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By Capt. Shawn Harper ('97)
Capt. Shawn Harper ('97) at the Hands of Victory arches in Baghdad. These "crossed sabers" marking the entrance to a parade ground are made from melted-down weaponry from the Iran/Iraq war.
In 1997, I graduated from JMU where I majored in history. Currently I'm assigned to the 1st Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery of the 1st Armored Division stationed out of Wiesbaden, Germany.
My unit deployed to Iraq in May 2003 and served in Baghdad until May 2004 maintaining the security of the city's western zones around Baghdad International Airport. We manned all the entry control and observation points of the airfield and patrolled the zones to the west and south of the airport to counter surface-to-air missile threats, mortar and rocket attacks, improvised explosive devices known as IEDs, and roadside bombs.
We lost two of our soldiers to an IED in February 2004. It was a difficult time for the entire unit and something that I will never forget.
Although my time in Baghdad was a long and challenging year for my family and me, there are a lot of things that I enjoy about my job. Knowing that I served my country in a time of war, that my efforts will make the United States a safer place, and that I helped rebuild an oppressed country make me extremely proud. Our efforts have yielded incredible results. When the 1st Armored Division arrived in Baghdad, the city was extremely dangerous and unstable. After our year there, we handed Baghdad over to the 1st Cavalry Division in much better shape and have given the citizens of Iraq a chance to succeed in running their own country.
Editor's note: Harper received the Bronze Star in recognition of his service in Iraq.