BAGHDAD - Today's Soldier in Focus is Pfc. Mark Small, a gunner assigned to Battery A, 1st Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad. Small, a native of Los Lunas, N.M., joined the Army almost two years ago and is currently serving his first deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Prior to being deployed, Small, 21, heard the stories about Iraq from Paratroopers in his unit. But after four months of being deployed in Baghdad, Small said that the fast-paced environment, frequent missions and talking to the Iraqi people have made his time in Iraq a great experience.

"Between the media and the stories from the guys about the last deployment, I thought it was going to be a lot worse," said Small. "It is a lot of work, and we are very busy but it is better than I expected. The Iraqi people are very nice to us and I like to experience their culture."

After graduating high school, Small bounced from job to job and did not like the direction his life was heading. Soon after his brother enlisted, Small's decided to take his life down a new path.

"My brother joined the Army before I did and he inspired me to join and make something better of my life," he said.

Service is nothing new in the Small family. His grandfather was in the Navy during World War II and his father also served six years in the Navy. His brother recently returned from a year-long deployment to Iraq with the Fort Hood-based 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

Small added that although he is away from home, his fellow Paratroopers in his platoon are like a second family to him and loves to lift weights with his brother-in-arms when not patrolling the streets of Baghdad.

Already a dedicated Paratrooper, Small has goals to further his military career. He hopes to go to Jumpmaster school and plans to go to Special Forces selection upon completing his duty in Iraq.