by Duke Doering
In 2002 President George W. Bush, after listening to many intelligence reports, had convinced members of Congress that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In October 2002, the U.S. Congress passed a "Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq." The resolution authorized the President to "use any means necessary" against Iraq. Americans overwhelmingly believed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction: 85 percent said so, even though the inspectors had not uncovered those weapons. By February 2003, 64 percent of Americans supported taking military action to remove Hussein from power.
The military buildup by the U.S. called for the National Guard to play a major combat role in the invasion of Iraq, should it be needed. Prior to the March 20, 2003 invasion of Iraq, 10 South Dakota Army National Guard units were called to federal active duty.
One of those 10 units was the 200th Engineer Company (Bridge) from Pierre, Mobridge and Chamberlain.
On January 26, 2003 when millions of Americans were home watching Tampa Bay beat Oakland in the Super Bowl, the 178 Soldiers of the 200th were in a convoy, heading toward Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., in preparation for overseas movement to Iraq.
One of the members of the 200th Engineer Company at that time was 1st. Lt. Dana Limbo.
The war in Iraq had not kicked off. War planners directed the 200th to go through Turkey, so their equipment sat outside a port near that NATO nation. When the decision was finally made that they were not going through Turkey, the ship sailed again and delivered the equipment to Kuwait. So while this was going on the unit remained at Ft. Leonard Wood, approximately two months. The training consisted of basic bridging tasks, weapons qualification, defensive security positions and general unit mission training with a heavy dose for protection from chemical weapons.
In late March 2003 the unit flew into Kuwait. Because of the change in seaport, the members waited for their equipment, staying busy for several days unloading other ships. It was in great shape, as most of their vehicles were just a year or two old.
Shortly the unit moved into Iraq and rapidly to Baghdad. There they waited two or three nights where they slept in their vehicles. An escort took them through Baghdad. One thing became very obvious to the members of the 200th, they did not look like everyone else whose equipment was up-armored.
Once through Baghdad they headed for Baquba, which is 45 miles north of Bagdad and about 10 miles from Balad. The 200th was one of the first units at FORWARD OPERATING BASE (FOB) Camp Warhorse. Their initial mission: install a bridge to complete the main service route (MSR) to TIKRIT, which was 10 miles from Warhorse. The first night at Baquba the bridge builders did a reconnaissance. They made the decision to build the bridge downstream from a public bridge, which was not well constructed or of any practical use for American vehicles. The crews had to float an excavator to the far side of the river to do the preparation work on that side. By 8 a.m. the shores were ready, and the bridge builders spent only four hours installing a 305 meter bridge across the TIGRIS River.
This was a memorable day for many members of the unit. They had practiced with this bridge, some of them for more than 20 years, but this was the first time for any of them with a mission in a conflict. While building the bridge the unit was supported by two U.S. tanks on the near side of the river. They finished the bridge on May 3, 2003 the same day that President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier with the Mission Accomplished sign. But the mission was not accomplished at the bridge site and the tank protection moved out. By 1 p.m. Guardsmen set up their own security. They were alone and spent the night there. It was pretty intense because they had not yet set up any place to live, let alone establishing any fighting positions. It was along a road and there was traffic.
Periodic mortar fire happened almost daily on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Camp Warhorse. On July 17th the South Dakotans had one of their most intense days. Early in the morning darkness on the personnel switch out, the Soldiers got into a firefight with enemy soldiers on the far shore. There was also an nearly simultaneous attack outside of Camp Warhorse where one of the South Dakota units HUMVEES was hit with a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). The RPG went completely through the HUMVEE and knocked one Soldier out onto the road and broke the back of the driver.
The OHMAN'S Crossing bridge, as the bridge was named by the 200th members, was outside of Balad. The 200th kept control of the bridge for a full year. About 30 troops maintained and protected the bridge, changing the pattern of their security details to reduce their risk of attack. Incoming mortar rounds were an everyday occurrence for members of the 200th, several members received Purple Hearts after being wounded; no one was killed.
