Santa Paula Rotary gets update of Seabees’ activity in Iraq

June 13, 2008
Santa Paula News

Navy Captain Katherine “Kate” Gregory gave the Santa Paula Rotary an update on the wide activities of the Seabees, as well as her own recent first-hand experience in Iraq.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesNavy Captain Katherine “Kate” Gregory gave the Santa Paula Rotary an update on the wide activities of the Seabees, as well as her own recent first-hand experience in Iraq.Rotarian Nils Rueckert, a retired Naval Commander, handled the introduction, and noted that Captain Gregory, an active duty Civil Engineer Corps officer, is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and has been a Seabee “over 20 years... and she was the first woman commander of a Seabee battalion. She now commands a regiment” based in Port Hueneme consisting of four battalions and an underwater construction team. “Last year, she commanded these troops in Anbar Province in western Iraq,” just the latest of her international assignments.Gregory holds graduate degrees from USC, George Washington University and the London School of Business. A registered professional engineer, she is also a qualified military parachutist and a Seabee combat warfare officer.“She has found that working with the Seabees is the most rewarding part of the Navy” because, quoted Rueckert, “ ‘every day you get to see how the work that Seabees do helps others. You get to serve your nation, and that’s a real honor for all of us.’ ““I thank you for your support of us.... We are well aware today of the legacy of” those who have served before, Gregory noted.The top priority of her duty in Iraq was establishing security in each zone of the country so “Iraqis can maintain their own area and we can pull out.” Gregory said that when the “invasion occurred,” there were about 35,000 U.S. Marines in the area, “what we call the trigger pullers,” about 1,100 engineers, and two Seabee battalions providing additional engineering support.“Our primary mission,” she noted, “was to keep ahead of the ground” troops to establish as much security as possible. The IED explosive devices used by the enemy “are the biggest challenge,” as they cause the most injuries and fatalities as well as destroy roads and bridges.
“The enemy is a very smart people” who strengthened the force of the weapons when they realized that Americans were making headway. The challenge of “keeping the troops moving” included lack of fuel in some areas where oil tankers were systematically destroyed.“We got there in March 2007 when Marines and soldiers were getting killed every day,” and found that the local community was “more than willing to participate” in assisting the armed forces until the Iraqi Army was put into place. American troops lived at “remote outposts under very tough conditions” including water rationing and dealing with destructive sandstorms, which didn’t deter the “tremendous attitude they had” despite the efforts of the enemy.Although Iraq had boosted a “tremendous irrigation system,” Gregory said that now “everything has been thrashed.... And snipers are very proficient; they know where to shoot to avoid body armor,” as Americans tried to help rebuild the infrastructure.A detention facility designed to hold up to 100 prisoners held thousands, and shelters were constructed to ease the overcrowding. “It was 120 degrees in May, pretty hot, pretty nasty; morale was amazing.”Although the number of killed has been declining, change won’t come quickly in Iraq. “Iraq has a different experience and history” of military corruption and there is “no understanding of middle management.” Gregory noted that the challenge is to “get them on their feet” and past imbedded concepts.Iraq is made up of tribes with generations of close ties or discord: “When people ask what the future is... I don’t know, but I’m thinking they have a long way to go. If to achieve anything other than a bloodbath,” Iraqis must take charge of themselves, although the country is “shattered... there is no banking system, not great freedom of movement but it is getting better.”The fear of suicide bombers, she added, is ever present. “When we started this war we were not well equipped,” but that situation, said Gregory, as the conflict itself, continues to improve.

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