By Britne Reeves
CANTON—Who knew that Canton was home to one of the soldiers that helped capture Saddam Hussein? Sgt. 1st Class Brock Blanton, 32, currently resides in Canton and serves as a recruiter for the Texas Army National Guard.
Blanton left Canton straight out of high school to enlist in the Army. Shortly after entering the military, the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. That event threw Blanton and many others into a whole new world of opportunity and warfare. Blanton, dressed in his army fatigues, recalled his experiences and thoughts during his deployment in an interview Sept. 30.
Blanton is both physically and vocally assertive. He stands above six feet tall and has a deep resonating voice. Blanton described himself as a “talker,” and that works well in his field.
Blanton is a 2000 graduate of Canton High. He was recruited and sent to basic training in Fort Knox, Ky., two weeks after graduation. Blanton described his training as rigorous, especially the 10 kilometer run with three hills named, “misery, heartbreak and agony.” After completing basic training, Blanton then went to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., to specialize in the operation of tanks.
In 2003, Blanton was sent to Kuwait as a gunner on the M1A1 tank. “I was a part of the First brigade, fourth infantry division and we pushed north into Iraq when we first arrived. It was a shock-and-awe type of situation. I was a gunner in a tank, and they are RPG (rocket propelled-grenade) magnets. Thirteen RPGs hit our tank and one even came very close to my helmet,” Blanton said. “At one time, we were in Tikrit looking for a military weapon depot. There were 200 acres of bunkers that we were searching out. It ended up being empty, as it had already been looted. That was a big part of our presence over there, was to enforce crowd control and reduce looting.”
Blanton described the hardships faced in the middle of the desert. “Not only are you fighting in the war but you also combat the heat,” he said. “In the middle of the day it was approximately 124 degrees and it would drop down to 103 degrees at night. It is pretty tough in those types of conditions. Not only did we battle heat, but eating MREs (meals ready to eat) constantly is really tough. When we did traffic control points, we would trade with the villagers for fresh produce. We also bought goats to butcher and also bought falafel. I remember eating a fresh tomato and thinking it was the best thing ever. I ate a lot of tomatoes when I was deployed.”
Blanton said the irony that was evident when forces came to a city. “There were many uniforms lying on the ground that were seen outside of the cities,” he said. “When we pulled up to a gate of a city, on the side you would see piles and piles of Republic Guard uniforms.”
The Republic Guard was a branch of the Iraqi military from 1969 to 2003 that were primarily under the presidency of Saddam Hussein. “We were in guerrilla warfare situation. People would wave to us from their homes. The people that we traded with at the traffic stops and that would wave at us could be the same people who were fighting against us at night,” Blanton said.
Blanton experienced first hand the capture of Hussein. “We received intel that Saddam was holed-up in a farmhouse. There were 12 of us that searched the structures and we found nothing. It looked abandoned. Dec. 13, 2003, we received intel about this same location. This time, our intel was spot-on and we knew that we had finally found him. About 200 to 300 soldiers surrounded the structure and we found Saddam. A rug had been placed over a door to the area where he was hiding. There was no chance that he was going to slip through. We circled around the target and he was captured. A Black Hawk helicopter came and picked him up and they left. I think there was a definite feeling of relief. Our soul-purpose of being over there was to find Saddam Hussein.” Blanton said.
Blanton returned home in April 2004. He said he has no wish to go back overseas. “I have eight years until I retire,” Blanton said. “When I retire, I will have served my country for 20 years.”
Blanton now serves as a Texas Army National Guard recruiter and has been doing so for seven years. He visits two to three high schools a day to promote the Texas Army National Guard. “When I was recruited right out of Canton High School, that was the only recruiter I ever saw during that time,” he said. “I want to let people know that college can be free if you sign up. Someone can leave a small town, get paid to be in an active military branch, have their entire college career paid for and benefit in so many ways. It is a great opportunity and I will carry what I have learned from my time in service throughout my life.”
Blanton currently resides in Canton with his wife and three children.