I’d give anything to be back there’

by Laura Dillavou

Some students stress out about finals, relationships or financial matters. For junior Jon Reed, these things seem like a walk in the park. Reed stresses out about other things – like getting shot or blown up by angry insurgents.

“My unit has had some people badly injured, and one killed so far,” Reed said. “It is the realization that bullets fly both ways and it isn’t training anymore. I am most afraid of improvised explosion devices, the main weapon used by enemy forces here and in Afghanistan. They can just set up them up along the road and wait for us to pass, then boom – now it’s a bad day.”

Reed was a typical college student at Simpson, with the exception of his devotion to the army and his training. For one weekend a month and two weekends a year, Reed went to basic training, not really expecting to be called to duty. The shock of being deployed to Qalat, Afghanistan, was one that Reed never expected to face.

“I always knew there was a chance of me being deployed, but I guess I didn’t think it would actually happen, until the 9/11 incident,” Reed said. “The previous 10 years or so, the only deployments out unit had were voluntary. But if I had to do it again, I probably would.”

After leaving Iowa on Feb. 15, Reed went to Fort Hood, Texas, where he began training for deployment. While the camp concentrated on training troops for Iraq, Reed said many of the same skills are used in Afghanistan. Gun training, physical training and mental preparation are a few of the things Reed went through before leaving the United States on May 26, 2004.

“There was a lot of good training and I was pretty well prepared for what I have to do physically,” Reed said. “There are many things they cannot prepare you for, like hearing your first gun shots, seeing how these people live, temperature and altitude differences, just to name a few.”

While Qalat is not as turbulent as Fallujah or Bahgdad, the city has civil disputes, angry protests and other violent acts against authorities.

Reed’s main duty as a specialist is providing security for civil-affairs personal and military police. He performs city patrols, tower watches and vehicle searches and is also a Combat Life Saver, an emergency medic for wounded soldiers.

Another Simpson student saw the Army National Guard as a smart career move. For sophomore Megan Warner, it’s a chance to see the world, as well as an opportunity serve her country.

Warner is set to go to basic training at Fort Lennenwood, Mo., in Jan. 19, 2005. After being stationed there for 10 weeks, Warner will go to Fort Jackson, S.C., where she will complete Advanced Individual Training. She will be away from her family and friends for six months, but considers it a good investment.

“My brother in is the army and he convinced me it was important to do this for my country,” Warner said. “But, it’s also a career move for me. I want to practice law, and the military has an open Judge Advocate General Corps., so that’s perfect. I will get a majority of my college paid for and a chance to see the world.”

Many Army National Guard and ROTC advertisements tout the benefits of joining. While education write-off is a key factor for many who join, some see the experience as more important.

“If all you look at is the money, then no, leaving is not worth it,” Reed said. “What they pay us in no way compensates for all the things we’re missing out on. But when you look at all the experiences I’ve had, countries I’ve seen and friends I’ve made, then yes, I’d say joining and fighting is worth it.”

However good the experiences may be, few can ignore the way the word “deployment” has become synonymous with possible death. Fear strikes families, friends and peers when they hear a death notice or a report that another solider is coming home brutally wounded.

Warner knows how hard it can be to deal with a worried family.

“My family is split – half think I am very smart, half think I’m going to die,” Warner said. “My friends don’t want me to go, and they think they will only hear about my death. I think it’s them not understanding that I’m not going to fight, I’m going for legal stuff.”

Reed understands why some people worry about troops who are abroad.

“Sometimes, things don’t go as planned,” Reed said. “I’ve definitely changed my views on what’s important in life and am trying to rectify old grievances. You never know what tomorrow could bring and the last thing you want is to see someone go or go yourself and have the last memory of them be a bad one.”

While not on duty, Reed is with his unit playing Playstation 2, watching videos, lifting weights or just hanging out. However, his ability to walk down the street or go out to a bar has dramatically changed.

“The soldiers are really getting tired of being here, but we’re also in a good routine so time seems to be going faster,” Reed said. “The morale at our site is good, considering where we are. Having a phone, shower and hot food are also good things.”

Reed’s Christmas list contains simple wishes.

“I’m coming home in a couple of weeks for Christmas, some R and R, a late celebration of my 21st birthday and just have as much fun as possible,” Reed said. “They think we’ll be sent home for good in May or June, but nothing is really certain as of now. All I know is that I’m ready to come back to Simpson – I’d give anything to be back there.”