They ate two Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) and one Unitized Group Rations (UGR) per day for nearly four months. The members soon grew tired of the UGRs because they seemed to always contain a meal called, Country Captain Chicken. After months they had their first hot meal, breakfast, but mortars hit the sleeping tent of the nationals who were feeding the 200th. One round hit and killed one national and another lost an arm, so they all left. Three weeks after the attack, regular food service was re-established. By Thanksgiving the South Dakotans were getting meals regularly from the 4th Infantry Division, 204th Forward Support Battalion.
Besides maintaining the bridge, the unit members helped build an Enemy Prisoner of War (EPW) camp. The 200th Soldiers secured one-half of the perimeter OF FOB WARHORSE. They were in charge of the gates, and there always seemed to be a line at the gates. This was in addition to cycling people through the bridge security. The trucks, which no longer contained bridge components were used for haul missions.
The 200th Engineer Company turned the bridge over to a U. S. Marine Company when they left Iraq in March 2004. That bridge equipment never came back to South Dakota. The soldiers of the 200th Engineer Company have seen death and the horrors of war. The South Dakota National Guard unit was stationed in the middle of some of the most brutal terrorist attacks in the war. After 15 months of active duty, the fighting men and women were reunited with their loved ones.
In 2007 members of the South Dakota Army National Guard's 200th Engineer Company received the Army Valorous Unit Award for their deployment to Iraq from April 2003 to March 2004. The soldiers who were deployed received the honor in a ceremony May 6, 2007 at T.F. Riggs High School in Pierre. The Valorous Unit Award is presented to units of the United States Armed Forces. The award is given to units showing "extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force," according documents that announced presentation of the award. The degree of heroism required for the honor is compared to the awarding of a Silver Star to an individual.
[The above story is by Duke Doering, the next by Max McConnell]
A characteristic of many combat veterans is that they struggle to speak about the horrors they witnessed, but Major Dana Limbo says good can come from opening up to others.
Limbo, who will speak to the Black Hills Veterans Writing Group this morning at at Ellsworth Air Force Base's South Dakota Air and Space Museum, said that telling about his experiences when he returned from Iraq helped his own grandfather open up about his time in World War II.
"He never said anything until I got back from Iraq," said Limbo, a South Dakota National Guard veteran who served in the Iraq War in 2003 and 2004. "Afterwards, I was interviewed by a historian, and I was able to get (his grandfather) to go in and share his experiences."
Limbo said that his grandfather, who hadn't told even his own children about his service in World War II, was able to pass along his stories shortly before he died, and that it was an important part of South Dakota history.
Limbo, who served in the National Guard's 200th Engineer Company, has his own stories, ranging from the two months spent at Fort Leonard Wood in preparation for deployment to his time facing heavy mortar fire while building a bridge along the Tigris River.
"There was a time for weeks where the Iraqi army had been dismantled and you didn't know who the soldiers were or not, where there wasn't much going on," Limbo said. "Then it was organized into different factions, and we started seeing mortar fire. It could've been once a day, three times a day, or more, but we started seeing fire nearly every day for several months."
Limbo said that though he was not wounded, several members of his outfit were.
"At that point, you're just focusing on the mission and on taking care of them," Limbo said. "You're focused on trying to get security so you can take care of them."
Limbo also noted that when the 200th Engineer Company arrived outside Baghdad, they noticed that their vehicles were not "up-armored," meaning they weren't equipped to withstand improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs, or explosives, the way most of the other equipment was.
"There were Humvees that could withstand any explosive, but our doors were basically a piece of vinyl or a normal metal door," Limbo said. "They were more vulnerable."
Limbo said that his time in Iraq was no worse than what he expected.
"We expected to work and to live in tents, that kind of environment," Limbo said. "In that regard, having long periods without phone calls wasn't a surprise to us."
The event today starts at 9 a.m. for a social period, Limbo's presentation starts at 9:30 a.m., and admission is free.
Limbo said that in addition to recording important South Dakota history, speaking about war experiences was important to let family members know what those in service go through.
