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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Bill McClellan column: Eight is enough, sergeant tells Army [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
[August 23, 2009]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Bill McClellan column: Eight is enough, sergeant tells Army [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]


(St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 23--Tyler Harris, who grew up in St. Louis County and then St. Charles, joined the Army in November 2001. He was 20 years old and he wanted to personally respond to the 9/11 attacks.

If you have a typical Army recruit in your mind's eye, that image probably would bear little resemblance to Harris. A science fiction buff and a computer geek, he was heavily tattooed and overweight. In fact, the recruiter told him he would have to lose 20 pounds to be able to enlist. So he did and quickly, too. He was committed.

He did very well on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery tests. The Army gave him a military occupational speciality of Networks Switching Systems Operator-Maintainer. "It's Radar's job on 'M*A*S*H,' just with better equipment," is the way he described it to me.


He seemed to thrive in the Army. That's almost surprising. He had not always done well with authority. That is to say, he was not much for convention. Despite his intelligence, he had dropped out of high school. Instead, he earned a GED. By the way, the lack of a diploma had kept him out of the Marine Corps and the Air Force. Oh, well. He figured he was going to work with computers no matter which service he went into, and that is exactly what happened.

After basic training -- he fixed the drill instructor's computer -- he completed his advanced training in networking systems. He came home, married his girlfriend, Sarah, whom he had met in the local science fiction subculture, and then went off to Kuwait in November 2002 as the United States prepared to invade Iraq. He reconfigured routers and worked on voice and data communications in support of the invasion. That was good duty because the equipment was expensive and sophisticated and required air conditioning. He earned an Army Commendation Medal for his service.

After Kuwait, he came home and was assigned to Fort Bliss in Texas. He later requested a transfer to the 101st Airborne and was sent to Fort Campbell in Kentucky. His unit was sent to Iraq in September 2005, and although his four-year active duty commitment was set to expire, he was kept on active duty as part of the Army's stop-loss initiative. While in Iraq, he was stationed at Tikrit. Again, he worked on computers.

He came home in the fall of 2006 and was released from active duty in December. He had spent more than five years in the Army. He was placed in the Individual Ready Reserves to complete his eight-year requirement.

He started to get on with his life. He got a job. He and Sarah bought a house.

In December of last year, exactly one week before Christmas and approximately two years after being released from active duty, he got a letter. A packet, actually. The first thing he saw was titled, "Things a deploying soldier's family should know." His actual orders were written in capital letters: "'PURSUANT TO PRESIDENTIAL EXECUTIVE ORDER OF 14 SEP 2001, YOU ARE RELIEVED OF YOUR PRESENT RESERVE COMPONENT STATUS AND ARE ORDERED TO REPORT FOR A PERIOD OF ACTIVE DUTY..." He was being attached to a unit of the Mississippi National Guard. That unit was sent to Iraq in June. Harris, of course, was with them.

He is there now. He is scheduled to leave Iraq in April when the Mississippi National Guard unit returns to this country.

His eight-year commitment will be finished in November, but for "the good of the service," his termination date is being extended.

He is handling this the way you might expect a computer geek to handle it. He is blogging. He is asking people to contact senators and congressmen. You can read his blog at imbiginiraq.com. Be forewarned that some of the language is saltier than you'll find in a family newspaper.

I asked him Friday, via e-mail, how his company commander is responding to his efforts. "I have nothing but great things to say about my company commander. He's a stand-up, hands-on guy," Harris wrote. "He mostly just doesn't address it, although it is pretty commonly known through the unit that I'm trying to reach out to anyone who can possibly help me. His executive officer has said numerous times that he does not want to see me go, however, he completely understands why I want the Army to honor their contractual commitments." Harris, who is now a sergeant, also stressed that he continues to do his job. "I do a good job because that's what a noncommissioned officer does -- leads by example and does the right thing," he wrote.

But if duty is duty, fair is fair, he insisted. "I signed up for eight years, not eight years plus however long they want to keep me." To see more of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.stltoday.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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