GIs return to be with brothers in arms
Second timers: Having recently returned from the war, they didn't have to go back; yet, 15 soldiers from the 872nd Maintenance Company chose to do so anyway. Months into their latest tour, some reflection on that decision.
MOSUL, Iraq - He finished the first go-round with a bitter taste for life as an Army Reservist. Got so bad that, when his car broke down, he didn't make the most spirited effort to get himself to monthly drill.
Lost a stripe over it and didn't care one bit.
And that's when his unit, the Utah-based 872nd Maintenance Company, got its call-up orders.
Unlike most of his comrades, Daniel Warner didn't have to come to Iraq. He had done a tour - months of training and a full year in the desert as an augmented body with a Denver-based unit.
"I was telling everyone, 'Have fun over there,' and every time I told someone that, I just felt wrong," Warner said. "I felt like I was letting people down."
Suddenly, the war wasn't about politics, progress, dictators or democracy. It had little to do with taking orders, wearing boots or firing guns. Stripes be damned.
It was about friends. About brothers. Soldiers the West Valley City man had trained with for years.
And Warner wasn't about to let them go alone. So he came back.
The Department of Defense estimates that 16.6 percent of reservists in Iraq and Afghanistan have volunteered for a return tour. And officers from the 872nd say at least 15 of their number are among those who chose to return.
It is, officials say, impossible to discount the returning troops' value to the American war effort. And next to impossible to imagine what the services would do without their ranks.
Warner is a Humvee driver now. Spends most of his nights on the bomb-laden roads of one of the most violent cities in the nation. Expects to be promoted back to the rank of specialist any time. But sometimes, yes, when telephone calls to his fiance in Utah end with her tears, he wonders whether he did the right thing.
"There are a lot of times when I think, 'Man, I hate being here,' but I have to go over in my mind why I came," Warner says.
The responsibilities of brotherhood are a common theme amongst second timers.
Alan Andersen was with Warner when their small group of mechanics crossed the border into Iraq on the second night of the war. There were no fancy dining facilities here back then. Little power or running water. Air conditioning was just a dream at the little, run down gas station, midway between Kuwait and Baghdad, which Andersen's ragtag group called home.
And yet, the Utah State University dining services supervisor has often felt that, were he given the chance to do it all over, he would have spent his career as an active duty soldier.
So when the call came for volunteers, the staff sergeant from Logan could not say no. He, too, wanted to deploy with his fellow Utahns. Andersen didn't tell his wife. Didn't lie to her, exactly, but never mentioned that he had been given any other options. In his mind, he hadn't.
"From a military standpoint, I didn't have to go, but from a personal standpoint, I had no choice," Andersen said.
There are disappointments. Warner feels them when he speaks to his fiance (they plan to wed when he goes home on leave this spring). Andersen, who wanted to see progress being made in this country, spends almost all of his days in an office, on a base, in a city where soldiers, were they to walk past the concrete walls and into the neighborhoods beyond, would be unlikely to return alive.
Kevin Shumway has spent the first months of his second tour resentful of his job assignment. He has trained, as a solider, to work in supply, but battalion officials learned he had done civilian work as a computer network administrator. They scooped him up and put him behind a computer.
"If I was going to come over here to do my civilian job, I would have come over as a civilian, " Shumway said, noting that private contractors in Iraq make a good deal more than their uniformed counterparts. "I'm not doing my military job, and I'm not too happy about it."
Still, Shumway says, he would not have changed his mind. He is encouraged by promises battalion officers have recently made, that they will try to find him a job back in the supply chain. When he feels resentful, the sergeant from Hooper remembers why he decided to return.
Once again, it all comes back to the brotherhood of soldiers. "I am still with my squad and with my unit," he said. "What I am doing, it betters the battalion and it betters the company.
"I am a soldier, and that is why I am here."
Reporter Matthew D. LaPlante and photographer Rick Egan are traveling in Iraq with Utah-based military units. Daily online dispatches, including additional information about, and photographs of, the troops with whom they are assigned, may be found at http://www.sltrib.com/iraq.
You may reach LaPlante and Egan at firstname.lastname@example.org.