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Day at the front

November 27, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Thomas Day used to write opinion columns for his college newspaper that were critical of President Bush.

Now he's fighting Bush's war on terrorism as an Army journalist covering the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, Iraq.

It's a contradiction the 23-year-old Penn State graduate said he doesn't have any problem resolving.

"I respect the commander-in-chief as much as I would any other commander-in-chief in his position," he said.

Day is visiting his father and stepmother, Michael and Carol Ann Day, of Little Antietam Road north of Hagerstown.

On Dec. 2, he will fly back to Iraq's second largest city to serve the remaining two months of a year-long deployment as an Army private.

As an Army journalist, Day follows the movements of the 101st Airborne Division and reports on its activities such as rebuilding schools, restoring basic services and opening health clinics.

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When entertainer Bruce Willis and his band played for the troops, Day was there to document the event.

When U.S. soldiers stormed the house where Saddam's sons Udai and Qusai were hiding, Day saw the aftermath. Granted, another public affairs unit got there ahead of his.

When the 101st Airborne Division returns to Fort Campbell, Ky., which is scheduled for February, Day will report on the homecoming.

His stories and photos are used by military publications such as the Army News Service and the Fort Campbell (Ky.) Courier.

Some of his photos have been picked up by the Associated Press.

Another part of his job is assisting "embedded" journalists Jim Dwyer of the New York Times and Rick Atkinson of the Washington Post.

There's always danger.

Although Day said he has not been under direct fire, his compound has been attacked and the situation in Iraq has grown more dangerous in recent months.

"You've got to be alert and you've got to be locked and loaded," he said.

When his division loses a soldier, he e-mails his own loved ones to tell them he's fine.

"I'm sure that's difficult for my family," he said.

Day, who grew up in State College, Pa., was a senior at Penn State when he decided to enlist in the Army for five years.

He was already deployed to Mosul when he received his bachelor's degree in integrative arts, which is a multidisciplinary major where he concentrated in communications.

Day said he became passionate about serving in the military after visiting Ground Zero just 18 days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He and his father, Michael Day, had gone to New York City for an Orioles-Yankees baseball game. It was supposed to be Cal Ripken Jr.'s last game, but the terrorist attacks disrupted the baseball schedule.

Seeing the site of the World Trade Center had an impact.

"Smoke filled your lungs and you tasted it," Michael Day said.

Still, Michael Day said he was shocked a few weeks later when his son called to tell him about the enlistment.

Despite being a former Vietnam War protester and an objector to the Iraqi War, Michael Day is supportive of his son and the other troops in Iraq.

"There are some wars worth fighting for and some that are not. I'm very proud of what he's doing," he said.

Michael Day is a professor of information technology at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and the Western Maryland organizer for the Democratic presidential campaign of Gen. Wesley Clark.

Tom Day said he joined the Army to fight terrorism, but he also wanted the excitement and the adventure.

When asked whether he supports the war, he simply says, "I don't want to talk about that."

After his enlistment, Day plans to go to law school and said he might pursue politics.

While he was home, he and his father went to Washington, D.C., where they visited senators' offices in the hopes of meeting as many as possible.

Most were too busy with the Medicare debate to meet them, they said. But Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, set aside about 10 minutes to chat with Day about life on the ground in Iraq.

Day sent her some of his stories, which can be found on the Internet by typing "PFC Thomas Day" into any popular search engine.

This time it was Michael Day's turn to document the occasion by taking pictures.

"I was almost hyperventilating," Tom Day said.

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