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Harley Capps: U.S. is doing good things in Iraq

The last thing Harley Capps thought he would be was a Marine or a soldier. "But I'm kind of a 9/11 person,'' he said, referring to the anger he felt and his urge to do something following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States...

The last thing Harley Capps thought he would be

was a Marine or a soldier.

"But I'm kind of a 9/11 person,'' he said, referring to the anger he felt and his urge to do something following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

"I guess I thought one day I'm going to have kids and grandkids and they're going to ask about 9/11 or hear about it in school. I wanted to be able to tell them I did something about it,'' he said.

Capps, 23, who grew up in Willmar and graduated from high school in Seattle, signed up for a four-year hitch with the Marine Corps on April 5, 2003. He was assigned to Marine Wing Support Squadron 271, Marine Wing Support Group 27, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, Cherry Point, N.C.

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His time in the Marines has included serving 13Β½ months from Feb. 4, 2005, until the middle of March 2006 at Al Asad Airfield, the second largest airbase in Iraq. The airbase is located in the north central part of the country.

"Not all Iraqis hate us,'' Capps said in a recent interview while home on leave. "We're over there doing good things. We still have to be really stern about how we do it. There are operations to put up schools. They have medical attention for kids now.

"I've actually asked Iraqi people myself while I was working with them -- is quality of life better with us here -- and everyone that I talked to said yes," he said. "I don't know if it's because I'm an American (and) they want to say yes.

"You have terrorist groups raising heck, but the country itself is improving. There is a lot of reconstruction over there, a lot of building stuff up. We're setting up a new government and we are trying to keep everything as peaceful as possible. We're over there to bring peace and eventually give them their country back.''

Capps said he has not been told by any Iraqis that they want the Americans out.

But then, he added, "They aren't going to tell me 'cause I'm sitting here with loaded weapons."The son of Colleen and Ronald Danielson of Litchfield, Capps was welcomed home with a party in Willmar on April 1. The party was arranged by his sister, Danette LeBon, who lives in Iowa.

Capps returns to Cherry Point on April 29. He's deciding whether he'll voluntarily return to Iraq next February at the urging of his squadron at Al Asad or get out of the Marines when his contract expires on April 7, 2007.

"I don't think I'm going to go back to Iraq again in the Marine Corps, anyway. I'll probably go over there as a contractor when I get out. But my squadron has asked me to extend to go back with them because they need people to go back. So I'm thinking about doing that, but that's a big decision. I don't know what I'm going to do on that yet,'' he said.

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A lance corporal, Capps was trained in logistics -- moving stuff from base to base -- but served as a guard during his first seven months at Al Asad.

"As a junior Marine, they needed me more with security than logistics. Every Marine's a rifleman, so they threw me on security,'' he said.His guard post oversaw the search pit where nonmilitary vehicles -- such as trucks bringing water into the airfield -- were searched for bombs or classified material.

Many vehicles they searched were driven by people from "third-country nations" such as India and Jordan. Capps remembers a driver from Jordan who came nearly every day. Some of the vehicles were driven by Americans. Those vehicles also had to be searched.

Once Capps made the switch to logistics, he traveled the country, he said. But he's not allowed to discuss combat operations.

Capps describes the summer weather in Iraq as "stupid hot'' but really dry. While at home, he's still getting used to breathing humid air.

The sun gets pretty wicked, he said. The hottest he recalls is a thermometer reading 125 degrees in the shade. It gets so hot that water boils in the asphalt. If you stand post on the tar for a long time, your boots will actually melt, he said.

Sandstorms and duststorms turn the sky a dark orange and can last for hours.

"Flights like helicopters are grounded,'' he said. "It slows things down, but America's military still operates in it. You just live with the sandstorms and dirt. You accept the fact that you're going to be dirty till you get home.''

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Capps said the food on base is good.

"The government's doing a really good job as far as quality of life for the troops over there,'' he said. "When you go out in the field, you're eatin' meals-ready-to-eat in the dirt. That's not as much fun. MREs are the most disgusting thing on the planet. The main chow hall at Al Asad is pretty good. They give good food over there to the troops.''

While home on leave, Capps said he's trying to relax and just be himself, but he feels a little edgy. One sound he'll never forget is the sound of rockets. He said he's been awakened many times by those things.

"Whenever I hear a plane flying over, I have to double-check is it really a plane. That's what rockets sound like. They sound like a plane flying over, then all of sudden it just goes boom. It doesn't continue going.''

After he's done in the Marines, Capps said he doesn't want a job with a gun anymore. "I used to play cap guns and stuff like that -- think they're cool, but I don't like 'em anymore. I don't want a job that involves (guns).''

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