Dec. 29, 2016 —
NORTHERN IRAQ, Dec. 22, 2016 — Following the 9/11 attacks, Brian Bailey, then a private first class, arrived at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
At the replacement company, incoming troops were asked if they wanted to deploy overseas.
Bailey recalled that he and another soldier raised their hands and were separated from the group. A few weeks later, they were both in Afghanistan, he said.
"Making that decision put me at the beginning of all of this," Bailey said. "I was allowed the opportunity to be part of the first big push in the global war on terror."
Supporting Operation Inherent Resolve
Now a sergeant first class, Bailey is an infantry senior noncommissioned officer serving in Iraq with the 101st in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. For some of the younger soldiers in his unit, the holiday season will be their first outside of the United States.
For Bailey, it’s another one among many.
This is Bailey’s ninth deployment. He has spent half of the past 15 years in the Middle East, with the vast majority of those years on the front line. On this tour, he is the first sergeant of Company A, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. Some of the soldiers he now leads were 4 years old when he was first in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan.
"For some reason, every time I come back to the 101st, I head out [somewhere else],” Bailey said with a laugh. “Every single one of these nine deployments has been different and has presented new challenges."
He pointed at objects on the horizon.
“I was in Mosul and Tal Afar in 2003 as part of the operations that secured those cities,” Bailey said. “My old unit used to drive through the village we’re in now. In those days and on the deployments afterwards, we did all the fighting and took the lead. This mission is different. The Iraqi security force is doing the fighting, and we are advising.”
Army Staff Sgt. Jamie Paddock is a squad leader in Company A. In 2007, he was a private on his first deployment with the 10th Mountain Division. Bailey was his platoon sergeant during that tour, and they are now back together in Iraq.
‘He’s Still the Same Today’
“When I showed up to Fort Campbell last year and saw him, I was kind of shocked,” Paddock said. “I remember him caring about the mission and what we were doing out there back in 2007, always happy to pass on his knowledge to younger soldiers. He’s still the same today.”
Bailey, a Boston native, wasn't surrounded by a strong military tradition when he was growing up.
"In Boston, maybe one in 10 people know someone in the military," he said. "For a lot of people back home, the military experience is foreign to them. A lot of them don’t understand this. I joined because of a desire to be something better than what I was at the time. The military has facilitated making me what I am now: a leader with experiences that only military service can provide.”
Though Bailey has been part of some of the most pivotal campaigns in recent U.S military history, he likes to focus on the more humorous side of his military career. One of his outlets is playing hockey when he's back at home, he said. He also relishes spending time with his wife, Melissa, who has been with him through most of his military career.
"I chose this life," Bailey said. “I've had a lot of experiences -- some good, some horrific. It’s truly an honor that the Army allows me to be who I am and lead soldiers. I get to see real effects in my environment and participate in events that will be remembered in history. I'm thankful for that every day."