GAYHEART: All right. So, um, just to get started, uh, tell me a littlebit about yourself and what you're doing at the University of Kentucky?
LAWRENCE: Oh, well my name is Brandon Lawrence. I'm twenty-three. I'ma human/environmental sciences and psychology major here at UK. I've been here since 2005 with a break in with-- in between, going to Iraq. Uh, sports originally brought me to UK. I was a walk on football player for a year. And you know, just enjoy the university as a whole and continue to finish here.
GAYHEART: Alright. And how old are you?
GAYHEART: Twenty-three? And where were you born?
LAWRENCE: Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
GAYHEART: So it's-- is it a big difference coming from Alabama toKentucky or pretty much the same?
LAWRENCE: Uh, it's a big difference for me because in Alabama I grew upin a very rural area.
LAWRENCE: Not too much going on. And it was very different moving toLexington because this is the biggest city I've ever lived in. 1:00
LAWRENCE: So it-- I had to adjust to a couple things.
GAYHEART: Yeah? And what was your childhood like growing up in Alabama?
LAWRENCE: You know I'd like to say it was, you know, really fun.
LAWRENCE: But in all honesty it was-- it was really hard growing up. Wedidn't have a lot of-- a lot of the luxuries that some kids may be used to. So you know, just, you know, got by, by the skin of our teeth and mother had a hard time making ends meet because she was a single parent and it was me and my brother and my sister. So it was pretty hard growing up.
GAYHEART: So you guys kind of raised each other?
LAWRENCE: Yes we did.
GAYHEART: Yeah. What are some of the things that you would you have todo, uh, that are different from the traditional family?
LAWRENCE: Oh, as far as childrearing? Or--
GAYHEART: As far as childrearing, you know. Uh, helping our yourbrother, maybe (Lawrence laughs) having to watch him instead of going to hang out with friends or something like that.
LAWRENCE: Oh, well I was the youngest one, so--
LAWRENCE: --they spent a lot of time watching me and making sure Istayed out of trouble. And we all just kind of protected each other 2:00and looked out for each other when we didn't have anyone else to do it.
GAYHEART: Really-- kind of the teamwork mentality?
GAYHEART: And are you all still close to this day?
LAWRENCE: Oh, very close. Those are my best friends and we speak asmuch as we can.
GAYHEART: Yeah? Is-- do you still speak to your mom and you--
LAWRENCE: Oh (nods head).
GAYHEART:-- keep in touch with your family back in Alabama? Are they allback in Alabam-- Alabama?
LAWRENCE: Yeah, for the most part.
GAYHEART: Okay. And, um, so in school, in high school, tell me abouthigh school. You know, you-- like you said you were a football player. Tell me about-- a little bit about that.
LAWRENCE: Um, high school was a time I really enjoyed in my life. I wasa three star athlete. You know, very intelligent. Had a 3.0 GPA when I graduated. So I mean it was a time where everything was pretty easy. You know, just wake up, class, practice, homework. You know, same routine but I never got tired of it.
GAYHEART: Yeah? And what position did you play in football?
LAWRENCE: I was a linebacker and a tight end.3:00
GAYHEART: Uh-hm, what made you better in football than say an-- any ofyour other teammates?
LAWRENCE: Well, I mean, well, for starters genetics. You know? (laughs)I think that's where it all kind of starts. My dad's a pretty big guy and my mom is pretty mentally tough. So all my attributes I get from them. But I think that the thing really made me better was my will to be a better player. You know, sometimes you can be talented and do well, but it's that extra commitment and drive to actually be a better player.
GAYHEART: Did you work really hard on trying to improve some of thethings you might have not been so good at?
LAWRENCE: Oh yes. You know, every-- after every game our coach wouldset us down and we'd watch film. And you know, I'd see my other teammates who would, you know, either just come there just because they had to be there. But when I came, I came with a purpose to learn what 4:00mistakes I made and try to become a better player that next week so that, you know, we could have a chance at winning the game.
GAYHEART: Um-hm. And so coming upon your senior year, what were thingslike? I know everybody's talking about going to college (Lawrence laughs) and everybody's, you know, some of your teammates might be going to play, you know, college at the next level. What was it like for you?
LAWRENCE: You know I had a lot of decisions to make as a senior. Youknow, I felt, uh, I wouldn't say cheated, but you know, the scouting process, they tend to miss some of the better players. And I felt like I was one of those better players. I was recruited by a lot of small, private schools throughout Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama. But the mentality I had was that I was a better player than given credit for. So I had to make the decision to, you know, either take a scholarship at a smaller school or take the chances of becoming a walk on player at the University of Kentucky. 5:00
GAYHEART: Was UK kind of your always your number one school to go to? Orwas it UT, or was it--
LAWRENCE: (laughs) Well, I mean--
GAYHEART: Or, you know, you're from Alabama, (Lawrence laughs) what madeyou come all the way to Kentucky?
LAWRENCE: Well, my parents moved to Kentucky when I was a junior in highschool. So-- but I-- I've lived in three different states. You know, started off in Alabama, lived in Tennessee, and I moved to Kentucky to finish out high school. But I was really attracted to the University of Kentucky because I just loved the feel of community, and not only was I gonna play for a great team, but I was also gonna get a good education.
GAYHEART: Um-hm. Is-- going back to your childhood, what was-- whatwas your, uh, exposure to the military? How-- when was the first time you saw a man or woman in uniform or that commercial where you're like, "That's-- that's what I want to do when I get (Lawrence laughs) old enough to go do it?" 6:00
LAWRENCE: You-- you know, uh, I can't say I really paid too muchattention to the military, you know, growing up because, you know, we never lived near a big base and there aren't too many Reserve or National Guard units in town. So very seldomly did I ever see someone in uniform. I think maybe once or twice living down there did I see anybody in uniform.
