'You can sense the momentum'

Lt. Col. Randy Martin, a 1985 graduate of Rock Hill High School, is a public affairs officer of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.
Lt. Col. Randy Martin, a 1985 graduate of Rock Hill High School, is a public affairs officer of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

Lt. Col. Randy Martin's job is to tell the story of the soldiers in Iraq. His second trip to the country has surprised him.

Martin, a public affairs officer of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, is a 1985 graduate of Rock Hill High School.

He's based at Fort Stewart, Ga., where his wife, Amy, and three children call home. In March, Martin started his second tour in Iraq, the fifth deployment in his military career.

He talked with Herald reporter Kimberly Dick by phone from Iraq on Monday.

Q: What's surprised you about this trip in Iraq?

A: "After I returned the first time, I noticed you really didn't have a sense of what was going on watching it on TV. Now that I'm here, beneath all the bad news, there is a glimmer of hope. You can sense the momentum in the right direction.

"The number of attacks on U.S. forces has gone down, and the number of people trying to help us, up. You see more lights; more commercial airplanes departing. You see cars; you see kids that are running around and enjoying life the way kids are supposed to. It's been an enlightening experience this trip."

Q: Why did you join the Army?

A: "Growing up, I was impressed by people who served in the military. I remember going to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Arlington, Va., and being so impressed with the soldiers on guard. I remember going through family albums of my dad, who was in the Army in the 1950s and in Korea.

Those were my heroes. As soon as I could join the Army, I did. And I have been doing it ever since."

Q: What does your job entail?

A: "I work for Major Gen. Rick Lynch. I am the leader of a team of about 23, responsible for outreach with American and Western media. As director of internal communication, I'm responsible for producing a newspaper, newsletter and Web-based newscast for our divisional task force, totaling about 18,000."

Q: What's your typical day like in Iraq?

A: "It begins about 5:30 a.m. After breakfast, personal hygiene and a visit to the chapel, I go to our operations center and talk to the folks I have manning the battle desk to assess anything that happened overnight that may need to be reported in the news. I take whatever steps necessary to get it on radio, TV, newspapers. That's how I fight my fight for the rest of the day."

Q: So that's pretty similar to how I spend my day?

A: "Except you don't hear explosions; I do."

Q: How did you get a public affairs gig?

A: "For several years, I rode on tankers like my dad. As my career progressed, I reached the point where the Army said, 'We need officers to look at career options.' After several years of doing what they told me to, here the Army was now asking me what I wanted to do."

Q: What's the most interesting situation you've found yourself in since you went to Iraq?

A: "Well, the toughest experience in my Army career thus far is dealing with the real-life drama of having missing soldiers. There was an attack on soldiers who were part of our task force by al-Qaida. In the attack, five men lost their lives, and three weren't accounted for. Five days later, we found one, but two still remain missing -- months later. We commit ourselves to never leaving a fallen comrade behind. Think about their families at home."

Q: When are you coming home?

A: "June or July 2008. I just returned home on leave in September for about three weeks, and that was wonderful and fun. Until you've served, you really don't appreciate all of the goodness you have in America: family, freedom to go where you want, to do what you want to do."

Q: Anything we should be doing as Americans to help?

A: "Never forget why we are doing what we are doing. Continue to support us, and take care of our families while we are gone. Learn as much as you can about why we are fighting."

-- Kimberly Dick

View a video of Lt. Col. Randy Martin talking about his job as a public affairs specialist in Iraq and giving a tour of the media operations center in Baghdad.