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Soldier/reporter

National Guard soldiers often find themselves with military jobs very different from what they do in civilian life. Not David Dodds. Dodds, a Herald staff writer, is also Sgt. 1st Class David Dodds of the North Dakota Army National Guard. Dodds i...

National Guard soldiers often find themselves with military jobs very different from what they do in civilian life.

Not David Dodds.

Dodds, a Herald staff writer, is also Sgt. 1st Class David Dodds of the North Dakota Army National Guard.

Dodds is stationed in Qatar assigned to U.S. Central Command, known as CENTCOM, which covers 27 countries throughout the Middle East.

Dodds had been assigned as a combat engineer with the 164th Battalion from Minot when he was asked to enlist with the 129th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, a group made up of military print and broadcast journalists.

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"I jumped at the chance to be assigned to this group," Dodds said. "I was quickly put in training to learn how to be a military journalist."

"We cover quite a large area. It is, of course, very active in Iraq and Afghanistan."

About 20 military journalists, mostly from North Dakota and South Dakota Guard units, make up the 129th Detachment. They work alongside soldiers and marines in the field, gathering news and stories. They then are able to share the news back home by connecting with reporters from newspapers and media outlets across the United States.

"Not every newspaper can afford to send a reporter to Iraq," Dodds said. "We like to 'virtually embed' reporters by providing them communication to soldiers and marines out in the field."

Twelve members of the group are currently stationed in Qatar, an independent Arab state on the peninsula on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, while the rest of the group is spread out in Tampa, Fla., and Atlanta.

Dodds recently went to Iraq for the first time.

"It was a life-changing experience, to see first-hand the pure devastation this country has gone through," he said. And then, you see these pockets of recovery."

The soldiers and marines Dodds was assigned to in the field remain committed to their mission, he said.

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"They talk about missing home, but they talk about duty first," Dodds said. "These service people live it every day."

Dodds' experiences in the field will be with him for a lifetime, he said.

"I didn't feel safe all the time; there were some scary moments," Dodds said. "When the alarms go off, it means there has been some attack. Or when you see people that you roll out with every day end up in the hospital because they were hit by an IED (roadside bomb).

"You cherish the fact that you live in the U.S."

Coming home to his wife Jennifer and his two little girls, Eliza, 2, and Emma, 5, in Grand Forks is on his mind daily.

"I am counting the days down. I have my calendar out, and I put a big mark on each day," he said. "I know they're doing that back at home, too."

Personally, Dodds said he feels the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq are important and that the troops are making a difference.

"I've never felt we weren't doing any good. A troop withdrawal is not going to help matters, it will only make matters worse in Afghanistan and Iraq," Dodds said of the hot button issue of a timeline for troop withdrawl.

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Dodds says he would like to see the troops stay until the job is done.

"I don't want to feel like my fellow soldiers have died in vain," he said. "It means a lot to me that we stick it out and leave Afghanistan and Iraq better than we found them."

Building schools and delivering school supplies to children in Iraq is just one way he and other soldiers have made things better, he said. He visited a new elementary school, one that had replaced a mud structure where the children had been going to school with no electricity, he said.

"The look in their eyes - it was pure gratitude that I've never before seen in my life."

Reach Nagel at (701) 780-1262, (800) 477-6572, ext. 262; or anagel@gfherald.com

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