Read accounts of Peacekeeping Operations by Lieutenant Commander C.J Griggs, Chief Petty Officer Maika, Petty Officer A.D Smith and Warrant Officer G.R Davis.
GULF BOARDINGS Lieutenant Commander C.J Griggs
The first thing that happened would be a challenge from the warship. First of all there are certain zones set out in the North Arabian Gulf and all Merchant ships on passage to and from Iraq must go through those zones. Fenway is the normal one they usually use, although part of the time we use another zone called Kominskey. These are all named after Baseball Parks in the US. Kominskey was further south and the reason for that was as I said the situation deteriorated while we were there. I think Sadao Hussein got a bit hacked off with his Navy Commanders they weren’t being aggressive enough against the Americans. We had patrol boats coming out of Iraq and they were positioning surface to surface missile batteries on the Al Fawr Peninsula which would put the Northern Arabian Gulf within range of their missiles. That again focuses the mind a bit when you are operating in that area. In fact one of the ships that one of the guys was on went to general quarters twice as a result of that, which was the first time that Warrant Officer Davis had been at action stations in 20 years for real.
These areas the Merchant Captains know they had to have their cargoes verified. They would go in and the Boarding Officer is on the bridge, he does a query. He basically has a checklist that he will go through and find out the name of the ship and the Master. How many are in the ships company, what cargo they are carrying and the last port and where they are proceeding to and all that kind of information. He will then give them instructions about what they are to do. They are basically required to muster their crew in one part of the ship, normally on the bow. They have to put a climbing ladder over the side, no one is allowed to be near the climbing ladder and there are all kinds of other things and requirements. Once that is all satisfied the Boarding Officer is satisfied that all the protocols have been observed, then they will send the boarding team away. They obviously climb up into the ship and they have a set procedure for boarding the ship as to who goes first and what you do once you get there. The whole boarding team is armed with nine millimetre Berettas and they also normally carry mag lights which can be used as batons as well, although we never had to use force against any of the crews; they were all pretty compliant. I think they are probably more scared of us than we were scared of them. I know the team was concerned because we had intelligence that there might be Iraqi military personnel on some of these ships and there might be IEDS on some of the containers. I think most of the time the crews were obviously pretty much in awe of the boarding teams. They always had a helo overhead with .50 cals on the side.
So long as the protocols were followed strictly there wasn’t a problem. Again the way it was set up there was a big safety margin. If you found anything in the ship basically then you knew straight away it was non-compliant and that would change everything. The Americans weren’t interested in putting anybody in harm’s way. If any ship did anything to make life difficult then they just disembarked the boarding party immediately and that is it, the ship wouldn’t be cleared to proceed, which of course is more a problem for the ship than it is for us. As far as all the masters were concerned this was just a standard part of life that you have to play the game and if you don’t play the game then you won’t be going to your next port of call, as simple as that. Most of them were pretty good. They would muster the crew and they would have the Boarding Officer and a couple of other members of the boarding party would go straight up to the bridge. There were normally ladders up both sides of the superstructure, you would have them going up both sides and they would just go into the bridge. The leaders of the various little teams have radios; they were in radio contact all the time and were just passing on reports about securing areas. Talk to the master and get the documents, passports and check off the crew and then once you get the manifest, start checking the cargo. It was pretty much a routine. It depended on the length of the boarding, which varied quite a lot. I went on one which was a bulk carrier returning from Iraq, normally those were empty because of course Iraq is not allowed to export much of anything and so that was very easy. Sometimes you thought that was a waste of time, they could have just looked at their plumb line. We went on there and there was nothing to look at and got off, it was all over in half an hour or so. Other times they were on there for five, six, four hours if they had cargo and were full of containers heading for Iraq. You have got to open all the containers and that was pretty hard work. You didn’t have any stevedoring equipment or anything like that and so basically you went on there and it was just elbow grease really and get in there and just pull those containers open. A lot of them were really hard to get open and in fact virtually impossible to get shut again. We just didn’t bother, just left them open, that is the crew’s problem, you just don’t have time, there is just so many ships through there and you have just got to get on with it.
GULF LAWYER Lieutenant Commander C.J Griggs
I was on the Admiral’s staff, but I was also working with the Destroyer Squadron staff who were embarked on the carrier. There were three staffs on the carrier. There is the Admiral’s Staff, COMCARGRU THREE for us, COMDESRON 23 the Destroyer Squadron Staff, and also of course the Air Wing Staff as well.
There were three wardrooms on the carrier. The one I was a member of was the Flag Mess, which is only for the Admiral’s staff and that is a similar set up to the wardroom here, very nice and you had the service. All the other officers in the ship had cafeteria style messing, it was more like we would equate to junior rates dining hall. The food was good, but there were just so many people. There were 500 officers; there were two wardrooms. You could go to either of them if you were a ship’s officer, but the forward wardroom was what they called the “dirty” shirts mess and that is where the aviators went that came down from a mission they would go up there. Then there was the after wardroom on 2 Deck and that is where most of the ship’s officers went and it was pretty much divided that way. The aviators and the surface warfare people tended to keep pretty much to themselves. It was one of those things.
