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Old 04-09-2008, 02:24 AM
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Corpsman Returns from Iraq Tour

Looking to make a difference
S. Door grad sees changes in war-torn Iraq

By Joe Knaapen

Tom Weber was looking for “something pretty high speed” when he joined the Navy.

Weber, who graduated in 2006 from Southern Door High School, really wanted to be a SEAL, the Navy’s elite special warfare unit.

When the Navy told Weber he wasn’t qualified because he was color blind, he lowered his sights just slightly: He learned to be a corpsman; a medic, the Navy equivalent of First Responder — the first guy on the scene for medical emergencies.

Weber recently returned to Door County for a visit after completing an eight-month deployment in Iraq.

In the war zone, he carried a rifle and full combat gear in addition to his medical kit.

“We go in, get our work done and get out,” Weber said.

Fallujah still “looks bad” from the beating it took early in the five-year-old war, Weber said. But improvements are slowly making an appearance.

“Now,” he said, “they’re starting to rebuild; there are new roads, new buildings.”

The Marines take their corpsmen from the ranks of the Navy medical personnel. And on assignment in the war zone, Weber said, he is a Marine, he is “doc” to the men in his platoon.

His medical bag is packed with medicines, tourniquets, pressure dressings — everything he will need to make the initial response to maladies from headaches to sucking chest wounds.

Essentially, the unit Weber was attached to spent its tour “helping train the Iraqis.”

The mission, he explained, was to “try to make them independent; turn the country into a safer place to live.”

Sandwiched between training sessions were patrols. The Marine unit, armed with automatic weapons, searched the barren countryside for weapons caches, he said

“You’d be surprised what they can bury out there,” Weber said.

What the enemy buries are artillery and mortar shells, bombs, materials for making explosives.

The unit also carried out its share of humanitarian missions, Weber said. There were days, he said, when the platoon dropped off food to needy families, or worked in schools or helped set up a police station.

“We always carry a toy or two to give to the kids,” he said.

What do troops in Iraq want to find in CARE packages from home?

“Baby wipes,” Weber said. “You can never have enough baby wipes.”

The premoistened towelettes have hundreds of uses from wiping grit off a tired face to cleaning weapons before applying a light coat of oil.

The wipes are a big help in a country where temperatures can be extreme — up to 142 degrees and as low as 32, in Weber’s experience — and water can be hard to find.

“Anytime you make a mess, you clean it up with baby wipes,” he said.

Soldiers typically share gifts from home. They have access to more than enough personal hygiene items, Weber said.

High on the “want” list, he added, are beef jerky and powdered drink mixes like lemonade and Kool-Aid.

A few soldiers appreciate “a chew,” Weber said, even though the official military policy is opposed to tobacco materials.

“We’re in a war zone,” Weber quipped. “Cancer is the least of our worries.”

As for the course of the war, Weber said, “I’m no politician. I think it helps the people that we are there. It’s going to take awhile before they can run their own country — they hate each other.”

Weber remained philosophical about his role in the war.

“We are fighting so people in this country can have the right to protest,” he said. “Before people start talking about the war, they should study it; they should know what they’re talking about.”

After a brief leave dividing time with his parents — Joe and Tanya Weber and Marsha and Chad Cherney, all of the Sturgeon Bay area — and friends, Weber is off to Hawaii for more training.

He is in the midst of a five-year contract with the Navy and expects to get orders in the next year to visit Afghanistan or return to Iraq or join a Marine unit in the next hot spot that breaks out.
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