A Soldier’s Story

Myron Medcalf
(MSU Reporter)

Soldiers are on 24-hour standby in a time of war. For that reason, Sgt. Chris Herndon of the 452nd Quartermaster Company, an Army Reserve supply unit out of Winthorp, Minn., was ready to be called into action. But the former Minnesota State University student was never ready to leave. Because leaving Madelia, Minn., meant leaving home without really leaving his family.

Herndon knew that being sent to Iraq Feb. 23 meant his mother would have to deal with the potential pain of losing her only two sons. His brother, Charles White, is a specialist in his unit.

But this isn’t your typical, front-page “Soldier Killed in Iraq” story. Herndon is alive and well and he is happy to help where needed in Iraq. And he cherishes the “thank yous” from Iraqis civilians who tell him that they finally feel safe.

He has been granted leave until mid-December when his unit will go back to finish its duties, but he expects to return for good Jan. 15.

The Call into Action

“We came in for drill and they said, ‘We’re getting mobilized,'” Herndon said. “We got the speech from our commander. We were all expecting it. But the whole time you’re thinking, ‘Is this for real?'”

Herndon wasn’t sure what to believe after hearing stories of other units getting all of their equipment ready and then being told that they were no longer needed. So the December announcement wasn’t immediately alarming. However, he was confident that he could do his job — preparing other units for nuclear/biological/chemical warfare — if necessary. To date, he hasn’t dealt with a situation involving what the military terms NBC. But he still trains for the possibility at his unit’s post in Taji, north of Baghdad.

Getting to the site wasn’t easy. After a 19-hour plane ride to Kuwait, the 452nd spent three days traveling to Taji. And when the unit finally arrived, it was greeted with the confusion that comes with war.

“It was weird to see the people for the first time,” Herndon said. “Over there, giving the thumbs up to someone is bad. They were doing the thumbs up and [we weren’t] sure if they were happy or sad.”

Herndon is thankful that his unit has stayed safe and that his convoy was able to make it to Iraq without being attacked. However, he said nearby explosions from artillery fire are not uncommon. And he hesitates when describing the rocket-propelled missile that missed his convoy. But, overall, he said things have run smoothly.

“The base itself is pretty secure,” Herndon said. “You have the occasional indirect fire, mortar rounds. Realistically, we’re positioned to where Baghdad is close, so they kind of ignore us.”

For the general public, news generated by embedded reporters account for much of the information on the war in Iraq. Herndon said he wishes reporters would see more of the good. He said engineers are getting little credit for the work they’re doing to rebuild the Iraqis infrastructure. His happiest moments have come when he sees smiles on the faces of civilians who never felt like they had the right to smile.

“There are some people who love [the soldiers],” Herndon said. “A contractor told me he’s afraid to take his kids to the park. He was almost crying when he told me this. There is so much crime. He just loves us being there as a police force.”

Since being back in the States, Herndon has felt like a hero. When he went to the mall earlier this week, he was greeted with handshakes and hugs from strangers. He’s had the chance to see many of his friends and family, so his transition back to civilian life won’t be too hard come January.

He said he hopes to start up his own DJ company and finish school when he gets back. That’s right, Herndon is thinking positively about his future, despite the danger he may face once he returns to Iraq.

My Brother, Soldier

Debra Herndon, mother of Chris and Charles White, always knew that one of her greatest fears could become a reality. And on Feb. 23, it did. Her only two sons were called up to fight in a war in which the lives of hundreds of American sons and daughters have ended.

Her two boys never told her how dangerous their circumstances were. Even when she heard explosions in the background of a phone call, they would play down their reality to keep their mother’s spirits flying as high as they could in the given situation.

White is 21; Chris is 22. Although they only differ by a year in age, Herndon still protects and looks out for White, his little brother. And for that reason, he admits that he has a different outlook on the war because he is engaged in two battles: one with the U.S. Army and the other to protect his brother.

White works guard duty for the unit and, at times, he has been in the line of fire. The fear Herndon has for the safety of his brother and fellow soldier cannot be detailed by any journalist. So this story will not end with a tragedy and it will not end with a dramatic battle or encounter with Iraqis rebels. It will end with Herndon describing his experience fighting alongside his brother in his own words:

“Every time he goes to work there’s definitely a scared feeling. One time, I heard a firefight at our front gate. To hear the M-16, that’s one thing. But to hear an AK, that means they’re firing back. You can hear the difference between an AK and M-16. It turned out to be nothing but machine-gun fire. But it scared the crap out of me. I ran to his room because I forgot the shift he worked. It’s a little bit of a conflict of interest because I’m going to protect my brother. As safe as things are there, [there’s] still the 1 percent chance he’ll get hurt. Some people hold it back and say [tragedy] is not going to happen. We found it a lot easier to keep each other informed.

The worst thing you can do is fall asleep on guard duty. I’m always reminding him to stay awake. It’s reassuring when he says, ‘I’m staying awake.’

In the beginning, we kind of lied to my mom. It was a little hard to do. When we got there, it was a lot more dangerous than it is now. By reassuring her, it made it easier for us because she wasn’t worrying mentally. I’d be on the phone and you’d hear ‘boom, boom.’ A lot of times I think she knew, but we never told her. We never let her know when bad things happened. I always told her the danger was farther away than it really is. [My brother and I] kind of agreed that we weren’t going to let her know what really happens there. And as things calm down, we can let her know how things were.”

Myron Medcalf is a Reporter staff writer