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Interview with Steven Charles Patterson [9/14/2011]

Julia Wang:

Today is September 14, 2011. I am Julia Wang and I am interviewing Steven C. Patterson at Park Tudor School. Mr. Patterson is a parent work acquaintance. Mr. Patterson is 47 years old and was born on June 3, 1964. Mr. Patterson served in the Iraq War. Mr. Patterson was in the 113th Battalion Combat Engineers and held the following rank: E7.

Julia Wang:

Where were you living when you decided to enlist?

Steven Charles Patterson:

In the military or in the war? [Both.] When I originally enlisted in the military was in lower Alabama, in Fort Rucker Alabama, actually. I was living there. My wife was in the military already. So, I was going to college and working and then needed some extra money to pay for school bills and stuff, so I enlisted into the Alabama National Guard. That was in 1986. So then, I came back up to Indiana about two years later and stayed in the National Guard. I was in the artillery through that process. Most of the time, about half the time, I spent in Danville in artillery there, and then I went to the Indiana military academy in Camp Atterbury where I ended up volunteering to be an instructor for artillery and also for Officer Candidate school. So I was kind of like a drill sergeant for Officer Candidates. Then in 2004, one of my coworkers, Pierce-the 113th Battalion had already been mobilized to go over there, and they needed some additional NCOs. NCOs are sergeants, E-Sevens, Sixes, and Fives. I was a sergeant, first class-that's equivalent to an E7- so I volunteered to go in about November of2004.

Julia Wang:

Why did you pick the service branch you joined?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Well, where was I living at was right next to an army post. Fort Rucker is like the helicopter pilot flight school stuff, so I just went to the recruiting office, and it was the closest thing and the thing I knew most about the army, so I picked them.

Julia Wang:

Do you recall your first days in service in the war?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Yeah, we got mobilized and then, like I said, I was a filler, so I kind of got mobilized late. I ended up being an instructor because you have to do a lot of teaching and stuff before you go over to Iraq. So, I did a lot of instruction at Atterbury and then we went over to Kuwait first, and you usually stay in Kuwait. So we spent probably about a month there. We spent Christmas through there. Then, we would go from Kuwait, and we had to do a convoy from Kuwait all the way up through Iraq, and where the unit was stationed at was in Mosul. Around Mosul was the base. Mosul is in Northern Iraq. That was my first days in Kuwait.

Julia Wang:

And what were you feeling at that time?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Feeling at that time--I was put in charge of a lot of stuff, so I kind of felt empowered. A lot of neat stuff to do in Kuwait because you do another additional training in Kuwait before you actually go on to Iraq. So we would go out to firing ranges. We'd go to convoy firing ranges where you go through a convoy and simulate being attacked and attacking other people. Funny story about that is I was put in charge of one of the firing ranges, and we went out there to clear the range because you have to make sure everybody is away because you're going to start firing weapons, and there was a herd of camels out there. So I actually had to get in the Humvee and go herd camels with a Humvee. It was pretty good until there was this one camel that was huge, and it was a pregnant camel. It wouldn't keep it up, so Ijust kept on having to honk my hom and bump its butt, bump her butt, to get her off the range.

Julia Wang:

Tell me about your training experience.

Steven Charles Patterson:

Training experience? There was a lot of training. Before I left I had probably spent nineteen or twenty years already training. One of the decisions of why I did go was because I had all the training. So I had a lot of training in artillery which was funny because I ended getting up deployed with a combat engineer unit, which I had no idea about combat engineering, but they needed NCOs. The training that I had in the army still helped a lot, and I was an instructor, too, for army training. So, that helped too because I put on a lot of training prior to mobilization.

Julia Wang:

And was any of that training hard to get through?

Steven Charles Patterson:

It's always hard. [There were] a lot of bugs, a lot of mosquitoes, a lot of snakes, a lot of spiders. You always train as you fight, so the more training, the more realistic training, is the better I think. The thing is, one of the stories that I remember is that the first time I ever tried to shoot a weapon with a Kevlar vest was hard. You had to get used to that. Although they tried to lighten it up, it was still like forty pounds worth of metal on your front and your back, and you're used to shooting a weapon, training and marching, well not marching, but maneuvering, without that on, so the hard part was getting used to maneuvering with all that weight on you. So that was intense. [0:08: 15.8]

Julia Wang:

In Iraq, where exactly did you go?

Steven Charles Patterson:

We were based in Mosul, we had a battalion, so a battalion is made up of three companies, and we were actually spread out. Mosul was in northern Iraq, which when I first signed up to go, or volunteered to go with this unit to be an additional NCO, northern Iraq was pretty calm and peaceful, but then the Fallujah Push happened in the early fall of 2004, or late fall of2004. Fallujah was in the middle oflraq. What happened was they did a big huge push in Fallujah, and all the insurgents, they ran up to northern Iraq. So you know, I thought, no problem, I'm in northern Iraq; it'll be safe; it'll be calm. It ended up being the opposite because a lot of the insurgents went up. By the time we got there, Mosul was pretty bad. It was infiltrated pretty much with a lot of the insurgents. We had numerous attacks every day. Dozens, if not more, twenty some attacks- small-arms fire, IEDs, stuff like that. So that's where we were based, in northern Iraq.

