by Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun
By Chelle Delaney
Quay County Sun
There will be much to be thankful for in two Tucumcari households on Thursday.
National Guardsmen Sgt. Anthony Lujan and S.Sgt. Jayson Braziel – the first two guardsmen from the Tucumcari-based unit to serve in Iraq – returned home safe and sound Nov. 10.
“We were lucky, because we joined a unit that was already there,” said Braziel. In all the men spent only five months serving in Iraq.
The men, who serve in the 720th Transportation Unit from Tucumcari, were called up to serve for the 1116th unit based out of Gallup and stationed in southern Iraq. The 1116th had already been in Iraq since November 2005, so when their mission was finished, Lujan and Braziel were also able to return home.
For them it’s been a soft landing, and the real welcome will be the celebration at the VFW Hall on Nov. 25 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., at which time all the community is invited to welcome them home.
Both said it’s taking some time to get reacquainted with their at-home status.
After being constantly on the move and at-the-ready, and being home for just a week, “It’s still hard to relax,” Braziel said. “I watch TV for a little while, and then I get antsy.”
Lujan said he’s been washing his clothes a lot.
“When we came back (from a mission), you always had to wash your clothes, repack and get things ready to go (for the next time),” he said.
And even though the mail is delivered to his home in the morning, Lujan said he’s still expecting it to come at 4 p.m.
They were stationed in Tillel, south of Baghdad, where each drove a truck in a convoy, some with as many as 20 trucks and gun trucks for support. Braziel drove a semi and Lujan drove a recovery vehicle or wrecker. Neither elaborated, but both said there were times when they drove at breakneck speed or very slowly, depending on the situation.
News reports of ambushes on convoys have been common since the U.S. military entered Operation Iraqi Freedom and both men agreed they were lucky.
They’ve been asked by family and friends if they saw dead people and if they had to shoot anyone. Happily, they can say they did not.
They said it was hard to become friendly with the Iraqi people, because it was difficult to trust them.
“Everybody had a gun, it seemed like the Wild West,” Braziel said. “They’d be standing on the rooftops with guns, throwing rocks,” Lujan said. But Braziel and Lujan said they were less worried about individual insurgents than they were about mortar attacks.
“When it got real sandy and you couldn’t see well outside, they’d set up their mortars,” Lujan said.
“You’d hear the thud (of the shell coming out of the mortar tube),” Braziel said. Or, if it got too close, “you’d hear it go whistling by.”
Unlike other conflicts, today’s soldier can often create his or her own blog, and email and phone home. Nevertheless, “we had to wait two and three hours to use the phone,” Braziel said.
Contact from home via mail was a “big thing,” Lujan said.
And some of the best items, homemade cookies, came his from Aunt Gloria (Alarcon), and beef jerky from his parents (C.J. and Tony Lujan),” Lujan said.
But, topping the mail list, Lujan said, were letters from from his wife Georgia, and pictures of their five-year-old daughter, Nadia Ranae.
A package with beef jerky was also some of the best mail he received, said Braziel.
When they first got to Iraq both said they were surprised by the heat. “It’s 140 degrees. The heat is really different. It gets so hot, you get goosebumps when you go outside,” Braziel said.
And even though the pictures from Iraq and Kuwait reveal lots of sand and sand dunes, there is surprisingly more water than you would expect, they said.
Braziel, who is married to Mary Ellen, has an 11-year-old son, Marcus, who got to play hookey from school to spend a entire day soaking up his dad’s presence. Meanwhile, Braziel and his son, Matthew, 19, have not been able to connect in person yet. Matthew’s in the U.S. Coast Guard boot camp in Cape May, N.J., where he’s not yet allowed to use the phone.
“He’ll be able to come home at the end of December,” Braziel said.
Having seen the United States’ involvement in Iraq firsthand, Braziel said, “We’re doing good things.”
Lujan said, “It’s time to let them have control of Iraq.”
Anthony Lujan, left, (shown with daughter Nadia Ranae Lujan wearing one of the unit’s Wolfpack T-shirts) and Jayson Braziel regularly check on each other after serving together in Iraq. Braziel plans to rejoin the Tucumcari Police Department while Lujan wants to become an instructor for military truck drivers serving in Iraq.