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Why I Serve: Soldier Fights Way to Iraq

American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE ORYAN, Iraq, Nov. 30, 2004 – A year ago, New York National Guardsman Spc. Brian Williams was ready to deploy to Iraq with his unit.

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Spc. Brian Williams is assigned to B Company, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, of the New York National Guard. Courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

In his quest to serve, however, he hit a major snag: Medical tests revealed he had a condition rendering him medically "unfit for duty."

The Saranac Lake, N.Y., resident, like many of his north country National Guard brethren, answered the call to active duty last year in support of ongoing efforts in Iraq.

Williams gathered with his fellow soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment early in October 2003 at the Morrisonville Army National Guard Armory. He said goodbye to his wife Kim, their three children Amber, Lauren and Brendan, and then got on the bus for the first leg of his long journey to Iraq.

He expected to do the normal processing at Fort Drum and to train up prior to deployment. But medical screening detected Williams had a blood disease called hemochromatosis: a condition in which the liver is unable to readily process iron in the body.

Untreated, the excess iron in William's system would eventually lead to an enlarged liver and diabetes. The doctors explained that in order to keep the hemochromatosis in check, and his blood's iron saturation level normal, he would have to have a pint of blood drawn from his body every two months. This process would rid his body of the built up excess iron in his bloodstream.

The simple question then became whether Williams was deployable with the condition. So the clock started. Williams waited for three long months on medical hold status while his fellow soldiers trained for Iraq.

Williams spent his time serving as the assistant training NCO for the Ground Support Unit at Fort Drum while waiting for his case to be reviewed by an Army medical evaluation board. Finally, in May, the evaluation board determined that the hemochromatosis rendered Spc. Williams "unfit for duty" and therefore "non- deployable."

When Williams learned of the decision, he did not react as one might expect: Rather than to be content and to return to his family and civilian life, he filed an appeal.

The appeal went forward. In August, after an appointment with a hematologist at Walter Reed the moment of truth arrived: Williams learned that he had won the appeal.

The hematologist determined that there were adequate facilities in Iraq to care for Williams' condition and the previous "non-deployable" status would be amended to read "deployable."

Last month, a full year after activation, Williams finally reunited with his fellow Bravo Company soldiers in Iraq. And on his second mission, his quick reaction to enemy fire earned him the Combat Infantryman Badge.

(Based on a Task Force Danger and 1st Infantry Division news release.)

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