Terrence Sommers spent Christmas 2004 wearing body armor while on patrol at a base in Baghdad, Iraq, called Camp Falcon.
"It was somber," said the U.S. Army Reserve captain. " The Army tried to make it as festive as possible ... I was thinking, 'I really miss my family.' "
In October 2004, Sommers joined a 10-man team headed for Iraq, where they were embedded in and trained an Iraqi counterinsurgency battalion. The battalion, made up partially of former insurgent troops, started at 300 members and grew to about 600, Sommers said.
Now, Sommers has returned to the Augusta area, making it back to his Augusta home in October and starting to teach again as an adjunct criminal justice professor at the Thomson campus of Augusta Technical College Dec. 1.
When he was called to active duty, Sommers, 34, left behind several jobs that kept him working about 80 hours a week.
Besides his work at the Thomson campus of Augusta Tech, he ran his own law practice and taught two criminal justice classes at the Columbia County Sheriff's Office in addition to serving in the U.S. Army Reserve.
"I'm glad you made it back safely," Columbia County sheriff's Deputy Mary Boseman said while giving Sommers a welcome-back hug at the Columbia County Detention Center on Friday. He'll return to teaching the Augusta Tech satellite classes at the sheriff's office in January after missing an entire year because of his military service.
Sommers said his team traveled with the battalion through the anti-American Sunni hot zones of Fallujah, Baghdad and west into the province of Al Anbar. They trained the battalion how to search for insurgents, flush them out and how to set up security, which was especially important at Iraqi election sites, Sommers said.
"It was hard," Sommers said. "They have no command authority, so we had to suggest what we thought they should do."
Despite a language barrier, Sommers said he made friends in the battalion, who often pushed him behind to protect him in hostile situations and shared family photos with him in the down time.
"I made some good friends," Sommers said. "There's so much you can't know by watching the news."
Sommers said as his battalion would load needed artillery and supplies onto vehicles to enter an unknown city, the troops also loaded on boxes of toys or bookbags filled with school supplies to pass out to the town children. He said they went into each town with the attitude, "Win hearts and minds."
"You have to cling to the good memories," Sommers said, remembering the smiles and waves of townspeople and children as his battalion left many poor Iraqi towns.
Now that Sommers has fulfilled what he called worthwhile and rewarding service, he is slowly readjusting to what is much different than the life he left.
"It puts so many things in perspective," Sommers said of his service.
Sommers has decided not to reopen his law practice and focus solely on instruction, which Sommers said he enjoys much more.
Relaxation is something Sommers is trying to get used to, though he said his eyes still open at 5:30 or 6 a.m.
"Quality of life is what I'm focused on now," Sommers said. "I like getting up and having coffee and reading the newspaper at home before I go to work."
Sommers didn't just leave a job behind, he gave up his bachelorhood. After returning in October, Sommers married his longtime girlfriend, Shana, on Nov. 5. Now, he enjoys evenings of dinner and television with his new wife.
"My life is fuller now," Sommers said. "I have more responsibilities now. It's stressful, but good stress."
Sommers, who spent last Christmas at Camp Falcon on guard, expects a holiday this year that will come with a different kind of busy. He and his wife will be traveling to New Jersey to spend time with Sommers' family before heading to Connecticut to visit her family.
"It's going to be a whole different kind of Christmas," Sommers said with a smile.
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