After Iraq, it's time to relax

147875 articles in the archive and more added every day

After Iraq, it's time to relax

BY NOAH HAGLUND<br>THE ISLAND PACKET
Published Sunday, July 25, 2004 in The Island Packet  |  614 Words  |  /IslandPacket/news/local

When a 22-year-old Army infantryman on one month's leave woke up Saturday morning in his parents' Port Royal Plantation home, he was looking forward to something new -- doing nothing.'
It was the first night Brandon Thomas had spent in the United States in about two years. A member of Task Force 135, part of the Army's 1st Armored Division, Spc. Thomas joined the push toward Baghdad on the third day of the invasion in March 2003. Until just over a week ago, he was deployed in Iraq.'
Initially, he helped patrol the Green Zone in central Baghdad. He was supposed to come home in May, but his tour was extended by 90 days as he went to the Najaf region as part of the effort to quell an uprising led by militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.'
"We thought we were going home and a bunch of stuff started blowing up in April," he said. "It was long.'
"I wouldn't have made it if it weren't for the guys around me. You do it for each other."'
In Baghdad, Thomas slept in the marble-floored palace formerly occupied by Saddam Hussein's information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf. During the invasion, al-Sahaf became famous for his surreal, contrary-to-fact declarations about Iraqi Army's success in fending off the U.S.-led advance, and he mockingly was dubbed "Baghdad Bob" by comedians across the country.'
"You can see why these Iraqis believed some crazy (stuff)," Thomas said.'
Talk about misinformation. Some of the myths circulating among the Iraqi populace were that the U.S. soldiers' sunglasses gave them X-ray vision and that they wore portable air-conditioning units on their backs.'
But stateside as well, Thomas thought there were plenty of misconceptions, chiefly what he called "all that negativity." He said he believed journalists had exaggerated the anti-American sentiment by filming small demonstrations and making them seem larger.'
Thomas, who joined the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, called his extended tour "quite a blow" to morale. But he remains a strong supporter of the U.S. presence in Iraq.'
"If there was going to be a fight," he said, "I wanted to be in it. I didn't want other guys risking their neck for me. I've got faith in what's going on. I have faith in my government."'
Said his stepfather, Richard Vaughan: "We're pretty damn proud."'
Vaughan coaxed Thomas into describing the time he was hit with two AK-47 rounds. They broke the ceramic tiles in his bullet-proof vest and knocked the wind out of him, but he soon returned to action after donning a new vest.'
His time in Iraq was populated by a wide range of characters, from the British soldiers and their inferior military food, to the 8-year-old Iraqi nicknamed named "Ricky" who the soldiers housed in a bank they were guarding.'
"It was kind of a double-edged sword: You know if you took him in, he wouldn't be safe anymore," Thomas said. "There were so many people out there; they all had a story."'
A graduate of Hilton Head High School, Thomas kept coming across reminders of home while in the Middle East.'
As he was guarding the al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad, from a distance someone pointed out Edgar Kangaroo Jansons, a Beaufort County Sheriff's deputy and Army Reservist who ran operations at the Coalition Information Press Center. Thomas said he was watching television when he saw the news that another islander his same age, Spc. Paul Riley, had been wounded in Afghanistan.