It is important for people reading this manuscript to remember that these are the personal recollections of Mr Maika. Time and lack of resources have precluded the researching of facts to draw attention to any errors. The views expressed in this oral history are those of the interviewee only and not the NZDF, RNZN, and the Navy Museum.
This is an interview with Chief Petty Officer N.F. Maika on the 16th September 1999 taking place at the RNZN Museum, Devonport, Auckland. The interviewer is Commodore G.F. Hopkins OBE, RNZN (Rtd).
First of all how did you come to be involved with an operation in Iraq?
I was given the heads by up the Fleet Postings personnel. I used to be at the Maritime Ops School and I got the call about early September `97 and they asked me can you see if there is a senior rate available to take up a position in Iraq in Baghdad. I said, “Okay then”, but I checked on the requisites because it might just fall free for anybody.
I looked around at our fleet at the senior rates at the time and everybody was very much in position either on boats, serving at the shore station at NAVCOMSTA. The way I looked at it was because I had been at the school since `94 which was about three years I thought gee this is an opportunity for me to get out of the school environment for a while and just do something different. I filled in my name and they just said, “Oh well we will just wait and see what happens”. It wasn’t until about October/November that the signal came out initially and then posting orders came out.
From there on I got a bit of flak because I was the only one that was down for it. My boss knew all about it but he kept on saying, “No that’s quite okay go for it you have been here long enough”.
Are you married?
Yes I am married.
What did the other boss think of it?
I didn’t want to say nothing until I had it, it wasn’t cut and dried because I had to go through the pre medical requirements and everything else. There was a bit of trouble inside here in the body and so until I was declared fit and everything I wasn’t prepared to say anything.
Then the directive came out to attend Linton Camp pre-deployment training and that was towards the end of November early December in `97. I think it was good and there were a couple of things there that I didn’t agree with in particular the lessons with Arabic. You go over there and that is all they speak, that is fair enough, but what’s the use of an Arabic teacher trying to teach you to write the language. All we really wanted was, “Hello”, “How much does this cost”, “Thank you very much”, just the simple basic.
You needed a phrase book approach to it?
Well we had the book but that was written in Arabic too. All we wanted was just the pronunciation side of things and that is where I think we wasted a good four to six periods just trying to write Arabic. As far as I was concerned it was a waste of time and everybody said that in class.
The four-wheel drive training I think was a complete waste of time. The vehicles you drive over there are all left handed and so you have got to get used to the left hand which is no use because over here we are all used to right handed vehicles that is easy. All we did was we had turns driving around out of Linton Camp up to Wanganui and just did one complete circle on the main road. We did take a detour with about twenty miles of corners. Realistically as far as I was concerned what they really needed was a set up whereby even on the beach or something. The territory over there is as rough as guts, rocky, hilly and you have got to negotiate the holes and be wary because there could be a landmine there. All these little things they just kept on cropping up a left-handed vehicle would have been nice. They aren’t automatic’s they are floor change over there. I tell you what when you go over there and you jump into a left-hand vehicle you still have a tendency to go over to the other side of the road. It takes a while to get used to it just to stop from straying to where we normally drive.
How long did you spend at Linton?
One week training, get there on the Sunday and fly out on the Sunday. It encompassed a lot actually. A form of NBCD, chemical training and that wasn’t too bad.
You would have done a fair bit in the Navy?
Oh yes it was just like a refresher course, that’s what it really was. I tell you what some of those Instructors that they had down there the Army Instructors they would go, “Da, da, da” and away they went and, “Are there any questions?” “Yes there is a question I would like what about…?” and I pulled them up about four times about that and after a while I thought I had better shut up, shut up bloody Navy. No that was good.
Of course you didn’t wear uniform in Iraq and so there were no uniform issues?
Not over in Iraq.
Did they give you an allowance for clothing or anything like that?
Yes there was, you were provided with $600 I think, appropriate trousers for wearing up there, light cotton and all that sort of stuff, light cotton shirts, which wasn’t too bad. Because all I did was go down here to Gubbs and bought it and put it on my bill. I just sent the receipt back to them and they sent the money up and in actual fact I think it was too flash for over there.
Lots of vaccinations, jabs and things?
Yes heaps the whole arm started to feel like a blimen pincushion after a while.
Yes it is amazing what they invent for these things these days isn’t it?
Oh yes I am sure I could have gone over there and picked up any. It was one or two injections a week and there was one there that we were supposed to get up there and I was supposed to have two further injections two months or three months apart but they don’t even do it, it is a complete waste of time.
Do they give any briefings to your family and that sort of thing before you go?
They invite the families down, as part of the pre-deployment training on the Saturday which is good. The amount of time being in the Navy I have been and gone she said, “Oh no you are just going overseas to land not to sea”, and so it was no big deal with her. They try and give family support and all of this to them.
This training was just before you went?
Were you going over with a whole group of people?
