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Post-9/11 Service and the War on Terror: A Guide to Photo Collections in the Veterans History Project

Cristina A. Frisby

Cristina Frisby at time of military service

Unit: Bravo Company, 50th Main Support Battalion, 42nd Infantry Division; Army National Guard
Branch of Service: Army
War / Conflict: Iraq War, 2003-2011

"I had always wanted to be a combat soldier. I wanted to prove myself...I thought maybe if I went to Iraq I could help make a difference." (Audio interview, 30:03)

Cristina Frisby harbored lifelong dreams of serving in the military. She earned admission to the U.S. Naval Academy after high school in the late 1980s, but struggles with her sexual identity—compounded with a serious illness and extremely rigorous classwork—caused her to resign. Already emotionally drained from having to leave the Academy, she was then confronted with an official inquiry into her sexual orientation. This investigation caused her to believe she would never be accepted into the military, and she felt the agony of having her dream denied because of who she was, and because of her honesty in speaking about it.

Her dedication to military service was so strong, however, that she determined to join the California National Guard after the terrorist attacks of September 11, in the hopes that she could be of service to other soldiers deployed overseas. She became a wheeled vehicle mechanic, with the knowledge that as a female this was one of the likeliest routes into combat. Less than a month after finishing her individual training she was given orders to deploy to Iraq as a "filler" for a different National Guard unit. After several months of unit training at Fort Dix, she deployed in January 2005 to Camp Speicher, Iraq with Bravo Company, 50th Main Support Battalion, part of the 42nd Infantry Division-led Task Force Liberty. She was trained to operate recovery vehicles—essentially tactical tow trucks—and one of the riskiest jobs in convoy operations.

In Iraq, her battalion was responsible for running large logistics convoys—between 20 and 60 vehicles—over long distances between major U.S. bases. They traveled a great deal of the country, and endured a large number of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, sometimes followed by small-arms ambushes and secondary IEDs designed to kill those Americans who had dismounted in the "kill zone" near the blast. While the other vehicles in the convoy were trained to move away from the kill zone, Frisby and other recovery vehicle operators would go into the kill zone to recover the downed vehicle. Frisby had to do this multiple times over the course of her deployment, and thus learned quickly to work effectively under stress. This also meant that she saw first-hand the devastating effects of IEDs on American equipment and soldiers.

Frisby's collection provides an eyewitness view of the sights and stresses of convoy operations, as well as life on American camps in Iraq, local wildlife, and the bonds of friendship that were built by those who served there.

Behind the Wheel and Behind the Lens

Cristina Frisby's work as a recovery vehicle operator in Iraq meant that she saw a large portion of the country from the inside of her truck.

Frisby at the wheel of a military vehicle. 2005. Cristina A. Frisby Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Frisby with her camera inside a military vehicle. 2005. Cristina A. Frisby Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Convoy Operations

Frisby and her fellow soldiers were under no illusions of the dangers they faced on convoys: "we were a transportation company, so we knew going into it that we were going to see action. Most of the soldiers that are dying or getting injured are in convoys... we were getting into some really serious stuff, and we knew it." (Audio interview, 56:09)

Humvees on road, Iraq. 2005. Cristina A. Frisby Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Highway in Iraq. 2005. Cristina A. Frisby Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Frisby and two Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks (HEMTTs), Iraq. 2005. Cristina A. Frisby Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians prepare robot for deployment, Iraq. 2005. Cristina A. Frisby Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

In her oral history interview, Frisby estimated that her company was hit by an IED on about one out of every seven missions. She reflected on the stress that this uncertainty caused: "I think that's where our combat stress came from - every day knowing it could be us, but never really knowing when it was going to happen and who it was going to happen to." (Audio interview, 1:19:02) One soldier from their company was killed in action, as well as one from another unit that had joined one of their convoys, and many others were wounded.

Aftermath of an IED attack in Iraq. 2005. Cristina A. Frisby Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Humvee on fire, Iraq. 2005. Cristina A. Frisby Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Soldier behind vehicle, Iraq. 2005. Cristina A. Frisby Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Firefighters extract personnel from stricken vehicle, Iraq. 2005. Cristina A. Frisby Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Bravo Company only became outfitted with up-armored vehicles about halfway through their deployment, which Frisby recognized was fortunate for them as that was also when they started to encounter more IEDs. She expressed frustration, however, that many units were still traveling in unprotected vehicles: "that was tough to find out that other soldiers were traveling in equipment that was sub-standard." (Audio interview, 1:18:01)

Cristina Frisby was recognized by her peers as an excellent recovery driver, and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with "V" Device for her actions in responding to an IED attack on March 20, 2005. Reflecting on her deployment as a whole, she expressed a feeling of pride:

"I'm happy that I enlisted during a time of great need. I provided leadership when it was desperately needed, I did my job, and I fulfilled a lifetime desire to be a combat soldier - to go out and prove what I was worth out in the field under fire." (Audio interview, 40:20)

FOB Life

American bases in Iraq—often known as Forward Operating Bases, or FOBs—were places of refuge and respite for those who served there. They offered some, but not all, of the comforts of home, but they could also be places of tedium and anxiety. In her interview, Frisby recalled that she would normally go on convoy missions two or three times a week, meaning there was downtime between missions, which gave them a chance to recover, but also time to worry and to miss home.

Frisby in her living quarters at Camp Bernstein, Iraq. 2005. Cristina A. Frisby Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Sign for Bravo Company, 50th Main Support Battalion, Camp Bernstein, Iraq. 2005. Cristina A. Frisby Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Sights of Iraq

Frisby's duties in Iraq took her to some of the country's most iconic locales -- and also brought her face-to-face with some of its most iconic wildlife. 

View of minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra from the road, Iraq. 2005. Cristina A. Frisby Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Frisby on a camel, Iraq. 2005. Cristina A. Frisby Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

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