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Soldier Comes Full-Circle With Latest Deployment

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Brent Williams Special to American Forces Press Service FORWARD OPERATING BASE FALCON, Iraq, Nov. 14, 2008 The senior noncommissioned officer of the fire effects and coordination cell for the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team in Multinational Division Baghdad began his mission almost immediately upon arriving at this base in southern Baghdad's Rashid district in March. Currently serving as a special projects manager specializing in force protection for the brigade, Army Master Sgt. Craig Wagner, a forward observer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, has come full circle with a career that has spanned operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm to three deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. [caption id="attachment_3073" align="alignleft" width="169"]fod_comes_full_circle_01_26_09 Army Master Sgt. Craig Wagner, a forward observer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Multinational Division Baghdad, is a veteran of operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and is serving his third combat deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brent Williams[/caption] When Wagner joined the Army in 1988 as a cannon crewmember, Saddam Hussein had the third-largest army in the world. Stationed with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, part of the 7th Corps Cavalry Regiment, Wagner's duties as a driver and loader -- the No. 1 cannoneer of an M109 Howitzer -- earned him a deployment to Saudi Arabia for the initial push to liberate Kuwait from Iraq's incursion. Wagner said he remembers arriving to his unit in Bamberg, Germany, where every sock was rolled tight and arranged perfectly in his locker's drawer. The floor was like glass, and the room was neat. Soldiers wore their uniforms fresh and starched. Boots were spit-shined to perfection, and haircuts were tight. Everything was squared away.When Wagner joined the Army in 1988 as a cannon crewmember, Saddam Hussein had the third-largest army in the world. Stationed with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, part of the 7th Corps Cavalry Regiment, Wagner's duties as a driver and loader -- the No. 1 cannoneer of an M109 Howitzer -- earned him a deployment to Saudi Arabia for the initial push to liberate Kuwait from Iraq's incursion. At the turn of the Cold War, the soldiers of the 7th Corps' Cavalry Regiment served as the eyes and ears of the corps commander, Wagner said, providing surveillance and security on Germany's border with what was then Czechoslovakia. The mission kept the soldiers in a constant state of combat readiness, he said, and when alerted, the units reported, loaded their gear and went out the gate to take up defensive positions. "We were always ready to go to fight the Russians on the East German border, but we never even thought about packing up and going somewhere else," said Wagner, who grew up in Santa Rosa, Calif., and still calls it home. Within days, the soldiers deployed to Saudi Arabia, where for the next several months, the unit trained and prepared its equipment, awaiting orders in the middle of the desert to drive the Iraqi army from Kuwait. "We flew into Saudi Arabia, waited for ships to arrive with gear and vehicles, loaded up and moved out," Wagner said. The unit was in the port for only a week or so when it assumed positions in the desert along the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. Accustomed to facing off against East Germany and Russian forces across the Czech border, Wagner recalled, U.S. soldiers were curious as to the capabilities of the Iraqi's Soviet equipment that they had learned to respect as the enemy. "We were staring across the border at them staring at us," Wagner said. "All the stuff that they had, we were worried that if we got into a fight, the Soviets would scuff us up really bad. We knew that we were going up against forces a lot bigger than ours. I knew our equipment was good, but I didn't know that it was going to be that overwhelming of a difference, because the Iraqi forces were using all Soviet equipment." The size of the regiment, with its attached elements, was roughly the size of a modern brigade combat team, Wagner said. The unit deployed with three maneuver squadrons, each composed of three cavalry troops made up of scouts, tankers and mortar platoons. Each squadron also had a tank company and an artillery battery, and a forward support squadron and air command squadron completed the regimental force of about 5,000 soldiers. "Our training was really good; it was top-notch," Wagner said. "When we finally got the word to go, the superiority of our weapons systems and training, compared to theirs, they didn't have a chance." Removing the guard towers and breaching the 25-foot berm that lined Iraq's border, the reconnaissance element assumed a wedge formation and tore north to cut off retreating Iraqi forces before they could return to their bases. The regiment earned the opportunity to test its mettle in the Battle of the 73rd Easting, the biggest battle of the Gulf War and the biggest