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The Good Guys Page 2

The Good Guys

Part 2: MAYBOT had been the first thing captured in the war.

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

Describing the night I spent on MAYBOT may help explain. It commenced soon after I finished examining the Iraqi coastline from my vantagepoint by the generator. Having put in most of the day roaming the terminal's hodgepodge of rusted pipes and bullet-riddled walkways, a leftover from the war with Iran during the 1980's, I was hungry and tired. So I hit the first-floor mess hall, tore open an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat), and devoured it with characteristic fervor. Then, after shooting the breeze with my Coastie hosts for a while, I trundled three flights up to bed.

My room had only recently been occupied by Iraqi troops. Junk was strewn about. Smelly lockers lined one wall and smelly bunks the other. A dirty window at the far end rattled in the gritty wind and shed a spooky glow over the "facilities"--an old-fashioned French-style bit of plumbing with a bucket of questionable water nearby. The lock on the door had been blown away with a shotgun.

"I hope you'll be okay in here," said Lieutenant Commander Jim Howatson, MAYBOT's head honcho and, in another life, a Tacoma city police captain. Handing me a plastic poncho to serve as both sheet and blanket, he solicitously straightened a dirty rag on the floor--a sort of rug in Howatson's mind, apparently. It was a strange yet thoughtful gesture which was entirely characteristic of him. Earlier Howatson had shown me a grimy storeroom absurdly stacked with boxes of fine china. "I assume these dishes belong to someone," he'd explained. "So I'm taking the same approach I do to police work back home--I'm protecting private property."

I lay awake a long time after Howatson left. A thunder and lightning storm that was just cranking up probably had something to do with my sleeplessness. Besides casting eerie shadows across the piles of Iraqi gas masks and rucksacks in the corner, it was a not-so-subtle reminder of the way things were all around me.

There was a war going on. A raft of firing positions were set up around the terminal, each bristling with machine guns, each crewed by hometown Americans. And these folks were, at the moment, sitting in the rain, peering into the murk, looking and listening for "suicide boats," among other things, like the one that had just been found upriver, loaded to the gunnels with explosives and ringed with strings of contact-actuated detonators, Christmas-tree style. Of course, there was nothing I could do about such grim realities, so I attempted to think of other things, things I'd seen over the past several days, things I hoped would help me begin to grasp the Coast Guard's role here.

I started with the prisoners. MAYBOT had been the first thing captured in the war. Navy SEALs had taken it, quickly and with little resistance. Although the Iraqis onboard had reportedly been charged with blowing up the terminal and rupturing its pipelines in the event of an American assault, they'd surrendered instead. "There was a major with them," Howatson had explained in the mess hall earlier, "and he decided to disobey orders--he wanted to prevent an environmental catastrophe and preserve the terminal for the future of Iraq."

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

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