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The Good Guys Page 3

The Good Guys

Part 3: “They kept saying thank you and shaking my hand.”

By Capt. Bill Pike — June 2003


 More of this Feature

• Part 1: Iraq
• Part 2: Iraq
• Part 3: Iraq
• Part 4: Iraq
• Iraq Photo Gallery

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• Feature Index

It fell to the Coasties, who arrived on the heels of the SEALs, to guard the POWs, some 40 of them, for a few days until they could be taken south to a Navy hospital ship. Most of the them were mere boys, 17 or 18 years old, half-starved and terrified.

"I rendered medical care right away," said health specialist Ben Mulkey of Portland, Oregon. "Gave `em MREs, candy, and cigarettes. Everybody got an IV, too--they were all pretty dehydrated. They kept saying thank you and shaking my hand."

Laying in my bunk, wrapped in the same kind of poncho I'd used as an infantryman in Vietnam, it was easy to empathize with a teenage Iraqi soldier lying in the same spot, wondering whether he'd live to see his next meal. And it was also easy to understand the relief he'd likely felt upon meeting Doc Mulkey for the first time.

At one o'clock, I got up and went to the window to peer into the darkness. The Boutwell was out there...somewhere. I'd spent a few days aboard her as well. She was a happy ship with a crew of youngsters headed up by a tough but fatherly captain, Scott Genovese of Boston. "The amazing thing is that most of the crew on here now--they're just kids, really," he told me one evening as we stood on the bridge. "But they're worthy of our nation's pride and respect. Big time!"

Besides running interference for MAYBOT, the Boutwell had been ordered to keep tabs on fishing boats and freighters at the mouths of the rivers, the point being to interdict Al-Qaeda operatives and fleeing Iraqi leadership without causing a ruckus with Iran, a neutral neighbor understandably skittish about having tons of U.S. military right next door.

I went along on a boarding with Ensign Brian Bartlett and a thoroughly armed but tactful boarding team. The objective: to check out an Iranian freighter just leaving the Shatt al-Arab. Our transportation: a Yanmar-powered Zodiac RIB that topped out around 40 mph.

The experience was typical of most, I was told. Bartlett was affable from the first, waving the freighter down with a smile. M-16s were left bracketed on the radar arch, and so was the sawed-off shotgun. Beretta pistols remained holstered. The freighter labored along like an old, heavily laden pack animal as we pulled alongside. Although an underlying tension did exist--a sense that literally anything could happen--everything was cool. The freighter's crew was all smiles, and the captain had the correct documents. "Goodbye," Bartlett grinned as we zoomed away at last, leaving behind several Iranian nationals who seemed sold on Americans, or at least on the American Coast Guard.

Next page > Coast Guard in Iraq: Part 4 > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.