This is the fourth installment in our ongoing oral history project. You can view previous chapters here.
The fourth season of the OIL saw many changes and a lot of drama. Not just petty trade controversies, either: life and death drama. Remember, the 158 returned to Iraq in Fall 2008, and they were there risking their lives until August of 2009. That was the year many of us were reminded that our opponents each week were soldiers and friends first, rivals second. And that's where any discussion of that year has to begin.
As the 2008 season ended and 2009 began, the 158 was still in Iraq. Although Betchan, Bruesch, and Purdue were able to compete from Ramadi in 2008, the league was well-aware that their brothers-in-arms were in harm's way. Then, in May, the point really hit home when SECFOR member and future OIL manager Adam Schuster was shot by a sniper.
CLIBURN: What do y'all remember about that?
JESSEN: I was on base walking to the chow hall when Schuster's squad came flying in off mission. SPC Bentley came running over and told me Schuster had been shot. I ran into the TMC to see him, but somebody kicked me out of the room. Parra showed up shortly after and we both were trying to figure out his status was and what was going to happen. Then they took him to a chopper in a body bag which was pretty rough, because we didn’t know what was happening. All we knew was what they kept telling us that he was going to be okay. That was probably the worst day of my whole military career.
BALDWIN: I was on that mission, too. It was a horrible day. I was in First Platoon and Bravo Battery with Schuster on the SECFOR mission, and we'd been really close.
This is the third installment in our ongoing oral history project. You can view the 2006 installment here, and the 2007 installment here.
In the summer of 2008, the 158 was once again notified it would deploy to Iraq. It had been rumored for months, and it was finally confirmed. Most of the league members at that point were still in the 158, and the future of the OIL was in doubt. But OIL commissioner Cliburn was determined to make it happen.
CLIBURN: I was really surprised when we heard the 158 was deploying again. We'd all done the math when we were on the SECFOR mission and thought we'd be home at least a couple years before our number was called a third time (the first being the 2003 activation discussed in chapter one).
This is the second installment in the oral history of the OklahomIraqis League, which started in Baghdad in 2006. To start from the beginning, click here.
After the 2006 deployment, most of the men didn't go back to drill until April or May due to the leave they'd accrued. And, when they did, they went back to their respective armories in Lawton, Duncan, Chickasha, Anadarko, and Walters. Guys they worked with every day suddenly became guys they only saw every few months at best. So, when the 2007 football season approached, many of the men in the OIL had not visited with each other since the deployment. That's when Pyle asked OIL commissioner Cliburn if he planned on resurrecting the league.
After being gone from their jobs for over 15 months, the men went back to their daily lives and tried to pretend nothing had changed. But things had changed, and everyone adjusted differently.
Compiled and edited by Justin C. Cliburn
This is the first installment in our ongoing oral history project. You can read later chapters here.
To understand the OklahomIraqis League ("the OIL"), one must know who its members are and what brought them together. The league began at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq in 2006. It was resurrected in 2007 and kept alive each successive season. It's the way they keep in touch and share news with the men they served with in Iraq. Sometimes it's the only way because, although the men of the OIL are incredible friends, they may have never known each other without the Army National Guard. They came from different backgrounds and followed different career paths, but they served together as soldiers. Their bond would never be what it is without the experiences they shared one year in Iraq.
Their story is important, even if only to them, because when historians chronicle the Iraq War, they will focus on the usual fare: the battles; the successes and the failures; the bombings and the civil war . . . and the presidents and generals who managed them.
But it will be up to the everyday Joes, the boots on the ground, to tell their stories . . . because no one else will. Who were these men? Why did they join the military? What did they do over there? How are they now? And what has kept them close since they first went to war together? These questions may be important only to those who already know the answers, but they need to be shared just the same.
What follows is an oral history of the OIL, as told by the men who lived it, beginning with the combat mission that inspired it. It is by no means an exhaustive history of that combat mission in 2005-2006; such a history would fill a book of its own. But it is a decent overview of the year that preceded the formation of the OIL: where they were; what they'd experienced; how they felt. 152 Oklahoma soldiers served on that mission, but just a fraction of them are represented here. Each soldier below speaks for himself as an individual. Collectively, their memories form a history best expressed through the oral tradition of storytelling through conversation.
Soldiers are traditionally a guarded bunch, reluctant to show emotion or share their feelings, so the following is a rare look into the collective memory of one group of soldiers in Iraq almost a decade ago.