TOM BATCHELOR, a 1992 graduate of Conneaut High School and a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, has spent time in Iraq and will be heading to Afghanistan in December.

The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

CONNEAUT — People often say “thanks” when they greet Air Force Technical Sgt. Tom Batchelor, but it’s the Iraq war veteran who feels fortunate.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to be in the military,” said Batchelor, 34, who today embarks on a new mission — a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

After spending six months in Iraq during 2005, Batchelor will take his medical know-how to Afghanistan for a one-year tour. A 2 1/2-month training session will precede deployment, he said.

“I should leave by the first of the year,” he said Monday.

Batchelor is not upset about his latest assignment —in fact, he repeatedly sought out the duty. “I volunteered four times,” he said.

The Conneaut High School graduate is a non-commissioned officer in charge of diagnostic and therapeutics, which includes radiology, laboratory and pharmacy. In Afghanistan, he will head up the radiology section in a hospital, Batchelor said.

He has been involved in other medical missions of mercy. Batchelor established seven clinics in South Africa to assist civilians and helped install equipment in a Moldova hospital and aided a state-run orphanage.

Two years ago, Batchelor was “in the heart of it all” in a spot just north Baghdad, where he worked with Iraqi locals and lent support to security forces. While there, he met a wide range of civilians happy for the American presence — from the elderly who suffered under dictator Suddam Hussein to “little children who jumped up and down because we built them a bookcase.”

“The ones I encountered were extremely grateful,” he said.

Batchelor’s personal experience in Iraq has made him a critic of the national media, which he believes dwells on the negative. The positive benefits of military intervention — such as upgrades to infrastructure — are ignored, he said.

“There are stories that are not being published,” Batchelor said. “It’s popular to bash (President Bush), and a lot has to do with ignorance.”

Even if people are beginning to question the campaign, Batchelor since senses support for the troops. “Maybe not whole-heartedly,” he said.

Public outcry can cut deep and provided Batchelor one of his most emotional memories of Iraq. Two weeks before he was scheduled to leave the country, he was allowed to hold an Iraqi infant which is a special honor, he said. A short time later he was in England, where he came upon protesters waving signs that read “Go to hell you baby-killers.”

Batchelor knew a career in the military beckoned while a student at CHS. His desire was peaked by Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and one year after graduation he enlisted.

Batchelor expects no special praise for seeking duty in another hot spot. He says he’s simply doing what a soldier should be expected to do.

“No one goes to war to be a hero,” Batchelor said. “It’s my job.”

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