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This blog chronicles the experiences of Elon journalism major Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown, who was deployed to the Middle East in June 2006 as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves 210th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. Hemmerly-Brown is from Blue Hill, Maine, and is the daughter of Jane and Daniel Hemmerly-Brown. As a public affairs specialist, Hemmerly-Brown writes stories, takes photographs, produces a newspaper and works with members of the news media. She is scheduled to be stationed in Iraq for about a year, and plans to return to her studies at Elon following her tour of duty.Messages can be sent to Alexandra at: IsisIndy@hotmail.com. Her mailing address is: Spc. Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown, 210th MPAD, Camp Anaconda, Balad, APO AE 09391.

[Return to Hemmerly-Brown's blog home page]

April 6, 2007


Well, the days are counting down until my return to the States—only a few more months to go! The past month has been a great one and passed quickly, mostly because I was not in Iraq for most of it.

Alexandra in ParisIn the middle of March I left Iraq to go on a two-week leave. I decided to travel to Europe because it’s quite a bit closer to Iraq than the States is, and luckily for me, I am not like most Soldiers who have a family and children waiting for me at home. I chose to go to France (mostly Paris), because while I’ve visited other parts of Europe before, and lived in Scotland for quite some time, I hadn’t been to France before.

My best friend from Maine met me in Paris a few days after I arrived there and we spent the weeks sightseeing, getting lost, and actually freezing a bit (it snowed! Even as we were climbing the Eiffel Tower!). I would have to say one of the best parts of my vacation was visiting the well-known Louvre museum in Paris, which is the resting place of the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and of course those famous glass pyramids featured in The Da Vinci Code (which is one of my favorite books).

After about a week of cold weather in Paris, we decided to pack up for the sunny skies of Spain on a whim, and bought plane tickets the day before we left. My second time in Barcelona (I visited there four years prior) was just what the doctor ordered, and was a delight for the senses. I love Antoni Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces, which make Barcelona an extremely visually-stimulating city to visit. I especially love the Sagrada Familia- Gaudi’s unfinished stunning cathedral…it took my breath away four years ago, and it did the same this time. Each of the spires of the cathedral are decorated ornately in different themes ranging from the religious to piles of fruit (which I am sure must hold some significant symbolic meaning, one which I am not educated on his work enough to know about yet). I find his work so amazing, as it looks incredibly modern, yet most of his work was created before 1900! He was certainly ahead of his time. Amazing.

Alexandra in BarcelonaWe stayed in Spain for only three days, but it was well worth the trip. It was quite a bit warmer than France and, to be honest, I speak much better Spanish than I do French, so communicating was easier. We ran into some traveling trouble with our baggage, (which ended up costing us quite a bit of money), but such are the woes of traveling.

Back in Paris again, I finished off my trip with a visit to the ancient Notre Dame cathedral- a memorable and awe-inspiring experience. Anyone who’s been there will know what I’m talking about. It’s just a feeling when you walk in the door—the lights are dimmed and candles are flickering everywhere. It’s just an atmosphere that demands reverence no matter what your religious background is. Not to mention the mere majestic design of the place that makes you grab a pew to steady yourself when you look up at the arched ceilings and massive stained-glass windows. I just love traveling in Europe, because it is so much older than our country, and you just can’t find old cathedrals, castles, and palaces in the U.S. like you can in the EU.

Well, before describing my transition from freedom in France back into being a Soldier upon my return in Iraq, I will explain the title of this blog entry. In my last entry I talked about the Keith L. Ware Journalism awards, and how I was given the great honor of being named Journalist of the Year for the U.S. Army Reserve. Well, I have an even more humbling announcement, it is that I was also named Journalist of the Year for the entire Army for 2006!

I found out this exciting news on my second day of my leave in Paris, and was just as shocked as when I found out the results for the Reserve awards. I am so honored to be able to represent the Army this way, and Elon too. It is a testament to what I have learned on this deployment, and the highest honor for an Army Journalist- a once in a lifetime award. Again, I feel so blessed to be able to share my work, and for what I write to make a difference. I know that I am doing a very important job- by telling our Soldier’s stories, those that would otherwise be untold…and at the same time witnessing history. It’s Amazing.

Other than getting promoted and reaching the highest professional goal of my dreams in my military career, there isn’t anything else I could ask for on this deployment. This year has been tough, challenging, but also at times very rewarding—and I mean that in a personal fulfillment sort of way. The work I do makes me happy, but more importantly, the work I do is important in some small scheme of it all, and that is awesome.

I will mention briefly in closing that coming back to Iraq after being in the ‘free’ world for a short period of time is like being dipped in hot water and then cold water several times successively- shocking. I guess it’s about as much culture shock as I’ve ever had. There isn’t really an adjustment period: one day you are walking free without a care, and the next you are back in uniform, having to put your guard back up with the thought that your life might be at peril constantly in the back of your mind. I guess there is a danger in letting your guard down- that is probably the most dangerous and scary part of the deployment for me, because once you let it down, you feel vulnerable. But now that I’ve been back here for a few days, things seem pretty much back to normal.

Here is a link to the KLW awards where you can read my stories: