By Phyllis Hanson
FORT HOOD, Texas There’s no fast way of “getting back” to normal for soldiers who are deployed away from home for more than a year. Separation from loved ones and friends, along with an accustomed way of life can be hard for even the toughest GI.
For the son of a San Diego woman who recently returned, along with his unit, from a 15-month deployment to Iraq, the moment meant even more. Army Spec. Jose G. Barrientos, son of Alicia Gilchrist of San Diego, arrived back at Fort Hood from Iraq, where a world of roadside bombs, sniper fire and harsh living conditions had become a way of life.
Barrientos is a member of the Army’s 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry based at Fort Hood. Barrientos served as a Bradley fighting vehicle maintenance specialist during the deployment.
“While I was in Iraq, it was my duty and responsibility to ensure that all of the vehicles assigned to us were operational at all times. This was never an easy task, however it was sometimes entertaining because our job revolves around problem solving-sometimes fixing a vehicle is like solving an oversized puzzle,” said Barrientos, who graduated in 2003 from Mira Mesa Senior High School. “Also, vehicle repair is almost always time consuming.”
Securing their region in Iraq was the primary mission for the 1st Cavalry Division and its soldiers, and their efforts paid off.
Roadside bomb explosions were reduced 94 percent, murders dropped from 440 to 45 in a year’s time and many shops and businesses in the region began to flourish following several years of Al Qaeda intimidation.
Barrientos feels he and his fellow soldiers made a dramatic difference in the lives of those they protected. “The difference from being a mechanic, as opposed to an infantryman or a cavalry scout, is that my problems sit before me and in front of me. I see the difference and positive changes on a daily basis, so pride doesn’t just wash over me in a single moment. I suppose though that I am most proud of being a part of history,” he explained.
After 15 months without family and friends and the creature comforts of home, Barrientos and his fellow soldiers are ready to settle in for a sense of their version of “normalcy.” “It feels great to be back at home, not for myself but to be back with the people who endured the war next to me. It amazes me how much I took for granted and how much I didn’t appreciate the little things that make the United States the greatest country in the world,” said Barrientos.
Barrientos has been in the Army for less than three years and looks forward to training new soldiers for future deployments ahead.