I had to squeeze me in with the Judge Advocate who doesn’t have his own office, they call it the Flag Admin office up on 03 and you share it with the Flag Lieutenant, the Flag Secretary and all the writer staff and so it is pretty crowded. We managed we didn’t do a lot of discipline or personnel type stuff, it was mainly operations. It was working out what the Security Council resolution said and those kinds of questions.
I think at the beginning when they didn’t really know who I was or what to think about me it was actually remarkably easier. It got harder as we got on, because they became more sensitive to New Zealand’s place in the world and where we sit on various issues. To begin with I went to all the Flag Briefs and they stopped that, because apparently I was getting access to information that wasn’t releasable to New Zealand. The carrier has full Internet browser access and Email accounts and I could send anything back home I wanted to unclassified. I guess they were a bit concerned. They spoke to me on one occasion about it, but I always said I am here under your hospitality, I am not going to do anything to jeopardise that or jeopardise the mission.
In terms of my involvement, I went to the Flag Brief a few times and then as the situation in the Gulf got hotter and they started dropping more bombs they decided that it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to participate in those. I did give Law of Armed Conflict training to the Admiral’s Staff including the Admiral who is probably the most senior officer I could give training to on Law of Armed Conflict.
I was working for an officer of the same rank as my current boss, but he had a little bit more responsibility. Of course the issues that you deal with in the Battle Group are quite different to what you do here. MARCOM is still a Fleet Commander and so he still has a lot of those Fleet issues to deal with that Admiral Harms didn’t have to deal with because they were all dealt with at a much higher level. That really came through to me as a Staff Officer working at the battle group level, for example legal issues such as Rules of Engagement and that kind of thing. By the time anything gets down to the battle group it has been chopped so many times by three or four Legal Officers and Staff Officers with stars on their shoulders, there really isn’t a lot of discretion left for the Battle Group Staff. You basically do what you are told.
The interpretation has already been done. By the time it gets to the Battle Group there is really not a lot left, a certain amount, but certainly nothing like the work I do here where you get a raw product. You are expected to make it intelligible and put a legal spin on it, really that has already been done most of the time by the time it reaches a Battle Group in the USN. In terms of chain of command they are operating from NCA in Washington and the instructions would go down to Central Command in Florida and then it would go to COMUSNAVCENT/5th Fleet in Bahrain and then it will go to the ship. All the way through there it has been staffed and everyone has put their different spin on it and by the time it gets to the Battle Group it is pretty much, do it. The exception which would be as it happened on occasion people up the chain didn’t have an appreciation of what was happening at ground level and sometimes you would just put your foot down and say no, we are not going to do this.
I recall there was a particular type of operation, which was contemplated by 5th Fleet and we had a big International Conference about it. I went along as New Zealand’s representative, which was quite interesting, I was a two and a half with all these Captains in there from other Navies and a Colonel Royal Marines and they were in there chewing over this operation. 5th Fleet was saying, “Yes this is great, let’s go and do it”. It came out to the ship and the ship said, “No, we are not doing that because it will put our people in harms way and there is too much of a risk of casualties”. Which I guess is part of the post Vietnam War experience of the USN they just will not take the first hit. They aren’t prepared to take any risks that might lead to US casualties, it is just not going to happen and so there is no question of this whole thing fighting your way in, it just doesn’t happen. They go in and destroy all the enemy assets and then put their troops on the ground.
I guess there is also a certain amount of bias from what I saw in the Carrier Group towards air assets. Because they are an AIRPAC unit they won’t send in a destroyer or even an Arleigh Burke or a Ticonderoga. Huge firepower, but they won’t send it in to attack an objective, they will send in Tom Cats and Hornets first and bomb the hell out of it and then they will send in the surface ships. It makes more sense at the end of the day. If the Tom Cat gets shot down it is sad, but is not the end of the world, whereas if you lose a destroyer it is a big deal. Also in the Gulf they have so many assets there and so much firepower they just completely outgun everybody. My wife was a bit worried, especially when the missiles started flying in Desert Fox, but I sent an Email home saying, “This is the safest place in the Middle East”.
One of the things I was involved in was Law of the Sea briefing for Officers of the Deck and went through basically everything. We had to not only know what is the Law of the Sea relating to a straits transit, but also what is the view of every littoral state. What does Oman think about passage through the Straits of Hormuz and what does Iran think and what are they likely to do and what are they likely to say. What is our response going to be and there is a US policy for all of that, needless to say it just went through. As I say everything has been worked through to the nth degree. There is a card on the bridge and as soon as they challenge you, immediately you just give the standard response to the challenge and it differs with different countries and so they will add little bits in. For example with the Iranian challenges they were adding in, “And we mean no threat to your territorial integrity on sovereignty”, and so they had everything worked out. In reality they’ve had ships in the Gulf for so long now, they were always transiting the Straits of Hormuz and they always get challenged.