There was about four of us all up. At that particular training camp it was not only personnel involved with UNSCOM there was Bosnia and so there was a mixture. There was also the Bougainville people and so realistically there would have been almost 45 of us. We made up eight to ten of the UNSCOM personnel. No it was okay it was good.
How do you get to Iraq?
Once everything has been cleared and my medical was okay and all the pre-requisites are done you get told by Land Force Command. Corporal Sonia Nicholson she deals with UNSCOM. I think she deals with all overseas travel and arrangements and what not calls up and says, “I have got your tickets for you to go whenever”, and I said, “Yes okay then” and my first question was, “Who am I going out with?” “Oh there will be another two with you” and I said, “Oh okay that is no problem”. All I basically did was packed the gears and my wife and kids came out and we had a lunch prior to going to the airport and I suppose our last farewell lunch and dropped me off and she said, “See you down track another six months later”.
At the airport I had all the tickets and everything and so did my oppo’s. The thing is they made us take a big Army trunk with all the stuff in preparation for chemical agents. I think you have probably seen it and it was just filled up with everything, there was a good medical kit and there is a lot of stuff you can get out of it and so I took that.
Everybody had their own personal medical kit like that?
Yes but the thing was a lot of them didn’t take the trunk it was too heavy. There had been reports back from people that had already gone over there that it was not required not to take the bulk load because they have stores up in Baghdad up in the UNSCOM compound and so there was no requirement to take that much. You could take things like Disprins and all that sort of stuff and the respirators and all of that but there was a lot of other stuff that was just excess weight and not a requirement. At that time I am going something might happen and I might need it but when you get up there you can see why they get brassed off with taking it. That feedback also comes back from DEPOC the Land Force Command saying, “Well it is up to you when you get up there but we have given you the essentials if you don’t want it, fine, but don’t come crying to us if something happens.” That is always in the back of your mind but you never get into situations like that up there unless you have got to have the mask and you have got to go into a building where there has been chemical agents you have got to wear the suits.
Did you have to take up your own suits or were they there?
For what I was doing I didn’t need them.
You just fly Commercial Air to….?
Yes we went from here to Sydney and we had to wait around for a couple of hours and then from there down to Canberra to Singapore and from Singapore direct to Bahrain, which is about a day and a half to two days.
There are no stopovers or anything like that?
No really one hour or two hours that’s all it was.
What happens in Bahrain?
You are met by one of the UNSCOM personnel who are working in Bahrain there who picks you up and gets all your gear and what not and takes you around to the building where you get the photo’s done again for ID into Bahrain. You are also given a passport type thing. I think there were the three types of ID they gave us and we did all that and signed all the forms. The best thing about it you got the money you got paid in advance. Because that was one of the things that I was told just take about $50 US or something you don’t need it there is no requirement to take any money from here to there you can go to there with zilch. You get fed on the plane and you get off the plane you go to the Koru Lounge it is all free, drinks, food, there is no worry. When you get to Bahrain that advance is basically for your accommodation where you are going to stay and to see you right until you get paid properly. Then they deduct what they have given you and I think it is about $1500 something along those lines and they just deduct it. Then they whisk you away to the other briefings and I can’t remember the name of the place but we were stuck for nearly three or four hours and that is quite a long time when you have to sit there and listen to all these briefings.
You are straight off the plane too?
Straight off the plane and straight into the Bahrain office and they are going flat tack because that is all you see is the people running backwards and forwards filling out forms and sign this and sit down here this is my brief, yes, yes, okay and photo. Right lets go and as I say you are on the move.
By the time we got to the main briefs it was like half past one in the afternoon and we had landed there about 9 to 10 o’clock that morning. We had been on the go and the travelling doesn’t help and I think we were possibly still tired from the plane. All of us were falling off to sleep during the second part of the lectures because they went on and on and I was just thinking to myself when are they going to stop, don’t they realise we have had a long flight.
They gave you a night off hopefully in Bahrain before they flew you in?
What happened was they put us up at the Holiday Inn, which was good and then we also met the personnel we were replacing who were flying out and they had the night off as well. They were there for that night and we actually stayed two nights in Bahrain which was good whereas a lot of them just there overnight and just hopped on the plane the next morning and straight into Baghdad but no we had a couple of nights. We didn’t really get the hand over in Baghdad we got the hand over at Bahrain. The hand over I said, “What’s it all about?” “Oh you will find out when you get there”.
Who were you relieving another Navy chap?
No it was Army.
I said, “What do you mean you will find out I need to know?” and he just turned around and said, “It’s a bit hard to explain” and I said, “No its not”. I said, “Operational work we all do operations work you just fill me in on a bit of detail radios, phones” and he said, “Yes okay then” and we must have spoken for about five minutes and that was it and I said, “Is that it?” “Yes the rest you will pick up when you get there it is a waste of my time explaining.” “Okay”. To me I thought that was a bit rude I like to know what I am getting into like I am sure anybody would. He said, “No that was the same with him”. “It doesn’t mean to say you are going to put me in the same position”. He was right you got up there and you learnt it on the job.
