Sgt. Joseph Mulready is matter-of-fact and modest when talking about the Bronze Star the U.S. Army recently awarded him for meritorious achievement during the last Gulf War.
"I didn't go storm an enemy bunker or anything like that. It's not for valor, but for meritorious achievement," Mulready, 30, said Monday from his home in Fort Bragg, N.C. He returned to the United States on Thursday.
The Bronze Star was introduced during World War II by Gen. George C. Marshall, who argued that ground combat troops needed a medal, like the Air Medal introduced two years earlier to improve morale among airmen. The Bronze Star is awarded for valor or merit during combat or in other action against an enemy.
Mulready, who grew up in Juneau and whose parents still live here, spent five months in Kuwait and Iraq as a noncommissioned officer in charge of the 18th Soldier Support Group out of Fort Bragg. He is a communications specialist, and spent most of his tour "making something out of nothing," using radio and satellite equipment to set up secure Internet networks in the desert.
"We're basically combat support. When we go into an area there's nothing at all, so I put together a matrix from scratch," he said.
His Bronze Star citation mentioned his efforts during the Army's preparations for deployment and noted that he was "solely responsible" for establishing communications networking for the 18th Soldier Support Group. The 18th provides support for such units as the 101st Airborne Division, the 82nd Airborne Division and the 10th Mountain Division.
Mulready's family moved to Juneau in the mid-1970s. His parents, Bob and Jane, still live here. Bob Mulready is retired from the Coast Guard, and Jane is a retired schoolteacher turned auctioneer and personal property appraiser.
Joseph Mulready left town at the age of 17 because he wanted to see the country. He ended up in Mobile, Ala., "of all places."
He worked there five and a half years laying concrete. The money was good, but he didn't see a future in it. So he joined the Army about five years ago.
"I'll stay until they kick me out. They let me jump out of planes," Mulready said.
Mulready didn't parachute in the Persian Gulf, but he is part of an airborne unit at Fort Bragg.
He has served two other overseas tours, one in Korea in the late 1990s, and the other in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2000 to oversee the elections.
In Balad, a town in northern Iraq, he worked with the locals to renovate local schools.
"We seized a lot of money from the bad people, and put it back into circulation. We'd hire on locals, give them supplies and pay them the money," he said.
Like many soldiers who have returned from Iraq, Mulready was struck by the stark contrast between the haves and the have-nots.
"In Baghdad on one side of the street you'd have college kids wearing nice clothes, and across the street, literally across the street, there's a man dying from a common disease because he has no money. In the middle of the desert, the middle of nowhere, you'll see a Jaguar driving by, and then you'll see people riding a donkey," he said.
Despite the controversy over the war back home, Mulready said it was clear to him that the action was justified.
"You can tell the ones that wanted us there and the ones that didn't want us there, and those are the folks that are sitting on the money," he said.
Mulready described the Iraqis fighting against American troops as a rag-tag bunch of snipers and renegades who used hospitals and houses of worship for ambush. They would stuff dead dogs and cats with land mines and put them on the road to blow up passing Army vehicles, he said.
Now that he's home, away from booby-trapped canned goods and the stifling desert heat, he plans to sit around as much as possible and spend time with his wife and 9-year-old son.
He's enjoyed seeing the world, but hopes to find some stability for his family.
"I want to travel, don't get me wrong, but it would be nice to hunker down somewhere," Mulready said.
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.