Soldier puts emergency skills to use in Iraq

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 29, 2010

Spc. Michael “Mike” Mitchell of Opp specializes in emergencies – whether it’s serving as an EMT with the Florala EMS or training future Iraqi policemen as a member of the Alabama National Guard.

Mitchell, a two-year full-time employee with Florala EMS, returned at the end of June from a one-year deployment in Iraq, where he trained Iraqi police at the Baghdad Criminal Justice Center and Iraqi military police in Baghdad.

“I’m with the 1165th MP Company out of Brewton, and we were attached to the 217th MP Company,” Mitchell said. “This was my first combat deployment, and it was different to say the least.”

Mitchell said immediate recollections of his time overseas are of two things.

“Lots of heat and lots of sand,” he said. “It was a good deployment, and of course, you miss home and all those things you don’t think you’ll miss until you can’t have them – like sitting on a porch drinking a Coke.”

Spc. Michael “Mike” Mitchell (in the camouflage) teaches a class on riot control to members of the Iraqi Army MP.

Mitchell said his deployment allowed him to blend his two specialties – medical emergency training and being a military police officer.

“I actually did two separate missions while in country,” he said. “I was an MP who helped train 190 Iraqis,” he said. “That was the first six months. There was a definite lack of medical personnel over there, so the last six months, I crossed over as a field medic. I logged 3,300 combat driving miles from Falluja to Baghdad. We were lucky. No one was seriously injured. We came back with everyone we took out.”

Still, it’s been difficult for Mitchell to adjust to life stateside, he said.

“The philosophy that war does not affect you is a complete lie,” he said. “It affects you in some way. You may not have the crazy thoughts associated with the Vietnam era, but transitioning from guard to civilian life was isn’t always easy.

“Some things still bother me,” he said. “I have sleepless nights. You don’t wake up to gunfire in the morning; go to bed with gunfire or explosions here. The quietness takes some getting used to.”

Wednesday, Mitchell presented members of the Florala EMS with a certificate recognizing them as a “Patriotic Employer by the National Committee for Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve” for “looking after everything while I was gone,” he said.

“You can say it was their legal obligation,” he said of how the organization held his job until his return, which is a requirement under federal law. “But there’s nothing in the law that said they had to call and check on my wife; help us raise money to pay our bills; check on me while I was gone.”

Mitchell and his wife Jamie currently reside in Opp. He will begin his rotation with Florala EMS next week.