Sergeant Brice Watson is from Carlisle, Ark. But the calvary scout stationed on Fort Stewart with the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment spent the past 10 months living in a travel trailer in the Richmond Hill KOA.
Watson’s parents took the 40-foot camper back home with them while he headed back to Iraq on Thursday, along with 300 other 1st Bn, 30th Inf. soldiers who are part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
It’s Watson’s second tour. And as he waited to leave Fort Stewart, he was philosophical about heading back to Iraq roughly 15 months after his first deployment ended.
"I’m single, so it’s not too bad," the 23-year-old said. "It’s hard saying goodbye to family and friends, but after that it’s done and over with."Plus, Watson said, it helps that as an assistant section sergeant for the scout platoon he’s got men to worry about.
"It puts my focus on them," he said. "I’ve got to make sure they’re taken care of."
Staff Sergeant William Black, 24, is Watson’s immediate supervisor in the platoon’s chain of command.
From Beaumont, Texas, Black is responsible for the 11 men in his section. He lives just off Hwy. 17 in Chatham County.
Thursday’s journey from a staging area on Fort Stewart to Kuwait and then Iraq is the third for Black.
"I’m married now, so this time it’s a little harder," he said. "Especially since I’ve only been married for less than a year."
But Black said it might be a little easier on his family than some newlyweds because his wife Chikita grew up in the military.
"Her dad is a retired first sergeant and she’s used to him being away, and they spent most of their time living overseas anyway, so this is kind of familiar to her," he said. "But it is a little different."
For one thing, Black said he has a bigger job this deployment. He estimated that 70 percent of the soldiers in the scout platoon are headed to Iraq for the first time.
"Before it was the NCOs responsibility to take me there and bring me back home," he said. "I’m responsible for 11 soldiers and it’s my job to make sure they get home. I called their parents and told them they didn’t have to worry about their sons because I’ll take care of them."
Neither Watson nor Black spoke much about the politics playing out in Washington D.C., or opinion polls.
"I signed up to be a soldier," Black said. "When the commander in chief says you go, you go. Do I worry about all that going on in Washington? No. I execute the mission. I’ve got orders and I’m going. They can talk about what they talk about."
Watson, who would be eligible to get out of the Army in about six months if it weren’t for stop loss – but said he may reenlist – noted he doesn’t pay attention to the politics or polls.
"I have a job to do," he said. "I try not to listen to anything like that, really."
Yet Watson said he thinks the media tends to dwell on the negative aspects of the war, though he said he understands news of a bomb blast will get more play on TV because of what it is.
"Sometimes it does bother me," he said. "Most times it doesn’t because I’m a pretty mellow person and I let things roll off my back."
Watson said he got to see positives up close during his first tour as he helped provide security for a battalion commander in the notorious Sadr City section of Baghdad. He said the positives ranged from opening schools and giving out school supplies to building and opening playgrounds.
"You don’t see that, you just see the negative stuff in the media," he said. "But when you’re there, you see people from both sides. When we were out in Sadr City every day, we’d see bad people who don't want us there and then you'd see people who do. What we’re doing is good. We’re helping people who want to be helped, even if it’s not all of them."
And he wondered if people who aren’t bearing the brunt of the war actually understand what’s happening.
"I think a lot of people who see it on TV don’t realize that those are real lives that are being lost over there," he said.
But he said he’s been fortunate because while he’s known soldiers who have lost their lives, he hasn’t lost a close friend. And his morale is good, he said.
"We’ve had the past nine months of being together here," he said. "It’s like a brotherhood. That sounds like a cliche, but a brotherhood is exactly what it is."
There’s also the familiarity of having been there before, which makes it easier because he knows what to expect, Watson said.
Black also had no complaints as he watched his soldiers eating pizza and talking to area media as they waited for the first step of this latest deployment.
"Two times I’ve been over there in Iraq," he said. "I’ve seen how those people live and I see how we as Americans live. I don’t complain anymore. There’s no reason to."