By Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, Nov. 5, 2008
One would think that with all the hats a camp sheriff has to wear, at least one of them would be a cowboy hat.
But the only headgear Army 1st Sgt. Willoughby Mercer wears around here is a patrol cap; all his other hats are tipped to the servicemembers living on Camp Victory.
[caption id="attachment_3112" align="alignleft" width="167"] Army 1st Sgt. Willoughby Mercer of Aberdeen, Md., is the Camp Victory sheriff and noncommissioned officer in charge of the mayor cell on Camp Victory, Iraq. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret[/caption]
"Everybody wants you when you're the man out there that can get things done," said Mercer, a native of Philadelphia. "My position facilitates a lot of the open doors for things to happen, to where €¦ [the mayor cell can] run just like a city hall. In our cell, we have every branch that deals with just about everything in this area."
The mayor cell oversees public works, maintenance, security and more. It operates around the clock, and it enables the camp to do the same."Everybody wants you when you're the man out there that can get things done," said Mercer, a native of Philadelphia. "My position facilitates a lot of the open doors for things to happen, to where €¦ [the mayor cell can] run just like a city hall. In our cell, we have every branch that deals with just about everything in this area."
"We are the central nervous system to what's going on on a daily basis, and to me what's so gratifying is €¦ when I'm able to resolve an issue €¦ to where there's a level of satisfaction," Mercer said.
As the camp sheriff, Mercer taps into all kinds of issues to maintain good life on the base: from parking matters and living conditions to traffic violations and force protection. He also enforces safety regulations, camp policies and spreading of information. He also helps with Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs and activities. In fact, as a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, Mercer teaches classes to soldiers interested in learning the martial art.
His job in Iraq keeps him busy, but it isn't a position he finds overwhelming, Mercer said.
"Serving in this capacity is not anything new to me," he said. "Being [a military policeman] for 26 years, I've dealt with clientele from all ranks, all branches [and] different organizations," said Mercer, who now lives in Aberdeen, Md.
For the past 10 years, Mercer has served as a first sergeant in the Army Reserve. Ever since joining the Reserve, Mercer also has worked as a police officer in the civilian world. Just before deploying, he worked as a detective in Baltimore for the Maryland state attorney's office.
"Taking those attributes from that job and applying them over here after the years of service I've been an MP, it has helped tremendously," he said, "because I have more of an open demeanor in dealing with people. Some people don't, and they get €˜short' real quick. €¦ I see myself being able to talk to anyone and anybody about anything."
Luckily, Mercer said, his position as sheriff has been more like that of a firefighter than that of a law enforcer.
"You do put out those little fires before they become big fires, or you help facilitate them staying little," he said.
Such fires are not the ones that can occur in soldiers' housing units €“ those he intends on preventing altogether, he said €“ but rather, he tries to put out complaints by soldiers so they don't become bigger issues: neighbors being too loud, soldiers taking long showers that cause the hot water to run out, people parking in spots that block traffic. The list can go on and on, he said.
But although the chore of quelling problems can be tedious, Mercer said, he finds satisfaction in the work.
"I take it to heart," he said. "I understand the responsibility behind it."
He also understands he cannot do it all on his own.
"I don't do it myself. I'm only as good as the people that are here, and because they put forth the extra effort and I support them in everything they do here," he said of a group he barely knew before his deployment.
Mercer originally was supposed to deploy with another MP company, he explained, but since the unit they were filling already had a first sergeant and commander, he didn't go. Instead, he was told he had been selected for a sergeant major position to deploy with the 2145th Garrison Support Unit out of Nashville, Tenn. Roughly 80 percent of the unit's members had been cross-leveled to fill specific positions, he said, but he added he immediately felt comfortable with them.
"What was so surprising about that -- after talking and congregating and getting to know one another and talk about your history and background -- I realized that there [were] no egos. People didn't jump out and say, €˜Oh, I'm all this, all that.' We just started to jell together as the group."
Now this very group handles the issues of everyday life of a camp with the population of a small town. And it's doing it well, Mercer said, adding that his crew could walk into any city and get the job done there.
"I think we've done a hell of a job," he said. "We're going to continue doing it until the day we leave out of here. Hopefully, we leave a good footprint for our successors, to say, €˜We started the ball rolling. It's your turn.'"
(Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret serves in the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)
Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org
By Linda Hosek
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 4, 2008
A Navy Web site showing midshipmen crawling through mud and carrying rifles was all Lauren Reisinger needed to see to set her military future in motion.
Then a high school sophomore and now a Marine midshipman, Reisinger couldn't have predicted the extreme pain of her first five-mile "hump" or the absolute thrill of graduating No. 1 in her Marine Corps ROTC class and receiving the top awards for leadership, military knowledge and physical fitness.
[caption id="attachment_3118" align="alignleft" width="177"] Marine Midshipman 1st Class Lauren Reisinger stands in dress uniform during a visit to her home in Marin County, Calif., June, 29, 2008. Reisinger is on a leave of absence while she attends the University of Jordan on a Defense Department scholarship to study the Arabic culture and language. She is holding a Mameluke sword with her name engraved on it, which she received in connection with the Professor of Military Science Award, the highest honor given to one midshipman each year. Courtesy photo[/caption]
She also couldn't have predicted where she would be now: spending a year abroad at the University of Jordan to pursue Middle Eastern studies and Arabic, thanks to a Defense Department scholarship for tuition.
But that's the future that lay ahead in 2004 when Reisinger applied for a full ROTC scholarship at Drexel University and selected the Marines €“ not knowing exactly why.
"I chose to check the €˜USMC' box simply because something in my heart told me I should," she said. "That simple choice has made an immense impact on the rest of my life."But that's the future that lay ahead in 2004 when Reisinger applied for a full ROTC scholarship at Drexel University and selected the Marines €“ not knowing exactly why.
Now 22, Reisinger is close to completing these phases of her academic and military training. In May, she will receive a degree from Drexel in international studies with minors in Arabic and world politics. In June, she will earn her commission and be sworn in as a second lieutenant.
From there, she sees a career with the Marines €“ or one that could go in a variety of directions, depending on what drives her at the moment.
"For years, I have dreamt of being the secretary of state, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a senator, a foreign ambassador or even in my wildest dreams I have imagined myself as president," she said.
A 'Black Sheep's' Background
While the military seems like a perfect fit for Reisinger, she had to forge it by herself, leaving the comfort zone of her life in Marin County, a northern California area she describes as "extremely sheltered, wealthy and liberal" and that local people refer to as the "Marin bubble."
"Within my family, I am somewhat of a €˜black sheep,'" she said. "Of the four children, I am the only one to join the military, go to college outside of Northern California, not be a die-hard, very left-wing liberal, live in the Middle East and want to pursue a political career. My siblings support what I do, although they don't understand where I get my drive from and don't identify with my choices."
In fact, most people tried to talk her out of it, she said.
No chance of that for a person as focused and self-aware as Reisinger, going back to when she saw those pictures of midshipmen crawling through the mud as a high school sophomore. Shortly after, she set out to sink her own feet into military life by applying for a summer seminar at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., before her senior year €“ and got it.
"I felt like I was in my element for the first time," she said. "The military atmosphere made me come alive, and I just knew that I was destined to be an officer."
Reisinger did so well that summer she received congressional nominations to both the Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. She also filled out an ROTC application, saying she didn't really know what it was €“ only that "it was something military."
When it came time to make decisions, she said, she relied on a gut feeling. She chose Marine Corps ROTC over Naval Academy Prep School and launched her academic and military life on the campus of Drexel University in Philadelphia.
As a freshman, she decided to concentrate on the Middle East and take Arabic, thinking she could use her language skills in the Marine Corps and later at the State Department or CIA.
"I became completely intrigued with not only the language, but the culture, religion and history of the Middle East as well," said Reisinger, who arrived in the military with considerable cultural exposure. To date she's traveled to 27 countries, and every continent except Antarctica.
Proving 'Them' Wrong
Then there was the ROTC challenge €“ one she wasn't always sure she could hack.
"When I began ROTC, I was probably one of the worst in my class," she said. "I obviously knew the least about the military, [and] wasn't accustomed to the rigorous physical training or demanding military lifestyle. €¦ It didn't help that I was the only female Marine in my freshman class. Many of my upperclassmen thought I wouldn't make it through [that year], but I was determined to prove them wrong."
