Infantryman:  ‘I Look At Myself As A True American’

Matthew Hohenbrink was not sure what he wanted to do with his life, so at the age of 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and joined the Alabama National Guard. “I’m a southern boy, grew up hunting and wanted to go into the infantry,” he said. He deployed last October to Qatar where he provides security for U.S. Central Command.

U.S. Army Specialist Hohenbrink called from Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar and spoke with Tribune correspondent MyLinh Shattan about his assignment.

Tell us about your job? I’m on a basic security force mission. We provide security for this base which covers anything up to the gates and the control points. My specific job here is security for the U.S. Central Command compound. I’m not out on the gates but inside camp. It’s fairly safe. We interact with high ranking officers and NCOs.

We have posts here on the compound and we rotate through on 12- hour shifts. We try to keep things from being boring. One main thing is interacting with the people. We have two control points; we make sure people have clearance badges. It’s a fairly small compound. We work outside, we have an inside desk and we’re there inside the building. We have a vehicle entry point and two other points with split traffic. On day shift and night shift, we make sure the right folks get in.

There hasn’t been an incident on this camp for about a year or two. But there are angry people trying to get to work on time.

What did your training include? We did convoy security, a lot of weapons training. A lot of range time, trigger time. I’m in the new Army digital uniform and I carry an M-4 and 9 mm, with ammunition.

Do you work with Coalition members? We work with Australians, British and here at this compound, it’s all branches of the service too. They come by and say hello. As they leave, the only thing I can make out clear is “cheers.”

Being in the Middle East, Saddam has put so much terror in these people. In the states, we take it for granted so much. I thank God for letting me experience this. I look at America as a fantasy world, because we have it good. The Middle East is so much better since he’s gone.

What’s the day to day routine like? It can get boring, to be honest. You have to realize who we’re providing security for. We’re providing security for people who are running the war. I might not be in a firefight, but I’m taking the stress off folks in the compound.

What’s the reaction of locals to you as an American? It’s like with anything. If I come into your home and you hardly know me, of course you’re going to be looking at me funny. Nobody’s been real aggressive. Being out in town when I can, going on port missions, people see us and it’s OK. When Saddam was hung, I could tell everybody’s reaction, the feelings in the air, it was that much more relief.

As far as the people, when I go in the mall at Doha, the high and tight [military haircut] gives it away automatically.

What motivated you to join the Army during a time of war? My grandfather was in the Navy. To see all the vets come home, you see what they’re fighting for. I look at myself as a true American. Freedom is – I can’t even explain it. People here would die to be in the U.S. When I see that, it just makes me want to fight much harder. I wanted to be in the infantry because I couldn’t see myself behind a desk.

Where’s home? I grew up in Oxford, Ala. – small but fast growing. As far as family it’s been kind of difficult. My mother and father are divorced. It’s hard on mother and she’s got me and my sister. I was the man of house and it was hard to leave. I look at the purpose of leaving and what we’re doing over here, the guys that have been here before me. That’s the main reason I volunteered.

How are your accommodations? We have great housing. We’re in these huge warehouses in “Cormexes,” metal boxes; we stripped them out and put up walls. They have air conditioning with two beds. It’s just enough room to live. I think we’ve got it great. Being in the infantry, I’ve slept my fair share in the mud.

And how’s morale? For myself, I’m 20 years old, not married, no kids. I’m OK. At Christmas time when I saw our guys with kids, they’re missing it. It hurt me. Others’ morale? It’s good right now. During the holidays it’s rough.

I’ve met a lot of guys from up north (in Iraq). They’ve been hit hard, IEDs left and right. With a new surge coming in, we’re starting to make a difference in Baghdad. But longer tours will be hard on people. With the new surge, things are so much safer now. Crime, the hostilities in Baghdad are less and less every day.

MyLinh Shattan can be reached at mylinh@mylinhshattan.com. Keyword: Commentary, to read other recent Voices Front The Front stories.

Apr 8, 2007

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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