We stayed there two nights and flew out the third day. You don’t actually fly into Baghdad it is about an hour 20 minutes out of Baghdad. The thing that struck me as soon as we got there was the blimen heat and the heat struck me in Bahrain also.
In March over there would be hot wouldn’t it?
Yes it was getting very hot it was towards the end of their winter if they have a winter and I believe they do too.
They do it gets very cold up there in the winter.
Well even up especially up in Northern Iraq its freezing up there sometimes.
Yes we were met by one of the guys that was on the pre-deployment training with us, the Army guy. It was good because the Kiwis run the Transport Section and they run the medical. We run the operations side of things and sometimes we are fortunate enough we had a person who worked in a Government Department Marlene Castle she was a chemical boss I suppose you would call it, she was good. We had a smattering of Kiwis in just about every branch. The electrical we had a guy Roy Joblin, who was the big head of all the head technicians of UNSCOM, he was good. The other two civvies, one was another Kiwi and an Aussie and he was an ex SAS the Aussie guy and we got on like a house on fire. We basically had our finger in just about every branch, which was good. The Kiwis and the technicians looked after all the drinks, soft drinks, alcohol and whatever. If there was anything coming up they would have a look at the store and okay keep that aside by our lot and all the riff raff can have that lot there. We had it all worked out and looked after our lot first. I think that is why a lot of the other nationals came along with us because they knew our boss who was Wing Commander John Cummings he was a very good officer in charge. He played an important part with meetings with the big boss and the deputy then he was basically the third one down. What I would laugh about was that if none of those three were there I was it.
You were the boss?
I was it and I am going, “Give me a break, come on”. Yes when I look at it like that I am saying to Wing Commander Cummings. Everything is all on a first name basis and I used to call him Sir and he said, “Don’t call me Sir, don’t call me Wing Commander just call me JC” and it was good that way. He got respect every which way you look at it and he also reciprocated which was very good.
Where do you live there you stay in hotels?
Yes when we first got there it is basically into the UN compound and then you get taken through briefs and what not again basically security briefs, that is the main one and a media brief. If anybody asks you questions just say sorry refer to our press agent who we had up there and that is it. You had the showing around the bazaar which takes about a couple of hours or so just to settle in and just to find your feet I suppose and then you get whisked away and taken away to the hotel where you will be staying.
My first impression when we first got there from the airport travelling back to Baghdad was the blimen speed it is just foot down all the way on those four wheel drives I tell you I was scared and I wasn’t the only one. I am going gee’s and Kiwi Staff Sergeant Chris Wilson I looked at him and his foot was flat down all the way. All the guys said, “Gee’s can’t he slow down” as you are just used to travelling at a sedate speed until you hit the motorway on the other side. We are talking about the little towns, “Oh I had better slow down to 80”. Gee’s I tell you what I was very scared but after a while it was the norm I found out and that is even going from a to b in Baghdad from the hotel to work it was just speed, speed, speed. Rather than get left behind I joined them after a while and that is how it went. Yes speed.
You get taken to your hotel and you get settled in and then you go back again later on. What they did the boss got all the Kiwis together and said, “Right here is our four new arrivals, here are their names” and made us introduce ourselves, where we are from and what service. To me it was good because you are out there and you have got no family there other than other Kiwis.
You are all in the same accommodation the same hotel?
Most of us are but a couple of the technicians decided that they didn’t need to be with us because it was a lot cheaper if they went and stayed privately. We are talking about a month I suppose which would have been about a hundred to two hundred dollars cheaper for them. As far as I was concerned I would rather stay in the hotel, there is safety in numbers and you are looking at it like that whereas there was only just two of them.
Also too it is good to have someone to chat to and have a beer with or whatever isn’t it?
Yes the social side especially at night it was good.
After we had all settled in you would go back and they would have this meeting and welcome, welcome. One thing about the boss there, “Open up the fridge lets go” and I looked at my watch and I said, “Help it is only half past four in the afternoon”. “Oh heck today’s Thursday and the bar nights are Mondays and Thursday nights aren’t they” and he said, “Looks like you fellows won’t be going anywhere”. I said, “I would like to go back and have a rest” and they just laughed, rest, the old story, “Harden up Navy”, “Oh Roger then”. I go there and I am a Chief working with two Corporals and a Wing Commander from the Air Force. The two Corporals one is Air Force female and the one Corporal Army and it was good they sort of showed me the ropes and this is it and I thought, “Wow this is easy.”
Tell me about the job what did the job actually consist of and what equipment did you have to do it with?
Basically when we worked in the operations room we had to monitor the radio sets. They had about four different radio sets there and one was 24 hour continuous for the people who arrived there were given a hand held radio. You are shown how to work it, this is your main channel if you are ever in trouble call this channel and then they will take you to another channel six or two. Channel six was working long distance.
This is what VHF?