The hardest moment came the second weekend during a field exercise to Fort Dix, N.J., that started with a five-mile "hump," or speed walk €“ something she had never done. She carried a 40-pound pack and wore boots two sizes too large because there weren't any that fit her.
It was unmitigated misery from the beginning, she recalled, and she fell behind.
"I remember my back aching under the weight and pressure of the pack," she said. "My legs ached from the unusually wide strides. My arms were going numb, because the weight of the straps on my shoulders was so heavy it cut off blood flow. But the worst of all, my feet were rubbed raw from the new, oversized boots."
Following in a van was a gunnery sergeant she described as the "scariest force" she had ever experienced, even though she knew it was his job to toughen her up.
"I remember him yelling at me: €˜Hey, Blondie! What's someone like you doing in my Marine Corps?'"
He ordered her to catch up. When the "hump" ended, it was only 9 a.m., with the rest of the day ahead of her.
"I felt as though I might die," she said. But she stuck with the exercise until it was over, when she collapsed into bed, unable to move for a full day. "After that," she said, "I made it my mission to get into shape."
And she did €“ with help from the same gunnery sergeant who had terrified her. She worked out in the gym for up to two hours a day on top of regular training €“ and it paid off with high fitness scores and awards.
Rising to the Top
She applied that same focus to all her ROTC activities to prove herself and pull ahead.
"I never once slept in, always showed up with my uniform perfectly ironed, volunteered for everything, attended all extra optional evolutions and was easily the best in my class when it came to memorizing the military knowledge," she said. "It took several months for all of these traits to show through, but once they did, I could tell that other midshipmen began to respect me and realize that I was a dedicated, committed, strong-willed person who was not going to accept failure."
Reisinger also used her summers to absorb military experiences to make her more knowledgeable about the big picture. She spent a week on a destroyer ship, a week on a nuclear submarine, a week in aviation and a week in infantry training. She also attended Mountain Warfare School and Officer Candidate School.
As respect for her grew, she was chosen as the battalion commander, making her the highest-ranking midshipman. With that came the freedom to pick the brains of officers about leadership and to attend officer staff meetings.
"My passion for leadership began at a young age when I was always selected as team captain, was editor of the yearbook and was a class officer all four years of high school," she said. "The military has taken that passion and given me a set of skills to develop my natural ability to lead."
After four years, the once "weakest link" graduated at the top of her ROTC unit. For that, she earned the Professor of Military Science Award, which comes with a Mameluke sword with her name engraved on it. She also received national recognition, including the Dr. Sidney Ross Young American Award, the Military Officers Association of America Award and the National Defense Industrial Association's ROTC award.
Back on the academic side, Reisinger said, she wanted to commit herself to learning the Arabic language and believed she needed to immerse herself in Arabic culture. She proposed a fifth year of study at the University of Jordan €“ and it was approved, along with a $49,205 scholarship from the Defense Department for tuition. She's been there since late July and lives on a short leash with a family that monitors her friends, wardrobe and actions.
Despite the restrictions she feels as a woman, she said, she values the cultural and political exchanges she has had with Arabs. "I absolutely love representing the USA and feel like I have [had] a positive influence," she said.
She added that she also hopes to have a positive influence on the world stage after she leaves Jordan €“ first as a Marine Corps officer and later as a politician. She knows exactly where to place the credit for her successes.
"After my parents, the Marine Corps has had the most influence on my life," she said. "The military makes me a stronger, sharper, harder and even more driven person than I would be otherwise."
Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org
By Army Sgt. David Hodge
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE FALCON, Iraq, Nov. 3, 2008
The logistics world in the Army can seem overwhelming to many soldiers, with different sections and platoons operating independently and in conjunction with multiple units on the ground.
[caption id="attachment_3124" align="alignleft" width="250"] Army Capt. John Friel, assigned to Multinational Division Baghdad as commander of the 4th Infantry Division's Company A, 4th Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, takes a break from work, Oct. 30, 2008, at Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David Hodge.[/caption]
At this base in southern Baghdad's Rashid district, Army Capt. John Friel, commander of the 4th Infantry Division's Company A, 4th Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, Multinational Division Baghdad, makes sense of it all.