tank battle since World War II, Wagner said. "Our jobs were to €¦ make contact with the enemy; so we did," he said. "Meanwhile, 1st Infantry and 1st Armored divisions were supposed to come up and relieve us, and 12 hours later, they did a relief-in-place with us. They did a forward passage of lines while we were still engaging with the enemy. They did it without any fratricide, and that was impressive." By the time reinforcements linked up with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Wagner said, he had shot 100 missions, each consisting of loading one to six 155 mm artillery rounds onto load trays, sliding the round into the cannon, applying powder and prime and waiting for the section sergeant's signal to fire. "So the enemy was retreating, trying to get through us to get back to Iraq," he recalled. "We were blocking their return route." The reconnaissance unit was never supposed to go toe-to-toe with the brigade-sized Iraqi element, but the troops were ready to fight, Wagner said. "We had to disengage after running out of ammunition," he added. Operation Desert Storm culminated with four days of fighting for U.S. forces after six months of living on tracked vehicles in the middle of the Saudi desert, Wagner said. "The fight will always be with me," he said. "We were pretty well-prepared and well-trained. We were experts at our weapons systems." In the years that followed, Wagner became a forward observer and eventually reported for duty with the 4th Infantry Division's 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery, 1st Brigade, at Fort Carson, Colo. Throughout his career, he worked in a variety of positions, from leader to trainer, eventually returning to the Raider Brigade, which was part of Task Force 21, the mission to modernize the Army's command and control systems used on today's battlefield. Despite the many changes he's seen in the Army during the past two decades, "soldiering" remains the one consistent force, Wagner said. "By definition, a veteran is somebody who has been to a combat zone and served their country in a time of war," said Army Sgt. Gary Bixler, a forward observer here. "By definition, Master Sergeant Wagner is a veteran - on his third deployment, plus all the deployments he is not getting credit for. That is a notable thing, to be in for 20 years and still going. Bixler, a 22-year old native of Hannibal, N.Y., said his goal is to lead soldiers, and that he's seen the best and worst of the Army during two combat tours to Iraq. He credits Wagner with showing him what it means to be an NCO from the first day that he arrived to the unit and went under the senior NCO's wing in 2005. "When I came in the Army, I had never seen the real world, and without his influence, I wouldn't be who I am today," Bixler said. Bixler added that Wagner's pride, professionalism and proficiency in getting the job done -- while still being old-fashioned in some ways -- helped prepare him for his area-denial and counter-fire missions, in which he peppers known points of origin to eliminate the enemy's indirect fire. "How could we expect to come over here and not learn anything from people who have been there and done that?" Bixler asked. "It gives me something to look up to; he's seen a lot in his time, and I have learned a lot from him." Wagner said he believes the Raider Brigade saw significant success in securing its area of operations because the brigade took the offensive early from the combat outposts and joint security stations in the Rashid district. "We went on the offensive when we first got here, and we shot a lot of the anti-Iraqi forces down," he explained. "We took away their leadership and cut off their supply channels." The security in southern Baghdad continues to improve as the Raider Brigade maintains its presence in the communities and neighborhoods, working tirelessly with the Iraqi security forces and the general populace to build trust and keep terrorists and militias out of Rashid, he said. "I think that a lot of our success has had to do with our relationship with the general public here in Iraq," Wagner said. "They know us and they trust us, and they know that we're really going to give them a fair deal. They like to have some safety and security in their neighborhoods, and they know if they let the [criminals and terrorists] set up shop, that will go away." He said he expects challenges as units leave without being replaced. It is part of the overall plan, he said, as the brigade will disengage from its direct combat role and move into tactical over-watch, with the Iraqi security forces in the forward position. Without changing his current role in the Raider Brigade, Wagner said, he wants to see his soldiers maintain their readiness and ability to provide counter-fire in a timely manner if the need should arise again. "Without getting into the politics of what I think, I knew we would prevail in battle against Saddam's army €“ that wasn't really much of a worry for me," he said. "I knew we had a far superior force and would go in and win; and I also knew the hard part was going to be after." (Army Sgt. 1st Class Brent Williams serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.) Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org  

