- AnneMarie Knepper
- Central Oregonian - Features
After nine months in Iraq, Robert Wolverton, Jr. returns home to Prineville
"At times I felt like I was out in my shop at home," Robert Wolverton Jr. said of his experience as a machinery repairman in a Navy construction battalion while in Iraq for nine months.
"The only time I got scared was when I heard machine gun fire."
He estimates the noise came from about a mile away, and he heard it only once.
Wolverton returned home to Prineville Thursday night, where he was met by his wife Kimberly, and her two children.
"The first thing I did was walk around the house and look at everything," he said. "Then I stood in the backyard and looked at the stars and the Milky Way, listened to the peace and quiet."
While in Iraq, Wolverton served as a member of the Northwest Seabee 18. He worked in a shop alone, creating needed equipment, often from scrap.
He was recognized for his efforts with an award and a medal. The United States Marine Corps presented him with a certificate of appreciation for his work performing more than 75 tactical route repair missions. The Secretary of the Navy awarded him the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for meritorious achievement for "fabricating more than 20 one-of-a-kind parts for equipment ranging from dump trucks to water well rigs, bringing back into service many items that had been on deadline for months."
His initiative with custom parts allowed him to restore a cretemobile - a device similar to a mobile mix cement truck- improving combat effectiveness and saving the Navy $76,000, as the certificate for the medal notes.
Wolverton said overall the time spent in Iraq went quickly, but each day he tried to schedule his time so that he was always busy. The work schedule is Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. with one hour for lunch. The troops have Sunday mornings off if they want to go to church, with work beginning at 1 p.m. and ending at six.
Even with a standard 10-hour work days that often went longer, Wolverton said he had time to kill in the evenings.
"There are only so many movies you can watch," he said.
Wolverton was able to call home twice a day most days. He also e-mailed everyday and kept a journal on his computer.
He said it was the little things that made all the difference when the pressure of not being able to leave the site in the Al Anbar province got to him.
"Something as simple as a pair of gloves," he said. His coworkers at Brightwood in Madras sent him gloves, safety goggles, and machine shop tooling.
Some of the equipment was accessible from his post in Iraq, others on order for up to six months.
Wolverton said the gloves, for example, could have been garnered by walking to the supply station, "then waiting three or four hours if the guy wasn't there."
He said he had to improvise tools he took for granted while in the U.S., sometimes spending an entire day just making the tool necessary, before he could even start a job.
"[Sometimes orders] were two months out for a $2 item you could get at Big R," he said.
While in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, Wolverton completed work for the Marines, Navy and Air Force, Army and civilian contractors.
He has spent the first few days home catching up with family and his friends and co-workers at Brightwood. He will return to civilian work next month.
In the meantime, he will keep busy around the Wolverton household.
"I have stuff I need to do at home," he smiled. "Things that need fixed and all that."
He said he will not go back to serve in Iraq.
"I don't know what the objective is anymore," he said. "I don't know if anybody does."
He said he thinks the big picture ideal is to get the Iraqi people to police themselves.
He was there to support the troops with needed machinery. He said he will continue to support the troops.
"Someone has got to do it," he said of the troops. "If we all said `no', we wouldn't be free."
However, his feelings are mixed.
"I have a little bit more of an opinion now that I've been over there," he said. Wolverton was mobilized out of the U.S. Gulf Coast region after Hurricane Katrina hit.
"I kept thinking `Shouldn't we be working on our backyard before we go fixing someone else's?'"