Julia Wang:

Do you remember arriving and what was it like?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Arriving? Yeah, when we were in Kuwait, they don't do this anymore because they learned, but we had-we were combat engineers, so we had a lot of equipment. We had dozers; we had lifts and heavy equipment to move and do things with to build force protection-force protection is like you build up walls around it. T -barriers-- like you see on the highways, you know, they put in the middle, those barriers that are annoying that you get really close to. Those are called Jersey barriers because the state of Jersey is small. T-barriers are Texas barriers and they are really tall. They're like, probably, ten feet tall maybe twelve. So we had a lot of equipment and we had old equipment, so when we were in Kuwait, none of our equipment was modem. We had old equipment. We had old Humvees that weren't up-armored, and there were a lot oflEDs going on. We did what we called, in the shop, we did hillbilly armor, which is we just slapped probably about a half-inch sheet metal around everything and on the floor boards. First time in country, most people went up on a flight up to Mosul, but we still had to bring our equipment up, so they had to select some people to bring the convoy up. I was half-volunteered and volunteered to do the convoy up. Mosul's in northern Iraq, and Kuwait's south ofIraq, so we had to go through pretty much all ofIraq. In the convoy was not really good-armored vehicles, and then I got elected to be the lead scout for the convoy which meant I was up front. Our unit ran out of GPSs because they were already submitted. Everybody already had their GPS, and they didn't have any more. So I went to the PX, paid 100 dollars, and got a GPS, because I didn't want to get lost, obviously, since I was leading the convoy, which was probably the best 100 dollars I ever invested. We went up and it took, I think, about four days and three nights, because we traveled a lot at night. What happened in Iraq during that time, most of the IEDs would get set out at night. Most ofthe small-arm firing attacks happened during the day, so a lot less activity happened at night. We would travel-a lot of times, we would start at dusk and then just travel all night long and go to the next FOB, Forward Operating Base. We would settle down, get refueled, eat, and then go on. So that was my first days, just traveling for four days through pretty much most of Iraq, which was pretty intense. We got about an hour in Iraq, when we got shot at, and it was only the lead vehicles, and it was only one or two rounds that actually hit anybody. It just hit the vehicles. It never penetrated, so we were fine. The rest of the convoy had no issues whatsoever. It was kind of a logistical nightmare because the convoy was about a mile long of vehicles. A lot of times some truck would run out of gas, so we'd have to bring up a bunch of fuel cans and gas them up to keep them going and things like that. That was my first experience.

Julia Wang:

What was your job assignment in Iraq?

Steven Charles Patterson:

My main job assignment was I was an S2 NCOIC. S2 is intelligence, and I worked in the battalion headquarters. An S2 would gather all the intelligence of the attacks and what's happening during the day, or the new TTPs, tactics, techniques, and procedures, the enemies were using as far as what kind of IEDs they were putting out, what kind of attacks they're doing, how they're maneuvering, where the most attacks are, what routes are clear, what routes are hot as far as most attacks. I would track all that information, and we'd do a brief every evening for missions that were going out that night or that next day so everybody would know what was going on. That was my main assignment, and then I had other duties. One was the TAC-NCOIC. "TAC" is Tactical Advance Convoy. In a normal wartime mission, if one battalion wanted to move from point A to point B, the T AC would go in advance to make sure everything was set up right, and then the rest of the battalion would go, company by company. But in this scenario, there's not really a frontline, so you don't move from point A to point B; you're stationed and you fight. So the T AC ended up being more like-what it ended up being was the commander would go kind of do battlefield observations of his companies because we were spread out quite a bit. We were in Mosul. In northern Iraq was one company. Another company was to the west in Tal Afar which is close to the Sinjar Mountains, close to Syria. The other company was a little bit south, probably three-quarters up in Iraq. We call it Q-West. So we would do maneuvers and take the commander around. I was put in charge of that security convoy with the commander. So that was my second main duty. The other duties were pretty much just as a side, which who knows, a lot of different things.

Julia Wang:

Did you see combat while you were in Iraq?

Steven Charles Patterson:

We got rocketed quite a few times in our FOB. It was FOB Marez, which is on the southwest side ofMosul. We got mortared a lot. What was kind of frustrating is we'd go out on missions--one of our missions of one of our companies was to escort what was called Task Force lED. We would escort the EOD, which is the bomb squad you see on TV shows, with the bomb suits and everything, and the robots. So, if somebody from the infantry would say there's an lED out there, then we would escort the EOD, the bomb squad, out, and a lot of that ended up fake IEDs, ambushes; they would try to ambush us and things like that. The element that was frustrating is a lot times even on attack convoys, you'd get shot at and things like that, and you really couldn't find anything to shoot back at, because you're traveling, you're just going. I only got to shoot back once, which was frustrating. That was one of the most frustrating things. We were at an lED mission, so we had put our perimeter around to protect to the EOD as we brought the robot out. So we brought the robot out, went down to look for the lED, found it, but then, there was a skirmish that happened to the west of us, the northwest of us. At that point in time, I was on the southwest side, so it was kind of like I was on the opposite side of where the fire started, where the fire fight started. It's kind of funny, it's a kneeejerk reaction where you want to go where the fighting is, but the military trains that you have keep your perimeter defense. So, here I was looking at a building and making sure nothing was happening in that building, but yet all the fighting was going on behind me, behind my left shoulder. You just wanted to tum around, and you just wanted to start shooting, but you can't do that. So, we wrapped up the mission to get the lED; we blew it up, and then we called in for clearance to go back to our FOB. Then, All of a sudden, the fire fight started happening again. So, I was, at that point, extremely mad because I couldn't fire back at them. So I exited the Humvee on my own, and went up to the northwest side of the Humvee and just started shooting back. I doubt if I hit anything, but I tried. [0: 19:43.2] I think, probably, the closest call I had, besides the rockets and mortar--you know they were 100 meters, 200 meters away. Not a big deal. One of the lED missions-was they'd put out an lED, and they learned our tactics. Our tactics were we would pull up short about 150, 200 meters away from the lED, and we'd set up. Then, we'd send the robot out. Well, what they learned to do, was they'd set an lED out, and they'd set out another one down the road 100 meters or 150 meters exactly where we were set up. So, we would--<Jur procedure was we would dismount, and then we'd--Now before we'd dismount, we did fives and twenty fives. Before we dismounted, we'd look around our Humvee five meters to see if there's anything weird. Is there another lED out there? Is there something going on? Ifwe didn't see anything, then we'd dismount from our Humvees and we'd walk around about twenty five meters. I looked at-this pile of trash looked different, because mostly you'd see in the median of the two-lane divided highway, not a highway like here, but kind of a slow highway. And there was trash, usually trash was just spread out along the median, because you know the wind blows it, but all this trash was piled, and then it was clear from each side so it looked like someone piled up this trash. So me and this other guy, I said, "Hey, look at this trash. We got to figure out what's in here." So I took my M4 down there, and I lifted up the trash and there was a wired up 152 round. Now a 152 round's about 80 pounds and probably about 18 inches, about this size, of an artillery round wired up. Luckily, we had a signal jammer type thing, because most of the lEDs were wired up with like Motorolas, like walkie-talkies. So the trigger would be the walkie-talkie type thing, Motorola radio, and then it would go to like a project-box that they built, which would end up going to an electronic firing device fuse, which would then blow up. Luckily we had a signal jammer that kept all the signals, radio signals, from coming in. So I was probably about three feet away from a live lED that probably somebody was going there trying to push their button on their Motorola going, "I don't understand why it's not blowing up!" Luckily we had that signal jammer in there. After a lot of frightened and explicit words we got away from that lED, and then we got off another 100 meters. Then we sent out the robot, blew up that lED, and then obviously we went to the one after that and blew that one up too. We'd send a robot out, look at it, bring it back, put some C4 on it, and we'd take it back out again and blow it up. It'd be easier just to blow it up versus trying to diffuse it. Ifwe couldn't-if for some reason the robot didn't work, then some of the pictures showed they'd actually put on the bomb suit just like you see on TV and then go out there and try to pick up the. In fact, that's one thing I did bring. So you remember I was telling you about the 152 artillery round, right, which was like this big? The thing that kills you is not the explosion; it's not the blast, but it's all the shrapnel. And shrapnel is actually named after a German artillery guy that invented a lot of the rounds. So you can imagine, and this is the one that I was about three feet away from. Of course this thing is about this big and this is just a piece of it. So you can feel that and see how heavy it is. So that's what would go through your body.

Julia Wang:

Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences. You told me about your IEDs. You can also tell me about the first election.

Steven Charles Patterson:

Yeah, that was probably--As a whole battalion and as a unit, that was a neat experience. I got involved with it as the S2 NCOIC. You know, I printed out this huge map of all the election polls that were going to go on, so at each one of the election polls, we had threats of insurgents and AI-Qaeda as far as trying to disrupt the election. So our goal in pretty much the entire city of Mosul--which is pretty big, I mean, it's I think about a million people or so--is we would force protect all the election polls. So I told you about the Jersey barriers and the huge, concrete Texas barriers. So, we set our equipment out; we had to do it at night because night was safer. So we'd go out and put all our force protection around the election polls, and it was an exciting moment. Actually in our camp, in our gymnasium we had--we actually had a gymnasium--they brought all the ballots back, and it was just neat seeing the Iraqis participate in that and how excited they were. One of my jobs, as an S2, I also worked with a lot of the interpreters, who were Iraqi natives. So I got to know a lot of the native people there, and they were so excited about it. It was just a neat experience as a whole, and they just did an awesome job. We didn't have one incident in the whole city, which, we didn't think that would happen, but I think just because of all of our protection we put around, they realized this had a patrol and they couldn't get to it. So we didn't have any suicide bombers and things like that. I guess one of the-there was a lot of suicide bombers up there. One thing that happened when we were in Kuwait and we were about two weeks away from going up there, is in Marez, where we were going to be stationed at in two weeks, a suicide bomber came in and blew up our chow hall. I know it killed, I think, about half a dozen or less people, wounded a lot more than that. A lot of our soldiers that we were going to replace, because there was a unit there that was combat engineers, and his commander was actually-- the commander of unit that we were going to replace--was down at Kuwait, briefing us on what was going to happen and that's when it happened, so he had to go back real quick. It was pretty ugly. We ended up not having a chow hall-I'm sorry, dining facility, place where you eat. We didn't we have one for about six months while we were up there. We got, when we arrived, we got one iraq - Patterson hot meal a day that was kind of trucked in. If you've ever seen M* A *S*H, you know they how they dish it out on trays and stuff like that? And it was half cold, so we lived like that for about six months, and ate MRAs, the other meals. My first mission out I remember the most, and this is strange because it actually snowed in Iraq. You don't think about that, but this was northern Iraq. It didn't stick; you couldn't ski, but it was actually cold it enough for it to snow, so we had snowflakes. We had to pick up ordinance from a suicide VBED, VBED is a vehicle born lED. So it was a car with a bunch of explosives and a suicide driver. So we went out because there were a lot of ordinance left. So one of our missions was to pick ordinance left over artillery rounds and things like that, that didn't explode. So we had to go out and clear that out. I remember sitting there. We had dismounted, and I was right across from the vehicle. It was about a hair from you, about three or four feet from the vehicle exploded with this left of a body in the driver seat, that was just nothing black, you know. The hands were actually still on the steering wheel, or what was left of it. So that was my first mission. So that was kind of a shocker right there. I think I answered your question. [0:29: 13.2J

Julia Wang:

So tell me more about the interactions with the civilians and the natives.

Steven Charles Patterson:

Yeah, that was neat. I loved working with the interpreters. It was kind of, in a way, like they had their same differences too, and it was kind of babysitting a little bit because there were a lot of different religions. There was Sunni and Shiite, and there was one actually that I can't remember the name of, but it was mostly in the northwest Iraq that was really frowned upon because they believed-they worshipped the cast-down angel, which in biblical means, that was Lucifer being cast-down. They worshipped the fact that this angel did not want to honor man they wanted to honor god only. That was their religion, and that was such a good oath or way to iraq - Patterson express their love for I god, I guess the way I understood it. They tried to explain it to me, but then other religions considered them devil worshippers because they had a festival in honor of this angel that got cast-down. There was a lot of interaction, and I remember one of things that was like if you punch somebody in America that's one thing, but whatthey do is they spit on them. So that's like their thing to say, "You're not good. I'm going to spit on you." So there was some internal rivalry amongst the interpreters. I remember there was this one interpreter that was female, and she was actually from Mosul, which we didn't like to and I especially didn't like to have that because there were allowed once a month to go leave on a weekend to go visit their family wherever it is. Usually they can get off base, find a ride, and get out of Mosul, so then they're okay. Well this one was actually from Mosul, so once a month, for a weekend she would go back and visit her family which was very dangerous. So I tried to talk her into say, "Maybe you should get ajob at another FOB at another city," and she wouldn't do it; she wouldn't do it. So, she was a pretty good interpreter. She kind of went by her own rules. You know we told her you have to wear a Kevlar helmet, and you have to wear a vest. She didn't want to, you know, things like that. I always worried about her, and when I left about-and I always worried about her because she left the FOB to go back home. One time, though, she brought us a really nice dinner that she made at home. It was neat. It was like piled up rice and lamb, and it was so moist and really good and had tons vegetables on it. She actually went shopping, because she asked me what I wanted. I said, "Well, buy me, you know, I'll give you the money, but buy me-" because we couldn't go out to shop because we'd get shot out, so she would go and she bought me, I remember, a tea set for my daughter. I said, "You know, get me a tea set or nice jewelry or something like that." Anyway, so about two months after I got back, we were kind of checking on the people, what their situation was. It ended up where somehow they got a hold of her and she ended up kind of just chopped up to pieces and left in a hospital. So I kind of felt guilty, a little bit, about that just because I should've not even let her be hired, but she was just so insistent. She wanted to, and I kept trying to remind her, you know. I guess I'm trying to assure myself that I did as much as I could to keep her not from doing it and go someplace else but she ended up dead. So that was a little disappointing. [33:40.4]

Julia Wang:

Did you problems distinguishing which civilians were friendly and--?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Absolutely. It was very hard. One of the days when we were going through all our maneuvers from point A to point B was-when we first got there, we were probably too aggressive as we went out because we would go fast and we kind of knock cars away. You know, say we're going from here and we don't--that ended up not being a good thing to do because when you look for possible people with suicide VBEDs or vehicles with bombs in it, you have to know what's different. If you're going with traffic and you're smooth, and you see somebody going fast, or see somebody veering, or see somebody slowing up real quick, then you that's a possible danger. When we first got there, we were kind of creating havoc. We were going too fast. We were doing things where we couldn't notice if something abnormal was going on with the traffic. We definitely changed our tactics on that one, but still you didn't know for sure which vehicles were slowing down because they had a bomb in it or not, so we'd give little warning shots. You'd start at the ground and keep escalating up toward the vehicles. That was the SOP (standard operating procedure) that we followed. I remember, and this is one of our first movements from Marez up to another FOB, Courage I think it was called, on the north side of Mosul, and we had a fairly new gunner. A gunner is on like the top of the Humvee with a gun, a machine gun. So we're kind of in a crowded environment and we turned a right comer, and then all of a sudden, what we saw-we saw a bunch of Iraqis on top of a building, native people with AK-47s and stuff pointing down. Well, right after we made that tum, we didn't have a lot of communication at that point between the vehicles; that took a while. We had headset so we could communicate, but the lead vehicle did a warning shot because a car or, yeah, vehicle was getting to close, so they did a warning shot. So not only did he see a bunch a people with AK-47s pointing down, he also heard a shot, which was actually our shot, because it was our vehicle. So he just-He had, I think, a 50-Cal and he just started lighting them up. Well it ended up being the Iraqi National Guard, so it wasn't the enemy. Nobody that we know of got killed, but it was not a good incident. So yes, it is hard to distinguish.

Julia Wang:

Were there any casualties in your unit?

Steven Charles Patterson:

We had a small battalion; I believe it was 350, somewhere around there. A battalion's usually 400 plus. So we had about 300 some people. We had nobody killed. We had about around, I think about, twenty purple hearts, or people that were injured. The worst was, and again [indistinguishable] an lED that exploded, and we were supposed to were goggles, because the bullet-proof glass is bullet-proof, but happens when it gets hit, especially with an explosion like an lED, it does retain its barrier, but the glass kind of becomes dust, so you've got dust glass. So it's important to wear goggles, sunglasses, protective sunglasses, or shatter proof type stuff. They were on an lED mission, so they went out and exploded probably an lED or picked up some ordinates, and they were just heading back, and he just lifted his glasses up, and you know, wiped his sweat off of him, and they got hit by an lED, so I know he lost sight in one eye. For a while it was two, just from the glass dust and stuff coming around there. A couple of you know, obviously some more injuries, but that was probably the worst-loss of sight. Some small arm fire injuries, things like that. We had about twenty, yeah twenty people injured.

Julia Wang:

Tell me about your medals. You got a Combat Action Badge and Meritorious Service Medal.

Steven Charles Patterson:

Combat Action Badge is just, you know, you've seen combat so you get it. The Meritorious Service Medal is--I got that when I finally retired when I-Like I said I had about twenty; maybe it's more than that, twenty-one years. So you can retire when you're twenty, and when I came back, I was thinking about just getting out because I could've gotten retired. But, I taught out at the military academy, so I wanted to come back, because at that point in time there weren't too many combat veterans teaching, and seeing what I saw and experienced what I saw, and the tactics and techniques and procedures and things like that, I wanted to go back and continue teaching them new stuff. So, I did that for about two or three years, and then retired so I got the Meritorious Service Medal on retirement, which is kind of a normal thing. Maybe, if you're good you'll get it. Not a big deal. I was put in for a bronze star, but I kind of got declined because you can only have so many bronze stars in a unit, and my rank wasn't high enough, I don't think, to get a bronze star. But my Captain, my first report put me in for one, but the time I got up the whole chain of the army, it's like "eh"--It's the way the army works.

Julia Wang:

While you were there, how did you stay in touch with your family?

Steven Charles Patterson:

We did have internet access, although it was really, because it was kind oflike a satellite set up, so it was kind of off and on. At that point in time, I wasn't married, but I had a child and I had a girlfriend, so we kept in touch. Probably every other night at least I could send email, and we did the webcam so we could-it didn't work very well; we tried it, but the service wasn't very good, so we kind of just quit the webcam stuff. There wasn't enough bandwidth or whatever. So we'd email. Now one thing, we'd do the 1M chat, and one thing I thought of while I was there is-because there was a lot boredom too when you're there, because you don't have missions every day. Sometimes I just did my S2-NCO duties, and then go to the gym, and then come back and sleep, and go do the same thing the next day. You'd kind of forget what weekday it was, because every day was the same. There were like no weekends. You do it every day, every day, every day. So I thought of, well, they had a lot of movies that you could buy on CDs. They had copied tons of them. The locals would, because we'd have little local shops there. And I could buy-they were bad quality-but I could buy movies. So I set up with my girlfriend, and I said, "Hey I'm going to get this movie." Or "I bought this movie. Go rent it from someplace." So we'd both put our movies in at the same time and we'd instance message, and so we'd just comment on the movie while we were watching. So that was probably-- That was fun. I enjoyed that.

Julia Wang:

What was the food like there?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Well, like I was telling, we didn't have a chow hall for about six months-dining facility for like sixth months. So it was pretty much crap, during the first six months. We'd eat our MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat), you know, two of the meals, and then we'd have one hot. It wasn't very good. We had no place to sit down. You'd have to go outside, and you'd walk, I don't know, half a mile. They'd fill up your tray. Especially in the winter, in the winter there I rained a lot in Northern Iraq, and it was just mud, because it was just sand and dirt, and then rain, and it was just mud. So you'd just be in very sticky mud too. You're boots would end up being like five pounds because it'd all stick to your boots. So you'd just have to stand around and eat it, and then go back. But they built a new dining facility, and I think it opened; they tried it opened it July Fourth, because of the holiday, but then they closed it again for a while because it wasn't quite ready. That was excellent. That was and I'd travelled around a lot to a lot of different FOBs because of what I did and my duties, and this was the best one obviously because it was the newest. But, oh my gosh, they had-now they didn't have any good steaks, because by army regulations, you'd pretty much have to bum it before you eat it, so there weren't any good steaks or anything like that, but they had the main course aisle; they had a pasta bar; they had a desert bar; they had a salad bar. And what we ended up doing is because ofthe way we'd work and the conditions and stufflike that. I'd go there once a day, but you can take home as much as you want. So I'd go in there and eat, and then you'd go back again, and you'd fill up a tray, and then put a tray on top of it, the plastic trays, and then you'd wrap it up. I'd have that for lunch or something like that the next day. So yeah, the food was great after the dang facility got up. I ate better there than I do at home. Well, because it's free.

Julia Wang:

Could you get food anywhere else besides the [dining facility]?

Steven Charles Patterson:

There was, I think; they had two places on our FOB. They did let some people from Turkey and stuff and actually operate business, so we had a couple businesses. And Marez was an old Iraqi military base, but it got bombed out a little bit, and it was not well kept, but we made the best of it. And they did have one Turkey restaurant, which served kind of the basic Turkey stuff, and then they had one little pizza place. They tried to make pizza; it wasn't very good. And they had little shops that you could buy. The people would come in from Turkey and go offbase again, like you know, once a month, and bring more stuff back. They had rugs and things you could shop for and stuff like that. Jewelry. You had jewelry you could buy and things like that.

