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Remembering Reggie

On leave from Iraq, Arnice Mercer says farewell to her late cousin

    It was a journey Arnice Mercer knew she had to make. But it was one she dreaded. It was something even her tour of duty in Iraq couldn't prepare her for.
    Mercer, a staff sergeant with the 28th Combat Support Hospital based in Fort Bragg, N.C., was home in Statesboro last week on leave from a deployment in Iraq. And while home she visited the grave of her first cousin Reggie Hunter. Hunter, who worked at the Statesboro Herald, was killed in February in a single-vehicle accident.
     "That was one of the most difficult things," she said. "I see people dying or see their legs get blown off, but to have no control to get back over here and see him one last time (before he died) made me really sick."
    Kathy Hunter, Reggie's sister, said they all grew up together as a tight family.
    "It really tore Arnice up to get that news (about Reggie's death)," Kathy Hunter said. "She didn't get a chance to say goodbye."
    Staff Sgt. Mercer will return to Iraq soon and she recalled when she first deployed to the war-ravaged nation last August.
    She said she wasn't sure what to expect. However, it didn't take her long to realize what it would be like there.
    Mercer said the attacks were so close that she could smell the powder from the mortars.
    "It was almost like a welcome party (from the insurgents)," she said.
    Mercer, who works in the pharmacy of a hospital in Mosul, said attacks intensify when units are either arriving or departing. The hope, she said, was they can take out a larger number of American soldiers by attacking during that time.
    She also said they can't travel in convoys because it's so dangerous.
    In fact, in their living quarters, they have bunkers that they sometimes have to go to for protection.
    "If we hear bombs or hear the bunker siren, we have to get out of bed and run into the bunkers," she said.
    However, once inside the hospital, she said it's relatively safe.
    In addition to her role with the pharmacy, Mercer also helps in the emergency room where they treat American soldiers as well as Iraqis, some of whom she said were the very insurgents that may have been trying to kill her or her fellow soldiers.
    "I have mixed feelings about doing that," she said. "Even though they're trying to kill us, I can't do 'an eye for an eye' and try to kill them or cause them pain because that's just wrong."
    She said there are other soldiers working in the hospital that don't like the fact they may be treating people who are motivated to kill them, but she doesn't think about it that way.
    "I just try to take care of my part and then worry about the next patient," she said. "You can't focus on that, you just have to keep going in order to stay sane."
    While in Iraq, Mercer has had the opportunity to see various singers, including country star Carrie Underwood, and entertainers who perform for the troops to help with morale.
    "They love it, it's something to take their minds off their job, if just for a moment," she said.
    Mercer's tour is expected to end in late August. But she said that's not definite.
    "Some units are getting extended, so we'll have to wait and see," she said.
    Herald executive editor Jim Healy contributed to this story.
   

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