TIFTON -- A local soldier who recently returned from the Middle East now plans to follow his dream of being a graphic artist, after honing his skills in Iraq.

Spc. Anthony Collier, 23, of Tifton, returned from Iraq about three weeks ago. He served with the Army's First Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas, where he was part of an artillery unit in Rustimiyah, near Baghdad. His duties included loading artillery shells for long-range targets and guarding the camp from infiltrators and saboteurs.

"I load the bullets in the weapons," Collier said. "My job over in Iraq, I worked over in the front gate. We did force protection."

He said that when working force protection, he and other guards would keep people from sneaking into the camp and protect it against attackers or car bombers.

He said he saw action several times in Iraq, including attempted car bombings and drive-by shootings. During one attack, he witnessed 12 people killed and more than 30 people injured by a car bomb.

Collier said he never expected to be in a position where he was shot at and fired back at other people, but it was the job he took on when he joined the Army in January 2001.

"It's part of your job," he said. "That's what you signed up to do and if it comes down to it that's what you have to do."

Collier said he does not consider himself a "hero" or a "superman." He was just a soldier doing his job.

He said the experience of Iraq taught him many things, among them, "Don't take the small things for granted."

"When you go over there you basically see that they don't have anything," he said.

Collier saw that the people in Iraq do not have many of the luxuries that Americans complain about. In fact, the often unsanitary conditions led to a chance for the soldier to practice one of his favorite hobbies -- drawing.

He created several comic strips for the Iraqi Ministry of Health showing cartoon characters washing their hands, cleaning up trash and other healthy acts. The cartoons were translated into Arabic and distributed throughout Iraq to try to curb behaviors such as drinking from the same water as animals. The goal was to improve the health of Iraqi citizens by teaching them sanitary habits.

In many of the cartoons, Collier even had the characters wearing the stylized blue capital "T" of the Tift County High School Blue Devils. The soldier said he had to represent his home even across the ocean.

"They're giving Tift County representation all over and they don't even know it," Collier said about his cartoons.

He said he will be leaving the army in June and then will be using his college money through the G.I. Bill to either go to the Art Institute of Atlanta or Georgia Southern to study graphic design.

He said he, his wife, Yavonda, and their son Khalil will likely "explore" the United States but they will probably eventually settle somewhere in Georgia.

Collier is done with his tour in Iraq, but his thoughts are still with the other troops there.

"I just pray for all the rest of the soldiers that's over there," he said.

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