We had all of those just like GP300 we got exactly what were GP300. If you are in trouble this is it here. Somebody in our ops room is there all the time 24 hours a day. We also had to monitor when the helicopters flew out and the Chileans were the helicopter crew out there and that was good.
How would you talk to them because they would go a fair distance and presumably there would have to be a HF link wouldn’t there?
VHF yes no problem.
Even if they went down to Basra or away up north?
If they went out to Basra they took an Inmarsat with them so when they get there they call up, “We are here”, “Where abouts?” “Oh just on the outskirts of Basra”. “Roger when’s your next call?” “Good as gold”, “Okay see you later” and finish and put the report in.
Normally any of the vehicles that left the compound and they were going on a mission you had to call up and let the ops room know who was leaving, who was with them. You had your own watch to see what time they left anyway and it was just a matter of filling out a log type of thing.
Would they have a satellite link as well because again you would be out of range wouldn’t you after a short time?
That depended on the missions and its priority. Okay if it was pretty important and they were travelling far out because we had all the radio sets which included batteries, handhelds, Inmarsats, GPS’s the works, everyday we got people requesting them and as far as I was concerned it was on a first in first served basis. There were a few times there when people said, “I have booked in for this”, but I said, “Hey this guy actually booked in earlier than you and its gone to him. If you want to discuss it I suggest you go and see him and who has got the priority over what, I have done my job you two sort that out don’t come back to me I am not going to play the guy in the middle”. I wouldn’t say it got to anything serious it just got down to “Okay then if you need it more than me, sure you take it, go and re-sign for it”.
Was it good quality commercial equipment or was it Army type equipment that you were using?
No commercial. It worked and you get told how to hang the dish up that way whichever way you come from.
Did you have a permanent circuit back to the UN Headquarters in New York or was that just as required?
The permanent circuit was fax.
You just used it like a telephone circuit?
Yes your main people you were talking back to were in Bahrain, New York and Vienna was all the nuclear energy and that was their base. When you first start working there and ring Vienna, “Oh hell no who am I talking to on the other end?” “Oh that’s only Duleiu at the other end”. “What is she a Major or what?” “No she’s a secretary”. I said, “What am I supposed to say to her?” “Tell her that the standby for the blimen thing is every time we go to secure the link stuffs up”. “Okay then”. You are a bit wary at first because you don’t know all these people who you are talking to but then after a while you get to know their voices and then before you know it you are getting smart to one another and so that’s good that way.
Were the communications in country unsecure, they were just plain language?
Yes apart from that we had like STU2’s and those were actually fitted out and we had a couple of booths in the ops room itself.
That was for talking to the UN?
New York we had Richard Butler and all the big wigs there and they wanted to talk back to New York on the secure line and all we did was ring them up and okay go secure. Just call them up on the hand held and say, “Yes we are waiting for you to come in and take your call” and they would come in and away they would go. There was quite a bit of stuff to cater for especially when you had large groups coming in because you had to get their ID’s done. There was only one person ever on watch at any one time and it can be busy if you have got 60 odd people coming in the next day wanting 60 radios, 120 batteries and making sure that they are all fully charged.
You had to do that yourself?
You didn’t have a radio technician or anybody to assist?
That has got nothing to do with them all they do is just check if the battery is flat they will come back and they might be able to fix it up or get rid of it.
You can’t just send for the duty RM?
You are it. They were prompt when you think about the big numbers that used to come through for these special missions and that oh heck yeah.
I remember one night 60 people coming in and oh heck it is going to take me for ever and a day. You would get rid of all your work first get that all squared away and have something to eat and then have a look at it at half past ten. You are lucky you have got a TV there and so you can watch that and you have got a video so you can watch videos. The UN up there has got heaps of videos but in the back of your mind you are thinking there are 60 people coming in and you have got to do the damn thing. About half past ten at night I would get all the radios out and allocate them to the manifest list coming in, they are all special groups. You have got chemical and what not all of those different types of people coming in and your thinking this is going to take forever and a day. Normally I wound up sometimes about half past one in the morning just making sure that everything is all tickity blue and got them all boxed up. Sometimes you could just leave them on a bench like this and have your loan book over there when they come in and check to see if you have got them and while at this hour you work it okay now sign over here that you have received it, done.
Did you have to keep a watch yourself were you part of the watch-keeping routine how did you work it, how did you work your day?
Well they had a strange routine when I got there they used to work some stupid hours and I didn’t like it very much. Basically when I got there I was an understudy which is fair enough for about two day shifts. Then on the third day the girl was going on leave and so I had to do it and there was only me and the other guy fair enough. Then I looked at it and one thing I didn’t like was they started at 8 and finished at 4 and the next person would come on and work from 4 to 10 at night. Then you who had just finished the day watch came back again and did the 10 to 8 o’clock the next morning and I said, “That’s not right that is nearly an 18 to 20 hour shift in 24 hours, no something is wrong here”. I changed it and made it so that we started the shift working in the morning at 8.30 and finished at 7.30 at night. You did 11 hours during the day and at night you worked 13 hours from 7.30 at night until 8.30 in the morning. Then I always got the question, “Why do you make it 8.30 why not quarter to 8 or 8 o’clock in the morning start work”, “Think about it Monday night, Thursday nights it gives you that extra half an hour”. I said, “Oh you can make it 9 o’clock and I said you don’t think about these things but how many times have you come to work later than 8 o’clock and I said, “That’s why”, “Oh good thinking”. In the end it worked out. The way the roster went was if I worked during the day I worked from 8.30 in the morning to 7.30 at night. I have got all that time off until the following night and I work from 7.30 to 8.30 the next morning and I have got 24 off. You basically had 24 off anyway.
