'A lot of fun' Soldier's time in Iraq 'fairly ordinary' - The Frederick News-Post : Archives

'A lot of fun' Soldier's time in Iraq 'fairly ordinary'

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Posted: Monday, June 21, 2004 12:00 am

FREDERICK -- Army Staff Sgt. Eric Swett said serving 11 months as a military intelligence analyst in Iraq was just life as usual.

"I've got to be honest with you, it sounds like a lot when you see coverage of Iraq on the news, but mostly it's just normal life," said Sgt. Swett, 25, who is visiting his parents in Frederick before heading home today with his wife, Myoung Hee.

Every day he would "hear a boom," and every few days, a boom would be directed his way, he said. But most of the time, he just went about life, he said.

"Every once in a while you get in a situation that's a brief minute of terror," Sgt. Swett said. "Every once in a while you'll be driving down the road and see a rocket shot your way, or a guy driving in your direction shooting at you, but they're very poor shots. It's kind of pathetic."

His unit, part of the 101st Airborne Division, definitely saw some violence, he said. There were nine soldiers wounded and one killed in action during his stay, which ended Feb. 28.

One of the wounded was a former boss who had been reassigned and was injured when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his Humvee. The female soldier driving was also hurt.

"She's still in a wheelchair; I think her pelvis was crushed," Sgt. Swett said. "I don't know if she'll be able to walk again -- if so it'll be several years of rehab, so you really do feel sorry for those."

Sgt. Swett said he adjusted quickly to the lifestyle when he was deployed to Mosul in northern Iraq and Anasaria, which is in the southern part of the country.

When he and his fellow soldiers first arrived in the country, they'd head for the bunkers every time they felt the ground shake. As they were there longer, the blasts were closer to them before they would flinch, Sgt. Swett said.

"I mean, when you hear something blow up, even if it is right beside you, how long are you going to sit in a bunker for? You sit in there five (or) 10 minutes, you get antsy," he said.

And while there were some who were "terrified the whole time ... most people figure, 'It's not going to be me,'" Sgt. Swett said.

"The odds are in your favor; there's less than a one percent chance it could be me," he said. "It's like getting hit by lightning, or getting in a car wreck."

Ms. Swett had a different take on the situation. Sgt. Swett was just shy of his two-year anniversary when he was sent to Iraq, he said. His wife got a couple of gray hairs while he was away, worried and lonely.

"I got a couple gray hairs too," Sgt. Swett said.

He thinks the experience aged him some and changed him a bit, but it didn't deter him from his career goals as a military intelligence officer. He has attended Officer Candidate School and is taking classes online.

"It's not James Bondish; that's what some people think," Sgt. Swett said. "Mostly you interview people, talk to people, gather data, look at trends. It's fun, you get to run around and take pictures sometimes, but then you've got to sit down and figure out what happened and what can be done."

For one of his psychology classes, Sgt. Swett is writing about the Stanford Prison Experiment, which he brought up when asked about the prison abuse in Abu Ghraib.

"The guards turned sadistic pretty quick," he said of the Stanford Prison Experiment. "They've got studies to show that."

He called the treatment of Iraqi soldiers inappropriate.

"There's no doubt about them (the guards) being in the wrong," Sgt. Swett said. "Even if they were told to do it, that's just wrong."

He didn't always want to join the Army, which he said he absolutely wants to stick with since "it's not too bad." At first, he went to join the Marines but the recruiter wasn't in.

"So I went down to talk to the Army recruiter," Sgt. Swett said.

He was one of about 30 people in his 500-person unit to receive the Bronze Star for his service overseas. The honor usually goes to commanders and primary noncommissioned officers, he said.

He got recognized for writing up some training aids, which were implemented throughout his brigade, aimed at protecting against attacks, he said.

"I think the most significant things that earned it are probably still classified," Sgt. Swett said.

During his stay, he worked with and helped train Iraqi people.

He helped teach former Iraqi Army personnel how to build model villages so they would have a skill to market, Sgt. Swett said. Others were contracted to help with metal works and other skills.

"When we first got over there, I would say the people were overwhelmingly positive and very curious," Sgt. Swett said.

When Iraqis became used to troops from around the world, they would ask conversational questions, like "Where do you live?" and "Is it beautiful there?"

"They were just trying to be friendly and trying to figure out the new people in town," he said. "Their curiosity faded away but there was still a positive feeling from the Iraqis. They were very happy to have the security, happy to have us there."

Sgt. Swett didn't see a food shortage while he was there, and explained that Iraqi people had vouchers from the Oil-for-Food program, an U.N. effort that was initiated by the United States in 1996, that would get them basic staples and propane for their stoves for free.

Most of the smaller towns were intact, he said, and the city populations were largely intact.

Some buildings had been bombed, like the former Iraqi Guard base and the intelligence unit. Several public buildings had been looted, but Sgt. Swett said that happened initially after the war.

He never lacked food, but Sgt. Swett said the first thing he wanted when he came home was pizza and a TV with a remote control. With Armed Forces Television, there were five stations to choose from among about 200 people.

"People are very serious about their teams," he said. "Especially when there's NFL and college ball on at the same time, people just go at it."

Despite the hardships, Sgt. Swett sums up his time in Iraq as fun.

"Oh yeah, it was definitely a lot of fun," he said. "It's always fun to be involved in nation-building and trying it to make it a better place, trying to make the world safe from terrorists, and to get rid of an evil dictator."

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