Julia Wang:

Did you have plenty of supplies?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Yeah, like toiletries and things like that? Yes and a lot of it. We had access to a PX but it was kind of inconvenient. We had to go off base, and then there was another airport across highway, so it was inconvenient. You had to get up all armored up with the fifty pounds of vest and your Kevlar and go over there. But they had a little PX there that had stuff you could buy, but a lot of it was the people that sent from home. There would just be in a box, and we'd just keep collecting it, so you could just grab toothpaste and a toothbrush if you needed it. And you'd stock it up. If you'd go on a mission that lasted a day or two or something, you had enough you could take with you. So a lot of it was from people from home bringing us stuff which was nice. A lot of people sent books which was really cool. We kind of had a little library even, at our FOB, where you could go get a book and read it and things like that. So, yeah supplies, again, we weren't in the real desolate area. We weren't like in an observation post or something that didn't have access. There were a lot of people, I'm sure, that didn't have enough stuff, but we did.

Julia Wang:

How did you entertain yourself?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Movies. Yep. Going to the gym, because we did have a gym there. It was in like a kind of a temporary structured dome tent that you'd kind of see sometimes. And other that, we didn't have any TV service there, so you couldn't watch that. They did have kind of a place where they would show movies on a bigger screen, you know you could sit down. I think they might even have Kool-Aid stuff you could get. They had a pool table set up, and a shuffle board thing, but other than that you kind of-but it was a long walk, I mean, you didn't really have your own car to go drive places so a lot of the time I just watched movies at night or read.

Julia Wang:

There weren't like people to entertain you?

Steven Charles Patterson:

We did--Keith something--country singer. I can't remember. We had one show that came, and put on a concert. Of course, that only lasted fifteen minutes, because, you know, that didn't want to last it too long, because, we still would get mortared once in a while, and they would see a bunch of people and they would try to mortar it. I can't remember. He sang a lot of patriotic country songs, but he came in actually in a striker, which is an armored vehicle. He came in, set up real quick, and sang for about fifteen minutes, and then left. So that was pretty cool.

Julia Wang:

Did you do anything special for good luck?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Well, I kept my shrapnel after I almost got blown up. I think I was at peace before I left, you know, as far as something that happened, so I had that mentality where I was at peace. I had to lead younger soldiers--I was an older E7--so I, not so much luck, but I'd tried to keep calm, because a lot of them would kind of freak out, get nervous and anxious. I got a lot of feedback from the [], and they said, knowing that I was in charge and that I was in calm, which inside I wasn't but outside I was, I kept that calm. I said, "Let's just get this mission and get it done." I did have a friend that was from India that gave me an elephant. It's a Hindu god. It's a supposed to be a god, not luck, but god of greatness or something like that. So I brought him with me. So that was my good luck piece.

Julia Wang:

What did you do when you were on leave?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Ah, that's interesting. I took my leave the latest possible. So we got there in December, and I didn't take my leave until September, late September and early October, the two weeks. Three weeks with travel, probably. I went to Germany and there is an army resort in Southern Germany, the Bavarian Alps. What was kind of interesting is over there the air is-you don't smell green in Iraq-and you can actually smell green. If you're away from foliage, green grass, green trees, there is a smell to it. So, I went from a desert, and we'd go to Kuwait, and then I went to Germany. I went to the desert just to--I mean it looked like the Garden of Eden. And Ijust remember the smell of foliage, and at one point I just laid in the grass because it just smelled so good. So, I flew my girlfriend over, and I met her in Frankfurt, and then we went down to this Edelweiss resort in Bavaria country, southern part of Germany, and it was just beautiful. Mountains, snow-peaked mountains. It was just awesome. It was like the second day I was there, I was in you know the desert two days ago, and then I was in this huge, huge hot tub with a waterfall and mountains in the background that I could see, and it was just misting, sprinkling, misting, and it felt so good.

Julia Wang:

Where did you travel while you were in the service?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Travel? I traveled a lot just in training through the OC program. I traveled to a lot of different states all throughout the United States: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Alabama, Oklahoma, Delaware, probably two, three, four, or five other states, Utah, to train people or to be trained. So I did a lot of traveling inside the country. The only outside countries were Iraq and Kuwait. And then I did actually take a pass and went to Qatar. That wasn't too much fun because you kind of just went to the base, and you were locked in the base. They had a swimming pool and that was about it. Although they did have one excursion where in the Persian Gulf, we got to go out on a boat and Jet Ski and stuff, so that was cool. I swam in the Persian Gulf.

Julia Wang:

Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual events?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Well, I'm a practical joker and one thing I learned was not to pull a practical joker on your command sergeant major, who is like the head NCO. It was one of our first times, I think. We had a night off, a lot of us, and we were building a bonfire. We lived in these, almost looked like container units; they were called CHUs, Container Housing Units. They were just kind oflike a conex box that you see on Semis and boats. They're metal, and they always had steps going down to them, and they were made out of wood. Well, we ran out of wood for our bonfire. So I said, "Well, we can get some more somewhere around here." So we grabbed some steps from one of the CHUs and it happened to be the commanding sergeant major's, so the next morning he stepped out of his CHU about three feet down, and cracked his butt. I got in trouble for that one. There were a lot of humorous moment that we had, but guys will be guys and they come up with fun things to do.

Julia Wang:

Was that one of the most memorable pranks you or anybody else pulled?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Yeah. Well, there was one. We were on a mission, and this was in our southern company area, around Qwest. It was probably about an hour or two south of Mosul, and we were, I think we were doing the same thing. We were setting up for the polls. We were going around to each one of the areas just to recon and make sure we were getting things set up right, stuff like that, and this one guy-It was getting close to dark, and this one guy had to go to the bathroom really bad, and we were all in our Humvees pulling security, and I said, "Well, go over there, and there's a bombed out building over. Just go inside that building and go to the bathroom." So then I pulled the guys in and went, "Shh. Be quiet." So I pulled up the Humvee right--there was a big opening, like a big garage door opening--where he was at. So I turned on the lights and everybody flipped their cameras on while he was going to the bathroom.

