Growing up I knew I was I wasn’t happy.
When I was about 6, I saw the John Wayne movie “The Green Berets” and I knew I wanted to be like the soldiers portrayed in the movie.They were fighting for something bigger than themselves. I knew I was going to do something that was bigger than me.
I told my mom once when I was about 12 or so that I knew I was destined for great things. Little did I know what those “great things” were. As a kid I thought those things were a fast car and a big house. I actually started looking at real estate listing for places like the Hampton’s on Long Island, houses that cost millions of dollars. I wanted that, the life of a millionaire. I knew I never wanted to be a “normal” person. I thought that was the top of the world.This was about 24 years ago.
Now 24 years later I know what those “great things” were. I joined the Army reserves while I was in high school. I had to have my mom sign the papers cause I was 16 when I enlisted. I knew my mom didn’t want me to. It was 1992, the gulf war had just ended and she didn’t want me to go to war. To this day I don’t know how I got her to agree to sign those papers, but she did. I’m pretty sure me being in the reserves and staying near home had something to do with it. In September of 1993 I went to Army basic training as a reservist. It was my first real dealing with the Army, and I fell in love with it. So much so that at the first opportunity I had I went on active duty.
I knew I had finally found where I belonged. Yeah getting used to the discipline was rough, but my mom had done a good job of disciplining me, actually she did better, the Army never used Corporal punishment. My mom however smacked the shit out of me when I needed it.
Hearing about wars in history class is one thing, watching the war unfold on TV is totally different. I watched Desert Shield and Desert Storm unfold on TV, and I wanted to be there, I wanted to go to war for my country, I wanted to kill the enemy, those that wanted to hurt my family, and my fellow Americans, just because we were American. It took 13 years until I got to defend my country.
Between me joining the Army and me actually going to war I traveled the world with the Army. I saw almost every corner of the US. My first active duty station was Fort Lewis Washington, right outside of Seattle. Being a 19-year-old away from home was daunting to say the least. I was on my own. Not only was I on my own, I was in the Army. We trained to go to war against the Russians. Going to the field with live fire exercises, carrying a weapon was a wake up call. The world was a dangerous place, and I was preparing to fight for it. After seeing the movie, “The Green Berets,” I knew I wanted to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.I didn’t know how soon I would do just that. A year and a half after I got to Fort Lewis, the Scout platoon of my unit was tasked with going to Haiti to help in the peace keeping effort. Being a mechanic I was sent with them to take care of their equipment.
Talk about culture shock. Port Au Prince was like nothing I ever experienced before. Between the heat and the smell, I didn’t know how I would survive. As combat went, this deployment was cake. The only excitement I had was when an American Soldier threw an “MRE” bomb over the fence. It wounded a child who picked it up. That Soldier was punished for it. I was shocked, we were there to help and he hurt them. I knew I never wanted to be like him.
From Fort Lewis I went to Korea. When I was in Haiti I never integrated with the Haitians. Being in Korea was totally different. The Korean people were totally different yet the same. Yeah they lived a life different from what I knew. They ate strange food, and talked a language I didn’t understand. Yet they wanted what I did, a better life, a good job, safety for them and their children. And they live a few hundred yards from a country that wants them dead. I learned a lot living in Korea. I made friends with the Koreans I lived near. And I loved it. My family has a running joke, that the kid who moves the farthest away is my moms favorite. I know that wasn’t true. I heard the worry in my moms voice every time talked to her. Yet I knew I was doing the right thing. I knew, and I know now being in the Army was the right thing for me to do.
I knew this is what the movie “The Green Berets” was about. I always wanted to be Infantry, but at the time mechanics were in short supply so I could ‘t transfer to Infantry. But I never lost the drive to go Special Forces(SF) and earn my Green Beret.
Fast forward to 2005. I got into some trouble on Active Duty and decided I would take a break and joined the National Guard. I joined the 48th Infantry Brigade Mechanized (Separate) of the Georgia National Guard. My favorite unit. The first unit I went to combat with. Being in the National Guard I finally got to reclass to Infantry. I put in my packet to become SF, and was accepted. My unit was on orders to Iraq, so I asked for a deferment from going to SF school. I thought going to combat would make a better SF soldier. I was deployed to Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I didn’t have to go, I had an 18 month stabilization, but I deferred it. I wanted to go. I called my mom and told her I was going overseas, I heard the hurt in her voice. But I had to go, it was my calling. It was here I found the “great things” I knew I would do. It was also where I found my greatest hurt.
