HUSAYBAH, Iraq -- Private First Class Fitz H. Lewis, 20, from Florence, S.C., is a long way from the basketball courts of his high school, Camden Military Academy. Instead of draining three-pointers and practicing free throws for hours, he’s now taking a shot of a different kind – shooting streams of data from battle positions back to bases to establish clear communication.
“I’m a multiplexer operator. I take multiple streams of network and voice data, and turn it into a single stream of data for transmission,” he said, standing on the roof of a youth center in downtown Husaybah, Iraq, that 6th Civil Affairs Group uses as an operation center.
Lewis, assigned to 2nd Marine Division out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., deployed in support of 6th CAG in mid-November.
Lewis didn’t spend his youth lying awake dreaming of the day he could become a Marine. Instead, his days and nights were spent thinking about and practicing his first love: basketball.
“I was a varsity starter on my high school team,” he said.
With dreams of college hoops heavy on his mind, Lewis took the ACT after graduating from Camden Military Academy in 2003. He faced a small letdown.
“My score was good, but it wasn’t good enough where I could get into the type of college that would give me the chance to really hone my skills, like (University of South Carolina) or (University of North Carolina-Greensboro),” said Lewis.
So he aimed smaller. He applied and was accepted to Gilford University, a Division II school in South Carolina. Soon, however, the coursework became daunting.
“It just broke my back,” laughed Lewis. “Pretty soon I got a letter saying that because I had a C average, I wouldn’t get tuition assistance the next semester.”
He quickly realized he would be unable to pay for college, so he began looking at the military. Lewis didn’t have any trouble deciding on which branch to settle on.
“I was thinking about job security, and I knew the local fast-food place wouldn’t cut it,” he said. “I wanted to join the military, and join the hardest out there.”
Eventually he found himself with a black eagle, globe and anchor insignia clutched in his palm, and a career as a communications specialist ahead of him. But thoughts of college and a long-term career are still foremost in his mind.
“I’m going to school to work on my associate’s degree,” said Lewis. “I’ve got about 15 hours done so far and, as a matter of fact, I’ve got another one to turn in tomorrow for three more credits.”
What’s in his future?
“Actually, I’m thinking about journalism. What you can do with words, that’s the most powerful thing you can do,” he said.
Lewis’ dreams of seeing his name up in lights as a college basketball player may have diminished but he still does what he can to be on a winning team.
“I’ll always pick the best team if I can,” he said. “That’s why I’m a Marine.