Sunday, July 25, 2004

TT: Trini-boy serving Uncle Sam in Iraq

Trinidadian serving on the mission “Operation Iraqi Freedom” in Bhagdad, Iraq, Specialist Odell Pantin was the object of envy by some of his peers when the US Army granted him holiday leave to visit his family in Trinidad. He is known to be one of the best combat shooters in his company, and a hard worker. The 21-year-old, who migrated to the USA on completion of his schooling at Belmont Secondary, joined the US Army two and a half years ago. During that time, he climbed four rungs up the ranks from Regular Private to Specialist.

He was very excited to return home as he had not seen his mother, Carol Woods, since his induction into the army. Odell serves as a combat medic/health care specialist in the treatment of fellow soldiers and Iraqis who have been injured in the ongoing war in Iraq. These injuries range from dehydration to gunshot wounds and maiming as a result of bombings. He is also called upon each time the Unexploded Ordinance team (UXO) discovers a bomb or mine, so as to render assistance in the event of harm. His duties also include forward support missions which require him to be fully geared with his Black Hawk back-pack of medic equipment when engaging in foot patrols. He also performs clinical duties “where we wait at the clinic for persons who hurt themselves on the job,” said Odell.

A dauntless and engaging young man who always had a desire to join the army after visiting the USA as a boy, he shared some of his experiences at war, sparing information he regarded as “classified.” “Before being called to the mission, we were training to go to Afghanistan,” said Odell. His reaction when he learnt of his new mission, he told Sunday Newsday was: “Our team is the first cavalry division, so I didn’t mind going with them. I wasn’t scared of going. We did a lot of terrorist training, gas mask, combat and so on and we went looking for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. I’m happy we didn’t find any over there.

I can shoot my weapon (M16) up to 300 metres away. I’m the best shooter in my company.” He was also trained in “hand to hand” (no holds barred) fighting and now teaches many companies in the army. Odell and his division have been in Iraq for six months to date. He said just getting by from day to day was tough. “The heat is too much. The temperature there is about 120 degrees F (49 degrees C) and it gets 80 degrees hotter when you put on your bulletproof vest. And I’ve done IVs on persons who got heat strokes; who got dehydrated and passed out.

“And because it’s so hot out there, tempers can easily flare among soldiers, so that everyone just tries to remain calm. Because of all the training I’ve become cold-hearted. I got a lot more disciplined.” He recalled administering medical attention to a suicide bomber who survived after his explosives detonated. “It’s pretty hard to work on a person like that, because... he tried to commit suicide and kill people. But we have to do it.” Although he gets a variety of news channels on cable television at his camp, he avoids watching the news, “because a lot of the media put their own opinion and they don’t really know what is happening over here.” He has, on occasions, done pre-recordings for media interviews. Prior to leaving for Trinidad, Odell obtained his driver’s badge which now enables him to drive the Hum Vee military vehicle.

...On completion of his service in the US Army, Odell plans to return to his home country. He wants to pursue a degree in Physical Train-ing as well as pass on his knowledge and skill to members of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment. 
Now, one can only hope that the Caribbean media would shut the hell up about what's going on in Iraq since they, like the media around the world, are clueless.

Odell Pantin is not a rarity. There are many Trini-boys who yearn to become military men. Getting into the TT Regiment is a nightmare cuz it's a matter of who you know and who knows you. For many frustrated young men, the Cadet Corps serves as a outlet for their military aspirations, cuz that's as close as they can get to the real thing. Given a chance to leave TT and be in a position to come to the U.S. legally, these young men gravitate to Uncle Sam's military cuz, at heart, they are warriors born. All they need is the training. That's what the finest military in the world provides for young men like Odell.

It will be interesting to see if, when he returns to TT, the Regiment give him a hassle to join.

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