Jeff Newell, '90
Captain, 1st Battalion, 303rd Armored Regiment; Army National Guard; Time of service: March 2004-March 2005; Stationed: Camp Victory, Baghdad; Currently: Seattle
The 303rd Armor is based out of Kent. We're a tank battalion. But we had our tanks taken away and were retrained as infantry. And then we were responsible to protect Victory Base.
There were two villages immediately outside [Camp Victory] that we were responsible for patrolling. And it became clear that it was in our best interest to be very heavily involved with both of those villages, because once we started working with them and did an incredible amount of projects with them, the violence from those areas toward the base went to zero. ... We wanted to have a much more active role than just sitting in a static defense position. There was a large village just to the east . a village where Saddam put tons of widows and orphans of either his policies or wars. It pretty much emptied out right after his government toppled, and you had 10,000 squatters move in with really no form of government, really a microcosm of the whole country, with lots of diverse interests. And we went out there pretty quickly and used a lot of our citizen-soldier skills, our professional skills, to start projects and help them establish their first-ever city council. We would hire them to clean out the area and rebuild their electrical grid and fix their sewage lines and get their school running and their medical facility running. That really helped us, I think-it gave us a mission we really could sink our teeth into, and we could see not just the happy kids and the happy citizens but also the diminishing number of attacks from that area to zero, to where they would call us for help.
I'm what they call the S-1, the battalion personnel officer. The way I explain that to friends is, in essence, I was the human resources director for the whole battalion, meaning pay, promotions, benefits, awards, demotions-all those types of things that you and I would go to an HR director for. That's kind of what the S-1 does for the battalion. Which was weird for me because I joined the Army National Guard and got commissioned a tank and armor officer to get away from my sales desk job, and I found myself during the deployment sitting a desk most of the time, using the Internet and e-mail and office automation.
[My daughter Grace] was 13 months old when I left, and when I got back she was 27 months. So I'd missed half of her life. The pendulum has now swung back to where I've been with her more than I've been away from her. But for a while there I'd been away longer than I'd been with her, which was a hard reality to deal with. It was tough missing all the firsts. That was the toughest part. I mean I love my wife and I missed her tremendously, but not seeing a lot of firsts-that's something, unfortunately, I'll never get back.
I told everybody I'd do it, and when I got back, two weeks ago, I held a two-and-a-half birthday party for Grace, because I missed her two. I decided that every two-year-old should have at least two birthdays a year.
Grace did know me when I got back. Between technology and my wife, every day, mentioning me, talking about things I liked . there was not the 'Who is that?' reaction. And that happens to a lot of soldiers and it's perfectly natural. I was very fortunate that she knew who I was and ran up right away and now, I'm sure, doesn't even know that I was gone for that amount of time. Which is the great thing about the resiliency of kids. But my wife and technology did a great job. Between video and me talking to her on the phone, or singing songs on cassette tapes ... all those types of things really helped.
I saw more Husky hats and Husky shirts over there than I expected-not just alumni in the military, but contractors or what have you. You'd meet them in the strangest places. Especially when [Congressman] Adam Smith came. We went up to the big chow hall, and there was a Husky helmet on the table. And I'm like, 'Boy. First Cav is either incredibly great with their PR for every congressman who comes through or there's something more to this. How could there be a Husky helmet there?' And sure enough, I asked one of the aides, 'Whose helmet?' 'Oh, General Chiarelli. He's a huge Husky fan.' I said, 'You're kidding me!' We hadn't met him yet, even though we were attached to him. It's 60 battalions-that's the biggest division in the history of the U.S. Army. When he left Baghdad, they had 35,000 troops in one division, which is unheard of. That's the size of most corps. So I went up to the general and said, 'Hey, sir. I'm sorry, but you're not the biggest Husky fan. I am.' And we started talking and laughing. And then we would periodically correspond, just regarding Husky stuff. Which was nice-not just to have a two-star calling me to talk Husky football, but it was a great diversion, just to talk about Husky Stadium and growing up there and those things.
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