Just three of you to do this?
Yes three of us. But when you had someone on leave it gets a bit dicey because you are off on, off on. Sometimes there were a couple of occasions there when they were away for a week and a half and you were doing the same day watches and you would be bored to death. The same as the other person who is doing all the night shifts.
There was no requirement to do day work on top of that as well?
It was straight watch-keeping?
Yes it was straight watch-keeping. We were fortunate enough with Wing Commander Cummings he was more than happy to jump in and he says, “Chuck me in”, “Thursday night”, and he said, “I am not doing a Thursday night I will do a Saturday or some other day’’ and I said, “Yes whatever”. Funny he assisted us in that area there, which was good because I think the one before didn’t but I won’t go into that.
Also at times when we had one person on leave JC had to fly to Bahrain for briefs and so that just basically left me and the other guy. I also had to be available because they had their daily ops brief in the morning, which I think was about 9 o’clock in the morning, which made it a hard one for me. Because if I was on shift and there were only two of us there a couple of the guys would come in and wait or better still I would get one of the technicians. The Americans, we had one technician that used to be next door and I used to say, “Would you mind standing in while I go and give a brief to the Director”, “Oh yeah no problem there”.
I was having to deal with as a watch-keeper and then all the blimen logistics. Because everything that came in and the requirements from all the teams that were there you got and you had to make sure that they were all there for them when they flew out the next day. There were things like, “He’s ordered the helicopter make sure you cross it in here and make sure that the appropriate signals have also gone to say, “They will be fine in this area here don’t shoot us down” and it just went on and on. Inmarsats, “We require a radio operator”, “Hey there is only two of us here”. We used to get those people who were going on missions coming in and we would give a quick run through on how to do it and that is all we did there.
(End of Tape 1)
(Beginning of Tape 2)
Did you get out on any missions?
Yes I did I went on two missions. My first one was to Basra in south east Iraq. It was good because I had been with UNSCOM for about two months and since I have been there I hadn’t gone anywhere. The people who are there that you are working with they also haven’t gone on leave and they are also coming to the end of their time and so they are taking leave left, right and centre. So you are just basically the new kid on the block and you stay behind and you do all the shift work and that wasn’t a problem. But when the opportunity came they asked JC and he said, “Yes if he wants to go” and I said, “Heck yeah I just want to get out of here”. I was gone for about three days. It was good to see the countryside and see how they live. I feel sorry for the Iraqi people and the way they are forced to live but it is just one of those things I suppose. To me they are living in a country of fear, they can’t go no where.
The journey down from Baghdad to Basra was okay and once again just pedal to the metal.
I see you drove you don’t go by helicopter?
No we go down there because we have to be down there for three days. Actually we got there that afternoon and got settled into our accommodation. Our headman turns around and says, “It has gone 4 o’clock in the afternoon we can do one or two things because we had so many sites to do in two days. We can cut some of this out by going to see a couple of sites now”, which we did and they were in Kuwait just over the border. Then once again in Iran, it was quite a hard case actually standing in the middle of nowhere right in the middle of that cross right in the middle between Iran, Iraq and down the middle you have got Kuwait.
You hope they are in the right spot?
Yes it was in the right spot because we had the minders with us who follow us everywhere, making sure that we didn’t stray. They turned around and said, “Right in the middle of the territory between the three countries, gripes okay take a photo again. It is just like you have been out in the desert they have got nothing really. But we managed to put in a couple of sites and get back later on around about 6.30, go back and have dinner of some sort and basically just relax until we had to get up early the next morning and go out.
Now that was a bit of an eye opener you have to go to the military base and when we went out there they have got a lot of storage underground and there could have been nearly 50 to 60 in this one airfield base. So went in one over to one of them and just opened them up big iron doors and we go down there and all you see are missiles upon missiles. You are not allowed to take any photos of them of course or they would crack up. It was an eye opener but the store itself underneath or the bunkers would be like from here to the main gate away by about so wide, about the size of a rugby field. I am just looking and going, “This is incredible underground.”
There are air to air missiles or what sort of missiles would they be?
They were air to air missiles because we went into their control room later on and okay everything had been abandoned and they had obviously pulled out all their documents from their filing cabinets and burnt them or destroyed them and it was basically just an eye opener. Then the next bunker along the same thing the same amount of missiles and I am going, “Jesus Christ no wonder these guys can if they wanted to bloody hell.”
