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Soldier recalls time spent during tour of duty

When Nashuma Knight a 1998 Andalusia High School graduateand US Army 2nd Lieutenant stationed at Ft. Stewart in Georgia, crossed the berm from Kuwait into Iraq in March during Operation Iraqi Freedom, she had no idea what lay ahead as she moved towards Baghdad with her Army unit.

But the experiences she had in an active combat zone are something that will stay with her forever.

Among her first and most memorable experiences were the weekly sandstorms in Kuwait and Iraq.

"One thing that was constant were the sandstorms," Nashuma said.

"Every week we had a sandstorm. They were pretty big, and that's one of the reasons we had goggles. But, no matter what, the sand would get into everything - our tents, clothes, everything."

Nashuma also said the images many television networks aired showing the air as an orange color was right on the money.

"It was one of the first sandstorms they'd had, and it really was that orange outside," she said. "The wind was blowing and knocking everything down. I don't think I left the tent that day."

Comfort, was not an option either for Nashuma nor the rest of the soldiers.

"We were sleeping on cots, so it wasn't the most comfortable arrangements, but morale stayed high for the most part," she said. "The biggest loss of comfort was during the actual war. Most people held it together, but some soldiers were a little nervous when they were working security out on the perimeter, or in the their foxhole. I know there was some fear there. We would hear about a couple of Iraqi soldiers or civilians spotted about two miles away, and everyone would be on their guard. The biggest thing though was we didn't want anyone to get trigger happy."

There were other tense times as well for soldiers - especially when not near a camp.

"Being in the convoys and not knowing what is out there could be unnerving," Nashuma said. "You've got sniper fire. We didn't take any fire, but it was always on your mind - even going back to Kuwait. We always had a round in the chamber of our weapons in case we had to use them."

Nashuma said the dissemination of information in the field didn't take long either, and that the soldiers were always informed.

"We had Internet access and my unit had a communications module. We received our information pretty quickly from command," she said. "That helped everyone by knowing what was going on."

A journalist my her chosen education path, Nashuma had mixed feelings about the "embedded" journalists covering the war.

"We didn't have any reporters with us, but we saw them out," Nashuma said. "I know how a reporter is out there doing their job, but I also understand that some reporters were out there to further their career or for the glory. I thought to myself 'Some of them were out there, putting themselves out there for recognition, but you've got soldiers out there who aren't doing this for the glory, they've got a cause they're fighting for.'"

Nashuma also said she believed the reporters could have been a little more prepared - just in case.

"I didn't see any of the reporters with weapons," she said. "I thought that was crazy. If I were reporting, I would want a gun to defend myself with."

On her journey into Baghdad, Nashuma said it was peaceful for the most part - for her anyway.

"When we started going to Baghdad, you started seeing more people out," she said. "But, you never knew if they were friend of foe. You never let your guard down. Nobody got hostile, but we kept hearing the reports of suicide bombers. It was a pretty lengthy trip, but we all got their safely."

Once in Baghdad vicinity, Nashuma said her main stop was in the Iraqi capitol's airport.

"Around April 8 or 9, we were at the airport. That was some of the first real buildings I saw on the trip into Baghdad," she said. "One of the things that caught you off guard though on the trip in was seeing the destroyed machinery and vehicles. It bothered some people. You didn't mind seeing their equipment destroyed, but we also saw some of our vehicles destroyed. We saw a lot of that."

The reception the Iraqi people gave the soldiers provided its own food for thought.

"There were people out there cheering for us, who understood what we were doing, but I was also surprised at how loyal some of the people were to Saddam," Nashuma said. "I never expected that. I don't think any of us expected there to be that many people loyal to him."

Although Nashuma didn't leave the airport that much, she did have the opportunity to visit one of Saddam's palaces - where the distinction between poverty and opulence was evident.

"Iraq is not a third-world country," she said. "But, seeing some of the palaces, it's clear that most of the wealth wasn't being put back into the country for its people. The palace was gorgeous - and it was a considered a small one. We called it the penthouse because it was considered one of the small palaces."

Although times were tough, morale remained high for the most part during the war, Nashuma said.

"There were times when people got a little down," she said. "It was mostly because things had begun to calm down and people were wondering what was next, but there were activities to keep us busy. There were church services, a PX, canteens, and other things to help out."

But, no matter what the military provided, the best morale booster Nashuma said was boarding an airliner for the trip back to Ft. Stewart.

"When we got on that plane, and it was a regular airplane, we were all excited," she said. "We had our first stop in Cypress, and then we had a layover at Ramstein Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany. The biggest sense of relief though was when we actually took off from Kuwait. We knew we had gotten our job done. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. When we got to Georgia, everyone celebrated. There was a crowd to greet us."

When we got back to Ft. Stewart, a short memorial service was held and then, we were released to our families. That was the best feeling ever. When I first saw my mother that next morning, I didn't think she was going to let go of me. The tears were flowing, and we were all so happy. My dad had gotten a leave from where he is stationed in Maryland, and my sister was there - we were all together. It was a great feeling."