Marine Cpl. Matthew Habermann, pictured with his wife, Zori, has volunteered to return to Iraq.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Just three short years ago, a young Soldotna man was wrapping up his high school career putting such things as algebra, American history, homecoming and prom behind him.
He hadn’t yet said, “I do,” to his classmate and sweetheart, Zori; he hadn’t yet formulated an opinion on U.S. foreign policy; he hadn’t yet put on the uniform of a U.S. Marine, though he had already committed himself to five years through a delayed enlistment program.
Today, 2004 Soldotna High School graduate-turned U.S. Marine Cpl. Matt Habermann is married and he does have a strong opinion about what the country should do concerning Iraq.
He’s been there; he’s seen the situation first-hand; and he’s going back.
Habermann, who was recently home on leave, believes the U. S. military should remain in Iraq until that country can be secured.
“It’s going to take time,” he said during a Kenai Rotary Club luncheon earlier this month.
“If you look at how far we’ve come in five years ... we captured Hussein, we’ve secured all but two or three cities. We established an Iraqi military, a police department and border patrol. It takes time,” Habermann said.
Not exactly sure why, Habermann said he has wanted to be a Marine since as far back as he can remember.
He has a grandfather who served in the U.S. Army-Air Corps during World War II and an uncle who was in the Army during the Vietnam War, but he remembers hearing a Marine recruiter say, “Be the best of the best.”
“That’s what I wanted,” Habermann said.
Shortly after his senior year began at SoHi, he enlisted, with boot camp to begin following graduation.
Habermann trained at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego and then spent three weeks getting combat training at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
He was transferred to Pensacola, Fla., for air crew flight and swim training before heading back to the West Coast for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training on Coronado Island. Following flight training at Camp Pendleton, his military occupation speciality was changed to radio operator and he was sent to communications school in Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.
In mid-September 2006, Habermann was deployed to Iraq with F 211, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines.
“We were stationed in Camp Ramadi,” Habermann told the Kenai Rotarians.
“It’s the center of the insurgency in Iraq. The U.S. is working to stabilize the area,” he said.
His unit’s primary mission was to provide security to convoys carrying Iraqi border guards between Najaf and Arbil, a trip of about 700 miles.
“We drove between 15 and 20 hours a day,” he said.
Of the 140 soldiers on his missions, no casualties were reported.
“We made the trip seven or eight times. We had no contact or (Incendiary Explosive Devices) on that particular route,” he said.
Habermann described the Ramadi camp as being highly secure with nine rows of circular concertina barbed wire, several chain link fences and a 20-30-foot high earthen berm surrounding the camp. Guard watch towers are spaced 400 meters apart and the camp has only two entrances: the north gate staffed by the Army and the south gate guarded by Marines.
Inside the compound are two Army divisions and between 1,500 and 2,000 Marines. In all, 10,000 members of the U.S. military are on base.
“You can’t always feel secure. You learn to just deal with it,” he said when asked if he was afraid to be stationed there.
When guarding the convoys, Habermann said his unit must drive through the city of Ramadi, but they never stop.
“In Ramadi, there’s a glass factory, a refinery and a linen factory,” he said.
Nevertheless, the unemployment rate is 94 percent.
“There is no Iraqi economy,” he said.
“Poverty is everywhere. The only technology they have is the vehicles they drive, and they ration gas to one or two gallons a week,” Habermann said.
“The majority of the city is being fought over and is in complete rubble,” he said.
He also said the Iraqis are scared.
“If they’re seen working with the American military, they’ll be kidnapped or killed,” he said.
On a more positive note, Habermann said the United States has a good relationship with the Iraqi forces.
“They’re extremely helpful. They love the U.S.,” he said.
Habermann said the Iraqi Army, which makes up the border patrol, is trained by the American military.
“Their boot camp is 10 weeks, and they do a Hell Week in Fallujah or Ramadi,” he said.
Conditions for American troops are satisfactory, although Habermann said because most of their food and other supplies come by way of Europe, if an item is not sold in Europe, they cannot get them in Iraq.
“I could sell a Red Bull for 10 bucks,” he said with a laugh about the energy drink popular among young soldiers.
When asked about reports of American troops facing shortages of equipment and supplies, Habermann said he has only witnessed a shortage of repair parts, tires and armor for Humvees.
“We also need more chemical and biological suits for the troops. We’re finding chemical and biological weapons and we’ve heard reports they’re trying to attack us with nerve agents,” he said.
Habermann also said he is pleased with the support troops are receiving from the Kenai Peninsula, but said he is not happy with news coverage of the war.
“The only news we see over there is CNN. The media should not report a lot that they see,” he said.
His wife, Zori, agrees.
“CNN is the most biased,” she said. “It’s just what they want to show.
“If I didn’t hear from him that day, I couldn’t watch (the CNN news),” she said.
Zori Habermann has high praise for the Soldotna Red, White and Blue Program that sends letters and care packages to area military members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I had a lot of support from the community,” Zori said. “My teachers at (Kenai Peninsula College) let me take cell phone calls from my husband,” she said.
Zori has taken an apartment with Matt Habermann in Oceanside, Calif., outside Camp Pendleton, where he will be stationed until he goes back to Iraq in January.
The corporal has 2 1/2 years remaining on his current five-year enlistment, and he said he might re-enlist for an additional five years.
While he said he was happy to be back in Soldotna for a few weeks, he volunteered to return to Iraq to do the job he’s been trained to do.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at email@example.com.
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