Hometown Hero Spends Christmas With Family

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Matthew "Shane" Davis was born in a part of the Payson Hospital that is now his mother's office. He was raised on fishing and football, and was a conference champion wrestler at Payson High School, graduating in 1998. Davis is a true, born and bred Paysonite, and he's also a specialist in the Army Reserves.

"I just love this town. I come back and -- don't know --t's just nice to be home," said Davis, who is savoring a two-week leave in Payson after nine months active duty in the deserts of Tikrit and Balad, Iraq.

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Matthew "Shane" Davis (left) and an Iraqi friend stand in front of a Palletized Loading System truck. Davis was stationed in Iraq, but is home on a two-week leave to visit family.

It's been three years since Davis first enlisted in the Army Reserves.

"I joined in May 30 of 2000, for college money," Davis said.

In the Army Reserves, a soldier is required to spend six years in active duty and two as a reserve, in which case, according to Davis, "you're still on roster, so if something like a war were to happen, they'll pull you."

For Davis and thousands of other men and women serving in the reserves, the war in Iraq happened, and they found themselves deployed to Iraq to relieve the active troops stationed there.

Before he was sent to Iraq, Davis was taking classes at Mesa Community College, working toward degrees in Fire Science and Business Management. The reserves system requires only one weekend a month of a recruit's time, and two weeks in the summer.

Davis loves being outdoors, especially if it's the verdant pine wilderness of the Rim country.

"I like to hunt and fish and do a lot of things outdoors," he said.

There's a nine-pound bass displayed on his parents' wall, a trophy Davis snagged shortly before being transported to Iraq, where he found himself surrounded by a different kind of wilderness.

"First time we arrived, we didn't shower for the first 10 days, and even after that we had to take bottled-water baths," he said.

Initially, the reserve troops were rationed to two bottles of water to drink and two MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) a day. There were no cooling systems for the water. And that's all while working in weather conditions Davis called "warm" -- by the way, a "warm" day in Iraq would make a Phoenix native break into a sweat.

"The highest we ever got was to 142 degrees," he said.

Northern Iraq, where Davis was stationed, is desert of a different type than Arizona.

"It's flat sand, as far off as you can see," he said. "The dust is like somebody poured flour over the ground. When we first got there we had sandstorms where you couldn't see five feet in front of you."

Herds of camels and sheep wander across the roads in a terrain inhabited mostly by Iraqi herders and farmers.

Part of Davis' duties in the 544th Maintenance Battalion include driving a Palletized Loading System, a heavy duty truck used for transporting supplies.

For protection, Davis carries a Squad Automatic Weapon, a weapon weighing in at 27 pounds unloaded. The SAW will fire 800 rounds a minute, and serves as a type of miniature machine gun.

Stationed in northern Iraq, Davis' battalion is regularly rotated between the towns of Tikrit and Balad.

"We work with Iraqi contractors, building structures," he said. Iraqi civilians have become the reserve troops' friends. In one photograph Davis brought home, he is standing with an Iraqi man, who was 23 years old at the time.

"He has two wives and six kids," Davis recalled with a smile.

While the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's capture Dec. 14 created an international news fervor, the actual effect in Tikrit was perhaps less sensational.

"It's exciting for everybody, but we still go through the daily attacks and daily life," he said. "As it looks right now, stuff doesn't appear to have slowed. But I left too early ... a couple days after he was captured. In time, it may slow down."

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