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Representative looks forward to returning to his duties in the Missouri Legislature



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Rep. Jim Avery is shown setting up security on a bridge in Iraq as part of his duties with the National Guard's 1140th Engineering Battalion.
January 05, 2005 - Rep. Jim Avery, R-Crestwood, has been deployed to serve in Iraq for a year with the National Guard's 1140th Engineering Battalion and he graciously has offered to write articles for the Call about his experiences.

By JIM AVERY

I am writing this on Dec. 21 as I sit in my tent here just south of Baghdad.

I wanted to share with you what it is like to be over here for the holidays. The month of November went by very quickly and Thanksgiving actually was not too bad.

Despite the fact that everyone was away from their loved ones back home, we made the best out of Thanksgiving. The chow hall had a great lunch for us and it included such traditional items as turkey and ham and such non-traditional items as lobster and shrimp. The military went to great lengths to make sure that our meals were as good as possible.

My friends and I all went to chow together and we sat at the same table. It was the closest thing to being with our families. We said a prayer and then each one of us shared one thing for which we are thankful. Then we ate our meal. It was actually a very quiet meal at our table. I think everyone's mind was on home.

I know I got choked up at one point when I started thinking about home and all of my family and friends. I have only gotten choked up a few times in all of the time that I have been here, so I knew at that point, I was missing home.

Now Christmas is here and I have to tell you that morale on our base camp is very high. Everyone is in a good mood, al-though you can see that everyone is missing home as well. I am just excited because I know that we will be home soon. I cannot give specific dates, but I do know that I will be out of Iraq in early February and home in the latter part of the month. I plan on going back to work the day after I get back from Iraq.

Many people are telling me to take a week or so off from work and just relax, but I really feel like I owe it to the people who voted for me — and the ones who didn't — to get back to work as soon as possible.

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Rep. Jim Avery poses with a comrade
I have dealt with many people's issues while I have been here, but I really am looking forward to getting back to serving the people. I also am looking forward to getting back into my routine. I know that about three weeks after I get back I have students from Lindbergh and other schools coming to the Capitol for the Glory Awards. These are awards I give to students in my district who are being recognized by their teachers and fellow students. The Glory Awards are one of my favorite things each year.

I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to e-mail me or send me a letter or a package. I have gotten so much support from all of you in south county that it really has made my time over here much easier. I have gotten letters from friends, business owners, complete strangers who now are friends, and even from people who used to be engineers in the guard and know people in my unit.

It is amazing how much support we have all gotten over here and for that I thank each and every one of you who sent a letter and e-mail or who said a prayer.

I believe one of the reasons that my unit has been safe over here is all of the prayers we have received.

Speaking of my unit, we have done a great job and all of you should be proud of everyone in the Missouri National Guard.

The Missouri Guard has really made a name for itself over here in Iraq. As you already know, one of my unit's tasks is to look for IEDs. We have saved hundreds of lives with our work and at the same time we haven't lost anyone while doing our duty. We have had a few people receive Purple Hearts from injuries they received in Fallujah.

My unit also was part of the team that helped build the longest road in Iraq. This was a road that was partly built when we got here; we just made the road connect.

The reason this road was so important was that many soldiers and Marines have lost their lives while driving on the dirt road that was old highway. The dust from the road was so bad you often could not see 10 feet in front of you. As a matter of fact, when we first got here we had four soldiers get hurt in a traffic accident while driving on the old dirt road.

I was almost thrown from a moving Hum-vee once while driving on this same dirt road. To say I am overjoyed that this road is now safe is an understatement.

As far as progress here in Iraq, you all know that it is getting more violent the closer we get to the Iraqi elections. I now have seen several dead insurgents during my missions. I also have seen more Iraqi guard and police. They are everywhere and it is very encouraging to see them taking the responsibilities of providing their own security. I believe the elections will go well. However, I would not be surprised if the terrorists try to interfere.

I also wanted to touch briefly on the subject of armored vehicles. I just wanted to say that yes, many people have vehicles with homemade armor, however, most of the Humvees here have the armor kits installed. When I first got here, I drove up in a Humvee that did not have armor.

The whole subject of armor is a legitimate subject for discussion, however, our grandfathers who stormed Normandy didn't have armored Humvees. Putting your life on the line is part of being a soldier and part of making the sacrifice to serve your country.

I do think that the military has done a decent job of giving us the latest equipment as quickly as possible.

At one point some of our armored vehicles didn't work, so we took our dump trucks out to look for IEDs. This was a very high risk task that I don't care to do again. However, we did it. We did it because we are expected to do our jobs and because that was the best possible equipment we had on that day.

Part of being in the military is knowing that the mission is more important than the men. You might not understand this if you were not in the military, but ask any veteran and he will tell you this is the way it works. In the Marines the motto was "mission accomplishment before troop welfare."

I know this sounds harsh to many of you, but it reminds me of an e-mail I once read. I will never forget what the e-mail said: "If you love your freedom, thank a veteran. If you are reading this in English, thank a teacher."

I hope you all had a great Christmas and have a happy new year; I look forward to seeing all of you when I get home.

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