Taji troops help defend wetland habitats
June 30, 2009
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - Soldiers in one Pennsylvania Army National Guard company, here, have been "enlisting" over the past week in an effort to preserve stateside wetlands - for the benefit of wildlife and people.
A group 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team Soldiers formed Ducks Unlimited's first chapter in Iraq with a June 13 cookout and charter meeting. Those first Camp Taji DU members have continued to sign up more new members for the waterfowl conservation organization since then. About 35 Soldiers have joined the rolls of the Camp Taji, Iraq Chapter of Ducks Unlimited since the kickoff cookout.
The idea for an Iraq chapter started with a longtime DU member who is serving here with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry, 56th SBCT.
Sgt. John Chrzanowski, 57, of Erie, Pa. said the first annual meeting of the newest DU chapter offered the camaraderie of hunters hanging out together and sharing stories while deployed far from the nearest duck blind or deer stand.
"It took us to a happy place for a while," said Chrzanowski. "I just think it's unique to raise money for Ducks Unlimited while we're here. It's something that links us to home."
Chrzanowski, chairman of Lake Erie Chapter of Ducks Unlimited, said he expects more Soldiers will join the Taji chapter as word spreads. He explained that the path to an Iraq chapter began when he posted a request online for barbecue supplies to cook out for fellow Soldiers, a frequent morale builder in country.
Chrzanowski was inundated with supplies from DU members from across the U.S. He decided to use those supplies, which included DU hats and hunting knives as well as Ducks Unlimited cooking seasonings, as gifts to new members at a charter meeting held behind the battalion's headquarters building.
"People just started sending me boxes of stuff," Chrzanowski said.
Known as "D.J."- he runs a disc jockey business back in Pennsylvania, Chrzanowski says his schedule allows him to hunt frequently in the fall months. His duck hunting gear includes four boats "and about 4,500 decoys."
Chrzanowski has been hunting ducks since 1967 and has been a member of Ducks Unlimited since 1979. Chrzanowski said he joined DU because he didn't want up and coming water fowl hunters to see the sport shrink because of loss of habitat. Chrzanowski gave a brief overview of the DU organization prior to the start of the meal.
"DU uses 92 cents of every dollar they make for buying wetlands," Chrzanowski said. "Only eight cents of every dollar is used for administration.
They buy wetlands from Canada to Mexico. Most of the members are hunters but those wetlands are available to anybody to use."
He told the new members they can work with their local DU chapter back home, upon redeployment, while retaining their Camp Taji identity.
"You can renew as a member of the Iraq chapter," Chrzanowski said. "We will always be together as a group."
In a brief election prior to a meal of grilled steaks and ribs, the group of Soldiers elected Chrzanowski as chairman of the Taji chapter and elected 1st Lt. Stephen Murphy, of Grove City, Pa., as treasurer.
"I've been duck hunting for a couple of years," Murphy, a new DU member, said. "I talk to [Chrzanowski] back home all the time, at drill weekend."
Murphy was the only nominee for treasurer in the friendly election, being nominated by Chrzanowski who gave the endorsement that Murphy "is good with spreadsheets" and therefore a good choice.
"I'm a big duck and goose hunter," said Spc. Lesley Schneider, another new member, adding that she hunts mostly in the Erie area but would like to take a hunting trip out west.
Sgt. Gregory Reigle of Lewisberry, Pa. another HHC Soldier, said he paid the $25 membership for two reasons - the uniqueness of "enlisting" in Iraq and to benefit his sons.
"I have two young boys who are interested in hunting and I'm always looking for hunting opportunities for them," Reigle said.
Reigle said he and his sons, age 14 and 18, hunt deer, turkey and squirrels together.
"We're going to get more information on where to hunt ducks and get hooked up, hopefully," Reigle said.
The 56th SBCT mobilized in September and arrived in Iraq in late January, after several months of training in Mississippi and Louisiana. The unit will be deployed through late summer. Headquartered in Philadelphia, the brigade includes Soldiers from armories across Pennsylvania.