Mark Telhiard

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Mark Telhiard, a graphic designer in Communication Services, continued to be a digital artist when he served in Iraq.

He was a student in the Digital Media program at the University of West Florida when his Florida Army National Guard infantry unit was activated for duty for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In Bagdad, he bought a computer and hooked up digital cameras so he and his buddies could have video chats with their families back home. He also made short films with his buddies to pass the time.

Telhiard was recently awarded the Louis H. Schilt Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded to disabled veterans with an aptitude for digital design. It's an online program in Web design that includes an Apple iMac computer and all the software.

He served in Iraq from May 2003-Jan. 2004. The unit relieved the 101st Airborne, which was part of the opening attack into Bagdad. They covered Sector 17 in Bagdad, which borders the Tigris River in the center of the city.

"Being one of the first infantry units flown into Bagdad, we didn't know what to expect at all," Telhiard said. "We took over our sector from one of the 101st Airborne, who had already been fighting there a couple of weeks. They had a wild look in their eyes from patrols, raids and fighting the bad guys.

"But after a couple of nights of doing the same thing, we developed the same look. We were totally immersed in the mission and went into a survival mode of thinking. It was a life-changing experience."

For the first two months, their routine included eight hours of guard duty, eight hours of patrol and eight hours of Quick Response Force every other day, with a day of rest in between.

The platoons took turns going to the "Green Zone," including Saddam's former palance to call home and occasionally swim in Saddam's huge pool.

When they weren't patrolling, they were involved in "community enrichment."

They gathered school supplies for elementary schools in their sector. They also were responsible for securing the hospitals in the medical area. Telhiard said their presence helped lower the crime rate dramatically as they worked with business owners and community leaders to give the citizens confidence to live a normal life.

"The Iraqis are good people, just like you and me, but they have lived in terror for a long time," he said. "My Iraq experience has definitely given me a new appreciation for the peace that we Americans enjoy every day."

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