GAYHEART: Did your mom-- did your mom ever talk to you about themilitary? Or did, you know, your-- your brothers, your siblings? Did-- did any of them, you know, fathom going into the military? Was it--
LAWRENCE: Um, well my sister was the first one who thought about themilitary when she was in high school. But she couldn't go to basic because she had her first child during high school and the next time it was really brought up between me and my siblings, my brother joined the Marines after he graduated high school in 2003.
GAYHEART: Uh-hm, and so-- when did you graduate in high school?
GAYHEART: 2005. So you saw your older brother go off to the Marines.7:00What was that like?
LAWRENCE: (laughs) You know, it was kind of odd. You know, we-- it'sone of those things that he never talked about either, but you know, it-- it just-- it surprised me because, you know, some people's personalities aren't, you know, fitting for the military. Now I didn't-- I never thought he wasn't physically or mentally able to do it. I just thought it wasn't for him.
LAWRENCE: But, you know, he decided to do it and he made it happen.
GAYHEART: How's he-- is he still in now?
LAWRENCE: No, he's out now.
GAYHEART: He's out. And when he would come home on leave or, you know,'cause you were still in high school and he'd already been in for two years, what was-- when he would come in, what would he talk about? Would he tell stories? (Lawrence laughs) Would he try to scare you? Would he--
LAWRENCE: You know, he never tried to scare me. Every-- every memoryhe had of the Marines or every story he told me, you know, it would be hard sometimes, but it was always a good story, a story where he 8:00learned some experience or there was some new experience that he had never done before. And coming where we came from, I-- I guess the military is more enjoyable than some agonizing--
GAYHEART: Now did he go to Iraq or Afghanistan?
LAWRENCE: No he did not.
GAYHEART: He didn't? And so do you think that that was your first tasteof, you know, being-- having a brother that, you know, you said you're really close to, what was your opinion and, you know, kind of mood for the military at that point?
LAWRENCE: (laughs) You know, seeing him do it, it-- you know, I got alittle bit more insight about it. But at the time I think I was more focused on football and athletics. So it-- it was one of those things that just kind of was over my head. You know? But I was-- I was proud of my brother for, you know, going to the military and supporting his country. 9:00
GAYHEART: And what was your mom's mood? What-- what was her reactionwhen, when he enlisted?
LAWRENCE: Oh, my parents were very supportive because they feel likethe military is something that will only make a person better in life. You know? Something that looks good on a resume, you become more disciplined and structured and kind of teaches you how to grow up and be a man sometimes.
GAYHEART: Yeah. Did it do it-- did it do it for your brother?
LAWRENCE: Oh yeah, it did.
GAYHEART: And so you graduated and you came to UK and you walked on.Tell me what that experience was like.
LAWRENCE: (laughs) You know, it was so much fun but so much work. Um,you know, college football is a lot different than high school football. It was more like taking on a full time job my freshman year. And it was so hard to kind of catch up physically because you have guys who've been playing in the SEC for, you know, four years and they're just physically stronger, bigger and faster than you are. So it's a big 10:00shift going from the best person on a team to, you know, a freshman.
GAYHEART: Um-hm. And so you walked on. Did you sit on the sidelines?Did you walk-- did you-- did you get some playing time that season? Or--
LAWRENCE: Uh, well no, I red shirted my freshman year just to kind ofdevelop a little bit more as a player. But I did dress for one game and--
LAWRENCE:-- I think that was probably the most exciting day of my life.
GAYHEART: Really? And so after your-- after your sophomore year or afteryour freshman year and sophomore, what was, uh, what was the deal with football then? Did you just--
LAWRENCE: Well, after my freshman year I kind of-- kind of went througha depressing time because, you know, as a walk on there is no money for tuition, you know, anything like that. So I was having trouble staying in school financially. And so depression kind of set in because I felt 11:00like I wasn't gonna be in school anymore and the grades kind of went too. So after my freshman year I just became academic-- academically ineligible to, you know, continue athletics or even be in school at that point.
GAYHEART: So it was a lot different than high school.
GAYHEART: You said high school, you just had to wake up.
GAYHEART: Go to class. Go to practice. And it was completely different.
LAWRENCE: Yes it was. I mean your parents kind of manage everythingwhen you're in high school, the bills, you know, getting you to school, getting you to practice and so on and so forth. And when you come to college, you kind of have to man up a little bit and decide whether you're gonna go to class or not or if you're gonna put the effort in and make good grades.
GAYHEART: Um-hm. And was that the point where you turned to the ArmyReserve? 12:00
LAWRENCE: Well, it-- it kind of took me a while to consider the ArmyReserve, because after my freshman year I went back home to stay with my parents and I worked a lot of odd jobs. And I think that's where I really grew up and, you know, those string of events kind of led me to the Army Reserve.
LAWRENCE: Um, God, some people just don't know how much I went throughbefore I joined, 'cause after my freshman year I came back home and started to work for temp agencies working odd jobs--
LAWRENCE:-- just to try and save up money so I could go back to school,because my parents couldn't afford to send me themselves. So I started off-- what did I do? I-- I think for a little while I was a janitor. I worked in, uh, Tis and Krupp, it's a division of General Motors, making car parts. I worked for a company called Paris Packaging, making fast food boxes. And just odd jobs here and there, just to get 13:00me by. But during that whole process, you know, I-- it made me just realize the opportunity I had in that-- and the opportunity I wasted also. You know? College is one of those things now that you really need. And when you become a laborer, you start to really understand the importance of an education.
GAYHEART: You had a lot of self reflecting moments saying, "This is howit could be if I didn't--."
GAYHEART: Yeah. So you learned a lot through that process? You learnedresponsibility--
LAWRENCE: (laughs) Oh yeah.