Julia Wang:

What did you think of the fellow soldiers and officers?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Great, great group of guys. And like everything, there's, you know, there's some good ones and bad ones, but we came together as a group and had fun. [I've] still got some good friends. The unit is based out of Northern Indiana; the headquarters is in Gary, and I have a good friend still, and he made me godfather of his child. So I go up there probably two or three times year for birthday events and games and stuff like that. But, yeah, great group of guys.

Julia Wang:

Did you keep a diary or journal while you were there?

Steven Charles Patterson:

I started to at the beginning, and then I kind of just quit. I just got too busy and some of it was routine. It got so routine, besides missions I'd go out, but then I just got out of the habit of doing it. So then when something non-routine would happen, I got out of the habit so I wouldn't write it down.

Julia Wang:

Did you feel any stress or pressure while you were there?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Yeah, definitely stress and pressure, but again I tried not to show it, because I was usually leading guys, so you don't want to show your stress or your pressure. Probably one of the best missions I did was like the first one I was in charge of. It was the first time we went to our unit about west by the Sinjar Mountains, Tal Afar area. Then I was put in charge of to go from point A to point B. So I go, oh crap, this is during the day, because normally we would take log packs or supplies out there at night. Well it's safer at night, but we were going to go during the day. So I said, I'm going to get the most protection we can get. So I talked to commander of the unit that travels out there at night and they said they get air support, so I got a hold of the aviation unit there, and was able to get air support. And funny thing is, with aviation, you can't call them; they call you. So, I set up the mission, you know we're going to rendezvous at this point at this time. So the colonel came out, the commander said, who was protecting, running escort, and I said, "Well we should get aerial protection in a minute." And they go, "Well, do you have their frequency? Can you call them?" Right when I was about ready to say, "We can't call them. They only call us," and then on the radio it said, "Ironman 2 November, this is Hotel Foxtrot 3. We have you in sight." So, that was a lot of stress, building up to that event, and I planned for about, I had about a week advance notice. So I had to plan all that stuff and coordinate and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Because we had about five or six Humvees that we'd go out with, and we'd rehearse every event possible. If the third truck got hit, if the fourth truck got hit, what are we going to do? How are we going to hook up? How are we going get the people out? Who are we going to call? So you got to plan all those possible scenarios, and I wrote the SOP on everything we should do and we just kept rehearsing, rehearsing for every possible thing. So, yeah, there was some stress involved there. But it was, it ended up being very successful.

Julia Wang:

Do you remember the day your service ended?

Steven Charles Patterson:

When I got back, yes. We got back, and it was such a nice flight back because we had a commercial flight back, and we didn't have the whole battalion. We just had, really just enough people where each person could like lay across seats on the plane, and we just slept pretty much all the way back, so it was a wonderful flight. And then that night, I remember, it was snowing, so that was in December. Yeah, it was right before Christmas in 2005 we got back, and my girlfriend was there. My mom and dad, my daughter-- and I hugged my daughter for a long time; I hadn't seen her. Then, I let go of her, and she goes, "Dad, you stink." Well, we hadn't had a shower for three or four days, because when you go on flights like that, you're kind of like crowd like cows. You don't have any place to sleep; you don't have any place to shower. You wait, and wait, and wait. And the whole time I was thinking about--I was craving this buffalo chicken salad that I used to always eat at Moe and Johnny's on Broad Ripple. So, when I got home and then my girlfriend said-- Well I said, "Well, can I bunk here, at your place tonight?" And I go, "Can we pick up my truck?" because I had my truck and my stuff stored in Broad Ripple, and so the first thing I did-I didn't even-I still stunk. So, I couldn't get my truck started because the battery died. And I said, "Well I want one of those salads like, right now." So we went to Moe and Johnny's, still in my fatigues, still pretty smelly, and [I] ate my buffalo chicken salad that I had been dreaming of for about a year.

Julia Wang:

What did you do right after you got back?

Steven Charles Patterson:

I had an injury over there that I had to have surgery on. I had about a month before I had to go back to work. It was kind of weird because really, I didn't have a home, because I'd packed everything up, and I had no home. So I had no phone. So I'd go to places, and it's like, well what's your address, your cell phone number? Well I don't have one. Every place you go they need something. So, I go alright, I've got to get a cell phone. I think it was about the second day, and it was just kind of one of those things that, when you're overseas, and you're in operations like this, everything is very deliberate, very planned, very structured, until chaos happened, but it's still very-like I said, rehearse, rehearse, plan. And I wasn't used to-I think that's when, while I was gone, blue-tooth things came out. The whole blue-tooth things, I didn't know what they were. So I go to the cell phone place, and there were just so many people around, and it was just very chaotic, and I couldn't do it. I just had to turn around and leave. I didn't get the cell phone. I had to go back the next day with my girlfriend, because it was just too chaotic. There were just too many people around. You know, you get used to not having tons people around. If something chaotic happened, it was usually danger. So it was just one of those things. I felt extremely uncomfortable. Then I saw these people talking without a phone, and I couldn't understand that, and then I saw little earpieces and its like, "Oh! Wait a sec."

