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Democrat Photo by Ted Waddell

Erik Muller at his parents' home in Callicoon last week

Native Back From Iraq

By Ted Waddell
CALLICOON — September 19, 2003 – Ed Muller got quite a surprise the other day.
He was taking a morning snooze in his favorite living room chair when his soldier son Erik walked through the front door a day early for a short visit with folks and friends after just getting back from fighting in Iraq.
“‘Holy crap, is that you?’” Muller said, recalling the first words out of his mouth. “I was asleep in a chair, and there he was standing in the doorway.”
“It’s really me,” replied Erik, a 24-year-old U.S. Army sergeant E5 who joined the military right after graduating from Delaware Valley Central School in 1997.
The Start of Something
Erik Muller went through basic at Ft. Jackson, and then spent 1998-2002 assigned to his first duty station with the 1st Infantry Division in Germany.
He then reported to the 37th Cavalry, 3rd Infantry at Ft. Stewart in Georgia.
For the young sergeant, it was a long way from home.
After joining the U. S. Army, he traveled to Germany, the Canary Islands, Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia, Kuwait, Iraq and “a few places in the states.”
Tales to Tell
The other night, Erik and his folks Ed and Bettie Muller sat around their Callicoon dining room table, as their son talked about why he joined the service and what it was like to be deployed in Iraq as the United States ousted Saddam Hussein.
As his son recounted serving around the world, Ed Muller said jokingly, “I’ve been to Monticello.”
“I joined because I wanted to be a NYS Trooper and was going to use the Army to get to college, but it kind of grew on me,” said Erik Muller. “So I just stuck around.”
As a Bradley mechanic (an armored vehicle used by the military) assigned to the 3rd Squad of the 7th U.S. Cavalry, he’s also qualified to “fix just about anything” on M-88s (armored tank recovery vehicles), M-1 tanks and Humvees.
“It started out in August [2002] when they told us we’d be going over there in October,” recalled Muller.
While at Ft. Stewart, he said everything got put on the backburner, and the “word” was they were scheduled for deployment to the Middle East after Christmas.
Then it was sometime between January 18-21 of this year.
“We got ready to go on the 20th,” said Muller.
His unit took off from an airfield in Savannah, Georgia, and in the wake of an 18-hour flight, they touched down in Kuwait on January 22.
His initial impression?
“Nothing but sand, dirty sand,” said Muller.
After disembarking, his unit was bused to Camp Doha to draw equipment out of a massive stock of war supplies. Then their vehicles and heavy armor got loaded on transporters and trucked from Camp Doha to Camp Udairi near the Iraqi border.
At Camp Udairi, the troops spent most of the month of February training on how to breach the enemy’s defensive sand berms in combat assaults.
As the launch date drew closer, the troops were issued food and water (UBLs, or unit base loads) and were immunized against smallpox, malaria and anthrax.
From the Word ‘Go’
On the launch date of March 20, Muller and his unit split into four hunter-killer teams led by Bradley fighting vehicles spaced about 400 meters apart and crossed over the border from Kuwait into Iraq at night from Attack Position Lamaar.
“The Second Brigade Combat Team secured the berm area so we could pass through,” said Muller. “That was pretty much the last time we saw them until we reached Baghdad, as we were the division recon asset.”
About 17 days later, Muller and his comrades arrived at the Iraqi capital.
Asked what it felt like to cross into enemy territory amidst all the talk of weapons of mass destruction and fanatical fighters, Muller replied, “I think the chemical part was the biggest fear everybody had, because of what it could do to you if they had fired it at us. . . . That was the scariest thing.”
Muller said the troops did a lot of NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) weapons training before the war, and after crossing into Iraq, spent a “lot of time moving in full protective Mopp Level IV suits.”
In February, temperatures ranged from 80-90 degrees, but by August they had reached about 135 degrees.
On the Attack – Sometimes
“We didn’t see any people until the third day when we got to Asamawah,” said Sgt. Muller. “They were mostly farmers herding sheep. Nobody was resisting – they waved. Nobody was running up to hug us, but they looked really appreciative.
“At Asamawah, we got mortars dropped on us from about 50-100 meters out,” he added. “Then we seized two bridges and moved on from there.”
As heavy cavalry, Muller’s team isn’t tasked with urban fighting, so the Second Brigade Combat Team took care of the mortar situation.
A day after taking Asamawah, his unit was ambushed by resistance fighters firing RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and AK-47s from both sides of the road.
“We buttoned up the hatches,” said Muller.
A combined reaction of tanks, Bradleys and air support “took care of that in about 20-30 minutes,” he recalled.
After a couple of days of R&R, Muller’s unit had pretty much straight run up Highway #1 to Baghdad.
