Local soldier loved her work in Iraq|[6/30/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 30, 2005

Ginger Kackley is glad to be back home in Vicksburg, but she would return to Iraq in a heartbeat if given the chance.

Kackley, 30, is a graduate of Warren Central High School and Hinds Community College. She received her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Northeast Louisiana University before joining the U.S. Army through an ROTC commission. While in the Army, she has received master’s degrees in acquisition and procurement and environmental management from Webster University in St. Louis, Mo.

For the last three years, she has been stationed in Germany and served a 15-month hitch in Iraq with the 1st Armored Brigade.

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For now, as part of a transfer to New Jersey, Kackley is home, so she and her husband, Donnie Whitehead, are making the most of her 30-day leave, visiting with family and friends – and fishing.

It’s quite a difference from Iraq.

“I was commander of a headquarters and supply company in the 127th Aviation Support Battalion,” she said.

She and her staff supplied food, water and parts for tanks and aircraft and everything in between.

“Any class of supplies, we’d push it in convoys to outlying areas,” she said, adding that most of those convoys traveled through what she called “Indian country.” Because of that, she said she and her fellow soldiers were fully armored with body armor and carried weapons.

As an officer, Kackley said she was issued a 9mm handgun, but she also armed herself with an M16 rifle. The convoy was also armed with .50-caliber machine guns and other automatic weapons.

Mississippi in the summer is hot, she said, but it can’t compare to Iraq and Kuwait.

“Hot, holy cow. Up under an Apache (helicopter), it would be so hot it would singe your hair …. in the heat of the day on the tarmac, it would be incredible,” she said. “It got upwards of 130, 140 sometimes.”

She said a ride in a non-air-conditioned Humvee was brutal dressed in all combat gear.

“You get out and pull that vest off and you are just drenched,” she said. “The only way you could beat it was to stay hydrated and stay in the shade as much as possible.”

One salvation, Kackley said, was at night when the soldiers could retreat to their quarters, buildings or tents, which were air conditioned.

She said families at home were so generous in sending care packages that soldiers sometimes had more than they could use.

“We would put it in boxes and take it to some of the outlying areas, one of the schools not too far from the Baghdad International Airport … a school that had been destroyed, we kind of adopted,” she said.

It seemed whenever they made the trip, at least one boy would be standing beside the road waving and gesturing for food or water. Because the boy was naked, Kackley wrote home asking when school supplies were sent to add pants and shoes to the list.

“The military had spent about $10,000 on rebuilding the school; we were just doing the icing on the cake by taking the supplies out there to them,” she said.

“What really made me mad was when we got in the Baghdad area, you’d see these huge palaces Saddam had. Then right outside there would be all these little mud huts.”

How the American military is seen by Iraqis depends on the region, Kackley said. She and her staff were appreciated when delivering supplies.

She said she can understand the frustration the Iraqi people may feel about not having running water and constant electricity.

“We made those promises … they are making progress, but it seems like every time you turn around, some knucklehead is trying to blow up one of the power stations or a water facility,” she said.

Although the Iraqis are frustrated, in general they want the coalition military there, Kackley said.

“They’re ready for progress … but in my heart of hearts I think we are moving in the right direction and I do think we have a need to be there,” she said.

“I do not believe we should pull out,” Kackley said.

She said an American military presence is likely to be needed in Iraq for at least five more years.