Selmian returns from war zone

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 3, 2004

U.S. Army Spc. Kamilah Ulmer, 21, is home from Iraq, and she and her family and friends are exuberant. She arrived at Lawson Army Airfield at Ft. Benning, Ga., last Friday at 12:15 p.m., along with 55 members of her unit, the 690th Ground Ambulance Co., whose home base is Ft. Benning. Her mother, Gwen Johnson, described the homecoming. The flight with her daughter was supposed to have arrived Thursday afternoon, then after midnight, then 5 a.m., eventually 12:15. Family members spent the night near Ft. Benning. The soldiers marched in single file into the Ft. Benning gym where a couple hundred joyful family members and friends were there to welcome them home. Then they remained in place in the center of the gym while the commander spoke for about 10 minutes. At the end he said, “Go get ’em,” and the troops were finally in the hands of their loved ones.

There to greet Ulmer were her mother, her 18-month-old son Malaki, her brother Eddie and her best friend Bessema Simmons of Selma.

Ulmer is part of the greatest troop swap during wartime in U.S. history, approximately 250,000 are troops returning home or going to Iraq over the next couple of months.

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Ulmer, a Selma native and a year 2000 graduate of Selma High School, participated in ROTC while in high school and enlisted in the Army immediately after graduation. After basic training at Ft. Jackson she was assigned to the 230th Military Police Company in Germany in April

2001. In September 2003 she was sent to Ft. Benning and was immediately deployed with the 690th to Iraq as an ambulance driver. Other members of the 690th had arrived in Iraq a year earlier.

Her base was Talil in southern Iraq where things were considerably quieter, she said, than in the north.

Her work schedule was four days on and four days off. The workdays were 6 a.m.

to 5 p.m., with on-call duty at night.

In her Humvee ambulance, which accompanied the MP patrols on the main service road out of Talil, there was one other person. The two would drive one hour to a relay point on the road – a smaller camp – and return at the end of the day.

During her 6-month stay, she said her ambulance handled four injuries. The only violence encountered was unexploded ordinance in the road which went off one day while they were making their rounds.

Ulmer said that she was initially scared upon arrival in Iraq, but quickly became accustomed to the new environment. She was very thankful, she said, that she was in an area with very light military activity, and that she realized how fortunate she was, compared with those serving in other parts of Iraq where there have been a number of casualties.

The nights were very chilly she said, and the days warm.

The food at her home base was good, at the relay points OK, but then there were the MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat) which had to suffice at times.

Ulmer’s mother, Gwen Johnson, has lived in Selma for the past 20 years. She said that support for Kamilah and for the family was tremendous during Ulmer’s employment. “I just cannot say thank you enough,” she said, “to all those who prayed and assisted in various ways during her absence. We prayed – many people prayed – some whom I don’t even know, every day that she was gone.” She continued, “We would see all the soldiers being killed and wounded every day over there, the suicide bombers, and each time I would wonder whether my daughter was involved. I want to thank everyone who was there for her, and especially the members of our church, Marion AME Zion.”

Ulmer’s younger brother, Eddie, 11, a fifth grader at Kingston Elementary, said he was concerned about his sister and was real glad she got home safely. And her best friend in Selma, Bessema Simmons, a native of Chicago, said, “She knows how much I missed her and how glad I am that she’s home.”

Ulmer went into the Army thinking she might make it a career. Now she hopes to re-enter civilian life after another tour of duty. She said that she plans to re-enlist for four years this fall. She wants to finish college when she gets out.

Asked about the chances of her returning to Iraq, she said the earliest that would probably happen would be in two years, the next scheduled deployment.

Ulmer has enjoyed Army life. She likes the benefits, the travel and meeting new people.

Asked about her feelings regarding the American military mission in Iraq, Ulmer offered a candid response: “I think we’re doing a lot there (Iraq), but there are so many soldiers who have been killed. I think we sent too many at once, too fast, and things were not planned in advance as well as they should have been.” On the other hand, Ulmer said that the work being done by our soldiers in Iraq is outstanding, and she was proud to be a part of it.