Soldier would volunteer again for service
Zachary Semsick went to war in Iraq believing the U.S. cause was just. He returned three weeks ago, thinking the same thing.
Semsick, 25, of Blairsville, an Army reservist attached to the Third Infantry Division as a bridge builder, helped to span the Euphrates River just outside Baghdad two weeks after the U.S.-led invasion. His unit, from Fort Belvoir, Md., followed the Third Division’s advance from Kuwait to the outskirts of the Iraqi capital.
A truck driver in civilian life, Semsick described himself as a man who loves his country and loves the military. His father, David Semsick, a Blairsville antique dealer, used to quiz him and his two siblings on Civil War generals and U.S. presidents. His favorite commander in chief was Theodore Roosevelt, who, before entering the White House, led a military charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
Semsick thinks highly of President George W. Bush. As far as he is concerned, Bush speaks the language of ordinary Americans and respects and likes the military.
Semsick professed to be a cool customer in Iraq. The plain brick and mud huts in which millions of Iraqis live and the many jalopies that plied the highways piled high with furniture and other family wares were not much more than curiosities to the soldier. The same was true of Saddam Hussein’s many opulent palaces.
Semsick toured one of Saddam’s palaces. This one was located on the road between Baghdad and the international airport, and included guests cottages for Baath Party members, a man-made lake, a 15-foot high, 6-inch thick front door and a multi-story marble staircase.
While in Iraq, Semsick said he never felt his life was in danger. However, he confessed to becoming uneasy a time or two when surrounded by dozens of Iraqi civilians in town or while manning a roadblock.
“Ninety percent (of the Iraqis) were friendly, the other 10 percent exercised caution,” Semsick said. “They were a little on edge.”
At first, Iraqis asked the Americans for water and food. Later, they showed up selling just about everything under the scorching desert sun: from produce to what Semsick called “Middle East-style knives.”
According to Semsick, the attitude of Iraqis toward U.S. soldiers depended on what part of the country they were in. South of Baghdad most everyone seemed glad to have the Americans around. Civilians offered thanks to the soldiers for ridding their country of Saddam. GIs got a cooler reception north and west of the city, Semsick said.
Semsick claims he didn’t see much happiness among the people of Iraq. He sometimes thought to himself, “Why would you live here?”
Semsick noticed changes after the end of major combat operations. The thing that most concerned him occurred toward the end of his tour, when it became apparent that the men planting land mines and lobbing shells at American troops were becoming increasingly adept at their craft.
“They’ve evolved,” he said. “They’re getting good at it. That was scary.”
Semsick was a member of an Army Reserve outfit in Indiana when he volunteered for an unspecified assignment somewhere in the “desert.” Semsick’s wife, Julia, took the call. She knew right away there was no holding her husband back. The enthusiasm was in his voice and in his eyes, she said.
Now the Semsicks are thinking about what kind of life they could build for themselves if Zachary quit his truck driving job and joined the regular Army full time. For one thing, his pay would be better. For another, he would have more of an opportunity to serve his country to the fullest of his ability.
Semsick, who marched with his unit in Saturday’s parade honoring Sgt. Jeremy Feldbusch in Blairsville, would serve in Iraq again if asked. “I follow the orders of the president of the United States,” he said.