Returning home safely tops soldiers' resolutions


Published: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 31, 2006 at 9:27 p.m.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Get home safely. That's the top New Year's resolution for many U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
But their hopes for 2007 look beyond surviving roadside bombs, ambushes, sniper fire and mortar and grenade attacks.
Spc. Maurice Gibbs, 22, wants to start a family with his wife, Marlyn, after both finish their tours in Baghdad.
Gibbs belongs to the Army's 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, which works in eastern Baghdad. His wife, a San Diego native, is based just two miles away.
But the couple, who married in August, have seen each other just twice during three months in Iraq, and only for a few hours each time.
''A lot of people look at it like I'm luckier than most having her so close. But they don't worry like I do,'' said Gibbs, of Akron, Ohio. ''Every time we take incoming fire, they don't worry about the phone ringing with bad news. I'd rather her be at home.'' Most of his unit is scheduled to return home in the fall.
Spc. Jeffrey Thompson, 27, wants to leave the Army and is studying to become an auto technician. While in the U.S. recently, he saw a 2007 Ford Mustang on display in a mall and has dreamed of owning one ever since. ''They had to come up and pull me away from it,'' said Thompson, of Scott City, Mo. ''I was ready to just stay there looking all day.''
Others said their time in Iraq has reshaped some of their goals for the new year.
Capt. Dave Eastburn, partial to the puffy bread sold in bakeries throughout Baghdad, wants to take a cooking class - maybe Middle Eastern cuisine.
''What the Iraqis eat, it's very simple: chicken that cooks all day with spices and rice,'' said Eastburn, 30, of Columbus, Ohio. ''But it smells really good and I think I'd like it, especially after being over here.''
Some soldiers resolved not to wait until after Iraq for self-improvement. Their pledges included language lessons, picking up an instrument and plain old getting in better shape.
Staff Sgt. Macalister Thomas, on his second New Year's Day in three years in Iraq, pledged to get to the gym at Forward Operating Base Loyalty more often and start drinking cranberry juice instead of can after can of sugary soda.
''I really want to get back into shape this year,'' said Thomas, a 37-year-old native of Dominica who now lives in Hinesville, Ga. ''We're never really off, though. It's hard to find time.''
Spc. Zane Henson, 24, of Tuscumbia, Ala., hopes to get back into playing the drums - maybe even start a band. But he needs to find a music store in the U.S. willing to donate a set and ship it to the base in Baghdad.
Spc. Leveron Moore wants to dedicate the year to learning Spanish. It won't be much use to him in Iraq, but Moore is thinking of home.
''Arabic would be nice, but it wouldn't be much use to me back in the U.S.,'' said Moore, 23, of Memphis, Tenn. ''It seems like almost everybody back there speaks Spanish now, so it would be more useful.''
On the other hand, Spc. John Zapata, 31, of Palmdale, Calif., hoped to learn some Arabic insults before the end of his tour.
''I would finally understand the kids who say something, then run away,'' he said. ''I know it's bad, but I can't understand it.''
Yet Zapata was starting the New Year looking back with a heavy heart. On Saturday, his buddy from basic training died in a roadside blast in eastern Baghdad.
''I haven't even accepted it yet,'' he said. ''I still think he just kind of went away on leave.''

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