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Combat engineer has father watching over him, finds family among Marines

NAME: Lance Cpl. Jeremy DeVault

AGE: 21

BRANCH: Marines

HOMETOWN: Chillicothe, Ill.

JOB: Combat engineer

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CAMP CHESTY, central Iraq—For Lance Cpl. Jeremy DeVault, this war has been a grand adventure: wild, frightening, exciting, boring, sad and fun.

"It's been an experience of a lifetime," DeVault says. "It's something you can go back and tell your friends about. Nobody has been to Kuwait or Iraq. Nobody is ever going to come here to visit a country like this."

DeVault, 21, of Chillicothe, Ill., is a combat engineer with Charlie Company Engineers, 6th Engineer Support Battalion.

"It's like a big family," DeVault says. "I'll remember how close everybody came together. How everybody was willing to do everything for each other, to be one family."

A few weeks ago, DeVault was asked to work security for a convoy going south, to a camp in Kuwait. He stayed there two days, sleeping on a cot in an air-conditioned tent. He took showers and watched television.

"I felt awkward being down there, when my fellow Marines are up here" in Iraq, he says. "It wasn't bad coming back here. This is home, you know."

When DeVault joined the Marines, he followed in the footsteps of his father, Kenneth R. DeVault.

"He was in Force Recon in Vietnam and Korea," DeVault says. "He wouldn't talk about it too much. He would talk about how the Viet Cong would try to slit their throats during their sleep. Crazy stuff like that. He was hit with grenade shrapnel in his back, during a helicopter drop. The grenade cut through the bottom part of his backbone. They told him that he would never be able to walk again and they wanted to cut the nerves to his legs.' "

But he was walking within a year.

"He was an inspiration," DeVault says. "He was so proud of himself. He never really imposed himself on me. But you could see the way he carried himself and how it made a difference in his life."

DeVault's father died June 11, 2001, from an infection.

"It was the hardest time in my life," DeVault says. "I think about him all the time. He's always with me, because of what he did in his life. I pray for him to help me."

For DeVault, the highlight of the war came early on. As he was getting ready to get on a convoy in Kuwait headed for the Iraqi border, he watched a barrage of artillery go off.

"We were right there," he says. "It was like a movie. It surprised you at first, then you kinda rolled with it. You could see the flashes of lights. You could hear the rounds projecting. That's when I said, yeah, we are really here. You really need to get this job done."

DeVault, who is single, is a student at Illinois Community College in Peoria, studying accounting.

"Eventually, I want to own my own business, either a bar or an apartment complex, something like that," he says.

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ILLUSTRATION (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): IRAQFACES-DEVAULT

Iraq

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