Specialist Bryanna Poulin of North Port, Fla. is a gung-ho Army reporter-photographer attached to the 25th Infantry Division station at a desert base called “Cob Speicher” just outside Tikrit — Saddam Hussein’s hometown.
“I’m regular Army every day, all day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I love my job. I absolutely love it. I work with great people. The Army takes care of me,” the 1996 Port Charlotte High School graduate proclaimed exuberantly.
Her job: Write stories and take pictures of what the 25th Division soldiers are doing on the front lines for “Task Force Lightning,” her division’s monthly magazine, and for an internet site that feeds stories about local soldiers to hometown newspapers throughout the United States.
“By the grace of God I’ve got the best job in the Army,” she said. “I enlisted as a medic, but got pneumonia, missed a lot of school and was reassigned. I selected reporter and got it. It’s a very hard job to get.”
Poulin has two very different views of Iraq: “Anything’s better than Iraq. The weather conditions are terrible. It’s either really hot or cold and there is sand everywhere and no trees.
“Most of the people in Iraq love us. Store owners will come out of their stores and ask American soldiers on patrol if they want a drink. The kids over there love us, too, because they get candy or Beanie Babies from the soldiers,” she explained.
“When I was out in Mosul with the soldiers carrying my camera, the kids wanted me to take their pictures. They bring their Iraqi flags with them, which is a sign they are on our side,” Poulin said.
As far as the U.S. Army soldiers who are fighting in Iraq, she said, “I don’t know of any soldier over there that doesn’t want to be there. Part of this is because of the support we receive from the American people.”
Looking at the big picture of the war in Iraq, Poulin said, “I’m in total support of putting more troops over there. I want to do whatever we have to do to get Iraq up and running so it can have its own government.
“If we pull out now, what would the death of every American soldier who died over here mean? If we pull out now everything these dead soldiers tried to accomplish would be a total waste.”
Shortly after arriving in Iraq last year she was sent to Mosul in northern Iraq to write and photograph the soldiers fighting with the Indian Head Division, the 2nd Infantry Division, out of Fort Lewis, Wash.
“Every day when I was out there in the field with the troops I was writing about what they were doing. At one point they pulled some guys out of a car and put them up against a wall to search them. I was taking pictures and all the while my heart was racing,” she said.
More recently Poulin has been on base writing tough copy about soldiers who will come home to their families in a body bag.
“I’ve had to do a lot of memorial pieces over there on soldiers who were killed in the fighting,” she said. “It’s hard taking pictures and writing about them. Some of those guys dying over there are only 18 or 19 years old. They’re just kids.”
Working conditions for troops at base “Cob Speicher” are far different than most people in this country comprehend, the military reporter said.
“We work in air-conditioned offices with high-speed Internet and phone lines 12 hours a day, seven days a week,” Poulin said. “We use laptop computers, and I can call home once a week. We even have Subways, Wendy’s and Pizza Huts on base run by locals who are contract workers. They’re not as good as the fast food restaurants back home, but they’re better than the base chow.
“For entertainment we watch a lot of DVD movies. Amazon.com is one of the big web sites to order movies from. A lot of the soldiers play computer games, too.”
Poulin’s halfway through her first year-long tour of duty in Iraq. Recently, during the two weeks she was home, she got to compete in the Disney World Marathon in Orlando with her older sister, Sheila, and thousands of other runners. Now she’s back in Iraq working through the last half of her first tour in the Middle East.
“I’m going to re-enlist for six more years with the 25th Division just as soon as I get back to Iraq. Home base for the 25th Division is Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. A year after I redeploy I’ll go back to Afghanistan with the 25th,” she said.
Just before she headed back to Iraq a few days ago, Poulin said, “I’m confident I’m coming back from Iraq. I’ll be all right.”
Her father and mother, Peter and Sherry Poulin of North Port, have their fingers crossed.
“We’re very proud of her, but worried,” her mom said.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, Jan. 22, 2007 and is republished with permission.
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