2010-09-16 / News

Thompson Finds Friendly Citizens, but Poor Living Conditions, During Iraq Tour

By Michael Ayala

At right: Specialist Nathyn Thompson of St. Ignace returned to the Upper Peninsula following an eight-month-tour of Iraq August 25. He spoke with The St. Ignace News Thursday, September 9, about his time overseas and what it is like to return home. At right: Specialist Nathyn Thompson of St. Ignace returned to the Upper Peninsula following an eight-month-tour of Iraq August 25. He spoke with The St. Ignace News Thursday, September 9, about his time overseas and what it is like to return home. “It's a whole different world over there,” said Nathyn Thompson of his eight-month service in Iraq, where he saw poor living conditions but said most people were friendly to the Americans. Specialist Thompson of St. Ignace is a member of the National Guard 1437th Engineer Company, which left the Upper Peninsula in November 2009 for training in Wisconsin before shipping out to Iraq in late January.

The engineer company's job was maintain and build bridges and transport construction equipment. Early missions were focused on taking photographs of bridges and developing transportation plans to use in the event any of them were destroyed.

The size of the company enabled it to operate 24 hours a day at times, he said. In addition to a demolition job, the company replaced a bridge deck in the spring and built a bridge to a base in June.

The weather in Iraq became increasingly unforgiving as summer approached, with temperatures reaching 120 to 130 degrees and forcing some work to be completed at night.

During one mission several rockets flew overhead, Spc. Thompson recalled, but the company suffered no combat injuries the entire tour.

“We got pretty lucky actually, thank God,” he said.

He commented on the poor sanitation conditions in the wartorn country, the dirty water from people dumping garbage into the rivers, and yet people swimming nearby. He said he saw little indoor plumbing.

Time off from work was boring, he said, with few activities available, so it was almost better to just keep working. He did take one leave to Australia.

Interaction with local residents was limited, he said. Some people would wave as the soldiers passed by, and children would run up and ask for candy or water.

The company's tour was cut short when President Barack Obama drew down the military force in Iraq to about 50,000 troops, Spc. Thompson said.

The company's return to Sault Ste. Marie August 25 was met with celebration as residents lined the streets, police escorted the company to the National Guard Armory, and a group of motorcyclists from the Forgotten Eagles, American Legion Riders, and Patriot Riders joined in their return.

“I knew it was going to be big, but not that big,” Spc. Thompson said of the warm local welcome. “This whole past year has been surreal. It's really good to see such support from so many communities.”

Seeing so many people celebrating their return was a moving experience.

“It gives you the chills almost. That's when I realized how long we had been gone,” he said.

Support has continued, pointed out Kim North, Spc. Thompson's mother, recalling people who have approached her son and thanked him for his service.

“I really appreciate everyone supporting us. I think I speak for all of us when I say that,” Spc. Thompson said.

“That's what they really need,” Mrs. North said of the positive comments.

Spc. Thompson has two and a half years of service remaining, and may reenlist in the National Guard or transfer to the Regular Army.

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