Undersea Warfare The Official Magazine of the U.S. Submarine Force. Winter 2004 U.S. Submarines... Because Stealth Matters Cover for Winter 2004
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Sand-Crab Submariners Three Sub Sailors Volunteer for Shore Duty - in Iraq
by JOC Michael Foutch, USN
 

The gritty, sandy soil of Iraq, far from any ocean, is an unlikely place to find a trio of submarine Sailors.

And yet these three undersea warriors have joined the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team (CMATT) in that war-weary nation in a daunting mission. Trading their duties in the relative comfort of shore stations in the United States for the unexpected perils and occasional rewards of a front-line position in the Global War on Terrorism, the three submariners have exchanged their coveralls for desert camouflage to help rebuild the Iraqi military and its infrastructure. Headquartered in Baghdad, CMATT works under the guidance of the Coalition Provisional Authority to supply buildings, weapons, equipment, and training for Iraq’s new security and defense forces.

ETC(SS) Jason Taggart, YN2(SS) Randy Murray, and YN2(SS) Karl Rosenkranz, who served together onboard USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN-730), volunteered for this unique assignment. After a week of training and processing at Fort Bliss, Texas, they climbed aboard a plane for Kuwait and then moved on to Baghdad.

Taggart, who left the Trident Training Facility in Bangor Washington, was assigned to the British Brigadier personal security team. Murray, stationed at Submarine Base Kings Bay, found himself with the administrative group at CMATT in Saddam Hussein’s former presidential palace in Baghdad, overseeing administrative needs for the 300-person joint multinational command.

In late October, Rosenkranz, who departed the Naval Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Pacific Northwest, for temporary duty in Iraq, began an e-mail correspondence with UNDERSEA WARFARE. Over several months, he has been telling his story of training Iraqi military recruits and administering pay records for thousands of new soldiers and sailors. Perhaps the most compelling aspects of his e-mails are the pictures and descriptions of smiling – grateful Iraqi people, to say nothing of the day his unit came under attack outside a checkpoint at Baghdad International Airport.

Rosenkranz sent his notes from a forward-deployed unit at the Kirkush Military Training Base, 25 miles away from the border with Iran and a complex from which Saddam Hussein’s forces were launched against that country during their eight-year war in the 1980s. Kirkush was abandoned during the first Gulf War, and CMATT moved in following the collapse of the regime last spring.

None could believe that a Navy Submariner was here with them - I had to explain what a submarine was first.
Photo caption followsYN2(SS) Karl Rozenkranz, who volunteered last fall to leave his shore job in the Pacific Northwest for Iraq, examines the workings of an AK-47.
Photo caption below Photo caption below
Along with sand shipmates YN2(SS) Randy Murray and ETC(SS) Jason Taggart, Rozenkranz became one of a handful of submarine-qualified Sailors to become adept at firing not only the foreign-made rifle, but the 40-mm grenade launcher and the AT-4 anti-tank missile.

“At first, conditions were rough,” with no running water and only MRE packets for food, Rosenkranz wrote. But any lack of creature comforts was more than compensated by the people the yeoman encountered in his unusual assignment.

“I think the greatest reward,” he noted, “is talking to the Iraqi soldiers, who tell us about life under the former regime. How they waited and waited for the Americans to come – stories of how their lives have improved… I mean, you should have seen their faces when we told them that they have a right to complain, to free speech, and so forth. It put it all in perspective, especially when you drive through the towns and see the children run up to the Humvees asking for chocolate and waving at us.

“But it is still scary as hell, don’t get me wrong. Everyday it is something – mortars, RPGs, AK-47 fire. When I first got here I thought – ‘cool, I’m gonna be the first submarine YN to see ground combat in history’ – that I know of at least. But when it actually happened it wasn’t as cool as I thought. Nonetheless, I am proud to be here representing the submarine service, and believe me, every one I come across will remember working with submariners.”

Rosenkranz also joined what must certainly be a small number of dolphin-qualified Sailors trained to fire a 40-mm grenade launcher and the AT-4 anti-tank missile.

