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Fall 2006 - Student soldier

Destination Purdue > Fall 2006 - Student soldier

Student soldier faces new tests during Iraq tour of duty

By Ashley Woodward

In October 2002, Casey Bault received a phone call telling him his National Guard Unit could be sent to the Middle East at any time.

Casey Bault

Photo provided by Casey Bault

Casey Bault, a junior agricultural education major from Loogootee, Ind., served in Iraq for one year.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was just months away, and tensions were high. "The second I heard it, it felt like I got punched in the gut," said Bault, from Loogootee, Ind., now a junior agricultural education major. "My stomach was all knotted up inside."

Two months later, during his freshman year at Purdue, Bault got the call telling him his unit was going overseas. The call didn't faze him. This is what Bault said he was trained to do. He was sent to Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh, Ind., for last minute training. In February 2003, just one month before the fighting began, Bault left the United States for Kuwait. Life in a combat zone was dramatically different than at Purdue.

Instead of cramming for exams, Bault lived in places like a "sand bag hut" or bombed-out building that was still standing. With only 18 inches between his cot and the next, Bault said there was no personal space. Still, he said it wasn't hard to get used to these conditions. "The only thing I had to get used to was the sand, because it would get in your clothes and shoes," said Bault laughing. "It would get everywhere."

Dan Gottschalk, a program specialist in agricultural education and Bault's academic advisor, said he was concerned when he heard about Bault's deployment. "He has a great attitude about going to service," said Gottschalk. "He has a focus and determination that is really evident." Bault joined the Guard in 2000, just after turning 17. "I thought about being in the military, but I still wanted to have a civilian life and serve my country," Bault said.

While in Iraq, Bault said a normal work shift was 8-12 hours. After a shift of gate or tower duty, he filled sand bags or performed whatever maintenance the base needed. When Bault returned to the United States, one fo the first things on his to-do list was signing up for classes at Purdue. Bault said his experience in Iraq forever changed his outlook on life. Sitting in a tower and being on guard at all times gave him plenty of time to think. "A lot of people take things for granted, and now I appreciate everything," he said.

Every day Bault was in Iraq he said he reminded himself of all those who have served in the United States armed forces. Bault said he carried a flag in his pocket and would try and fly it everywhere he went. By the end of his stay in Iraq the flag was torn and shredded on the ends from the wind and sand damage. "You see that flag blowing in the wind and you think of all the other soldiers who have fought for this flag," he said.

Bault came back two weeks before the Indiana Association of Agricultural Educators banquet in March 2004. Bault's father contacted Gottschalk to tell him his son was coming home, and Gottschalk began scheming a plan to recognize Bault at the event. Before the event, Bault said he was excited to go because he was anxious to see some of the friends he hadn't seen for more than a year. But he had no idea that he was going to be honored.

At the end of the banquet, Gottschalk presented Bault with the Distinguished Service Award. "When Dan said the award was for me all I could think was, 'holy cow,'" said Bault with a smile. "Everyone stood up and clapped." He said it made him proud of who he is. "It was the most emotional thing I have ever seen," said Gottschalk with tears in his eyes.

Bault said things are back to routine now, but said he would return to Iraq if he had to. After graduating from Purdue, he plans to stay in the National Guard no matter what job he has. "I love it and I don't know what I would do if it wasn't in my life," said Bault with a grin.