BAGHDAD - Pfc. Matthew Starks, a petroleum supply specialist assigned to Company G, 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, only spent about a month in Iraq fueling vehicles. The Hayward, Calif., native is now an MRAP vehicle gunner. "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a Soldier," Starks said.

BAGHDAD - When Pfc. Matthew Starks joined the Army last year, he made a promise to his mother that he wouldn't enlist as an infantryman, instead opting for petroleum supply specialist to ease her worries.

But after arriving in Iraq, Starks only served as a fuel specialist for a month before trading the gas pump for the gun turret of a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle, a job the Hayward, Calif., native said has brought him closer to his original dream of serving in the infantry.

Starks, assigned to Company G, 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, spends his days outside the wire with the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion, constantly protecting the Soldiers he considers his brothers.

"It's exciting, it puts me closer to that dream I had and gets me closer to that experience, closer than I'll ever get at the fuel point," Starks said of his new job as a gunner.

Starks graduated from high school in 2004 and attended a junior college before he decided to enlist in the Army in 2008.

"They were supportive of me joining the Army, but they thought I would be in less danger as a fueler," said Starks, of his family.

Starks said he likes having the responsibility of protecting his fellow Soldiers from the gun turret, a job he said has taught him patience and better communication skills.

"There's also a lot of communication. That skill has increased greatly because you have troops on the ground and troops in the trucks," Starks said. "Sometimes there are times up there when you're waiting constantly, scanning for anything."

Starks said he also enjoys the diversity of the Army, which builds on his past experiences with other people and other cultures in his native California.

"I'm used to a lot of cultures and races, but in the Army it's different. You're living together and see how everyone is different because of their different upbringings," Starks said. "It builds trust and friendship like a brotherhood."

In his spare time, Starks said he likes to read and write. Since he arrived in Iraq, Starks wrote one work of fiction and is writing a second book. Another hobby he wants to continue in Iraq is skateboards and rollerblades.

"Before I joined the Army, I worked at a state park. I was a monitor then I was an instructor," Starks said. "I actually ordered some blades and I have seen some places where I could skate. Maybe I could throw a little wax down [on the ground] so it won't be so dusty."

Starks may not be performing his original job, but as a gunner, he gets to perform a job closer to his heart. He has left behind his spot at the gas pump for a spot in the gun turret, always watching over his fellow Soldiers, always ready to defend them.

Page last updated Sun June 21st, 2009 at 23:01