|Charles Durrant entertains students with tales from Iraq.|
Charles Durrant, who was a teacher at San Rafael Junior High School until February 2003, was back in school on May 6 to speak with the students about his experiences in Baghdad, Iraq. One afternoon, while sitting in class, telling his students about his life in the army reserves, the telephone rang and it was his superior officer informing him of the mobilization of the 1457th Combat Engineers. Durrant had one day left to teach that year. He remembers very little about that final day. He told his students that he should be back in a year, and now 15 months later, he returned. "I am lucky and I am grateful to be back," said Durrant.
On May 6, Durrant was back in the school, telling more army stories, but these stories were about his experiences in Baghdad. Immediately following the mobilization of his unit, they were sent to Ft. Lewis Washington. During his time there, he had no idea where they were going.
On a three day weekend, one during which many of the wives flew up to spend time with their husbands, many of the reservists and their wives were having dinner in a little restaurant in town. There was a television on and the next thing the diners knew, President Bush was on air announcing the ultimatum that had been given Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
The men and their wives knew instantly where the reservists would be going.
Two days later, the Shock and Awe campaign began. Thirty days later, Durrant and the rest of his battalion left Ft. Lewis for Kuwait. When the battalion arrived in Kuwait, the initial phase of the invasion was over, and the 1457s job would be to help in the rebuilding.
"It's been a tough year, a frightening year," said Durrant. "We may be needed again in several years, I hope not, I hope it's over before then."
Durrant answered the questions from the students and he explained his uniform, which he was wearing. He explained the patches and markings on it. One was for the 1457 engineering, armored division serving in Baghdad. He also told the students about the first mission that he had been called on after arriving in Baghdad.
The battalion had been on the ground in Baghdad for only 72 hours when they were called to dig through the rubble of a restaurant that had been bombed. They were told that they were looking for Saddam's body. Although the digging was gruesome and they found many bodies, they did not find Saddam.
Durrant told the students that for the first three months, the men slept in tents at the Baghdad Airport. Now the soldiers have trailers to live in over there. "It is incredibly hot over there. I saw the thermometer register 136 degrees. Everyone of the soldiers were treated for heat exhaustion. It was 'insane' hot," he said.
"For the most part, the people of Iraq are very nice. The living conditions of the children are very bad. They don't know any better," said Durrant.
The 1457 Combat Engineers built force protection, which is barriers around buildings to keep suicide bombers from driving right up to a structure. They also rebuilt bridges and did some escort work, such as escorting truck convoys. Durrant and several of the men were in on the capture of two insurgents and the confiscation of several weapons.
Dianne Butler, media specialist for San Rafael Junior High announced that Durrant would be back teaching at the school next school year. Butler was responsible for organizing the assembly with Durrant.