Soldier is skeptical

of U.S. role in Iraq
Sayreville man still
driven by sense of duty

Staff Writer

of U.S. role in Iraq

Sayreville man still

driven by sense of duty


Staff Writer

SAYREVILLE — U.S. Army Cpl. Charles Brigandi has learned well the slogan "duty, honor, country," long upheld by the American soldier.

But for Brigandi, "duty" stands out from the trio.

Duty is what drives him forward day to day — through a placement that challenges his ethical ideals on American involvement in Iraq — and will see him through the coming year as he awaits the end of his seven-year Army service.

Home on three weeks of leave, Brigandi will soon be moved to Italy and then could be sent to Afghanistan for a rumored peacekeeping operation.

According to Brigandi, the effects of his life as a soldier is only partially seen. As Brigandi sees it, and hopes that the public recognizes, deterioration of family life is one of the problems adding to the turmoil that returning soldiers face when their duty ends.

He speaks from experience; handling his own divorce and arranging to see his young daughter weighed on his mind in his first days back in the United States last week.

"No matter who you are, your family life will suffer," Brigandi stressed.

He mentioned a number of military spouses who returned home only to find that their marriage had fallen apart.

"You see that all the time," he said.

His position in the 173rd Airborne Brigade brought him to northern Iraq during the first days of the war — a shift he expected would last three weeks.

One year later, on March 17, Brigandi and the rest of the brigade arrived home from Iraq for the first time — and what a year it had been.

"We felled every major city in the north," he said.

"We were told that we’d be there only three weeks, then it was three months, six months, a year," he said.

Brigandi’s brigade entered Iraq with 2,200 men and returned with about 2,190, he said. He said that Kurdish conscripts were the ones who suffered the most casualties.

The majority of Brigandi’s duties in Iraq were carried out in Irbil, Mosul and Kirkuk.

"We saw football fields of ammunition with kids playing around them," Brigandi recounted. "There are hundreds of thousands of old American weapons over there."

Brigandi does not call himself a patriot; rather, he says that he and most of the other troops that he has come into contact with are simply doing their job.

Brigandi is openly skeptical of his duties in Iraq.

"Are we defending the American way of life, or are we superimposing it?" he asked.

The aspect of his service that elicits the most serious response is the soldiers’ humanitarian effort, what drives them day to day, Brigandi said.

"Every day was a humanitarian effort. We took down a dictator and that’s the important part."

Brigandi speaks bluntly about his duties as a soldier, explaining that he is able to take his job in stride so he can deal with the troubling experiences. As far as his role as an enforcer, breaking down doors and keeping order, he said, "That’s a rush. It’s a job.

"You either become the job, or it becomes you. People get consumed by it."

But for a life that is "just a job," it seems difficult to escape.

Brigandi says he has slept only a few hours at a time since returning home and often rises early to take long runs to Laurence Harbor. Compared to the training runs that he completed in Iraq — up mountains, wearing 35 to 70 pound backpacks — he is taking it easy.

Brigandi paints a surprising picture of his Army service, one that he knows clashes with the popular view. But, regardless of political ideals, his words warrant attention.

"When family and friends are dying … ask then if it’s worth it," he said.

Returning home to stay with his family — parents, daughter, ex-wife, sisters and their spouses — has been complicated, though joyous, Brigandi said. It’s not an easy transition.

He believes that the transition between Army service and civilian life won’t be troublesome for him, however.

"I’m going to just leave it behind," he said.

Brigandi anticipates it will be 2005 when he’ll leave the Army and make plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science. He sees politics in his future.

"I can’t make a difference, but a person of authority can," he said, explaining his political drive. "I want to be the one pushing the buttons over here, not the one taking the orders."