In Country with the 118th - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

04/11/06

In Country with the 118th

Right now, thousands of 48th Brigade soldiers are wrapping up about a year far from home, serving in Iraq. Our Mike Manhatton is just back from his second trip to Iraq in the past six months and a visit with the 118th Field Artillery out of Savannah.

They're the 118th Field Artillery, sending rounds down range in Iraq. But they're also our neighbors. Jeremy Zeigler works at Gulfstream. Armando Villegas is a police officer in Savannah. Joshua Heaton's a college student. And Joseph Clark paints woodworking on yachts in Midway.

But now they're all National Guard soldiers wrapping up 18 months or more of active duty, one year of that in Iraq.

Master Sgt. Randall Parker of Savannah told us, "A lot of people think you're gone for one year out of the country, but really it's been close to two years since we've been home with our families."

"Well, Iraq is a hard place, no matter how you look at it," said Lt. Col. Don Beard. "Dangerous. Weather is erratic and very intense."

"It's been different; it hasn't been too bad though, other than the difference in weather," said Sgt. Jeremy Zeigler from Springfield. "You know, hot to cold and rain and dry and hot."

Sgt. Emmet Prescott from Savannah agrees the weather is a big challenge. "It's sunny sometimes, then it's windy, the wind's a big factor, one of the biggest challenges."

"It lives up to every expectation," said Spc. Charles Williams from Brunswick. "Hot, it was hotter than I thought it would be, but it was very, very hot in January, February, December. It was very hot."

"It takes some time to adapt, I'm not even going to lie to you on that, it really does," Sgt. Gerald Simpson from Savannah told us. "It's not something that you can just walk into and take head first. It's something that you really have to adjust to."

"It was hectic at first, trying to learn the terrain and what people were like," said Brooklet's Spc. Joseph Popp. "Once you get in the swing of things, it moves through."

"You know, at St. Simons we have a beach, sand," said Spc. Doug Sack. "We got sand here, so it's, you know, pretty much kind of like home." How does he respond to the suggestion he's been there too long? "Yes, I have, we all have."

Sack has a special reason to miss home. "I got married May 7, 2005, right before we came over here. Well, I did get two weeks during the halfway point of our deployment. I got two weeks at home with her. And, now I got a lifetime with her when I get home."

While others brought home with them. The Guard is a family affair. Spc. Joseph and Staff Sgt. Joe Pickering are a father-and-son team. "It's got its ups and downs," Staff Sgt. Pickering told us. "I mean, back when we were at Taji, I worried about him cause he'd go out the wire a little bit, and I would at the same time, so it was nerve wracking, but yet, if I needed somebody to talk to I could always go and talk to him, so that was a good thing."

Talking to Mom is another story. "It took a long time for us to ever tell her that he was going out of the wire. She was constantly asking if he's okay, we just kept reassuring her."

Then there's the Wolff brothers from Brunswick. "My big brother, about 15 years ago, he talked me into getting in," Sgt. Walter Wolff told us.

"It's good," Staff Sgt. Franz Wolff said. "It's nice having, while you're away from your own family, having part of your family with you, so if you're having any problems you can talk about it."

"It's been good, good being around him, somebody to look up to. I mean, you can always run to your big brother when somebody's messing with you," said Walter.

But what about the families they leave behind? Some of the soldiers admit it's tough on them as well.

"It's like we have, basically, two households, you have to deal with it," said Spec. Joseph Clark from Jesup. "Living and surviving over here, and then making sure your family's taken care of back in the rear. It can be tough."

"It's pretty hard," said Staff Sgt. Joe Pickren. "I've got my wife and daughter at home pretty much running everything. I've got one son in the Air Force, he just got sent to Korea for a year, so, and then we're here. So they're by their self, having to run the house, she's got her hands full, she's ready for it to be over with."

And they're keeping a family tradition alive through the generations. Capt. Jim Shuman, a maintenance officer from Glennville had this story: "Grandma's doing real good, she's, I think it's 87 years old. But she's been writing me, keeping up with me. She told me she's doing, taking care of me just like she did her brother back in World War II. So we certainly have the information age and emails and phones and everything over here, but the old handwritten letter is still a real boost, and us over here know that people back home are still thinking about us."

Coming up tomorrow night we'll hit the road with the 118th. They're literally a lifeline between western Iraq and the rest of the road, making the connection regularly with a three-day round trip convoy that starts rough, and never gets easy.

Reported by: Mike Manhatton, mmanhatton@wtoc.com

 

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