We did our passage in the silent hours and the Iranians and the Omanis came out and just basically challenged the way that we conducted the transit. Various States considered that warships couldn’t exercise transit passage through the other States. The current transit passage doesn’t include launching and recovering aircraft, which is a normal part of carrier operations. Other countries think that you need to give them prior notification. Of course basically you just don’t take any notice of that you just do it. There was a normally working day routine, but of course I was on call as well. Occasionally I would stand watches in the tactical command centre, which is a watch system and I would go in there. Anytime the team was involved in boarding operations, if it was at night or whatever time of the day I would always be in the destroyer squadron CIC just watching the link displays and just seeing what is going on. You listen into the radio to see how things were going. Mainly most of my job was day work.
IRAQ BLIMEN MISILES Chief Petty Officer Maika
The journey down from Baghdad to Basra was okay and once again just pedal to the metal. We got there that afternoon and got settled into our accommodation. Our headman turns around and says, “It has gone 4 o’clock in the afternoon we can cut some of this out by going to see a couple of sites now”, which we did and they were near Kuwait just by the border. It was quite a hard case actually standing in the middle of nowhere right in the middle between Iran, Iraq and Kuwait.
It was in the right spot because we had the minders with us who follow us everywhere, making sure that we didn’t stray. We managed to put in a couple of sites and get back later on around about 6.30, go back and have dinner of some sort and basically just relax until we had to get up early the next morning and go out. Now that was a bit of an eye opener you have to go to the military base and when we went out there they have got a lot of storage underground and there could have been nearly 50 to 60 stores in this one airfield base. We went over to one of them and just opened them up big iron doors and we go down there and all you see are missiles upon missiles. You are not allowed to take any photos of them of course or they would crack up. It was an eye opener and the store itself underneath or the bunkers would be about the size of a rugby field. They were air to air missiles. We went into their control room later on and okay everything had been abandoned and they had obviously pulled out all their documents from their filing cabinets and burnt them or destroyed them and it was basically just an eye opener. Then the next bunker along the same thing the same amount of missiles and I am going, “Jesus Christ no wonder these guys can if they wanted to create bloody hell.”
I think they were just stored there. I said, “What are we doing to get rid of all this lot here?” I was with the Export Import Team as well as one member from the Chemical and Biological and a nuclear person. They had a look around and they just started making an inventory list. We only did two of these blimen things and we got there at 10 in the morning and it was nearly 12 o’clock half past 12. I said this is 1 hour 50 minutes per storage room, how many of them are there here?” I was asking the question and he said, “There is about 60” and I said, “For God’s sake don’t say we have to go through each one of these do you?” He said, “No, no we are just going to take a guess we can’t stay here all day”. We left there and then we headed down to the wharf and the warehouses down there all had to be searched as well and itemised all the stuff in there. Once again the warehouses were huge.
Some of the stuff coming in was illegal and so what they had to do was go through the warehouses and note and itemise what is here. Then we will go back to the office and check up and see if they have got it recorded down in the office. Well the filing system there is archaic and when they know that you are digging all the excuses under the sun starts coming up and they try and palm you off but none of our guys would wear it. There was over a hundred of those warehouses down by the wharf there the size of two rugby fields not withstanding the 60 that they really wanted us to deal with at the Military Air Base.
While we were down there, there was a white boat about the same size as the MONOWAI and we got a call from our headman the guy in charge of our group saying, “Hey come back here.” “Why is that?” “Just come back” and okay so we went back. They were on the ship and it was actually Sadao Hussein’s Royal yacht but we weren’t allowed to take any photos. We went up there and they took us down into their wardroom and we had a cup of tea and the officer in charge spoke to the Captain and his senior officers, we didn’t say much we just talked amongst ourselves and we were there for about 25 minutes.
The ship wasn’t too bad they actually did a search of the ship but couldn’t find anything but then their skipper invited them up for a cup of tea. Because we were waiting outside we gave them a call, “Hurry up we have been waiting all day” and they were sitting back having a cup of tea with the skipper. They said, “Oh you guys can come in” “Oh thank you very much” and we went there. Realistically when I looked at it, it just reminded me of the MONOWAI, I wouldn’t say an exact double of it but just its size and everything. That trip there was an eye opener I quite enjoyed it and it was good to be away from our operational environment for three days. I was obviously the radio operator for the trip. I quite enjoyed it.
