Returning to work after mission in Iraq

December 28, 2005|By By Elia Powers

Fire captain spends first day back on the job getting used to life at Costa Mesa Fire Station No. 5.There was no time for celebration on Costa Mesa Fire Capt. Bruce Pulgencio's first day back to work.

After 16 months away from Fire Station No. 5, he spent Tuesday in training -- trying to learn the new computer system and re-acclimate himself to the 24-hour work cycle.

"He has been a lost puppy dog at times," joked Fire Capt. Ron Cloe, a longtime colleague of Pulgencio.

Not that Cloe questioned his friend's learning curve.

"He's a very structured individual," Cloe said. "Well organized and competent. It's in his blood."

From January through October, Pulgencio had employed his leadership skills in Iraq.

Throughout his 15-year Fire Department tenure, Pulgencio remained involved in the Army National Guard as a chief warrant officer. On Sept. 11, 2004, his battalion was activated and later sent to Tikrit, Iraq.


His years as a firefighter, engine driver and captain prepared him for what he encountered in Iraq, Pulgencio said. It was his chance to perform.

"We were real excited," said Pulgencio, who lives in Aliso Viejo. "We had prepared for this in the past and had been left out of the game. It's the same as a fireman. We train for emergencies, so you want to be let loose."

Before leaving, Pulgencio, 47, had learned to fly a Black Hawk helicopter so he could learn a modern, Army aircraft. He flew about 600 combat hours in Iraq, which he said was the most of anyone in his battalion.

Mostly, he transported military personnel, contractors and equipment throughout the country.

He had flown anti-drug missions across California and been a part of reconnaissance missions in Los Angeles with the Army National Guard.

But Pulgencio said none of those assignments compared to flying in what were called "hero missions" in Iraq. He was asked to transport deceased United States soldiers, often from their home base to another location.

"It was one of the most meaningful missions, to be able to bring a soldier one step closer to his family," Pulgencio said.

He flew at night over Baghdad and came under mortar attacks at his base. Pulgencio said no one in his battalion was seriously injured or killed.

Throughout the year, Pulgencio kept in touch with his friends at the Costa Mesa Fire Department. While Pulgencio was stationed in Iraq, Cloe's daughter and her classmates sent letters to him. He returned photos from the military base to the class.

In early December, Pulgencio was released from active duty. So he is back serving Costa Mesa, the city where he was born and raised.

He is home with his wife, Kathy, and is back with his colleagues at the department, where he will eventually be working with a paramedic engine company.

"It's a whole new lifestyle," Pulgencio said. "It's a comfortable environment."

Cloe said he and his co-workers are planning to take Pulgencio out on a motorcycle ride in the coming days as an official welcome-back gift.

"I'm glad he's back, and I'm glad he's safe," Cloe said.

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