CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Brandon Traister was born in Mount Holly, New Jersey. As part of a high school video oral history project, Traister interviewed and recorded the stories of local war veterans. He began by working with World War II veterans; but, once the school project was completed, he continued interviewing on his own and expanded his scope to include veterans from the Korean and Vietnam wars. Since his return from his own service in Iraq, Traister has made presentations to schools, churches, and veteran groups on the Iraq War, because he feels the media did not do a good job of reporting on the conflict. In his talks he uses pictures from previous wars to show how, in many ways, little has changed.
Inspired by the events of September 11, Traister joined the National Guard in January, 2002. He was initially assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia, for basic and advanced infantry school training between January and April 2003; and, on his return to New Jersey, he was assigned to A Company of the 1st Battalion of the 114th Infantry, New Jersey National Guard. Traister’s initial overseas deployment occurred the following year, when his unit was sent to Egypt in July, 2004 and attached to the Multinational Force and Observers South Camp in Sinai, Egypt. The Multinational Camp was used as a buffer between Egypt and Israel and assigned the task of monitoring all land, air, and sea traffic in the area, whether military, civilian, or government.
While in Egypt, Traister considered leaving the National Guard and joining an active duty unit. He thought it was a waste to be trained as an infantryman and then assigned to administrative duties. He told the interviewer that “infantry is trained to fight, not sit in a tower and do paperwork.” Traister returned home in January 2005, but then volunteered to spend a year in Iraq with the Pennsylvania National Guard’s B Company, 1st Battalion, 109th Infantry, from Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He was formally assigned to the 109th on April 29, 2005.
B Company was initially deployed at Camp Beuhring in Udairi, Kuwait, in order to acclimate the soldiers to the area before transitioning into Iraq. Traister recalled that Kuwait was so hot that the air-conditioning would overheat daily. After three weeks, the company was sent to Camp Habbaniyah in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, where it was stationed from July 14 through October 13, 2005. While at the camp, Traister worked in bomb disposal security, recalling that his job involved a lot of police work, and that most of his unit was made up of soldiers who were police officers in civilian life.
While working with bomb disposal security, Traister, who had been promoted to Sergeant E-5, thought that each time he went out to do his job might be the last time. He recalled that the technicians who actually handled the explosive devices were the bravest men he has ever met, because their life expectancy was said to be no longer than one tour of duty. The men of every explosive ordnance disposal team he spoke to had lost the head of their team, killed or wounded. Traister stated that there was no lack of insurgent recruits to plant bombs, as there were a lot of unemployed people in Iraq; and, terrorism and insurgency paid a lot better than the Iraqi police and military.
From October 14, 2005 through February 3, 2006 Sergeant Traister was stationed at Camp Ramadi in Al Anbar. While at Ramadi, he participated in foot patrols along the Euphrates River, and his unit was fired on regularly by insurgent snipers across the river. The Americans were not allowed to return fire because of the risk of hitting an American soldier with “friendly fire”. Traister remembered that as the deployment went on, the patrols got longer as well as moved further away from the base camp. He recalled that on New Year’s Eve, soldiers shot off flares in place of fireworks.
Sergeant Traister moved to Camp Blue Diamond, also in Al Anbar, on February 3, 2006, and served there through March 24. The camp had once been a palace for Saddam Hussein’s sons. He recalled that when soldiers crossed the streets in the area, they had to toss a smoke grenade out or fire a warning shot into the ground to slow down speeding cars, since local drivers would not slow down for people trying to cross.
Prior to leaving the war zone in April, Traister spent a week in Kuwait. He recalled that coming home and returning to civilian life was a big adjustment for him, but he resumed his veteran interview project. He believes that it is important for people to spend a few years of their lives serving their country. Traister was still serving in a New Jersey National Guard unit in Mount Holly at the time of his interview.
Sergeant Brandon Traister was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Iraq Campaign Medal and the Multinational Force & Observers Overseas Service Ribbon. He has also completed the army’s Combat Lifesaver Course and Warrior Leaders Course.