From the Frontlines: UT1 Micheal Damato

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jason Barebo
  • 509th bomb Wing Public Affairs
"What stood out most was the effort made by a group of Sailors from different Navy commands, different Navy jobs, Reserve and Active Duty. They were asked to integrate into the Army culture and perform one of the most important missions in Iraq. This mission was 24-7 where our guard force stood 12-hour watches, six days a week. It was a grind, and their performance was honorable."

The words of Utilitiesman 1st Class Michael Damato speak highly of the importance of his deployment to Camp Bucca, Iraq, June 2008 to July 2009.

Deployed from the Navy Reserve Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron 11, Detachment D, located here, Petty Officer Damato said there were some similarities to his home-station mission.

"We train to mobilize as a security detachment," he said. "Our mission is to provide light, mobile, short-duration point defense anti-terrorism and force protection forces for U.S. Navy ships, aircraft and other high-value assets in locations where U.S. or host-nation security infrastructure is either inadequate or does not exist."

Petty Officer Damato's year-long deployment was an Individual Augmentee assignment. The USN pulls individuals from various commands around the world and forms a battalion.

After two months of Army Immersion training at Fort Dix, NJ, his newly formed battalion, Navy Provisional Detainee Battalion 5, was assigned to assist the U.S. Army in the care, custody and control of radical, and often notorious, extremists captured in Iraq, according to Petty Officer Damato.

"It was a real eye-opener," the Omaha, Neb., native said. "The U.S. military hasn't really conducted any kind of detainee or prisoner-of-war operations on a scale this size since WWII."

Camp Bucca housed more than 30,000 detainees during his deployment.

While deployed, the father of four and grandfather of six children, held two positions at Camp Bucca.

"I was assigned as the Intelligence officer for a compound that housed 1,000 extremists and was responsible for active and passive solicitation of intelligence in direct execution of counter-insurgency objectives," said Petty Officer Damato.

"Additionally, I served as the lead petty officer responsible for integrating two 75-man watch teams to ensure consistency in the application of standard operating procedures and effectively communicating issues that arose during the watch," he said.

Formerly located in the southern desert of Iraq, Camp Bucca reminded Petty Officer Damato of Alcatraz due to its surroundings of desert with extreme heat, humidity, wind and rain.

"The effort to deal with extremists collected on the battle field, often from other countries, proved to be a highly stressful operation," he said. "Because of the heightened concern over the treatment of detainees, pressure to do everything right caused everyone to walk a very fine line."

In addition to the detainees, Petty Officer Damato also worked with and helped train three Iraqi interpreters and members of the Iraqi Guard Force, who were assigned to assist with the mission and take over when U.S. forces withdrew.

Known as Pappy to those he serves with, the 52-year-old Navy Reservist said this recent deployment was the highlight of his Navy career.

"My children think I am nuts for going on these deployments, my grandkids think I am cool," he said. "My wife has been very supportive of me which makes it possible for me to be successful.

"I have no problem keeping up with the rigorous physical demands of serving my country and consider myself very lucky to be able to do what I do, especially when compared to my high school friends who are ready to retire," he added. "They think I am nuts too."