IRAQ CHEMICALS Petty Officer A.D Smith
I worked with Bravo Team and also with the Charlie’ and Delta’s on all these different things and even with the Novembers going leaf gathering and stuff. They would have a site that they would be going to visit. If it was over a hundred kilometres away then they would have to take a medic or if it was a dangerous site i.e. there was chemical danger or biological danger or industrial dangers then each team had to take a medic. It would be nothing unusual to fly to Basra, four hours or three and a half depending on the wind. Land at the site and be there for 20 minutes, half an hour and get in an aircraft and fly back again just to go and visit one site, a pretty dangerous site.
It was a place with a paper mill that I went to a couple of times. At this place industrial safety just did not exist. There was chlorine and hydrochloric acid leaking and mixing on the floor, which is a pretty dangerous sort of a mix, in concentrations that were enough to make you sick. You wore gas masks all the time. Holes in the ground uncovered bits and pieces swinging off buildings and sheets of corrugated iron. On one site I was with the chemical team and I came out of the building and I looked up. There is a sheet of corrugated iron, a three and a half metre sheet held on by one nail and it is flapping in the breeze. Here is my team made up of Frenchmen, Swiss and there was a Dane and they are standing there talking to the Iraqi minders underneath this bit of iron. One of our jobs was safety, “You guys out here, look at that”, and then they just about stepped into a hole in the ground, it was right in front of them”.
We had a comprehensive medical kit a Thomas pack that we took. Depending on the site and what was happening, we knew a fair bit about most of the places that we were going to I would take oxygen. If there was cyanide known to be used at the site I would take the cyanide kit, Amyl Nitrate etc. I tested for chemical agents depending on what was happening in the site. In a place like Fetlujma 3 which was a chemical place where they actually made nerve agents. You would go to a warehouse there and the guys would go in all suited up with the detector kits and I would have to stand at the door and watch them and we were in radio contact. I had to keep them in sight at all times. They would use detectors to see whether it was a hot zone. Once we got into this thing, the Cams and the AP2C went crazy and we were getting 7 bars on the chem. We actually got 7 bars on the door. With the wind blowing behind us we were getting 3 bars on the Cam about 20 metres away from the door and so it was pretty strong in there. The Iraqis were wandering around in shorts, sandals, open T shirt, no respirators or anything and we were all suited up and it was 55 degrees.
Sometimes you are in a chemical suit all day and so it was pretty horrendous. You had to be decontaminated before you get back into the vehicles or you should decontaminate. In some countries the training isn’t that great like the French and some of the Scandinavian countries. The best were the Danes; they wouldn’t walk through a contaminated area and climb in their vehicle. They would leave the vehicle and walk around the site and decontaminate and strip off before they got back into their vehicle. There were so many people just in and out of these things and you then had to decontaminate your vehicle. Everything gets washed with a mixture of bleach and stuff. We carried all the equipment with us and set up a decontamination system. Fortunately I have never had to treat anybody for nerve agent poisoning because we looked after each other. We did the old buddy thing and made sure. They would go to wander in and there are bits of exposed skin and so you would have to slap them and stop them. Unfortunately the French were the worst and you would think that they would be the best with all the practice they had at Mururoa.
For the sites that had never been visited before, they had them identified as places where there might be something that had happened or it was possible for them to do something. We would send the team out and it would be a mixed team of people from all different disciplines. The nuclear people would go around and they would do a gamma survey and drive around the inside and around the outside and check and make sure that there is nothing going on that they might be interested in. There would be the chemical teams. We were split up into units and we would have a bio and a chem. guy and probably need one other of any discipline who would go around and check. You would have to have linguists, somebody that could read Arabic and a computer person so that you could look at the computers. That was quite interesting. One place we did it took ages to check all the computers in this place because we had to keep borrowing the power cords from one to the other and the various connections because they didn’t have enough bits and pieces to run all the computers at once. Some of these power leads did not have plugs. You just poked wires into the wall socket to power it up.
There were a few sites that had quite a lot of stuff and there were others that were places where we knew they manufactured things and where they stored stuff. They might have a store of cyanide and equipment to produce things. It might actually be canneries or dairy factories, places that had stainless steel tanks or glass lined tanks and anodising equipment where they had a missile factory. The equipment they had could be used for the manufacture of other things and so this had to be checked. That is why we did spot checks to try and catch them out and to see if they had been using stuff. We did find a couple of instances where there was evidence that they had done something.
They were monitoring in a big way. That was largely Kiwi people. The Kilos that were the technicians that did all that sort of stuff, Brent Swain he is an LRM he came up for that when I was there. There were others, there were Army and Air Force technicians and they would go around and set up all these monitors. One of the places was here Taji, which is a huge Army Base. Imagine a place, which is five miles long by five miles wide, it is just massive. In the fields around these buildings was where they dug up the parts of the missiles that had the VX on them. Those parts were stored in the shed and were watched by monitors. They were fed back to the BMVC you could actually sit in the office in the BMVC and switch between cameras and look at all the different things in the different parts of the country where they are set up. The cameras were serviced every month. The tapes were changed over. Every fortnight they had to change the tapes in some instances. We would be taking a frame every so often.
