Sun, May 27, 2018 04:50 AM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
Soldier recounts time in Iraq

Chandler (click for larger version)
The following article is reprinted with permission from the Bellefontaine (Ohio) Examiner. Joshua Chandler, who is originally from Paintsville, is the grandson of Lola Faye Chandler of River and the late Obery Chandler, and Ray and Nancy Moore of Van Lear. Chandler has returned to Ft. Bliss, Texas, for further training.

by Sue Pitts | Examiner Staff Writer

When Pfc. Joshua A. Chandler signed up for a “job” in the U.S. Army in the spring of 2002, he could not have imagined the “adventure” he would face nine months later—experiences he shared recently while back in his hometown of Bellefontaine after serving a five-month deployment in Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Mr. Chandler, son of Stan and Debbie Chandler and Judy and Jason Clark, all of Bellefontaine, and a 2000 graduate of Bellefontaine High School and Ohio Hi-Point Career Center, said he was “tired of beating myself up in a factory and wanted something better.” So he joined the Army to look for it.

The soldier said it was hard work for him to even be accepted into the Army, having to lose 40 pounds just to get in. “But it’s really paid off,” he said, considering the conditions he later endured.

He was deployed to Kuwait on Feb. 3 with the 2nd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Patriot missile battalion of Ft. Bliss, Texas, which followed the 3rd Infantry Division in the first wave of allied penetration into Iraq the day after the Shock and Awe campaign. Their mission was “to watch the sky” and “to shoot down whatever (Saddam Hussein) had.

“We never knew what was coming at us. We just shot ‘em down.” Three of them according to the soldier, who was particularly proud of the success of the Patriot which had never been tested in actual war. “It was great to know we could do our job when it was all on the line.”

Although no soldier in his unit saw hand-to-hand combat and all came home safely, they did see things they will never forget.

Mr. Chandler was appalled at the poverty level and living conditions as they passed through towns while traveling along Lane 6 on the trip north to Baghdad. “The conditions were horrible in that country. I hope I never go back. It was scary ... a real eye-opener.”

Especially concerned for the children, he and his comrades would throw whatever rations they could spare to them as they converged on the troops. “They would fight over what was tossed ... they had no shoes and were barely clothed,” he said, shaking his head.

He could identify and empathize with the people of the country after personally going without a hot meal or shower for 72 days and enduring temperatures averaging 140 degrees. The hottest day came March 28, when he said the temperature reached 163 degrees.

With supply lines lagging on some occasions, there were times when the unit was rationed to one meal ready-to-eat, and one bottle of water which had to be consumed quickly before temperatures made it “hot enough to make coffee.”

He quipped that when his group landed June 2 in El Paso, Texas, the temperature was 106 and not one of the soldiers broke a sweat, while those who were there to greet them complained of the heat. ‘Y don’t care if it’s 20 below zero, I will be in shorts and a T-shirt. I will never take air conditioning for granted again.”

While they saw enough excitement, there was quite a bit of down time during which they maintained machinery and played a lot of dominoes and spades. He said they did whatever they could do to keep their minds off things and only thought about the war when they had to.

Mail call was helpful in freeing their minds of their surroundings, but after leaving Kuwait, Chandler said mail call varied from once every three days to every three weeks or longer. “There is still mail I have yet to receive.”

The local soldier got his moments of fame when embedded ABC News reporter Stephanie Gosk did a story, Mail Brightens Soldiers’ Day, shown on an edition of Good Morning America, in which he and his unit were featured.

It was also the first sign the family had that he was still alive and well. His father, Stan, said after hearing troops from Ft. Bliss had been captured during the first week of the war, “It was so crazy ... the phone rang off the hook, so much that I had to leave for a while. And then when they canceled the (scheduled) news conference, none of us slept all night.” It wasn’t until April 1 when the ABC story aired that they knew he was OK.

The son was able to call home May 3 and said he could hear his 13-year-old sister, Charity, tear up on the phone. “And when I landed in El Paso, I think it took her a half hour to let go of me ... I love her to death.”

“Every day was a battle,” said the elder Mr. Chandler, who served 1977-79 as a U.S. Marine. “After a while the media was too much to handle. The best therapy was talking to people at work and in the community that had kids overseas.”

The younger Mr. Chandler said he “enjoyed kicking back” with friends and family during his homecoming and took in some golf and as many of Charity’s softball games as he could.

After a week at home, he reported back to Ft. Bliss for more training, likely never to return to Iraq, “unless there is a threat of scuds,” he said.

He said in spite of the events of recent months, he has found what he was looking for and will “likely re-up and retire” from the Army. “It turned me into a man,” he affirmed, “I did a lot of growing up over there. I think I went from (age) 20 to 30 real quick. I’m doing things I never thought I’d do.

“And after being there, I understand the pride people have (for the military). It’s good to know you are respected for what you do and it’s really cool to hear the youth of the country say ‘thank you.”’

During his stint in the Middle East, Chandler was promoted from private second class, E2, to private first class, E3, and earned an Army Achievement Medal and Army Commendation Medal.

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