Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Soldiers Find Friends Like Family in Platoon

Pfc. Christopher Clary, from Russell, N.Y., a gunner in the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion's security platoon, salutes Lt. Col. Todd Ratliff, from Holland, Ohio, battalion commander, before Clary receives an Army Commendation Medal, April 13, at the Solider, Airman and Civilian Center on Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq.

By Sgt. Natalie Rostek
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq - Twenty-five Soldiers and non-commissioned officers from the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion came together for the first time at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., two months before their deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Although they were from different parts of the country and different backgrounds, their mission was the same; to protect the battalion commander as he conducted security, governance and economic missions in Iraq.

Gunners Spc. Ray Serna, Pfc. Jesse Manchester and Pfc. Christopher Clary, said they knew of fellow platoon members, but merely acknowledged them in passing. They'd seen the other Soldiers in the barracks or working on Kelley Hill at Fort Benning, Ga., where the 3rd Brigade Combat Team calls home.

"Clary was actually my neighbor, but I didn't even remember him," said Serna, a Houston native. Clary and Manchester attended basic training together at Fort Benning.

They didn't meet Serna until the NTC rotation.

Now, after living and working with each other for the past 14 months, the three gunners said they are not just friends; they are family.

Manchester, a native of Hiram, Maine, said he has spent so much time with the Soldiers in his platoon he knows almost everything about them and the team is able to let their guard down around each other.

"It makes us closer," he said. "Being together all the time, we know the good and the bad. We notice people's flaws."

Clary agreed.

"We know when someone's upset and they don't even say anything," he said.

Communication plays an important role in the relationship between the members of the team. Sometimes talking is all they have to do when they are out on long missions, said Serna.

"Sitting for 12 hours you have to have something to pass the time," Clary said. "I talk about my family a lot."

"I'm a mamma's boy," he added laughing. "We talk about stuff we used to do when we were home or stuff we are going to do when we get back home."

On their off-time Serna said most of the Soldiers in the platoon go to the gym, and watch movies and television show series.

"We're on 'Prison Break' right now, but we've watched 'The Office,' 'Lost,' 'ER' ... We've watched so many," he said. "If someone gets a new movie we all sit around and watch it together."

"Sometimes we get sodas from the PX (post exchange) and just sit around and talk," Clary added.

The three Soldiers are all fond of their leaders as well. They consider their NCOs to be comrades. They said each of their leaders is different, but all look out for the welfare of the Soldiers in the platoon.

Serna said the leaders understand their Soldiers and what they are going through and that helps.

"They are all there for us," he said. "If anyone needs anything they are there to help."

Being in the commander's security platoon has also built the Soldiers relationships with Lt. Col. Todd Ratliff, from Holland, Ohio, 3rd BSTB's commander, Clary said.

"He's all about family and he makes sure we are informing our families,"

Clary said. "He really looks out for his Soldiers. If our families need anything he makes sure we have the contact information to give to them so they can get what they need."

Each Soldier believes being on the team has built their relationship to levels it would not have been had they been working in different companies or battalions.

Neither Clary, Manchester, nor Serna expect to have their family at Fort Benning when they get off the plane, but they all plan to stay together.

Manchester and Clary will drive to Clary's home in New York to see his family.

Admittedly ready to go home, Clary and Manchester said the deployment has positively changed them as individuals.

"I used to be more childish," Manchester said. "I grew up this deployment." Clary said he used to be very quiet. "Now, if I have something to say, I just say it."

Each gunner said they intend to maintain their friendship in the future and have made plans to see each other.

The 3rd BSTB, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

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