Video monitors would be set around the rooms and watching things. They would be all fed back to a cabinet that was sealed and that would have three different video machines in it, depending on the size of the place and how much they wanted to record and a feed back to Baghdad. I went to a lot of sites quite often like El Qaa Qaa, which was a place where they make explosives. Once again it is a huge place. It had been bombed during the conflict. They were setting up a phosgene plant and that was quite a dangerous place in fact.
It had all been destroyed and they were re-building it and they were making phosgene, which is used to make explosives, it is another component of the various types of explosives that they made. There is a nitric acid plant. This orange plume was full of nitrous oxide and when you breathe that that it turns to nitric acid in your lungs and so you mask up. This would be blowing down over the compound where you are trying to work and checking the monitoring and the air sniffing gear and just looking in the buildings at some of the stuff. We used to go there probably once a fortnight and sometimes two or three times in a week different teams would go out. It would be nothing unusual in fact.
At Tuwaitna, which was their major research facility, which was protected by huge earthen berms which was supposed to stop the bombs getting in. Laser guided bombs are a bit more accurate than that. You would go there with the Charlie Team and meet the Nuclear Team coming out and when you are leaving in would be coming the Biological Team. There would be three teams that would visit this one site in one day. The Russians were handy with the missile people because these were the people that built the missiles and they were inspecting the missiles.
The Americans were not very trusting of these missiles, SAM 2’s and 5’s. I was at their defence site once and there are 14 of these things on their road trailers in a bit of paddock. In amongst the buildings there were another 11 of them sitting over there, plus there was a whole pile on pods ready to be fired should they decide to do so. These things were actually leaking missile fuel. The Iraqis were clambering over them. You don’t want to have any electrical activity. Some of the teams would start to go in there with radios on, “Take your radio off, leave it with me in the vehicle”. There was one guy the American Safety Officer that was with us at the time. I was parked about a hundred metres away and he said, “If I was you I would turn this vehicle around and have the engine running and I would be way down the road”, he said, “These things can go off at any time.”
IRAQ LANDMINE COUNTRY Chief Petty Officer Maika
My second trip was up to North East Iraq landmine country and that was another eye opener people are living in the hills. You are travelling and you are looking along there and all you see is cuts into the side of the hill and what the heck is that and you see kids running out. All it is from here high and cut down on an angle into the side of the hill. They have humped out all the dirt and basically made it something to live in, very small and they have got a towel or a blanket for a doorway there and that is about it. We never actually got up close to it because we were too far away. Those people up there hate Sadao. We would have Iraqi Dinar and they saw that they put it away they really don’t like it they are very anti against Sadao.
We were up there because on the border between Turkey and Northern Iraq there is a lot of illegal smuggling. As we were going up there we were following these big trucks, petrol trucks, oil trucks going through. You will find a lot of kids jump in at the back and cling on to the back of these trucks and we used to find about 4 or 5 kids just hanging on. They go through the gates the trucks get weighed through but the guards at the gate can’t see the kids until the truck has gone past and before you know it these trucks will travel about a hundred yards down the road and then they have got to stop. As soon as they stop these kids are off and whew. We were following them and I looked around and said, “What are these kids doing?” They are running like mad trying to grab hold of the ladder on the back of the truck. There are 3, 4 or 5 just holding like this and the truck driver didn’t know because they were right behind him. He went straight through and the guard at the gate was looking at these kids and trying to tell the truck to stop and next minute the truck slowed down and these kids took off. This young kid he must have been only about ten, he tripped up and he got caught and they gave him a slapping and what not and I don’t know what they did with him I really don’t. We wanted to film it, to video it but if you get caught with a camera around there you are going to get a slap in the neck sooner or later.
We went up to the border and saw all the trucks coming through but we couldn’t go any further they wouldn’t allow us to and they wouldn’t even allow us to take photo’s of the border itself and the border was only just a little river crossing. The roads are as rough as guts I never want to go up there again oh it is terrible being chucked around. The thing is too you stop on the side of the road to have a leak and then you decide to do it at the back of the truck because you are not too sure if there is a landmine there or not. You take it for granted that there is not going to be one there but you don’t want to run the risk. You have got signs in that area to indicate that this is a dangerous area please be careful. They have got sticks in the ground with rags tied around them to indicate that here was a mine.
IRAQ MEDIC Petty Officer A.D Smith
We flew up to Iraq in a civil Hercules and landed at Habiniyah, which is about 160 kilometres out of Baghdad itself. Then you go through what is termed immigration where you sit around outside while somebody takes your passport and the UN document that allowed you into the country. It all gets stamped. You are then back into a bus and head into town or in that case there wasn’t that many of us and so we used the Nissan Patrols.
