Local heroes are sometimes hard to spot.
Days before Memorial Day, Sgt. Cataurus “Tari” Shields, a member of the Army National Guard 2-114 Strike Battalion out of Columbus and Ackerman, is unassuming in a blue polo and a pair of black-framed glasses.
He”s fit, but not bulky. Talkative, but not loud. Confident, but not cocky. He”s intelligent, but avoids jargon. He”s an example of how any given man or woman could be the worthy recipient of the praise and gratitude meted out over Memorial Day weekend.
The Caledonia native was one of just a few members of the 114th on hand Thursday for a ceremony at the Columbus Municipal Complex welcoming the battalion home. Most of the others were working at their civilian jobs or home with family.
Shields joined the Army National Guard in 1999 as a junior in high school and has twice deployed to Iraq, once in 2005 and again in 2009-2010.
What”s it like seeing people come out to welcome you home?
This is out of this world. To see this turnout is unbelievable. It makes you want to get up and tell your story, but their wasn”t time for it.
You”ve got time now. What is your story?
If given the chance, I would have told about the day I enlisted.
I got home from school and there”s a guy in a uniform sitting at the table talking to my older brother (Trifari). So I go back in my bedroom and mom (Josie Shields) comes back and asks me “What do you know about the National Guard?”
“Well, I don”t know anything about the National Guard.”
“Well, you”re about to find out about it. We”re fixing to sign you up.”
And I signed up that day and it”s one of the best experiences I”ve had in my life.
Was it you or your mom that made the decision?
It was my mom. (Laughter.) It was her choice.
It”s been great. Off the G.I. Bill I was able to attend Mississippi State. I graduated in 2006 with a degree in finance. I obtained a great job in Memphis.
The military has allowed me a lot of opportunities in my 10 years. It teaches you stuff you can”t learn on your own, such as discipline and working with people from all over the world.
We went to Iraq and, to be on that side of the world, beyond the war there”s a lot of history there. We were able to visit ruins from the Biblical days and I probably never would have gotten that opportunity if not for the National Guard.
What was your job during both deployments?
During the first deployment we did patrols. I was a team leader. I would take my squad of three or four guys and two or three Iraqi army and we patrolled the town in a Humvee or foot patrol. Just going out in the town, seeing what”s going on, being a presence, searching different places for insurgents.
During the second deployment I was a truck commander. I was in charge of MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles), just making sure we had a safe trip, checking equipment and maps, making sure we don”t get off track.
What”s it like being pulled away from your family?
It was tough being a newlywed. (Shields married his wife, Janie, in 2007.) As everyone knows, long distance relationships are hard. But being a newlywed and pulled away from your wife is difficult.
But in Iraq now they have communications set up so we were able to communicate every day either by e-mail or telephone.
What does Memorial Day mean to you as a soldier?
Growing up I didn”t really know much about Memorial Day. Caledonia is a small town and you”re kind of sheltered from the wars and a lot of the stuff you see in the world.
Once I joined the National Guard and wen to Iraq and fought for my country, being a veteran myself and remembering and studying about what veterans did before me, that”s what Memorial Day is about. The people who fought for this country and made America what it is today.
How did you celebrate Memorial Day before becoming a soldier?
Before becoming a soldier it was just a day off. I didn”t think much about it. As a matter of fact, when it came around, I didn”t even know it was Memorial Day for the most part. Now it”s really something special.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
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