DC graduate find Iraq deployment full of contrasts

February 25, 2008

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Minnesota Army National Guard Sgt. Brian W. Mumford, a 2004 Dassel Cokato High School graduate, has been serving in Iraq as a paralegal since Aug. 2007.

Despite being away from his family, the smog, extreme weather changes, the dust, and odd, gluey mud in the area north of Baghdad, Mumford’s morale and the morale of his fellow soldiers is positive.

“Everyday I am amazed at the kindness of the American people. I have received letters, cards and gifts from people whom I have never met. Yet their support is one of the major reasons why soldier morale is optimistic. To these people, I must say, ‘Thank you,’” Mumford said in an e-mail Feb. 18 to the Enterprise Dispatch.

Mumford’s wife, Sofya, is an English professor and a city planner in Russia. Her immigration to the US is pending, although the process is not going as quickly as the couple would like, he said.

Mumford is the son of Bruce and Priscilla “Pixie” Mumford who live near Forest City. His mother works at the State Bank in Cokato. His father is a truck driver for Gemstone in St. Bonifacius.

Mumford’s sister, Elisabeth, is a student at DC High School, and his brother, Aaron, and sister-in-law, Becky, are working on their master’s degrees at Minnesota State University in Mankato.

Being away from his family is the most challenging part of his service as a battalion/brigade legal NCO.

(It’s challenging) “being away from my wife and family, and getting others who have never had any experience with the military, to understand how big a role family plays while I am deployed. During my deployment, my parents and my wife have made many sacrifices to support what I am doing, and to help with any and all problems that arise in the civilian world. My ability to serve would not be as successful if I didn’t have their support,” Mumford said.

Mumford is a student at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, up until he went to his mobilization training at Fort Sill, Okla. in April, 2007.

There are three things Mumford said he misses the most about the Dassel Cokato area, the taco pizza made at the Pizza Factory in Cokato, the lack of smog in the air, and “making random visits to the Cokato Museum to interrupt (museum director) Mike Worcester’s work day.”

Mumford listed the smog at Balad, near the Tigris River, where his base is located, as what he likes least about Iraq. “There is so much smog at times that it is mentioned in the daily weather reports,” he said.

Mumford is at Logistics Support Area (LSA) Anaconda about 70 miles north of Baghdad. The base is called “Little America” because it’s is so large, he said.

When he looks out the window, he sees concrete walls, dust, sandbags and blast barriers that fill the base. The base is surrounded by vast farm fields, which give this part of Mesopotamia, the name “breadbasket” of Iraq, Mumford said.

“The level of danger at LSA Anaconda is as low as one can find in Iraq. While there are many indirect fire attacks, hence why many people refer to LSA Anaconda simply as ‘Mortaritaville,” it is nothing compared to the dangers soldiers face conducting convoy operations, explosive ordnance operations or urban security operations,” he said.

Still, when Mumford comes home, the first thing he will do after greeting and celebrating with his family, will be to go for a long walk somewhere in rural Minnesota. He wants to be alone with the rustling sound of grass and leaves in the wind, he said.

Mumford’s job in Iraq is such that he rarely comes in contact with any Iraqis.

“My mission is to support my commander’s and the government in pursuit of violation breakers under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I also advise over battalion postal operations and the R&R leave and pass program,” Mumford said.

Mumford is aware of big contrasts in culture between Dassel Cokato and Iraqis, however.

“Many Iraqis are forced to ask two questions, ‘Who can help feed my family? Who can help protect my family?’” Mumford said.

The weather also is very different from Minnesota.

“Three things about Iraq have surprised me most: the cold, the snow and the mud. While many Minnesotans may say 28 degrees isn’t cold, after a summer of temperatures in excess of 120 to 130 degrees, it feels cold,” Mumford said.

The occasional snow took Mumford’s mind off the cold, but when the snow melted, or if it rained, the ground turned into mud that was sticky as glue.

“The mud sticks to everything, and unless it is peeled off the ground by skid loaders, it can sit on the ground for weeks,” Mumford said.

Fortunately the mud problems will end soon. February is the last month when it is expected to rain. Then the weather warms up, he said.

On the other hand, there are things about Iraq that Mumford enjoys.

“Being in Iraq has given me the opportunity to observe different leadership styles and how they affect people. I hope to apply this knowledge in future experiences,” he said.

Mumford also has had opportunities for fun. Mumford was roped into making a second battalion video that ended humorously.

“One day I walked into the battalion S-1 office at the wrong time.There our public affairs officials were waiting for the next person to walk in the door, so they could have someone play a character in what became a scene in our second battalion video.

“Moments later I was being outfitted with a white lace skirt and told to ‘run.’ For an hour the public affairs officials and I shot scenes of me running and hiding from the command sergeant major.

“However, in our final shot, the commander and I collided as we were running in opposite directions around a corner. Needless to say, it didn’t end well for me, at least on the video,” Mumford said.

Mumford is expecting to be home in August, he said.

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