It is a very eerie feeling, it is very hot when you land there it is about 50 degrees and you are way out in the desert and there is wreckage of aircraft from the Gulf War all over the place. They are just bulldozed into a hole and it just sits there. They actually sometimes get some of their own aircraft up. There must have been about twelve military aircraft there. They take us to the BMVC Baghdad Monitoring Verification Centre at the Canal Hotel, which is on Canal Road. We had a bit of a wander around there and someone takes us around and introduces us to the right people and shows us where to find things. They give us the security codes of how to get in the doors and places there and eventually we got taken to our hotel. All the Kiwis stay at the Shaheen Hotel and we settle there in a room that the people there had organised for us.
At one time it was a good hotel, it was a four star hotel and the rest of them were five star, but now it is four stars with five missing. It is pretty rundown, but all the hotels are very tired.
There were a few people staying there. Down on the first floor there was one guy who has lived there for 17 years and there are another couple of families who live there, but the Kiwis eventually filled the hotel plus other UN people, selected ones that were allowed to come and stay with us.
The restaurant was pretty different. They had a restaurant but they never had a great deal of food. You could ring up the kitchen and the chef would do you a steak or a pepper or garlic chicken and he would bring it up. It would come up with a bit of bread and some salad and stuff with it and that was about four and a half thousand Dina for a feed like that. We got paid a MSA, Missions Subsistence Allowance and with that we had to pay for our hotel, our food and fuel for the vehicles and anything else we wanted. We weren’t allowed to do a lot of shopping, you could go and buy things but you weren’t allowed to take them out of the country or if you got caught they would impound things.
We did our own cooking. The hotel was actually very good to us, they appreciated that we filled their hotel and paid them good money so they used to look after us. They gave us what we called the Kiwi Embassy. Originally there were two people living in the bedrooms and we had a lounge and a kitchen area and New Zealand provided a TV and a video and a stereo for us, it came from the Welfare Fund. We had all that set up there and anybody who wanted to could get the key and be able to lounge around there. We had a couple of fridges, one for beer and one for goffers. The beer came in from Jordan or Bahrain. We got some through Cyprus on the UNIKOM flight. UNIKOM were the border people. UNSCOM could import but none of the other UN Agencies were able to bring alcohol into the country.
You could buy food in Bahrain. Whenever someone went to Bahrain you gave them a shopping list when people would go out on ODO Occasional Days Off. Every month you got a whole two and a half days you could go on leave and so you used to save it up and go out once every couple of months. We used HT milk. You could actually buy stuff that came from Jordan but very expensive, you are talking about $9US for a litre.
Chicken was the only thing that was safe to eat and you bought it from a place called the Honey Sook. It was frozen, properly prepared and then you cooked that and nobody gets crook from eating that. The meat from the butcher was very dubious, apart from the fact that it could have been donkey or dog, which some people got convicted for selling and they hang them. There were three or four butchers who were hung one day for selling donkey meat. There are a lot of wild dogs around the place and some of them had rabies. You would jog along the road and there would be a carcass hanging on a frame on the side of the road and people just going and buying a bit of meat off it, that is where a lot of the meat came from. They had an abattoir, which was good but they never used it, they did the killing outside.
Water was very dubious especially through the taps. You showered in it and after a while people would brush their teeth using the tap, because they reckoned they had got over the Baghdad Belly, because that is where most of the problems came from the water or food. The UN used to buy this bottled water and we were supposed to drink it exclusively and use it to take on our missions. Everybody took water back to the hotel and used it. We were supposed to buy our own locally, but you could never guarantee that the shopkeepers hadn’t just refilled the bottles. Everyone got Baghdad Belly. You would be going at both ends and you didn’t know which one would be first. It was quite debilitating.
Everybody had Emodium and stuff, but Emodium is only good a couple of days into it. It did respond to antibiotics, which was a bit unusual. Maybe it was caused because of the change in the natural flora and fauna in the bowel you are used to one thing and then go and get a whole different set and while the changeover is happening you get diarrhoea. Being medical people it was our job to look after everybody in that regard. Sometimes you get people who wouldn’t come and see us who didn’t want to be a nuisance or whatever and then you would go out on a mission with them and they would collapse from dehydration. I was due to go on a mission once and I was called to an emergency in the hotel in town that this woman had collapsed in the foyer and so that delayed the mission.
THE ARLEIGH BURKE Warrant Officer G.R Davis
We got onto the FITZGERALD an Arleigh Burke and they were most welcoming to us. In the same token they weren’t really too sure how they were going to use us. I had to go and sit down with the Captain, the Ops O and the XO and the Command Master Chief on board and he sort of said, “What are you doing here, what are you about?” I said, “We are going to be joining with your boarding teams Sir.” “What experience have you had?” and we told them we had done a bit of training on the Carrier”. I suppose I tried to make it sound a bit better than we really were just to put their minds at ease and I said, “We would like to fit in with your boarding teams”.
