"It's pretty neat," he says, grinning a low-key grin. "The kids look for my picture in the paper every day. Sometimes, they get out the Silly Putty."
Taylor is a professor of psychology and sociology at the Des Moines Area Community College's Boone, Iowa, campus. He joined the Iowa Army National Guard two days prior to his thirty-sixth birthday, inspired to serve by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He and his wife Shannon have five children, ranging in ages from 9 to 15. (For a July 13, 2010 Ames Tribune feature profiling the Taylor family, click here.)
Taylor is now an Army medical services officer--a hospital administrator of sorts--and performs the additional duty of unit public affairs representative ("UPAR," pronounced "yoo-pawr"). Because embedded media hitchhiked around the National Training Center battlefield via logistical convoys last September--and because the 334th BSB was located at the brigade's logistical hub of Forward Operating Base ("FOB") King--it often became Taylor's responsibility to arrange overnight accommodations. In other words, add "concierge," "tour guide," and "inn-keeper" to the list of Taylor's many responsibilities.
"People don't understand that we're looking forward to going to Afghanistan," a sleep-deprived Taylor told one group of visiting media in late September, before shuffling and shuttling us off to other UPARs, on other FOBs. "In Afghanistan, I'll have regular hours. I'll be able to work out every day. I might even have Internet in my own room."
It was from that perspective that Taylor wrote in mid-October:
Many of you have been following the Iowa National Guard as we train at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif. The embedded reporters have scrambled to find that one story that will strike a nerve or tug at your heartstrings.See what I mean? Good stuff!
I watched as the news crews prepared stories about the intense desert heat, the inedible food rations, the lack of sleep, the mothers and fathers longing for their kids back home, the simulated combat and the basic overall struggles associated with one of the most demanding training environments the U.S. Army has to offer. And, of course, the loneliness of the families back home unable to talk to their soldiers over the phone or Internet.
I will not lie, this training takes its toll. You function on little to no sleep. You are constantly challenged to go beyond your perceived capabilities. You get frustrated, nervous and angry. You hate the heat, the dust and the wind. And with all the focus on the negative, you tend to ignore the beauty hidden in the desert’s desolation. But if you take a moment to open your eyes, take a breath and just stand still, the desert’s majesty engulfs you.
Here's a list of Taylor's past essays in the Ames Tribune. Keep an eye out for his future observations. And the Silly Putty? Fun for the whole family!
Nov. 26, 2010: "Happy Thanksgiving from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan"
Nov. 9, 2010: "Four-day pass provides special moments for soldiers"
Nov. 2, 2010: "Anxiously awaiting deployment and the needle"
Oct. 12, 2010: "My Mojave: Finding peace, comfort in a scenic desert"
Sept. 17, 2010: "I don’t want to be a soldier today"
Sept. 15, 2010: "Trucking the Guard across America’s train tracks"
Here are some other recent Iowa media reports regarding the 2-34th BCT deployment to Afghanistan:
Ames (Iowa) Tribune, Nov. 24, 2010: "Holidays highlight absence of deployed military parents"
KCRG-TV9/Cedar Rapids Gazette, Nov. 26, 2010: "Families, soldiers feel separation at holidays" (Expanded text profile of Seydel and Reilly families)
KCRG-TV9/Cedar Rapids Gazette, Nov. 26, 2010: "Away from Home for the Holidays: The Seydel Family" (Video and text)
KCRG-TV9/Cedar Rapids Gazette, Nov. 24, 2010: "Student Soldiers Earn Degrees While Deployed" (Video and text)