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Challenges and deployment welcomed by Seabee reservist

GLOBE, Ariz. - Originally from Sweetwater, Ariz., Equipment Operator Third Class Merlin Yazzie said he's ready for deployment.

"I don't have mixed feelings. I know what my job is and I'm ready to serve my country. I'm totally, 100 percent behind the United States."

A reservist and member of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Twenty-two (NMCB-22, also known as Seabees), Yazzie said he feels bad for the causalities and families of the young men and women who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"Those lives need to be redeemed."

His opinion is strong regarding Saddam Hussein's government, believing the dictator has committed human rights abuses on Iraqi people. "They're being trampled and stomped on."

He also believes al-Qaeda is tied in with the Iraqi government. "They put a dent in us with 9/11 and I feel all of those innocent lives were wasted that day. I feel like we're doing this on behalf of them too."

Enlisted into active service with the United States Navy in 1991, Yazzie served as an Aviation Ordinanceman until 1994 when he became a reservist with the Seabees. Although he considered joining the Marine Corps, he chose the Navy. "I refrained from going into the Marine Corps because I knew I would never be able to do all of those forced marches with the rucksacks, you know, pound the ground. I felt like it would be easier on me in the Navy."

Yazzie was born with a club foot.

"It's been corrected. I spent the first two and one half years of my life at the Shriner's Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. He said he was listed as semi-handicapped and that he begged his way into the military. "I pleaded with MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station personnel)."

He enlisted with a stipulation on his contract: he would receive a medical separation if treated for ankle problems three times. He said he never was treated.

Yazzie is proud of his service and accomplishments. He said wants to be an example for others who have physical challenges. "That's what drives me. I'm really sensitive to kids that are unable to get out there and walk on their own ? that dream of just walking. I was lucky, so I'm doing this on their behalf and I'm living their dreams for them."

In uniform, Yazzie keeps a positive attitude while honing his abilities constantly. He was recently awarded a Navy Achievement Medal for training and directing 45 fellow Seabees during live-fire exercises at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) in Twentynine Palms, Calif. The crew worked 16-hour shifts building a road and a bar ditch drainage system over a culvert pipe for 14 days straight.

According to the project supervisor, Chief Hull Maintenance Technician Barry Suiter, Yazzie solved many problems and saved the Navy and Marine Corps $86,000 in labor costs. "He turned a 1,600-foot-long by 28-foot-wide piece of road project into a little kitten purring in his hand," said Suiter.

Yazzie also rides rough stock with the All Indian Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, where he's been competing since 1999. He dreams of winning a championship with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and is preparing to compete in bareback riding events.

As a civilian, Yazzie is a heavy equipment operator with Nielson's-Skanski in Cortez, Colo. and was working on a reclamation project for B.H.P. Billington Copper Mines in Globe, Ariz. "We're making it environmentally friendly," he explained. He completed a series of reclamations on mines throughout the Southwest, including two uranium mines, the Ortiz Gold Mine in Cerrios, N.M. and the Rocky Mountain Arsenals in Rocky Mountain, Colo., an extension of the Rocky Mountain Flats.

No matter where Yazzie is or what he is doing, he says he always thinks of the children. "I pray for little kids regardless of what ethnic background they have. They're all God's children."

Yazzie will be deployed to an unknown location soon, following further training in California.