Twenty-five freakin’ years. Wow! Where did it go? It started with President Clinton, then Bush, Obama and now Trump. Two of whom I’ve met. Today it’s official. Today is my day of retirement. I went downstairs to my “Man Room” this morning and pulled out some old pics and just kind looked around at all the Army stuff I’ve acquired over the years. Like someone said last week, “It’s like losing an arm”. It’s bittersweet to say the least. I’ll always be a soldier, but I’ll never don the uniform in an official capacity again. Not until I’m dead. So, this morning I thought I’d do some writing and just share a bit of my 25 years. Lessons learned and some memories.
I always knew I wanted to be a soldier. For a while I had dreams of joining the Air Force and being a fighter pilot. My Uncle Jim was a pilot in Viet Nam retiring many years later. I even have one of his old flight helmets. I always thought that he was the only family member I had who served. That was until I heard the stories of my Grandpa Rick. Grandpa Rick was my mom’s dad. Around 1985 I began to learn of his adventures. Joining the Merchant Marines during WWII then went on to serve in the 504th P.I.R, the 25th ID and many other units. His combat deployments took him to Korea during the 50’s and to Vietnam in the mid-60’s. In Vietnam he was with 5th Special Forces Group and was an “advisor” with MAC-V SOG. This guy was a freakin LEGEND!!! I wanted to be HIM! Growing up I was that kid who’d wear camo clothes, hang out at the Army Surplus store and watch war movies. I played guns, got in fights and played with my G.I. Joe. All in preparation for my career as a war fighter. I always knew what I wanted to do, and it was a dream of mine to be a soldier in the United States Army. My parents knew it as well so that’s why my mom had no reservations when she signed for me to enlist when I was 17 years old. I enlisted at the Army Recruiting Center on Seminole in Springfield, Missouri. Traveling to MEPS shortly thereafter to swear in on 17Jul1992. I never had a break in service until today.
I enlisted into the Army Reserves in my home town cause that’s what I got talked into, but I always knew I’d be Active Duty. During my senior year in high school I was able to attend the weekend drills we had in town prior to shipping off to Basic Training. I didn’t even finish high school and ended up receiving my GED cause I figured the Army would teach me what I needed to know about life in the military. I finished the year out but 2 days after graduation ceremony I was off to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma to attend Basic Training and AIT as a 13B Field Artillery Cannon Crewmember. I told the recruiter I wanted to shoot the biggest guns the Army had. I could probably write a book about Army Basic Training, but I’ll keep it short. I met some great people, like my buddy Casey Riskey, and was immersed in the most racially diverse environment of my life. I met Drill Sergeant Roosevelt Woodley. He is forever engrained in my memory. That guy scared the shit out me! I arrived on 06Jun93, coincidentally, D-Day. Honestly? I had a blast! I did KP a few times to rectify my issues with authority. Did about a bazillion pushups and other “exercises” to “Condition my mind, body and soul”. Man, what a great summer that was.
After Basic, I came back home and joined the ranks of my Army Reserve Field Artillery unit while working at Jiffy Lube. Yep…Jiffy Lube. That lasted about a year because the unit got deactivated and sent over to the Missouri National Guard. I could stay Arty, join the Guard or go into transportation to drive trucks. I decided it was time to man up and head down the Active Duty path. I enlisted into the Regular Army on 01Dec1994. I really didn’t care where I got sent. I just wanted to get out of Missouri. I received my assignment to Ft. Stewart, GA. Sweet! Georgia! So, I packed up my Jeep and headed south to report to 3/41 FA, 24th Infantry Division. That’s where life’s fun really began to pick up. Active Duty is a funny thing. You see all these prude, squared away kids who’ve never really done anything bad turn into the complete opposite in a matter of months. Kids started smoking, chewing, drinking, getting tattoos and visiting strip joints on a weekly basis. You pawn all your CD’s to pay for the weekend’s activities then, on the next payday, go get all your CD’s only to repeat the process until you hit a rank that actually pays you money to write home about. You’re broke. I think I made about $1000/month and blew it all on bills and beer. Being in Combat Arms is a lifestyle all its own. After a month at Ft. Stewart I returned home to snatch up my high school sweetheart, get married and head back to the unit. We deployed to NTC numerous times as well as Victory Focus and other field problems. In ’96 I volunteered to head on over to Kuwait with one of our units. They needed a couple guys to run refueling operations, so I volunteered. Lesson 1: Volunteer for things cause you never know how that could benefit you later. That was a pretty great 4 months. What was supposed to be a 2-month deployment turned into a 4-month trip. Which resulted in me missing my older sister’s wedding. That sucked. BUT!!! I had my best buddy Nick Batten with me. Ole Batten. Dadgum, Quentin Tarrantino could make a movie out of our adventures. Like the time we headed down to St. Pete, Florida to see AC/DC. That was crazy! Oh, and Daytona Beach. We spent just about every single day together. Even though I was married, he was like family. We also had the “Barracks Rats” over to our house on the weekends for pound beers and just hang out. Life was pretty crazy. During that time, I also volunteered to try the Special Forces route since that was always in the back of my mind. Grandpa Rick and all. I attended SFAS in January 1996. I lasted about 5 days. My feet were chewed up and I couldn’t navigate myself to save my life. Literally. It was at SFAS where I learned what a GM Angle is. You usually want to know what that is before you attend this course. So, I VW’d. Being 20 years old I really didn’t care. Just wanted to go check it out. Lesson 2: Never quit because it’ll haunt you forever. I finished out my last year at Ft. Stewart being the unit armorer for one of the Batteries (like a company but for Artillery). It was either time to reenlist or get out, ETS. Not this guy. So, I thought about it and decided to reenlist into an MOS that was the most air conditioned, rear echelon, easy, chill, cool job that the Army could offer BUT still pick up a skill. AVIATION!!! Yep! I became a crew chief on the OH-58D(I) Scout Helicopter.