Company A provides logistical support to all units operating in the 1st Brigade Combat Team's area of operations, said Friel, who hails from Warrensburg, Mo. The company also provides personnel and equipment for combat logistics patrols and fulfills force-protection requirements.At this base in southern Baghdad's Rashid district, Army Capt. John Friel, commander of the 4th Infantry Division's Company A, 4th Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, Multinational Division Baghdad, makes sense of it all.
"We operate the fuel system supply point to provide bulk fuel to all maneuver units and contractors," Friel explained. "Also, the soldiers deliver water to the combat outposts and joint security stations throughout the Rashid district."
The "Anacondas" also are responsible for the forward operating base's ammunition holding area, the supply-support activity yard, and the system that produces potable water for showers and other uses across the base.
The water-purification system has produced close to a million gallons of water since the company arrived in Iraq, Friel said. "It's a very dynamic mission for us on FOB Falcon," the 12-year Army veteran added.
In addition to the missions on the base, the Anacondas also provide convoy security for detainee-related missions, Friel said.
Army 1st Lt. Anna Glandorf, executive officer of the battalion's Company C, described Friel as a great logistician who puts a lot of faith into his platoon leaders and platoon sergeants.
"Each platoon has a completely separate mission," said Glandorf, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich. "Captain Friel gives them enough room to execute the mission while still providing oversight."
Friel, whose father served as an Army major in operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, enlisted in 1992 as a crew member for the Multiple Launch Rocket System. While stationed in Babenhausen, Germany, with the 41st Fires Brigade, Friel met and married his wife, Ellen, a German citizen, in 1995.
[caption id="attachment_3125" align="alignleft" width="88"] Army Capt. John Friel, assigned to Multinational Division Baghdad as commander of the 4th Infantry Division's Company A, 4th Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, stands in front of his headquarters, Oct. 30, 2008, at Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David Hodge[/caption]
Friel separated from the Army to attend college at Central Missouri State University and re-entered the Army as an officer in the Transportation Corps branch. He has commanded Company A for about 20 months, and afterward he will branch out to a functional area, as many officers do, he said.
Friel was recently selected to be a foreign-area officer for his next Army assignment. FAOs act as liaisons between foreign governments and militaries and the U.S. government, he explained. Since he lived in Germany with his military family as a boy and married a German citizen, Friel selected Western Europe as his area of concentration while learning his FAO responsibilities.
"I have a pretty good background in the German language," Friel said. He will attend the Defense Language Institute after his deployment to study German further.Friel was recently selected to be a foreign-area officer for his next Army assignment. FAOs act as liaisons between foreign governments and militaries and the U.S. government, he explained. Since he lived in Germany with his military family as a boy and married a German citizen, Friel selected Western Europe as his area of concentration while learning his FAO responsibilities.
Friel said he is very proud to be selected to represent the Army and the United States on an international level in Germany.
"Ellen looks forward to going back home to Germany again," he said. "She is happy with everything we've done in the Army."
(Army Sgt. David Hodge serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)
Distributed by SupportOurTroops.Org
The Iowa Jaycees recently took part in a state-wide challenge to collect phone cards to be given to military personnel stationed overseas. The state's original goal was to collect 5000 minutes worth of phone cards. At the October All State Convention, chapters turned in an astounding 8500 minutes. A small idea, and a little effort led to a HUGE impact on our soldiers from Iowa.
The Iowa Jaycees took on this challenge with great enthusiasm since many chapters have members that are currently deployed or have friends and family members that are serving overseas. Chapters saw this as a great opportunity to help the thousands of troops currently overseas. These brave men and women are away from their loved ones for 14-18 months at a time and the JCs wanted to do something to help make this time a little easier on the soldiers as well as their families.
In addition to chapters collections, the Iowa Jaycees raised minutes during the weekend of their Annual Meeting. Members caught using their cell phones throughout the weekend, were fined 1 military minute donation. Members could buy insurance, allowing them full use of their cell phone for the weekend, for a 10 minute donation.
Heather Foley of the Iowa National Guard was on hand Sunday morning of All State to receive the cards which she made sure to distribute to Iowa National Guard Troops that would be deployed in the near future. Other cards yet to be collected will be sent to JC members, family and friends that are currently stationed overseas.
