Wednesday, May 23, 2007

From Over the Rainbow to An Nasiriyah

As Wizard 2007 closes, we are honored to hear from Corporal P.
J. Whiteway IV, who played a Munchkin 17 years ago in Wizard 1990, and is now serving in Iraq with the Virginia National Guard, A Company, 116th BSTB, out of Fredericksburg. P. J. was deployed in March of this year, and will be spending at least a year in service to his country. P. J. is the eldest son of Phil Whiteway, our Managing Director, and the brother of Jennings Whiteway, our Special Events, Access and Food Services Manager. I hope we'll all continue to keep P. J. and all of the men and women in Iraq in our thoughts and prayers.

May 22, 2007

Dear Barksdale Blog Readers,

Bruce invited me to write a few words from Iraq. He said the Barksdale Buzz, which I keep up with here on base, wants to receive letters from members of the Barksdale/Theatre IV family who are now working in other cities. Well, I guess you can't get much more “other” than here. I'm writing from Camp Cedar II in Taleel, Iraq, just a little ways outside of An Nasiriyah.

Originally I had hand written a letter, but I missed the send out date because I was working. It takes longer to send things out of base than it does to receive them. We can only send out on Monday and Friday, and we receive mail on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

My squad’s schedule and my job assignments are constantly changing. Last month we were tasked out to provide a quick reaction force to anything that might interrupt base security around the perimeter. Basically my squad of 14 was on standby for 24 hours waiting for a call over the radio to go and do something. We were equipped with 3 up-armored (equipped with heavy armor) hummvees, and we would often have to escort another humvee with VIPs to another nearby base (Taleel—Camp Adder). Sometimes we would actually have to go and chase off a herd of animals or Bedouins who lived in the area but were getting too close to the wire.

This month my squad is in charge of maintaining security and running the main entrance of the base. This involves checking IDs of incoming convoy drivers, sending them through an x-ray machine, and often searching the insides of their vehicles and the personnel inside them. These convoys are escorted by other military unit vehicles and they are usually just passing through our base—we are the largest refueling point in southern Iraq. We have upwards of 700-800 vehicles (semi trucks) coming in and often out throughout the course of a day. Sounds exciting, but it really just stirs up a lot of dust. We also have to deal with important local nationals coming to the front gate on foot ( i.e. a sheik of a local tribe who needs to meet with a commander).
The shifts are 12 hours long and are from midnight to noon for 2 days in a row and then we have a 24 hour break. Then the next two days we work noon to midnight and have 48 hours off. We have three squads that rotate on this schedule, thereby covering every hour of the day to allow us to maintain the security at the front entrance. The long hours are sometimes exciting but more often boring. We have to wear all 50 lbs of our body armor any time we are on duty, along with gloves and protective eye wear. And all you guys in Wizard thought the flying monkey and Winkie costumes were hot and sweaty.

I'm sure you can imagine that it gets hot here. How hot?? I measured a temp of 111 the other day in the shade, and it's very dry heat, not like VA—and windy too, so it feels like you’re standing in front of a huge hot blow dryer most of the day.

Time off is a great thing here…though you’re not actually "off" per se. At anytime you can be called on to go help out and fill in the blanks of any one of the many activities that are being completed around the base. Whether its re-dispatching humvees or filling sandbags or moving equipment, there is always something extra to be done at the last minute.

When I actually get a full day off, I spend my time cooling off in the 12 x 12 room that I share with my roommate, or I walk up to the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center). That’s where we can access the internet and phones, or work out in the gym. The place is usually pretty packed so you have to wait in line to get to a phone or computer.
Thanks to all of you who are remembering me and the rest of the troops and wishing us well. It means a lot to have people back home thinking about you. We all love to keep in touch with folks back home. It’s the best way to keep our minds away from dusty Iraq.

Hope this reaches you all soon and I hope that everyone has a great summer! And if you go to the beach, ride a wave for all of us guys too.

CPL P.J. Whiteway

If you would like to contact CPL Whiteway, you can reach him at:

CPL Whiteway, P.J.
A/116th BSTB
Cedar II

APO AE 09331

Photo captions: The top two photos are P. J. now and then. The photo of the camels was taken by P. J. just outside of his base. In the photo of the six soldiers in P. J.'s unit, P. J. stands to the left. The bottom shot from Wizard 1990 includes Donna Whiteway (P. J.'s mom, who played Glenda), P. J. himself, Jennings Whiteway (P. J.'s sister and fellow Munchkin); and Phil Whiteway III (P. J.'s dad, who played the Tin Man).


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much to CPL Whiteway and Barksdale for this letter from Iraq. I read it late at night, and it moved me tremendously. It's too easy to forget that the men and women whom we send into harm's way were, not very long ago, the innocent children who's smiles and love of life took our hearts "over the rainbow," as you say. God help our nation and our world in these difficult, difficult times. And may all of us help God to bring peace to Iraq, so that our children can come home again. My heart goes out to you, CPL Whiteway. And my thanks to you, Bruce, for encouraging prayers for ALL the men and women in Iraq--no exceptions.

Anonymous said...

God bless you PJ - please stay safe and know that we are thinking of you and your wonderful comrades every day.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I had the pleasure of attending Barksdale's annual Christmas Cabaret last December, and I remember Bruce's dedicating the last song to P. J. and the other men and women from the Virginia National Guard. It was very moving. He told us you were being deployed sometime early in 2007. Through this follow-up, it's so good to hear that you're doing alright.

The last song in the Cabaret was "I'll be Home for Christmas," and it ended, of course, with "if only in my dreams." P. J., you and your comrades will be halfway around the world through next Christmas and beyond, and I hope we'll hear from you between now and then. Your words mean a lot, more than you know.

I don't know you personally. I don't know anyone stationed in Iraq personally. But I admire and respect your father and other people at Barksdale who know and love you, and so, in a small way, you feel like one of my own.

Like everyone else, I'm going to remain confident in your safe return, and I look forward to the occasional updates (via the Barksdale blog, if and when you have time) on the daily goings on of our young people in Iraq.

God bless you and them, everyone. You have now put a face to all this for many of us. Thanks for that.