Spc. Aaron Torrey, 22, of Otis Orchards, has been in the Army since shortly after he graduated from East Valley High School in 2006. Last month he returned from his first tour in Iraq, where he served as a combat engineer with the 14th Engineering Battalion. He spent 10 months stationed in Tallil, about 185 miles southeast of Baghdad, and called the experience “an eye opener.” He recently re-enlisted, but for a new specialty. He’s training to be a dog handler and plans to take some college classes while in the Army.
Q.What does a combat engineer do?
A.I do route clearance; basically I travel down the roads to make sure they’re clear from IEDs (improvised explosive devices). We’re the unit that looks for them.
Q.What was the most eye-opening thing that you experienced?
A.The fact that I know I’m helping somebody: the Iraqi people. I actually enjoyed them coming up to us, talking to us, stuff like that.
Q.What did you talk about?
A.My leadership mostly did the talking with tribal leaders. We mostly just helped with the kids, gave them food and water and occasionally toys … Beanie Babies for the little girls, soccer balls, sometimes even coloring books, pens and paper. They love pens and paper over there, for their school.
Q.What’s Tallil like?
A.Lot of desert, smaller cities – not like Baghdad. Lot of small tribes.
Q.What hit you when you stepped off the plane?
A.Mostly it was just the shock and awe of being in a different country. … I was kind of surprised. There is green. … It’s not a hole in the ground; it’s a nice country. I think it was just the heat, the heat was what really got me. You get off that plane and realize how hot it is … that wave of heat.
Q.Is there one big experience that sticks out in your mind?
A.Being on foot and going through the villages and having all the kids come up to me. To realize we’re not a threat over there, we’re helping them. … They’re not scared of the possible terrorists or anybody else that might harm them. They’re not scared.
Q.What did you miss most, other than family?
A.Probably just the freedom of getting in my car and driving wherever I want. … It’s a very secure base and I can’t just go outside of it if I want.
Q.What’s the first thing you did when you got back to Fort Lewis?
A.Called my parents. … Then I went to sleep because I’d been flying in a plane for 24 hours. (Then) I went and enjoyed an American hamburger. McDonald’s … Big Mac.
Q.Who’s the little girl in the picture greeting you when you returned (pictured at left)?
A.She’s a friend of mine, (the daughter of) my roommate in Iraq. She has a little crush on me. She used to watch me on Webcam, and I’d wave to her. (Before that) I’d just met her on Webcam.
Q.Anything people should know about what’s going on in Iraq?
A.Keep supporting the troops. It keeps it going. When I got off the plane in Dallas … there’s a little walkway that goes above the airport – the rest of people walking to their gates looked up and (saw) us and started clapping. It’s a really good feeling to know that the American people actually care for you.
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