By DAVID GREEN
It’s dangerous and often dispiriting. It’s hard to be away from family and conditions are often more than challenging.
But there’s also a lot of satisfaction that Fayette’s Troy Shoemaker finds in serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq, because two year-long tours of duty just aren’t enough. He thinks he’s about to sign up for one more.
Troy visited Normal Memorial Library last week to speak at the library’s after-school program. Two dozen grade school boys viewed photos shown on Troy’s laptop computer and peppered him with questions.
The 1998 Fayette graduate enlisted in 2002 and has two more years of service ahead of him. He just wrapped up his second tour in Iraq and is back home for about three weeks of leave.
He studied combat arms and learned to drive and serve as a gunman in a Bradley fighting machine. His home base is at Ft. Carson, Col., but he’ll soon head to Ft. Bliss, Texas, to study radar and fiber optics.
“I went into the Army to learn how to shoot down airplanes,” he told the boys. “I’ve been driving around in a Bradley looking for the bad guys. That’s my actual job.”
Troy showed photos of the Bradley he drove. The 33-ton vehicle takes three people for operation, but it can handle up to 15.
“It will drive through houses and over cars,” he said.
He explained the vehicle’s night scope that detects heat. He says he could watch a tear roll down a person’s cheek from two miles away.Another photo shows the gear that soldiers sometimes wore when the war first started, including head to toe chemical protection suits. From his second tour, he showed a photo of a vest that soldiers wear in which ceramic plates are inserted for armor. Add to that a large rifle with 300 rounds of ammunition, water and life-saving medical equipment, Troy said, and a soldier has a heavy load just walking around.
“We had a high temperature reach 140° with a heat index of 160°,” he said. “We had a thermometer on our back porch and one day in the summer it exploded.”
In contrast, he showed a photo taken shortly before he left and there was snow falling.
“How many people did you kill?” a youngster asked.
Troy answered with a diplomatic, “I don’t know.”
“I’ve never been shot,” he said, “but I’ve been shot at a lot.”
A video clip shows an attack on the city of Tal Afar with aerial bombing by Apache helicopters. Troy was on the ground below. As building after building was blown up, one audience member asked, “How did you survive?”
“Radios,” Troy said. “I’m over here; shoot over there.”
The effort to clean out Tal Afar was recently lauded by President Bush as an example of progress in the war, but like many other achievements, the results haven’t been long-lasting. Shortly after the president’s speech, a suicide bomber attacked an army recruiting station, killing 40 and wounding 20.
Troy said one his best friends in Iraq has been in a hospital since last May and probably has two more months before being released. The jeep he was riding in was hit by a roadside bomb and the jeep was cut in half. Everyone survived, but the injuries were severe.
As far as injuries go, both sides get help when possible.
“We even have to help the enemy,” Troy said. “There are rules of war.”
“Do the bad guys wear a different costume?” a boy asked.
“No,” Troy answered. “That’s why it’s so hard there. You can’t tell who is who.”
Army recruiting goals are falling short of quotas as the war drags on, and Troy’s visit didn’t suggest that any changes are on the horizon.
“Anybody want to join the Army?” he asked.
Despite images of the guns, the bombing, the high-tech equipment and the excitement, only three hands shot up among the 26 grade school boys.