Were these arms being looked after?
No I think they were just stored there. I said, “What are we doing to get rid of all this lot here?” Because I was with the Export Import Team as well as one member from the Chemical and Biological and a nuclear person and they have got three or four and they went in. They had a look around and they just started making an inventory list. We only did two of these blimen things and we got there at 10 in the morning and it was nearly 12 o’clock half past 12. I said that is two and half hours for like 1 hour 50 minutes per storage room, how many of them are there here?” I was asking the question and he said, “There is about 60” and I said, “For God’s sake don’t say we have to go through each one of these do you?” He said, “No, no we are just going to take a guess we can’t stay here all day”. I thought okay then we have done that.
We left there and then we headed down to the wharf and the warehouses down there all had to be searched as well and itemised all the stuff in there. Once again the warehouses were huge.
What were they looking for?
No it was everything they were looking for computer sets we had seen. What it basically was some of the stuff coming in was illegal and so what they had to do was okay we will go through the warehouses and note and itemise what is here. Then we will go back to the office and check up and see if they have got it recorded down in the office. Well the filing system there is archaic and when they know that you are digging all the excuses under the sun starts coming up and they try and palm you off but none of our guys would wear it.
There was over a hundred of those warehouses down by the wharf there the size of two rugby fields not withstanding the 60 that they really wanted us to deal with at the Military Air Base.
While we were down there, there was a white boat about the same size as the MONOWAI and we got a call from our headman the guy in charge of our group saying, “Hey come back here.” “Why is that?” “Just come back” and okay so we went back. They were on the ship and it was actually Saddam Hussein’s Royal yacht and we weren’t allowed to take any photos and I was brassed off. We went up there and they took us down into their wardroom and we had a cup of tea and the officer in charge spoke to the Captain and his senior officers, we didn’t say much we just talked amongst ourselves and we were there for about 25 minutes.
Was that ship in good condition?
It wasn’t too bad they actually did a search of the ship but couldn’t find anything but then their skipper invited them up for a cup of tea. Because we were waiting outside we gave them a call, “Hurry up we have been waiting all day” and they were sitting back having a cup of tea with the skipper. They said, “Oh you guys can come in” “Oh thank you very much” and we went there. Realistically when I looked at it, it just reminded me of the MONOWAI, I wouldn’t say an exact double of it but just its size and everything.
That trip there was an eye opener I quite enjoyed it and it was good to be away from our operational environment for three days. I was obviously the radio operator for the thing. We made our reports back and it was quite a hard case we had to do it out of the car park the building was too high. I quite enjoyed it.
My second trip was up to North East Iraq landmine country and that was another eye opener people are living in the hills. You are travelling and you are looking along there and all you see is cuts into the side of the hill and what the heck is that and you see kids running out. All it is from here high and cut down on an angle into the side of the hill. They have humped out all the dirt and basically made it something to live in, very small and they have got a towel or a blanket for a doorway there and that is about it. We never actually got up close to it because we were too far away. Those people up there hate Saddam. We would have Iraqi Dinar and they saw that they put it away they really don’t like it they are very anti against Saddam.
We were up there because on the border between Turkey and Northern Iraq there is a lot of illegal smuggling. As we were going up there we were following these big trucks, petrol trucks, oil trucks whatever going through. You will find a lot of kids jump in at the back and cling on to the back of these trucks and we used to find about 4 or 5 kids just hanging on. They go through the gates the trucks get weighed through but the guards at the gate can’t see the kids until the truck has gone past and before you know it these trucks will travel about a hundred yards down the road and then they have got to stop. As soon as they stop these kids are off and whew. We were following them and I looked around and said, “What are these kids doing?” They are running like mad trying to grab hold of the ladder on the back of the truck. There are 3, 4 or 5 just holding like this and the truck driver didn’t know because they were right behind him. He went straight through and the guard at the gate was looking at these kids and trying to tell the truck to stop and next minute the truck slowed down and these kids took off. This young kid he must have been only about ten, he tripped up and he got caught and they gave him a slapping and what not and I don’t know what they did with him I really don’t. We wanted to film it to video it but if you get caught with a camera around there you are going to get a slap in the neck sooner or later.
We went up to the border and saw all the trucks coming through but we couldn’t go any further they wouldn’t allow us to and they wouldn’t even allow us to take photo’s of the border itself and the border was only just a little river crossing. The roads are as rough as guts I never want to go up there again oh it is terrible being chucked around. The thing is too you stop on the side of the road to have a leak and then you decide to do it at the back of the truck because you are not too sure if there is a landmine there or not. You take it for granted that there is not going to be one there but you don’t want to run the risk. You have got signs in that area to indicate that this is a dangerous area please be careful. They have got sticks in the ground with rags tied around them to indicate that here was a mine.
You just did these two trips?
I also did like one as a security patrol as well with some of the groups. I flew out with the Nuclear Team and we went west for a day and we had to take samples of the river and it was hot and something different again.
