Oct. 30, 2006

Army Specialist Steven Bebo on leave from Iraq

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Army Specialist Steve Bebo, son of Stan and Sue Bebo of Howard Lake and a 2004 Holy Trinity graduate, is home from Iraq, where he has been stationed since January 2006.

He has been given a two-week leave away from what Bebo rates as the third most dangerous city in Iraq, a city called Hit (pronounced heat) in the Anbar Province.

“I really needed to come home and sit down and not have to worry for awhile. I will be ready to go back for the rest of the time now,” Bebo said.

Although he was supposed to be through serving in Iraq after the first of the year, his time has been extended for another 45 to 90 days. His unit is hoping to leave Iraq, and be sent to Germany in early March.

Bebo seems alright with the extension. “I am not going to be there for two years, I am just going to have to roll with it.”

One thing that has really improved since their unit’s arrival in January is the living conditions. They are currently based in what was once a hotel. They have put up 8-foot dirt barriers around the base for protection.

“When we first got there we didn’t have our own showers, we had to build our own. We were allowed one five-minute phone call a week on a satellite phone, and that lasted for about a month. Then they bumped it up to ten-minutes a call, and then 15 minutes,” Bebo said.

“Now, we have generators and always have power, phones, and Internet. I usually instant-message dad, and my girlfriend, Jenna, a lot; and my brother, Matt, who is stationed in Fort Benning right now.”

There are no complaints about the food the military cooks prepare, which is described as excellent. Most of the meals are hot meals including crab legs and steak.

According to Bebo, it is true about the unbelievable heat. Since his arrival, it has gotten as hot as 135 during the day and then down to 95 degrees at night.

“Everybody has air conditioning in their rooms, but when you step outside, it usually hits you pretty hard. But you acclimate yourself. When I left Iraq, it was in the mid-90s during the day and down to mid-60s at night. I was shivering at night,” Bebo said.

Usually, evenings are quiet, and there is a curfew from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. No one is allowed on the street.

“We still do patrols at night, but insurgent activity is low at night. We take the time to rest, and I guess they do the same thing,” Bebo said.

Their day begins at 6 a.m., about the time the sun comes up. After they eat breakfast, they check the patrol schedule for the day. There is a large map displayed showing the inside of the city, which is broken down into different sectors designated by letters. Every home is numbered. Each squad is assigned different patrols that they find posted by time and sector.

Sometimes, it is just a squad of seven men that go out to patrol. Sometimes, vehicles will go out with them as part of the platoon in case they come into contact with someone and they need the extra support.

Evening raids are also scheduled by sector and house number. Depending on the size of the mission, there might be more manpower involved.

Most of the time, it is a patrol in the morning and another patrol in the afternoon or evening. Or, they will sit in a building, out of sight, and watch for anyone that could possibly plant a roadside bomb. They are called improvised explosive devices (IED), and insurgents have a number of ways to plant the IEDs, including paying teenagers to put these bombs in place.

It didn’t take Bebo long to get initiated into the life of an American soldier stationed in Iraq.

The first time they were shot at was just the second day they were there.

“We were all running across a bridge that crosses the Euphrates River to another base on the other side that was under fire. They fired an RPG (rocket pellet grenade), the little short-fire missiles that they all have, and it went right over our heads. I looked up and saw it. It went right into the river, and exploded. I got this sickening feeling in the bottom of my stomach. I thought, I am in Iraq and not a good part of Iraq. Then, there was a whole bunch of shooting. It was a definite wake-up call,” Bebo said.

“Every day, we hear something – not always that close. I have been fairly lucky. There are a lot of my buddies in my platoon that have received a lot more contact than I have seen, and less than some of the other guys. I still have seen plenty. You are always hearing it. Sitting there, you will hear the explosion and maybe it won’t be near you, but you will know someone else is getting mortared,” Bebo said.

In addition to the living conditions improving, Bebo has been impressed with the improvement in the Iraqi Army. The Iraqi Army has been sent out on patrols with the US Army observing them while on patrol.

When they came back, they were told what they did wrong, what they did right, and what they needed to improve on. “They were very open to our help,” Bebo said.

Recruiting Iraqi police also surprised Bebo. “The thing that surprised me was the fact that so many people wanted to join. I figured we would be standing there, waiting, and nothing would happen. But the people just kept coming and coming.”

They had so many people wanting to join the Iraqi police, it was necessary to turn some of them away.

“The Anbar Province is very dangerous, but the US Army sent a number of patrols out and shut down the city, and the people felt safe to come out and sign up,” Bebo said.

“One time, we had over 1,000 people show up. We just signed up the Iraqis that could read and write. We would put them on helicopters and send them to Baghdad, where their basic training is.

“Two weeks later, another recruiting; and the first group would come back. We have turned some parts of the city over to them,” Bebo said.

Bebo thinks this is really an important move for the US – stepping back and not being so visible.

“If we would have Iraqi patrols, there would be less fighting because Iraqis are upset because of us being there,” Bebo said.

Iraqi children are important to Bebo and the men he serves with. Bebo describes them running out to see the Americans when they are on patrol, and they always want candy. Most of the men carry candy, and Bebo has received toys from people that he will give to the children.

“They are not as afraid of us as I thought they might be. With the adults, we try to be a little more rough and intimidating. But we try to be really nice to the kids. They are the future of Iraq.

“If the adults tell them that Americans are bad, they might remember us and know that isn’t always true,” Bebo said.

Bebo enlisted in the Army his junior year of high school, with a rank of Private E-2. After he graduated from Holy Trinity, in May 2004, he was sent to Fort Benning for infantry school, which was his choice.

“When I thought of the Army, I thought of the infantry,” Bebo said. “I thought of jumping out of airplanes or helicopters,” but so far, he has not had the opportunity.

After basic training in Georgia, he was sent to Germany, where he prepared for his deployment to Iraq.

His time in Germany was something that Bebo enjoyed. Snowboarding in the Alps was a highlight of his time there. When he goes back to Germany in March, he is looking forward to doing more traveling with his buddies.

One thing that Bebo misses since he left Iraq are his buddies. “Those are the guys I have hung out with since Germany. Everybody has had a chance to come home. I am one of the last ones to come home.”

It took Bebo some adjusting to civilian life after being away from home for almost a year. One night, he woke up and, in the dark, he looked over and none of his buddies were there. He thought that maybe they had left him and gone out on patrol without him.

“Then, I realized I was in this nice soft, comfortable bed, and I was at home,” Bebo said.

“It is hard to go from being tough and intimidating – hard to start joking around. The first day I was back, I was with my girlfriend and she wanted to know why I looked so mean. I had that ‘don’t mess with me’ look. But now, I am back in my home mode.”

Bebo will return to Iraq Thursday, Nov. 2. His trip back will take approximately five days. He flies to Atlanta, Ga; Frankfurt, Germany; Kuwait; and from Kuwait, a military plane will take them into Iraq.

As far as Iraq’s future, Bebo said, “I think we will always be there, not in major combat, but always a post there. It would be a good thing in the long run to have peace in the Middle East. I don’t know if it will happen. We have to think that we are accomplishing something by being there.”

When he is through with his tour of duty in Iraq, Bebo still has two more years of service in the Army. After that, he is thinking about attending school, but is undecided about a major.

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