GAYHEART:-- who you were, where you wanted to go. So I guess your nextnatural step was the military? Was that--
LAWRENCE: You know, it-- it was. It-- you know, it surprised my familybecause before then I had never mentioned it. You know, and even the 14:00last factory job I had, you know, making fast food boxes, it was a decent paying job. So they kind of figured I was gonna stay there, settle, save up money and go back to school. But, at the same time, I felt like I really wasn't going anywhere, as if, I-- you know, when I'm in college, you know, I feel like, "Hey, I'm progressing towards a career." And at that job I really didn't feel that way. So I was, like, "What's one way I can really advance my career?" So I sat down, you know, thought about it. And I was like, you know, the military, you know, isn't that bad. Uh, just gave some thought to it because I graduated from Hopkinsville High School, so it's right next to Fort Campbell.
LAWRENCE: So I'm used to seeing people in uniform. I was like, "Youknow, it might not be that bad to just join the military."
GAYHEART: And so when you walked into the recruiters office-- or didthey recruit you? How did it--
LAWRENCE: You know what, the-- me joining the Army was probably evenmore random. Because I was, like, okay, I just want to join the 15:00military. I feel like I'm physically tough enough to do anything. And I'm smart enough to join any branch. So I just so happened to go in there one evening after work and I was like, "Okay, the Air Force place is closed. (laughs) Not really into the Navy. The Marine guys are busy." So I just looked in the Army recruiting office and I walked in and sat down and talked to a recruiter.
GAYHEART: And so what did you-- what-- what'd you say to 'em?
LAWRENCE: I just-- I was very up front with 'em. I was like, "Hey, thisis something I really want to do. If you're honest with me, you will have my commitment to join the Army." So we sat down, talked it out and, you know, he was very honest, up front and, you know, he let me-- know what I was getting myself into.
GAYHEART: And did you lay everything out? Did you say, "I want A, B, C,16:00D and (Lawrence laughs)--,"or did they say, "This is what we can give you. Sorry kid, if you don't want it, go away."
LAWRENCE: No, they-- I-- I let them know what I wanted out of it and,you know, I just wasn't gonna let anybody tell me what I could and could not do when I knew I was very capable of anything. So when I talked to the recruiter, I was like, "Hey, this is the MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] or field I want. You know, are there any bonuses available? And just give me a-- a time table of when I'm leaving, when I'll be coming back and, you know, the possibilities of me going overseas." Just, you know.
GAYHEART: So it was a lot different than working at a-- you know,instead of working at a temp agency where they're saying, "This job's open. Go do it." (Lawrence laughs) You know, you come in and you pick your job and--
GAYHEART:-- and so at that point were you really excited?
LAWRENCE: Yes, I-- I was, you know, very excited. A little bit nervous,but, you know, really excited because I had that same feeling I had of 17:00being in college where, like, hey, my life is really going somewhere. You know? I picked a career that, you know, I want as of right now. And the Army is a field where I can progress, get promoted, and like I said, it always looks good on a resume.
GAYHEART: Yeah. And, uh, so what occupation did you choose?
LAWRENCE: I chose forty-two Alpha, which is human resources specialist.You know, just kind of handle all the paperwork of the Army, all the documentation and just if-- if it goes on paper, I handle it.
GAYHEART: How come you chose that occupation?
LAWRENCE: Well, I chose it-- I'm gonna be honest, you know, they gaveme a pretty good bonus because it was really needed at the time. And also, you know, some-- I know some people who want to join the fight. They want to do infantry, be a tanker. I felt like it was a perfect career to start off in because there's a lot of paperwork in the 18:00military. So I feel like if I understood the paperwork and how to get ahead, that'd really help me farther down in my career.
GAYHEART: Hmm, that's true. There is a lot of paperwork (both laugh).Um, so at that point you left, uh, the recruiters office, did you go home and say, "Mom, dad, you know, (Lawrence laughs) this is what I did." What happened?
LAWRENCE: You know, I kind of-- they weren't mad at me, but theywere kind of upset and shocked because, you know, me talking to the recruiter, you know, I mentioned it to my dad. But he didn't think I was serious. And I kind of kept it a secret until the day I was supposed to go to MEPS [Military Entrance Processing Command] and I just brought home a folder saying, "Hey, I just filled out some paperwork and I'm gonna go to the Army." And my stepmother was-- she was a little upset and my dad was kind of shocked and taken back. And, you know, we have a neighbor who's a Vietnam veteran and he just kind of-- he was proud, but his son was in Iraq too, so he was like, "Oh 19:00God, I'm-- we're sending another person on the streets of war."
GAYHEART: Yeah; and so at that point did you-- now was your brainswimming with, "I could go to this direction, I could go to Iraq, Af-- Afghanistan, anything could happen?" Or were you really focused on just being in the moment?
LAWRENCE: You know, being in the moment, you know, even though I wasjoining the Army, you know, I-- I think I was more focused on school still. You know? Even though I know there was that possibility of going overseas, you know, my main motivation was to help discipline myself, but also get money for college, the money that I would-- you know, was hard to come by my freshman year and through working for temp agencies. So I was still just focused on school, like, "Hey, I'm gonna join the Army. Gonna have this on the side. But I can also, you know, maintain-- or, you know, get my goal and get to go back to school." 20:00
GAYHEART: Yeah. And so was tuition a lot easier to pay?
LAWRENCE: (laughs) Oh yes. Tuition became a lot easier to pay afterI joined the Army. And, you know, I-- it wasn't as much of a hassle. You know? And I felt a lot better because I didn't have to ask for my-- you know, ask for money from my parents. And, I mean everybody kind of came out happy.
GAYHEART: And how were your grades after that?
LAWRENCE: Uh, well, my grades are good. They're still pretty good.I've made the Dean's list, you know, since I came back from Iraq.
