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Troops accomplished Iraq mission, local soldier says

Michael DiVittorio
| Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010

A local soldier recalled his two tours in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and reacted to President Barrack Obama's announcement of the end of that operation.

Army Capt. Brandon Turner led the 67th Expeditionary Signal Battalion in Iraq, first from August 2007 to January 2008, then August 2009 through July 2010. He arrived in the Pittsburgh area last week, and spent some time with his mother Andrea in Clairton Wednesday before reporting to Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga.

Turner is one of the 100,000 troops that Obama announced yesterday were removed from Iraq.

"Last February, I announced a plan that would bring our combat brigades out of Iraq, while redoubling our efforts to strengthen Iraq's security forces and support its government and people," the president said. "That's what we've done."

Turner echoed the president's remarks, stating his battalion was given a mission to fight terrorism and help the Iraqi people.

"I can speak for myself and my soldiers. We definitely know that we've been accomplishing our mission, and we are glad to be coming home to our families," Turner said. "We believed that we helped the Iraqi people. The Iraqi soldiers, we trained them to the best of our abilities, and we accomplished our mission. Regardless if we stayed there or if we come home, we're going to do what we're told and we're going to get the mission done, and that's what we did.

"Naturally we're ecstatic to be coming home to our families (and) to be back on U.S. soil."

Turner, 27, formerly of McKeesport, said he came back from Iraq, a country known for desert land and temperatures of about 120 degrees, to a 64-degree late-summer evening in Western Pennsylvania.

"I was like, 'Man it's cold out here,' coming from 120 (degrees)," he said.

Turner grew up in Crawford Village, and graduated from McKeesport Area High School in 2001. He grew up with his brother Gerald, who is an Army sergeant based at Fort Sill, Okla., and his sisters Gera and Danette.

Turner joined the service in 2006. He credits his military training with helping him be able to deal with being fired on by mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and other attacks while establishing communications for his fellow soldiers.

"I don't think you're ever really prepared for a war zone," he said. "I think going into my training and training for a war zone, I think it has helped me because you have to be disciplined. You have to learn loyalty, and I think those are all things that I was taught growing up in Crawford."

Turner said joining the military was something he always wanted to do, and most of his family members have served this country.

"My brother had joined. My dad, he was in the military, and I figure I wasn't getting any younger," Turner said. "I knew I didn't want to be on a ship out in the water for an extended period of time, so I couldn't join the Navy. I did try to link up with some Air Force recruiters, but for whatever reason they didn't seem too receptive at the time for officers. I kind of always saw myself more of a soldier. Marines seem more high strung than what I am, than my personality. It seemed like the Army was the best fit at the time."

Turner earned a bachelor's degree in communications from St. Francis University in 2005 before joining the military.

The signal corps officer said he was able to use his degree in the battlefield.

"Everybody takes fire over there, be it direct or indirect," Turner said. "We might have a brigade of infantry soldiers who take over an area outside of the main forward operating base. Once they take over the area, they have to establish communications with the command center. We'll send out a team of military occupational specialty qualified soldiers to go set up communications so their command cell can talk to the command cell at the main (base).

"If you can't talk you can't receive orders. You don't know what the mission is. The generals don't know what's going on outside of where they are. (Communications) is a very important part of any mission."

Obama said some troops will remain in Iraq to help advise and assist Iraq's security forces, support their troops in targeted counter-terrorism missions, and protect civilians.

Turner said he does not expect to return to Iraq.

"We may get picked up, but the chance of my specific unit getting picked up is slim. Since they're withdrawing, I don't plan on being back over there at all," he said.

Turner said soldiers and future soldiers should concentrate on their training, physical fitness and mental toughness in order to be successful.

Turner's return gave a sense of relief to his mother, who said all she thought about after seeing her son go off to fight twice was having him come home.

"That's your everyday thought, your everyday prayer," she said. "Him being safe and coming home, nobody knocking on my door and giving me any type of bad news. I wouldn't have to go anywhere and identify somebody. I think that's every family's thought when their child is in harm's way like that, that they would come home."

Turner said he and his battalion were able to call home, as well as send letters and e-mails from Iraq to family members, which was a huge morale boost.

Turner will be leaving for Fort Gordon this afternoon to further develop his skills and for military training, as well as work with any new equipment in order to be prepared for further situations.

"We still got Afghanistan right now, and you never know when we'll be called to Afghanistan," Turner said.

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