Iraq War news

Monday, July 17, 2006

Newark pals both enlisted for Iraq war

They grew up together, finished high school together and in 2004 fulfilled a longtime dream of becoming soldiers in the Army despite daily reports of casualties in Iraq.

Justin Smith and Benjamin Harrison, brothers in spirit if not by birth, were undaunted by the fact they likely would

serve in one of the most dangerous places on Earth for military and civilians alike. Instead, it was the end of a long wait to become soldiers.

"I never thought twice about it," Harrison, a cavalry mechanic with the 4th Infantry Division, wrote in an e-mail from Iraq.

He recalled doing military-style one-handed pushups with Smith when they were teenagers. "The Army is not for everyone, but for Justin and me it was, I think, the best thing we ever did."

After years of friendship, the two men are as close as any two siblings could be even though they were separated once they enlisted.

"Justin is my best friend and always will be," Harrison wrote.

The two met in the seventh grade as next-door neighbors in a Newark apartment complex.

Smith's parents, Todd and Susan, raised Harrison like a son after his mother moved to Arizona. His father had left long before.

The Smiths saw him through his high school years until he graduated in June 2004 with their son from Crossroads High. Afterward, Harrison and Smith married their teenage sweethearts, who are sisters.

Then they headed straight for the Army recruiting office in Fremont, where 45 others have signed up since October 2004.

"It was pretty scary," said

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Todd Smith of his son's determination to join the Army despite the war in Iraq. Smith's parents tried to persuade him to work with computers or machines, something less dangerous than the infantry. "But he's not that way. He wanted to see action," they said.

Today the 21-year old is training Iraqi soldiers as a specialist in the Alpha Company of the 4th Infantry Division.

Even though he was determined since boyhood to join the Army, Smith's actual departure to Iraq in 2005 was devastating, said his wife, Sarah.

"I didn't move, didn't eat. I was sure it was the last time I would see him," she recalled recently.

Smith and Harrison were supposed to enlist together, but Smith's application was delayed. That meant Harrison went first. He has been in Iraq for more than a year, making sure soldiers have trustworthy vehicles, which, as with so many elements in a war zone, their lives depend on.

Harrison said his main job is to "make sure the vehicles the guys are driving every day for long periods of time are in perfect running order."

"One of the biggest challenges is leaving your family," wrote Harrison, now the father of a 6-month-old girl. But being deployed, "that's the really hard part."

By Angela Woodall, STAFF WRITER


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