Last Iraq Tour Was One Too Many for Combat-Tested Marine

By Samantha L. Quigley American Forces Press Service WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2008 Marine Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Hedgcorth served six combat tours and escaped injury each time. But his seventh tour wasn't so lucky for him. On Sept. 17, 2004, Hedgcorth was serving his second tour in Iraq with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The unit was stationed at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, when insurgents started firing rockets at the camp. Shrapnel from the first rocket severed Hedgcorth's patellar tendon, which holds the kneecap in place. [caption id="attachment_3068" align="alignleft" width="190"]fod_one_to_many_01_26_09 Marine Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Hedgcorth participates in the 33rd Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., Oct. 26, 2008. He completed the 26.2 miles on a hand cycle as part of a fundraising effort for other wounded servicemembers. Courtesy photo by Nicole Benitez[/caption] "There was a second rocket that kind of bounced me off of some of the €¦ barriers," he said. "The next thing I remember is hearing a third rocket and crawling on my arms back into the tent, because for some reason I thought I'd be safer inside the tent, and it was closer than the bunker." Once the rockets stopped, one of Hedgcorth's staff noncommissioned officers found him and asked about his injuries. He responded that he was "routine" and that she should find everyone else first."There was a second rocket that kind of bounced me off of some of the €¦ barriers," he said. "The next thing I remember is hearing a third rocket and crawling on my arms back into the tent, because for some reason I thought I'd be safer inside the tent, and it was closer than the bunker." He stuck to his story when they came checking on him a second time. "Turns out, I was the only one wounded," he said. That was a Friday night. By the next Thursday, Hedgcorth had been evacuated to Camp Lejeune, N.C., via Baghdad, Balad, and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. "So, I moved faster than the mail," he chuckled. "I wasn't a model patient, so they let me go home before my next surgery on Friday. I'm an old guy, and I don't take well to instruction." More surgeries repaired the tendon, but the kneecap had been placed too low. "I'm not a doctor, but I do know how a hinge works," Hedgcorth said. "If that hinge pin's not in the right spot, [it won't open right.]" Another surgery in February re-centered his kneecap and moved it up as high as possible. Hedgcorth joined the Marine Corps 25 years ago because "it was the best," he said. "It seemed like an easy choice after the Beirut bombing," he said quietly. "I had three friends of mine on that wall." A terrorist bomb killed 241 Marines and Navy corpsmen in a barracks in the Lebanese capital on Oct, 23, 1983. Hedgcorth's knee injury marked the first time in his career that he'd been injured, and he freely admits that he'd pushed his luck until it happened. He served in Panama, Desert Storm, Somalia, two tours in the Balkans, and two tours in Iraq, and the Purple Heart he received for his injury came with some mixed feelings. "At first, it was the €˜Enemy Marksmanship Award,'" he said. "It's not something I walk around wearing on my sleeve, [but] it is something I can use to help others." That's what the chief warrant officer decided to do. He'd been working at the Marine Corps' logistics operations school at Camp Johnson, N.C., and decided that wasn't for him. Retirement seemed the next logical step until a colonel he'd worked with asked him to work with the Wounded Warrior Battalion he was standing up. That was about three years ago, and he's been there ever since. He serves as the battalion's operations officer, tracking more than 600 patients and overseeing patient-outreach teams, among other tasks. "By the time [the wounded] get to me here at the battalion proper, they're going to go one of two ways. They're going to get out and move on into civilian life, or they're going try to return €¦ to duty," he said. "We don't try to push them either way. We just try to make sure they're prepared [for] whichever way they're going to go." Hedgcorth still is on active duty, still is a patient, and is assigned to the Wounded Warrior Battalion himself. "I'm finishing my [medical] boards, and should be medically retired by the end of the year," he said. "Some pretty popular generals have asked me to come back [in retire/retain status], which means I'm €¦ not blocking promotions or anything." That would keep him in his job for another year or two, he added. Hedgcorth said the devotion he displays toward his Marines and others, as well as to his job, comes from someplace other than simple obligation. "It's more of a calling than anything else to work in this job," he said. Hedgcorth and a friend recently completed the 33rd Marine Corps Marathon as part of a fundraising effort in support of wounded servicemembers. Maneuvering hand cycles through the 26.2 miles, he said, they weren't out to win it, but rather just to support the "next wounded guy." Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org

