UAM graduate serves in Iraq

Karon Parrish


Photo courtesy of the Pagan family
Sgt. Larry Pagan in Iraq
   Sgt. Larry Pagan had no dreams of becoming a solider when he enlisted in the Army more than 14 years ago. He simply needed a job. He never expected to train Iraqi soldiers in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny.

   Pagan changed from full-time military to the Arkansas National Guard reserve unit while attending the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Despite the interruption of his education with the Gulf War and participating in the Black Hawk Down ruse in Somali, Pagan managed to complete his teaching degree in 2003. He taught high school introductory Spanish, coached football at Dumas High School and had enrolled in graduate school when the war in Iraq began.

   The 153rd Infantry Unit deployed during the second wave of the war. Selected to join the elite group of soldiers in the 9th unit of the Calvary division, Pagan trains Iraqis and American Navy Seals.

   “Now my time is spent training Iraqis how to plan strategies, protect their units along with themselves and serve their country out of pride instead of fear,” Pagan said.

   Pagan's job includes training soldiers how to protect themselves from children paid to throw hand bombs, searching for weapons in homes and graveyards, and training officers to manage their units from ordering toilet paper to ammo. Night patrol is a large part of his training tactics and one of the hardest to endure, he said. These people are not career soldiers but without some sort of training, they will once again be vulnerable to Saddam’s terror, Pagan said.

   “The Iraqis refer to the Arkansas troops as ‘Comanche’s’ because of their swift action and due to the fact that the majority of us are a bit older than the average soldier and have more experience,” Pagan said. “I remember during one of the first mission’s my trainees were called upon to conduct, some of the Iraqi soldiers were so scared at the first blast of gunfire, they threw down their weapons and ran.”

   When deployed in October 2003, Pagan took one of his children’s Monticello School Billies T-shirt and hung it from the window of the yellow bus sent to take the soldiers to Fort Hood, Texas. The shirt travels with him on every mission. He places the shirt on famous Baghdad monuments left from Saddam’s reign and sends the photos over the Internet to his children in Monticello. Pagan found the famous lion’s statue that many Iraqis still fear today and painted the face of the lion blue. The lions are reminders of Saddam’s reign of terror when he would feed people to the lions if they disobeyed him.

   “I’ve learned to take pictures with my camera in my left hand and hold my gun in the right,” Pagan said.

   Four of his Pagan’s children attend Monticello Schools. Although he may not be home in time to see his eldest son, Matt, graduate, he stays in close contact with each of them over the Internet and through letters.

   “I want to join the Army after graduation,” Matt said.

   Matt indicated the hardest part about his dad being in Iraq was not knowing if he was safe or not.

   Pagan is not excited about the prospect of Matt joining the armed services. Although Pagan is currently serving his country and will continue to do so, he said he has seen too many wars and lost too many friends to want his son to go through want he has. He is very patriotic and will stop anywhere at any time his son states to instruct people or businesses on the proper way to hang the American flag.

   “I do not believe that American troops should have gone to Iraq, especially since we have not found any weapons of mass destruction," Pagan said. "But as an American soldier, I will follow the country’s leader and do what I am trained to do.”

   Pagan is expected to return to Iraq within the next few weeks to serve at least six more months.

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