At this stage I felt that it was a flag waving exercise, they had Kiwis to wave to say that they had another Nation up there helping and New Zealand could say that they were helping the effort. I felt that the whole deployment had been jacked up over a few beers at the State Department because no one was really expecting us and that is just the way we looked at it for the whole deployment. We are sailors and are quite good at being adaptable and we went along with it.
The accommodation was good. I was the Warrant Officer and I actually went into the Chiefs mess there, the proper Chiefs mess, there was only one bunk available up there. The other four went down to a Chiefs overflow mess which was a room off the side of a junior rates mess deck, it was adequate for them they were quite happy, but I suppose I had the better accommodation upstairs. They had the use of all our laundry facilities and things like that. They had water to spare on that ship, the Arleigh Burkes seemed to make water, there were no problems with wasting water. As we noticed the senior rates on there wore khakis all the time, you didn’t get dirty on the ship not like the FFG where they wore overalls all the time, that was a different way to go altogether. She was a San Diego based DDG where the Destroyer we had been on the Spruance Class was a Pearl Harbour based ship. They were very competitive I suppose, they wanted to know how the Pearl Harbour guys were and we would say oh they are okay, but you San Diego boys are better of course. When we got to the Norfolk Virginia ship you guys were better than the rest of them of course being diplomatic about it. But no they were very open to us and we all lived in the Chiefs mess on there, the two Petty Officers as well.
We were on the FITZGERALD for about five weeks I think and we didn’t do as many boardings as we would like because she is a missile ship and she is there for other reasons, escorting Aircraft Carriers into Kuwait city and things like that. The number of boardings that we would do was minimal; I can’t remember the exact total it must have been eight possibly out of the whole five weeks. That was a bit disappointing. We were training quite often and in fact the Master at Arms on there was very keen. Yes we did a lot of baton training and things like that on there and weapon training.
USS KLAKRING Warrant Officer G.B Davis
We lived in the junior rates accommodation in the FFG KLAKRING. They apologised because they never had enough accommodation for us, but it was okay and we used the Chiefs showers etc and ablutions. These guys on the FFG had to work pretty hard to keep the ship going. The Captain was pretty good and I always spoke to the Captain and kept him informed every couple of days of how we were going. They were really pleased to have us there.
We had four Kiwis in every boarding and we did 25 altogether. We made a difference because they only had ten in the boarding party. Because the Kiwis went along we actually made a difference and got through them faster, the searches etc. Our biggest ship was a 73,000 tons bulk grain carrier and the smallest about 989 tons. We never boarded any dhows at all. The dhows seemed to be going through the coastal waters now and getting away with it and we very rarely saw dhows at all. I mean we did over 600,000 tons of shipping while we were up there. Some of the climbs up the sides of the ships were quite high. We always did it, but it is always on the back of your mind that one slip and it could be all over. I would do security one day and we would swap around and someone would go to the search teams. They always liked to have a Kiwi on the bridge at some stage just so the Captain of the ship knew that there were New Zealanders on board as well.
It was quite interesting with some of the Turkish ships and the Greek ships, they are quite aware of New Zealand. The Turks some of them mentioned Gallipoli and the people that died there and the Greeks said they had seen war graves of New Zealanders in Crete and Greece, which was quite amazing. The boarding officers were young Lieutenants. Once again they were from different branches and they were not the same ones all the time. They would co-ordinate one would do one day and the one would do the other. They seemed to be into it. I would go along with the boarding officer and assist the boarding officer, but there was nothing for me to do. I am not sure they would have let me go as assistant boarding officer, I probably could have, but I don’t think they would let the Kiwi take the boarding party completely.
It was a bit boring being boarding officer if you were doing a search of a ship which would take six hours and you are standing on the bridge the whole time it was pretty boring on the bridge. He stays on the bridge the whole time and co-ordinates it. The assistant boarding officer does the co-ordination between the guys doing the searches, but everyone has got radios on one radio per two men. You can never be by yourself on and you will always be in pairs and so one will have a radio at all times. The radios were very good, we would be working down the holds and you have contact pretty well right through to the bridge etc.
The container ships were the best I thought because it was hard work and it took longer and you really got stuck into opening containers. We opened every container. The ones going into Iraq are normally sealed and you have to cut the padlocks off as well. It seemed a bit of a pointless task at times because you are only checking the front row or the container and see if it was milk powder and okay close it up. Three or four rows back there may have been anything. Apparently inspectors look them at when they get into Iraq anyway.
