Reservists guard tons of ordnance;;Civilian skills help Marines adapt in war zone;

7 Oct 2004 | Cpl. Joel A. Chaverri

On the outskirts of the air base here lays an old ammunition supply point formerly used by the former Iraqi armed forces.

Nicknamed “Flea,” the ASP now houses captured and uncovered ordnance. Upon arrival to the facility, the weapons caches are slated to be destroyed as soon as possible.

Responsible for guarding ASP Flea are reservists from Battery K, 4th Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, an artillery unit from Alabama.

After augmenting Security Battalion, 4th Low-Altitude Air Defense Battalion, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Battery K became Company K, taking on their mission with a strong sense of purpose.

“We have a lot of support (military occupational specialties) in our unit that are now filling a security role,” said Cullman, Ala., native Maj. Mike H. Ledbetter, commanding officer, Company K. “It was a challenge that we were ready to take on.”

An American Airlines pilot from Dallas, Ledbetter is currently serving his second deployment to the Middle East, where the last time, he flew F/A-18 Hornets.
“I’m a pilot by trade, so being a CO for an artillery unit isn’t my normal job,” said the 37-year-old. “But I’m glad I have had the honor of working with these Marines.”

Making the change from artillery to security duties isn’t normally a painless process; however, the reserve unit was able to make the switch effortlessly due to the wealth of talented personnel within its ranks.

“Being a reserve unit actually made the transition very easy,” said Ledbetter. “Everyone was able to use their civilian skills to help make it all go smooth.”

Civilian carpenters, electricians, plumbers, firefighters, policeman, for example, were able to utilize their civilian expertise for the mission at hand.

“I’ve been really impressed at how well the Marines have adapted,” said Ledbetter. “We couldn’t have done any of this as easily as we did if it weren’t for their contribution.”

After arriving to ASP Flea, Company K immediately assumed control of over 300 tons of munitions.

“Every bunker was filled to the top with all different kind of bombs,” said Ledbetter. “As a result there as only one bunker we could sleep in.”

With large amounts of ordnance being destroyed each day, a few of the weapons bunkers eventually became available as billeting areas.

“We cleaned out a lot of the bunkers and started to use them as barracks,” said Ledbetter. “Our electricians wired them for lighting and hooked up air conditioning.”

Working with air conditioning as a civilian, 41-year-old Mountain Home, Ark., native Gunnery Sgt. Tom E. Clements, field artillery cannoneer, Company K, was able to use his technical skills to install air conditioners for many of the bunkers his Marines live in, indicative of the spectrum of talents within the detachment.

“We have such a variety of skills throughout the unit,” said Clements. “Everyone here has something to add.”

“I’m a licensed electrician in my civilian job,” remarked Athens, Ala., native Staff Sgt. David B. King, field artillery cannoneer, Company K. “I’ve been able to use my skills out here a lot more than I expected.”

Owning a business with his father, the 33-year-old King has had a lot of experience working with electricity and plumbing, which allows ASP Flea to be virtually self-sufficient.

“Being able to do things on our own out here means that we don’t have to wait if we need something done or if something breaks down,” said King. “We can usually take care of the problem without having to rely on someone else.”

Along with guarding ordnance, the Marines of ASP Flea are also responsible for supervising the loading of railway missions, as well as serving as a traffic control point for convoys traveling to Al Asad from places like Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraq.

“We have dozens of vehicles coming through daily,” said Ledbetter. “We do an initial check before they’re allowed to get any closer to Al Asad.”

Because they are located outside of the air base here, ASP Flea Marines don’t get to enjoy a lot of the amenities available to Marines aboard the installation, but they are constantly making strides to upgrade their quality of life.

“We’re working on a (recreation) room to build morale,” said Clements. “Because our guys stand watch all day, boredom can be the biggest morale killer. The key is to keep busy.”

As huge fans of Southeastern Conference college football, the ASP Flea Marines also keep up morale by staying in touch with the games.

“Our cable guy hooked up ESPN (sports netwok) so that we can watch the SEC,” said Ledbetter. “Every week we fly the flag of the team that beats the spread.”