(This item is posted as part of the Cooperating Partnership between the Jaycees and SupportOurTroops.Org, working for the benefit of the active duty troops and the families.)
By Army Spc. Justin Snyder
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, Nov. 17, 2008
Army Sgt. 1st Class Twillie Curry had long since traded his aspirations of becoming a professional football player to follow another dream €“ becoming a soldier.
But when a special visitor stopped by the 619th Contingency Contracting office here Nov. 7, Curry, a contracting officer, couldn't help but recall his high school glory days.
[caption id="attachment_3064" align="alignleft" width="250"] Sgt. 1st Class Twillie Curry, left, reminisces with Keith Elias, retired New York Giant and Indianapolis Colt football player, a morale booster trip. Elias and Curry both played high school football in the same area of New Jersey at the same time. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Justin Snyder[/caption]
While some soldiers knew of Keith Elias as a former professional football player who once played for the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts, Curry had a closer association.
Curry and Elias both played high school football in New Jersey at the same time.While some soldiers knew of Keith Elias as a former professional football player who once played for the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts, Curry had a closer association.
"Keith played for Lacey Township, another team in our area, and he was an all-state running back," said Curry, a Cliffwood, N.J., native. "His team went undefeated also, along with four other teams. We were state champions, but I wished we could've had a playoff amongst the teams from the other conferences."
The players never met on the playing field, but Curry kept up with Elias' career.
"To see a guy like Sgt. 1st Class Curry, who grew up playing football in the same area as me, it shows that it really is a small world out there," said Elias, who was visiting the soldiers as part of a tour sponsored by a faith-based organization.
Curry went on to college football and played in his freshman year, but said he was more interested in seeing the world. That quest led him to join the Army in 1990.
Even after enlisting in the Army, Curry still held on to some of his professional football aspirations.
"While at my first duty station in Germany, I wrote a letter to the Frankfurt Galaxy asking for a tryout," Curry said, referring to the semi-pro football team. "I wanted one last shot at playing football."
The team wrote back to him, but he was conducting field training and never made it to the tryout. His dream of being a professional football player was over.
But Curry had already embarked on a new dream, one that he is still living 18 years later -- the Army. He said he has no regrets, noting that football gave him important attributes like mental toughness, teamwork and discipline, that helped him along his Army career.
"One of my assignments was as an instructor at Fort Lee (Va.), and I served as a teacher for a lot of young soldiers," Curry said. Above anything I have ever done in football, I got to share my knowledge and help guide young soldiers.
"I had soldiers come back to me down the road and tell me that I helped them in their career path, and they remembered the things I taught them," he said. "It made me proud to know I made a difference, and I'm proud to be serving my country."
(Army Spc. Justin Snyder serves in the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office)
Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org
Jaycees "Coalition for the Willing"-Danville, IL, July 5, 2008 -In a time when the media claims Americans are tired of hearing about the war in Iraq, yet yellow magnetic ribbons saying Support Our Troops® are as common to see on a car as license plates, the Danville Jaycees took up the mantel of responsibility to honor the hardest working and most under-appreciated individuals in the greatest of all nations on Earth. The troops!
With their project " Coalition for the Willing" playing on the words of this nation's leaders and chaired by U.S. Army veteran R. Kenny Smith Jr., the Jaycees stood on street corners to solicit funds, sold ad space for flyers, and ran a spaghetti dinner featuring guest speaker Marty Conaster, the National Commander of the American Legion. The Danville Jaycees set out to pay for a plane ticket home for one local soldier during the Christmas holidays. This project reached all it goals, and some by three fold, and got coverage on several television news stations. This project raised community awareness of the organization, gave relief were relief was needed, and the members managed to raised almost $2,300.00 cash plus $1,500.00 in-kind via services and discounts. The Danville Jaycees currently have committed to pay for two privates from the U.S. Army to come home during the upcoming 2008 Christmas Season. Plans are also underway to pay for a third soldier to come home after he returns from his third tour in Iraq in Summer of 2009. Great work Jaycees!
The Jaycees are a Cooperating Partner of SupportOurTroops.Org