GAYHEART: And-- so tell me about your boot camp experience (Lawrencelaughs) when you went to boot camp?
LAWRENCE: It was-- you know, I-- I felt like-- I just felt really lostat first. You know? If you're not used to the Army, you really don't know how to operate. You know, 'cause, you know, they load us up on a bus. Everybody's like really nervous, really scared, like, "Hey, 21:00are they gonna yell at us when we get off the bus?" You know, "Are we gonna have to start doing pushups day one? What's gonna happen?" So the mystery is what kind of scared everybody at first. And boot camp, uh, it was-- it was-- it was amazing. I learned a lot of stuff. But it was still hard at the same time.
GAYHEART: Now could you compare the training mentally and physically toany training for football?
LAWRENCE: No, there is-- the Army-- you know, I have a lot of respectfor football and how it, you know, the mental toughness it takes to be a football player. But to be a soldier takes so much more. You know, football is only wins and losses. But in the military it's all about saving lives or your life.
GAYHEART: And were you able or did you take any of that training from22:00football, from your high school program, your UK program and try to somehow utilize it in boot camp?
LAWRENCE: I did. Um, you know, the one thing that I picked up from bothfootball programs was a very strong work ethic. You know, whenever you-- whenever you're gonna decide to do something, give it 100 percent. Never go through the motions, never do enough to get by. And that's the mentality-- that's the mentality I had all through basic training.
GAYHEART: And so did you excel or stand out or get messed with (Lawrencelaughs) or--
LAWRENCE: You know I excelled all throughout basic training. I was myplatoon's, uh, platoon guide, which is basically a platoon sergeant in boot camp. You know, my peers liked me. My drill sergeants liked me. And you know, I led from the front, high PT scores. You know, rifle range I was pretty decent. So yeah, it-- it helped. 23:00
GAYHEART: And now you're taking these, you know, where you said youreally had a hard time and, you know, the college level football and you had red shirted for a (Lawrence laughs) year and-- and, you know, all that hard work. And then now you're a leader in boot camp, what was that-- you know, in the Army (Lawrence laughs)-- you're a leader of other men in the Army. What was that like?
LAWRENCE: You know, it was fun. It's-- it was a learning experience.And I think it was one of those things that, you know, in the beginning helped me to become a leader and see what it takes to lead other people and be successful. Because if I planed on-- if you plan on being successful in the real world, there are times when you have to lead people, you know, tell other people what to do. And I think that was the first stepping stone in helping me see what kind of leader I was myself in giving other people direction.
GAYHEART: Um-hm. You-- what time-- what time is it?24:00
GAYHEART: You mind coming in a little closer?
CAMERAMAN: Yeah. (coughs)
GAYHEART: Okay. Is that good? Good?
CAMERAMAN: Think so.
GAYHEART: You good?
CAMERAMAN: Yeah. I'm good.
GAYHEART: Alright. Um, so after boot camp you went on to--
LAWRENCE: AIT [Advanced Individual Training].
GAYHEART: And there you trained for HR. What was that-- HR specialists.What was that--
GAYHEART:-- was that like?
LAWRENCE: Uh, you know, not as fun as I thought it would be. You know,a lot of people have different stories about their AIT experience because that's your first taste of freedom once you got out of boot camp. You know, you get to have all those goodies that you couldn't have: sweets, you know, soda, stuff like that. And some people made it seem like a vacation. But my experience was probably a little bit harder than what I was told. You know? You go there to actually train and learn. I mean there were some fun times on the weekends. But for 25:00the most part, you go there to accomplish, you know, passing AIT and getting certified in whatever field you're being trained in.
GAYHEART: Um-hm. And from there did you go back to school, did you goback to UK?
LAWRENCE: Unfortunately, no. During AIT I had filled out all thepaperwork to be enrolled back into UK, but maybe three weeks after I had gotten home from AIT, the Reserve unit that I had been assigned to, they gave me a call and said, "Hey, uh, you have to take a trip to Birmingham." I was like, "Uh, what's going on in Birmingham." And, uh, they just told me they were probably gonna deploy me. So I had to put college on hold until-- until I figured out what was happening at Birmingham.
GAYHEART: So you went down to Birmingham--
LAWRENCE: And I went to the 81st Regional Readiness Command and, you26:00know, I started to figure out very quickly that everybody that was down there was pretty much going overseas. So I was, like, "Ah man, how do I break the news to my parents?" You know? And at the same time I'm wondering "Where am I even going, first off, and who am I going with?" So while I was down there, they kind of told me what to expect over the next couple of months. They let me know how long I was gonna be deployed and what unit I was assigned to.
GAYHEART: And what were you thinking? What were you thinking it wasgonna be like, even for-- (Lawrence laughs) even for, you know, for an HR, you know, non-infantry person? (Lawrence laughs) What-- what-- what were you thinking it was gonna be like?
LAWRENCE: Uh, I honestly thought I was probably gonna be assigned tosome company and do paperwork the whole time, kind of lounge and sit in an air conditioned office under a E7, E6 and just do whatever they told me to do.
GAYHEART: And was it like that?27:00
LAWRENCE: No, it was not.
GAYHEART: So when you guys (laughs) got over there, where did you gofirst?
LAWRENCE: Um, we got to Kuwait, stayed there for a couple of days justkind of waiting, the normal in-processing stuff. Then we went to the Victory Base Complex in Baghdad. And we met up with the-- the higher headquarters and some of the leaders and they let us know what our mission was gonna be. And we were doing post operations at FOB Kalsu Iraq. So the next day we caught a flight to FOB Kalsu and set up.
GAYHEART: When you were back in Birmingham (Cameraman coughs)-- whenyou were back in Birmingham and you found out that, you know, from the guy to your left or your right or somebody (Lawrence laughs) you were talking to that you guys were indeed going over to Iraq, what was your initial reaction? What-- what were you thinking?
