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Why I Serve: Soldier Extends to Stay in Iraq With New Unit

By Sgt. Annette B. Andrews, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

ASAD, Iraq, Feb. 17, 2005 – What's a police officer from Marietta, Ga., doing in the dusty desert regions of the Middle East? Extending her tour.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Sgt. Beth A. Bedore, serving with the 561st Corps Support Group in northwestern Iraq, extended her tour to stay with the unit that took her in so she could serve in Iraq. "I just know what we are doing over here is making a difference," she said. Photo by Sgt. Annette B. Andrews, USA

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

"I wanted to be in the thick of it," said Army Sgt. Beth A. Bedore, a native of Saginaw, Mich., where her family still resides. "I just know what we are doing over here is making a difference."

The all-wheeled vehicle mechanic originally was deployed with the 175th Maintenance Company to Kuwait and was attached 11 months later to the 561st Corps Support Group here, in northwestern Iraq.

"I'm not married. I don't have kids. My family is very supportive, and my nieces and nephews are proud of me," she said.

As a mechanic, she not only repaired vehicles, she assisted in up-armoring vehicles. "There is personal pride in what I do, and if someone said the up- armor I put on their vehicle saved their life, that would make it all worth it," she said.

She originally volunteered for service in Iraq, but her unit was sent to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Late in her first deployment, her battalion commander and company commander helped her find a unit that was looking for volunteers to extend for an incoming unit.

"The 561st CSG was very welcoming, and that's made the transfer a lot easier," she said.

She is filling a required slot for the group. The person originally slotted for the maintenance group had a heart attack in Kuwait and was sent back. Working as a support operations maintenance noncommissioned officer, Bedore has gone from being under the vehicles to cutting steel to up-armor vehicles and now writes reports on the equipment she used to repair.

When a soldier volunteers for extended service in a combat zone, it becomes a win-win situation. The military does not spend extra resources getting replacement troops or training those people. The gaining unit receives an experienced soldier who can add to their existing resources and information about current conditions.

"Instead of going to school (for it), I'm getting on-the-job experience," she said. "In the long run, this saves the Army a lot of money. Besides, I'm here for the experience."

Soldiers profit too, and not only by receiving bonuses, something she never mentioned.

"I'm the only one in my family with military experience. It's helped me with self-discipline and exercise; that, in return, helps me with my job back home," she said. "I know there are others out there who are like me. I want to be here and do my job the best I can."

Like so many deployed soldiers, Bedore has a bed among 42 bunk beds and limited space. Living in a tent provides no real personal space, with 18 inches to two feet between bunks. Personal items spill over from beneath beds or from the tops of footlockers. It is nearly impossible to personalize their space, but these soldiers do their best with small items they brought with them.

Every occupant must learn to get along or it becomes a very long year. Everyone lives together and works together, so they must pull together, the soldiers say. The tent leaks on rainy days, and the elements do not discriminate -- from the lieutenant colonel to the private, everyone gets drenched.

"Others who don't know you will cover your property and move things to protect you (in a downpour)," Bedore said about living with the 561st CSG. "It's a camaraderie you'll never have in the civilian world -- ever."

Bedore's loyalty comes from being among individuals who barely knew her. On station for one week, she underwent minor surgery with a two-day hospital stay. The unit first sergeant and other soldiers went to the hospital with a get-well card signed by almost everyone.

"I felt they went above and beyond what was expected," she said. "I won't go home until they go home."

The 561st CSG from Omaha, Neb., arrived in October and is in the process of building Asad into a general supply hub providing supplies to the surrounding areas of operations.

(Army Sgt. Annette B. Andrews is a member of the 28th Public Affairs Detachment from Fort Lewis, Wash., and is deployed to Iraq in support of units at Logistics Support Area Anaconda.)

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