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Vet's return to U.S. to be on MTV with Kanye

By Mark Washburn
TV/radio writer
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

Shameeka Gray of Charlotte lands on MTV this week with her war stories.

Gray, 25, with two tours in Iraq since 2003, has plenty of them. This one she doesn't tell on TV.

She was escorting supply convoys in Iraq from Al Asad Air Base, west of Baghdad. A roadside bomb exploded next to the 5-ton truck she was driving.

It was dawn, and she'd been driving all night. They were about a mile from the U.S. base on the Syrian border.

“I heard a ‘boom!' and my head hit the steering wheel and everything went black for a second. My gunner was saying, ‘We just got hit.' I hit the gas to get out of the situation. I just went all military.” She drove the truck into camp with five of its six tires flattened. No one was seriously hurt.

After leaving the Army, she started volunteering at the Veterans Administration hospital in Salisbury, connecting vets with their benefits. One day, she got a call from an administrator asking whether she'd mind letting an MTV crew follow her around for a documentary on returning veterans.

“First thing I thought was – my life is boring. All I do is volunteer at the V.A. and go to school,” she says. But she agreed.

And she was soon surprised by a knock at her door. It was Kanye West, who is hosting the documentary “ Choose or Lose & Kanye West Present: Homecoming” (see mtv.com/ontv for times or watch it on MTV Mobile).

“He's not like everyone portrays him on TV. He's understanding. He wasn't the superstar Kanye West – he was just very nice,” says Gray. West interviewed her while here for a concert in May and got her a great seat.

Gray, a native of Jamaica, moved here last year and is finishing a degree in business at the University of Phoenix's local campus. Her military benefits help her pay for college. She hopes to find full-time work with the V.A.

In the special, she's one of three vets who share their stories of returning to civilian life. MTV estimates that nearly 70 percent of people in the 18-29 age range know someone who has fought in Iraq.

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007; mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

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