Soldier, 19, Tracks Afghan Airspace

By Army Spc. Brandon Sandefur Special to American Forces Press Service BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Nov. 13, 2008 While many young men his age are just thinking about their next step in life, 19-year-old Army Pvt. Ryan Masterson is keeping an eye on the airspace in a combat zone. Masterson, from McHenry, Ill., is an aviation operations specialist for the Air Defense and Airspace Management Cell here. [caption id="attachment_3085" align="alignleft" width="250"]fod_private_tracks_airspace_01_26_09 Army Pvt. Ryan Masterson, aviation operations specialist with the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, responds to a call from an outlying unit. Masterson tracks the airspace for all the brigade's units so they get supplies and air support when needed. U.S. Army photo[/caption] fod_private_tracks_airspace_pic02_01_26_09 "We track the airspace for our brigade's area of operations and get real-time video feeds of what's going on with our airspace," he explained. "It gives us a better idea of where each aircraft is and what they are doing so we can track everything a lot better." Masterson, who has been in the Army a little more than two years, coordinates air support with troops on the ground via radio and phone systems. He coordinates through a liaison officer to find out what the soldiers on the ground need -- whether it's air support, supplies or reconnaissance flights from unmanned aerial vehicles. "We track the airspace for our brigade's area of operations and get real-time video feeds of what's going on with our airspace," he explained. "It gives us a better idea of where each aircraft is and what they are doing so we can track everything a lot better." "We make sure that the infantry soldiers have whatever they need as far as air support," he said, whether it's firepower from an Apache attack helicopter or a Chinook helicopter delivery of food or water. Masterson said he rarely has a free moment while working, but that he finds the job very rewarding. With his limited free time, he said, he likes to watch movies, go to the gym and talk to his family on the Internet. But when free time is over, Masterson is all business, and he said he feels good about what he does. "It's good to know that you played a role in winning a battle or helping soldiers by getting them the air support or supplies they needed," he said. "I think it's a good feeling to know that I may have helped some soldiers and possibly save some lives by getting them what they needed as fast as I could." Masterson plays an important roll in the majority of operations that require air assets -- which, considering Afghanistan's terrain, is almost every operation. "He is very important to the ADAM Cell and continues to improve on a daily basis," said Army Staff Sgt. Simeon Burns, from Oakland, Calif., Masterson's supervisor. "He's tactically and technically proficient at his job." Masterson said he wants to pursue a career in law enforcement when his military service is finished, but that for now he's happy to be part of a team that controls the skies over Afghanistan. (Army Spc. Brandon Sandefur serves with the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.) Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org

