Little Earns Bronze Star

WHEELING — There are nearly 20,000 ”irate” detainees at Camp Bucca in Southeast Iraq, according to Master Chief Petty Officer Mark Thomas Little. In August 2006, many set fire to the huts in which they were being held.

It was Little’s job to direct the troops and halt the uprising.

Now the 47-year-old Wheeling native has learned his actions as battle captain that day will earn him a Bronze Star.

”I am being awarded for coordinating masses of troops under very stressful conditions during mass rioting,” he said. ”They were burning their living shelters. It was a very dangerous situation.

“I had to point and direct troops to the right place in a bad situation.”

Little spent 18 months stationed at Camp Bucca — leaving the States on May 1, 2006, and returning just last month.

Prior to his most recent tour of duty, Little had no training in detainee operations. He had spent 25 years in the military, including eight years as an active duty soldier and the remainder in the Naval Reserves. Little’s training had been in aircraft maintenance; his civilian job was as an airplane mechanic for ABX Air in Greenfield, Ohio.

But the U.S. military needed soldiers to guard Camp Bucca as more and more detainees were being transferred there from the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Little said Camp Bucca is now the world’s largest internment facility.

”The Navy volunteered us,” Little said. ”They blindly picked reserves, active duty — it didn’t matter. They completely retrained us. We were trained in urban operations and detainee operations.”

Little is originally from Wheeling and lived in Mozart most of his life. He is a graduate of John Marshall High School.

Little’s mother is Angela McAfee of Wheeling.

He now lives in Greenfield, Ohio, with his wife Brenda. The couple has a son — Blake, 25 — and two daughters — Ginna, 17, and Natalie, 10.

Little also has two grandchildren, one of whom was born while he was in Iraq.

He said he received a little help from friends and co-workers while he was overseas. Often they would stop by his home to check on his family.

”They did minor maintenance at the house while I was gone,” Little said. ”It was comforting for someone like me over there to know that someone was looking after my family.”

He also is thankful to friends and family back in the Wheeling area for the support they showed him.

”I got a lot of great care packages,” Little said. ”I got deer jerky, coffee — things you wouldn’t expect to see in Iraq. Receiving packages like that meant everything in the world.”

Always the soldier, Little said he would return to the Middle East if needed — but he really doesn’t want to go back.

”I’ve got 25 years in,” he noted. ”I could go if they needed me to, but I hope they don’t. I’m not excited to go back soon.

”If asked, I would go back — begrudgingly, I would go back.”

A soldier always want to do as the president directs them to do, according to Little.

”Every soldier there is highly motivated to do that,” he said. ”We believe we’re there for a good purpose and that we’re doing good for a nation that needs some good done.

”I pride myself on the service I’ve given,” he added. “To know that people back home love me and support me made a difference. I want them to know that.”