"It was either go home now or take a chance at not going home at all. So I jumped on that plane," Sanders said.
Within a week, Sanders was on a 22-hour flight for a two-week reunion with his new bride, Jeni (they married Dec. 12), his 5-year-old son, Tyler, and family and friends.
"We had been there for a while -- since January -- and they decided to do a lottery-type deal where they draw your name out of a hat and then try to get everybody home eventually for their two-weeks R and R," said Sanders of Sikeston.
Sixteen members of the 1140th Engineer Battalion returned to their respective homes May 8 as the first of many rotating rest and relaxation trips for members of the battalion.
"It's not really bad over there. It's just hot and dusty.
It's the same brown scenery everywhere," Sanders explained.
For security reasons, Sanders isn't allowed to say which city the 1140th is stationed in; he can only say southern Iraq. And he can't get specific with what exactly the Guard is doing in Iraq.
"We do engineering missions, basically just to improve protection of the fort, our guys and the Iraqi people we're trying to help," Sanders said.
A day in Iraq for Sanders begins around 7 a.m. and out on their mission by 7:30 a.m. They continue with their mission throughout the day and must return by dark.
"Most of the officers have trailers, but the other troops have air conditioned tents with wooden floors," Sanders said. "Most of us build our own little rooms inside so we have our own little personal space."
Sanders' room consists of a wooden bed he made himself complemented by a hand painted American flag made by his son's class they sent to him.
"We're not really too bored over there," Sanders said.
On Fridays and Saturdays troops can go to a nonalcoholic bar. They have a softball league and play games on a field they built. They also have a nice weight room and can watch DVDs.
Sanders admitted he's trying not to watch the news during his trip home. Although prisoner abuse seems to be making the headlines at the moment -- and Sanders agrees the abuse isn't right -- he does think the media is blowing events in Iraq out of proportion.
"We get CNN over there, and every time we turn on the TV, it's somebody did this; somebody did that. This many troops died. It's never -- and this isn't us -- 'Hey, these guys are working on a water pump. These guys are training the Iraqi police to be more efficient in what they're doing. These guys are building a road. These guys are getting rid of bombs.' It's never any of the good stuff," Sanders noted.
Sanders said the troops would like some positive press, too.
"We're over there trying to bend the hearts and minds of these people and do good," Sanders said. "Some of them like us and some of them don't -- and that's part of the deal with occupying a country."
The troops also get to spend some time with the Iraqi children and the other forces serving there. "The children like to play soccer so if people want to send soccer balls for us to give to them, that would be great because they love soccer," Sanders said.
Interaction with the other forces is a learning experience, too, Sanders said. For example, the Koreans taught some Americans, including Sanders, Tae Kwon Do. And some of the Italians are teaching Americans how to speak Italian, he said.
However, community support has been great, Sanders pointed out, adding that he thinks the majority of the public supports what troops are doing in Iraq.
"I get a lot of thanks from people when I come home and I appreciate that -- and we all do," Sanders said.
Sanders must go back to Iraq Monday, but he's savoring his time home. Last week he and his wife took a getaway to Branson, and on Thursday Sanders is going to kindergarten to visit his son's class for snack time. During his time home, Sanders said he and his wife are also spending time renting a lot of movies since there aren't many new releases in Iraq.
"I mean how many times, can you watch 'Ghostbusters'?" Sanders joked.
Morale is really high right now, especially since the troops are getting to come home, Sanders said. Of course, the big morale booster is mail, especially from school children, Sanders said. Toilet paper -- the soft kind -- and phone cards from AT&T are also great to receive from patrons. Sanders asked the public to keep the troops in their prayers.
There's speculation the 1140th could be home in October or November, but Sanders pointed out before the 1140th left in early January, the troops were told they would be on the ground for a year in Iraq.
"We're doing a good job over there," Sanders said. "We're anxious to come home, but we know what we've got to do and we're gonna do it."
And for the spouses of members of the 1140th, Sanders reminded them the troops are all looking out for each other. "It's natural to worry about your loved one, but keep the faith because we're all gonna keep each other safe while we're over there," Sanders said. "We're not coming home without anybody.
He continued: "It was our pact before we ever left: 'We're going over there together and coming home together.'"
Mail and care packages for members of the 1140th Engineer Battalion may be sent to: Company B 1140th ENGR BN; LSA ADDER APO, AE 09331. (To send to Sikeston's Charlie Company, substitute Company C for Company B.)