Wednesday, March 11, 2009

TOP STORY >> Soldier in Iraq for third tour

Leader staff writer

Joining the Army almost immediately after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York and Pentagon in Washington, D.C., seemed like the right thing to do to help protect his family, but now, seven years later and serving his third tour in Iraq, Sgt. Joseph Gerbine of Beebe is ready to get back to his old life.

Joey to his family and Uncle Joey to the kids in his unit, Gerbine is 36 years old, more than 15 years older that some of the soldiers he tries to look out for since he can’t be home to take care of his own children. By the time he is 38 in February 2011, he hopes to be a civilian once again.

Gerbine talked to The Leader as part of an Army media campaign to put soldiers in touch with their communities. Not to be confused with volunteering, Gerbine said he was “voluntold” to tell his story, which is unusual not for the dangerous missions he has been on but for the fact that in seven years in the Army he has been with his family for less than two years.

He is with the 589th Signal Company, 40th Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armor Division. He works with the communication network in Baghdad. Although there is no place in Iraq that can be considered safe, Gerbine said in three tours no soldier from his unit has been killed.

But he said, “The booms still make me flinch.”

Home right now is Germany. That’s where his wife and three youngest daughters live. His two older daughters live in Beebe.

“I’m always gone,” he said. “They try to keep home wherever I’m stationed so I’ll have a home to come back to. Between training and being here and Korea, I’ve been gone one and a half years out of seven. I’m thinking about building a summer home here.”

Gerbine joined the Army in October 2001 about a month after the terrorist attack.

He was 28 with work experience in construction and as a jailer in Pulaski County. But his dad had served two tours in Vietnam and his grandfather had served during World War II.

Military service was a family expectation, he said. Besides, Osama bin Laden had invaded home turf as he saw it and he had four daughters and one on the way who needed to be protected.

By August 2002 he was waiting in Kuwait for the war that started in March 2003. He was one of the first in.

When that tour ended, he was home for two months and then “voluntold” to go back. This tour, already 10 months old, was voluntary, but Gerbine said it will be his last.

He talks to his family regularly, but that’s hardly the same as being home with them. Unable to spend time with his own daughters, he takes to the streets of Baghdad where he hands out candy to the children, making certain the little girls get their fair share by protecting them from the stronger, greedier boys.

He said he feels good about the war despite the fact that the weapons of mass destruction that were supposed to be in Iraq did not exist and bin Laden has not been captured.

“From a soldier’s point of view, we’ve given the people back a country that they can control. I’m proud of what we’ve done,” he said.

But from the point of view of a husband, father and son, he is concerned.

“The ones who sacrifice the most are our wives and kids, moms and dads,” he said.

He is worried about the long-term effect of daughters growing up with a father who exists for them on the other end of a telephone.

“I pray to God my girls understand,” he said.