Serving her country

Switzerland County’s Eldridge
protects U.S. commanders in Iraq

She should return to the U.S. in time for holidays

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

VEVAY, Ind. (December 2008) – When Kattie Eldridge was a young girl, she had the unique opportunity to spend a summer in Germany with her aunt, Mamie Kyle, who served in the U.S. Army as a military police officer. Eldridge decided then that she also wanted to serve her country and become a military police officer.

Kattie Eldridge

Photo provided

Specialist Kattie Eldridge spent nine
months in Iraq as a military police
officer assigned to a personal
security detail for U.S. miitary
commanders and special visitors.

When she graduated from Switzerland County High School in 2006, Eldridge joined the Indiana National Guard and trained to be a military police officer. Earlier this year, her unit was deployed to Iraq for a nine-month tour as the Personal Security Detail for the Third Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) at the U.S. Air Base in Balad, Iraq.
Prior to arriving in the country, the PSD received special training for its mission in Iraq. Eight team members attended protected services training, in which they learned protective services tactics and how to conduct anti-ambush operations. Another 14 soldiers attended special reaction team school and were taught specialized team responses to high-risk situations such as barricaded subjects, hostage situations and counterterrorist operations.
Once in Iraq, the Indiana National Guardsmen, part of the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, provided security for general officers, distinguished visitors and high risk personnel on base. They also served as security for these personnel during convoys across Iraq. During their deployment, the unit protected such distinguished visitors as Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, General David Petraeus and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
In late November when the specialized unit left Iraq, they completed more than 60 missions and were successful at protecting every person they escorted.
Eldridge, 21, was the lead scout driver for the unit. Her job was to tell the military convoy what was up ahead of them. “My time in Iraq has been an exciting new experience,” she said in a telephone conversation from Balad. “You never know what is going to happen. You have to be prepared for anything.”
In June, her convoy actually came under attack when insurgents hit it with an improvised explosive device. During that mission, soldiers from the unit received two Purple Heart medals, three combat action badges and one combat medic badge.
“It has been scary at times here, but I have complete faith in my team and our training,” she said.
A typical day for Eldridge in Balad, which is situated in the middle of Iraq, begins with a check of all of her trucks and equipment. Then she usually is assigned a mission. “When we do get a day off, we aren’t really encouraged to go sightseeing,” she said. “We usually visit the USO to play pool, call home or just relax.” Eldridge said the Iraqis she has interacted with are always nice. “When we are on missions, the Iraqi children wave and hold their thumbs up for us,” she said. “They love us.”
Eldridge, who will return to her job at Greendale, Ind., manufacturing plant Pri Pak, said when she first joined the Indiana National Guard, she re-assured her parents that she would be fine, and that she would never get deployed. “I remember telling them that I was just joining the National Guard,” she laughed. “I had no idea that I would end up being deployed.”
Tammy Nielsen, Kattie’s mother, is proud of her daughter. “She is my hero,” she said. “While it terrifies me, I know this is what she wants to do, and I totally support her.”
Nielsen, who also works at Pri Pak, said her daughter is simply following the family tradition. Eldridge’s grandfather was a U.S. Navy Seal during the Vietnam War, and Nielsen’s sisters both served in the armed forces. Eldridge’s younger brother, Zack Eldridge, has decided to join the U.S. Marines when he graduates from high school next year.
I am so proud of Kattie,” said Nielsen. “But I can’t wait to get my baby back home.”
Roger Eldridge, Kattie’s father, said his daughter should be back in the United States by December. “I am extremely proud of her, but I worry constantly,” he said. “I will be glad when she is back.”
Eldridge said she is looking forward to coming back to Indiana, but she wouldn’t mind doing a second tour in Iraq despite the danger and the occasional homesickness.

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