Calen Bullard
of Navarro County, Texas


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5/2/2004 After a year in Iraq, Calen Bullard has a renewed ... Love of Country
 

 
CHS graduate Calen Bullard was back in town this week after a year stint in Iraq. Soon, he will return to Fort Bragg to resume training after his current three-week leave is over. Daily Sun photo/SCOTT HONEA
 

By RAYMOND LINEX II/Daily Sun Staff

In many ways life will get back to normal for Calen Bullard. In many others, it will never be the same.

Back stateside after a year in Iraq, the sergeant and communications expert in the 51st Signal Battalion stationed in Fort Bragg will return to training soon, return to the firing range, return to equipment testing, return to life before his near-370-day stint in a place he has grown to detest.

But it may never be normal again.
 

"I came out of the house (Thursday), and (wife) Sarah was sitting in the car," said Bullard, 23, a '97 CHS graduate who was back in Corsicana for a few days this week. "As I walked in front (of the car), she honked the horn, and I nearly hit the ground. It scared the bejeezers out of me.

"I'm still jumpy."

That happens when mortar shells hit within 100 meters of you, as they did on one of the nights Bullard drew guard duty at his camp. But Bullard admits he was one of the fortunate ones, not having to face combat on a routine basis. He admits one of "the worst days" he ever had was when a member of his unit was injured and bled to death on the way to the hospital.
"It could have been anybody," he said.

Bullard's job was to make sure communications went smoothly between commanders at camp and his brethren in the field. It didn't mean he didn't face danger, every time he traveled from one zone to another, any time he walked from area of camp somewhere else, each of the four times he drew guard duty, like he did on his 23rd birthday.

In simple terms, Bullard will tell you he's merely a radio operator, just a skilled one with knowledge of very sophisticated equipment -- any the military has to offer. Bottom line, however, is that Bullard remains a soldier.

"It doesn't matter who you run into over there, they're carrying a weapon," he said of those on his side. "Everybody is trained to be on that front line. To walk where you've got to go, you need to know what to do."

Bullard arrived "in country" in Iraq April 2, 2003, with orders for a six-month stint, but the gut-feeling he would be away from home for at least a year. For 20 days, he was stationed at Camp Virginia, Kuwait, for another six weeks, at Camp Victory, Iraq, about a five-minute drive from Baghdad International Airport, he said.

On June 11, he was sent to a base site north of the Baghdad Airport, and remained there until late July, when he went back to Victory, where his unit prepared to head south in support of the Polish Multinational Division in Babylon.

While he was left at Victory to be his battalion's liaison, his unit arrived in Babylon Aug. 15 to find the Polish division had yet to remove its equipment from boats in the port. His stay, along with his unit's, was extended six months.

Six more months of battling the heat, the wind and the sand. Six more months of fighting one of his biggest battles, that of morale, which was sinking, he said, after the orders to stay longer.

The first days had been physically draining.

"I lost 25 pounds in the first months," he said. "We were living in tents, on an old asphalt parking lot, and it got dirty. We were constantly having to sweep sand out of them.

"The first four months were the worst. There were no activities for the soldiers."

Kuwait was the desert, he said, two-foot of loose sand everywhere and hot. Iraq was a little more humid, less dusty, but just as hot.

"There was no escaping the heat," he said.

These last few weeks, Bullard was in the office early, about 8:30 a.m. daily, to catch security briefings. His shift started at 9, and was scheduled for 12 hours. He seldom left before 10:30 p.m., though, he said.

Now at home, he is spending time catching up. He and Sarah left North Carolina for Las Vegas, where the throngs of people made him uneasy. He prefers a quiet, less-populated setting now, with people he knows and is familiar with. Tuesday, he arrived in Corsicana, where he spent time with his mother, Brenda Thomas. On Friday, he was off to lunch -- pizza in tow -- with son Ethan, who still lives in Corsicana along with sister Kennedy, with Bullard's first wife, who remains a Corsicana resident. There was also time scheduled with grandparents and other relatives.

Bullard makes the roads of Corsicana rather easy. Not much has changed, he said, since his days here. He would prefer the life of a civilian now, but alas, the Army will call again soon. His three-week leave is almost over, and he has three years left on his current enlistment of six years.

"I'd be getting out if I had (reenlisted) for only three years," Bullard said.

Bullard will someday go into the private business world of communications, where he believes his skills learned and experiences gained in the military will help him land a good-paying job. That was the plan all along. But, until that day comes, he'll keep training, keep making sure all of his equipment is in order ... and keep hoping the orders don't come down sending he and his peers back to Iraq.

"I'll admit it: It was scary as hell being over there," he said. "... Any kind of situation that reminds me of over there, I don't like. I never want to go back over there."


 

 


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Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox