No Place Like Home

No Place Like Home

When Army Pfc. Jeff Walker arrived home in the Rogue Valley, he greeted the cold, wet, blustery November Oregon weather with open arms.

"It's great to see clouds and rain and snow again," said Walker, on a 15-day leave from Iraq that began Nov. 16. "I wouldn't have this weather any other way."

After all, the temperature rose to a blistering 140 degrees last summer in the Iraqi desert outside Nasiriyah, about 200 miles south of Baghdad, where he is stationed as an Army medic with Alpha Company, 168th Armed Division out of Fort Carson, Colo.

"The ACs (air-conditioning) go out in your trucks all the time," said Walker, a 2009 graduate of Phoenix High School. "You go out on patrol and get out, hop back in and your AC is out. When you are wearing all your stuff, that's brutal."

He typically wears a 45-pound vest over his desert cammies and a 10-pound helmet while carrying a 35-pound medical pack and a 7-pound M4 rifle.

"It had to be 150 (degrees) in those trucks without AC — you are sitting in a metal box.

"So you just sit there and roast," he said.

While daytime high temperatures have dropped since then, those broiling conditions kept him busy throughout the summer, he said.

"We had a lot of heat casualties," he said. "Guys kept passing out because they thought they could tough it out and not drink water. They just — bam! — drop right there.

"I keep telling them they need to drink a lot of water when it's 140 degrees out and they are wearing 100 pounds of gear," he added. "But you can't get mad at them. You just hook them up to an IV and put them in a truck."

They are later checked out at a combat hospital before being sent back to their base, he said.

Pfc. Walker's job is to see that the roughly 60 men under his care are healthy in body and soul.

"I really enjoy what I do — it's great being the medic," he said. "Everybody just calls me 'doc.' "

His unit acted as a quick-response force when an improvised explosive device was detonated.

"We've had a lot of IEDs, mostly on the freeway," he said of the main highway out of Nasiriyah. "It's never been us being hit. A lot of it was the resupply convoys coming out of Kuwait."

He recalls steeling himself mentally to what he was about to face.

"You have to be mentally prepared and have everything set up and ready to go," he said.

He remembers the first incident in which he was the first medical specialist to arrive.

"I hooked him up and got him out of there," he said. "It was one of the local nationals driving the truck. He got hit pretty bad. But I was able to patch him up."

There were others, including an American soldier with a stomach wound, the result of an IED.

"It's the best feeling you ever have," he said of helping a fellow human. "The next time I saw him, this guy, who is older than me, said, 'Thanks for saving my life.'

"You are going to see some stuff, but at the end of the day it is the most rewarding thing you could ever imagine," he added.

Then there was the soldier who had a severe pain in his side. Walker feared the soldier was about to have a ruptured appendix and ordered his evacuation to the nearest military hospital.

But the soldier's supervisors balked at first. Walker insisted the fellow be moved to the hospital.

"The next day we got a call that his appendix had ruptured almost as soon as he arrived," he said.

He talks about going out on patrol, knowing it will likely be grueling.

"Sometimes you have a mission that lasts all day, then you come back and hit the rack for a little while, then go right back out at 1900," he said.

That's 7 p.m. by a civilian's clock.

"When you go out, you have dogs chasing after you, camels all over the place," he said. "They really stink. Everything over there smells. It's like living in a Dumpster."

His unit usually carries candy or something for the young children.

"When you are out on patrol, you always give them candy or crackers," he said, noting they try to stay on the good side of locals.

Other aspects of his work initially caught him off guard.

"The first time I had older guys coming up because they needed someone to talk to, that seemed really weird," said Walker, who turned 20 on Sept. 13, roughly halfway through his desert tour. "These were guys 26 and 27 years old."

Age is relative in the military, he noted.

"Hey, when you are 27 in the Army, you are old," he added half-seriously. "Here I was 19 at the time and they just wanted to have someone to talk to."

Like any good soldier, he quickly adjusted to meet the challenge head on.

Whether the soldiers wanted to talk about marital problems, being homesick or just shoot the breeze, he let them know he was available 24/7.

"I told them, no matter when and no matter what the issue is, if they are having a hard time, come and get me," he said. "My door is always open. I want to always be there for them."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at

Share This Story