Redd goes from college to Iraq
You won't find many young men who look forward to spending two weeks with mom, dad and the younger siblings, but Andrew Redd isn't your typical 20-year-old.
The Wisconsin Army National Guard specialist was home recently for two weeks of rest and relaxation midway through at least a year-long tour of duty in Iraq.
"I'd like to spend a lot of time with my family. That's what I miss the most," he said at the start of his R&R. "It makes it all worth it, the wait and the long days, just to see the little guys and Jess - and just be with family."
The little guys are brothers Michael, 16, and Harrison, 14. Jessica is his 19-year-old sister, home for the summer from UW-Oshkosh. They're the children of Tom and Lesa Redd of Hudson.
The locals were grumbling about another rainy day in what had been a two- or three-week string of them when Spc. Redd stopped by the Star-Observer office for a visit two weeks ago.
"I love this weather," he said.
The temperature was 120 degrees Fahrenheit at his base the day he left Iraq.
"It's a dry heat," he explained. "It does make a difference. I can handle 120." He wasn't sure what 145 degrees - a typical daytime high in the summer - would feel like.
The six-foot-two, 170-pound former cross country runner wore an earth-tone dress shirt with the tails hanging out, fatigue pants and tennis shoes. It felt good to be out of uniform, he said. He also was enjoying the good food at home.
Redd was deployed to Iraq last November along with 680 other Wisconsin Army National Guard soldiers from the 1st Battalion 128th Infantry headquartered in Eau Claire. He's a member of the Alpha Company based in Menomonie. The 1-128th also has companies at River Falls, New Richmond, Arcadia, Abbotsford and Neillsville.
After graduating from Hudson High School in 2002, Redd attended Michigan Technological University, where he was a member of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training program for a semester.
"They treated us like Army guys - marched us around and had us crawling in the mud and stuff," he said of his ROTC experience. "I wanted to be a pilot, but thought, this is kind of fun."
At about the same time, Redd decided that he would rather be a history teacher than an engineer and transferred to UW-River Falls. He joined the National Guard to pay for his education and have some spending money.
The 1-128th was called to active duty last spring while Redd was in basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. He went right from basic to three months of training with the 1-128th in Mississippi, then a month of training at Fort Irwin, Calif., and from there, to Iraq.
"I don't regret it at all. I'm definitely happy doing what I'm doing... It's definitely the most important thing I've ever done. Ever," he said. "I'm glad I decided to go and join when I did. I feel like I'm making a positive difference in Iraq."
He added: "If I was home more, then it would be awesome. But you've got to do what you've got to do. It will be fine."
Another day, another mission
Alpha Company patrols a region about 30 miles north of Baghdad.
"We're a motorized, enhanced infantry. That means we have humvees," Redd explained.
He usually drives when they're on patrol, but sometimes fills in as gunner or a dismount soldier, the one who gets out of the vehicle when necessary to check on something or handle a situation.
The area he patrols is pretty tame, he said. Most of the events - the bombings and other attacks - that you hear about happen in the big cities. He's never had to fire his weapon.
"We go on a fair amount of missions and do a lot of work," he said. "Even though it's dangerous and you've got to keep your eyes open, I don't feel too stressed out. I've never been injured or anything."
The residents of the region are supportive of the American soldiers, he said. The regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein killed 800 to 1,200 of them in three different massacres over a six-year period. The slaughters were in retaliation for a supposed attempt on Hussein's life.
The children are especially friendly, partly because of the candy, school supplies and toothbrushes the soldiers give them.
"You've got to maintain security, but you can also play around with the kids a little bit," Redd said. "It's just kind of fun. Everybody likes to see soldiers, I guess."
On a typical day, he arises sometime between 6 and 8 a.m., dresses, puts on his combat gear and heads to the mess tent for breakfast. After breakfast, he's off on a mission.
Most of the time, the mission is to patrol their assigned area. The typical mission lasts six or seven hours, and is the hardest and hottest work of the day. The air-conditioning in his humvee makes it bearable.
The locals aren't hostile, but you have to keep an eye out for improvised explosive devices - IEDs.
"Those are the things we worry about the most," he said. "You've just got to check around - make sure you didn't park next to one. Luckily, we find them or somebody tells us about them. We get anonymous tips on a lot of them and go defuse them."
Occasionally, Redd provides security for meetings between Army officers and local leaders, helps train soldiers of the new Iraqi army or assists with development projects.
He said the Iraqi soldiers are making good progress.
"We're doing a lot of good things," he said, noting the construction of schools, government buildings, water purification facilities and a sewage system in the region he patrols.
"I can't wait to see what it looks like when I get back," he said. "After just two weeks of being gone, it will have changed so much. From when we got there to where it is now, it's changed by leaps and bounds. I've no doubt the country will be pretty good soon."
He expected some of the water and sewer projects to be completed when he returned.
The countryside around his base is more fertile than he thought it would be.
"I figured it would be all desert and a horrible place, but near the Tigris and Euphrates (rivers) it's actually pretty green...and probably a farmer's paradise," he said.
Back at the base following a mission, Redd takes care of housekeeping chores and cleans his weapons and equipment for the next day. He sleeps in a concrete bunker with 18-inch thick walls that make him feel secure.
The soldiers prepare their own lunches using supplies shipped from the United States. Redd's specialty is chili.
"I've had better, but you can't really complain," he said of the meals at the mess tent. "I'm sure other people have had to put up with far worse in other wars."
After the evening meal, he frequently has time to check his e-mail, play video games or cards, watch a movie or read.
It's easy to lose track of the days, he said, because one is pretty much like the next. They don't get weekends off. The closest thing to a day off is the odd one when they aren't sent on a mission.
There's nothing like soldiering
The 1-128th is scheduled to leave Iraq in November, or soon after.
When the unit deactivates, Redd will return to college - possibly at UW-Stout, which is near Company A's home base in Menomonie.
His family is moving to Arizona, where his father has a new retail marketing position. Redd said he'll spend a couple of months in Arizona after returning from Iraq, and then use his Army benefits to finish college.
"I'm not sure what I'm going to do for a job when I get back," he said. "Nothing's really like being a soldier. (It) doesn't really compare to a lot of jobs around here."
His commitment to the National Guard runs through 2009, but he may re-enlist.
His long-range plan is to be a history teacher.
Randy Hanson can be reached at email@example.com