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Cheerleader turns infantryman

Fort Campbell KY, 101st Airborne DivisionBastogneKunar Province, Afghanistan – As a college cheerleader, Mateo V. Salado was accustomed to being a member of a team. He lived, ate, worked out and competed with the same group of athletes every day.

This year, he’s doing the same thing, just on a bigger team.

“Being in the military and living in the barracks, eating in the chow hall, and going out and training is no different than an NCAA athlete on a scholarship,” explained U.S. Army Spc. Salado, an infantry team leader. “This yearlong deployment in Afghanistan is our Super Bowl. This is where we have a culmination of every training event, every past mission, every patrol.”

Salado, who is assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Slack, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, made some good friends while competing as a cheerleader for the University of Hawaii. He even went to the College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship in Orlando, FL.

But, Salado’s closest friend over here, U.S. Army Pfc. Dylan Z. Glaze of Waterloo, IA, said climbing mountains in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar Province is a little different.

“I get out there walking and it just hurts,” explained Glaze, an infantryman also assigned to Co. B, TF No Slack. “Your back hurts, your legs hurt, and your head hurts. You hurt down to your soul. They crush your soul every day out here, but I mean you look over and he’s sucking too. You have to realize that everyone out here is doing the same job and everyone’s sucking. You just got to think about the guy to your left and your right and just keep moving on.”

Since being deployed to Afghanistan together, they’ve lived together, eaten together and patrolled together. Yet, the stakes are higher in this competition.

‘That’s one of the big differences here: if you lose here, you’re not coming back home,” said Salado who’s from Tacoma, WA.

Glaze agreed and drifted back to a memory about an operation a few months ago, Operation Strong Eagle I.

“You knew at some point (the insurgents) were going to come up,” said Glaze. “Total (chaos) was going on out there and I just hear his voice, ‘Glaze! Glaze! Come over here.’ And I crawled over there to the rock where Salado was behind. We’re just sitting there and all you can do in that situation is what we did, and that’s just laugh at each other. You can’t cry about it. You can’t get scared. You’re already getting shot at and you’re not dead yet, so all you can do is laugh about it, get on the gun and shoot some bullets. We almost died. There were rocks chipping off right in my eyes. It’s combat, but that’s what we trained for.”

Behind thin-rimmed glasses, Salado cracked a smile when he remembered that day. He praised his friends for their actions and is happy to be out of that situation.

But he said when he went on leave he had a hard time explaining those types of days to his old college friends.

“‘Oh my gosh, I have a 10-page paper to write. I have to get up and run five miles in the morning. I have such a long day of classes tomorrow.’ I’m thinking in my head, ‘Yeah, my guys are getting shot at right now, I don’t know what to tell you. Suck it up. I feel bad telling you this, but I really don’t feel bad for you,’” Salado said.

Being in an infantry platoon has taught Salado and Glaze to appreciate each other and their teammates on a different level. They both remarked about their differences and sometimes little fights they have.

“No matter what it’s like back (on base), some people don’t like each other, but when you’re out on the mountain it’s a different story,” explained Glaze. “When you’re out there getting shot at, that’s an American, he’s your brother out there on the mountain and you do everything you can to get him back safe.”

Glaze laughed about his infantry friend being a former cheerleader, but explained he has the ultimate respect for him.

“I guess they’re some of the best athletes out there because they can flip around and stuff,” said Glaze. “But he’s willing to do anything for you, even if you’re not in his squad. That’s what you have to be over here, just really supportive of everyone.”

Salado, who was recently promoted to team leader, understands the weight of being responsible for his guys as well as for the future of Afghanistan.

“Really, I’m trying to make it better for the next unit that shows up (by) helping the government get on their feet, having the people trust that government, and helping the ANA on patrols with us so they know what to do,” he said. “Hopefully, when the next unit shows up they’ll be better off.”

In the meantime, Salado, Glaze and the rest of the Co. B Soldiers have come together to compete in the ultimate match in Afghanistan and so far their training and teamwork has paid off.

Mark Burrell
Mark Burrellhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/mark_burrell/
Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell was born Jan. 8, 1981 in Chicago. He is currently a U.S. Army Reserve photojournalist team leader assigned to the 210th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment in Cary, N.C. As a team leader, he is attached to the public affairs office, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division based out of eastern Afghanistan's Forward Operating Base Fenty. Burrell derives pleasure from shooting compelling photos of fellow Soldiers in order to tell their stories. As an Army storyteller, he tries to view situations differently than other journalists. He attempts to bring emotion and art out of the daily and sometimes mundane task of being a Soldier. As the Soldier’s motto is: Long periods of boredom followed by brief periods of excitement - Burrell has been there for both to capture the moments that make history. He was named the Army Journalist of the year 2010 and the Army Reserve Military Journalist of the Year for 2009 & 2010, won numerous Keith L. Ware awards for military journalism and was awarded a Combat Action Badge for his coverage of Soldiers under enemy fire. His photos have appeared in USA Today, Reuter’s, Chicago Sun-Times, Wall Street Journal and myriad other publications throughout the world. Yet, he continues to seek the difficult missions where his Armed Forces brethren are in harm’s way.

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