Malcolm Gillis returns from Iraq
story by Jessica Blomquist • photos by Angelina Bellebuono
Staff Sergeant Malcolm Gillis delights in watching his young son’s sleepy head nod as he falls asleep in his highchair and his daughter cuddle her new kitten, Macaroni.
Since returning from an 11-month tour of duty in Iraq, it’s the simple things that mean the most.
Gillis, 31, who lives in Rutledge, serves in the Army National Guard and is a member of the 1-181 Field Artillery Battalion, a unit based in Chattanooga. While on duty, he maintains communications systems and repairs damaged radios in Army vehicles.
He has served in the Army for 14 years, having joined during his junior year of high school at the age of 17, completed basic training during the summer before his senior year and started his career upon graduation.
Gillis was previously deployed to Iraq from June 2004 to November 2005. He recently returned from his second deployment on May 25, the day before Memorial Day, having been gone since June 2007.
Gillis has been married to his wife Brittany for almost six years and they have two children, a daughter named Joie, age 5, and a son, Roman, who is 15-months-old.
“My wife and kids are my life,” Gillis said. “I just want to be there for them as much as they want to be with me.”
While gone, Gillis communicated regularly with his family through letters, e-mail, and phone calls. Brittany was able to send him care packages and pictures of the children as well. The couple were able to speak almost daily because at this point in the war, bases are relatively stable and Internet access is readily available.
In return, Gillis would send videotaped messages of himself to the children who could then watch daddy on the television.
In May, Gillis returned to the states for outprocessing in Gulfport, Miss. at Camp Sheldon before being bussed to Chattanooga. There, Brittany and the kids were able to pick him up and take him home.
“It was just a big reunion,” Gillis said. “A lot of hugs and kisses.”
Since returning home, Gillis has had a lot of time to spend with his wife and children. Most recently, the family took a weekend trip to Atlanta where they went to the World of Coca-Cola museum, caught a Braves game, went out to eat, shopped, and swam in the hotel pool.
Other than that, he simply enjoys spending time playing with kids, enjoying meals around the dinner table, and going on the occasional date with his wife.
“Just the simple things,” he said, explaining what he likes doing most since returning home.
Being away from the children could be especially hard for Gillis even with frequent communication.
“I missed seeing my son take his first steps,” he said, explaining that his children grow and change so quickly while he is overseas.
Of his son Roman he said, “He’s a riot. He’s fun to watch. His character has grown so much since I’ve been gone.”
Daughter Joie has “grown up so fast,” he said. “She’s a sweet little girl who loves to draw and color and go outside and play. She warmed up to me a lot faster than she did last time. She was mad at me for leaving home last time, but now she understands.”
His wife Brittany, a stay-a-home mom, had the support of close family while Gillis was gone.
“I’m happy to be with her again,” Gillis said. “I was happy and thrilled to know she was there waiting for me while I was gone.”
In addition to the simple pleasure of being with family, it’s the privileges that can be taken the most for granted that he misses while on duty. This includes going to the bathroom without having to put shoes on and walk 100 yards to the latrine, getting in the car and driving where ever he wants, and enjoying homemade food and eating out.
After seeing his family, the first thing he wanted was to go out to eat for a meal of steak and potatoes.
“I almost made myself sick eating out so much,” he said.
But there are also some new adjustments to be made since returning home. While he was gone, Brittany moved from their home in Eatonton, to her mother’s home for help with the kids, and then into a new house in Rutledge.
Gillis is also interested in photography and filming short videos. He fostered this interest while in Iraq by shooting training videos instructing soldiers on how to maintain their communications equipment, even filming one intended for Iraqi soldiers. With the help of Sergeant John Tucker of Chattanooga, Gillis started W.A.L.R.U.S., the name they made up for themselves, which stands for We Are Leaders Representing United States. In addition to training videos, Gillis shot entertaining skits with fellow soldiers and upon returning home, found a talented cast in his daughter and 12-year-old brother-in-law Colt Simmons. These videos can be found at Gillis’s website, www.walrusflix.com.
Gillis will soon return to his job in the finance department of the Ritz Carlton in Greensboro, though he hopes to find employment closer to home. Ideally, he would like to get a job in local law enforcement based on the skills he has learned in the Army.
“I hope to use that experience to get me into that field,” he said.
He is uncertain when he will be deployed for a third time to Iraq.
“I may not go back for a year or two,” he said. “I’m typically home for at least a year before I have to worry about it.”