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Daily Review Atlas Leader January 12, 2006

Oquawka man returns from Iraq

By Hayley Kessler

OQUAWKA - Norris Crooks was shocked at how much his boys had changed during the year he served in Iraq.

"Justin is so tall now," he said. "My whole family was really excited when I got back."

Crooks returned from a tour of duty in Iraq on Saturday, Jan. 7. His tour started on Nov. 8, 2005. He served as a military policeman assigned to convoy security. He was stationed at Camp Liberty near Baghdad.

"We escorted trucks from one point to another," said.

A typical day for Crooks ran something like this: wake up at 5 a.m., go to the staging area to pick up the guys they would be escorting, and take them from Point A to Point B. "We were always on time for missions," Crooks said. "But it was different every day. We got a report of the route we were going to take and if there were bombs along the route. We still went if there were bombs, but we were much more aware. We had a couple of near misses when IEDs went off pretty close to us."

IEDs are Improvised Explosive Devices. According to globalsecurity.org, an IED can be almost anything with any type of material and initiator. It is a "homemade" device that is designed to cause death or injury by using explosives alone or in combination with toxic chemicals, biological toxins, or radiological material. They are unique in nature because the builder has to improvise with the materials at hand.

Despite the close calls, Crooks said that he met many Iraqis who were friendly and cooperative. He spoke with a lot of children because they seemed to know more English than the adults.

"One English word that all the kids knew was 'chocolate,' " he said, laughing. "They would come up to us and say, 'Mister, Mister, chocolate?"

Crooks said that children would run down the road after the trucks and the soldiers would throw candy and cookies down to them.

What Crooks liked most about his mission was the morale of the soldiers.

"People stuck together pretty good over there," he said.

The U.S. Army's motto is "An Army of One," and that's exactly what Crooks experienced. He said that he expected the whole Galesburg group to stay together, but "part of us went to Milan, part went to Macomb, and the rest of us stayed in Galesburg." However, he explained, "We worked together well and overcame and adapted."

Crooks wrote letters home every day. He got a lot of support from his family and the Mad Hatters Club in Oquawka. They sent care packages and a lot of letters.

"If I didn't have communication with my family, I'd probably feel a lot different about it (the war)," he said. "Getting so much support from back home helped me get through it."

Crooks described himself as a "lifetime soldier," meaning he will be in the military for 20 years. He has already served at least 18 years. "If I had to do it all over again, I definitely would." He is a Vietnam veteran, but says, "There is no comparison. These are two completely different kinds of war."

When asked what it was like near Baghdad, he answered, "Well, it's winter now, so it's about 50 to 60 degrees. The summers are very hot and dry. Baghdad only gets about six inches of rain a year. In July, it actually reached 137 degrees. We drank a lot of bottled water."

Iraq is a very poor country, Crooks explained. Usually, there are 14 to 15 people living in one home, which is really a four-room hut. The children are dressed in rags and run around barefoot. There is usually one gas station for miles and miles and there can be a line of cars up to two miles long, waiting for gas. Gas is cheaper there, he said, about 12 to 15 cents a gallon, but added that an average Iraqi only makes $25 to $30 a week.

There are no fences for livestock because there is very little grass, Crooks said. Livestock owners drive their sheep, cattle, and horses down the middle of the road and let them graze on the grass in the median. When that is all gone, they simply move them further down the road. The cattle and horses are very thin, he said.

Crooks returns to drill on May 6, 2006. The first drill will be conducted in Milan, but the rest of them should be in Galesburg. He anxiously awaits the return of his other friends in the service at the end of February.

 


Copyright 2006, Review Atlas