Portales residents, left to right, Darren Hooker, Walter Carr, Brett Bedinger and James Montgomery pose for a photo while serving in Iraq. (Courtesy photo)
By Marc Schoder: Freedom Newspapers
Six men from Portales have more than 6,100 miles separating them from home. Though they are serving their country in Iraq, they now have reason to believe that it is a small world after all.
Army Lt. Darren Hooker is one of those believers. Hooker leads the 32-member, 126th Military Police company out of Albuquerque. In his company, three others are from Portales: Staff Sgt. Brett Bedinger, Pfc. Roy Burton and Spc. James Montgomery.
Days for these five men start at 5:30 a.m. and don’t stop until 5 p.m.
“Just like in most Army commercials,” Bedinger said, “we are up before dawn usually prepping our equipment for a jaunt into Baghdad.”
Hooker describes one day which brought a reminder of home.
“We were on patrol when we received some information about some anti-Iraqi forces in an area (where) Iraqi police were going to conduct a raid,” Hooker wrote in an e-mail to the PNT. “I went into the Forward Operating Base to contact with the infantry for some support. I walked into the Tactical Operations Center (and) my world got smaller.”
Hooker heard a voice: “Are you Darren Hooker?” He soon found the voice belonged to Pfc. Walter Carr of Portales. Carr knew of Hooker through his work with the Roosevelt Country Sheriff’s department. Prior to serving in Iraq, Carr worked security at Goober McCool’s.
“It wasn’t (until Carr) took off his hat (that I saw who he was),” Hooker said. “We both shook (hands) and said, ‘Wow, how about that?’
The length of deployment in Iraq for most of the 130,000 U.S. soldiers usually lasts a year or longer. During that time, soldiers miss the luxuries and comforts of home.
“I really miss the comfort of my wife being there when I had a bad day at work,” Bedinger said. “It sometimes seems like yesterday we started this whole journey, but when I think that I left a beautiful pregnant wife behind, and now have an active, chirping 5-month-old, it seems forever.”
Burton, who works for a local construction company in Portales is surprised how much he misses home.
“I never thought in a million years that a little town like Portales would be in my thoughts every day,” said Burton.
Albeit small, the Portales presence within the police unit has helped its members adjust to life away from New Mexico.
“It’s awesome because I deployed with three guys I knew from my hometown,” said Montgomery. “I also have seen (Carr) since I’ve been here (and) that was cool. Never thought I would see him.”
At least, not once he arrived in Iraq.
Montgomery said when they joined the Army, Carr and Montgomery told one another that they would cross paths in Iraq as well.
Some of the Portales soldiers are surprised at some of the things they miss.
“I really miss my cell phone,” said Hooker. “I love being able to dial up someone and talk.”
Harold Edwards concurs. Edwards, another county sheriff’s deputy who is serving with the Texas National Guard, added that he misses his cell phone and how it rang too much.
“There are times that I really wish that I did not have to buy a phone card and stand in line to use the phone,” Edwards said, “and get to only talk to my family for a short time.
“Everything here reminds you of how much better it is in the good old USA.”
Edwards said he will always keep a cell phone by his side when he returns.
Hooker added one other missing comfort of home — flushing toilets.
“Over here we have port-o-potties,” Hooker said. “(They’re fine) if you get to them in the early morning or late at night — otherwise it is too hot.”
Bedinger said a section in charge of military morale and welfare is working hard to make soldiers in Iraq comfortable while on deployment.
Seeing a familiar face is always a bonus, though.
“I know that there were several in the initial push into Baghdad and we are literally running into people from Cannon Air Force Base, Portales and Clovis all the time,” said Bedinger. “I don’t know what the fascination is for people from our area to be here, in another hot desert.
“Must be the water.”
Most of the Portales soldiers’ deployments are scheduled to end in March of 2006.