Branch breaks from military assignment

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 16, 2004

MURFREESBORO – There’s no place like home, even if for a brief visit.

Taking a break from his duties of serving in Iraq, Command Sergeant Major Carlton J. Branch, Main Support Battalion Commander of the 701st Division of the United States Army, returned home to his mother’s house (Lucille Branch) in Murfreesboro, Thursday to spend a little downtime with his family.

Stationed in Kitzingen, Germany since August 6, 2002, Branch’s 1st Infantry Division was first deployed to Iraq on February 4, 2004, where his division continues to work towards ensuring stability of the Iraqi government.

&uot;We are getting money back into the economy to promote stability in the area,&uot; said Branch, currently in Phase II of Operation Iraqi Freedom. &uot;We are providing logistical support to other units and maintaining medical and transport support and the Iraqi people are starting to see the difference of our being there. They have been very receptive of our efforts.&uot;

Among the accomplishments of the Iraq mission, Branch explained, are clean, running water and electricity and the rebuilding of schools.

&uot;One of the great things we have seen come to pass since being in Iraq is the headway made in the area of clean drinking water and electricity,&uot; he said.

&uot;The schools are being rebuilt and educational supplies are being made available to both the teachers and students. The oil lines that were sabotaged in some of the attacks are also being repaired.&uot;

Branch’s wife, Rachel, spoke to her husband by phone from Germany during the get together and relayed her support for her husband’s mission in Iraq.

&uot;I am behind him in everything he does and am very proud of him,&uot; she said, her remarks echoed by sister Elsie &uot;Gardenia&uot; Harvey, who drove from Adephi, Maryland to see her brother.

&uot;I visited him wherever he was and he was always up early, shining his shoes and making sure everything was perfect,&uot; she gleamed.

Harvey continued, &uot;When he would come home, I would ask him, ‘Do you have to go,’ and he would always answer, ‘I have to go fight for my country in order to protect my family.’ That’s just the kind of man Carlton is.&uot;

Branch’s brother, Gerald, who traveled from Rocky Mount, expressed distain at some of the media reports.

&uot;A lot of times the media tells stories of weekend warriors, but he’s the real deal. It makes me uneasy to have him here instead of over there and I asked him several times if he called over to Iraq to make sure they had it under control,&uot; he joked before becoming serious. &uot;He’s the epitome of what it means to be an American soldier.&uot;

Branch, who enlisted in the Army immediately after graduating from Northampton County High School in 1978, and worked his way up the ranks to the highest position held by an enlisted officer, confirmed that contrary to what many media reports would indicate, conditions in Iraq are improving.

&uot;The daily lives of American soldiers are getting better and the Iraqi people are accepting the changes really well,&uot; he affirmed. &uot;When we drive by or walk through the crowds, we are encouraged to see the elderly folks as well as the young people waving at us with smiles, gesturing us with peace signs and thumbs up. It makes me feel good.&uot;

Although his convoys have come under attack, Branch stated that his battalion was fortunate not to have incurred any human losses. &uot;We have had a few close calls, but no casualties as of yet,&uot; he stated. &uot;These soldiers are well trained and prepared when they go on convoys. It pays off.&uot;

Having served the Army faithfully for nearly 26 years, Branch derives his strength from his faith in God and support from his family.

&uot;The first Sunday he called us from Iraq, he was on his way to chapel,&uot; said Harvey who alternately attends 2nd Creeksville Baptist Church in Conway and Nebo Baptist Church in Murfreesboro when visiting.

&uot;He sends emails two to three times a week and uses the prepaid cards we send him to call us about once a week,&uot; she added.

&uot;The cards are helpful,&uot; said Branch. &uot;Even though the 350 minute cards purchased here in the states only yield about 32 minutes of talk time after the international fees, it’s better than nothing and no matter what it is, every time a soldier receives a care package, they really appreciate it.&uot;

In addition to calling cards, Branch stated that supplies for letter writing, good reading material and sunscreen were some of the more desired items and shared a cheaper method of communicating with loved ones by opting for a service known as voice over IP.

&uot;The military provides soldiers with access to a facility known as the Morale Welfare Recreation Center, which functions as a media center offering them access to internet and other technological conveniences,&uot; he said.

&uot;With voice over IP, soldiers can talk to their family and friends for about four cents a minute; all they have to do is go online to and sign up for as many minutes as they want and make sure the soldier knows the PIN code to use the service. It’s a great way to keep in touch without breaking the budget.&uot;

Branch also shared a creative way the companies keep loved ones informed back home. &uot;Each company sends a video taped copy of the group tending to their duties,&uot; he said. &uot;Everybody misses their family. That’s why they look forward to R&R.&uot;

According to Branch, soldiers who have been overseas for a period of at least three months are eligible for the 15-day optional paid travel break one time during the whole rotation so they have the opportunity to visit with their families. The military also offers soldiers a four-day leave known as FMPP or Fighters Management Planned Program.

&uot;These guys work hard, so they enjoy the breaks,&uot; said Branch, &uot;and we look forward to sending as many of them as possible.&uot;

On Sunday, Branch was scheduled to travel back to Germany, before returning to his duties in Iraq on June 24, to spend time with his wife Rachel and their two children, 11-year old son Brandon and 18-year old daughter Jessica.

&uot;My daughter just graduated from high school in Wuerzburg, Germany and I am looking forward to celebrating with her,&uot; he said during the interview, &uot;so, I know what it means to cram a lot into a short period of time and I encourage all of those taking their R&R to enjoy themselves the whole time they have it.&uot;

Branch’s brother Larry Harvey was not able to attend the afternoon gathering, but visited with him earlier that day. Harvey resides with his family in Norfolk, VA.

Branch is scheduled to remain in Iraq for at least one year.

He holds an Associates Degree in Supervisory Management from Hawaii Pacific University and recently graduated with his Bachelors from Excelsior College in Albany New York.

Care packages for soldiers in the 701st Main Support Battalion in Iraq can be sent to:

CSM Carlton J. Branch

HHD 701st MSB


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