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Welcome home ... to real food and a non-Humvee

June 29, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

The sunny, warm weather on Saturday was a far cry from the "raining mud" and dramatic shifts in temperature U.S. Army Spc. Ray T. Wharton said he experienced in Iraq.

Wharton, 21, has been adjusting to civilian life since returning to the States on June 13. He is on leave after a nine-month, two-day deployment in Kuwait and Iraq.

After a short visit to Georgia to take care of some paperwork, Wharton has been home since June 17, said his father, Ray J. Wharton.


On Saturday, approximately 100 friends and family members were expected at the Whartons' Smithsburg home for a welcome home and birthday party.

The younger Wharton's 21st birthday was June 1.

"Welcome home. Happy birthday," said Wharton's aunt, Millie Glick, as she hugged him in the living room.

Glick's children, Nicole, 8, and Sam, 12, gave Wharton a toy Dancing Hamster dressed in camouflage.

"He looks so grown. He looks skinnier, but he looks good," said Glick, who traveled with her children and husband, Gary, from Rockville, Md., for the party.

"He had lost 20 pounds," said Wharton's mother, Lorraina Wharton.

Wharton said he didn't eat much in the field because of the heat and stress.

His chemical suit kept him warm during the freezing nights, but he "had to suck it up" during the hot days because he had to keep the suit on as a precaution, he said.

The rain and sandstorms caked soldiers' weapons with mud so they poured water on them and dried them, Wharton said.

Now that he's home on leave, Wharton is adjusting to real food and getting reacquainted with driving a car instead of an armored Humvee.

After a regimen of eating one MRE - meals ready to eat - a day, Wharton's stomach is adjusting to eating real food such as steak. Wharton said at first he got a little nauseous if he tried to eat too much real food.

Besides the weight loss, Wharton has "gotten broader through the shoulders," said his grandmother, Mary Palm, of Crystal Falls Drive.

Wharton said he returns to Fort Stewart in Georgia on July 2 until he comes home on Aug. 21.

Wharton officially leaves the Army in October, but has enough leave time to come home early and start classes at Hagerstown Community College.

"I want to be a cop, but in the end my goal is to be an investigator, maybe on the federal level," Wharton said.

As a member of the 3rd Military Police Company, 3rd Infantry Division, Wharton said his duties in Iraq included helping make sure convoys were headed in the right direction and guarding enemies of war in temporary, makeshift holding areas.

This was his first deployment and the first time he saw death, Wharton said.

Wharton's younger brothers, Matthew, 19, and Patrick, 15, said they had talked to Wharton about his experiences overseas and they both still want to join the Air Force.

Even though Matthew and Ray shared a room once, they weren't close, Matthew said. He was worried about his brother in the war, Matthew said.

Since Wharton's return, Matthew said he's trying to hang out and talk to his older brother more.

Instead of the two fighting, Ray advises or "lectures" him now, Matthew said.

"He's a lot more mature," Matthew said.

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