Ronnie Mayberry Sr.’s time in Iraq can be told in numbers. He serviced 1,500 to 2,000 trucks daily, supplying a total of 13.4 million gallons of petroleum, while wearing 50 to 80 pounds of gear in 140 degree weather.
In February 2003, Mayberry, a Yale grounds maintenance employee who drives sanitation trucks, was called into service by the United States Army Reserve. Mayberry was sent to Annyasaria, a small town 20 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq, and after a year and a half of service there, he returned to the states last spring and resumed his position at Yale this fall.
Mayberry, the master sergeant of 439 Quarter Master Company, said his unit was initially told it would serve in a war zone for six months, but that became nine months, and then a year. While Mayberry said he found the uncertainty of his return discouraging and would not voluntarily return to Iraq, he said he believes the war was justified.
“As a soldier I am taught to obey words and carry them out to the fullest,” Mayberry said. “As an individual, my perspective is that we as soldiers were there for a just cause, to help the Shiites and the Kerbs, to rid them of the harsh way of life under Saddam Hussein.”
The unexpected extension in his tour of duty caused logistical problems at Yale. Grounds maintenance supervisor Walter Debolli said Yale hired a temporary employee on a renewable 90-day basis to fill the gap.
“Our concern was that he doesn’t have to worry about coming home to a job,” Debolli said. “He was an intrinsic part of an operation. We hired someone temporarily because we didn’t know how long he’d be there.”
Mayberry’s unit was stationed in Southern Iraq, an area populated by Shiites repressed under Saddam Hussein’s regime, Mayberry said. While the soldiers were not allowed to communicate with the Shiites, they would toss water bottles to the Shiites and donated care packages to the local orphanage, Mayberry said.
Though his unit occupied an area which was largely sympathetic, there was widespread fear of chemical weapons such as nerve gas, Mayberry said. Fear and substandard living conditions initially contributed to low morale among soldiers in his company, but it was the government’s failed assurances about their term of duty that caused the most dissent, Mayberry said.
“The living conditions were substandard,” he said. “We had no regular plumbing, no running water. We lived like the Shiites there. A lot of soldiers had a morale problem at one point. People just didn’t know when they were going home. They started writing home for help.”
Mayberry blamed the situation on a shortage of people for active duty. But, in spite of some lows, he said, the troops remained loyal.
“For the most part everyone was willing to serve their country,” he said.
Despite his patriotism and willingness to serve his country, Mayberry said he registered for the Army Reserve for the chance for a free education.
“If he’d had the opportunities that you and I have had, he’d be doing much more than his job at Yale,” longtime friend David Lesser said. “Not that he doesn’t do it with extraordinary nobility.”