Idaho soldiers reflect on Fourth of July holiday

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq – Spc. Jeremiah Baird already knows what the Fourth of July will be like in his hometown of Dayton, Idaho.
“We always have a parade in our little town,” he said.
Baird, a member of Golf Company, 145th Brigade Support Battalion, headquartered out of Idaho Falls, won’t be there to see the parade first-hand this year, but he might get to view the event anyway thanks to technology.
“Our house is right on the main road where they push the parade past. My parents will try to Skype me during the parade,” he said.
Baird is just one of several dozen Idaho Soldiers with G Co. mobilized to Iraq last year as part of eastern Oregon’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment of the 116th Cavalry Brigade. The 3rd Battalion is stationed at Joint Base Balad in central Iraq conducting convoy security missions for the 77th Sustainment Brigade, 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. Members of G Co., hailing from such Idaho towns as Blackfoot, Pocatello, Preston, Montpelier, Boise, Twin Falls and Idaho Falls, will spend this Fourth of July far from home.
Baird works in 3rd Battalion’s Tactical Operations Center and said he transported plenty of memories of his hometown’s Fourth of July celebration in Dayton when he deployed to Iraq.
“When the parade ended, there was always a grease pole we’d put out and we’d watch about 100 people try to get the $100 bill off the top of it,” he said.
And, after the parade, a plane swoops low over the football field in town and drops ping-pong balls.
“[The ping-pong balls] have numbers on them and people could take them and get a prize,” he said.
While Americans everywhere will be in the midst of barbecues and fireworks this July 4th, Idaho soldiers stationed at Joint Base Balad will mark the renowned holiday in many different and subtle ways.
For some soldiers, the day is like any other – hot, dusty and, at times, risky.
“Over here, it is just another day,” said Capt. Shawn Reese, G Co. commander and a resident of Idaho Falls.
The holiday will not translate into a break for many G Co. Soldiers.
“Just because it is the Fourth of July doesn’t mean we will sit back and relax,” said Sgt. Jason King, a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle driver with G Co. and a Boise native.
King said he can easily reflect on memories of past Fourth of July holiday’s even as he is concentrating on his duties at Joint Base Balad.
“If I was back home, I’d take the wife and step-kids and go to Boise, Julia Davis Park, float the Boise River. Floating the Boise River is something I’ve done since I can remember. This is one of the few years I won’t get the opportunity to float the river,” said King, 30, who resides in Blackfoot.
Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Dean of Blackfoot said his platoon will mark the day and then go right back to the mission. Yet Dean said he is happy he will be able to enjoy the holiday with his Soldiers.
“I will be missing a barbecue, sure. But here I’m with my soldier family,” he said.
King said he left a family and new wife when he deployed to Iraq last year, and that separation has been difficult.
“It’s been rough, given I just married my wife in March 2010. I’ve been separated longer than I’ve been able to be with her,” he said.
Still he said the deployment, his first, has proven to be beneficial.
“I’d like to think we’ve made a difference. And [the deployment] has made me a better person,” he said.
For Reese, the Fourth of July holiday is a good time to ponder the accomplishments of his unit.
“I think we’ve done very well. Everyone has done a good job,” Reese said.
Reese said while the company’s expedition in Iraq is ending in a few months, the focal point is still convoy escort duties.
“We are trying not to think about the end of the tour too much,” he said. “We are trying to keep our focus. I do think, though, at this point we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Baird said he will take more than a moment to consider his friends and family back home in Dayton enjoying the Fourth of July Parade.
He said patriotism runs deep in Dayton, a fact he discovered when he came home for leave.
“There were 20 flags posted in front of our house that the Boy Scouts put out,” he said.
He is also confident regarding how his family will look the day of the parade.
“They are planning on all wearing yellow ribbons,” he said.