LAWRENCE: You know, I kind of didn't want to believe it because, you28:00know, over the past year I had invested so much thought into going back to school that I was kind of, like, I was disappointed. But there was a tad bit of excitement, because, you know, going to war is one of those things that very few people get to experience, whether it's good or bad. It's one of those stories that no one can take away from you. And you know, it's-- it was a learning experience.
GAYHEART: And what was it like being-- having to put college on hold?You know, something that you (Lawrence laughs) wanted so bad?
LAWRENCE: I-- you know, I was-- I was very upset. I mean just, youknow, when people have dreams and goals, you-- we never like to see 'em get aside-- set aside for anything. But at the same time, I was serving a higher purpose other than myself, so I didn't mind too much.
GAYHEART: And so when you got over there, what was-- what was your task29:00in Iraq?
LAWRENCE: My task, uh, you know, when they started handing out jobs thefirst day, you know, everybody had a pretty cush job. You know? They just sorted mail or, you know, worked at the cash register. And they just told me, "Hey Lawrence, you're gonna be driving a fork lift." I was like, "Okay, what am I loading?" And they told me CH-47 Chinooks. I was like, "You mean the helicopters?" And they're like, "Yeah." So I was like, "God, I'm gonna be working around million dollar pieces of equipment." You know, something I've never done before.
GAYHEART: And what was that like?
LAWRENCE: You know, it was pretty hard. You know? One of those jobsthat didn't get much credit for, but it had to be done.
GAYHEART: And so your job-- and what base was this on?
LAWRENCE: FOB Kalsu.
GAYHEART: FOB Kalsu. And what was that base like? And was it a remoteone? Was it a-- 30:00
GAYHEART:-- larger one? Was it--
LAWRENCE: No, it was one of the smaller bases, you know, maybe eight--nine hundred people. Probably-- it's probably grown since then. But it was very small, out in a rural part of Iraq, farmland. You know, we didn't have a lot of the extras that the larger bases had. We didn't have fast food or, you know, a Green Bean, if you know what I mean. So it was pretty-- just, you know, off in the cut.
GAYHEART: And how long were you over there?
LAWRENCE: Nine months.
GAYHEART: Did you ever come across any situations where you had to beoutside of the FOB or--
LAWRENCE: No, there was-- I never got a chance to go outside of the FOB.I was pretty much on base the whole time.
GAYHEART: And did-- were you in contact with, uh, with-- with, you know,you hear any stories from guys or--
LAWRENCE: Yeah, I mean sometimes you don't know which ones are true andwhich ones are, you know, just tall tales. But, you know, there were 31:00a lot of infantry and MPs who went outside of the wire a lot. So every day there was some new story or something to tell. So I'd listen in and, I mean it sounded, you know, pretty fun. But--
GAYHEART: And what were you-- what would load onto those CH--
LAWRENCE: Uh, basically--
LAWRENCE:-- for the most part, mail. But there was also a lot ofequipment that the base had. So not only was I loading mail, I could be just anything the unit had. You know? If a unit was leaving, I might load their equipment, you know, rifles, luggage, so on and so forth, onto the planes and, you know, have it shipped out. And also the helicopters would drop off equipment for the base. It would be mail, artillery shells, uh, parts for the UAVs, the spy planes. So just if it had to go, I'd take it to the aircraft. And if it was coming in, I'd pick it up. 32:00
GAYHEART: And did you-- what did you know about the country and theweather and the-- the climate and (Lawrence laughs)-- and what did you know about it before you went over there?
LAWRENCE: You know, the same two things that everybody else said, it washot and dusty. You know? Other than that, I mean they-- they're pretty much right. Don't get me wrong. It was hot, for the most part, and not too much vegetation. Not too many clouds. And it was pretty bad during the summer and okay during the winter.
GAYHEART: Nine months is a long time.
GAYHEART: Yeah. Did, um, did you all-- did you all ever get mortared?
LAWRENCE: Yes we did get mortared. Kind of shocked me the first timebecause, you know, we all-- we always shot back at them. So I was used to hearing outgoing rounds. And the first time it happened, it kind of 33:00shocked me because I'd never heard anything blow up around me before.
GAYHEART: And-- and what was that like, you know, to--
GAYHEART:-- to not know where it's coming from or to know not where it'sgonna land?
LAWRENCE: (laughs) You know, I think that's the first time I reallythought about my life and, you know, being in danger. It-- it's one of those things that kind of, in all honesty I didn't expect. But after it happened, I was like, "Wow, I'm really in a war zone and somebody is really trying to take my life." So it kind of-- you know, it welcomed me to the seriousness of being overseas.
GAYHEART: So how long had you been there before you all were mortared?
LAWRENCE: Uh, I want to say about three months.
GAYHEART: So you were into this routine.
GAYHEART: And everything had been very smooth up until you were34:00mortared. What-- did any of your routines change?
LAWRENCE: (laughs) Uh--
GAYHEART: Were there-- you know, your mood and the way you approachedthings, did that change after that?
LAWRENCE: Well, I gotta say I was a little bit more, you know, vigilant.You know, I wasn't just, you know-- you know, I didn't just have my head in the clouds thinking, "Hey, as long as I stay on base I'm safe." You know, I was-- I just tried to stay aware of my surroundings and, you know, they'd have bunkers over there. So I'd make sure, you know, I was, you know, I knew where the nearest bunker was or an evacuation plan if I was in a building. So, you know.
GAYHEART: And did it happen very frequently after that?
LAWRENCE: Uh, wasn't frequent, but it did happen multiple timesafterwards, so.
GAYHEART: And what's going through your head when-- when you're gettingmortared?
LAWRENCE: (laughs) I mean, where is it gonna land? That's the only thing35:00you kind of think about until it's over with. Like, because they don't know where they're shooting and they don't know where it's gonna land. Just basically shots in the dark. So you know, knowing that, you just have to take cover and hope that it's not coming near you.
