The half-year Garrard County Attorney Mark Metcalf spent in Iraq in 2011 as part of the 149th Brigade were months of challenge.
They also were months filled with work and an increasing appreciation for life in these United States of America.
The language barrier provided the biggest challenge, said Metcalf, who was mobilized June 1 and arrived Dec. 11 back in the United States. Interpreters were available but the 149th Brigade, which is a combat support unit, was engaged in a mission to close the Victory Base Complex, Saddam Hussein’s “playground” that was filled with about two dozen palaces of varying sizes.
Being away from his family and county attorney responsibilities also was a challenge.
“I took my fiscal court salary and brought in one more assistant so the county would not experience a higher cost with me being gone,” Metcalf explained. “(Beth Wesley) is the first woman to practice law in Lancaster. ... She is continuing in that capacity until I get back full time, and I intend to keep her.”
Metcalf is a Kentucky Guardsman with the United States Reserves. The 2011 mission marked Metcalf’s first time being deployed overseas.
The unit’s orders were to “go to Iraq to operate the Victory Base Complex and also shut it down, so that the United States Mission to Iraq would be militarily completed.
“Shutting down meant we drew down all the U.S. forces and all the civilian elements, and removed them in an orderly basis from the VBC in order to end the military presence of the United States in Iraq,” Metcalf explained.
“The Department of the Army decided they wanted this unit (for the task), which had already been to Afghanistan and had seasoned veterans who understood the nature of these conflicts. ... The Department of the Army knew the leadership inside the 149th also had the experience, so the decision was made to assign the 149th this mission.”
The 149th provided for base security, base operations and base logistics “in order that the military and civilian personnel would be secure and all civilian and military efforts would be drawn down in a secure and orderly manner,” he added.
While working to accomplish this mission and contending with the language barrier, “at the same time you have to operate an installation and have to do all of it with the knowledge that there are bad guys firing at you from time to time.”
But the Iraqi people with whom the brigade interacted liked Americans.
“We brought them jobs and security, something they hadn’t known,” Metcalf explained. “We showed them how a rule-of-law nation conducts itself.”
Being part of the Iraq mission left Metcalf appreciating his home country “and what we have in terms of freedoms and opportunities,” he said.
“I never understood — until I lived in a foreign land like that — the American way of life,” he explained. “When you see what they do to each other, you appreciate our way of life. It wasn’t how they treated us, it was how they treated each other that made me appreciate our way of life.
“We have the most attractive culture in the world. Many Iraqis I encountered asked, ‘How do I come to America?’”
VBC was turned over to the government of Iraq on Dec. 1.
“The Iraqi government will use VBC as a basing area as well as a training area, as far as we know,” Metcalf noted. “That was their intent.”