Double Amputee Marine Wants to Stay in to Help Others

By Samantha L. Quigley American Forces Press Service WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2008 Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew Ryan Bradford was part of a patrol to clear an area near Haditha, Iraq, of roadside bombs with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, on Jan. 18, 2007. "We found it," he said with a chuckle, admitting that he'd gone about it the hard way. "Another guy got hurt, but he just had shrapnel go through his right calf. I pretty much took the full blast." The bomb, hidden under a pipe, cost Bradford his left leg above the knee and his right one below the knee. He lost his left eye when a piece of shrapnel went through it and lodged in his brain, and retina damage cost him sight in his right eye. He also suffered intestinal damage.  The shrapnel is still there.  "It's in a good, safe spot, I guess," he said. "I don't have to have anything done with it." [caption id="attachment_3101" align="alignleft" width="250"]fod_double_amputee_01_26_09 Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Bradford goes surfing in Hawaii. He hasn't let his injuries caused by a roadside bomb near Haditha, Iraq, stop him from enjoying many of the activities he participated in before the Jan. 18, 2007, blast. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Matthew Bradford[/caption] The unit's corpsman did all he could medically on the scene, then sent Bradford to a military hospital at Balad. From there, he was sent through Germany's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on his way to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He arrived in Bethesda just three days after his injury and stayed for two months before being moved to the Veterans Affairs facility in Richmond, Va., that specializes in patients with multiple traumas. From there, it was back to Bethesda to be fitted for a prosthetic eye, then to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for prosthetic legs at the Center for the Intrepid medical center.The unit's corpsman did all he could medically on the scene, then sent Bradford to a military hospital at Balad. From there, he was sent through Germany's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on his way to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He arrived in Bethesda just three days after his injury and stayed for two months before being moved to the Veterans Affairs facility in Richmond, Va., that specializes in patients with multiple traumas. "I walk perfect," Bradford said of his prosthesis. "I'm used to wearing them for like 12 hours a day now." Bradford, who enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school, is taking computer training at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago. When he finishes there, it's back to San Antonio to start the medical boards that will determine whether he can stay in the Marines. [caption id="attachment_3102" align="alignleft" width="128"]fod_double_amputee_pic_02_01_26_09 Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Bradford, surrounded by fellow Marines, attends the Marine Corps Birthday Ball on Nov. 11, 2007, just 10 months after a roadside bomb blast cost him both legs and his sight. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Matthew Bradford[/caption] Bradford said he knows he won't be able to do every job in the Marine Corps, but he hopes to stay in uniform because he believes he has something to offer. "I want to be a Marine. I don't want to get out yet," he said. "I'm trying to stay in so I can go back to Bethesda and work at the hospital in the liaison office so I can talk to the wounded."Bradford said he knows he won't be able to do every job in the Marine Corps, but he hopes to stay in uniform because he believes he has something to offer. The motivation behind this decision came from experiences during his early recovery when another Marine helped him get his mind off his injuries, he said. "He came to my room a lot -- basically, every day," he said. "Instead of talking about my injuries, we just talked about sports [and] girls." The conversation was a welcome outlet for the wounded Marine. "At that time, I was going through [thoughts like], €˜I don't want to live right now. I don't have legs or eyes,'" he said. Now Bradford, a former high school athlete, even shoots hoops every so often. He said he also goes to concerts and bars, and does things any 22-year-old does. The reactions he occasionally gets when he's out in public bother him, though, he acknowledged. Some thank him, some buy meals for him, and some even apologize for what happened in the course of serving his country. "I'm like, €˜Don't be. It could've happened to anyone," Bradford said. "[I have] no regrets. I'd go back if I could, but I can't see." Bradford's injuries earned him a Purple Heart, which Gen. James T. Conway, Marine Corps commandant, presented on Valentine's Day 2007. "It means a lot," he said of the medal. "I feel grateful to have it, but I'd rather not have it." Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org

