to his first week at Taza and had driven up to the main American base at Kirkuk that morning to pick up his first sergeant, Guy VonBargen, and the brigade's master sergeant.Their mission was to meet some local contractors and eyeball potential reconstruction sites in the nearby cities of Daquq and Laylan. "It was supposed to be an easy one," Turnbow says.He was on his way back through Taza after picking up his passengers when everything changed. On the way north that morning, Taza's jumbled industrial area was a noisy hive of diesel-spewing trucks in motion and sparks flying from cutting torches and grinders. "There is junk everywhere," Turnbow says, describing a Third World chaos of sheds and shanties and factories that are little more than metal roofs on posts.As the small convoy of three gun trucks and the Land Cruiser nosed south, Turnbow was suddenly alarmed to notice the industrial area empty and still. "That tells you somebody went around and warned people to clear out because they were going to blow something up," Turnbow says. At the moment, the lowboy kept him preoccupied. "Did you ever see pictures of that 'Mother of All Generators' they took down to Baghdad?"Turnbow asks."My first sergeant was in the passenger seat and he said 'Oh, fu ... ' but he didn't even have time to finish before it touched off," Turnbow says. In his journal, Turnbow wrote this account: It's the aftermath that is the worst part, Turnbow says, when you have time to go over the details: Were there two shells or three?What was their caliber?How does a young guy from Post Falls get his head around the idea that someone deliberately just tried to blow him to bits? "And the worst part is, I'm thinking it's January 2nd and I have 10 more months of this," Turnbow says. Whoever blew up the taxi had a fairly short window--it was roughly an hour to get to Kirkuk and back, Turnbow estimates."They worked fast, likely started the setup immediately after we passed through the first time," he says.Perhaps in haste, the Chinese-made shells, the equivalent of American 155-mm artillery rounds, were positioned so that the main force of the blast went straight through the Mitsubishi's roof. "If somebody had just put a little weight on those shells, the force of the blast would have come sideways, and I wouldn't be here," Turnbow says. Turnbow, even as he was horsing the mortally wounded Land Cruiser out of the blast, was on his handheld radio setting up a perimeter, checking for injuries (there were none) and calling for help.Then, on an impulse, he got on his cell phone and called the Iraqi Army barracks. The Iraqi commander he was just getting to know, Capt. Ehsahn (like many Muslims, he uses one name), had troops there in six minutes.The coalition took 45. "They pulled my fat out of the fire more than once," Turnbow says of the Iraqi Army. Following standard drill, the soldiers hunkered behind their rigs, waiting to see if there would be a second bomb or a rush of small-arms fire.Tense minutes clicked by--five, 10, 15--and all remained quiet, the small circle of soldiers watching the workers who were watching them. "The individuals I talked to at that point all had smiles on their faces," Turnbow says.He coldly stalked the junkyards with Capt. Ehsahn and interpreters, questioning the smiling people who stayed to see if he would die. He ended his journal entry for the day with the words: Dirty bastards. After five hours of interrogation with little to show for it except the name of the taxi's owner, Turnbow went back to the Iraqi barracks where there was one more surprise.It was for Turnbow. "When Allah spares you, you slaughter a sheep," Turnbow says. When the military calls something a shaped charge, here's what they mean: "Unlike my IED, which went off willy-nilly, you carve out some of the inside of the shell so you funnel the explosion, the flame, in one direction," Turnbow says.Imagine a blowtorch when it suddenly whooshes to life. Given his connection to the men on patrol, Turnbow was keenly interested in this IED.Turnbow had heard the news, and by morning drove to Warrior to visit his wounded soldiers.Blowing out a long breath, Turnbow adds, "That's going to stay with me the rest of my life."He got those comics post-haste," Turnbow says. Capt. Kory Turnbow of the Idaho National Guard was nearly blown to bits in his first week in Iraq.The 29-year-old law student and Pullman resident is not alone in having had a close encounter with an improvised explosive device (IED).Every local soldier who spent 2005 in Iraq with the Idaho National Guard has a bomb story.All are as intense as Turnbow's, and in almost every case, the bombers were never caught.
SR.com: Old soldiers, new Army
Capt. Kory Turnbow, 28, and Spc.Bravo Company's commander, Capt. Kory Turnbow, of Pullman, outlined the shifting Army reality for his soldiers during a "hot wash" debriefing immediately after the patrol ended in the wee hours of Saturday.This is a new Army "where you have to take off your warrior hats," Turnbow said."This is a new paradigm, and it is happening so rapidly there is no Army doctrine and part of it is being made up as we go along," Turnbow said of the military realities after the invasion of Iraq and the declaration of a War on Terror.