There was also the time that we had to act as security patrols for they were doing missions on the compounds, where they were basically making these chemicals. By the time we got there all that was left of these big buildings about the same size as a mosque there were families living in there. We went in there and we had to check everything out. Yes we had a few patrol missions like that where we went out just for the day and just basically to assist if you were bored with staying back. We had gone from a shift where the hours were a bit dicey to you were getting time off left, right and centre which was good for our watch-keeping cycle and we had the opportunity there to assist with any other missions whenever they asked.
Domestically how did you get on with eating and sleeping and laundry could you get reasonable food there?
Yes but it is not the same back here obviously. We used to go out to a couple of pizza parlours just down the road, which weren’t too bad. Burgers they had a takeaway shop and they used to come back with burgers about this big and so you only needed one. For what you got out there or what you paid for it was cheap.
Did you cook your own food?
Oh yes I did. What I used to do sometime before you went on watch I would go around and buy a whole chicken and they would give you all this other stuff with it. It is a delicacy to them but for the old Kiwi you would chuck it in the bin and just eat the chicken. We could have it for sandwiches or with eggs.
It was cooked?
Yes it was barbecued, grilled. Most of the stuff that we got fruit and all that we used to go down to the markets and buy it.
Most of us tend to have Weetbix and milk for breakfast could you get that?
You could bring it in?
Yes so if anybody went down that way there you just said, “Hey put your order in”.
You would get up your favourites Marmite or whatever?
Yes every time anybody went back and like there was five of us the three operators, our boss JC and the American technician who used to work on the videos supplying videos back to New York with the security cameras that they used to have. If anyone of us five used to go down to Bahrain we would say, “Here is a couple of hundred bucks” and just write it off your list and they would bring it back for you. It wasn’t as if you missed out on what you really liked if it was there, you would go around the other side to the other Kiwis, “What have you guys got in the fridge?” “Oh yes I will just take it”. Cheese used to be a good thing over there and we used to come back with the big blocks of cheese. They were quite handy and a lot of luncheon sausage and I used to buy it by bulk and bring all that back and have a fry up.
There was plenty of local bread?
The bread was okay and I liked the bread it was fresh all the time it was warm. All I used to do was get a big chicken and come back with warm bread and you had turns buying the bread and chicken sandwiches all night. We had drinks all the time, Lemonade and what not the water was there all the time ice cold.
How did you get to and from your accommodation to the Ops Centre did you have your own vehicle?
No we shared it amongst the operators. We had a car and I can see now why people didn’t want the car when driving around over in Baghdad, the reason was it was too low to the ground. You would get all the locals in their trucks that were higher and looking down at you like this a bit intimidating I think. When I first started driving out on the road to me it was just a matter of trying to get my bearings so I don’t go the wrong way. You didn’t want to call up on the radio and say I am lost it made you feel like an idiot and so you never did that you just made sure that okay this is how I get from a to b and visa versa at night. If we had to venture out I used to go with the other guys they had been there a lot longer than me and so they knew the roads and I was quite happy just to be a passenger.
Did you get away on leave at all did you manage to get out of the country at all?
I got away a couple of times there.
Where did you go?
Just to Bahrain. We were quite lucky the first time I went there we stayed at the Holiday Inn myself and one of the Air Force guys from here and we stayed there for about five days. Staying at the Holiday Inn can cost quite a bit of bucks. It is all right at the time and your allowances can pay for it but it is still a lot of money. While we were there especially on our last night there we bumped into an American guy who was just leaving as we got there. He turned around and said to us, “When you guys come back next time you can come and stay at my place”, and I said, “Yeah are you for real?” “Yeah no worries”. The next time we went on leave we went out there and oh the place was a fantastic house three bedrooms all paid for it was huge like a big bungalow and then you walk outside to a swimming pool. It is something like the Holiday Inn Hotel setting, the pool and the gymnasium facilities are there, away you go single men okay. The thing about it was okay you guys and I wasn’t too sure because I had only spoken to him twice before he actually left and he seemed okay and I said, “How much is it going to cost us to stay there?” He basically said, “Just a tray”, “Hey what about paying?” “Oh no the Government pays for his house for his accommodation there that is why it doesn’t worry him”. I said, “Oh we must pay him back for something”. “Shut up just give him some beer”. So you end up buying Tee shirts and what not when we go down there or buy some spirits it is cheaper. You fly back down to him, “Here you go here is your accommodation for you all paid for.”
I suppose the main thing would be to just chill out and have a relax?
