02/13/05 — Police officer back from Iraq

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Police officer back from Iraq

By Turner Walston
Published in News on February 13, 2005 2:13 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Brandon Griffin, a 25-year-old Mount Olive police officer, hardly had time to kiss his bride last Valentine's Day. Ten days after his wedding to the former Lisa Butler, Griffin and his National Guard unit were deployed to Iraq.

Griffin returned last month from an 11-month deployment east of Baghdad with the Bravo Company of the 230th Support Battalion. He worked as a Fire Control Repair Specialist repairing firing systems and electronic components on Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which are small tanks.

Griffin joined the National Guard in July of 1998, shortly after graduating from East Duplin High School. At the time, Griffin thought of the National Guard as, "pretty laid-back." It practiced military courtesies, but "it was more like a regular job," Griffin said.

It was a close-knit group then, but being in Iraq would make the bond much stronger, he added.

Serving with Griffin were guardsmen from all walks of life. Among the careers represented were mechanics, welders and teachers. "People just like me," Griffin said. "Everyday people."

Griffin had graduated from Lenoir Community College and had been working for the Mount Olive Police Department for about three months when he was called up in October of 2003. Immediately he began training in Georgia and Louisiana prior to deployment.

Brandon and Lisa had planned to marry later in the spring of 2004. The process was accelerated so that they could be wed before Brandon went overseas.

"She was worried," Brandon says of Lisa, "but there wasn't a whole lot she could say."

While deployed, Griffin and his wife stayed in constant contact. "I talked to her daily, sometimes twice a day," Brandon says. "But it's an eight-hour difference, so you had to time it right."

Depending on the mission, Griffin sometimes worked 14-hour days. When not repairing Bradleys, Griffin took convoys to other bases. On one such convoy, he saw Saddam Hussein's Tikrit palace from a distance.

Griffin stayed east of Baghdad until spending his final month in Kuwait. He says not every place in Iraq is as portrayed on television news. "East of Baghdad, it's mostly rural village areas," Griffin says.

Griffin said there were many Kurdish Iraqi citizens working on the base in support positions. The Kurds "wanted us there," Griffin says. "They're the ones Saddam persecuted. They felt like his loyalists would continue that even if he's not in power anymore, and that's one reason they wanted us there."

And how did the deployed troops feel? "I didn't hear much complaining about Washington," Brandon says. "I can't speak for everyone, but I feel if my country calls me for a tour of service, it's my duty to fulfill it."

"It's going to be a long-term process," Griffin says of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "The Iraqis need to work on getting their own security established. It's at a very weak stage. They're getting better, but so are the insurgents."

Brandon says the United States is doing good work, some of which goes unseen by most American citizens. "You see a lot of bad stuff on the news, but there are villages we've gone through and helped rebuild roads, schools, government buildings and homes."

In August, Griffin had the opportunity to return home for two weeks. Coming home was good, he says, but "having to go back was a drag. The first week was normal, but then I started to think, 'I gotta go back in four days.' That part was tough."

After 11 months in the Middle East, Brandon arrived at Pope Air Force Base the morning of Jan. 11. After hearing a briefing and turning his weapon in, he was re-united with his wife and family.

What does he take from his experience with the National Guard that applies to police work? "Personal safety, and the safety of your partner. There's so many things that can happen. I'm always looking around for a sturdy place to hide, just in case I have to.

"You're just more aware of your personal surroundings when you go somewhere like that. When you pat somebody down, you're wondering, 'Could this be a bomb?' Over here, you don't really think they'll have a bomb, but you take the same kind of precautions."

Back with the Mount Olive Police Department, Brandon does not anticipate returning to Iraq anytime soon. For now, he is enjoying police work and spending time with his wife.

He said they plan a "real honeymoon" this summer, 18 months after their wedding.