It was June 1997 and time to head up to Ft. Eustis, VA to begin my reclass school for the Crew Chief job. Shortly after arriving my ex-wife found out she was pregnant with our first child. Nope, not Jody’s, all mine. Virginia was pretty killer. Lots of time spent at the beach and hitting the local area between Newport News and VA Beach. Before I knew it, it was time to graduate and move on. October I completed my school, took 2 weeks of leave before PCSing to Germany. YAY!! That was probably the best 3 years of AD. I received my orders to report to Schweinfurt, Germany. Upon arrival, they said they were assigning me to 1/7 FA. I was confused cause I just finished school for aviation. They gave me the option to go down to Katterbach/Ansbach and be in the Aviation Battalion OR…be assigned to ¼ Cavalry. Uhhhhhh….I’ll take the Cav. It was the closest thing to still being Combat Arms with being Combat Arms. Or was it? I was stationed there for 3 years and actually spent about a year of that at home between all the Hohenfels and Grafenwoehr deployments; along with 6 months in Kosovo and a month at PLDC. We arrived in Germany the beginning of November, Christmas time is awesome in Germany, and our daughter, Kyndall, was born on March 31st. My birthday is April 1st and we didn’t want her to have to share a birthday with me, so we had her induced with Dr. Heigoldt. He had super bushy eyebrows. We lived in a small town called Bad Kissingen up north of Schweinfurt. I had two buddies in my unit who would become my besties. Dave Harris and John Mollohan. John was a 12B Combat Engineer before reclassing to 67S, like me, and Dave was an 11B Infantryman. So, between the 3 of us, we had plenty of Combat Arms time. There probably a joke about an 11B, a 12B and a 13B. I freakin love those guys like family. We still stay in touch. You know, the funny/cool thing about being in the military is this. You can go 20 years without seeing one of your old buddies but the second you do, you usually punch them on the shoulder, call them an explicative and give them a hug. You pick right up where you left off. Anyhow, Germany was awesome. The last year there my ex-wife got pregnant again with our second child, Mason. She was pregnant with him my entire 6-month deployment to Kosovo. I got home the beginning of December 1999 and Mason was born on Christmas day. Funny thing… My Grandpa Rick passed away 25Dec1996, buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery, and Mason was born 25Dec1999. Hmmm… One thing is for sure. During my entire military career God was working in my life. Keeping me alive and allowing me to fail and learn. Lesson 3: Never stop thinking God isn’t watching you and working in your life. He’s always there.
My time in Germany was coming to an end and I received orders for my next duty station. Ft. Drum, NY. At that time, I had decided to go ahead and ETS out of the Regular Army and head back home. My dad offered me a job and I wanted to be a family man. The main reason? The Army was changing. My Squadron Commander, then LTC H.R. McMasters, asked me a question. I was the youngest and lowest ranking Platoon Sergeant in the entire Squadron. He asked me why I wanted to get out. I told him I would not be able to conform to the new gentler Shinseki Army. I just couldn’t let the old Army in me go. I enlisted back into the Army Reserve unit I said I didn’t want to be in. I became an 88N Movement Control Specialist. To this day I still really have no idea what they do. Regardless, I performed that job for about 4 years. In 2003 our unit got spun up to head over to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We were SO pumped to go. Luckily for me things were kind of coming full circle. I was back in the unit with the same guys I was with when I first enlisted. To include my old and best buddy Matt Eddings. He enlisted shortly after me. We were in the same unit and stayed in touch all the years I was gone. We are still very close to this very day. About 8 months before heading to Iraq my ex-wife and I had one more baby. Good ole Weston. That kid is pretty awesome. It just sucked that I’d be leaving him for a year at only 8 months old. Gotta love Army life. By this time, I was pretty seasoned and a Staff Sergeant, E6. We were ready for war. That year in Iraq was interesting. Many times, I/we should’ve died either doing stupid stuff, making bad decisions or just the fate of war. Explosions splashed nearby, getting shot at and all the other fun that come with war. Saw my first human brain outside of the skull as well. I actually stepped in the dude’s noodle on accident. After about a month over there I figured I’d probably die there so why not do my best and go out with a bang. The fear of entering the cities left me and I was pretty much down for whatever. Iraq is probably one of the worst places on the planet. If you lose a sock, it’s probably in Iraq. When you flush your toilet, it goes to Iraq. Other than that, and looking back, I had a great time. Lots of memories there as well.
