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Gartner speaks about military and Iraq

E4 Specialist Katrina Gartner of the 92nd Engineer Batallion, Combat Heavy, spoke to Philip High School students on November 22 and 23. She will be returning to Iraq soon.

Katrina Gartner, E4 Specialist of the 92nd Engineer - Combat Heavy, spoke to Philip students on Tuesday and Wednesday, November 23 and 24.

Gartner will be returning to Iraq in late January or early February. Her new base will be in the northern part of Baghdad (the U.S. troops have renamed the sprawling city Camp Liberty). Gartner has been told to mentally prepare to stay for 18 months. Her job will be to drive a 4-door Humvee. Part of that job is to be prepared to defend a line; to protect herself and the people around her.

“Before joining the military, Katrina was shy, laid-back and never used to say very much,” said Jerry Rhodes, Gartner’s former teacher who invited her to speak in his classroom. She is no longer that type of person. Gartner has gone through basic training, experienced muscle failure during discipline training, earned her way up to an E4 designation, and can hit a human-sized target at 150 feet with her military handgun. “When it comes to your life or the person shooting at you, you can do amazing things,” she said.

In the classroom, Gartner handed out military pay scale charts. She said, “I’m not going to tell you the military is for everyone. If you want a change, it is a good thing to do. I am an engineer, not an infantryman. I like driving and maintaining vehicles. I am going to be a technical engineer, a surveyor, when I get out.”

Gartner also handed out maps of Iraq. She explained, “Basically, there is a wall all the way around Baghdad. It is different there. Iraq, as well as the military, requires common sense and you have to learn that people are very, very different. I like my alone time. Some military people are from big cities where there’s always someone around them. Street sense is no good out in the middle of nowhere. I’ve met people who are really nice, and some who are “thugs.” Some people have been told to join the military or go to jail. The military is beginning to think that having a might-be felon sitting next to you with a gun might not be a good thing.” Gartner said that, yet, each member of a unit will stand up for that unit with a disciplined pride.

“When driving in Iraq, you have to pretty much throw your knowledge of driving out the window. They drive differently there.” Gartner adds, “It is very hard to shoot and drive at the same time.”

Gartner said that in Iraq the women are treated differently, like being traded for a camel. The military has to be careful of women and even little kids as much as anyone else because of possible bombs and other things.

The U.S. military also treats women differently. Gartner agrees that women can do most jobs that men can do, but women should still be kept out of the Special Forces. “You can deal with having to face killing someone, you have to, but not on a day-to-day basis. Most guys on the front line can’t take it. You don’t know until you are actually there. Some guys “freak.” You deal with a lot more mental stuff in the Special Forces. After a shooting, the military now sends its people to counselors, like the civilian police forces do.”

Gartner actually loved the three months of boot camp. “I was a tom-boy, but I was quiet, shy and held-back. I’ve done a complete 180. It’s a mind set. Boot camp and all the specialized training afterward was a lot of work where year-long classes were ‘scrunched’ into one quarter. My group’s name was 21 Tango, and I’m proud of it.”