It’s difficult to imagine the temperature flirting with 130 degrees Fahrenheit. But that’s the kind of heat Lt. Col. Greg Parker and the Louisiana National Guard must endure while serving in Iraq. Parker, 42, is a Gonzales, La., resident and the chief of staff for the 225th Engineer Brigade. He has overseen the expansion of Iraq's Camp Carver over the last few weeks with soldiers from the 46th Engineer Battalion.
It’s difficult to imagine the temperature flirting with 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
But that’s the kind of heat Lt. Col. Greg Parker and the Louisiana National Guard must endure while serving in Iraq.
Parker, 42, is a Gonzales, La., resident and the chief of staff for the 225th Engineer Brigade. He has overseen the expansion of Iraq's Camp Carver over the last few weeks with soldiers from the 46th Engineer Battalion.
There they built “B Huts,” which are small, air-conditioned buildings used to house soldiers. They are also constructing a dining facility expansion. The expansion of the combat outpost in southern Baghdad was needed due to the relocation of soldiers from within the city under the security agreement.
American troops are required to withdraw from cities by the end of June and leave Iraq completely by the end of 2011.
The United States plans to withdraw all combat troops by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving 50,000 troops or fewer to train and advice the Iraqi forces. The remaining troops would withdraw before the 2011 deadline.
Parker said engineers have been working on the base ever since they arrived in February.
Most of the soldiers at Camp Carver are staying in tents or Conexes, which are shipping containers that have been modified to be used for housing.
Once the first set of buildings were finished, it didn’t take long for soldiers to start moving in, Parker said.
“In fact, many didn’t even wait for trucks to move their stuff,” he said. “They dragged their gear and duffel bags and carried beds hundreds of yards just to get into the much improved living conditions.”
Parker said engineers work to make soldiers comfortable when resting, protected when on missions and safe when traveling.
The military could not release figures on the size of the expansion for security reasons.
Parker said the security agreement is one more step to helping the Iraqi people obtain a democratic society. He said engineers are in a partnership with the Iraqi Army engineers.
“We work together to conduct missions, train their soldiers and share our cultures,” Parker said. “The Iraqi Army soldiers work hard to move their country forward every day, despite the challenges of manning and training a relatively new army. The people here have a long tough road ahead.”
He compared Iraq to the United States when it first declared its independence more than 200 years ago.
“Democracy is a fragile thing and not everyone here is supportive of the Iraqi effort,” he said. “The people of Iraq are making great sacrifices to ensure that it succeeds.”
Many times the people have to live without electricity and water, and trash goes uncollected, Parker said.
“It is not always this bad, but every day people here have to make a choice,” he said. “A choice for freedom. A choice to live in a society where they have a voice. A choice to endure whatever hardships are needed so that their children will have a better life. A choice to stay positive, self sufficient, and hopeful for a better tomorrow. A choice not just to keep hope alive, but to make hope happen. When I see this, it makes me proud to be an American. Proud of what my forefathers endured to give me the freedom I have today.”
Parker also reflected on the lessons he has learned during his service.
“Some people like to refer to those that serve here as heroes,” he said. “I do not believe that I am such a person. I have seen what some men have done here in support of our nation’s freedom and the freedom of Iraq. I have seen the heroes who gave their lives for the cause of freedom and democracy. But I see heroes at home as well.”
His family deals with everyday life without him and never complains, he said.
“My neighbors check on my family and do whatever is needed to take care of them,” Parker said.
His wife, Wendy, smiles calmly and supportively every time they communicate through video conferencing, he said.
He added that she “is burdened with more than she deserves and probably cries herself to sleep” after their conversation ends.
“These are my heroes,” he said. “This is why I am here. This is why I serve.”
“People always ask me what they can do to support us. I simple say ‘Vote.’ Become a part of the government by exercising your right to vote. Learn about your country, our constitution and why this country was formed. A truly democratic society will sustain itself only if the people empower themselves to control its destiny by controlling the government through the democratic process.”
Weekly Citizen (Gonzales, La.)