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Returning soldier hopes tour of duty will give him stronger voice at home

By Gloria Diaz

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-07-07


People are familiar with the phrase, “Think Globally, Act Locally.” One soldier returning from Iraq hopes that “Acting Globally” will also help him act locally.

Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Jeffrey is a 10-year veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army Reserves. He returned shortly before Mother’s Day earlier this year. “I was happy and lucky to be able to spend Mother’s Day with my mother,” says Jeffrey.

Jeffrey joined the Marines for a variety of reasons. Not wanting to accumulate debt by going to college, he attempted to get the 21st Century Scholarship. When that didn’t work out, he decided joining the military was the way to get what he wanted. “I came from a household full of debt, and I promised myself I would never resign myself to debt. I view it as a form of slavery,” he says.

The military appealed to him of a number of levels: patriotism, respect from civilians, and the uniform, particularly those worn by the Marine Corps. Several of his uncles were in the service. His father wasn’t supportive, and wanted Jeffrey to stay at home and work with him in one of his businesses.

One of five sons, Jeffrey and two of his brothers were in Iraq at the same time. It was only for a couple weeks, but Jeffrey says it made his mother “really, really nervous.” When Jeffrey came home a few weeks ago, a couple of his brothers were leaving to go to Iraq again.

One would think that going from high school into the Marine Corps would be a huge transition. Fortunately, for Jeffrey, it was easy. “I had a wrestling coach at North Side High School, and he used phrases like, ‘the hungry hunter hunts best,’ and we would be watching our food intake and things like that, and we’d be frustrated, and it was very regimented training. I was kinda prepared. Some of the life choices that I made before joining the military prepared me pretty well for military life.”

Jeffrey also hopes that his military background will give him a stronger voice for one of his other interests, politics. At an early age, due to family circumstances, he realized that the system wasn’t fair. Through politics, Jeffrey wants to change that. “I’ve wanted to change the system since I was very young; I always thought I’d get into politics and change some people’s opinions on things. I figured the military would be a great stepping-stone; a lot of people who are respected, that people listen to in the political arena, are people with a background that includes military service. People might value my opinion in circles that actually have the power and the opportunity to help change the system, and make things better.”

Jeffrey remembers boot camp as a period of time where he shut his mind off and worked like a robot. “You just do. You learn to react. Follow orders first, before you learn to give them,” he says.

An aspect of military life that was a bit hard to adjust to was making decisions. Jeffrey, who likes to think things through, found that sometimes you can’t sit around and weigh the pros and cons of an issue. “In the military, some of your higher-brain functions, like analyzing a situation, wastes quite a bit of time. So the training involves learning to do what’s necessary right away. That was difficult for me, because I analyze things and think things through.”
After boot camp, he went to Pensacola, Florida, where the Blue Angels are based. Jeffrey went to school to be an air traffic control electronics communication technician. He was stationed in Jacksonville, North Carolina. He spent most of his days working on air traffic control equipment. He also traveled to Utah for the 2002 Olympic Games, to watch the back of one mountain that couldn’t be covered by radar, and also went to Russia for nine months and did missions in Afghanistan.

He plans to stay in the military for another 20 years. He says the benefits used to be pretty good, but, they’ve been reduced little by little. “The military is not going to take care of you for the rest of your life.”

He trained to go to Iraq in January of 2007. Over the next few months, he and his unit, the 384th Military Police Battalion, moved to Fort Bliss, Texas for more preparation. In May, they left for Iraq. He expected to go there while he was in the Marines, but ended up in Russia. When Jeffrey came into the unit, many of his fellow soldiers had already been deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Jeffrey and his unit landed at Bucca Military Containment Facility, in southern Iraq. The environment was devoid of plant life, and temperatures soared to between 130 and 140 degrees. Jeffrey says the location was barren, like the surface of the moon. Approximately three miles away was a fort where goods were brought in, but Jeffrey says that was the only thing you could see on the horizon, the only sign of life for many miles.

While in Iraq, Jeffrey’s duties included building facilities to hold detainees. He would repair plumbing, and make Hescobarriers for the prison. It contained Sunnis, Shiites, suspected terrorists, known terrorists, gang members, insurgents from other countries, and people “in the wrong place in the wrong time.”

“People get rounded up for things that we may not even consider crimes here in America,” says Jeffrey. As an example, Jeffrey says that in Iraq, each household is allowed a gun like an AK-47. If the family is large, they may have more than one gun. A neighbor may tip off the authorities, and several of the male family members will probably end up in jail.

Then, there are people who enter the country with more than just having guns on their minds. “A lot of these people from foreign countries come into Iraq just to find and target Americans,” says Jeffrey.

Along with guarding prisoners, he also had to deal with mortars and rockets. “We would get incoming, indirect fire, rockets and mortars. It happened quite often while I was over there. They’d always come in threes; there’d either be three rockets or three mortars, and for a while it was happening every two or three days. They’d hit different places in the base.” No one from his unit was killed, though some detainees were killed by mortars. A more primitive form of weapon was rocks made out of sand and sugar water. Riots were instigated by prisoners as a diversion to try and escape.

Jeffrey’s next plans are to do some good at home. “America’s got the right idea; we want to help people across the globe, but there’s a lot of things here at home that we’re not doing right.” With the belief that charity starts at home, Jeffrey has plans for Fort Wayne. He thinks that getting the ball rolling at home will start an overlapping wave of change that will impact the world. “My focus, right now, is trying to help my friends and family stay out of debt,” says Jeffrey. He wants to be actively involved in the community. Instead of looking for outside help, Jeffrey feels pulling together, especially helping small local businesses get started, is the way to get Fort Wayne back on its feet.

“You have to convince the community that they have worth and they have value,” says Jeffrey. “And we can do it on our own.”

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