Sgt. David Christian takes a practical approach when it comes to his military career.

The Soldier, home recently on leave from a 12-month tour in Iraq, saw an opportunity in the Army that a high school graduate couldn't find anywhere else.

"I was going to Calhoun Community College. But I wasn't college bound at that time. I just wasn't into it. So, I decided to go into the military. The Army was the branch that offered me more than any other," Christian said, recalling his 2002 decision.

"My parents weren't happy about it. My mom called my (high school) JROTC instructor, Lt. Col. Anthony Barnhill (now retired), right off the bat. He always promoted college first and then service."

And yet, Christian thinks his Army service was his destiny, although in a round about way.

"9/11 made me mad. I knew I was going in the Army. Besides being in JROTC, my grandfather and other family members had served in the Army," Christian said. "But it took me awhile to figure out that's what I needed to do. I decided I wanted to leave Alabama and see places. Now, I've been around the world twice and the place I want to be is in Alabama."

Christian deployed in October with Charlie Company, 21st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Riley, Kan.

"I'm a chemical NCO in an engineering unit," he said. "I give them chemical support. But right now there is no threat in that arena. So I do a lot of rock clearance instead. I'm turning into an engineer.

"I'm also involved in a lot of show of force maneuvers around forward operating bases. I assist with bomb threats and go on guard duty. I provide support with supplies so others can do their job."

This is Christian's second deployment. His first was in 2006-07, when he was in Kuwait with the 101st Chemical Area Reaction Force. During that deployment, he assisted with training Kuwaiti chemical forces.

It was on a visit home after his first deployment that Christian met someone who changed his life.

"Shelley and I went to rival high schools. I went to Buckhorn and she went to Hazel Green," Christian said. "But we knew each other through friends."

The couple have been married two years. They have a 15-month-old daughter, Kendal Cheyenne. Shelley Christian works as a lab technician with Huntsville Hospital.

During his leave, the Christians have been busy buying a house in Hazel Green and making plans to move in. Christian, who will leave the Army after returning from his deployment in October, has also spent time networking in search of potential employment opportunities in Huntsville's emergency operations field. He plans to go back to college and study hazardous materials management, and obtain certificates in hazardous materials and emergency management.

"It's time for me to move on. I've had my fun in the Army," Christian said. "It's time for me to settle down and try some other things. I plan on using the training I've gotten in the Army and apply it to civil service."

Though he is leaving the Army behind, Christian said the lessons he's learned as a Soldier have made him a better person and will always stay with him.

"It made me grow up," he said of the Army. "It changed my outlook on life.

"The Army gives you stability and direction. There's no pampering. You either can get the job done or you can't. There are no excuses and no 'maybes.' You learn to be responsible for yourself and you learn what it takes to be successful in life. And you make great friends that you will have for a lifetime."

The Army helped Christian grow from a soft-spoken, kind of goofy high school kid to a man with self-confidence and the ability to speak his point of view.

"I like the Army. I think everyone should go into military service for at least three to four years," he said. "It especially helps males grow up and can help anyone dealing with a broken home or financial problems. Most Soldiers will meet one NCO who pretty much doesn't give them an inch and straightens them up so they can be successful. The Army will change you or send you on your way. It was the best fit for me. But now I want to come back home. Being away from family - that's what kills me the most."

Christian is proud of his service in Southwest Asia. While the Army changes its Soldiers for the better, Christian also believes the Army has that same positive effect in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

"In Iraq, the people have a better attitude. They are hopeful and they are happy that we're there," said Christian, who is stationed at Camp Liberty in Baghdad. "They have more national pride. The Iraqi police are flying the nation's flag. The Iraqi people are always willing to learn and to do better."

He is stationed in Iraq at a time when more and more control is being given to the Iraqis to govern the country.

"The Iraqis are taking over their own country pretty much," Christian said. "We are training the Iraqis and as they get better at their jobs we pull back. Most of our work now is police oriented. We're helping the Iraqis keep the peace."