Guardsman Succeeds on Battlefield, Gridiron

By Ashley Schiller Special to American Forces Press Service LOGAN, Utah, Nov. 10, 2008 Army Sgt. Michael Green, who received the medal for service in Afghanistan as an intelligence noncommissioned officer, is a lineman for the Utah State Aggies. [caption id="attachment_3107" align="alignleft" width="250"]fod_gridiron_guardsman_01_22_09 A member of the Utah National Guard's 19th Special Forces Group received the Meritorious Service Medal here Nov. 1 at halftime of a Utah State University football game in front of thousands of appreciative fans €“ and his teammates.[/caption] The 6-foot-4-inch, 300-pound offensive tackle served for nine months in Afghanistan before coming to Utah State to pursue a master's degree in political science. He described several parallels between playing football and serving in the military.The 6-foot-4-inch, 300-pound offensive tackle served for nine months in Afghanistan before coming to Utah State to pursue a master's degree in political science. "Communication is huge in the military," he said. "You've got to communicate with other units as you coordinate efforts, just like you have to communicate here as you coordinate on the offensive line." Both create a feeling of camaraderie, he said, and require precise planning and intensity. "You should play every play like it's life or death, which is the same as in the military," Green said. Although he faced some life-threatening situations in Afghanistan -- a suicide bomber attacked his base on his second day in the country -- Green said he mostly was away from direct combat. He served as an analyst, receiving and processing reports from intelligence collectors on the ground and in the sky. "I would read the reports and try to figure out what each one meant and what was going on," he said. "I'd plot them on a map or on a computer and then look for patterns, similarities or dissimilarities. It was taking all the pieces of the puzzle and putting them together. We had to find where the intelligence gaps were, and then focus efforts to try to find out that information." Many soldiers become desensitized to the danger surrounding them, Green said. He compared the experience of leaving the base to driving on the freeway. "The freeway is very fast-paced, with a lot of moving things," Green said. "It's very dangerous, but you have control with your steering wheel, so you feel like you mitigate the risk. It's the same thing as going €˜outside the wire.' You have controls with your helicopters [and] other units, and you have your gun with you. You're focused on the mission at hand, so you ignore some of the dangers. "But there are times when you'll feel it," he continued, "just like when you see a car accident and you hear on the news that someone died. Sometimes it will be closer to you; you'll be in the car accident, and the person next to you will die. That's kind of how I correlate it." Green's time in Afghanistan made him more grateful for simple things such as paved roads, flushing toilets and comfortable beds. "I also got a real good appreciation for white bread and soft Wonder Bread," he said. Despite the sacrifices, "serving in the military was worth it, just like playing football is worth it," he said. And football apparently is worth it, whether he plays or not. Although Green has not yet played in a USU game, he fills an important role on the team as a scout player. He prepares the defense for the games by studying and then running the opposing team's plays during practice. Green has dressed for several games over the past few years, thus fulfilling his childhood dream of running through the tunnel onto the field. Last fall's season opener, especially, made an impact on him. "It was indescribable," he recalled. "The game brought a pretty big crowd. When you practice in the stadium, you don't realize how big it is. But when you go out in a game and you see all the people out there, you're like 'Wow.' It's a whole different experience." Whether or not he gets the opportunity to run through the tunnel again this season, Green said, he believes he has had a fulfilling experience. "I love the game," he said. "It's pretty cool to come out every day and put on the helmet and play when I'm almost 25 years old. It gives me something to do so I don't get in trouble." He said he also appreciates the "instant friendships" he made at the new school. In addition to the friendships he's made, Green said playing for the Aggies has helped with his leadership, something that hasn't gone unnoticed by USU head coach Brent Guy. "It's a unique situation to have a player who has served his country," Guy said. "Mike brings a different maturity that you normally don't have, and with that comes added leadership. It is a different experience for some of our younger players to be playing with a military veteran, especially with the theater of serving in Afghanistan." Green, a pilot, is now nearly finished with his master's degree. His thesis focuses on government regulation, specifically the Federal Aviation Administration. Green's next stop will be law school. He is applying to a variety of schools all over the country, but said he would like to stay in Utah, and that he someday may want to run for public office. (Ashley Schiller works in the Utah State University Athletic Media Relations Office.) Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org

Camp Victory Sheriff Wears Plenty of Hats

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"]fod_sherriff_plenty_ofhats_01_22_09 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.) Article Redistributed by Support Our Troops Distributed by www.SupportOurTroops.org
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