Julia Wang:

So did you have any other challenges adjusting back?

Steven Charles Patterson:

That I had a couple moments where you know when you travel over there, if I ever saw a small white pick-ups, because they're a ton of white pickups over there. You were on alert of being attacked so I had a couple moments at intersections where I'd see a car and kind of go, "Hey!" and freak out a little bit. [It's] kind of a knee-jerk thing, chills or something like that. I think a lot of it, you know, I had trouble sleeping but, a lot of it was just adrenaline. You start thinking about missions and rehashing what you did. It's a lot of adrenaline. I mean, you suit up, you get all your armor on, you load your weapons, and you're down to the bottom of the hierarchy, the pyramid of needs, where you're just fighting for your life and stuff like that. So, you get a lot of adrenaline. So you start thinking about that, and the adrenaline kind of starts kicking in, so then you have a hard time sleeping after that. But that kind of fades away. After a while you kind of start getting adjusted.

Julia Wang:

Did you make a lot of close friendships?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Yes, like I said, with my friends up north. I still visit my godchild.

Julia Wang:

Did you join a veteran's organization?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Yes, and that's how I got hooked with you was the veteran organization at Lilly. I'm part of the American Legion. I joined. I don't really socialize too much at them. I probably should start, but it's not my thing.

Julia Wang:

What did you do as a career after that war?

Steven Charles Patterson:

Well I worked at Lilly before I left, so I just got my job back at Lilly. I work in IT, at Lilly. Kind ofa boring--Well I guess that's one of the adjustment things. When I started working, even though they make medicine, but in my job, I don't see the medicine side of it. I see the IT computer and databases and stufflike that. You go back to this job. You feel like it's not fulfilling, and it's just mundane. That's kind of an adjustment thing.

Julia Wang:

Do you attend reunions?

Steven Charles Patterson:

I have once. I didn't do it the last time, but I probably will do it again. They have a reunion; they try to, every year.

Julia Wang:

How did your service and experience affect your life?

Steven Charles Patterson:

There's not a day I don't probably relate something to that here. I think my first sergeant said, he had been in Desert Storm, and he said, It will change your life. You'll come back a different person. My daughter said that too. She said I came back a different person. She didn't go into the details of how. Maybe I'm a little more-things don't bother me as much, little things, because in the grand scheme of things, it's not that a big of a deal. In don't get the last cookie on the plate, it's no big deal. That's one thing at work they noticed too, and I've been told this is like, some emergency happens with IT, I don't get all frazzled. There's no need to. The calmer you are, the faster you'll go. If you try hurry and fix things, you'll actually end up being in worse shape. So I kind of just like, look at it as "Oh don't worry about it." Medicine's still coming out the door.

Julia Wang:

How did you feel about the war while you were there, before you were there, and now?

Steven Charles Patterson:

That's an interesting question. I had a really good buddy--still do--that was in Desert Storm, and he kind of told me how things are different over there. People are different. The culture is different. When I went over there when the war started, I thought it was too soon. Personally, I thought it was too soon. Why are we going there this quick? You know, there's still more stuff, diplomatic wise, pressure wise, that we could do. So, I wasn't hundred percent on board with it, on the whole rational with it, but I was a hundred percent on board with what I was going to do over there, because it was already started, so I couldn't do anything about that. One thing I regret is the way we didn't really help the people as much as we should have. I remember this one mission we went around. Actually, we took a CNN reporter around. We built this huge berm around the whole city that was one of our jobs. That's because a lot of the ordinates, the insurgent's ordinance the bombs and stuff-- You know, they wouldn't travel on the main roads. It was pretty flat country, desert and stuff. So they'd just travel off the main roads. So we built this huge berm. So, we were bringing the CNN reporter around, and we went to this village in southern Mozul, and it was just a little village. I remember we'd go in there. We went into the village, of course, saw a lot kids came out and stuff like that, and just seeing the poverty down there. There was a lady I remember, older lady. They had a trench. In the trench, they had-it looked like they had running water, but they didn't. But it was actually something coming from a well. There was a hose and just a little bit of water dripping out. This trench was the same trench they used for sewage too, but she was sitting in that trench trying to drink the water that was coming out of the hose. And she had this look on her face, this look of total despair and a look like she had just given up. Well the reporter was doing her stuff. We were kind of polling security, and we'd always take out frozen bottles of water with us, so I just handed her this bottle of water and said, "Here's a bottle water." She never changed that looked. She didn't smile. She just still had that despair look on her face like there's nothing to live for. Learning about what CNN-the CNN reporter could speak the language, plus we had an interpreter there too-and they were saying that you know, the insurgents would come in; they would steal her stuff. They couldn't get help from anybody. They were just kind of on their own, and the kids were--of course, kids are always kids. It was funny because we didn't have a lot candy and stuff like that, but what they wanted the most was pens and pencils, because they didn't have any. So I'd always bring five or six extra pens. Of course, if you give one kid, then like a hundred of them come over, which is a bad thing because then you get chaos going on, so then some of times you'd have to back them off. So time you'd have to do it with your weapons, like, "Hey! Go away! We're done; you're creating too much of a chaos." But then I remember I took that picture of when we were leaving when we were done with the mission, and the lady was still sitting there by that hose. She had a rag stuck in it because she didn't need to drink out it. She had her frozen water next to her, and she still had that same look, so I took a picture of her. And then I left, and I have that in my office at work. So whenever I have a bad day, I take a look at that picture, and say, "It's not that bad."

 
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  October 26, 2011
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