They all have to be accessible. They are not allowed to be stacked more than three high in the Gulf, because if you are going to Iraq they have to be easy to climb. You had to climb up the front of them and hang off them with climbing apparatus and tie yourself off to open them up and unbolt them etc. We got into really good routines. If there were ladders in the holds we would get really get stuck into it. There is always reasonable good lighting down there. It was a lot of fun, I enjoyed that sort of thing it was a bit of hard work.
There was one boarding that sticks out. There was intelligence that said that ships leaving Iraq to be more aware I suppose. With ships coming out of Iraq there were indications that some of the containers may be booby-trapped to kill the Visit Board and Seize member. We were also told that there was a price on the head of a VBS member. That was in the back of our minds as well that there may be Iraqi military on the ships.
An Iraqi ship was leaving Iraq and one of their crew members asked for asylum to one of the boarding party members just on the quiet and said, “I want to come to your country”. They couldn’t tell the rest of the crew this. The boarding officer had to be very diplomatic about it and said to the Captain, “We have got difficulties clearing the ship at the moment”. Half the boarding party didn’t know that this guy was on board wanting asylum. I think it took six or seven hours, we are dealing with the boarding party to the ship to the carrier to Washington DC to get this sorted because it is quite a diplomatic incident. In the end they called this guy to the dining hall and said, “Get your gear packed you are coming with us”. No one else knew and so they said, “We want to search your cabin”, and they went in, “Get your gear and they took him straight down the ladder and threw him in the boat and threw a blanket over him and took him back to the destroyer. The finale to that was he was quite happy to get off the ship and the next day he had a change of mind and he wanted to go back to the ship. They tried to talk him out of it or talk to him and see what he wanted and he really wanted to go back and so we found the ship the next day and sent him back again. I am not sure what happened to him in the long term. He was concerned for his family I believe back home, he hadn’t thought it through and he was a middle-aged guy, a merchant mariner.
There was an Iraqi ship going into Iraq and the Captain of the ship was saying how bad things were in Iraq. He didn’t mind talking about it either I suppose. It was an old ship and there was oil everywhere. A pretty dangerous sort of ship to walk around. The guys had seen rat’s on board it was a real dirty ship. He said his family was suffering in Iraq and he just wished it would all end a brave thing for him to say really.
25 percent of the ships I wouldn’t want to go to sea on. Some of them were very nice, very modern and well looked after, especially the Korean ships. They had beautiful big double beds in every cabin. Once they saw a New Zealand flag they seemed to relax and a lot of the Filipino’s recognised it as well, a lot of Filipino seamen there and they seemed to recognise us and they were nice to talk to. The Kiwis, the whole team seemed to have more of a knack than the Americans of breaking the ice I suppose and talking to people. I am not sure whether that is a New Zealand trait or not.
I remember one Filipino signalman on a Greek ship and he was covered in paint all over his overalls and was saying things like your friend why does he paint his overalls and all the Filipino’s thought that this was a great joke. It broke the ice a wee bit and then you can start questioning them about how or where have you been last just in the conversation. They would start talking about New Zealand; some of them had been to New Zealand on ships. It was good to break the ice. The Masters appeared to speak reasonably good English. I am not sure that is required these days, but they seem pretty good. They were all pretty compliant; they wanted to get things out of the way, because he was wasting money sitting there.
I suppose we were kept in the intelligence picture. We were getting as much information to us Kiwis, as the other Chiefs in the mess were I suppose and we were getting bits of information out of the Chiefs that worked in the Ops room. They would come down and tell us that a couple of planes were shot down in the southern no fly zone today, Iraqi aircraft I should say. They would give us a bit of an update as to what was going on. We were allowed to go into the Operations room and especially on the Arleigh Burke they are pretty amazing, Star Wars type operation room, the big screen was there and the Gulf was just mapped out. If they didn’t want us in there, even their ships company wasn’t allowed in when the doors were closed and you knew not to go in. They would close them up and take the TAC team for exercises every so often and they would broadcast, “TAC team close up at the rush” sort of thing. We actually went to action stations on the Arleigh Burke, the first time I had done that in my career when two Iraqi patrol boats were supposed to be coming out to sea. The Arleigh Burke was tasked to take them out as they came out. They went to action stations and we were sitting at action stations and I had never done this before for real after 20 years and it sobered us up a bit I suppose. Where would you hide when a missile comes?
They would have taken the boats out probably. I think they would have got the aircraft from the Carrier to do it actually, but the ship was there to tidy up if they needed it. I think that if any missiles came out from the Al Fawr Peninsular, Sadao had surface to surface missiles there and they said something like 30 seconds if they fired a missile they would have it out in 30 seconds, very confident with their weapons they were which was nice. On the Arleigh Burke too we were there for a beer issue. After 45 days at sea the Americans get two cans of beer and it was really good being there for that, we got two cans of Heineken each. It was very nice; the wardroom cooked the barbecue. We were at anchor somewhere off Bahrain. That was the idea of R and R being anchored off Bahrain after 35 days at sea.