30 Hours in Grayling With Michigan National Guard 1-126th Cavalry Regiment

Lieutenant Mark Grant is a natural leader—a man who chooses his battles carefully, usually addresses his troop in a low-key tone and punctuates his explanations and orders with a string of barbed one-liners that morph into a darkly funny banter when he’s working with Landry.

Grant grew up on a cherry farm in Suttons Bay, a kid who loved hunting and being outdoors better than he liked schoolwork. He always knew he would be a soldier and enlisted in the Army immediately after graduating from Lake Leelanau St. Mary’s high school in 1990—the same year he married his wife, Angie. On one of his first tours, Grant guarded mass graves in Bosnia for United Nations inspectors. Other tours took him twice to Germany and to Kansas and Georgia. After a dozen years in the Army, Grant joined the Army Reserves so that he and Angie could move their family back to Leelanau County.

“We’d talk to other Army families, and they’d tell us that when a grandparent died they realized their kids didn’t know them. There was just no connection,” Grant says.

The Grants moved to 5.5 acres in Suttons Bay near his parents’ cherry farm, and shaped a lifestyle that includes home schooling their children and raising farm animals for 4-H projects. While Grant is at Camp Grayling training this week, his kids are showing three steers and a lamb at the Northwestern Michigan Fair.

Grant juggles his National Guard duties with fatherhood and his full-time job as a corrections offi cer at the Grand Traverse jail—a schedule that, until he graduated last year, included taking online classes to complete his college degree from the American Military University. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and National Guard units began deploying there, Guard duty became “the only job that you have to quit your full-time job and get divorced to do,” Grant says, half-joking.

In 2006 Grant deployed to Iraq’s Camp Rustamiyah, located in one of the most poisonously violent sections of the country. There, he served as platoon leader with the 46th Military Police Company, a leadership position he accepted when the original platoon leader had a mental breakdown after the unit suffered its first death, a beloved sergeant from the Upper Peninsula.

That deployment lasted through the bloody 2007 troop surge. At Rustamiyah, the 46th provided security for Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich’s Army Battalion 2-16—the battalion that Washington Post reporter David Finkel embedded to report his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Good Soldiers. The desperately tragic and gory tale of what the battalion endured, Grant says, is all true, adding that his own worst memories of the deployment are of the incessant mortar attacks and the scent of human blood in the Humvees after they’d been hit by roadside bombs. “You can’t get over the smell, even when they clean it out,” he says, then adds falteringly: “The people. That blood.”

Dangerous as it was, Grant brought his platoon home, intact. “I never lost a soldier,” he says. He credits a combination of good fortune and constant vigilance for that success. Praying for his soldiers, too—kneeling on his bare barracks floor nightly. “Even though I went to St. Mary’s I was never that religious—never thought about God much. But that changed there,” he says.

Grant knows that his next assignment could be much tougher. Knows he’ll miss his family, miss Leelanau County’s rolling green landscape trimmed in blue. And he is very worried that the people of Michigan don’t understand what their National Guard soldiers are enduring—one reason why he’s consented to allowing a reporter and a photographer in his training camp.

“People just don’t have any idea,” he says. “We need to develop a closer relationship with the people of Michigan so that they understand what our families are going through—like the teacher or principal who doesn’t know that this kid might be acting up because he hasn’t seen his dad in six months.”

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