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Story Archives: A Hero's work is never done
|A Hero's work is never done|
It's been more than six months since Craig Southern of Wisner left behind his standard issue police pistol and blue uniform to pick up an automatic rifle and don desert cammo.
On July 19, 2007, Southern said goodbye to his family and his fellow officers with the Ferriday Police Department and left for a one-year deployment with the National Guard in Iraq.
On Feb. 9 he returns to Franklin Parish for a brief break in his tour.
On the other side of the world
In a satellite telephone interview with The Franklin Sun last week, Southern described some of his experiences as an American soldier in a war zone.
Southern said when he's on patrol in Baghdad, his bulletproof vest and gear weigh about 70 pounds (he said that's one of reasons heís lost 80 pounds).
He said of the ìthree to four million people here, out of that there are only about 250,000 insurgents. "I see mostly civilians. They are not afraid of us at all. They will come up and try to start a conversation," Southern said. "They are real eager to meet and greet and talk."
Southern uses an interpreter to communicate with the people of Baghdad, who all speak some form of Arabic.
"Arabic is the overall language. But you can break it down into beaucoup million tribes and slang," he said. "Kurds, Sunnis, Shiites are all different tribes of Arabic people and they all have different ways of speaking."
Southern is a sergeant with Ford Support Company 769 out of Baton Rouge and serves on a personal security detail team. He is stationed at Camp Liberty in Iraq. For security reasons he cannot reveal how many troops are stationed at the camp.
While Southern is used to military life -- he's been in the Guard about 12 years, which includes a tour of duty in Afghanistan -- there are little things he misses.
"They try to get you the best of home here, but we are in a third world country. I miss the comforts of home, things like hot showers and the different foods," he said.
After reuniting with his family, Southern said the first thing he's going to do is "go to eat out."
Husband, father, son, hero...
Back home, before joining the Ferriday police, Southern was with the Wisner Police Department on and off for four or five years where he was an officer and assistant police chief.
Southern and his wife Rena have been married 13 years and are the parents of three children, Tracy, 12, Daulton, 7 and Mary Jo, 3. The son of Bobby and Joan Southern of Chase, he has one brother, Cain Southern. His grandmother is Iris Wallace of Winnsboro and the late Lester Wallace. Renaís parents are Tinker and Mary Roberts of Wisner and her grandmother is Bett Roberts, also of Wisner.
"While away from our children, he loves to find time to spend with the children over there," said Rena, who through her husband sees a side of the Iraq war not shown on the 5:30 p.m. news.
"Please don't discredit any soldier. Remember, by joining the service, they chose to defend our freedom in this great country we love. It is an honor for me and my family to have a soldier in our family. We are so proud of Craig and what he stands for. He's our true American hero," she said.
In a metropolitan city of millions, Southern said he sees the poverty and despair of Iraqis living in shanties stacked one of top of the other.
"I don't even know how to describe it, the way they live. The people are poor and malnourished. Here in any give part of town you are in a crowd of three or four hundred people," he said.
Southern said the stress of urban warfare --patrolling city streets -- differs from the open warfare of the Afghan countryside where there were miles and miles between villages and battles.
"In Afghanistan there were land mines. Here there are IEDs, improvised explosive devices," he said. "And there are car bombs. They will stick a bomb in a car at a crowded market and kill their own people and they donít care," he said.
Taking freedom for granted
When asked what the American people can do for him and his fellow soldiers, Southern asked simply for support.
While the media reports on bombs and shows footage of blown up buildings, itís the day-to-day living on foreign sand that has shaped Southernís appreciation and love for his home and country.
"Most Americans just donít know how lucky they are to be American," he said. "We live in a land, Winnsboro, Chase, Wisner, where you've still got conveniences and you can run down to the store.
"In America you don't have to worry about someone blowing you up because of your religion or gender. Here, if you pray differently they are liable to come in and kill you and your family," he said.
While Southern will be ready to come home after his tour ends in July, he said there's the possibility his deployment could be extended.
But that doesn't seem to bother him, Sgt. Craig Southern has agreed to sacrifice this year of his life -- and possibly his very life -- to establish freedom for a people few of us will ever know, in a place few of us will ever go. And for that, we must be grateful.