A soldier’s experience before, during and after the War on Terror

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

Alec Martin enlisted in the United States Army in June 2000, for reasons he admits &uot;were not exactly patriotic. But, it didn’t take long for me to feel pride in being an American and a part of our country’s armed forces.&uot;

He’s done well as a member of the Air Defense Artillery, being promoted to sergeant in just 2-1/2 years, the shortest period of time possible to achieve this rank. When he is discharged in May 2004, he plans to join the National Guard, and after enrolling in a &uot;small college&uot; to complete his degree requirements, Martin is considering attending Officers Training School.

A former student at Auburn University, he prefers a small college (yet to be selected), &uot;where I can commute to class while I work to finish paying for my car. I don’t want any bills hanging over me when I get my degree,&uot; he says firmly.

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Martin’s family and friends recognize the maturity that his military experience has given him; he speaks freely of the past three years. His basic training was received at Fort Benning, Ga., where he was assigned a Combat MOS (military occupational specialty). Next came a transfer to Fort Bliss,

El Paso, Texas, and advanced individual training as a Patriot Missile Maintainer/Operator. After completion Martin was sent to Suwon, South Korea, &uot;where I did my job every day for a year during the Korean Crisis.&uot;

Returning to Fort Bliss, he trained in the Air Assault School and was promoted to Specialist. And in January 2003, his entire company was sent to Qatar, &uot;where we defended General Tommy Frank’s headquarters.&uot;

During his stay in Qatar, a friendly Warrant Officer offered a ride in a Blackhawk helicopter, &uot;flew us around the Persian Gulf and over the desert, which is pretty flat and sandy. But we saw lots of camels and sheep being herded over it &045; there are camels everywhere over there and a sandstorm every day.&uot;

With just 24-hours’ notice Martin’s company was transferred to Kuwait, then on to Iraq just outside Nasarhyia. Their duty was with Patriot missiles as air defense for the Infantry. (The company PFC Lynch was in was attached to his outfit for maintenance.)

Martin describes his two worst experiences: &uot;Two Chinooks (giant helicopters) ran out of fuel, got lost in the sandstorm, dropped their loads and landed at our site. By hand we had to organize sling loads under them. The wind was so fierce the pilots couldn’t hold the Chinooks steady, they kept dropping and dipping &045; I really thought I was going to get crushed beneath one. And the static electricity from the rotors shocked me pretty bad. My hands turned black for awhile.

Another bad time happened in Kuwait, when the so-called &uot;Chinese Silkworm&uot; was fired from a barge into the troop area. &uot;It flew so low our Patriots couldn’t pick it up. That really shook us up. I woke up with the ceiling falling on me; that thing shook the whole country. But it’s the only one we missed. We did a good job.&uot;

Martin paused a moment, shook his head, grinned and added: &uot;It’s a scary thing when those sirens go off. Every time you had to get in a SCUD bumper, put on all that heavy equipment, and those masks. That’s rough. You start feeling sorry for yourself, then you hear a firefight over the radio, hear those guys &045; our guys &045; crying out, calling for help, hurting. That’s what we’re there for even though I wondered why at first. The president asks you to go to war, you sign up, and you help your buddies and your country.&uot;

The defining moment &uot;Why&uot; came to Martin &uot;when we crossed the border into Iraq and saw those little kids. They were hungry, dirty, desperately poor, begging for anything. I’ve never seen anything like that before. We had to help them.&uot;

One of the worse aggravations for troops in Iraq was, and is, the mail, he says. &uot;You’re looking forward to a package, to some baby wipes (which they used to keep themselves fairly clean), a letter, nothing comes. e-mail just can’t replace it. I’ve been home a couple of months, and I’m still getting mail forwarded from there.&uot;

One of his two most joyous moments came &uot;when one of our guys rigged us up a spit bath. I hadn’t had a shower in two weeks. Man, that first time was wonderful. I just stood there and let that bucket of water pour over me.&uot;

The other, of course, was coming home.&uot;We loaded on a big Delta 747, in uniform all 93 of us, and we were treated like royalty. One of the attendants made hamburgers for all of us, patting them out and grilling them with her own hands. She served them with all the fixings, and anything else we wanted, even had a cake with a flag on top saying Welcome Home!&uot;

On their stop in Atlanta, they walked through their terminal &uot;to use the bathroom, get something to drink, and everybody in there started cheering and clapping. It was great, gave me chills, made me feel proud.&uot;

And Alec Martin, my first grandson, is proud, but no prouder than his family is of him. He returns to Fort Bliss this week, where he says, &uot;I’ve got kids to look after. They’re grown men like me, but they’re still kids in some ways. I’d do anything for them, and they know that, and they’ll do anything for me.&uot;