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A 15-YEAR VETERAN

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 8:01 PM

Army Staff Sgt. Dexter L. Thompson spent his last tour in Iraq re-enlisting other soldiers, asking the young men and women to spend more years in the service even as they were navigating a war zone.

As Thompson was asking for sacrifice, he, too, was struggling with the same choice. At 33, the South Carolina native and 15-year Army veteran began long-distance discussions with his wife about signing up "indef," which for a senior enlisted soldier means until retirement.

"It was a long decision," Thompson said. "It's steady income, but I know the possibility of going back over there will be great, and that was definitely a factor. But I need to provide for my family. And my father was in the military, my grandfather was in the military, and it's a family tradition. Number one, though, is to serve my country."

But the Iraq rotation is becoming "a bit repetitive," he said. Thompson spent a year in Iraq, then came home for a year, then went back for 15 months, returning in October.

"If the order is to go, I go," he said. "But if it were up to me, I'd say bring the troops home. You can only deploy so many times. You can only come and go without getting hurt so many times."

Thompson's first deployment, to Camp Taji in 2004, had him riding in convoys and fixing Humvees as a machinist, sometimes outfitting soft-sided Humvees with makeshift armor before the military started armoring all of its vehicles.

"When I first went over there, I was scared, because everyone is scared of the unknown," Thompson said. Attacks came fairly regularly. But he was inspired by the Iraqis he met. His second tour in Iraq, at the same camp, gave him the impression that things were getting better.

"We can see it every day in the eyes of the Iraqis," he said. "It's a better place for them to live now. It's a better country. You can see the difference. At the end of the day, I can sit down and look at the accomplishment and say it was worth the while."

-- Josh White

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