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A city of a thousand water bottles and purple fingers

2004 NKHS graduate Bobby Thompson (center) ends his service after three years in the U.S. Army. - Kelly Joines/Staff Photo
2004 NKHS graduate Bobby Thompson (center) ends his service after three years in the U.S. Army.
— image credit: Kelly Joines/Staff Photo

t NK grad’s parents discuss his time at war.

POULSBO — It’s 140 degrees in the middle of Tal Afar, Iraq.

A hand-held video camera pans out, capturing the heat waves rising off the thousand plastic water bottles, strewn over the ground.

Army Spc. Bobby Thompson, with the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, turns the video camera back to his face.

Sweat pours down his head and neck into his 30 pounds of flack jacket, desert-camoflauged combat uniform and desert gear.

“This is the first (worst) place on earth,” he said.

Thompson, 21, a 2004 North Kitsap High graduate, was the former captain of the NKHS football team, making All Narrows League and All West Sound as a linebacker. He returned to the United States in March after serving almost two years in Iraq.

His dad, Bill Thompson, who teaches ninth grade science at NKHS, shakes his head remembering the video.

“I used to be signed up for the Google alerts to anything about the 504, the 325th and the 82nd but I got so depressed,” he said. “I would post them on my window but my whole window was filled up after one month. I just had to turn it off.”

After high school graduation Bobby enlisted in the U.S. Army, completed basic training, advanced combat training and later Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga.

“He’s come a long ways from those days. You wouldn’t even recognize him now, he is so different,” Bill said.

During his first deployment in Tal Afar, a small city near the Syrian border and the city of Mosul, it was the mission of Bobby’s Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion to retake the city and seal the entry point between Syria and Iraq, Bill said. “Tal Afar was a lawless city under complete control by insurgents.”

To take control, combat groups were dispatched to small outposts throughout the city. Their goals: uproot insurgents and build relationships with the locals. The relationships proved critical for gaining information about the insurgents. But it took some time to build up the trust.

“For the first six months it was awful. There was no hot food or running water. They had nothing,” said Bobby’s mom, Kathy Thompson, who stayed in touch via a satellite phone. “They were shot at every day.”

These efforts enabled the first elections to take place in Iraq.

“Bobby was able to witness first-hand,” Bill said. “His fondest memories were the purple fingers displayed by the proud citizens who participated in the election.”

After six months, Bobby returned home for Christmas in 2006. However, the violence was only increasing in Baghdad. Army high command requested additional troops and on Jan. 1, 2007, Bobby was deployed again. This time, it was destination Baghdad.

The same strategy used in Tal Afar was implemented in Baghdad.

Bobby was appointed weapons squad leader and aided in opening the first two combat outposts, “Callahan,” located in Baghdad’s Sunni-controlled Adhamiya district, and “Ford,” near the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City.

“Both of these outposts were named in honor of fallen comrades,” Bill said.

In cooperation with the Iraqi Army, Bobby’s weapons squad also aided in forming the first Joint Security Service outpost in Sadr City.

“The first time he came home he was a mess — quiet, withdrawn,” Kathy said. “But he told me he quit being afraid to die when he went back the second time. He knew more of what to expect but it wasn’t that he liked it any better.”

From captain of the football team to weapons squad leader, Bobby gained respect and admiration through his service, including from those back home who signed a welcome home poster from NKHS.

“I know he’s a good guy and did an unbelievable job,” Bill said.

Although it was nerve-wracking waking up every morning with their son in Iraq, Kathy said she knew he would be safe.

“I told Bobby he was born lucky,” she said. “That’s what the doctors told me when he was born face up. He was always at the right place at the right time and never got hurt.”

As parents of a military son, they said they were often asked their opinion on the war.

“We were asked if we believe in the war but it’s not a matter of belief,” Bill said. “As a parent it doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong. It’s just come home safe.”

After serving three years in the Army, Bobby ends his service in May. He will continue his education at Texas State University in San Marcos.

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