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Why I Serve: Reservists Reflect on Firefighting Duty in Iraq

By Master Sgt. Jack Gordon, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BALAD, Iraq, Aug. 31, 2004 – "I always dreamed about being a firefighter, but I never actually thought I'd become one," said Army Spc. Everad Lewis.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Reserve Spc. Everad Lewis said he's always dreamed about being a firefighter. Serving in Iraq, he noted, has allowed "me to serve my country, and to be the man I needed to be and was supposed to be."
  

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

A resident of Tacoma, Wash., Lewis is assigned to the 475th Engineer Detachment (Firefighting), from Creston, Iowa.

Lewis and Siekawitch were both assigned to the 907th Engineer Detachment in Yakima, Wash., before being individually mobilized and reassigned to the 475th here. Both see firefighting careers ahead of them once their service here is complete.

"I'm here for the experience," Siekawitch said. "On this deployment I'm getting experience from the firefighting side that should help me get a job. It's also going to get me more respect in my life."

Lewis said he joined the Army Reserve to help his family and to serve and protect his country. "I started late in the military. I was 26 when I enlisted, but better late than never," he added.

The soldier said his family was "in denial" about his deploying to Iraq, but he knew he had to go. "I felt it in my heart," he said. "And I felt it was time for me to serve my country, and to be the man I needed to be and was supposed to be."

A full-time student, Siekawitch said his long-term goal was to be a firefighter, and the Army Reserve helped him realize that goal.

So far, he said, life in Iraq isn't quite what he expected. "I thought I was going to be dropped in the middle of a hot (landing zone) getting fired at and ducking for cover, but once I got here, I settled in. It's a little different being a firefighter," Siekawitch said.

The 475th is one of the elements of Logistics Support Area Anaconda's Emergency Response Center here, which includes fire, military police, ordnance and medical assets. LSA Anaconda is host to some 23,000 U.S. and coalition service members and civilian contractors. The emergency-response soldiers respond to various emergencies every day.

"It's very hot here, so there are heat casualties. There are a lot of electrical problems (that cause fires), too. The buildings are concrete, so they hold up pretty well, but the tents are soaked in kerosene to waterproof them and help keep the insects away," Lewis said. "They can go up in about 30 seconds. We've had a couple go down."

Siekawitch said the unit responds to a lot of trash bin fires and assists on medical calls. "Then there are the mortar attacks," he added.

Mortar attacks are common here. While most are random and cause little damage, some have been deadly. In June, a mortar attack on the post exchange killed two soldiers and wounded more than a dozen others.

"I came pretty close to an incoming round," said Siekawitch. "I was getting in my Humvee and heard a round go off. We saw the explosion about 100 meters away. It was pretty crazy. It was a lucky day, because if I would have left a minute earlier the round could have been right on the Humvee. So, God was looking out for me."

He said it's hard to explain what it's like in Iraq to his family and friends back home. "You don't know unless you've been over here. What you see on the news isn't exactly the truth," he said. "The news makes things a lot worse than what we're getting here."

But, he added, "We sure appreciate all the support from the States."

Siekawitch said his tour of duty has been a long journey so far, and he's looking forward to going home. But in the meantime, he said, he's proud to be serving among skilled and honorable fellow soldiers.

"We've come together as a team," he said. "And that makes things a lot easier." And as far as working in air that's superheated by the sun to temperatures hovering around 125 degrees every day, Lewis is OK with it.

"It's cool," Lewis said. "I'm working as a firefighter."

(Army Master Sgt. Jack Gordon is a member of the U.S. Army Reserve Public Affairs Acquisition Team.)

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