COLUMBUS, Ohio - When Tyler Gray reaches Iraq, he'll know how to
fight nuclear, biological and chemical fires. It sounds a lot more
exciting than putting out blazes in Ohio.
And the pay's not bad, either: Gray stands to earn $90,000 or
more tax-free as a civilian firefighter on a military base in the
Iraqi desert.
But the 22-year-old said the most important part is giving back
to his country.
"This is a way to serve the guys that are serving our
country," Gray said. "If one of them can do the job they are
there to do better, or maybe even come home because I'm there to
help, then it's all worth it."
Next week, he leaves for Houston where he'll receive advanced
firefighting training with 11 other people. They'll also take
courses in Iraqi culture and train to endure the heat of the
desert.
Gray, a firefighter and paramedic, lived in suburban Westerville
and worked at area hospitals and a fire station near Cincinnati
before deciding to go to Iraq.
The company that hired Gray, Wackenhut Services Inc., said it
has recruited combat firefighters from all 50 states for the
popular program. Vice president Sam Brinkley said he can't say how
many are in Iraq because of security concerns.
"They protect our U.S. military personnel who are out doing
their own jobs around Iraq," Brinkley said.
Gray discovered the job while surfing the Internet during a slow
January day at his fire station. After reading about the program
for a few minutes, he decided he wanted to go.
The decision has been hard on his parents.
When his passport arrived few weeks ago, his mother was upset.
Gray thought about canceling his plans.
"Right then I wondered if it was worth it," he said. "If it
was going to hurt my mom, I wasn't going to do it. I almost changed
my mind."
Earlier, when Gray's father found out about his son's desire to
go to Iraq, he told his wife, "Well, he can just get that
stupid-*** thought out of his head right now."
Since then, the father's feeling better about the situation.
"My biggest fear is that he won't come back," Stu Gray said.
"But we eventually felt better about all this, and believe he'll
be safe. Now, we're just proud."
On Saturday night, hundreds of people attended a party in Gray's
hometown of Richwood, about 34 miles northwest of Columbus.
"We just want to send him off right," his mother Christy said.
"With love."
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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)