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A keen eye on Iraq

Morris Army Specialist Brandon Leuthardt has an exhibit of the photos he's taken, such as the one above, while deployed in Iraq. Leuthardt will be at a Memorial Day reception at the PRCA in Morris beginning at 6 p.m.1 / 4
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By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Like many soldiers deployed to Iraq, Brandon Leuthardt brought a camera with him to capture images of his fellow troops, the Iraqi people and their environment.

But there is something special about the images Brandon has been sending back to his family since the Army Specialist arrived in Iraq in October 2008.

Jeri Squier, the wife of Brandon's dad, Dave, shared some of his photographs with Lori Kurpiers, her co-worker in the University of Minnesota, Morris' Office of the Registrar.

"(Jeri) said, 'Look at these photos from Iraq,' and they were really interesting," said Kurpiers, who also is the president of the Prairie Renaissance Cultural Alliance. "You could tell he had a really good eye for what is interesting."

Kurpiers was so impressed with Brandon's work that she contacted the Morris American Legion about sponsoring a photo exhibit at the PRCA in conjunction with Morris' Memorial Day commemoration.

The exhibit, "Images of Iraq," is on display at the PRCA and Leuthardt was on hand Monday for a reception.

During short question-and-answer session, Leuthardt explained that the Iraqi children will often ask to have the picture taken. He also said that taking the photos has helped him learn that no matter where you are, you can find something beautiful.

The exhibit will be on display until Saturday, June 13 at the PRCA at 630 Atlantic Avenue.

The photographs also will be up for sale, with any proceeds going to another project Brandon has been involved with.

During the holiday season last year, Brandon and his family started "Holiday Cheer from Morris to Iraq."

Through "Holiday Cheer," the public is encouraged to send packages of cookies, candy, cards or non-perishable food to Brandon, who distributes the gifts among his company.

Leuthardt was born in Valparaison, Ind. in 1987, thus earning him the nickname "Indy" when he arrived in Morris in 2004 with his father.

Brandon attended Morris Area High School, played football and worked at Jerry's U-Save. After graduating in 2006, he joined the United States Army and attended Infantry Training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, until being deployed to Iraq in October 2008.

Brandon's company was deployed to Baquba, Iraq. Currently, he said the company is working in Mosul. The troops will return to Baquba in June, then is slated to return home in mid-September.

Brandon started his photographer hobby while stationed in Alaska.

"In Alaska, I'd do some hiking and I really liked taking pictures," he said. "I bought a decent starter camera, and when the opportunity comes up, I take pictures whenever I can."

There's no deep secret to the skill that's evident in his images from Iraq.

"I take photos of the people and our guys doing what they do," Brandon said. "I try to catch everyday life. I think they show people back home that we're all alike, they're just in a different environment."

Kurpiers said the images are moving, and that she had a difficult time paring them down to the 17 used in the exhibit.

"I was struck by the images of kids," Kurpiers said. "They all seem so happy. When I think of images of kids from Iraq, I see sad, down-on-their-luck, angry kids. But that's not there. These kids look like they could come from anywhere. I was struck by the universality."

Brandon said he hopes the images help people understand that there's more to what's happening in Iraq than may show up in news reports.

"You hear bad things on the news, and, hopefully I can take a few photos and show that not everything is that way," he said. "I think we're turning the country around. It's amazing how much it's changed. I think Iraq is on its way to a full recovery."

Brandon enlisted for five years, and he'll celebrate his third year in the Army on June 12.

He's debating re-enlisting when the time comes, but he hasn't made a final decision.

"I could see myself staying in for awhile -- I love it," Brandon said. "But I guess being a civilian would be nice, too."

Anyone interested in sending care packages to Leuthardt are encouraged to ask about a $10.95 flat-rate box specifically for mail sent to military personnel. The family also said the soldiers enjoy receiving and answering letters from children.

Mail for the Leuthardt family's "Holiday Cheer from Morris to Iraq" project is:

SPC Leuthardt, Brandon

A Co 1-5 INF,

1/25th SBCT

APO AE 09336