PENDLETON - It was April in Baghdad. Sgt. 1st Class Miles Agee's bags were packed and loaded on the truck. It was time for his platoon to head home after a year of intense military action.
But it didn't happen.
Agee, who calls Pendleton home, was planning a 30-day vacation with his 7-year-old son, Campbell. He was eager.
But Agee, who has been in the Army for almost 18 years, knows that the Yogi Berraism "It's not over 'til it's over" is the absolute truth.
To the south, fighters began what would be called the April Uprising. The Mahdi Army seized bridges, police stations and municipal buildings. Suddenly Agee and his platoon weren't going home. Agee was heading south again, but not to Tennessee to pick up his son.
"We were assigned to curtail the uprising in southern Iraq," he said.
Agee finally made it home earlier this month. After decompressing and undergoing medical testing at Fort Polk, La., he headed for Chattanooga, Tenn., to pick up his son and fly to Pendleton.
The two are now visiting with Agee's mother and stepfather, Jan and Robert Brindle. Agee is also spending time with his girlfriend, Dana Benson, visiting friends and thanking those who kept in touch with him while he was at war.
He doesn't complain about the summer heat of Eastern Oregon.
"It's hot there," he said. "They really don't have four seasons there. The coldest it ever got at night might have been 30-35. In the winter months it's usually around the 40s. It begins to heat up again in the April-May time frame."
Agee said that the dry heat averages around 130 to 140 degrees right now. The wind makes the heat even worse.
"The wind starts blowing around the end of July and the first part of August," he said. "It feels like a blast furnace."
It was in that furnace that Agee led his 18-man platoon through the streets of Baghdad on scouting missions and raids based on intelligence gathered by the military.
"We planned and conducted raids," he said of his mission.
The soldiers were charged with capturing members of various opposition militant organizations and "grabbing" intelligence from them. When the April Uprising hit, his platoon moved south and performed similar raids, as well as search missions and combat operations.
During his 15 months in Iraq, one member of Agee's platoon was killed and 13 were injured, leaving only Agee and three others physically unscathed.
"He told me he thought he must have an angel on his shoulder," his mother said.
Although the 1982 Pendleton High School graduate had seen some minor skirmishes in Haiti during his military service, Iraq was the most intense. He said it changed his way of thinking.
"You have a sense of thinking you're 10-feet tall and bulletproof," he said. "We're all human. I've seen grown men cry. I've seen people freeze up. We had a lot of training, and I think the training did take over. We just did the best we could, and there's no shame in freezing up, and no shame in crying."
He said that the soldiers depended on each other, treating each other as family. He and his troops usually lived in bombed-out buildings, more often than not with no electricity.
"When we first got there, there was mortar fire about three times a night," he recalled. "We'd just go sit in the building and wait for the mortar rounds to stop."
Agee offered some advice to other soldiers bound for Iraq or Afghanistan.
"If you have differences within the unit, you might as well throw them out the window," he said. "You only have the people to your right and left, back and front. If you don't work together, you're going to have some problems. If you don't throw your differences out the window, you're going to have a rough time of it."
Agee said he couldn't have made it through without the support of his girlfriend and family. He got a letter about every two weeks from Benson, and he said he read and re-read them until the next mail came. He also appreciated the support he got from the community.
The Gatorade jug sent to him from The Hut restaurant and Pepsi was a better water container than Agee's Army-issued one, since it was smaller and fit into the Humvee better. It is still in use in Iraq.
The batting gloves he received from Dean's Sporting Goods were essential to Agee as well. He said that the heat made it nearly impossible to hold a rifle. The gloves were thin enough for him to feel what he was doing, and excellent insulation from the rifle's hot metal.
He also enjoyed fly fishing magazines donated by Blue Mountain Anglers, and said that when those arrived his fellow soldiers were eager to borrow them.
Agee, who was born in Heppner but raised in Pendleton, said that he treasured the community support.
"Pendleton is a little piece of heaven," he said. "We have our own little problems, but if I had my own way, this is where I'd want to live and raise kids."
Agee is now deciding whether he wants to retire from the Army or take a job as an instructor in Ft. Knox, Ky. Because he wants to be close to Campbell, it seems that the role of instructor is the most likely direction he will take.
"I'm already instructor-certified," he said. ""It would be a chance to teach what I know."