His next e-mail reported how he spent his Thanksgiving holiday. Instead of enjoying turkey with all the trimmings in front of a football game on TV, “mine consisted of a 10-mile road march” and welcoming some new friends. “We have received our third (battalion) recruits, some [from] the new Iraqi Coastal Defense Force, their navy,” he wrote. In response to the need for administrative support for these new recruits, Rosenkranz created the Kirkush base’s first personnel support detachment and, “I now maintain the pay and personal records for over 4,000 soldiers. This entire system was based all on the Navy way of handling pay and service records, with an Arabic twist.”

Not all his time was spent processing paperwork, however. In the same e-mail, the yeoman wrote, “Last week, we had the chance to go to the local town and hand out soccer balls. They were paid for by the coalition troops, who donated them to the children of Balad Ruz. I never knew the power of a soccer ball, but when we handed them to the kids, I realized the entire reason we are here was for moments like that. Their smiles and cheers and thumbs up will stay with me forever. None could believe that a Navy submariner was here with them – I had to explain what a submarine was first. Just look at the photos and you will see what I mean.

“Recently, I went on a convoy to Baghdad and got to go inside the former Saddam Hussein International Airport. What an experience to go inside this place that was the site of a big battle during the war and to see them rebuilding it. The other day, we received a call that some soldiers found [unexploded ordnance] in an irrigation ditch, so naturally, we went out to the scene. It turned out to be six type-6 Iraq hand grenades – all of them booby trapped. What a thrill it was to see this stuff up close! Also this week, I got to make a security sweep up the Iraqi-Iranian border.”

Rosenkranz’ next report arrived on December 14, the day Saddam Hussein was captured by a force of 600 soldiers in a remote farm near Tikrit.

Photo caption follows Jubilant Iraqi children hold their presents above their heads. Coalition troops delivered a shipment of soccer balls during a trip to a local village.
Photo caption follows
YN2(SS) Rozenkranz helps deliver soccer balls to the Iraqi children.

“We gathered all the [Iraqi] soldiers and read the announcement. There was so much cheering and dancing and singing… the looks on their faces! – if only you could have seen them. Some cried, others shouted ‘Death to Saddam.’ If I could only express how excited these people are to actually have true freedom now. I am truly glad to be a part of history instead of watching it.” But despite the euphoria that resulted from capturing the tyrant in his spider hole, Rosenkranz cautioned his unit that they, as well as coalition troops in the country, could expect counterattacks.

On New Year’s Day, the yeoman found himself in the middle of one such attack. His convoy had departed the Kirkush outpost for Baghdad for a brief mission visit and had just begun their return journey when it was interrupted with a deafening explosion.

“On our way out of the main checkpoint about two klicks out, we heard a large BOOM – then dust flew all around us, [and] there was ringing in our ears. Then, we heard small arms fire break out. At this point, everything slowed down, and I realized that I was scared. Our convoy returned fire and the insurgents were liquidated. I was the only one in an unarmored Humvee – and I count my blessings.

“Afterwards, we went back to camp and unpacked and tried to wind down. I cried in my tent for at least an hour. I realized that no matter how tough I thought I was, it can all disappear. I tell you this not to worry you, but to show you that all your prayers and thoughts have and will continue to protect me, and I thank you.”

Even after the attack, Rosenkranz stayed optimistic about his mission, and that of the coalition helping to rebuild Iraq.

“This new year will bring more hope and prosperity to the Iraqi people then they have ever had, and chances they never dreamed of. When we do civil affairs missions, and we tell them they have rights – like free speech, voting, humane treatment, etc. – their eyes light up, and it is just a moment you have to be there to see. So in closing, I hope each and every one of you a Happy New Year, and may you all live happy and fulfilled lives.”

As incongruous as it may seem to have U.S. submariners serving in the sands of Iraq, Petty Officer Rosenkranz and his shipmates have contributed not only to the reconstruction of that struggling country but also to restoring hope to a people who had precious little remaining. They’ll leave with fearful memories of the dangers they faced – but also remembering the grateful expressions on the faces of the Iraqis they risked their lives to help.

Chief Foutch is a Military Editor of UNDERSEA WARFARE Magazine.