WELLINGTON Two Wellington High School graduates serving in Iraq — Air Force Senior Airman Derek Martin and Army Sergeant Jill Bales — are close friends.
Far from home, they’re supporting each other while they defend freedom.
“It’s always nice to hang out with someone you rarely get to see,” Bales said via e-mail. “Especially in a place that familiar faces are few and far between.”
Bales graduated from Wellington in 2004, Martin in 2005. Bales is stationed out of Kansas. She works with the Task Force 807th Medical Command and oversees all the medical troops and hospitals in Iraq. Martin, who is based out of Tampa, Fla., is helping train the Iraqi Police, teaching them to secure bombsites, and clear buildings.
‘Like we are almost home’
The two became good friends about two years ago and thanks to happenstance ran into each other in the Middle East. Martin is stationed at Camp Stryker while Bales is about 15 minutes away at Camp Victory. They try to spend time together whenever possible.
“When we hang out it makes it feel like we are almost home in the states, and not in Iraq,” Martin e-mailed.
Bales pointed out that they both have busy schedules and it is hard to find the time to get together. However, using the Internet’s social networking empires they keep in touch as often as they can.
“Jill and I talk a lot via Skype and Facebook. It is pretty hard working around her schedule and mine since mine is not a set schedule,” Martin said. “We both have to be very flexible and ready for last-minute changes.”
Even though they both come from Wellington and have one another to lean on, homesickness can still set in.
“The main thing I miss from home is my little girl Rosalyn, but I get to talk to her daily via Skype,” Bales said.
Martin also uses Skype to talk to and see his family here at home. “I can watch my son (Parker) color in his coloring book, play with his Transformers. Facebook, I can add pictures of things I have done and seen over here,” he said.
The last time Martin and Bales saw each other before meeting in Iraq was nearly a year ago when Martin was on leave after being deployed in Afghanistan. He is wrapping up his third tour of duty in the Middle East.
Martin has been doing a soccer ball drive, coordinating it with his fiancee Robyn Koehn here in Wellington. When he returns home, Bales will be taking over the operation in Iraq.
“I will be leaving Iraq in a few short weeks, I am very satisfied with how many soccer balls were donated,” Martin said. “Personally seeing that a soccer ball really makes these kids’ day over here is a better feeling than any.”
Keeping the morale of the troops up is an important aspect in any military effort. It is no different in Iraq. There are several different activities for the troops to keep busy during spare time. Things like 5K races, college classes and USO Tours all help boost spirits.
“The morale is pretty good considering the location,” Bales said. “The heat is aggravating, but we’re used to it. Getting mail is a huge morale booster.”
Bales has been in Iraq since April and is scheduled to stay there for a year. Martin has been there nearly a year. They both cherish the bond they’ve formed, made stronger by their time in Iraq.
“Our friendship is totally different than any other I have in the military,” Martin said. “...Every time I deploy it is always with new guys, so I don’t really get that close to them, knowing that I won’t see them much again, if ever. With Jill, I know I will hopefully see her every time I come home to Wellington.”
Bales said she has gained some great friends while serving. “The only problem with military relationships is that the military puts people together and then rips them apart,” she said. “So it’s hard to maintain close contact with the people you’ve grown so close to.”