Hometown hero tells of time in Iraq

Ryan Lengerich

MELROSE — In his hometown Sgt. Jeremy Black is a hero, and the town’s children let him know — letter by letter.
The 24-year-old Army reservist returned to the United States last month from a 14-month tour in Kuwait and northern Iraq.
On Monday he returned to the school he attended as a child to speak to students about war experiences and thank them for the letters and care packages they sent him last spring. Melrose elementary students and 4-H members mailed Black letters, hygiene products, gum and candy to support their hometown soldier.
“I sent stuff to encourage him and keep him fighting for our country,” said sixth grader Mitchum Rush. “I wanted him to know there are people back home thinking about him.”
Black, a 1997 graduate of Melrose High School, joined the Army reserves in 2001 as a student at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas, and went through training in Lubbock.
After training, military officials pulled Black from his post in Lubbock and flew him to Kuwait in January 2003. He was then moved around northern Iraq to areas including Najaf and Mosul.
As a civil affairs specialist, Black said his main objective was to clean and rebuild towns devastated by battle damage.
One student asked bluntly, “did you see any action?”
“Yes I did,” Black responded.
Sleeping on military vehicles, eating boxed meals and going six weeks without a shower made packages and letters all the more welcome. Black said he made it a point to read each student’s message.
“I guess a lot of them knew who I was and coming from the ones that I knew they were saying how proud they were that I come from Melrose,” Black said. “That was good to hear.”
During his visit, Black took questions and showed the students Iraqi money, military food and donated an Iraqi flag to the school in appreciation of their support. The students were also shown a 10-minute, Army-produced video.
Sixth grader Tell Runyan said he has thought about joining the armed forces when he gets older.
“I consider them all heroes,” Runyan said.
Black spent time in Najaf where one American soldier was killed and at least nine others injured in fighting on Sunday. It was there Black said American soldiers blew up a Saddam Hussein statue when U.S. forces took control of the city early in the war. On that day, a young Iraqi boy gave him a set of black prayer beads, a gift he said is special to him.
“My favorite part of being in Iraq was being able to help the people,” Black said. “There are a lot of nice people over there.”
Teacher Jody Boyd had Black as a second-grade student 17 years ago and helped organized the student support.
“We did an awful lot of praying for him,” Boyd said. “To have him come and know he went to school in these halls — they were just in awe of him.”