Making a life in Addison County: Iraq tour gives native a new perspective

Editor’s note — This article is part of our ongoing series about the thousands of young adults who reside in the county, how and why they live here. The series includes print articles and multimedia profiles of young adults, which can all be found on our website www.addisonindependent.com.
A multimedia profile of Seth Kittredge, 30, of Vergennes can be found here. A former member of the Vermont National Guard, Kittredge spent a year in Iraq patrolling for improvised explosive devices.
He now works in Bristol as a land surveyor. His wife Morgan, originally from the St. Albans area, gave birth to their son last year.
VERGENNES — Seth Kittredge enlisted in the National Guard in 1997, a year before he graduated from Mount Abraham Union High School in Bristol. He wanted to pursue a technically oriented field through the military, and the National Guard would train him as a land surveyor if he enlisted for 10 years.
Four years ago, Kittredge was well on his way to obtaining a state land surveyor’s license when his National Guard brigade was sent to Iraq. Kittredge and his Colchester-based brigade of engineers spent a year patrolling a highway north of Baghdad, looking for the Iraqi insurgency’s infamous improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Kittredge was trained to find the devices and alert a team that would defuse them, but the devices often exploded near his armored vehicle. Kittredge returned home after a yearlong tour in which his 40-person Vermont platoon found more than 200 IEDs.
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“It was good to see mountains,” he said. “Where we were … north of Baghdad up against the Tigris river, it was flat with a few trees here and there and some radio towers. But to get home again and see our little green mountains, it was like seeing the Alps or something for the first time.”
Kittredge, now 30, lives in Vergennes with his wife, Morgan, and their 22-month-old son, Stephen.
He works for LaRose Surveys in Bristol and he and his wife plan on raising their family here; they’re hoping to have another baby next summer.
Kittredge, who grew up in New Haven, wants to stay in Addison County for many of the same reasons as other young adults in the area. He has a career here, his parents and other relatives live in the area, and he believes this is an excellent place to raise a family.
“Vergennes and Addison County in general is probably one of the best places throughout the state to raise a family,” he said.
While Kittredge is a member of the Vergennes American Legion post, he’s been too busy with his career and his young family to be especially active in the veteran community here.
 And unlike some of the members of his brigade who seek treatment from the Veterans’ Administration for injuries caused by IEDs, Kittredge returned from the war uninjured.
But there were some close calls in Iraq.
Kittredge, a sergeant, commanded a 14-ton, mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, which searched a stretch of highway for IEDs at 11 miles per hour.
“It basically boiled down to us driving down the main supply route day after day around the clock just so we got to know the route. We knew every bump in the road,” he said. “We were on patrol anywhere from eight to 15 hours a day.”
Although Kittredge’s vehicle was equipped with state-of-the-art technology, his team’s most effective method for spotting IEDs during the days was low-tech.
“We’d look for this copper command wire in the sun,” he said. “It would just gleam and you could see it usually before you were right next to it. A lot of times they’d blow it up … because the trigger man sitting out in the bushes a kilometer away would know that we had found it.”
One time, though, insurgents disguised their detonation wires by painting them black after they had planted two artillery rounds in the median of the highway.
The insurgents detonated them right as Kittredge’s vehicle approached, and the explosion left a crater four feet deep and 10 feet wide.
Thankfully, the explosives did not penetrate through the hull of Kittredge’s vehicle, although they shattered its windows.
“They targeted us because the night before we got into a gun fight and took out two of them,” Kittredge said. “I had a piece of shrapnel that hit literally 10 inches behind my head, so that was my close call.”
Although Kittredge’s roommate in Iraq survived 13 IED detonations in close proximity to his vehicle, the soldiers with whom Kittredge worked closely ended up fairly lucky. Only one soldier in his company of about 200 was killed in action and no one in the 40-person Vermont platoon was killed or seriously injured.
“For what we were doing, we made it through pretty good,” he said. “We had one of the most dangerous jobs in country.”
Kittredge returned to Vermont after his yearlong tour in the fall of 2007 excited to see his family and continue his Vermont lifestyle.
“I’m an outdoors kind of guy,” he said. “I do a lot of hunting in the fall. We came back in the end of September right when that was getting started so I could jump right back into that.”
Kittredge soon moved in with his future wife, Morgan Stebbins, in the St. Albans area. He had met Morgan shortly before heading oversees, and spent time with her during a two-week span in the middle of his tour.
The couple got married after Morgan gave birth to Stephen in 2009.
They moved to Vergennes last year to make it easier for Kittredge to pursue his surveying career, and because they thought it would be a good place to raise kids.
“There’s a quiet neighborhood here with kids running up and down the streets, so I think we made a good choice moving back down here,” he said.
Kittredge plans on taking his surveyor’s licensing exam in March, and he looks forward to taking his hunting boat out on Lake Champlain this fall.
“I couldn’t imagine any other place to live,” he said. “All the spots I got to and all the things I like to do are all related to the area.”
Reporter George Altshuler is at [email protected].

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