Story of a Soldier

Sgt. Robert T. Jamison is stationed in Iraq with the first cavalry of the 21st Field Artillery Regiment. Each day, he handles counter-fire for his division while out on patrol. He is also the brother-in-law of Cubs pitching prospect Ricky Nolasco.

"Basically, counter-fire is trying to find out where the enemy is shooting - mainly mortars and rockets - at us from, and then coordinating to shoot back whenever possible," said the Sergeant.

This is his fifth year in the Armed Forces. He originally enlisted for four years of military service, but was retained as part of the Army's "Stop Loss" policy. He has yet to meet anyone from the Bush administration.

His brother-in-law last season went 6-4 with a 3.90 ERA in nineteen starts for Double-A West Tennessee. The two grew up together, and played Little League ball opposite of one another in their hometown of Rialto, Calif.

"My first memory of him was when I was about 13, playing Pony League ball while he was still in Little League," recalled Jamison. "The two fields in Rialto meet adjacent to the outfield walls and he once nailed me in the back with a home run while I was playing center field.

"His cousin, Rodger, was on my team, but I didn't know Ricky or my wife, Lourdes, at the time. Years later, I got to bat against Ricky when I was a senior in high school. He was a sophomore then and struck me out on four pitches."

Jamison says the two still share quite a bit of fun together in the offseason.

"We'll play catch when I get to come home for leave," he says, "and we have similar interests in cars, trucks and motorcycles."

He admits the Internet is the only way to follow his relative's progress throughout the season in Iraq.

"I check various stats and listen to online broadcasts when either Ricky or David (Ricky's older brother, a member of the Milwaukee Brewers' farm system) are pitching," Jamison says.

The Sergeant's interests in the game aren't just confined to his family members. When asked for his thoughts on Major League Baseball's current steroid problems, Jamison said, "I believe there used to be a provision in the collective bargaining agreement that wouldn't allow for steroid testing of MLBPA members. To me, that indicates that it has been going on for quite some time and people have known about it.

"To fix it," he adds, "would take a long time, and there's no doubt in my mind that there are a lot of players that have juiced up in the past and more than likely several who continue to do so. Testing can help I suppose, but it's not going to scare everybody away from steroids."

Jamison recalls his fondest memories of American's national pastime through the years.

"My favorite memories include Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series, Cal Ripken breaking the consecutive game record set by Lou Gehrig in '95, and Alex Rodriguez allowing Ripken to play short in the (2001) All-Star game," recalls Jamison.

"Many years ago," he adds, "I went to see a game at Dodger stadium when the Florida Marlins were in town. Jeff Conine, an old family friend, was playing for the Marlins then."

On that day, July 14, 1995, Dodgers starter Ramon Martinez went on to pitch a no-hitter against Conine and company.

After we finished discussing baseball, I turned my attention to the war, and asked the Sergeant to walk us through a day in the life of a U.S. Soldier stationed in Iraq.

"My day is not typical for everyone," said Jamison. "I wake up at 1700 hours, or 5 p.m. I walk to the latrine trailer to take a shower, shave, and get dressed. I then get on a bus at 6 p.m. for about a 40-minute ride into work. Once I get to the division's headquarters, I get a briefing from my day shift counterparts and check out my systems - computers, radio networks and operation logs - to make sure everything is up and running smoothly. Once briefed, I relieve my counterparts and then assume control of all counter-fire radar systems in Baghdad.

"The radars track mortars, rockets and other things flying through the air that meet the criteria for generating a target," he continues. "When they send me that target, I investigate to see if it is legitimate and then notify the unit responsible for that particular piece of ground."

It is an ongoing process that lasts much of the night, he says, then adds, "I go eat around midnight at our dining facility before returning to work. At 6:40 a.m., my day-shift arrives again and I brief them on what I have going on, then go outside and wait for the bus to take me back to my lovely tent. By 7:45 a.m., I'm back to the tent, cleaning up my area and getting ready to go to sleep."

To end most days, the Sergeant plays basketball or goes to a nearby gym, although he admits that some days he is too exhausted to do either. By 10 a.m., he is fast asleep in a sleeping bag, waiting to do it all over again.

When asked what has been the most heart-breaking and heart-warming images of the war so far, the Sergeant replied, "My heart broke twice when I was informed that someone I knew had been killed. It isn't fun to go through."

"But," he adds, "driving through the streets on the way in, there were children on each side of the road smiling, and waving to us. There was also a man that worked for us putting up barriers, and he thanked me for being here. He told me that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the death of his father, and that he was happy to see him in jail."

If there's one message the Sergeant said he would choose to send to his family, friends and the Cub fan base back home, it was this: "To my friends and family, I'll see you soon, I'm almost home. To the fans of the Chicago Cubs, thank you for being so true to something that is as American as apple pie."

Cubs fans are classic Americana, he added, and Wrigley Field is a historical monument not only to himself, but many others as well.

Lastly, I asked what goes through his mind after another long day in Iraq.

"I hope that I made a difference," he said. "Everyday, when I lay down to go to sleep, I think I'm one day closer to being home. I can't wait to be with my wife and kids."

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