A new perspective
Maj. Doug Simon stands under the Southwest Minnesota State University banner in the dining facility at a base in Fajullah.
As troops report to the Marshall National Guard Armory today to prepare for deployment, Maj. Doug Simon, a Brigade Judge Advocate for the U.S. Army, is preparing to return home.
Simon is with the 34th Combat Aviation Brigade based in St. Paul and is a political science professor at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.
"I would say within 60 days, by the beginning of summer, I will be back in Marshall," Simon said.
This is Simon's first deployment to Iraq. Prior to this, he had been deployed to Bosnia. He's been based in Fajullah, Iraq, for about nine months.
"I'm looking forward to coming back," Simon said. "I think I have a clearer understanding for the realities of life."
As a long-time Soldier and college professor, Simon isn't naive, but "going through deployment and going through challenges has made me understand people and life better," he said.
The uncertainties of life bring anxiety, Simon said. And he's learned now the better he understands life the more comfortable he is.
Simon said he will return with a better appreciation of American freedoms and those who have supported him during deployment.
"As far as the faculty at SMSU, some of us may disagree on the war, and that's fine, that's one of the treasures of American democracy, but what I appreciate the most is how supportive they've been."
He's anxious to return to the college campus, his son Isaac, 4, in Marshall, his fiancee in St. Paul and other friends and family.
"Personally, I am going to enjoy every day I'm back in the United States," Simon said.
Simon experienced some personal changes during deployment; he also worked with deployed Soldiers who were dealing with their own personal issues.
Some weren't as positive as his, Simon said.
As a military lawyer, "I work in a legal assistance program to help Soldiers with personal issues, Simon said. Soldiers leave the U.S. but take their bad debt, divorce, child custody and other issues with them, Simon said. And the Soldier cand find it hard to handle those issues miles away from the U.S., he said.
"While it's a great honor to serve your country and the Soldiers did the right thing to answer the call, it puts an incredible stress, not only the Soldier, but on the family," Simon said.
Simon is part of the support group for deployed Soldiers and he knows there is also support back in the U.S. He said resources such as the Family Readiness Group and its representatives in Marshall and other areas are important because they support the Soldiers and the families.
"For the families, their sacrifice does not go unnoticed," Simon said.
Iraq has changed for the better in the past few years because of the U.S. military presence, Simon said.
He sees this from the view inside a combat helicopter.
"I've been on flights over Baghdad and we've seen kids playing on playgrounds, kids playing outside. Other members of the aviation unit have commented on that. People are coming out because they feel safer," Simon said. "A year and half ago you didn't see that.
"My observation from the air is that Baghdad is like any other city," Simon said. "There is construction going on, and, yes, you have your bad neighborhoods just like any other city. It looks like Sioux Falls, S.D., because there are no skyscrapers."
While he is in the air, his job as a JAG keeps him on the ground, too. As a military lawyer he advises staff including those in command on military administrative policy, rules of engagement and other issues.
Simon also helps to make sure the money designated for the war is correctly spent.
The Defense Department is complicated and Simon can be advising the commander on whether or not to accept a gift to writing legal opinions on administrative topics.
"There has been a lot of money dedicated to this war. Billions and billions of dollars. We want to make sure the money is spent right," Simon said. "Our job is to make sure the money is spent according to regulations."
The brigade's mission is to work with the Multi-national Corps-Iraq. The brigade's job is to help secure and stabilize the Iraqi national government, Simon said.
Simon will be on the job for several more weeks. As he considers the deployment for the Marshall National Guard unit and others and his own time in Iraq, Simon noted the number of Soldiers in their late teens and early 20s.
"When you look at these Soldiers at 21, 22, 23, they are making some very, very earnest, difficult decisions and have significant responsibilities," Simon said.
Those same Soldiers will be the country's leaders in 20 and 30 years, Simon said.
"That just gives me a lot of confidence," Simon said.
By Rae Kruger
POSTED: April 16, 2009