TARBORO, N.C. — More than 5,000 National Guardsmen from North Carolina are still on the ground in Iraq. Some troops get short breaks to visit family as part of the military's Relax and Relief program. One soldier brought the sights of Iraq to his Edgecombe County living room.
Spending a little time at home is a big deal for 19-year-old Eric Banks. He is a National Guard solider with the 30th Brigade. Banks spent the past seven months in Iraq. He is back in Tarboro on a two-week break.
"It's awesome. The first three days, I thought I was dreaming. I was expecting to wake up and be in Iraq," Banks said.
Banks serves as a gunner with a military police battalion. He also spent time taking snapshots in Iraq with a disposable camera. Banks has since bought a digital camera and found a new hobby.
Banks documents just about everything, including a trip to one of Saddam Hussein's palaces. He has close to 1,000 pictures saved on his hard drive.
"This is an experience I want to share with people when I get back home and it's a lot easier to tell your story when you've got visual pictures," he said.
Banks even used his camera to capture video of what its like to sit behind a gun on a Humvee patrol.
"It's really made me grow up, but at the same time, I really appreciate what I'm doing," he said.
Banks admits the time away is taking its toll.
"It's getting old. I'm just ready to come home. I want to go back to school and just start my life," he said.
Banks and a handful of other Guardsman leave for Iraq again Thursday. Banks will celebrate his 20th birthday in Iraq next month.