State representative returning home from Iraq
February 23, 2005 - Rep. Jim Avery, R-Crestwood, has served in Iraq the past year with the National Guard's 1140th Engineering Battalion and graciously has written about his experiences for the Call.
By JIM AVERY
When you read this article I should finally be back in the United States.
I have spent the last 12 months in Iraq, away from my family and away from my friends. I never really knew that spending 12 months in a combat zone would change me so much as a person. You never really know those things until you experience them for yourself.
I have grown a lot in different ways; I now have a better understanding of who I am as a person. I also have grown spiritually. I believe one reason I am safe is from the power of prayer.
I want to share a lot of my personal thoughts in this article. This will after all be the last article I write while in the Middle East. As you may already know, my unit was tasked with finding improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, along the supply routes.
You learn a lot about yourself when you have to approach a potentially deadly bomb and not only move it, but blow it up.
I still remember the first time I had to get out and be the "one" who had to get the bomb and dispose of it. I was scared; I thought for sure it was going to blow up. I remember approaching the bomb as I bent down — as if bending over would prevent me from getting blown up. My hands trembled as I picked up the bomb after carefully examining it to make sure there was not a device that would set if off when picked up.
At the end of my deployment, looking for bombs was almost like going on an Easter egg hunt. The fear of getting blown up was nearly gone. Actually, I think we all kind of felt like it was never going to happen. After all, when you do something a hundred times, it becomes routine.
There was a point, however, when our confidence started to fade and it was no longer "fun" to go out and be the guy to blow up the bomb. The closer we got to the end of our tour, the less "fun" things became.
My tour also had some other low notes. I had a falling out with a couple of friends back home and I lost my Dad on Dec. 29.
I found out he died when I went to check my e-mail and my sister and my assistant both had sent me messages with urgent subject lines. I will never forget the feeling I had reading the e-mail from my little sister, telling me she was sorry to be the one to tell me that my Dad, James Avery Sr., had passed away.
Within the hour I was on my way south and on a plane that night on my way home. I spent New Year's Eve in an empty airport waiting to come home for my Dad's funeral. I also learned a lot about my Dad from all of his friends and my family.
My Dad was a great guy. His friends all loved him and more importantly, I was proud of him. The thing that makes me the most proud about my Dad is the fact he was married for almost 24 years to a wonderful person, my stepmom — I like to call her my Country Mom — Charlotte.
While I was home I had the opportunity to go to Gov. Matt Blunt's inauguration. I also had invited about 20 Lindbergh High School students and I was lucky enough to spend most of the day with them and their families.
These students are our future leaders.
Spending time with the students led by Kit Crancer helped make my time at home a little better, especially under the circumstances. It was also nice to see all of my friends from both political parties. While I was gone both Republicans and Democrats sent me letters and care packages. My friends in Jefferson City are like my second family.
I came back to the Middle East after about three weeks at home to take care of my Dad's affairs. As I write this, I am in Kuwait City waiting to come home. Now we spend our time playing cards and reading books, waiting for our flight home.
The Iraqi elections went much better than I had expected. I was so glad that you all got to see a part of what I have seen while I was here, the very things that I write about in these articles, particularly the fact that the people of Iraq are glad that the United States is helping and the fact that they want freedom. The sheer number of Iraqi people that voted despite acts of terrorism on election day was an inspiring sight. It also was a morale booster for all of the troops to see their work and sacrifices paying off.
I remember fighting back the tears in the chow hall here in Kuwait while I watched President Bush's State of the Union Address. The image of the Iraqi lady with the purple finger holding it up proudly and making a "V" for victory really made me proud of what we had done here. I almost broke down when the mother of a Marine who gave his life here in Iraq stood up and then received a hug from the Iraqi lady.
|State Rep. Jim Avery, R-Affton|
|Rep. Avery's platoon|
I remember sitting with a guy I had just met at the table, Randy Ottinger of Oakville. Randy is a helicopter pilot here in Iraq and will probably be home by the time you read this article. It was nice meeting him and I found out he was here with his son Andrew Ottinger, also a helicopter pilot.
A couple days later we had doughnuts and coffee and talked about home.
In just a few days, I will be back at work in Jefferson City. I plan on going back to work the day after I get back home. I hope to be back at work by Feb. 28.
I miss my job and I know we have a lot of work to do dealing with important issues facing our state. I think my experiences from the last year will make me a better legislator.
Since this is my last article until I get home, I want to thank some people who have made my time here a little better. I want to thank Dr. James Sandfort and the entire Lindbergh School District. I also want to thank the Hohman Family, the Liebers, Chris Tumminello, Reps. Jim Lembke and Walt Bivins, Mike O'Donnell, the Neunreiter family, Anne Lakamp and, most importantly, my Lord and Savior.
I hope you all enjoyed reading my articles as much as I have writing them. I want to thank you all for the kind e-mails and care packages you have sent me. I have gotten to know several of you via e-mail and I look forward to meeting you all at some point. Take care and God Bless.