Boise Weekly - Not Your Everyday Newspaper: Features: Feature: Postcards from Hell
Capt. Kory Turnbow of the Idaho National Guard was nearly blown to bits in his first week in Iraq.The 29-year-old law student and Pullman resident is not alone in having had a close encounter with an improvised explosive device (IED).Every local soldier who spent 2005 in Iraq with the Idaho National Guard has a bomb story.All are as intense as Turnbow's, and in almost every case, the bombers were never caught.Turnbow has a good idea who tried to blow him up last year in northern Iraq--and it wasn't someone on the usual list of Al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Islam, Islamists, jihaddis, Wahabbis, Baathists, Saddam loyalists or common criminals.His hunch is: "Colonel Faisal of the Iraqi Army.He's the battalion commander at Taza and an individual I worked very closely with," Turnbow says."I was never able to substantiate that with enough proof to reel him in, but I think I came close." As a former member of the Iraqi special forces, Faisal had the know-how to set up a car bomb; he had knowledge of Turnbow's movements; and, after two quick disputes with Turnbow involving a contract to feed the local Iraqi troops for a year, Faisal may have had sufficient motive.Turnbow says that Faisal created a side company and put in a bid, which was rejected because it wasn't competitive.Then Turnbow learned Faisal was strong-arming the winning bidder. "First, I reject his bid on the food contract, then I have the nerve to inquire why my contractor is being shook down after leaving the gate and being paid.I think these factors led to his desire for my life," Turnbow says. Was Faisal behind the bombing?If so, was he acting out of greed, or did he have a family to support?Turnbow came away from Iraq with far more questions than answers--on both this matter and larger ones.He served the remainder of his year without incident. "The contractor I had I was happy with," Turnbow says.And this was a good thing, because Turnbow ate the same food as the 15 Iraqi soldiers in the barracks."Except for Monday."This is an economy-driven insurgency," Turnbow says, citing 80 percent unemployment in the middle of a conflict where both sides pay cash for odd jobs. The locals in Charlie Company, augmented by a platoon of Turnbow's from the Moscow armory, were stationed at McHenry as part of Task Force Griz.Turnbow remembers asking this question the day his Land Cruiser was shredded. "It's kind of embarrassing. [Shells] were literally on the side of the road in the industrial area, and they weren't even making an attempt to hide the stuff," he says. Or you could pay the scrap value," Turnbow says."This is not a war, it's a police action," Turnbow says."We [National Guardsmen] tend to talk more to people.Active duty rolls into town and they lay down the law.I think it gives more of an occupation feel ...I don't think the populace felt so occupied when we were there." Yet noting the bomb attack on himself and the 900-plus against Task Force Griz, Turnbow says, "No matter how much good you do, you're always the Sheriff of Nottingham." "Everything Was Broken" I want to know how my story ends," Turnbow says."To be honest, I'm not sure how to answer." There may no longer be a nation of Iraq, he senses, noting that Iraqis cheer the misfortune of countrymen from a different sect or ethnicity."It took a tyrant like Saddam to hold it together," he says. After a year of funding Iraqi Army and police projects, Turnbow believes nothing will change until Americans take their checkbook and leave, forcing Iraqis to act on their own. Too much money is spent on military and security issues and not enough on clean water or reliable power for ordinary citizens, Turnbow says.Resistance, in this atmosphere, is viewed with sympathy by fellow Iraqis. Democracy is still an American (i.e., foreign) concept, and sewage still runs down the middle of streets, but "people have taken very well to the free market," Turnbow says.Across the Kurdish north, "roadside Home Depots are going up everywhere.There are sinks, Western-style toilets, appliances, air conditioners ... "When we got there, Taza had six hours of electricity a day.When we left, Taza had six hours of electricity a day," Turnbow says.
Capt. Kory Turnbow of the Idaho National Guard was nearly blown to bits in his first week in Iraq.The 29-year-old law student and Pullman resident is not alone in having had a close encounter with an improvised explosive device (IED).Every local soldier who spent 2005 in Iraq with the Idaho National Guard has a bomb story.All are as intense as Turnbow's, and in almost every case, the bombers were never caught.