Fighting a war often immerses a soldier in a foreign environment and culture. That was the case for Phil McKenzie, the latest in a long line of McKenzies who served in the military. As a 20 year-old Bradley tank driver, the eastern Kentucky native and Tennessee National Guard member, recalls his first impressions of Iraq, its first real election after the American invasion, and the bomb that wasn’t…
“You get there, and you're almost expecting these ideas that the media portrays. Or you know what you hear your uncle talk about. Or family discusses over politics, and how the war is going. And the people don't like us. And you know you get there, and a lot of them do appreciate you being there. You know not all of them are out to get you. At the same time I mean you know the terrorists, whomever. You know they blend in. I mean you can't tell Adam from Eve or whomever. Mohammed to Saddam. I mean and you know you just kind of take it with a grain of salt. You know you just see them for who they are. And you know one quick move and we'll see where the game leads us. But you know you just kind of play your cards as much as possible.
I remember being there in the first elections. January of 2005. And I remember pulling security for days. Like we'd pull it on the local city council, local schools, and it never failed. I mean thankfully the first elections went off as smooth as possible.
I remember that day we actually caught three young men that they were making a bomb. I mean a handmade bomb. I mean it was like you would almost think of cartoons. Like a little round ball with a wick that was probably that long. And we bust them. My unit, well, the dismount group I was with, we were in an overwatch position. And we're hidden kind of behind this berm. The Bradleys were overlooking. It was a Bradley gunner that was able to identify that these guys were doing something suspicious on the back of this little village. And so send out the dismounts. And I'm kind of trailing as a rear dismount.
And they get so far ahead that I was like well I'll just kind of, me and one other guy, we flanked in behind and kind of wedged them in. Because when they saw us they tried to disperse out into the village. And the rest of my guys had already finally made it around to, we cornered them in. And got the bomb and everything.
And we were QRF that day, Quick Reaction Force, and of course you know as soon as we call up that we caught someone with a bomb. You know here comes the colonel, here comes sergeant major. You know we got to be in this. And it seemed like a whole herd of people came for this little bomb. And I remember finding out that, later on, a couple weeks later, that they let all three of them go, because they said they were going fishing with it. I mean it's like I've never heard of people going fishing with a bomb. But you know I guess there's a first time for everything.”
Mckenzie’s comments were gleaned from the University of Kentucky oral history project, “From Combat to Kentucky”. McKenzie is enrolled at the University of Kentucky where’s he’s studying business management.