04/03/05 — Iraq experience is one Goodman doesn't want again

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Iraq experience is one Goodman doesn't want again

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on April 3, 2005 9:54 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Returning National Guard member Lt. Col. Dennis Goodman says a million dollars could not convince him to go for another tour in Iraq.

But in some respects, he said, his heart is still over there. On a clear day you can see Iran, he told members of the Mount Olive Rotary Club during a meeting Thursday night at the Southern Belle Restaurant.

"Memorial Day and Veterans Day will have a new meaning for me from this time on," said Goodman, who was pastor of the Mount Olive United Methodist Church for seven years and a chamber president. He served a tour in Iraq with the First Infantry Division of the N.C. National Guard. During his 18-month tour as brigade chaplain, he received his third meritorious medal and a bronze star.

Before he had agreed in December 2002 to become attached to a combat unit, he said he thought "camping out was going to a place where there's no continental breakfast." For more than eight years he had stayed in motels when he traveled with the N.C. National Guard.

The guardsmen mobilized in September 2003 and headed for Germany. They did more traveling in seven months than most active duty units would in three years. The lucky people get to fly into Iraq, he said. To enter the country, his unit took a "three-day convoy from hell."

They arrived at "Camp Happy," which the Yugoslavs had built in the early 1980s. The electricity and the plumbing did not work. A good portion of the troops stayed in tents, he said. They had several groups of interpreters. Some they trusted. Some they didn't

They taught the Iraqis to shoot. Some of the Iraqis weren't very attentive. They acted as if they were thinking, "If Allah wants me to hit the target, I'll hit the target."

Of the 4,800 soldiers who went to Iraq in 2004, they lost 16 and had more than 100 wounded in action.

Dust storms always preceded the rains. When it rains through a dust storm, it's raining mud. He said he doesn't think there was a tree within 10 miles of the base.

The people in his unit had to have at least four vehicles with them whenever they left the gate. Insurgents would attack the convoys at traffic control points, because they had to slow down so much. "You get a fatalistic way of thinking and a weird sense of humor."

When the soldiers slowed down, the Iraqi people would also come to sell them something. It's a poor country. Most of them are sheep herders. Most homes had no doors. "If you had a wooden door, you were very wealthy."

He said they baptized about 40 people while he was there. One baptism was at 11 a.m. on a September day in 125-degree weather. People filed out of the bleachers to renew their baptismal vows. It's in the Methodist prayer book, but not many people do it here, because it's a boring ceremony, he said. "Things worked over there that wouldn't work at home."