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Soldiers have their own unique reasons for staying in, getting out

On March 21, 2004, a roadside bomb blew up next to Staff Sgt. Reginald Graham’s Bradley fighting vehicle outside Forward Operating Base Wilson near Ad-Dawr, Iraq, knocking him out.

“I’m OK,” the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment soldier said two days later, adding that it was hard to forget about his concussion “when you have a friend who always jokes about it,” eyeing fellow trooper Spc. Jake Gagner.

Insurgents either threw the IED in the median, or ripped up a shrub and planted two 155 mm shells, then threw the plant back over it, Gagner said.

Despite his close call, Graham plans to make the Army his career.

Iraq was his first long separation from his family.

“I thought it was going to change things,” Graham said. And it did, putting more stress on his wife and two children. But it was not enough to change his view that the Army lifestyle and benefits are best for his family.

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In some cases, it’s the Army itself that chases away soldiers who say they find its bureaucracy and conformity stifling.

Spc. Dimitry Zolotarsky, 22, a Squad Automatic Weapon gunner assigned to the 1st Armored Division’s 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment in Baumholder, Germany, survived frequent, intense combat on Baghdad’s notorious Haifa Street after the division was extended past its original 12-month orders.

The worst day he remembers was an IED attack followed by small-arms fire.

“I’m helping my partner into [a Bradley fighting vehicle] when an RPG round goes this far over his head,” Zolotarsky said, gesturing with his hand a foot above his head.

That’s not the reason he’s getting out.

“It’s the [BS],” he said, referring to unit politics and the make-work garrison environment.

He loved aspects of being deployed, especially good training, Zolotarsky said. “The best days I ever had were the live fires in Iraq. It was everything I expected of the Army — wished the Army would be.”

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Spc. Alphonso Rodriguez, 27, of Company C, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, plans to transfer to the Air Force, largely because of what he feels are better educational opportunities.

His switch has nothing to do with Iraq, Rodriguez said. He praised the 1st AD chain of command, adding that he had a first sergeant and noncommissioned officers who “did everything for troops,” and morale in Iraq was high.

“I love the Army. But I think the Air Force has better educational opportunities,” he said.

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Sgt. Reyes Terrazas, of the 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, got within three months of getting out without having any sort of plan for the future.

“So I just re-upped.”


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