CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq --
When the Marines and sailors of 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment arrived at Camp Korean Village on the western edge of Iraq’s Al Anbar province in September 2008, the first order of business was to ensure the battalion and other units in the area had a safe facility to use as a base of operations.
Camp Korean Village, a collection of concrete and plywood structures rising out of the barren desert landscape, was once home to the Korean laborers who constructed the main thoroughfare from Baghdad in the east to Syria and Jordan to the west during the reign of Saddam Hussein.
Today, the facility is a temporary home for U.S. service members from the Marine Corps, Army, Navy and National Guard, as well as a large number of American and foreign contract workers.
The base is like a small city with a dining facility, laundry, post office, barber shop, chapel, gym and post exchange.
Maintaining quality of life for the troops and workers here, hundreds of miles from the nearest major Coalition base, is no small task. It requires not only complicated logistical coordination, but more importantly, leadership.
Maj. Todd Peppe, the battalion’s Headquarters and Service Company commander, assumed the duty of camp commandant for Camp Korean Village upon his arrival in September.
“First and foremost, we’re responsible for the overall security of the camp,” said Peppe, a 39-year-old Reserve Marine from Ashburn, Va. “That includes anti-terrorism force protection, general quarter drills and badging [identification cards].”
Peppe’s security platoon keeps a watchful eye on the base’s perimeter 24-hours a day, seven days a week. He coordinates daily with a security firm that provides guards, many former soldiers from Uganda, who augment the Marine sentries.
Peppe explained that he and his team conduct quality control inspections of all electrical work, plumbing, sanitation, construction and other jobs that support the infrastructure.
“We mostly provide oversight of contractors,” said Peppe, who holds a master’s degree in business administration and works as a federal government project manager in his civilian career. “We are the liaison between contracting officers at Al Asad Air Base and KBR (Kellogg Brown & Root). We are the eyes of the government who make sure that KBR is fulfilling their responsibilities. We inspect what we expect.”
Peppe is assisted by a team of eight seasoned Reserve Marine officers and staff non-commissioned officers who, in addition to their normal jobs aboard the small base, play a critical role in supervising the work and maintenance on the base.
Gunnery Sgt. Trent Narra, the company gunny for Headquarters Company, is Peppe’s right-hand man in regards to base operation and maintenance.
“I am responsible for carrying out the orders of the camp commandant,” said Narra. “I like to think of him as the planner and me as the executer. I make liaison with the units on the camp, to include KBR. If something needs repaired or replaced, it goes through our office. If the security on the camp needs improvement, it goes through our office. If someone needs billeting on the camp, it goes through our office. We are like the one-stop help desk for the camp. We do everything from providing security to changing a blown light bulb.”
Narra, a native of West Islip, N.Y., spent four years on active duty before joining the battalion in 1995, and has spent the past 13 years with the New York Police Department. This is his second overseas tour in support since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
“As a cop, many times you are called to people’s houses and end up acting as either a social worker, marriage counselor or even a zookeeper,” said Narra. “You don’t always go to put handcuffs on people; sometimes you have to be a creative problem-solver. That’s how this job is. My six weeks at the [U.S. Marine Corps] School of Infantry and 13 years as an infantryman couldn’t prepare me for this job as assistant camp commandant. You have to be a problem-solver.”
“One minute you may be throwing someone off the camp that doesn’t belong here. The next minute you are checking on a work order that was submitted to KBR. It’s a lot like being a cop. You never know what’s waiting around the corner.”
Narra also has the opportunity to put his police skills to use in spearheading investigations of theft on the base and searching living quarters of both troops and contactors for contraband items.
Because the base is often a way-station for Coalition supply convoys passing from Jordan in the west to Al Asad Air Base and Baghdad to the east, Korean Village oftentimes hosts transient U.S. Army soldiers and other service members. It is also a supply depot and rest area for the Marine units stationed at spartan outposts out along the borders.
“I tell my Marines that we need to take pride in our work,” said Narra. “I want people leaving this base saying, ‘Those 2/25 Marines are squared away.’ It doesn’t matter if it’s Army, Navy or Marines staying here. We all try to help each other out in order to accomplish our mission. We like to call it ‘being good neighbors.’ You can’t pick your neighbors, so the next best thing is to try and get along with them. I think everyone does that here at KV.”
Staff Sgt. Nathan C. Hemingson, the wire chief for the battalion’s communications platoon, also helps the camp commandant’s office out with his technical skills, inspecting the power generation and electrical distribution systems installed and maintained by KBR on the base.
“I perform monthly audits and inspections of KBR’s execution of the mandated tasks as outlined in the statements of work,” said Hemingson, 27, of Colebrook, Conn., who recently graduated from the University of Connecticut and is looking forward to applying to Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School when he returns to the States in the spring.
“I sit down with the technical leads in both departments and ask questions and examine their records in order to discern whether or not they are operating within the guidelines as prescribed by the contract between the U.S. government and KBR,” explained Hemingson. “My desired end state is to provide Major Peppe with a comprehensive situational awareness concerning the performance and competency of the KBR leadership aboard the base“
”The footprint of contractors’ in-country has increased dramatically in this war compared to all past conflicts,” Hemingson continued. “The delegation of tasks to civilian contractors is designed to increase productivity and decrease cost while allowing troops to focus on their missions while in theater.”
As the Marines of 2/25 finish out their last weeks of deployment and prepare to return home in the spring, they can continue to conduct missions throughout their area of operations with the peace of mind that they have a safe haven to return to at Camp Korean Village.
For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit www.mnfwest.usmc.mil.