Teenager's dangerous job in Iraq

+++Five soldiers from Arkansas flew home last week from Iraq for a couple of weeks of vacation.
+++ They got on an airplane in Kuwait and flew to Ireland and then went on to Dallas, where they caught a commuter flight to Little Rock. Specialist Jordan Lackie of DeValls Bluff was one of the soldiers flying home. He's only 18, but he's a big fellow, and he was the only soldier who didn't seem tired.
+++ He joined the Army in June 2003, when he was 17, and was sent to Kuwait a few months later, but he couldn't go to Iraq until last May, when he turned 18, the minimum age for combat. "I may be the youngest soldier in all of Iraq," said Lackie, who has one of the most dangerous jobs over there: Armed with a machine gun, he looks out of the top of a Humvee that leads convoys of trucks delivering supplies or prisoners. His assignments are more realistic than the video games other teenagers are playing back home.
+++ "There's a Humvee in front and back," Lackie explained. "They're heavily guarded with machine guns." His job is to look out for explosives in the road. When he sees a suspicious object – a package or a dead animal that often has explosives inside – he calls out for bomb specialists with robots that diffuse the bombs. "If I see an IED (improvised explosive device), I kick the driver," Lackie said. "They bring out the robots and look through it for us."
+++ Lackie also rides in front of trucks with his machine gun, an M-249 that shoots 800 rounds a minute. He wears body armor and a special helmet. He needs that protection because violence could break out at any moment. His convoy has been shot at several times, but he's never been wounded. "You go through a town with 5,000 people, and they all want to kill you," the teenager said. "We always ride out during the day. I work seven days a week."
+++ He's not complaining. He was looking for adventure when he signed up after the U.S. invaded Iraq, and he's found plenty of excitement since. "I volunteered. I'm not afraid," said the young soldier, who is a member of the 1115 Transportation Co., 39th Support Battalion. "I figured it would be an experience," he said. "It's a whole new world over there." He's stationed at Camp Taji, just north of Baghdad. The only time it gets boring is when he's not riding in convoys and instead does guard duty in a tower overlooking the camp, which has about 20,000 soldiers.
+++ That's the least dangerous job he's had in Iraq. No enemy insurgents have tried to sneak into Camp Taji lately, unlike at Mosul, where a suicide bomber blew himself up and killed several U.S. soldiers the day Lackie was flying home. Lackie said he's not afraid to die. "I'm not married," he said. "I don't have any kids." At Camp Taji, fathers and sons are stationed together, and so are mothers and daughters and even brothers.
+++ The facilities are great at the camp and the food is good, and Burger King, Pizza Hut and Subway have just opened up there. Alcohol is strictly forbidden in Iraq, which is a Moslem country. "I work out in the gym three hours a day and then go to sleep," Lackie said. He hopes to come home for good next March, unless his tour is extended, which could happen as the military finds itself stretched thin and has asked soldiers to stay longer. "We'll probably be there for another 10 years and spend $200 billion," Lackie predicted. The U.S. will probably spend several times more than that, although the true cost of the Iraqi war, in terms of lives and money, is yet to be determined.
+++ While home, Lackie has been hanging out with his friends, eating out at restaurants and having a good time. He celebrated Christmas with his extended family, which includes, besides his parents, Joe and Tammie Lackie of DuValls Bluff, his grandparents, Joe and Maxine Lackie of Lonoke, his grandmother, Betty Adams of Jacksonville and his grandfather John Davis of DuValls Bluff.
+++ The young soldier went to Little Rock airport on Tuesday to meet other soldiers who had flown in from Iraq. They, too, will stay here for two weeks and then head back to Iraq. Lackie goes back next week. He's savoring every moment while he's on leave.


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