GAYHEART: Did it ever come near somebody? Anybody ever get hurt?
LAWRENCE: Not that I know of. You know?
GAYHEART: That's good. So that really woke you up that, "I'm in Iraq."And so you just continued to-- to do your job and-- and go throughout the day. LAWRENCE: Uh, yeah. And-- but, you know, through my deployment, my job kind of changed. So--
GAYHEART: Okay, so tell me about that.
LAWRENCE: Uh, well I was-- you know, a lot of military-- military peopleare familiar with KBR [Kellogg Brown Root], they're a contracting company for the Army. And maybe halfway through my deployment, you know, they came in, took over postal operations and a lot of the 36:00equipment that I was loading onto the helicopters and that was being unloaded was now being transported by truck. So I basically became obsolete. But also I found a new job in kind of being an overseer for the KBR personnel who took over the post-- the post office.
GAYHEART: Oh, so you were in another leadership position?
LAWRENCE: Yes I was. I was actually doing a E5's job, which is prettycool and a lot of my, you know, a lot of the junior enlisted, they were broken up and sent to other places. But, you know, I kind of stayed behind just in case, you know, any more helicopters came. But they also kind of figured out, like, "Hey, he's pretty smart, and, you know, he's kind of capable of, you know, doing this job." So they let me stay and, you know, it was me along with an E5, two E6s and a lieutenant. 37:00
GAYHEART: You know, a lot of the-- a lot of the focus with Iraq andAfghanistan is purely on the combat part.
GAYHEART: And I know you know that.
LAWRENCE: (laughs) Yes.
GAYHEART: And that's the first thing that somebody asks when you comeback, "Did you shoot anybody? Did you get (Lawrence laughs) shot at? Did you kill anybody?" But seldom do people think about the men and women that support and that get all the vital equipment and mail, something as simple as a-- a parcel that has a pair of socks in it. How did that make you feel to be that bloodline, to be that lifeline that supports so many of the-- of the men and women that might be on the frontlines?
LAWRENCE: Well, you know, it's-- the job I did was kind of taken forgranted at times by, you know, civilians or people who weren't familiar with the military. But for those who actually served, they knew the importance of my platoon's job and my job. And it kind of made me feel good to see a soldier get a package that he's been waiting on for two 38:00weeks, you know, full of photos, treats from home, just-- you know, we were a really big combat multiplier. And we made a lot of soldiers happy over there when they received mail.
GAYHEART: You know, in-- in my opinion, that's some-- at a certain point,you know, that package is more powerful than a bullet down range.
GAYHEART: Do you feel that way?
LAWRENCE: Yes, I-- I felt that way. Because the right-- the right boxcould erase a day of bad memories for any soldier.
GAYHEART: Did you guys kind of have a motto? I mean did you guys kindof have, like, a (Lawrence laughs)-- I mean is that-- that'd be a great motto.
LAWRENCE: Oh, you know what, we-- I mean it would be a great motto. Wenever had a motto. We just, you know, came to work every day, did our job and, hey, the soldiers were glad to have us there.
GAYHEART: Did-- did a lot of the soldiers know the importance or were39:00they complacent with their jobs or did some of 'em, you know, were they-- were-- were all the soldiers as proud as-- as you were to be handling that job?
LAWRENCE: Uh, you know, in a platoon you get a lot of differentpersonalities. Some were proud. Some are just kind of going through the motions like, "Hey I have to be here. Let's get it done and go home." And you know, some just kind of didn't want to be there, just-- you know, even though they had no other choice, they, you know, just didn't want to be overseas.
GAYHEART: What was different-- what was different for you? Why weren't--why were you-- you know, I'm not saying that all the soldiers were, but what was different about you to be able to be motivated every day?
LAWRENCE: (laughs) Um, acceptance. I knew I had to be over there. Iknew I wasn't going home. So I just kind of looked at it like this, if, you know, being depressed about it or sad about it isn't gonna make 40:00you go home any faster. Now if you learn how to have a good time and enjoy being where you're at and making it your second home, the time just kind of goes by.
GAYHEART: Uh-huh. Alright, we're gonna take a fifteen-- ten.
GAYHEART: We're gonna take about a ten minute break
[Pause in recording.]
CAMERAMAN: We are rolling again.
GAYHEART: Okay, so tell me about how the rest of your deployment wentin Iraq.
LAWRENCE: Well, you know, after starting out working eighteen hourshifts, loading Chinooks, you know, everything kind of-- you know, my workload got progressively easier. I stopped loading helicopters, you know, and started to help out the contractors. You know? Help out the, uh, senior enlisted and the officers in my unit doing paperwork while I was there. And the last month and a half of my deployment I was, 41:00uh, transferred to Baghdad and I was, uh, working with the, you know, headquarters that we were attached to. So it got progressively-- my workload got progressively easier when I-- well, before I left.
GAYHEART: And so you came back home and came back to Kentucky?
GAYHEART: And from there what'd you do?
LAWRENCE: I got back on track, um, and enrolled in school.
GAYHEART: And what was that like coming back to the university?
LAWRENCE: You know, it was-- it was different from a lot of standpoints.You know? It was better because I was able to finance my education. I had a car this time around, a cell phone, something I didn't have my freshman year. And the college experience got a lot better because I could, you know, take in more. Before-- like my freshman year, you 42:00know, I didn't have a car. Didn't have friends with cars. So I'd never-- I never really seen the city of Lexington. The only road I had been on was Nicholasville, and that was to go to Wal-Mart, twice. So I was able to kind of, you know, just enjoy the city of Lexington, enjoy college, you know, all the things I missed out on my freshman year.