Upon returning from home I decided that I pretty much hated everyone except for “My People”. I really didn’t like civilians and couldn’t wait to get back “over there”. So, I did the logical thing and started contracting for Blackwater. I returned home from Iraq in April 2004 and filed for divorce in June 2005. The kids were young, we had marital issues and I wanted to get the heck out of here. Our divorce was final in November 2005 and I had been contracting for about 7 months at that time. As far as the Army goes, I was still in the same old Reserve unit, but they were having some issues with me being gone so much. I would try to make up my drills when I was home. I met my wife in December 2005 on Match.Com. She was an angel and exactly what I wanted and needed. We dated for about 4 months, 3 of which I was gone. We were married 20April2006. We’re still married, believe it or not, and had one son together back in 2010. The grand year of 2008 rolled around, and it was time to find a new unit. A lot of guys I worked with overseas were still in the National Guard. I found out that the National Guard Special Forces unit was pretty forgiving on being gone since most all the guys contracted. So, I joined C Co 2/20 SFG(A). I stayed in that unit for 2 years. That was a great unit and we had a LOT of fun. Since I was in an 18E slot they needed me to attend SFAS and go after that Green Beenie. I really didn’t care to be an SF guy cause I was pretty much working the job already overseas but told them I’d go anyway. In 2010 I returned to Camp McKall for another round of “Selection”. I really didn’t care what happened, but I had planned to really do my best. I believe I was 36 or 37 at the time. I went and actually kicked butt. I smoked the Nasty Nick, scored over 290 on my PT test, did 20 something pullups and laughed at just about everything. I had a great attitude. Lesson 4: Attitude can get you thru the worst of times. I did well but got cut with about 90 other guys after week 2. I talked to the cadre about it and he said it wasn’t a numbers/age thing, but it was. Anyway, that experienced healed me from quitting back in ’96. Something that always haunted me. No big deal. I ended up leaving that unit and joining the Drill Sergeant unit back in Springfield. Hands down, the worst unit I was ever in. I was there about 6 months then transferred to an instructor unit within the 95th Division. I enjoyed that. It was pretty laid back and I completed my Army Basic Instructor Course. After a couple years there I left the Reserves and joined the Missouri National Guard and landed in the 140th RTI. That was to be my last unit. I reclassed to be an 88M Army Motor Operator/Truck Driver. I was cool with that. It was a necessity to be able to teach the course. Things happened, and I ended up sliding over to 1st Battalion to pick up an E7/Sergeant First Class slot. The new job was battalion Quality Assurance. That was a good gig.
So here I am. I had planned to do 30 and retire an E8 Master Sergeant but I’m OK with how this story ended. My entire career I had my Grandpa Rick on my mind. Always wondering what it’d have been like to serve with him. I really feel that I did it all. I spent time in Combat Arms, Combat Support and Combat Service Support. That gave me the full snapshot of the Total Army. Would I do it all over again? Absolutely. I was truly born to be a soldier. This has been the absolute best life. I’ve struggled much, have endured much and have learned much. I love my country and my countrymen with all my heart. I truly believe in the Republic. I thank God SO much for having my back thru all the times I turned my back on him and did ungodly things. I have been saved by grace through faith and am alive because of His will. My story is not over, yet. All of this is bittersweet. I am very sad that I won’t be wearing my uniform again but it’s time and I’m ready. I’m ready to grow my beard out and sleep in. It’s time to pass the guidon to our younger generation. We live in the greatest country on the planet hands down. It’s hard for civilians to see that. Only through a soldier’s eyes can you truly experience freedom and what goes into earning and defending it.
To mom and dad: Thank you for raising me how you did. Thank you for supporting me and allowing me to go my way.
To my sisters: Thank you for putting up with me and supporting me. Thank you for the packages you sent and missing me when I was gone.
To my ex-wife: Thank you for supporting me and sticking by my side when I needed it. Thank you for our 3 awesome kids.
To my wife: I love you so much. Thank you for taking the load from my ex and continuing to carry it. You carried it differently, but it wasn’t any easier. You light up my life and I am forever grateful.
Most importantly, to my kids: All 4 of you are absolutely amazing. I cannot change the past even though I wish I would’ve spent more time with you. Thank you for putting up with me through all the deployments, two wives, my personal issues, parenting and all that comes with being an Army Brat. You are amazing kids and I’m proud to call you mine. I love you all so much. Thank you for your grace with me.