HADITHA DAM, Iraq --
Sailors often get the opportunity to spend long periods at sea. During their travels they make port calls in exotic places the world: Europe, Africa, Asia and just about any place that has deep water access. After completing a recent tour in Europe, spending a significant time on the Arabian and Mediterranean seas, one San Antonio sailor decided it was time to head inland; to Haditha, Iraq.
Petty Officer 2nd Class James Thompson, an electrician’s mate currently serving with Riverine Squadron 2, Regimental Combat Team 2, jumped at the opportunity to join the newly formed unit in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I actually wanted to get hands on and go in theater instead of sitting on a ship off the coast,” said the 8-year sailor, whose friends call him Dopey. “I have already done two deployments on the ship. I always wanted to be more involved on the ground.”
Thompson said it was a stroke of luck that he was assigned to the unit. When talking to his detailer, a sailor who handles assignments, he was put on hold. In the background, he heard a discussion about the unit, which hasn’t existed since the Viet Nam era. Thompson said he was so interested in the unit and its that he asked about the possibility of leaving the USS Enterprise and joining the Riverine squadron.
“So, the detailer transferred me over and I talked to special programs and they told me basically what I was going to do,” said Thompson. “It was definitely something I was interested in and wanted to do, so I switched over and volunteered to come.”
Thompson’s new path would make him a machine gunner for a small craft and a trainer for Iraqi soldiers. But, before his trip to Iraq, he needed training for his new mission, so headed to the School of Infantry at Camp Lejeune, N.C..
“The training was awesome and different,” he said. “Some of the medical training, like the combat lifesavers course, I would never thought in my life I would be going through. The training we got in Camp Lejeune with the Marine forces, I never knew I would be hands on and I was amazed at how much fun it was.”
Next, his unit deployed to the Haditha Triad, where they assumed the mission from Rivron-1, the first Navy unit to patrol the waterways in Iraq.
“I never thought I would be riding boats in Iraq when I joined the Navy,” said Thompson. “But, I wanted to be more involved with joint operations, working with the Marines and the Army, helping them out with their mission.”
Thompson said he couldn’t be happier on his decision to become land based.
“I am most surprised that Iraq is not as bad as it is portrayed,” the 1999 graduate of John Marshall High School said. “We came out here and interact with the fishermen all the time and they are just normal people who are trying to feed their families and help out their communities.”
He said seeing them as people who were just trying to get on with their day-to-day lives has given him perspective and he realizes his main job is to give them the opportunity to do just that.
“The biggest challenge we face is winning the people, and helping them out,” said Thompson. “The more we help them, the more involved they become in helping themselves.”
Besides helping the Iraqi people, Thompson said he is “stoked” at being part of such a great command and getting the chance to help Marines.
This is an awesome command,” he said. “The more we get involved, the more we operate jointly, it's wonderful. If we keep involved when Marine ground forces are in danger and contact us, we can be there to the riverbanks and get them out of there and that is the best feeling, knowing you can help, you can save the day.”
Thompson plans on finishing his career in the Navy and returning to Texas to join the ranks of law enforcement.
“I love this, but I know it won’t last forever,’ he said. “So, I am going to do what every good Texas boy does when he retires, protect the citizens of my state.”