BEHIND ENEMY LINES IN IRAQ
July 11, 2003 11:00 pm
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Pilot story by Donald Allison

Photos provided by Erik Tuttle

Reconnaissance is an important tool in warfare, and a Gold Beach man helped his fellow U.S. Marines battle against Iraq by going behind enemy lines to gather information for battalions that followed.

U.S. Marines Lance Cpl. Erik Tuttle, 19, was a gunner on an 81-millimeter mortar crew in the Third Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, or Alpha Company Weapons Platoon. He said it was his main job to fire the gun at its target "as quickly as possible" when told to.

"We also had a lot of guard duties where we would provide for our battalion's safety," Tuttle said.

Tuttle spent four months in Iraq, leaving Jan. 29 and returning June 6.

During the war, he said, his battalion was in front of the 7th Marine Regiment gaining intelligence to help the regiment coordinate its attack. He described it as dangerous but thrilling work.

"It was our job to drive through the enemy, see what we see and then relay the information to the regiment for them to engage the enemy," Tuttle said.

Tuttle said his battalion left northern Kuwait and traveled to Baghdad and went as far north as Tikrit. He said the language barrier was tough, but luckily a lieutenant in his battalion spoke Arabic.

"It helped immensely," Tuttle said.

Tuttle said his scariest moment was during one evening when his vehicle and another in the battalion took off into the desert.

"The other mortar vehicle rolled over and there were Marines in there," Tuttle said. "There was one Marine trapped under 90 mortar rounds. We were scared for our own."

Tuttle said there were a lot of sandstorms, and one night it became so bad that his battalion had to stop and wait for morning because of zero visibility. Concerns about chemical warfare required him to carry his gas mask everywhere.

"We always had our gas masks everywhere we went," he said. "We wouldn't wear them while we were marching, but sometimes we would get word of incoming artillery or SCUD missiles, and then put on the gas masks."

Tuttle said the best moment was at the end of the conflict, when mail and packages for troops in his battalion were delivered. Tuttle said they got to spend a full day resting and going through their correspondence, plus they got to eat three full meals, a luxury during war time.

"During the war we got two regular MREs (meal ready to eat) per day, sometimes just one MRE per day," he said.

Tuttle has been in the Marines for one year and three months, and he said growing up in Gold Beach was very different from what he experienced in Iraq.

"Iraq is certainly an amazing and interesting place to be," Tuttle said. "It was like another planet – people acted different and spoke a different language. It was alien."

Tuttle shared a humorous moment his battalion had in Iraq while marching past civilians.

"The Iraqis don't bath a lot. They kind of smell funny," Tuttle said. "During the war we went for two months without taking a shower, and the Iraqis would then spray us with cologne as we walked past. We found that very humorous, that they thought we smelled."

A 2002 graduate from Gold Beach High School, Tuttle said while in Iraq one vehicle in his company took friendly fire from a helicopter.

"Two men were injured from shrapnel, and they were flown to Germany and then to Twentynine Palms," Tuttle said.

Tuttle and his wife Annie head back to Twentynine Palms today (July 12), where Erik will stay with his unit for one year before they are deployed to Okinawa, Japan, for routine training.

Tuttle said he plans to reenlist with the Marine Corps when his term ends in about two and-a-half years, and he was the last person his friends thought would join the Armed Forces.

"I'm having a blast," Tuttle said. "It's the best way to start life. You learn determination, heart, courage and how to stick with it. The military is the only way to go, in my opinion."

Tuttle said his reception since he has returned home has been great.

"It's a lot more than I expected. People say they are proud of me for what I've done," he said. "It's like I fought World War II. They make it out like I saved America, when I just went over there and did my job."

Annie Tuttle said she thought the troops had such a warm welcome home because of lessons learned from Vietnam, where returning troops were treated badly.

"I think the parents weren't going to let that happen when their kids came home," she said.

Erik said he appreciates how well he and his fellow troops were treated when they came home.

"We were really thankful," Erik said. "It was amazing how much support we got."