For about a year, Andrew Mangold drove an armored vehicle in convoys that crisscrossed Iraq. In all, he racked up about 9,000 miles.
The heat was punishing. Outside the mercury once climbed as high as 140 degrees; inside the vehicle, a RG33 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, it was still around 100 degrees, even with the AC cranked.
The missions he drove with the Army Reserve 282nd Engineer Company extended for hours, and there were no stops or bathroom breaks. Amid the heat and grinding monotony, the biggest challenge sometimes was staying awake.
Mangolds story starts like many Fort Lewis College freshman too much partying and outdoor recreation, too little studying.
I felt like I was wasting my parents money, he said.
So in 2009, he joined the Army Reserve and volunteered to go to Iraq. When he arrived in January 2010, the country was far more stable than the early stages of the war. But, as soldiers learned during an initial briefing, convoys still encountered improvised explosive devices or IEDs and gunfire.
I was scared, he said. They want you to know it is war zone and people do die.
The commanders told them to look for trash along the roads.
But what they dont tell you is the entire country is covered in trash, he said.
While still in high school in Boerne, Texas, Mangold volunteered with the local fire department and, after earning his Class B drivers license, was able to drive fire trucks on calls. In the Reserves, he was trained to operate heavy equipment and the armored vehicle.
While in Iraq, he drove on nearly every mission his unit undertook. Some trips were short, as little as 45 minutes, some added up to a 20-hour workday.
Though his convoy never encountered a bomb, they were fired upon. (Mangold said that from inside the vehicle it sounded like popcorn.)
He said the roads in Iraq were generally decent, though they would encounter the occasional bomb crater. The conditions at Camp Striker, located in the Victory Base Complex near the Bagdad Airport, were comfortable and included a nice gym and cafeteria.
He said he felt there was a lack of good leadership among the Reserve ranks and assignments often seemed pointless. He takes pride in some of the construction projects his group worked on, though he is not optimistic how the country will fare after the U.S. withdrawal.
He left Iraq just one week before the last group pulled out.
Since Mangold returned to FLC in fall 2011, his grades have improved and he attends class religiously. He thanks military discipline for that.
He is now a member of the National Guard and has considered making the military a career. But hes also contemplated law enforcement. For now, the future is wide open.