When Grandview High School graduate Nick Ortiz first signed up for the National Guard, the Washington State University freshman thought it would be a good way to help pay for college. Little did he know that several years down the road he would be called up for active duty and sent to Iraq.
Ortiz got called up during his senior year of college. In late 2003, he received word that he would be deployed, which meant several months of training before being shipped out to Iraq in spring 2004.
"I didn't really plan on being deployed," Ortiz said, noting that being in Iraq has been a different experience than he thought it would be. He said he has had to get used to a difference culture, climate and living condition.
After spending more than six months in Iraq, Ortiz recently found himself back in the comforts of home. Ortiz was granted a 15-day leave, arriving at the Yakima airport on Nov. 7. Ortiz said leaving Iraq he took several long flights, flying out of Baghdad to Kuwait, then on to Ireland, Dallas and Seattle, before arriving in Yakima.
"It's hard to believe I was coming home until I was actually here," Ortiz said.
The last time Ortiz saw his family was in January 2004, just weeks before he left for the Middle East.
Since arriving home, Ortiz said he has spent time visiting relatives and talking to his best friends. He added that it has taken him awhile to get back on the right sleep schedule, noting the massive time difference between the Yakima Valley and Baghdad.
His father, Rudy, noted that sleeping isn't the only thing his son has had to get used to since returning to the United States. He said his son's way of driving has changed since being in Iraq. Ortiz said driving his Humvee through Baghdad he has been taught to remain cautious about things like car bombs, meaning he makes a wide loop around cars parked on the side of the road. He said now he has found himself looking inside every car he passes on local streets, something he was taught to do in Iraq.
Ortiz said being stationed in Baghdad, he has to constantly be on the lookout for people who could be insurgents. He noted that you never know who the enemy is.
Since arriving in Baghdad, Ortiz has had a lot of things to get used to, including the heat. He said temperatures have remained at about 120 degrees on the ground and as high as 140 degrees in their equipment and trucks. He did add that his unit has air conditioners in their rooms.
"We never turn them off," Ortiz said.
He added that the whole environment in Baghdad is hectic, noting that you never know what is going to happen.
As a member of the 1-161 Scout Platoon, Spc. Ortiz works on reconnaissance patrols and escorts.
Since arriving in Iraq earlier this year, Ortiz said he has seen a lot of changes to the country. He said what people in the United States don't get to see on the evening news are all of the good things the military has helped do for Iraq. He said there are new roads being built, schools being opened, water and sewer lines being installed. Ortiz said the military is also hiring Iraq contractors to help get pumps into the Tigres River to help aid farmers.
Although Ortiz has experienced many things while in Iraq, one image that sticks with him is something he saw from the inside of his Humvee. He said his group was driving down the road one day, when a little Iraqi girl waved at the soldiers. When the adult who was holding the little girl's hand saw her wave, Ortiz said they pulled her back and spit in her face.
"I was shocked and mad, but I couldn't do anything about it," Ortiz said. "That's one of the things I will always remember."
Ortiz said the greeting U.S. soldiers receive in Iraq varies greatly with children and older people waving and smiling at them, while others give them dirty looks.
Although Ortiz will be leaving his Sunnyside-area home to return to Iraq Nov. 22, he is hopeful that he will only be in the country for a few more months. Ortiz is enlisted in the National Guard through March 2007, though he noted he is hoping to be able to return to college at Washington State University either next summer or fall. Ortiz is 10 credits away from graduating with his Bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Ortiz said he hopes to one day work for the Washington State Patrol.