Saugus firefighter back serving on the home front
By Chris Stevens
Monday, October 25, 2004

David Springer is sleeping a lot better now.

Springer, a town firefighter, is two weeks home from serving 18 months as a Naval hospital corpsmen, the last 7 months in Iraq. Sunday was his first day back at the Essex Street Fire Station, where he said he took the new engine for a spin as he settled back into a civilian routine.

"Just like riding a bike, it's great," Springer said about being home, adding that it's nice to be able to drive down the road and not have to worry about getting blown up.

"And to get a good night sleep without rocket or mortar attacks, that's a little unnerving."

Springer volunteered to serve in Iraq in April of 2003, because he said, he felt obligated.

"There have been people in my life that have served in the military ever since the Civil War," he said. "After Sept. 11, I wanted to make a difference."

Having served as a Marine from 1980-'84, Springer said when war first broke out in Iraq, he tried to re-enlist, but was told he was too old.

As a trained paramedic however, he was just what the Navy was looking for, so on the promise he could be attached to a Marine unit, Springer signed on.

He served his first nine months at Camp Lejeune, N.C.,before being sent to Minneapolis and then California where after some desert warfare training Springer found himself on his way to Kuwait. From there he went to Ar-Ramadi in the Al-Ambear province of the Sunni Triangle in Iraq.

"We were two hours outside of Baghdad and about 45-minutes to Fallujah," he said,

which he added was close enough.

"We had people killed right on our base," he said. "There were rockets fired at us regularly and mortar attacks quite often."

Mortar attacks aside, Springer said base life wasn't as difficult at he thought it would be.

"I was prepared to really live in a harsh environment," he said. "For some reason I envisioned living in a two-man tent or sleeping in a vehicle a lot. As it turned out we stayed at one of Saddam's former military bases. It was actually pretty comfortable."

Springer was attached to a Marine artillery unit, but said essentially they served as military police.

"They would do raids, military sweeps and bring people in for interrogations," he said. "My job was to screen them to make sure they didn't have any obvious injuries or illnesses."

He also took part in a number of convoys and a few community policing style missions with the Army and said he met a lot of interesting characters.

Springer said he met religious leaders that served them tea, and visited schools where the children would ask them for pens.

"They loved pens and we'd give them chocolate from our rations."

And while many Iraqis would wave to the soldiers as they passed in some areas, Springer said they were clearly not well liked and the tension was palpable.

"It was tough to differentiate," he said. "The kids, the people, they seem friendly but you don't know who the enemy is. You never really let your guard down, you tried to be respectful."

Then there were the detainees.

"A lot of times they seemed relieved to be with us," he said. "A lot of them cooperated, not too many were belligerent but we definitely had the upper hand."

It was not, however, the type of upper hand some had at the Abu Ghraib prison, where soldiers were discovered abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners.

Springer was familiar with the prison because the Iraqi's that came through his detention center that weren't released were taken to Abu Ghraib, sometimes by him. He said he was surprised when the story broke.

"I don't know all the details or the facts," he said. "We all definitely dealt with the military brass. They were around quite often checking up on us but from what I understand we were rated one of the best detention centers there."

Technically Springer is on active duty until December, due to accumulated leave he never had time to take. And he will continue to serve in the Army Reserves though he doesn't have to report for training missions.

"I could if I wanted to," he said. "But I feel I've accomplished my mission, what am I going to do. I basically feel I did my job, I'm satisfied. It was an experience, I saw a lot, I learned a lot, and a met a lot of nice people."