By Darrell Todd Maurina
Like many Americans, Mary Cline of Portales woke up on Dec. 14 to the news that American troops had captured Saddam Hussein. What she didn’t yet know was that her son Larry Davis, a civilian communications specialist working with Army forces near Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, had known about the capture many hours earlier.
In fact, her son said he had been the one to pull the plug on communications with the outside world to keep anyone from leaking the news prematurely.
“They came and got me and said they want all communications turned off,” Davis said in a telephone interview last week. “Internet, cell phones, anything of that nature was completely turned off.”
Davis said he works with Northrop Grumman, a civilian defense contractor. Davis said he joined the Army after graduating from Clovis High School, rose to the rank of Sergeant First Class in a Ranger unit, and then left the military and was assigned by his new civilian employers to help rebuild the communications system in Iraq.
“I got a great offer from Northrup Grumman after 10 years in Army,” Davis said. “I do the communications between tactical operations centers where they do all their operations between raids. The tactical operations centers are where they do planning for any operations they have and I do all the networking for those TOCs.”
Rebuilding the telephone, cell phone, and Internet systems in Iraq has been critical not only for the American military but also for Iraqi civilian operations, and Davis said his job is to help build a new communications system from the ground up.
“We destroyed all the communications in this country,” Davis said. “When the Army goes in and destroys communications, it is very important that these people be able to communicate with the United States.”
Davis said civilians have been amazed by the new technology, and when he helped set up an Internet cafe, many Iraqi people couldn’t believe how much information was available.
“To send an e-mail out of the country took two days because it had to be read in Baghdad before letting it out of the country,” Davis said. “(Saddam Hussein’s government) kept a really tight lid on things.”
However, letting people near Tikrit talk to the outside world wasn’t what the Army wanted last week. From shortly before American forces began their assault on what turned out to be Saddam Hussein’s hiding place to the time authorities called a press conference to announce his capture, Davis said the Army cut communications with the outside world. The soldiers in the tactical operations center knew what had happened but had to contain their enthusiasm and couldn’t tell anybody.
“It was basically you witnessed history in front of your face,” Davis said. “There was total excitement by soldiers. They are all trying to be hard and not let stuff bother them and not get overjoyed and not get really excited, but their hearts started dropping and their stomachs rolled over, and we said, ‘We did what we came to do.’”
After the phone lines were reopened, Davis said he looked forward to calling his mother and telling her the news firsthand.
“On Monday he called me and I learned he was part of history,” Cline said. “I am wearing my yellow ribbon. People are all excited when I tell them; my family is so happy and of course we wish he were here for Christmas but he says he’ll probably be home around March 1.”