Cpl. Jonathan Laureles believes he is making a difference in Iraq with his National Guard service — so much so, that he keeps volunteering to go back.
Since his first assignment in Iraq with the 36th Infantry Division, the Brownwood native has spent most of the past three years there in four different tours, and last week, he left for Washington, D.C., to prepare for his next one.
It was exactly what he wanted for his 27th birthday on Wednesday.
“I’m convinced it’s not OK not to do something,” Laureles said from his Cleburne home in a telephone interview before leaving for Washington to prepare for his next assignment. “It’s difficult to know what the people there are going through and then for me to just sit here in a comfortable home.”
As a medic, Laureles tends to medical and health needs of U.S. armed forces, but he also has extensive contact with Iraqis. Having served there through most of the past three years, he believes he has a perspective that may be rare.
“A lot has changed,” Laureles said of the situation in Iraq. “It’s a real complicated situation. We are doing a lot of good. We have a specific mission — to rebuild and secure the country so the Iraqis can govern themselves. But on the same note, there’s still a lot of resistance.”
And that resistance, Laureles said, tends to follow the U.S. and allied forces.
“The Iraqi civilian population is really appreciative of what we are doing,” Laureles said. “It’s frustrating for them. Wherever we are, the resistance is going to be there.”
Laureles, who lived in Brownwood until he was in fourth grade, graduated from Cleburne High School and began studying to become a medical assistant. His mother, Anita Melot, lives in Bangs. His father is the late Frank Laureles.
He is considering a nursing career when he returns to civilian life, but that will have to wait until he feels his work in Iraq is complete. And even then, he said, after his experiences in Iraq, he feels a calling to work in medicine in some way in Third World nations.
“I’m not married, so I feel I can do this,” Laureles said.
His work as a medic in Iraq is proving to be fulfilling, he said, but it is also good experience.
After serving in Iraq with a large number of Guard troops from the Brownwood area beginning in 2004, Laureles began shopping around for a transfer to another unit that was bound for the Mideast. He transferred to the 81st Brigade from Washington state. Since then, he has served with units from Hawaii, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Now, he is joining a unit from Mississippi that’s headed out to Kuwait “real soon,” Laureles said.
“I’m real comfortable there,” Laureles said, “even though it’s certainly a different place than home. But the people needed our help. I’m passionate about that. I felt like I belong there, like I needed to be there.”
Laureles said he especially enjoyed serving most recently in Baghdad with Detachment 7 of the 732nd Expeditionary Security Force Squadron of the U.S. Air Force.
“It’s an amazing group,” he said. “They’re doing amazing things. It was nice to work with those guys. It’s a lot of conflict they’ve experienced. They’ve received a lot of Purple Hearts.”
Almost as an afterthought, Laureles said he had earned a Purple Heart too, the result of what he described as a “very minor” wound suffered from an explosive outside a vehicle.
He has also been awarded a Bronze Star, he said, “for a number of things I accomplished.”
Laureles said he attempts to stay in contact with many of the friends he’s made through Guard service, and has visited several on his brief returns to the United States.
“The transition coming home can be tough,” Laureles said. “It varies in degree. A lot of us try to voice or explain our experiences… But we’re the only ones who can understand what we’ve been through. It’s completely different. It seems everybody I talk to is doing real well, but we try to keep in touch.”