Local Guardsman returns home from Iraq, shares story

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 9, 2006

By Adam Hammer, staff writer

ALDEN &045; Being under the constant threat of roadside bombs and insurgent attacks, many troops stationed in Iraq will not miss much when they return home.

&8220;Sunsets and stars are the only things I&8217;m going to miss,&8221; Trevor Nelson, a National Guardsman stationed in Iraq, said.

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Nelson, 20, has been on leave from his post west of Baghdad near the village of Hit, Iraq since Aug. 28 and has spent much of that time at his family&8217;s home in Alden. He will return to Iraq on Sept. 15 and is scheduled to finish his tour in time to celebrate his 21st birthday in the states with friends and family on April 3, 2007.

Nelson has been in the Middle East since April, and was in training at Camp Shelby, Miss. before that. Nelson hadn&8217;t been home since last Christmas.

Most of his visit home has been spent catching up with friends and family and has included a surprise hello at a friend&8217;s wedding and numerous motorcycle rides on his Yamaha R6.

&8220;I&8217;ve pretty much been winging it,&8221; Nelson said.

He also added to his tattoo collection with a knot-work design on his wrist that he got done at

The Chapel tattoo studio in Albert Lea.

&8220;It&8217;s almost like he hasn&8217;t even been gone,&8221; Lori Nelson, his mother, said. &8220;But none of us are looking forward to the 15th.&8221;

Lori said she thinks about her son and his safety every day since he has been in Iraq, and knowing that he is often in danger is hard for her. She often checks the Web site www.redbullweb.com, the site of The First Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division (1/34 BCT) Desert Bulls deployed to Iraq in March for a 12-month tour to conduct theater security in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The BCT has over 5,000 soldiers from units in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, New Jersey, Kentucky

and Kansas, and has recently picked up units from North Carolina, California, West Virginia, and Georgia.

Nelson is with Company C 135 out of Owatonna.

It was about 130 degrees in Iraq when Nelson left for home. On average, the temperatures have been between 110 and 135 degrees during the day, which makes for sweltering conditions when added to the 50 pounds of clothing and gear he regularly has to wear.

Since he has been back, he has had to wear two T-shirts to keep warm and isn&8217;t used to not having sweaty hands, Nelson said with raccoon-eyes tan lines from wearing his sunglasses under the Middle Eastern sun.

Nelson said he hasn&8217;t seen any small arms fire yet, but has encountered quite a few roadside bombs. There are two types of roadside bombs, he said: controlled detonation, which is generally detonated with cell phones and pressure plate.

His training has helped him deal with roadside bomb situations.

During his six-month training at Camp Shelby, Nelson trained in infantry and in improvised explosive devices. When Nelson got to Iraq, he said he was frustrated to learn his mission was with convoy security instead of infantry.

The best training Nelson said he received was in Iraq from the troops his company was set to replace.

&8220;They taught us the ropes of the convoy,&8221; he said. &8220;Things change though, and have changed since they left.&8221;

When Nelson encounters roadside bombs or anything that could contain a bomb, including cars, tires or large containers, he and the troops have to destroy them. Even if it is their own convoy&8217;s equipment, it has to be destroyed.

When they destroy vehicles, often a shell of the vehicle is left behind. The next day, that shell is usually gone, probably taken by local people, Nelson said.

Nelson has encountered a mixed batch of Iraqis with attitudes ranging from frightened to welcoming to hatred.

&8220;I just try to know what they&8217;re thinking,&8221; Nelson said. &8220;If they wave back, I know they might not be wanting to blow me up.&8221;

Nelson said he just tries to be nice to the people of Iraq.

Some Iraqis show their boot at him and the troops, a gesture that they are lesser than dirt. Other Iraqis ignore him or are scared of him.

&8220;Then there&8217;s people who love to see us,&8221; Nelson said.

No one seems to want to show too much friendliness toward Americans however, since insurgents are embedded into most every village, Nelson said.

Even the military&8217;s Iraqi interpreters fear for themselves and their families&8217; safety if an insurgent were to find out they were working with the U.S. military.

Nelson said identity theft is a major problem in Iraq. In America, identity theft generally costs a victim money and frustration. In Iraq, identity theft costs a victim his or her life, Nelson said.

Interpreters, such as one who is referred to by Nelson and others as &8220;Mike Jones&8221; because of his love for rap music, live on the military&8217;s base.

&8220;He&8217;s (Jones) pretty much like me and my buddies &045; a 19-20-year-old kid,&8221; Nelson said.

The troops borrow CDs to Jones to feed his appetite for rap music.

Nelson enlisted in the National Guard four days after he turned 17. He is enlisted for six years with two years of individual ready reserve. He is uncertain if he will re-enlist, he said.

&8220;We&8217;ll see how this deployment treats me,&8221; he said.

He is also planning to get in on the 2009 deployment to Kosovo.

Nelson&8217;s experiences in Iraq have already given him fodder for many war stories, some of which only a small number of people will probably ever hear. He has also taken away a new outlook on life.

&8220;I value life more now,&8221; he said &8220;It seems like life isn&8217;t worth as much there as it is here.&8221;