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