'Glad we're there'

W.Va. grandmother, Army reservist endures some close calls during her tour of duty in Iraq

W.Va. grandmother, Army reservist endures some close calls during her tour of duty in Iraq

December 24, 2005|By CANDICE BOSELY


Sleep was what Terry Shelton wanted and needed most last Christmas.

The grandmother, Army reservist and school bus driver had just arrived in Iraq on Christmas Eve for what would be nearly a yearlong stay overseas away from her family.

During her stay at one of Saddam Hussein's former bases near Balad, Shelton was serenaded by an 8-year-old Iraqi boy intent on seeing her blond hair, shot at, worked side by side with Iraqi solders and citizens, and learned four months ago over the phone that her daughter had given birth to a boy named Mason - Shelton's eighth grandchild.

Shelton, 45, of Hedgesville, first joined the military because she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her favorite older brother, who served on active duty with the Army, and her father, who served during Korea and was a prisoner of war for two years.


Now a staff sergeant, Shelton joined the Army Reserve in 1981 when she was 21 years old and remained in the reserves until 2000. She rejoined in 2002, having spent the two years in between as a National Guard member.

Since rejoining, Shelton has been deployed twice. Her first deployment kept her in the country, in Washington state. While there, her daughter Melissa gave birth to a girl - Melissa's first child. Melissa later would give birth to Mason.

Shelton's second deployment began on Oct. 24, 2004, when Shelton left for Fort Bragg, N.C., for training prior to her Christmas Eve arrival in Iraq.

"It was different. It wasn't what I expected," she said of Iraq. She expected - and saw - sand, but she also saw green fields and cities.

"The towns look like 'Flintstones' towns," Shelton said.

'Glad that we're there'

Shelton stayed first in tents at the base that was named LSA Anaconda, which has an eight-mile perimeter. Shelter in old Iraqi buildings followed and she ended up sleeping in a 40-foot trailer, "which was better than the tents, especially with the mortars coming in," she said.

Mortars would be aimed toward the base as many as three times a day. Initially, Shelton and others would grab all of their gear and head to a bunker.

Eventually, the soldiers simply covered themselves in their beds and went back to sleep.

Working as a battalion supply sergeant, Shelton ordered more than $2 million worth of materials used to build schools, roads, hospitals, bases and other facilities.

Shelton also worked with civilian Iraqis, who would arrive outside of the base before sunrise for the chance to earn $8 by working for 10 hours.

Although Shelton always was cautious while working with the Iraqis, no serious problems arose and she complimented them as a people.

"Very polite. Very well-mannered people," Shelton said. "And they're glad that we're there."

Every Sunday, Shelton and another woman would visit an Air Force hospital, talking with both wounded soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Small stuffed animals were handed out to try to raise spirits.

"Even the older men, the American soldiers, loved it," said Shelton, who received a general's coin for her volunteer work at the hospital.

She also gave out phone cards, donated by Improved Order of Red Men Conococheague Tribe 84 in Williamsport, to 30 lower enlisted men, allowing each 10 hours of free phone time.

With the good, though, comes the danger.

A close call

Her closest call came during a tower guard stint in September. A "firefight" started about 9:30 p.m., with Shelton calling her superiors to let them know it seemed to be about 1,300 meters away.

Watching with night vision goggles, Shelton gave an update about half an hour later that the gunfire seemed to be about 800 meters away.

Another 30 minutes passed, then a report from a different tower guard that the fight was about 300 meters away from Shelton's tower.

Shelton was ready to use her weapon, but was waiting for assurance that no "friendlies" - including U.S. soldiers - were on the ground.

That's when she heard a "ping" and looked up, seeing a hole in the tower.

"The bullet went through, about two feet above my head," she said.

A Redskins victory song

Shelton, who received the Army Commendation Medal for her service, is a member of the 351st Ordnance Co., based in Romney, W.Va., but was deployed with the 463rd Engineer Battalion, Combat Heavy, based in Wheeling, W.Va., because that unit needed a battalion supply sergeant.

Shelton received the phone call on a Tuesday and learned she needed to be in North Carolina by that Sunday.

Shelton called her boss - Ron Cartee, the county's transportation director - then Larry Shelton, whom she had been with for 20 years and who she would marry two days before leaving for Fort Bragg.

Larry's first concern was where his wife would be deployed, given that some areas in Iraq are considered to be more dangerous than others.

"Until I found out where she was going and what she'd be doing I was pretty worried about her," he said.

They stayed in touch over the phone, but sometimes lines of communication went down.

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