Montgomery on leave from Baghdad’s mean streets

Karl Terry: Managing Editor

A year ago he was leading a pretty normal life as an Eastern New Mexico student, balancing classes a part-time job in construction and National Guard Service. These days he works in one of the most dangerous environments on Earth.

Spc. James Montgomery, a member of the 126th Military Police, a National Guard Unit out of Albuquerque, is enjoying his first break from active duty in five months at his parents home in Portales. He is currently stationed at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq.

He admits the hours are long and the job has been challenging, but Montgomery says he’s been up to the task and enjoys the military life — even in the tough streets of Baghdad.

“My first thought when I got there (Baghdad), was that it looked like Juarez blown up,” said Montgomery, of his impressions of duty in Iraq.

He says the sight of dirty streets with trash in them along with burned out, bombed out buildings is definitely a wake-up.

“You hear explosions all the time, said Montgomery. “It’s an everyday thing. You get to where a gunshot doesn’t even faze you.”

According to Montgomery, the 126th Military Police was thrown together from various National Guard units around the state because of the need for military police in Iraq. He was originally trained in defense artillery, but was sent, along with 140 New Mexico National Guardsmen, to military police school last year. That training, along with his call-up wreaked havoc on his college studies and caused him to have to pull out of school three different times before his activation last Oct. 6.

The Portales native, who attended Faith Temple through 11th grade before taking his GED, had been in the National Guard for three years before his call-up. He arrived in Kuwait March 10. From there he was moved pretty quickly to Baghdad.

His duties in Baghdad include training Iraqi police officers and regular patrols in Baghdad.

“Basically you rely almost completely on your interpreters,” said Montgomery of the tedious work of training someone who speaks a different language. “We’re basically there to see they do their jobs right without getting hurt.”

The training that Montgomery does with the Iraqi police is on the job training so any call they go on, they go together with the Iraqis assuming the lead. They normally patrol in Humvees just to show a presence but can be dispatched to trouble spots or terrorist bombing scenes.

“Our main goal is to let them (Iraqi police) take care of everything,” said Montgomery.

While his post is named Camp Liberty, according to Montgomery there is precious little liberty to be had in an American soldier’s day-to-day life in Iraq. His days begin at 4:30 a.m. and usually go until about 5:30 p.m. They work seven days a week with six days spent “in sector” and one down day in camp in which they clean gear and weapons, work on trucks and any other catch-up duties they didn’t get to in the week.

They also get called out on swing shifts for night patrols and Montgomery says nothing about the job is routine or boring. The days can get to be long and in what little time off he has getting to the Internet or phones is priority after sleep.

“What’s not to miss here, family, friends, everything,” said Montgomery with a laugh, when asked what he missed about home.

“It’s the easy stuff like just being able to go down to a store and grab something that I miss. I sure don’t take stuff for granted anymore. It’s easy to take the simple stuff we have here for granted,” he said from the comfort of his family’s dining room.

Montgomery is the only child of Steve and Ceretha Montgomery of Portales. His grandmother, Norene Griffin, and great-grandmother Nodie Hawkins also live in Portales.
“It feels good,” said Ceretha Montgomery, when asked how it felt to have her son home. “Its great to finally just touch him,” said the relieved mother.

Besides seeing his family, high on his list of things to do in his 14 days in Portales was to drive his new Chevy Silverado pickup truck and just hang out with friends.
“I wanted to go to church and I wanted to eat out everywhere I possibly could.”

For Montgomery his military experience has been a positive even though not all the things he’s seen have been agreeable.

“It’s a great experience, I’m going to re-up,” said Montgomery, who has a little over four months left in his tour of Iraq and a year and a half on his military contract.

“It definitely has its tough times, but it’s worth it in the end,” he said.

Montgomery says there is a sharp contrast between American and Iraqi moral values. He believes Iraqis think about themselves too much and are sometimes really selfish people.

“As much bad as they (American public) seem on T.V. there is a lot of good going on over there,” commented Montgomery. “It’s getting better over there. They have food, schools are open and their lives are safer and better.”