GMC News

GMC in Iraq

Sgt. David Bill
48th BCT Public Affairs Office

Character Above All: GMC in Iraq

This is the first part of a series on the cadets and alumni from Georgia Military College who are currently serving in Iraq. Future articles will focus on alumni and individual cadets throughout the 48th Brigade Combat Team.

BAGHDAD – Since January 2005, more than 50 cadets and alumni from Georgia Military College, in Milledgeville, Georgia, have put their lives on hold to serve as Soldiers with the 48th Brigade Combat Team (48th BCT) currently operating in and around Iraq.

For many of these young Soldiers, men and women from Canton (GA) to Savannah (GA) and all points in between, this experience has already given them a lifetime of memories.

“I wish the cadets in Milledgeville could experience what I’m experiencing over here” said Specialist Donna Sanders, 20, from Hinesville, GA. “I’m experiencing a different culture and truly appreciate what I have back at home.”

These Soldiers serve in every capacity within the 48th BCT from infantryman to military policemen, medics, truck drivers, personnel clerks, radio operators and many other military occupational specialties.

“Adaptability is something that you need over here,” said Specialist Marcello Curtis, an infantryman who works in the Headquarters Command section as a driver and a gunner. “It’s good to be squared away, but a sense of humor is what helps you get through this place. I’ve seen Soldiers use laughter to help them get through the days here.” The 20-year-old from Macon, GA, has decided to major in accounting when he returns from Iraq. He even bought his first stock (Nortel) while over in Iraq.

Both Curtis and Sanders have completed one year at GMC and look forward to continuing their education. Both said that GMC provided them training that has helped them here in Iraq. “Having a routine and preparing each day for the next day has helped me,” Sanders said. “Being well-prepared for a convoy here is critical. GMC taught me to prepare early. I do not forget the smallest detail.” Curtis said.

These dedicated cadets entered the Georgia Army National Guard as a requirement for the State Service Scholarship, which is a state lottery funded program that allows recipients to attend GMC as cadets virtually free for the two years of their education at the college. In return, they must serve in the Georgia National Guard while attending GMC and for a similar amount of time after they complete their education at the two-year military college.

Sanders, who is a medical supply specialist for Company C 148th Support Battalion in Forsyth, GA, or ‘Charlie Med’ as it is also called, wants to tell those State Service Scholarship cadets back in Milledgeville, “Enjoy what you have; really think hard about what you’re doing. It’s what I joined for.”
Sgt. Barron Durden and Sgt. Karl Auer, who both attended GMC under the scholarship program, say, “Stay in school; get your education.” Durden attended GMC in 1999-2000 and was 10 credits short of graduation when he was activated with the 48th Brigade to serve in Bosnia. Auer completed his associate degree from GMC in 2001. They both work in the 48th Brigade Tactical Operations Center, or TOC. They know each other well but did not realize that each had attended GMC. They both voiced the same sentiments about GMC, “It is not easy, but stick to it and get your education.”

The virtues Duty-Honor-Country are the backbone of what cadets live by at GMC. These words should mean more now that GMC has felt the ultimate loss. SGT Chad Mercer, 25, a GMC graduate, died in a vehicle accident in Iraq in July. He was a Bradley commander, when his vehicle rolled over in a canal. He was remembered by his fellow Soldiers in a touching memorial held at Camp Striker. “He was a good Soldier and a good friend,” said Capt. Brian Lassitter, his Company Commander. Mercer was selected as the NCO of the Year for the 48th Brigade Combat Team in February, 2005.

Spc. Vanessa Harris, 19, of Augusta, GA, a current cadet at GMC, was injured in a rocket attack on the PX at Camp Liberty just days after her arrival. She was transported home to the US for treatment and is expected to return to Iraq in September. She was awarded the Purple Heart for her sacrifice.
The life of a Soldier in Iraq is both stressful and harsh. The daily conditions in which these Soldiers have to live and work are far from the comforts of home. “The heat is not as bad as people expected,” said Curtis, “people can still work during the day.” The temperatures are climbing each day to 115F+, and it is still early summer here. But one thing Soldiers have here that GMC cadets do not is air conditioning. Each tent has AC units pumping out cool air 24 hours a day to provide some much-needed relief from the demanding temps. Nobody will complain about a hot humid Georgia summer ever again.

When these cadet return to the historic Milledgeville campus, they will have rightfully earned the respect of not only the cadets and students they will attend classes with, but of the staff and faculty that will mentor and teach them.

Most of these Soldiers did not realize when they applied for the scholarship while in high school that some day they would have to put their education and lives on hold to serve in a combat zone; but that is a realization that they all faced when they raised their right hands and were sworn into the National Guard, reciting an oath which says in part, “to protect the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic…So help me God.” It is now their turn to protect.

Spc. Donna Sanders, a medical supply specialist, checks the inventory of Company C 148th Support Battalion. Sanders, age 20, is a cadet at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, GA.

Spc. Marcello Curtis, 20, stands ready for operations as a gunner and driver for HHC 48th BCT. Curtis is a cadet at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, GA.

Maj. Jeffery Dickerson, a GMC graduate, gives final salute as tribute to fellow GMC graduate Sgt. Chad Mercer who died while serving in Iraq.