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Firefighter returns to civilian life after year-long Iraq deployment

After a year in Iraq, 1st Lt. Robert Bryant is glad to be back to his day job: A firefighter with South King Fire and Rescue. He is pictured above before his deployment in summer 2008. - File photo
After a year in Iraq, 1st Lt. Robert Bryant is glad to be back to his day job: A firefighter with South King Fire and Rescue. He is pictured above before his deployment in summer 2008.
— image credit: File photo

After a year in Iraq, 1st Lt. Robert Bryant is glad to be back to his day job: A firefighter with South King Fire and Rescue.

Bryant, who has been in the military for 13 years, left for Iraq in August 2008, returning to the U.S. in July. After a long vacation with his wife, Monika and daughter, Bailey, he returned to the fire service Sept. 23.

"It's a little different," Bryant said of his two jobs. "It's a different role over there."

For Bryant, the hardest thing was being away from his family, something he hadn't experienced before. Bryant joined the Army in 1992 at age 19, and was sent to Bahrain and Kuwait. After retiring from active duty in 1997, he moved back to Washington. He began a career as a firefighter in 2002, then married Monika in 2003. That same year, he enlisted in the Army National Guard. With the Guard, he trains two weeks a year and one weekend per month. Then he got word that he would be sent for a yearlong deployment to Iraq, his longest thus far.

"Being away from from family, from loved ones was hard," Bryant said. "I was very fortunate I was able to talk to them once day."

Bryant was based in Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, delivering supplies to fellow soldiers.

Returning to the fire department has been pretty easy, he said. He went through a seven-day training session to get caught back up, and of course, met the new firefighters.

The department, Bryant said, deserves a big thanks for its support.

"In my time away from my family, the fire department really stepped up," Bryant said. "They supported my family — that really alleviated a lot of stress."

SKFR has received recognition from the Army for its support of firefighters who are also soldiers. The fire commissioners previously voted to supplement the gap in pay of a soldier and a firefighter.

Firefighters are often paid more than a reserve or Army National Guardsman. The department has chosen to pay the firefighter the difference so that families do not have to deal with a pay cut while their loved one is away.

This pay can also include time immediately following a soldier's return for "decompression time," although this is on a case-by-case basis that goes before the board of commissioners.

During military activations, employees also keep the district's medical and dental programs, which is done specifically for the spouse and children, according to the department's policy.

SKFR also holds employment for any firefighter pulled away from the job by military deployment.

Another point of pride for Bryant — all his men came home.

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