Word & Image: Larry T. Shelton, 49 

Technician, Virginia Dominion Power; Sgt. 1st Class, 463rd Engineer Battalion, U. S. Army Reserve

I've been in the military 27 years, and it's time for me to give it up. If I had to volunteer, I wouldn't. But in my family — I'm No. 15 of 17 kids — joining [the service] is tradition. You finish what you start. So I want to go back and complete my tour, which is 545 days.

We got into Kuwait on Christmas Eve of '04. I spent my Christmas wishing I was here. It took three days to convoy up to Iraq. There are 639 in my battalion, three companies: Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. I'm out of the 429th Quartermaster unit based at Fort Lee, but I'm actually … with a group from West Virginia because they needed a communications specialist.

I was in Bosnia in '98 and '99. It was cold, and we were in tents for the first four months. The only heat we had was from a kerosene heater. In Iraq, we lived in tents for three weeks. Now we live in trailers.

It's so hot — the kind of hot that sands seeps through. All you see is pretty much dirt, debris and a lot of destruction. There are some trees, low-like shrubs. You see Iraqis and you wonder, How can they live like this? In little huts or cinderblock buildings, with children playing in ravines.

Ours is an engineer battalion. We run convoys equipped with technology and communications devices that we supply to different units and companies. Insurgents often target them and attack them with IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. Part of our job now is to repair holes in the roads.

I am the oldest one in my section, and all the guys call me an old man. But I can still run the mile faster than many of them. … A lot of the things that bother the kids don't bother me. I knew, and could really understand, that when I got my orders, I'd be gone at least a year.

I miss indoor plumbing, being able to take a shower without shower shoes. And everywhere you go, you have to carry your M-16. That's part of your uniform. If I don't have it, I feel naked. I was actually looking for it here.

I leave Monday [Aug. 22]. So I've been burning the midnight oil. My family lives in Louisa. I've been going back and forth from my house in Chesterfield to there, to try to see everybody.

Earlier today I was working on a project I'd never gotten around to, fixing my mailbox. It's weird. I'm home for less than two weeks, and it's like, I saw the gas prices and had no idea. Then it's like I never left. I've been fishing and relaxing. My favorite spot is the Coleman Bridge in Yorktown. My good buddy wants to go one more time before I leave. My friends are having a barbecue for me on Saturday. It'll be all the class of '76. I can't believe the time went by so quick. — As told to Brandon Walters; photographed by Scott Elmquist

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