GAYHEART: Um-hm, and did you notice any-- you know, you were active dutyfor nine months. And you got used to a certain mentality, a certain rhetoric, a certain--
GAYHEART:-- way of living, a routine. How was it different and didyou find any things in-- at-- in college or in class that made the transition harder, or in-- or in regular, everyday life?
LAWRENCE: You know, I gotta say the transition from active back to astudent, it was pretty easy for me, because when you go from basically 43:00a year of working with no time off, you know, college isn't so hard. You know? A lot of people, you know, kind of complain about going to a one hour class or studying for a couple hours. And to me, I kind of had the same mentality of there's a mission, you know, being homework, projects, anything, and it has to get done on time and in a good fashion. So whenever I had homework I got it done, made it to class because, you know, on the active side there is no missing meetings or missing training. So I was always on time for everything and pretty much did everything to a T.
GAYHEART: And so at what point did you join the ROTC at UK?
LAWRENCE: I joined this past semester. And you know, I've enjoyed itso far. And, you know, an officer-- being an officer was something that I started to consider after my deployment. Because we had some 44:00good leaders and then there were some leaders who just weren't carrying their own weight. So at that moment, you know, I realized that, you know, when you're a-- when you're a leader, you know, officer, non- commissioned officer, you influence a lot of people's lives and you have a lot of power over other people. And, you know, a good leader pushes, you know, junior enlisted in the right direction. And, you know, you're responsible for other people's lives and well being. And I just didn't like seeing, you know, leaders who didn't care. And I was like the only way you can-- the only way I can change this, you know, cycle is to become a leader myself.
GAYHEART: So a lot of-- a lot of things are different than-- since yourfreshman year.
GAYHEART: Do you still think about football?
LAWRENCE: Every day. There is not a day that, you know, goes by thatI don't think about getting back onto the field. And, you know, I'm-- I'm having fun just being a student and enjoying college. But I think about it every day. I tell my parents, you know, how much I think about football. But, you know, I do understand, you know, between 2005 and 2008 UK's program has gotten a lot better and they've recruited a lot better. So you know, I can't say, you know, I deserve to be down there, because, you know, the talent and bowl wins kind of speak for themselves. So I let the professionals handle it.
GAYHEART: (laughs) And-- let me see. So what was your overall opinionand mood like, uh, about your deployment? 46:00
LAWRENCE: Well, huh--
GAYHEART: You know, good, bad, great.
LAWRENCE: Well there were good moments, bad moments, you know, time inbetween. But after it's all said and done, I-- I gotta say the-- it's probably the greatest memory I'll ever have, you know? And, you know, unless I go back again (laughs) and, which I'm pretty sure there's that chance that it may happen. But that being my first time, it's-- it's-- I hold it, you know, it's very close to my heart.
GAYHEART: Were you proud of that time?
LAWRENCE: Yes, I-- I was very proud. You know, just becoming oneof those people who can say they've really done something for their country. You know, a lot of people, you know, I applaud them for doing community service, you know, and helping people. But I think-- I think 47:00fighting terrorism is the ultimate community service, because you're helping two countries that-- the Iraqi people and you're protecting the-- protecting our nation.
GAYHEART: And, you know how-- how-- how was your mood? How was thatattitude? And you're probably a different person than when (Lawrence laughs) you were a freshman, so--
GAYHEART:-- um, do you think you would have had that mentality as afreshman, that, you know, ultimate community service is--
GAYHEART:-- fighting terrorism?
LAWRENCE:-- no, I-- you know, when I was a freshman, my mind wasn'tprocessing too much besides football, school and parties. And after the deployment and all the things that I went through, I finally grew up and was able to just kind of bring it all together and to decide what's important and, you know. 48:00
GAYHEART: Do you find that your peers in class, your attitude now is alot different than theirs?
LAWRENCE: Yes, they-- you know, the people who were here when I wasa freshman, you know, when they see me, you know, after I came back, they knew my persona changed, my way of thinking changes. You know, I gained a lot of respect for it. They were just kind of like, "Wow, this guy has been through some things." So everybody listened to what I had to say and just, they knew that I'd become a different person, a-- a better person.
GAYHEART: And do you think a lot of that-- those experiences have--have, uh, you know, improved your life? Improved your academics? Improved your (Lawrence laughs) family life? Or, you know, the-- from the military, boot camp, the deployment? Has it all been positive 49:00experiences or have-- have there been some dips that--
GAYHEART:-- have kind of been--
LAWRENCE:-- you know, I-- I have to say, and I'm very honest, no dips.It's-- everything has been positive.
LAWRENCE: You know, I'm looked at as a leader in my family because, youknow, I've kind of risen through the ranks. My grades have been a lot better since, you know, since I came back. And you know-- you know, everybody has kind of-- you-- they-- everybody knows I've become a better person and, you know, I'm something to be admired in my family now. Like, "Hey, that's Brandon. He's a veteran. He's been through boot camp. Now he's back in school. He makes good grades." So I've kind of went from being a average person in my family to someone that the younger children kind of look up to.
GAYHEART: What about your older brother? (Lawrence laughs) What doeshe say?
LAWRENCE: You know, he's proud of me. He-- you know, that's my bestfriend in the whole world. You know? And he-- he's proud of me. You 50:00know, whenever we talk about it, he just-- you know, you'd almost think he's been overseas, you know, because he's that proud of what his brother's done, so.
GAYHEART: Is he in college right now?
LAWRENCE: No, he's not. He's working a pretty good job. You know, hehad his first child a couple months ago. You know, Madison Lawrence. And, you know, he's just enjoying life right now. So. He has no complaints.
GAYHEART: That's good stuff. And, um, you know, while you wereoverseas, did you keep in touch with your family?
LAWRENCE: Yes I did. I mean sometimes it was harder than others. But,you know, I tried to talk to my family at least once, twice a week, if-- whether it was by e-mail or phone call.
