A Milton-Freewater man in his first combat tour in Iraq said it "has been an amazing experience" as he and others work to bring humanitarian aid to people in need.Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8313
In a series of e-mails, Oregon Army National Guard 1st Lt. Nicolas "Nic" Mason of Milton-Freewater described some of the efforts he's been involved in since arriving at his station in August.
"We have done a lot of good things," Mason said. "We have worked with local Iraqi civilians (and) our battalion has done humanitarian missions to local Iraqi hospitals. We gave them whatever they needed -- food, water and/or medical supplies. That has been a positive experience. I am proud of what we are doing in the country of Iraq. I believe we are making a difference..."
Despite their limited interaction with the local population, the people are mostly friendly, he said. His company has focused on counterinsurgency operations.
"It was a top priority for the platoon. When we drove by an area with kids or adults we would usually throw them water, Gatorade and food. We dealt with Iraqi police and the Iraqi army a lot. They were friendly for the most part and we worked well with them," Mason said.
Interactions between his fellow soldiers and local people have, overall, been "a very positive experience. Each company is assigned two Iraqi interpreters and ours have been a huge asset to our mission. We all developed a strong bond with them."
A member of the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, A Company, 141st Convoy Security Company, Mason is leader for the 2nd Platoon.
He said one of the challenges he and others faced after their arrival was successfully changing their mission from being a brigade support battalion to providing convoy security.
"Typically, this is not our job, and we would be utilized in our actual specialty on deployments," he said. But the battalion members, who consist of mechanics, medics, fuelers, water and supply specialists and drivers, have risen to the task, a transformation Mason said was "truly amazing."
The brigade now provides security and escort to supply trucks as they travel to their destinations. As a convoy commander, Mason said he is in charge of the convoys of up to 125 vehicles at a time.
Although initially a platoon leader, Mason has since been asked to assume the position of a battle captain.
In that capacity, he monitors all the convoys within his battalion and coordinates any needed support.
The area the battalion is serving in is an arid one, Mason said. What little vegetation he's seen is typically found around bodies of water mainly near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. In addition, "we can get pretty good sand storms. It also rains here more than I thought it would. It is starting to get cooler at night."
The Walla Walla native grew up in Milton-Freewater and graduated in 2001 from McLoughlin High School.
Prior to serving in Iraq, he was a project manager with his father's company, Mason Construction. His parents, Bruce and Carolyn Mason, live in Milton-Freewater, while his sister and brother-in-law, Marissa and Mark Kleven, live in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Mason expects to be reunited with family in May.
"I really appreciate the support that I have received from Milton-Freewater and Walla Walla, especially Ingle Chapel (Church). Many people in the Walla Walla Valley have helped me and this is my way to give back to them," he said.