"I think it allows people to understand what sacrifices are made by those who serve, what it means, and that they do it for their country," Limbo said.
Below: Additional spotlights on Dana Limbo in the National Guard
Dana Limbo was deployed for one year with the 200th (Engineer Company of Pierre, Chamberlain, Mobridge and Lemmon), stationed at Baqubah, Iraq, north of Baghdad. He made a half-dozen trips to the 842nd (stationed at Baghdad International Airport). Limbo's company did bridge construction over the Tigris River. In addition, he said, they maneuvered convoys and worked prisoner of war camps and maintained perimeter security.
He is now Executive Officer of the Sturgis-based 881st Troop Command, support the Officer Candidate School. "“This exercise is heavy in the operations and logistics fields,” he says. “It takes a lot of man-power to support every candidate in each test or lane, everything has to be set up before the officer candidates hit the lanes.”
As a Captain in 2007 he was part of the 842nd to support Arizona border patrol
SPEARFISH - The most dangerous part about it will be the heat. That's what Captain Dana Limbo, of the 842nd Engineering Co. said of the risks involved with the company's latest mission to support the Arizona Army National Guard in doing border patrol along the Arizona/Mexican border in Tucson. Starting this month, troops from the local National Guard unit will work for two weeks at a time at Operation Jumpstart, an Arizona Army National Guard operation conducted in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. The 842nd members will support Operation Jumpstart as part of Task Force Diamondback, which utilizes engineering units to construct tactical infrastructure along the U.S. and Mexico border.
"We will be working for the Army National Guard providing engineering support to enhance the customs and border patrol to secure the international boundary," Limbo said.
Specifically, Limbo explained that the 842nd would be building roads, fixing drainage, and building culverts to assist the Arizona National Guard with its border patrol.
On Jan. 24, Limbo said the 842nd would send 30-40 soldiers who will serve until Feb. 14. The second group of about 30-40 will then leave for Tucson Feb. 14 and will return March 7. The final group of about 50-60 soldiers will leave May 30 and return on June 20.
"These times worked out good for us because a lot of times our annual training is in the summer," Limbo said. "Some soldiers have jobs in the summer weather, so this winter (training) works better for some soldiers. Then we also have the summer and that works good for our college kids because they can't go during their winter months. So this gives them a little flexibility."
Overall 130 soldiers from the 842nd company will serve in Task Force Diamondback. That includes members of the 854 Quartermaster Detachment, of Lemmon, which is merging to become a detachment of the 842nd Engineering Company.
According to Limbo, the 842nd Engineering Unit actually volunteered to serve in Arizona, as it offers a good opportunity to get real, hands-on training in a desert setting, while serving the country.
"What this mission has really allowed the national guard to do is conduct their annual normal training missions, which they can do anywhere in the U.S., but to actually focus it on supporting a national mission in the southwestern states," said Army National Guard Public Affairs Officer Major Orson Ward.
While they are in Tucson, Limbo said his soldiers would stay in motels while they work. Currently, he said two 842nd soldiers; Staff Sergeant Blaine Anderson and Staff Sergeant Dennis Schweitzer are in Arizona on a reconnaissance mission to work out the final details of the trip. One major difference between this training and more homeland training missions, Limbo said, is the 842nd equipment will not be traveling with the soldiers. The equipment, Limbo said, will stay in South Dakota so it can be used if the state calls on the unit for any kind of assistance.
According to Limbo, this is not the first time South Dakota has sent troops in support of Operation Jumpstart. Ever since the operation began in July 2006 the state has been sending members of the S.D. Air National Guard to support the mission. Last year the 155th Engineering Attachment of Rapid City was the first S.D. Army National Guard unit to serve in support of Operation Jumpstart. As a vertical engineering unit, Limbo said their primary mission was to build vehicle barrier fences and other protective fences around the border.
While this mission will be safer for soldiers than serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, Limbo said there are some safety precautions and concerns relating to climate changes and hydration.
BY WENDY PITLICK | Above story for BHPioneer (2007).
200th MORTAR ATTACK: