Doug Barnett is a long-time Hot Spring County resident, a hard-working employee with the Malvern Post Office, and a decorated U.S. Army veteran of the Iraq War.

He served both his country and the citizens of other nations with dignity, compassion, strength and moral fortitude during his time in the military. And the difference this small-town hero is currently making for fighters in Ukraine, along with another fellow postal employee and Army vet, is almost unbelievable.

Barnett’s military career began when he enlisted in the United States Army before finishing high school in 1987. After his high school graduation, several weeks in Army boot camp and a stint in military tech school, Barnett began a crucial role as a helicopter crew chief.

“My first tour was overseas in Germany, and that was in ’88 through ’90,” Barnett said. “I was in Germany when the Cold War ended, when the Berlin Wall came down.”

By the time Desert Storm got underway in January 1991, Barnett and his unit were back stateside, doing desert training out in California in the Mohave Desert. Barnett thought for sure he would be deployed to help in the Gulf War effort, but the skirmish ended with the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait just a few weeks later, and his unit avoided the conflict.

Barnett took early leave from the Army after the Gulf War and worked for a little while as an aircraft mechanic, but he couldn’t seem to build a stable and lucrative career from that line of work in the civilian world. He resided in Colorado, drove a tow truck and worked other odd jobs for a while, before he switched gears and began a career with the U.S. Postal Service.

Barnett got an opportunity to transfer to the post office in Malvern and came back to Hot Spring County in the mid- ‘90s. He was back home, had a nice life and a steady job, but a greater purpose was calling him.

“I was living alone, carrying the mail, had a good career, had a good job, plenty of money, and started thinking to myself, ‘I gotta do something more with life’, you know, I’m carrying mail, watching NASCAR, there’s gotta be something more,” Barnett said. “My mind started going back to the military, and so I decided to join the Army Reserves.”

Barnett’s Reserve unit was assigned to do humanitarian relief missions to Central America and the Caribbean, as part of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). He had just completed the requisite training to function in Civil Affairs Special Ops and was eagerly awaiting his first humanitarian effort when 9/11 happened. His unit was diverted and wound up being attached to the illustrious 101st Airborne Division and sent overseas to serve in the Iraq War in 2003.

All but one of the elite Civil Affairs Special Ops battalions are comprised of reservists, because their civilian status helped them relate to, and effectively mediate with, the general public.

“And that’s by design, because your job is to liaison between the military and the civilian population,” Barnett said.

These small units are divided into two types of teams: Civil Affairs Team Alpha (CAT A), and Civil Affairs Team Bravo (CAT B).

CAT A teams are general servicemen, and CAT B team members specialize in things like agriculture, transportation, medical services, electricity, water systems, and other critical aspects to getting a war-torn country up and running smoothly again.

Barnett had moved quickly up the ranks after joining the Reserves, and he was a sergeant assigned to one of the CAT B teams when he touched down in Kuwait. But before he could set off on his anticipated duties, military officials with his parent division approached his commander and asked for special assistance.

“The 101st approached our commander and said, ‘We’re sending out an advance party, and we need a Civil Affairs Team to go with us,” Barnett said. “They had to assemble in like 10 minutes, a CAT A team--so get your stuff, you’re leaving in like 30 minutes.”

The handpicked team was part of a ground assault convoy (GAC) that made its way from Kuwait to Bagdad over the course of several days. Barnett’s CAT A team was made up of reservists from Little Rock and Texas, split into two teams of four, driving separate Humvees as part of the long convoy.

Barnett was assigned to be the CAT A team captain’s driver and radio guy in one of the convoy vehicles. Barnett got behind the wheel and started driving about 9:30 one morning and didn’t stop except to refuel for over 48 hours.

“The last time I can remember looking at my watch, it was about 10 o’clock [a.m.] the third day,” Barnett said. “And the next thing I can remember is, I woke up in the back of that Hummer and I thought, ‘well I don’t know how I got back there.’ ”

Barnett’s team traveled from Kuwait to Najaf, where they stayed for a couple of weeks to operate with Delta Force members, then from there on to Mosul, which was a similar three-day trek. His team was stationed with a unit about an hour outside of Mosul in a small town along the Euphrates River called Qayyarah, which means “tar pit” in English.

“That’s where we spent the rest of the tour,” Barnett said. His full tour of duty in Iraq lasted 355 days. His team were housed in a hooch inside an old oil refinery. While other teams were being rotated out often to recoup, retreating to actual hotel rooms or proper military quarters, Barnett’s team was left out in the field the entire time.

“We were reservists. I was a mailman, the captain was a mailman, and one guy was a house painter, one guy was a security guard,” Barnett said. “We’re out here with these active-duty, career infantry guys, and they rotated every two weeks,” Barnett said. It makes little sense from the outside looking in, and it made even less to the men living it, but Barnett and his team would diligently perform their duties and help facilitate rebuilding and reorganizing between the foreign military officials and the native community.

Civil Affairs is an important aspect of a conflict, because these individuals help restore essential services and governmental operations. They help bring stability and development back to areas ill-affected by military conflicts, and they help bridge the gap between the soldier and the citizen.

Barnett’s daily duties included a morning radio check without fail, but other duties would vary often. The CAT A team would meet with locals one day every week to hear and attempt to resolve any concerns or complaints they might have. The rest of the time, they did whatever needed to be done.

“Whatever the line unit, the infantry guys needed of us, we just did it,” Barnett said. “There’s no handbook for that, you just, ‘what do you need?’ “

Barnett’s team set up tents, planned for meetings and events, performed area assessments, and roamed the region doing odd assignments. His role in Civil Affairs gave him an advantage in the community because his unit was known as more of the public relations leg of the operation, as opposed to being armed infantry soldiers.

Relations between Barnett’s team and the civilian Iraqi population varied from town to town, just like the social, political and religious views of the people in the war-torn country would vary greatly between areas.

“It depends on which village you’re in,” he said. “Some kids will just run up to you, want to hug you and see if you got candy and bring you a flower, and then you go 30 minutes down the road, and they’ll start throwing rocks at you.”

The overall reception Barnett’s team was given in an area would often hinge on its religious leadership, as Barnett explained there was no separation of church and state, and the religious leaders in an area were most often the collective voice for that community.

“Generally, it was pretty positive, there wasn’t a whole lot of that negative stuff, because we weren’t killing people, you know, and the word got around, and they could recognize us too,” Barnett said.

“Our reserve unit was Special Ops, so in preparation for the Operation Iraqi Freedom, our vehicles had been repainted. They weren’t green, they had been repainted desert color,” Barnett said. “And that meant something because we were the only two Hummers in the area that weren’t green. And so, they recognized that.”

Where other members of the 101st might be met with fear, anger or suspicion, Barnett’s team would come to be known as helpful, nonthreatening facilitators of mundane but essential operations. That distinction might be what kept him safe throughout his 355-day stint in Iraq.

“Mostly, it was pretty positive,” Barnett said. Still, the rigors of the war would wear on all of them, to one degree or another. One member of Barnett’s team had an especially hard time coping and was sent briefly to a medical facility in Germany and then reassigned to other duties.

 But Barnett knows he and his fellow servicemen were luckier than many, because they all came back in one piece and essentially unscathed. “It was a weird situation, but all these stories have a good ending, because we all made it. None of us got hurt very bad,” he said. “We almost did, I mean, it was really, really close a couple of times, I was about two seconds from being exploded.”

Barnett’s team was doing a joint mission with a USSCOM PSYOPS team, and he was busy driving the second Hummer in line when something he took to be a landmine exploded, and the vehicle in front of him seemed to vaporize right before his eyes.

“My windshield cracked, stuff flew by my head, and the noise, the volume of the noise, you cannot describe it, your ears don’t even register it, the body just vibrates,” Barnett said.

After the dust settled and he saw that the vehicle in front of him was still intact, Barnett and the other servicemen realized that a rogue artillery shell burning in a trash pile by the side of the road had exploded right as the first vehicle passed the mound. He said that sort of thing happened too often—to the point where it almost became commonplace.

“I started having a checklist in my head. Something would blow and I’d start thinking to myself, ‘alright, can I see? Yeah. Can I hear? Maybe in a minute. Is my arm still here, is my other arm here, are my legs here,” he said. “Then after you go through your list, you start checking everybody, your other guys around you, and it just happens over and over and over.”

He came back in one piece, but no one can go to a war and come back without residual effects. Barnett has been diagnosed with PTSD and said he has trouble sleeping at night and sitting still with his thoughts now, which unfortunately keeps him from enjoying his favorite pastime.

“Probably the biggest life change that I struggle with, besides the sleeping at night, is hunting, because I grew up in the deer woods and I’ve hunted deer growing up, my whole life,” Barnett said. “I can’t hardly do it anymore, and it doesn’t have anything to do with guns or blood or shooting or killing, it’s the sitting, and the still. I can’t hardly do it, because that’s where things start coming back that I don’t want to come back.”

Barnett served with grace and dignity and came back home to Malvern after his tour of duty was over. He brought back a lifetime of memories, dozens of photographs depicting a beautiful country and its people, and the knowledge that he did his very best to bring structure and stability to the people of Iraq.

Barnett lives in the local area with his loving wife, Beth, and their son. He continued his service at the Malvern Post Office shortly after returning from Iraq. He is currently raising money for soldiers fighting on the front lines in Ukraine with his co-worker and fellow Army veteran, Jonathan Montgomery.

Monty and Barnett have raised over $25,000 to date by selling specially created Challenge Coins on Twitter,  and they are poised to raise a lot more over the coming days. Talk about a greater purpose—Barnett can check that one off his list, as well.

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