KINGSTON, R.I. -- October 8, 2003 -- Army 1st Lt. Mark Padien of Scituate was among the first American forces to invade Iraq last spring.
But he told a group of Army Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets at the University of Rhode Island that combat was not the toughest part of his seven-month deployment. The worst part was doing police and security work. "During the war, if Iraqis were in tanks, you obviously knew they were the enemy. But now you dont know unless they are shooting at you," he told the cadets during his visit in September.
A member of the Armys Third Infantry Division, the 2001 graduate of URIs College of Business Administration and the Army ROTC program, Padien was invited to campus by Army Lt. Col. Paul C. Krajeski, professor of military science, to talk to the cadets while he was home on leave. He returned to duty in Fort Stewart, Ga. on Sept. 26.
With his blond hair and youthful face, Padien looks as though he could still be a student at URI. But his discussion of firefights, Air Force bombing runs, mortar attacks and surviving on three bottles of water a day in 100-plus degree heat made it clear to the cadets that their first jobs will be unlike any careers their classmates are likely to pursue.
He reminded the cadets that once they become Army officers, they have the power to give a command that could lead to loss of life. But they also have the power to enforce the standards that could keep them alive.
"When we rolled in to Iraq, the enemy knew we were coming in hot, and werent afraid to shoot," Padien said. However, once the combat mission ended, his unit had to learn quickly the techniques of peacekeeping.
He told the cadets that overall the Iraqis were glad to see U.S. forces and they were supportive. "They were definitely a bit curious to see if we got Saddam and if he would come back. A lot of people said, Thank God you are here, but dont leave until he is gone."
The educated Iraqi citizens remain supportive, but the uneducated are easily influenced by fanatics, Padien said, adding that the presence of the U.S. forces has heightened expectations.
Before the war, about half the city had electricity and water, according to Padien. "Right after the war, it was about 30 percent, then two weeks after it was about 50 percent. It definitely got better from April to August when 70 percent of the city had electricity. The hospitals improved tenfold."
But it becomes frustrating when terrorists keep taking out power plants, the lieutenant said.
Padien said that the road to peace will be long, but democracy is slowly coming to Iraq. "Its not pretty, but its happening."
Padien was put in charge of a platoon just two weeks before it was deployed to Kuwait in January. His unit was first assigned to Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait where the soldiers were equipped with new Bradley Fighting Vehicles and began training.
In Kuwait, Padiens platoon focused on urban warfare, which culminated in a live fire exercise that was televised by Fox News. After being at the camp for a month, the platoon moved out to the desert for about three weeks.
Shortly after President George W. Bush issued his ultimatum to Hussein, the unit moved toward Baghdad, and it came under fire from artillery and rocket propelled grenades.
After crossing the Euphrates River, Padiens men traveled one early morning toward the Saddam International Airport along a road bordered by 15-foot walls, which Padien termed the "perfect ambush situation." Padiens mission was to take the airport so that no reinforcements could go in or out.
By daylight, the American forces were being hit with mortar fire and rocket propelled grenades. Enemy tanks began attacking. After the forces eventually secured the airport, Padiens unit moved toward Baghdad, where they joined others providing police and security operations.
After Padiens prepared remarks, Krajeski asked if the military adage of "dont ever believe the first report" held true in Iraq. "Yes, you dont want to rush toward the enemy. You definitely have to assess the situation and be patient. However, there were times when we had to plan on the move."
Krajeski asked Padien if he could expand on the phrase "when fear kicks in, training takes over."
"Training absolutely kicks in, you can only tell them (troops) so much," the battle tested lieutenant answered. "They have to be able to react on their own. You cant tell them all the time when to return fire; they have to know when to do it."
A partial list of URI ROTC graduates who have served in Iraq or who are still deployed are:
Lt. Col. Terry Hermans 83
Lt. Col. John Bianchi 83
Maj. David Accetta 87
Capt. Jason Glick 95
Capt. Peter Mandeville 88
Capt. Anthony Cassino 97
Capt. Jeff Scott 99
1st Lt. Matthew Pierce 01
1st Lt. Scott Mras 01
1st Lt. Mark Gabriele 98
1st Lt. Dana Coppola 00
1st Lt. Eric Lewis 01
2nd Lt. Adam DePetrillo 02
1st Lt. Matthew Pezzullo, Roger Williams University 01, who went through the ROTC program at URI.
For further Information: Lt. Col. Paul Krajeski 874-5420