You can tell by his hands the sergeant is not a gym rat. His hands are workingman hands, not compact, muscular barbell clamps, but rather, hands that strip, ply and twist; hands that smooth, hands that hammer.Informally known by a few as “Uncle Andy,” Sgt. 1st Class Mark Anderson is the non-commissioned officer-in-charge of supply for Company D, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (Advise and Assist Brigade), stationed at Contingency Operating Site Ubaydi, Iraq. The company of paratroopers supports a host of Iraqi security force “enablers” that include military transition teams, police professionalization teams, provincial reconstruction teams, border transition teams, port of entry teams and others.
Six platoons (the company’s four infantry platoons plus elements of Headquarters and Headquarters Company and a mortar platoon) rotate in roles of camp security, quick reaction force, security details for travel off the post, and partnered operations with the Iraqi department of border enforcement. Approximately 100 paratroopers provide all the sustainment functions for the other 400 enablers that live there.
Anderson belongs to that breed of American farm boys that can do anything with almost nothing, and whose influence makes others want to grab shovel and hammer and pitch in to get done what needs doing. Time now, American forces in Iraq almost exclusively live on large bases where Ugandans provide security, laundry and food service is provided by contractors, and any nail need driving gets work-ordered out like Chinese food. Not at COS Ubaydi. Here, Army cooks still cook, sustainment troops provide water, fuel and clean laundry, and soldiers man the machine guns that guard the perimeter. Whatever needs building gets a visit from Uncle Andy and his crew of nail-bending carpenters.
“We built a new sanitation center to fix a problem where water was flowing into the tent where they washed dishes,” said Anderson. “We also built a water tower, installed doors, made walls and completed numerous small repair projects.”
Anderson, who turned 50 in early December 2009, most often works with Sgt. Tanner Packer of Flamingo Heights, Calif., and Spc. Jason Jeffers of Tallapoosa, Ga. Anderson is from Natchitoches, La. Together, they have reshaped a base that had gone unimproved for years by previous units.
“We all sweat together. We all ‘suck’ together. Everywhere I’ve deployed with this battalion, we have improved it,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Dyer, who works in the company’s operations center. “It’s a family. I haven’t seen any battalion like it.”
Anderson and company provided walls for enlisted barracks that were previously just earth-filled Hesco barriers holding up roofs, and now, everyone on the post has their own living space.
According to the COS assistant “mayor,” Sgt. Matthew Colello, soldiers collect their own garbage, distribute water and maintain their showers just as they did in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and just as they are likely to do when they are deployed to Afghanistan in the future.
Additionally, more than 8,000 tons of gravel were hauled in and spread by local contractors, stabilizing the loose, dusty soil and preventing it from turning into constricting mud when it rains. Finally, the helicopter landing zone was treated with a lacquer to further reduce the amount of airborne particulates.
All of these improvements were made in just a matter of weeks, said Colello.
Anderson just finished building 30 target stands for the 28th Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division, based in Hamsa. Next, he and his crew will construct a new laundry facility so that the laundry crew doesn’t have to work in the open during inclement weather.
The old salts in the company remember the early days in Iraq when they lived out of tents or in the dirt under the stars. Paratroopers are tough, but not stupid. For Anderson’s birthday, they didn’t give him a gold watch. They gave him a tool belt.
Story by Spc. Mike MacLeod