News: My first deployment: Around Iraq
Story by Sgt. Peter Berardi
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - There I was, at an outpost in a little town called Karma, a suburb of Fallujah. I was the acting company commander for B Company, 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
Our commanding officer had gotten hit with a daisy-chained improvised explosive device. He was OK, just in a state of shell shock, he couldn’t tell you which way was up or down let alone lead a counter attack and with that Capt. Phil “Gryz” Gryskewicz, a resident of Franklin, Pa., and the 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) support operations section field services officer in charge, became acting CO as a first lieutenant.
We had been receiving small arms fire from that area so there was clearly more than just one person setting up improvised explosive devices there and we needed to flush them out, one way or another. So, as acting CO, I made the decision that we were going to go and clear out that section of town.
We move in with two platoons and start receiving small arms fire. Then two dump trucks drive up from the front while another vehicle pulls up from the rear turning sideways and blocking us in on this road. A sister outpost calls us on the radio warning us that about 30 vehicles were moving in from the east and now the vehicles blocking us were flashing their lights at each other.
I’m thinking these approaching vehicles are going to use the east to west running road to hit us while we are blocked by the dump trucks. I grab one of the platoon sergeants and tell him to shoot a star cluster flare straight down the road at the dump trucks, figuring it’ll scare them and they’ll high tail it out of here. He aims it and fires, sparks and flames shoot out followed by a pretty big fire ball flying down the street, confusing many and definitely scaring the drivers because they drove out of there as fast as they could.
My older brother, 1st Lt. Allan Gryskewicz who served in the same company with me for around six months, got a Marine AH-1 Cobra helicopter on station scattering the approaching vehicles almost immediately.
That’s how Phil Gryskewicz remembers one of the most memorable incidents to happen on his previous deployment to Iraq from Sep. 2006 through Dec. 2007. “It was one of the coolest things that happened over there,” said Gryskewicz. “I’m on a radio maneuvering these two platoons and I turn to see my big brother on another radio coordinating air assets for the same fight. There was like half a second, not even half a second, a millisecond where everything just stopped. I was thinking, hey that’s my big brother over there, it was like we were kids again playing war in the backyard.”
Many soldiers of the 316th have prior deployments that they learned and experienced many things, dealt with different kinds of situations and a lack of amenities. Lt. Col. William Cacciotti, a resident of Johnstown, Pa., and the 316th SPO supply services OIC, says this prior experience and the lessons learned from it make Gryskewicz a great asset for the unit and its soldiers. “Being on the ground at the war fighter level and seeing the logistics that are involved gives him a great perspective at the theater level,” said Cacciotti.
Gryskewicz went through Army ROTC at Slippery Rock University, Pa., from 2000 through 2004, was branched infantry and completed Ranger school before being assigned to the 4th BCT, 25th Inf. Div.
In 2006 while deployed to Iraq. “We started off south of Baghdad monitoring a bridge for a few months before moving to Karma, Iraq,” he said. “This area [Karma] had a lot of through traffic from insurgents traveling back and forth between Fallujah and Baghdad.”
This heavy amount of activity gave much insight to the soldiers on that deployment. “A lesson that I learned as a lieutenant was you can always improve your position. Add more sandbags, put more camo around it, put more overhead cover, until you’ve got Fort Knox made out of a foxhole. That’s what this command [316th] is trying to do, they are always constantly trying to improve their position, and I can see that not just in the SPO but throughout the rest of the command too,” said Gryskewicz, during the 316th’s current deployment to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. “People are staying engaged, trying to provide the best products they can.”
The field services section of SPO is broken down into three different sections; aerial delivery, mortuary affairs and shower and laundry. “I manage all of the pieces and make sure they are run properly,” explained Gryskewicz.
During his previous deployment to Iraq living conditions and workload were rougher and more sporadic.
“In the beginning we were in tents, 15 to 20 men per tent,” said Gryskewicz. “They weren’t insulated very well and you would sweat all night while trying to sleep.” After moving to a different outpost things got even rougher. “Up near Taji we took over a farmer’s building and the whole company just slept in the dirt,” he said.
“You just laid out your foam sleeping mat you got from CIF [central issuing facility] and put your sleeping bag down on top of it and slept in the dirt. But, that’s the airborne infantry way of life.”
Even hot chow was a luxury in Iraq. “We had those heater meal things for the longest time, it was a while before we got hot chow out there and even then it was just MKT [mobile kitchen trailer] stuff,” explained Gryskewicz. Having a chow hall available for nearly every meal is great. “I get three hot meals a day and eating at the DFAC [dining facility] is like a treat for me,” he added.
While in Iraq there was not specific battle rhythm to follow. “You were working 24 hours a day seven days a week,” explained Gryskewicz. “You worked whenever the enemy decided to make you work.” The semi-set battle rhythm of the current Kuwaiti deployment makes it much easier to set time aside for resiliency and self-improvement. “I’m having a great time on this deployment. I get to work out twice a day.” Gryskewicz’s older brother Allan is also currently deployed as a brigade staff officer with the 508th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th BCT, 82nd Airborne Div., in Afghanistan and the set schedule the 316th is working makes it easy for them to stay in contact. “I get to call my older brother about once a week,” he said.
Things seem to be going well so far with the 316th’s current mission in Kuwait. “From what I see yeah, I think we are doing good things,” said Gryskewicz. “I think our command has a really good attitude, a can do attitude and a want to do attitude, they are not just here to check the block, I think they actually want to try to do something more. Even though our mission is a steady state operation there is always something more you can do, some other way of bettering yourself.”