An Aspenite in Fallujah
Editor’s note: This story begins a series about our community’s involvement in the war in Iraq. The stories will run once a week throughout the summer.By Steve BensonAspen Times Staff WriterWhen a group of Marines took a wrong turn during a convoy patrol near Fallujah recently, Amber DeLuca got the scare of her life. “She said she’s never felt so terrible,” said her dad, Frank DeLuca, from his home in Aspen. “There was a lot of hostile, incoming firepower – she was in fear of her life.” Amber, who graduated from Aspen High four years ago, is currently stationed in Fallujah as part of a Navy medical team that accompanies Marine convoy patrols around Iraq. Their duty: Keep an eye out for enemy activity and provide medical care to wounded Marines. “We have to watch out for IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices) and for any suspicious personnel possible [that may be] ready to shoot at us,” Amber wrote in an e-mail to her dad.Since arriving in Iraq in February, Amber has survived shelling attacks on her camp, tended to severely wounded Marines, endured temperatures up to 130 degrees under the weight of a flak jacket and has seen her life flash before her eyes. Whether she’s good or lucky doesn’t matter. Amber, who has a Humvee license, got her first taste of how dangerous patrols could be last April, when a convoy came under attack. Fortunately, she was not part of that particular patrol, but some of her friends were. She wrote about it in an e-mail to her dad.
“We have had good luck until yesterday, when our convoy got hit,” she wrote. “Our 7-ton truck was hit by a 155 mm round and it took out the gunner and the driver.”The driver is still going through surgeries in Baghdad until they can possibly save his leg and then send him to Germany for further care. The gunner may lose one eye and he is off to Germany today or tomorrow.”It was a hard day and our corpsman did a great job – I pray when I’m out there that I respond as he did. It’s just that [the Marines] rely on us so we better have our shit together.” Her dad said his nerves are at ease when Amber’s at her base – Camp Fallujah – where she updates files and works on the base’s computer system. But convoy patrols, which can last anywhere from one to four days, are a whole different story. “That’s the only time I’m really frightened,” Frank said. “She’s seen some shit on convoy duty.” Straight out of schoolAmber joined the Navy shortly after graduating from Aspen High School.”She said she wasn’t ready to go to college, and she wasn’t going to stay here,” Frank recalled. “She told me, ‘I’m going into the service to get my life organized. If I stay here, I’ll screw it up – I think they can control me.'” “And they are,” her dad added. “She did it for her own personal reasons, she didn’t want to be a little nothing – she’s a tough little girl.” After Navy boot camp, Amber spent time stationed at a hospital in Spain before returning to the States. According to her dad, she wanted to go through Marine boot camp to further her medical training and experience in the field. Marines don’t have medics, they all come from the Navy. “She’s been a caretaker all her life,” Frank said. “This medical thing interested her and she’s into it full time now – this is her chosen profession.” With a fractured ankle, Amber limped through the final stages of “The Crucible” – the deciding test for Marines at the end of boot camp – even if it meant her next step would land her in Iraq.
“That’s how tough the camp is,” Frank said.Marine recruits who fail to make it through that final test are forced to repeat the 13 weeks of agony that is boot camp. “She decided she’d finish because she didn’t want to go through that hell again,” Frank said, adding that her daughter referred to Navy boot camp as preschool compared to her three months with the Marines. “She figured Iraq was easier than boot camp – of course nobody knew what Iraq was about then.” She would soon find out. DeployedIn February 2004, Amber was deployed to Iraq. When asked if it was easier than boot camp, her dad laughed, “I don’t think so.” Amber’s sister Elizabeth, who lives in Aspen, said she’s constantly in fear for her sister, but confident she’ll return safe. “She was always very independent and she would always do her own thing,” Elizabeth said. “She’s a really smart girl, and tough. I know she will do well, and is doing well, it’s just very scary.” Added Frank: “She has always been such a hard worker, she’ll do her job until it’s done.” And, it appears, Amber is more concerned about her family’s nerves than her own. “I really miss everyone and I’m so sorry that I don’t call or write more,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Don’t bother yourselves by worrying; there is nothing you can do. We are all trained to be here and I pray that we do our best.”
In regards to being stationed in Fallujah, which has seen some of the war’s heaviest fighting, Amber wrote, “And please don’t watch too much news. It is not correct and they make it sound much worse than it is.” Frank said she’s always been like that. “Even if she’s down she’ll try her best not to let me know, unless there’s a real problem, then she’s straight up with me.” Amber’s due home in September, but Frank realizes that date could be pushed back, especially with the uncertainty of the transfer of power and the impact that may have on an already unstable environment.”What are we doing here?” Amber asked over e-mail. “It is apparent that they don’t want us here even though there are young children on the side of the road as we pass blowing kisses to us.”And if we give a little kid candy or something then an older one comes and beats them and takes it from them. They have to be glad that we are here, but they don’t really want us in their area.” Frank said Amber has told him that the Iraqis are generally good people but they’re in constant fear, not necessarily of U.S. troops, but of one another. “She told me, ‘By dealing with us, they get in trouble with the insurgents, they would leave the base and get shot. They’ve never been more afraid of their lives – at least before they knew what to do, they knew what the rules were,'” Frank said.But Frank added that his daughter has told him she is committed to the operation and is there to finish the job. Furthermore, Frank is becoming increasingly bothered by a media he claims is “a weapon against us.””Everything that happens they say that we are a piece of shit,” Frank said. “[The troops] are doing some good things, but you never hear it. “We’ve got to support our troops and our people. I don’t understand, maybe I’m missing something here.” Steve Benson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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