SCHS grad Kattie Eldridge: serving her country with forces in Iraq

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Before Kattie Eldridge graduated from Switzerland County High School in 2006, she was already serving in the Indiana National Guard. Now living in Milan and working at Pri-Pak in Greendale, Kattie hasn’t been home or at work lately – because she’s been serving her country with forces in Iraq.

Specialist Kattie Eldridge was sent to Iraq in March, and is currently serving at Joint Base Balad, where she serves on a Protective Services Detail. She is a member of the 76th Infantry Brigade, Combat Team 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).

“Basically we play body guard for Command Sergeant Major Tennant and Brigadier General Lally,” Kattie Eldridge said by phone from Joint Base Balad. “There is a detail of about 25 of us, and anywhere that they need to go if they can’t get a flight, then we escort them.”

Joint Base Balad is located approximately 50 miles north of Baghdad, and is one of the largest bases for U.S. forces in Iraq, and Kattie Eldridge said that there are about 18,000 troops stationed there. The base is shared by the Army’s Third Sustainment Command and the Air Force’s 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. It is currently the logistics hub for forces in Iraq, and is the busiest air base in the world that is operated by the U.S. Department of Defense.

It is the second busiest airport in the world, period.

The base has had several names over the years, as is most commonly known as “Camp Anaconda”; and has a Level I trauma center within the walls of the base, posting a 96-percent survival rate for wounded soldiers.

It is also the base that most government officials and celebrities stay while visiting Iraq, so there are many immenities available for the soldiers on the base.

The city of Balad is located within the borders of the so-called “Sunni Triangle”, but the town of approximately 100,000 people is primarily Shiite.

Having been in Iraq since March, Kattie Eldridge said that she will soon be returning home, but no official date has been set.

“Sometime in December,” she said. “That’s all we know right now. I’m looking forward to getting home.”

As a key member of her detail, Kattie Eldridge said that she has two responsibilities when serving as a protective escort.

“My primary responsibility is that I am the lead scout drive, so wherever we go, they all follow me,” She said. “But my other responsibility is to do intelligence analysis for every mission we are assigned.”

In working with intelligence analysis, Kattie Eldridge said that she takes the particular details of each mission and goes over them prior to the trip getting underway. She said that there are times when her detail knows a week in advance of a mission; while there are other times when they are told that day. Fluctuating timelines make her intelligence responsibilities even more vital to the safety of the commanders and her fellow soldiers.

As her time in Iraq nears its end, Kattie Eldridge said that she has seen things calm down quite a bit over the past nine months.

“There’s been a lot of progress made,” she says. “When you go outside of the ‘wire’ (the base walls) you can see the constant progression in the force of security that the Iraqi military is showing. Things are getting better thanks to American and Iraqi soldiers.”

With Joint Base Balad being the central hub for high ranking officials and celebrities – if Kattie Eldridge has to be in Iraq, it’s not so bad being stationed there.

“The place is really incredible, a ‘home away from home’,” Kattie Eldridge says. “We live in command rooms, and there are three different rooms per trailer. There are swimming pools and a movie theater and all kinds of things to do that keep us busy. It’s really amazing. It’s a city within itself.”

But even with some comforts, Kattie Eldridge and the other members are always aware that they are in the middle of a war zone, so they are very thorough with their preparation and their work.

“The number of hours that we work each week varies depending on our missions,” Kattie Eldridge said. “So how much time we have off is hard to say. They try and get us at least one day off a week, but it varies.”

And how does she feel about being thousands of miles away from home?

“This is a big responsibility that all soldiers here take on. It’s something that’s important that we have to do.”

Now finishing her third year with the Indiana National Guard, Kattie Eldridge is anxious to return home. She said that she and the other members of her National Guard unit will be flying back into Indianapolis; and even though she won’t be home in time for Thanksgiving – it looks like Christmas is a real possibility. Their place in Iraq will be taken by the 181st Brigade Support Battalion from Seattle, Washington.

Kattie Eldridge grew up and lived just off of Markland Pike while in school; and her parents have also now moved from the county. Her father, Roger Eldridge, now lives in Aurora; while her mother, Tammy Nielson, lives in Lawrenceburg. As she nears the end of her tour, her thoughts are back here with her family.

“I miss them and I can’t wait to see everybody when I get home,” she said. “What we’re doing here is important, but I can’t wait to get back home.”

– Pat Lanman