Out of Iraq

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 25, 2003

After five months of worries, crackling phone connections and periods of silence, Specialist Joshua Lunning of the military police returned from Iraq to his family in Hayward this month, ending their fears about his possible death.

Josh said while in Iraq, he constantly pushed the fear of death to the back mind as he made room for thoughts about his day-to-day acitivities, as he focused on his job. But it was unavoidable &045; they heard about or saw the dead constantly.

For five months he and his company were the police in Ad Diwaniyah, a city in Iraq. He raided the houses of people holding weapons, saw streets bloodied with the bodies of organized crime victims and was shot at by kids who would be paid money if they killed an American soldier. Patrolling markets, some with 20,000 people, Josh would go in with only 30 other American troops.

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He said one of the worst parts was the uncertainty. His company had little information about what was going on in the rest of the country. They didn’t know when they would return home, or if they’d be killed.

Josh was just one of about 145,000 American troops, some from Freeborn County. In fact, Josh ran into a high-school friend in Baghdad, who will return home in a month.

Josh arrived in Iraq in April. Some days, nothing happened, particularly after the first two months.

At base, he’d receive care packages from people he’d never met, never heard of, who spoke with his parents and offered their support. &uot;It’s a good feeling being home, knowing people were so supportive.&uot;

Josh said he never had a problem with people questioning the war, but it does bother him that some people didn’t support troops.

What makes him nervous is worrying about his friends he left behind. It’s something his mom understands.

&uot;We are really proud of what of Josh did, but every day was scary. You were worrying you’d get that phone call,&uot; said his mother, Vicki.

She thought she might once, when a woman posted on the Web site of Josh’s company that someone in the group was injured. It scared the 200 families who used the site. But it wasn’t Josh &045; and the man wasn’t injured; he was killed guarding a cache of seized weapons. He is the only member of Josh’s company to be killed so far.

Most phone calls she got from Josh were crackling and only a few minutes long.

But now Josh is back, he’s engaged and he plans on finishing school. He was welcomed by a banner, declaring him a hometown hero.

He left to go back to Fort Riley on Sunday, but just to finish paperwork and to be discharged. He was only supposed to be in the service until January, but the action in Iraq kept him a little longer. It’ll only be a few weeks now.

The first time Josh left, his mom said everyone &045; she, his nephews, sister, his dad and Josh &045; cried. And when he returned, no one did.

&uot;To see him was such a relief. You could not cry. It’s like finally, finally, finally, he’s home.&uot;

(Contact Tim Sturrock at tim.sturrock@albertleatribune.com or 379-3438.)