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Wednesday, Oct 01, 2003 - 11:36:15 am EDT

Half of tour in Iraq is complete

By Rose Post, Salisbury Post, NC

Sgt. Joshua Long got to Iraq with the 173rd Airborne on April 1 -- and that's a happy thought for his mother, Vickie Myers, of Carie Drive, Salisbury.

And for him.

It means he's finished half his duty over there.

It feels like time is going much faster now, he said in a recent letter, because he'll be there until April 1, and that means the time until he comes home has turned a corner.

He's got less left now than he's already spent there.

She gets to talk to him, she says, about every six weeks and gets a letter about every two weeks. Those letters, she says, are generally full of a variety of things -- the music that's coming down the hall if he's in his room, because they're in rooms now, air conditioned rooms, which they just got, even though they're in bomb-damaged buildings.

But that's much better than the tents they were in.

Sometimes he writes about what he did on a particular day or what kind of shots he's had. Chatty, newsy letters, which makes his absence easier, too.

Joshua dropped out of West Rowan High School and went to work for his stepfather, Randy Myers, at Randy Myers Race Cars in Mount Ulla. But he didn't forget his education.

When he turned 18, he entered Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and got his high school equivalency diploma, or GED, in 2000.

He trained at Fort Knox, Ky., and in Germany to become a scout and is now training people in the Iraqi Army and police force.

"I fell asleep on the roof of my truck the other day and got sunburned pretty bad," he said in his last letter, which included some pictures.

"Notice how white our foreheads were as compared to our faces in the pictures," he wrote. "That's from the luxury of wearing a 6-pound helmet for 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

They even wear them, his mother says, when they sleep.

He also wrote her about visiting a buddy who was wounded on Sept. 10 and is "pretty bad off" and about getting an anthrax update shot.

"I realize," he wrote, "that I get this injection in my arm so I can fight on a chemical or biological battlefield for the world to be safer."

He's very outspoken in his letters, she says, and misses his family greatly, and his family misses him.

And she feels like the most important thing she does each day is go to the mail box with the hope that it will contain another letter from over there.

Contact Rose Post at 704-797-4251 or rpost@salisburypost.com.

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