Just to chill out when you go into Bahrain itself would be to do a bit of shopping and obviously because it is so hot there you only stay there for a while. You just shoot back out because he used to stay like from here over to the other side of the bridge was the distance away and so it wasn’t so bad because it is all super highways there it doesn’t take too long to get there. It was quite relaxing staying there and he gave you the run of the house. When you flew in he just says, “All you’ve got to do is make your own way out there Mohammed has got the key for you”. Mohammed came up, “Here is the key to the house it is all yours”. What we used to do was to arrange with Mohammed before we used to leave Baghdad for a car and you don’t sign for nothing. This person Mohammed who works at the Bahraini office has got his contacts with the car dealers and what not and he must get his commission. We are feeding him the business and it cost about $30 American a day and that was no problem not for five days $150 bucks, that is cheap. All that is required is petrol you have a look at the car to see how much is in it, but we normally filled them up when we left anyway and that was it. The only trouble with that is you don’t know the ins and the outs of the place. It is no good at night and you are the taxi driver while the other two or three are running around having a good time. You are there drinking a Lemonade or something, it was horrible it happened to me when I was there for a couple of days while we were there and I refused to be the driver.
Okay what else can you tell us about Baghdad while you were up there you seem to have given us a good picture of most things I think?
Yes once again I think the people the management people that ran the hotel that we stayed at they were very good. Laundry and that there was no problem. We had our days when we just left our laundry there and we knew what day it was I think it was every second day, which was no worry. Allowances were good or I thought they were good but then they actually dropped quite remarkably from the first stage that they were up there. Going around I think bartering although I didn’t do that much shopping around Baghdad. The thing I didn’t really like much about the town was that it was still filthy and smelly and the best place for me to be was basically back at the hotel, which I know was clean. We had our own swimming pool and we had a Swimming Pool Committee made up of myself and the other Army watch-keeper and I kept a tight ship on that, everybody had to pay to come to that but once you have built up a certain amount of fund.
You actually had to maintain it yourself?
We actually did. The hotel management had the brushes and the vacuums to get all the rubbish out. The system they had was all blimen Mickey Mouse because they used to suck it all in and when they discharged it instead of discharging down to a drain pipe or something it went straight back into the pool. We used to say what the hell use is that in the pool it has gone back and it is just as dirty as it was before can’t you do anything about it. We had our technicians and one of the chemical guys who was a Brit he had a look at it and said, “Now this is what you should do”. He worked it all out and got it all figured out. We had barbecues there and invited everybody else there.
If people wanted to come there to drink we used to say well it is only $20 a carton you bring that along that’s it. We had a system within ourselves that the people staying there at the hotel the majority were Kiwis, Yanks, Aussies they were quite hard case, the Brits and Chinese but they were just a small minority. We had a Kiwi lounge there and everything in there belonged to the Kiwis, to Defence. Videos, TV, the fridges that were there, they were all supplied by New Zealand. All we asked was that when people shifted in was that okay we have got two fridges here help yourself and we also had a fridge down by the pool. We had a lock on that help yourself but if you see it getting low don’t be shy to go around and get a carton of beer or whatever. It used to work out that once a month or once every three weeks a slab of soft drinks and a slab of beer and that was it, it was cheap.
Working with so many nationalities I found that it was a very good experience. We slang off at Aussies quite a bit how hopeless they are, it was a tit for tat type thing. The ones that we worked with that were there they all loved their rugby and they all loved their league any kind of sports. But at the end of the day you would go back to the hotel and you would sit down and have a beer with them and have a good old laugh, no different. The same with Americans I used to think that they were big loud mouthed people and the ones that we met over there oh heck no different to anyone of us I suppose. We got on with them like a house on fire if they wanted help for anything or visa versa. Because one of the Americans that we knew worked in stores and he was a good mate of ours because we worked in operations and radios. If my radio was stuffed normally it would cost about six or seven hundred bucks or even more I think. I think this was getting rundown and so you go down to stores and just help yourself, it was just a tit for tat type thing.
When I was close to leaving I thought about it and my main thought was for the people of that place and just how sad it was especially for the kids they couldn’t do nothing and unfortunately for them they have got no future.
Yes it is always a sad thing isn’t it?
Yes they are dominated by a tyrant and that is the way I see it and forever in a day it will remain.
Coming back you just reversed the procedure?
Yes reversed the procedure on the way home. We had a ten hour stopover I think in Hong Kong and then fly direct back to here.
You went through Hong Kong?
Yes it was good to get back home you missed it and part of you just wanted to stay back up you get so used to it after a while. We were quite fortunate or I was that we were up there during the summer period nice and warm hot weather. The highest it ever got to when I was up there was 62 degrees and that is hot.
We used to fill out the reports on the weather and if it was 40 degrees centigrade up we got an allowance of $5 extra a day. There were a lot of hot days. I got queried by the Deputy Director at one time who said, “How can this read this it should be 33 not 43”, “Oh I will fix that up”. Yes I didn’t fix it up I forgot all about it.
It is rewarding for the experience and that is one thing that I will never forget about that place.
Are you going to volunteer to go back not there necessarily but to one of the other missions that seemed to be popular?
Yes I suppose. I am actually going to be posted to CANTERBURY but I am down graded at the moment and so once I get medically up graded I think they want to send me back.
Okay thank you very much indeed that is excellent.
(end of Interview)