A Soldier Talks About Golf in Iraq

After we learned about "Operation Iraqi Putting Green," we emailed some questions to Major John McBrearty, executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 185th Armor Regiment of the California National Guard, to find out more about it and him. Major McBrearty is 44 years old, and he has a wife and two children back home in Riverside, California. His wife Lynette (they will have been married 21 years come Christmas) is an elementary school teacher and former ballet dancer. Their daughter Kristina, 19, is a pre-med student at University of California Riverside, while their John Jr., 3, received his first set of baby golf clubs at the age of 8 months.

Where exactly are you located in Iraq?

We are in the Central Southern Sector of Iraq, about 90 miles south of Baghdad. It is primarily a Shiite area.

What inspired you to create the driving range?

Several reasons. First, I love the game and like to keep my skills up (I also have a putting machine in my office), and am building a putting green in conjunction to the range. Other golfers can now keep their game alive. Second, I wanted to introduce the game to soldiers who might not be exposed to it otherwise. I believe that many soldiers will pick the game up because of this setup here. There isn't a whole lot to do when you are off duty. There isn't much down time here either, so the soldiers need a release sometimes, and this affords them that opportunity. Third, I wanted to expose the game to the local Iraqi populace. I believe that it is yet another method to bridge the gap of our differing cultures. I am encouraging the locals to play as well. And whenever the coalition forces leave this area of operations, it is my intent to turn the complex over to the Iraqis. So far, they are thrilled with this western game.

Do you get to go out to play it often?

I don't play as often as I might like. As the Battalion Executive Officer, my plate is often just too full. It is more important to me anyway to know that the facilities and opportunities are there for our soldiers and Iraqi friends. I figure that if I make it out of here in one piece that I will have plenty of time to play when I get back home. Presently, we are experiencing rain, and when it rains it pours! I hit some out today, but the mud was so bad that you couldn't get a grip with your feet. It was very difficult. To answer your question, it is mission dependent. If the opportunity is there, I play. Sometimes a few times a week.

What's your handicap?

I was in the process of obtaining a handicap when I got deployed, but didn't get the paperwork into the pro at the Seal Beach Naval Golf Course. That's where I started golfing a few years ago, and coincidentally that is where Tiger Woods also started his game as a young boy. I score in the mid 80s when I am in practice, high 80s or low 90s when not in practice. I can boast the claim of never having scored above 100, even the first time that I went out for a full round, which was only a few years ago.

Tell us about your background and where you're originally from.

I was raised in Ardmore, Pennsylvania and lived in a house that was located across the street from the Merion Golf Club. I caddied as a young man there and golfed with my dad (Dr. John F. McBrearty) from time to time, but was not very serious about the game back then. My sports were football, track, soccer, karate, ice hockey, baseball, but not golf. I picked up golf while stationed at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Los Alimitos, California, where I started out with Seal Beach Naval Golf Course's 9-hole executive course. Eventually, I moved up to the 18-hole course and got hooked.

The pro there said that I had a natural swing that he rarely sees in a beginner. I believe that it is partly due to my playing ice hockey and baseball as a young kid. I have always been athletic. I had only been playing the game for about two years before the deployment last year. When I started playing at Seal Beach, I was pretty good from the start (I call it beginner's luck) and got hooked. I later transferred to the San Bernardino area where I didn't play as often, but still got out two to three times a week. We are also lucky in California because every town has several golf courses to choose from, and it is comparatively far less expensive to play than in other parts of the country.

How long have you been deployed in Iraq?

Our unit is 1-185th Armor Battalion, 81st enhanced Separate Brigade and was mobilized on November 15, 2003 for an 18-month deployment. We physically left for Iraq on St. Patty's Day, 2004. Our projected return will be sometime after the Iraq elections (which are in January '05) possibly in the March or April time frame. Our battalion is part of the California Army National Guard and is the first such battalion in California to deploy directly into a theater of war in over 50 years.

How long have you been in the National Guard?

I am approaching my ninth year. I served on active duty as a Marine Corps Officer in the 1980s. Following that duty I got out of the military and started my own business, which I maintained for a decade. I was an independent screenwriter/producer/director and had my work aired on The USA Network, HARDCOPY, Entertainment Tonight, and other networks. In fact, my wife wants me to write a script about the whole golf experience in Iraq. We will see. Following a long tour in Hollywood, I was recruited back into the military by some persistent officers. I returned as a part-time soldier and liked it so much I decided to go full time with it. I have been full time for six years now.

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