Local Soldiers in Iraq, Part III

As part of a week-long special report, we look at the sacrifices these soldiers are making as they fight an enemy determined to kill them.

Alpha Company of the 121st Infantry from Valdosta has been in Iraq for about nine months. The first seven months of that was spent going on raids and rooting out insurgents in an area southwest of Baghdad.

Back in July the company lost eight men, killed all from one platoon.

SFC Don Whitmire of Bainbridge, GA, says, "We've lost eight Americans, eight soldiers from Georgia, all good people. It's in the back of your mind every time you go out."

The soldiers were lost in two separate incidents within a week when massive bombs planted under a road were detonated by insurgents, destroying the Humvees the soldiers were riding in. The losses were felt all over the company.

CAPT Marc Belscamper of Bloomingdale, GA, says, "You take it personal, but were all professionals here. You know as professionals that doing this mission death is part of war, but you have to drive on and accomplish the mission."

The soldiers in Alpha Company come mostly from the area around Valdosta. National Guard soldiers often serve together for years or even decades, and any losses touch deeply when so much of people’s lives are spent together.

SSGT William Taylor of Valdosta says, "You live and work together for five, 10, 15 years for some of us, and to lose a friend like that and see them die, it hurts more."

A number of soldiers had to take some time to reconcile themselves with the losses of the eight men, as well as other injuries in the company. But they say the incidents have made them more determined, not less, that Iraq turn out to be a success.

Whitmire adds, "There are good people in Iraq. We’ve seen them touched them, shook their hands. There are good things taking place and not going to be soon that we need to leave otherwise it will be for nothing. Soldiers spend the whole of their tour with a small group of people. Whether it’s 10, 15 or 30 people, it becomes a very tight-knit group.”