You’re in the Army now (again)

Local businessman called up for duty

WORST EPISODE EVER Trent Walsh, owner of Chico’s BaT Comics, said he doesn’t plan to bring any comics with him but hopes to have some shipped to him at the front.

WORST EPISODE EVER Trent Walsh, owner of Chico’s BaT Comics, said he doesn’t plan to bring any comics with him but hopes to have some shipped to him at the front.

Photo By Tom Angel

War goes on:
About 40 percent of the 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are members of the National Guard and various forces’ reserves. By spring that number could jump to 55 percent. Some 1,325 Americans have died in the conflict so far, along with an unknown number--estimates range from 3,000 to 17,000--of Iraqis.

To look at Trent Walsh, mild-mannered owner of a comic book store, no one would ever guess that he’s trained in several aspects of lethal combat. With wispy brown hair combed straight back, a pair of wire-framed glasses and an unassuming sense of style, the civilian Walsh seems more clerk than warrior. Yet his alter ego, Capt. Walsh, has jumped out of transport planes, shot an automatic rifle and specializes in getting troops and supplies around the deadly obstacles of war.

Walsh, 34, owner of BaT Comics in Chico, is an Army reservist. While he hasn’t been active for years, he is trained in close-combat support mobility, an area the U.S. General Command has identified a crucial need for in Iraq. A few weeks ago, Uncle Sam sent him a letter informing him that he is one of the thousands of members of the Army Reserves that are being called up for duty years after their initial commitment was fulfilled. While it isn’t absolutely certain, Walsh said he is about “90 percent sure” he is headed overseas.

Speaking to a reporter in his small office, surrounded by Simpsons posters, Batman clocks and other comic merchandise, Walsh said he had been so busy getting his things in order and preparing for his deployment he hadn’t yet had time to come to grips with how the call-up will affect him. He knows his wife is not happy about it, and he worries whether his business will survive with him gone on what looks to be at least a year-long tour of duty. But when asked if he fears for his safety, he said he won’t know until the Army tells him what—and where—his primary mission will be.

“Some places are more hot spots than others,” he said. “I had a friend who was there doing logistics and supplies, and he came back and said it was a great tour. He didn’t fire a weapon the whole time he was over there. Obviously, other places you can’t walk down the street without worrying about someone taking a shot at you. Without knowing my mission, I guess I’m kind of in denial.”

Denial or not, Walsh isn’t complaining. For three or four generations, he said, almost every man in his family has done a stint in the military, many of them seeing combat. Along with that tradition, Walsh said he feels that all Americans should “do something more than just paying taxes” for their country. If that means strapping on a pair of boots and marching off to war, Walsh said it’s a small price to pay for the benefits of being an American citizen.

“I’ve never served in combat before, but I always trained for it, and I have a fairly strong patriotic duty to the country. I vote Republican but … I think I’m reasonably a moderate person. But I believe in the U.S.”

While he said it was “debatable” whether the U.S. should have gone to Iraq in the first place, he feels that simply pulling out is no longer an option.

“You can argue about whether the war was carried out right or wrong. … Different things could have been better. But in general it’s a good thing. We’re building houses and schools, and people who have never had pure water in their life are having pure water now. I’m hoping that, in five years or so when everything’s said and done, the majority of the Iraqi people will say they are better off.”

He’s followed reports of the war, though he admits “not extensively.” On the day he was interviewed, two weeks before he was to report for duty, 15 U.S. soldiers were killed in a surprise rocket attack while they were eating lunch. Walsh hadn’t yet heard the news but didn’t seem fazed when he did. After all, he’s an optimist—and a patriotic one at that—who hopes that somehow, his contribution to the conflict will be a positive one.

“I’m hoping that … when people are done finger-pointing, they’ll go, ‘Yes it was better for the region.' If other Muslim countries see this as something that can happen, that they’re not losing their Muslim [identity], then maybe they will go this route."