OIF veteran reflects on Iraq deployments
By Lance Cpl. Darhonda V. Hall
| | September 10, 2004
MCRD/ERR PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
For Marines, deployment means leaving friends, family and home, but it also means a singular mission focus. With the call of duty, husbands, wives and children are left alone. Saying good-bye is never easy and does not get easier the more it happens.
Such was the experience of Gunnery Sgt. Joseph W. Simpson, Service Co. first sergeant, H&SBn., who deployed to Iraq on two different occasions last year.
Prior to his departure to Iraq, Simpson was stationed at Twentynine Palms, Calif. Three days after Valentine's Day in 2003, Simpson kissed his wife and daughter good-bye, and took his first deployment to Iraq with the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion from California.
"The transition from California to Iraq was very easy. The environment was almost the same," Simpson said.
Although the transition to Iraq was not difficult, time still provided the opportunity to miss home.
"At night, when everything was calm and quiet was the hardest," he said. "That was when I had the most time to think about my wife and my daughter."
During the days, there was not a lot of time to think about missing home or family.
Simpson had a company of young Marines and his main focus was getting as many back home alive as possible. The deployment ended after only two months, but another was soon to come.
A short five months after the first deployment, the unit was set to deploy again, making the deployment the unit's second, which lasted seven months. Simpson served as the company first sergeant during this deployment.
"The second deployment was tough on the Marines and their families because we were home for such a short period of time," Simpson confessed.
Handling Marines in a combat environment, Simpson's experiences were opportunities to better his future as a leader of Marines.
"Coming from an infantry background, I have been fortunate to work with and be in charge of large groups of Marines with many responsibilities," he said. "Knowing your Marines and genuinely listening to their needs and taking action is one of the most important tools of the trade."
Simpson's knowledge of how to deal with Marines during hazardous times corresponds with his ability to take care of Marines when at peace.
"He truly cares about Marines and is a great leader," said Staff Sgt. Robb Hagett, Service Co. gunnery sergeant.
Simpson also established a way of dealing with Marines that fall under his care while deployed to Iraq.
"I believe there are three key fundamentals on how we as leaders should treat our Marines, that is with firmness, fairness and dignity," he said.
Sergeant Everett Smith, Service Co. platoon sergeant, says he looks up to Simpson because of the way he handles his work as the company gunnery sergeant.
"[Simpson] immediately takes care of problems that are presented to him," Smith said. "He wastes no time and is very motivated."
While in Iraq, where some people think Americans are disliked, Simpson witnessed acts of kindness from the people of Iraq, proving the stereotype to be wrong.
"Unlike what we normally see on the news, the people of Iraq treated us with open arms. While we were in a security position in southern Baghdad, a little girl would come out of her house every evening to give us freshly-baked bread and tea. They hardly had enough food to feed themselves, yet in all the devastation, they found time to come out and feed us and make friends," Simpson said.
With the deployment also came moments of pure grief. The lost lives and wounded Marines hold a place deep within the hearts of every Marine because the Corps is a family.
While holding the billet of Bravo Company first sergeant, one of Simpson's Marines received critical injuries while providing security on a convoy.
According to Simpson, Cpl. James Wright lost both his arms and sustained major injuries to his leg and hip as a result of a synchronized ambush in which a rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle in the passenger side door where he was sitting. The vehicle gunner was killed immediately.
The explosion blew Wright and his driver out onto the ground where he lay as he continued to give orders to the Marines who were not injured. He told a young Marine what to say on the radio and how to call in fire support and a medivac.
"I think about the Marines I was there with every day. I miss them, I still picture their faces," Simpson said. "We made a bond together that will never be broken. We became more than best friends...we became brothers.
"Now these warriors are back there again fighting and dying for us. We owe them more than words on paper could ever explain."