During my time in Iraq, in a place called Yusafiah, a city that was part of what was dubbed the “triangle of Death.” And it lived up to that moniker. In a 6 month period I was shot 3 times, stabbed twice, and hit by 5 road side bombs aka Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). 2 of those bombs were while I was outside of my armored truck. People ask me what it’s like to get hit by an IED. It sucks, it sucks even worse when you never hear the explosion. All you feel is like some one hit you with a hammer all over your body at the same time. You go from a bright sunny day to complete blackness,and the heat, you feel like you can’t stand it, a total piercing all over your body from things you can’t see. Then total quiet. The medic is screaming,”WHAT’S WRONG!!!” and all you hear is a ringing and seeing his lips move. When people ask me what does it feel like to get shot? I always wore my body armor, thank god. It feels like some one hitting you in the chest with a 10 pound sledge-hammer after an all-star swing. I was hit almost dead center of my chest and had a bruise that went from my Adam’s apple to my belly button, and wrapped around to almost my spine on each side. People ask how it felt to be stabbed? Well it didn’t hurt until the adrenaline wore off. I didn’t know I was stabbed until the medic asked why was I bleeding, then I saw the blood streaming down my shirt, and damn it hurt. But the physical pain of bullets and blades were nothing compared to what I felt next.
Part of our job while in Iraq was helping rebuild the country. Yusafiah was decrepit when we got there. The town center was destroyed, the clinic was blown up and looted. There were no schools. The people who lived there were scared to leave their houses. Then we showed up. My unit fought for Yusafiah. We fought for those who could not fight for themselves. While there I helped rebuild not only the clinic but I helped build a hospital that helped not only Yusafiah, but all the villages near it. I helped rebuild schools. One of the schools was an elementary school. My unit helped build the school through actual construction, putting up walls, cleaning the school, and getting school supplies for the children. The children were great, we used to play soccer with the children.
I got to know one of the kids really well. His name was Mohammed. Mohammed loved soccer. Every time I went around his home he came out with a soccer ball, and we would play, my team mates, the Iraqi army we had with us, and Mohammed and his friends. We worked hard to open that school. We cleared the area, making sure there were no IED’s, sweeping the city to make sure there were no bad guys.
3 days before the school opened, we found a note saying, “Do not send your kids here or you will be sorry!” We took that seriously, and searched the school and the land around the school and found nothing. We showed up the day the school was opening. We had school supplies and beanie babies, the kids were happy. Mohammed came up to me and thanked me for letting him go to school. We had the ribbon cutting and the kids went to class. We left. 30 seconds later the school exploded.
Combing through the rubble I found Mohammed’s slippers. 68 children were killed, 12 teachers were killed. It was the worst day of my life. But it also showed the resolve of American Soldiers. 30 minutes after the explosion the first of 9000 Iraqi and American soldiers showed up. We locked Yusafiah and the surrounding villages down. We were given the order to arrest all military age males, and deal with those who were not willing to be taken into custody. Well those who didn’t want to be taken are no longer on this planet. And that doesn’t bother me one bit.
During my time in Yusafiah I was involved in numerous firefights. I’m still here. During one of these firefights the Iraqi Army soldiers I was training got hit by an IED, it resulted in 5 wounded and one killed. As part of the quick reaction force I got there before the IED trigger man got away. I shot him, I hit him in each shoulder, once in the neck and once in the back of the head. He was my first confirmed kill. And you know what, I feel good killing him. I have no idea how many people he killed before then, but I know he will never hurt another human being again. I finally found the “great things” I was meant for. I knew I was meant to bring righteous rage against the evil people in this world.
I had been given an SF school date prior to going to Iraq, I deferred my school date because I thought going to combat as an infantryman would make me a better SF soldier. Little did I know the second IED attack would screw up my neck and back. I lost my dream to go SF, but I found myself and my calling. I was put on this earth to help and fight for those who couldn’t help or fight for themselves. I would volunteer 3 more times.
I went to combat with the Georgia National Guard once more. Then I was blessed to get back on Active Duty. I joined the 10th Mountain Division in October of 2008, I went to Afghanistan in January of 2009. I never found the satisfaction of my first tour again. I never got to do the good I did during my first tour in Iraq. There were times I got to save the soldiers I was stationed with. And that is special to me. I helped the people of the city I was in, in Afghanistan. But it was nothing compared to the good I did in Yusafiah.
When I came home from Afghanistan in 2009 my family was there. Except for 2 of my brothers who couldn’t make it. My mom, my Godmother Anne, who I love to no end, my 2 sisters Glen Anne and Mary, my Brothers Joey and Larry, and all their kids were there. I never knew how much of what I did affected them.
But I do know, what I did made a difference in this world. My first tour will always be my best. I know for a fact I made a positive change in the lives of the villagers of Yusafiah. When you ask some one if what they did changed the world, I know what I did changed the world. What I did changed the world for the better.
Here it is summer of 2012. I am being medically retired from the Army due to wounds, injuries, and problems I suffered in my military career. And now I’m going back to a life I don’t know. Except for my school years I was never a civilian, and that scares me. I was planning on being in the Army until I was 65 and kicked out. And then I was only planning to live about 5 years later. Now at 36 I have to find a way to go on. As good as my past is, as much good as I know I’ve done, I can’t live on that.
I will from now on look for the next thing.But my next thing is the next good thing I can do. Right now I have no clue what that is, but I will find it.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, I don’t know the challenges I will face. But I know what ever it is I will face it heads up and make it better.