FORWARD OPERATING BASE PROSPERITY, Iraq (Army News Service, Jan. 25, 2007) - Most Soldiers have been to Iraq more than once. Second Lt. Jeremy Reyes has been twice, his first time as a civilian with the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004.

Now an intelligence officer with the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Reyes has taken an unlikely path to his current status as a Soldier in Iraq.

While earning a bachelors degree in history at Penn State University, the Williamsport, Pa., native developed an increasing interest in politics. He soon found himself working the polls for President George H.W. Bush's 1992 bid for re-election.

The election's outcome did not go the way he had hoped, but Reyes said it so deepened his interest in politics that he moved to Washington, D.C., in 1996. There, he landed an entry-level job as a research analyst for the Republican National Committee. Reyes said he spent his days examining news articles and identifying what political figures were saying about various topics.

"I did little profiles on things these politicians said, and they were catalogued for later use," he explained.

Reyes also did an internship in Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum's office, which eventually led to a full-time position. He said he started there just taking phone calls and answering mail, but over time moved up the ranks.

Then Reyes' life was directly affected by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Like most mornings, he was heading to work at Capitol Hill; unlike most days, he'd taken the Washington Metro instead of driving.

"I boarded the train about the same time the planes hit the World Trade Center, but I didn't know anything about it," Reyes said. Then he stopped at the Pentagon station to switch trains.

"It will always stick in my mind," Reyes said of that moment. "A Soldier, in what I now know to be a Class B uniform, screamed out to everyone that there was a bomb and that we should get out of the station."

He said everyone quickly cleared out of the station, running up the escalator to the surface, where they were enveloped in thick smoke and shocked by the scene before them.

"The airplane hit the other side of the Pentagon, but the smoke was thick and black," he said. "It was thick enough that you could smell it and get the taste in your mouth. That whole experience is certainly something you don't ever forget."

Contributing to the war effort
Having witnessed the destruction firsthand, Reyes was soon fueled with determination to contribute to the war on terror.

"The thing that I faced was that I wasn't a Soldier yet, and didn't know what I could do as a civilian to help," he said.

He found an answer in 2004, when a friend told him the Coalition Provisional Authority was looking for civilians to work in Iraq with visiting members of Congress.

"Since I was already working for a member of the Senate, it worked well to just come over here and do some of that," Reyes explained.

Reyes arrived at Baghdad in April of that year, and said because he spent much of his time working in an office, his day-to-day life had many similarities to that of his life in Washington.

"I worked in the protocol office and escorted members of Congress when they came over to visit the troops," Reyes said. "We did their scheduling and worked with the folks who did the security arrangements."

While in Iraq, Reyes said he began thinking he could make a bigger contribution if he were in uniform. After returning to Washington in October, he visited a recruiting station to explore his options.

"They don't get many recruits who walk in during wartime and say 'yeah, I know what I'm in for. I've been there before and am going to sign up to go back,'" he said.

Reyes soon signed up for the officer candidate school program with a preference for going into military intelligence.

Back in Iraq
In June 2005, Reyes left his civilian life behind and reported to basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., which he described simply as "quite a shock."

"I was very civilianized and had a long history of acting independently," Reyes said. "I went from being able to make significant decisions in my workplace to having to ask to go to the bathroom."

To add to the shock, Reyes, who turned 34 the first day of basic training, found that he was twice as old as some of the Soldiers he was training with.

While the training was tough and at times he questioned why he was there, he never though about quitting.

"The training was necessary to do what I wanted to do, which was to come back here and do my part on the uniform side," Reyes said.

After graduating from OCS Dec. 8, 2005, Reyes was sent to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., for military intelligence training, before finally moving to his permanent duty station at Fort Hood, Texas, in July 2006. Then in early November 2006, Reyes made his return to Baghdad.

In the short time that he has been back in Iraq, Reyes said he has noticed some drastic differences between his previous role as a civilian, government employee and his new role as a Soldier.

"There's a side of military service that you just can't understand from the outside," Reyes said. "The pressures: what it means for family life and then also being here and seeing what happens on a daily basis."

Reyes describes his new job as helping to target terrorists and "identifying who these people are and seeing that we are able to stop them from doing some of the destructive things they're doing in this country."

Having been in Iraq before in such a different role provides Reyes with a unique perspective and he credits some of his past experiences with helping him find success in his new role as an intelligence officer.

"My knowledge from the past, both some of the academic knowledge from school and the knowledge from having been here before, has been helpful to me in being more effective in the jobs I do here," he said.

Reyes said he hasn't made any decisions on whether he will return to civilian life or continue with his Army career once his term is finished.

"There are a lot of good things happening back in Washington D.C. on the civilian side where people are working to keep us safe in conjunction with our military," Reyes explained. "I think this experience will lend itself well to making a contribution there."