Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 21, 2003

soldiers return from Qatar

By Jaine Treadwell The Messenger

Two of Pike County's citizen soldiers have returned from active duty in the Persian Gulf.

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Master Sgt. Sherr Qualls and Spec. Terence Barron returned to Fort Rucker early Tuesday morning with the 787th Corps Support Battalion of the Army Reserve. They will remain on active duty for several more days until they are released at the battalion's home base in Dothan.

The 787th was deployed to the Gulf region five months ago and was assigned to a support mission at Doha, Qatar, a peninsula in the Persian Gulf.

The battalion was first assigned to Camp Snoopy Air Force Base where their duties were to support troops in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Baghdad.

The 787th had 150 men under its command and control.

&uot;We sent supplies and food to the troops in those places,&uot; he said. &uot;Where the troops were located determined what kind of food we shipped to them. Those near the front got MREs, others farther back got UGRs, which were like TV dinners. Those at the rear got fresh fruits and vegetables and they looked forward to them.&uot;

Qualls said getting supplies and food to troops in the field is of the utmost importance and their mission and duties were taken very seriously.

&uot;The troops depended on us to do our job so they could do theirs,&uot; he said. &uot;We were far removed from the war zone and never felt that we were in any danger. But, what we did was an important part of the war effort. My feeling was that if I was going to be mobilized I wanted to go overseas. I wanted to be able to do the job that I was trained to do.&uot;

Not only was Quall's call to active duty an opportunity to serve his country and be a part of a major historical event - the liberation of Iraq, it was also an opportunity to learn more about the world in which he lives.

Doha is a city about the size on Montgomery, only more densely populated, Qualls said.

&uot;The city is very modern with beautiful flowers and it's in a very rich country. Those who do the work there are called third world nationals. They are brought in from other countries by sponsors. They work very hard so that they can send money back home to their families.

The rich people just sit back and enjoy life.&uot;

Outside the city, Qualls said the desert land is as hard as concrete

— even harder.

&uot;A jackhammer has to be used to break the ground before a backhoe can be used,&uot; he said. &uot;The temperature is hot - around 115 degrees - but we were fortunate that the tents and buildings where we slept and worked were air condition.&uot;

But, the soldiers of the 787th were keenly aware that other soldiers were living in difficult conditions and in harm's way.

&uot;The Internet gave us the most immediate news on the war and we had access to television with CNN and other news networks,&uot; he said. &uot;We knew how the war was progressing. I expected it to be over rather quickly. Everyone was hoping because the sooner the war was over, the sooner everyone would get to go home.&uot;

Terence Barron, a 2001 graduate of Charles Henderson High School, did not deploy initially with the 787th but he spent more than two months on active duty in Doha. For him that was a long, short time.

Barron admitted that he spent his quiet moments thinking about home, but those moments were few, so the time passed rather quickly.

&uot;The time went by pretty fast,&uot; he said, &uot;but it sure is good to get home.&uot;

When Barron joined the Army Reserve 16 months ago, he said he had no idea that he would be deployed to a war zone, but he is proud to have been a part of such an important historical event.

&uot;I'd do it again,&uot; he said. &uot;It was a real experience and I'm glad I got the opportunity.&uot;

When he first arrived in Doha. Barron said he was nervous because he didn't know what he was &uot;getting into.&uot;

&uot;But, you get used to being there and I don't think we were ever in any real danger,

he said. &uot;We were there in support and we were always prepared to do our jobs. Doha was

really a pretty place - the city and the beaches. And, it was hard to believe that a war was going on and that we were part of it.&uot;

Barron said he was anxious to keep abreast of the happenings in the war with Iraq.

&uot;I wanted to know what was going on,&uot; he said. &uot;Some of the things that happened surprised me and some of the things that didn't happen surprised me. Like Saddam Hussein. I was surprised that he didn't use some kind of chemical warfare. I thought he had weapons of mass destruction and I thought he would use them. Since he didn't, I don't think he had them.&uot;

Barron said he was not surprised that the U.S. troops were able to take Baghdad.

&uot;I thought all along they could,&uot; he said. &uot;We've got a great military and they can do whatever job they're asked to do. And, we did what we were asked to do. And, I'm glad I did what I did.&uot;

The 787th was later moved to Camp Asilia, the site of central command headquarters, and it was there that Barron had the experience of a lifetime. He got to shake the hand of the President of the United States.

&uot;President Bush came to Camp Asilia and spoke to all of us,&uot; he said. &uot;Secretary of State Colin Powell was there with him and Gen. Tommy Franks. Everybody reacted to just about everything President Bush said - in a positive way. We screamed and hollered. You know how Army people do.&uot;

Barron said excitement had been building since the troops first heard that the President was coming to their base.

&uot;When he got there, everybody was really excited,&uot; he said. &uot;We yelled the loudest when he said, 'We're winning' and 'Our mission is accomplished.' That was very exciting. I'll always remember that.&uot;

As the President was leaving, he passed where Barron was standing.

&uot;I stuck out my hand and he shook it,&uot; he said. &uot;Yeah. That was really something - to shake the hand of the President of the United States.&uot;

Next to the day that the conflict ended and the day the announcement came that the 787th was headed home, the encounter with President Bush might be logged as one of Barron's most memorable moments in Qatar.

Barron said it was easy to leave coming home but it was also hard.

&uot;There were still troops there and you feel sad about that - that others have to stay,&uot; he said. &uot;I hope soon everyone can come home, because it's so good to be home.&uot;

Qualls agreed that it's good to be back in Pike County but he takes great pride in having served.

&uot;A large percentage of the troops at Camp Asilia were Army Reserve and National Guard,&uot; he said. &uot;These units played a major role in the war with Iraq and we take pride in our service.&uot;

Qualls said now that he's back at home, he is working toward a higher rank with the Army Reserve. He has 29 years and counting.

Barron has completed less than a third of his commitment and he's not sure if he'll stay after that.

&uot;I'm proud that I served, but this might be enough for me,&uot; he said, with a big smile. &uot;But, maybe not. I'll just wait and see.&uot;