Highway #1 went down in history when Alpha Troop 37 Cavalry fought the only tank battle of the conflict.
“They engaged and destroyed two T-54s, three T-72s and one T-55 tank,” said Muller proudly of the one-sided American victory. “I saw the aftermath, and it was pretty rough.”
According to Sgt. Muller, this was the first time Bradley fighting vehicles fired depleted uranium rounds in combat.
“It just destroyed the enemy tanks,” he said. “There was just nothing left of them. . . . We decimated them.”
Muller also witnessed what a heat round fired from an Abrams battletank did to Iraqi armor.
“The impact was so bad, it just squashed the turrets,” he said.
In other battle scene vignettes, Muller recalled driving through a sandstorm during a heavy rain.
“It was like mud falling out of the sky,” he said. “It’s like a black and white world, nothing but sand and sky.”
Of witnessing the aftermath of the 369th Armored and 27th Infantry springing an Iraqi tank ambush, he said the enemy tank “had been melted into the sand.”
“There was pretty much nothing left of the soldiers. . . . It looked like they jumped out of their tank once it was engaged, and they were killed by shrapnel. . . . It didn’t look real – they almost looked fake.
“You try to block it out,” added Muller of seeing dead enemy soldiers. “It looked like a movie set.”
As Muller sat with his folks going over a scrapbook filled with photos of the war in Iraq, he said he never snapped shots of enemy soldiers killed in combat, because “that would have been disrespectful somehow.”
Another mission was to clear destroyed Iraqi armor from the roadways using huge spades mounted on the front of their 88s.
“They were rough to move because the heat from our tank rounds had melted them right to the road,” said Muller. “We had to back up and slam into them a couple of times to move them.”
Baghdad Reached
After reaching Baghdad, the mission of Muller’s unit was to establish a screen line on the southwest edge of the capital city.
“After that tank battle, it was just setting up traffic control points, searching vehicles for weapons,” said Muller. “We pulled security on our vehicles armed with .50-caliber machine guns. We drew a line on the road, and if they crossed the line, we fired a warning shot.
“Anything past that line was considered hostile intent [because] our safety came first. . . . If they went past the line, we’d fire more warning shots, but if we had to, we’d destroy the vehicle.”
After Baghdad, Muller went up north to Fallujah in the heart of Baath Party resistance at a sustainer Army air field where his unit was now attached to the 4th Infantry Division out of Ft. Hood, Texas.
“We ran patrols for about a week trying to find these people,” he said. “We got tips on where to find them.”
After cornering the resistance fighters on a peninsula, U.S. Army engineers moved out onto the river with machine gun boats and a heavy cavalry unit pushed in from the west, setting up a crunch time for the Iraqis: surrender or die.
“We arrested a lot of people,” said Muller.
What was it like to fight in Iraq?
“It was like Kosovo – you always had to be alert and on guard,” he said. “It wasn’t too scary because we were heavy armor, and nothing much could hurt us – a lot of guys said RPGs just bounced off them.”
War Was Necessary
Before heading off to war, the young sergeant was very much aware of anti-war protests swirling across the nation and around the world.
His reaction?
“It made us pretty angry, but you’ve got to remember that no matter what these people we’re saying against us, we were going to do our job,” said Muller. “Their opinion wasn’t really going to sway what was going on over there.”
Did he feel support from the homefront?
“Knowing that people were behind us was a really good feeling,” said Muller.
Did Sgt. Muller think the United States should have invaded Iraq?
“Yes, definitely,” he replied. “You can’t have people like Saddam Hussein in charge of that country with his ideas. . . . If his people did anything he didn’t like, he had them killed. The United States had to take a position against that – if you weren’t in Saddam’s in-crowd, you didn’t do well at all.”
Heading Home
Muller’s unit left Iraq August 4 after spending two days turning in their equipment. He arrived back in the U.S. on August 11, and arrived at his folk’s doorstep about 9:30 a.m. September 4.
After a brief week at home, Muller packed up and drove back to his base in the Peach State.
Future plans include attending a primary leadership course “to make it official that I’m a sergeant” and gunning for an advancement to staff sergeant.
“Once I complete basic non-commissioned officer training, I’m going to drop a packet to become a warrant officer,” said Muller. “I want to see more of the world.”
On the Homefront
Bettie Muller’s reaction to the return of her soldier son?
“It was terrible to have him over there, and we got very little sleep,” she said. “We’re so proud of him that we can’t express it, but as a mom you worry.”
Ed Muller added, “While he was over there, we watched TV nonstop. You worry day and night, every time you hear where another soldier got it, and now you wait. It’s great to have him back!”

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