GAYHEART: What were those e-mails and phone calls like?
GAYHEART: Just a recap of the week? Or--
LAWRENCE: (laughs) Yeah, just a--
GAYHEART:-- were you--
LAWRENCE:-- recap of my week, their week, the stuff I was missing. Youknow? You know, I'm-- I'm into television like any other person. So 51:00they kept me informed about sports, TV, just those little things that I missed out on while I was gone.
GAYHEART: And, uh, so now you're-- what are you, a sophomore? Senior?
GAYHEART: Junior. And, uh, what are you looking forward to doing afteryou graduate?
LAWRENCE: Uh, since my experience with the military has been so good,I-- I plan on going active duty as an officer. You know, I want to make a career out of this because, you know, the past-- the past three years I've-- I've kind of, you know, fallen in love with the Army. You know? I'm working towards a greater good and it's a job where there's a lot of camaraderie. And every day is different. You know? It's not like I'd go into some office after college and do the same thing every day. I have to say there's-- there's not one day in the Army that's 52:00been the same for me.
GAYHEART: How do you think you're different than the typical collegestudent?
LAWRENCE: Uh, a little bit more mature. Having gone through so manythings I don't take life for granted like so many college students do. You know, some college students complain about the-- the smallest things. But they don't know how it feels to be in a place that, you know, it only rains five times a year or not seeing grass ever. So, like, a lot of college students take things for granted and whereas I just kind of I'm grateful for everything that I have. You know? Being an American citizen and just, you know, the life that we live. 53:00
GAYHEART: Are there any-- have there been any times where you've sat inclass or sat in a group and been annoyed, been upset?
LAWRENCE: About just?
GAYHEART: That complacency, that-- what you just talked about?
LAWRENCE: Uh, yeah. There are some times where, you know, my friendstalk about, you know, just discuss different topics. And I'm like, "Oh my God, it's not that serious." You know? You go outside, some people are like, "Oh my God, it's too hot." I was like, "You really don't know what hot is." Or, you know, "It's raining too much." And I was like, "You should be lucky we have it." And, you know, me, I'm a picky-- I can be a picky eater, but I'll eat anything. And just to see people throw away or complain about food when, you know, there are veterans overseas who just have to eat what they're given, you know, I-- I mean 54:00those little things just kind of annoy me when people talk about it.
GAYHEART: Do you speak your mind? Or do you just--
LAWRENCE: No, because you-- you-- you can't make people understandthe experience of going overseas. It's one of those things where you either go and understand, or you just don't understand at all.
GAYHEART: Do you think the University of Kentucky has done things thathave made your transition easier? Or have-- have done things that being a veteran, have improved your experience?
LAWRENCE: Um, in all honesty I don't-- I don't think so. You know, whenI came back it was just like being a regular student. You know, until I found out--
GAYHEART: What year did you come back?
GAYHEART: 2008, okay.
LAWRENCE: You know, until the formation of the, you know, the studentveterans association, there wasn't too much being done for veterans. You know? So I can't say that, you know, UK was a big help in helping 55:00me transition into being a college student again.
GAYHEART: And what was that experience like coming back? Was itoverwhelming to be able to fill out all that paperwork (Lawrence laughs) and go through all those bureaucratic strings?
LAWRENCE: Yes it was. It-- I-- I gotta say, you know, being a studentwas the easy part. But it was kind of, that transition of, you know, re-enrolling, buying books and just getting back on, you know, a student's schedule.
GAYHEART: And if you were a new student or a-- currently enrolling now,how do you think your experience would be different?
LAWRENCE: Oh, after have-- having been through--
GAYHEART: Well, with-- with the resources that are there now, and withthe attention on veterans at UK, how do you think it would be different now? Do you think it wouldn't be as cumbersome and-- 56:00
LAWRENCE: You know, it-- I think it's a lot better now, 'cause eachyear I see the university takes steps, you know-- you know, toward making the transition easier for veterans. You know? My-- the VA representative is very helpful. You know? And now there's kind of like a veterans support system where we kind of help each other out and we kind of network and connect with each other to make being at school a little bit easier.
GAYHEART: I know we were on the football field together and it wasthe first time during the military appreciation game that UK actually acknowledged student veterans. How did that make you feel when--
LAWRENCE: It-- it made me feel really good, because you know, let's behonest. You know, sometimes you want to get recognition for, you know, going overseas and doing some-- you know, doing something like that for your country. And it was-- it just felt good to be recognized and, 57:00you know, the university letting us know that, "Hey, we do support you guys." And, you know, "We're-- we have your backs."
GAYHEART: And do you feel that you're a more engaged student than thetraditional student? That--
GAYHEART:-- you're able to put on the blinders and--
LAWRENCE: Yes. You know, I-- I know what's important to me. You know,that's what I'm here for. I'm not saying I don't have fun, you know, I don't socialize. But at the end of the day I know I'm here to get an education. That's the mission, and I'm gonna accomplish it.
GAYHEART: And what are your goals, short term, long term?
LAWRENCE: Um, short term goals are just to, you know, graduate andmake sure I do it in a good fashion. You know, long term goals are basically what every American wants, you know, stable life, you know, 58:00a wife, kids, you know, maybe a good duty station once I graduate. Um, you know, I don't need very much. I just basically need, you know, happiness and, you know, a family.
GAYHEART: Are you proud of your service as a-- as a whole?
LAWRENCE: Yes, I'm proud of my service. Like I said, most people willenter and leave this world not having done much with their lives. And I feel like at the, you know, young age of 23 I've already done so much and I still feel like there's a lot left to do.
GAYHEART: Well, I don't have any more questions for (Lawrence laughs)you. So if, uh, you don't have anything, I really appreciate you sitting down and sharing your story with us.
[End of interview.]