When the jet flew into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, I felt violated. At the time, I worked at Fort Belvoir, south of Washington, D.C., as a logistician. But I had worked in the Pentagon building for several years.
That’s why when the senior leaders at the Logistics Operations Center asked for volunteers to go to Iraq, I immediately said I’d go. DoD has given me an education and opportunities to see the world. If the department says, “Hey, we need you to go,” I say OK.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but you can watch CNN and know what you’re in for. On July 14, while I was in Balad, Iraq, we got mortared four times. One time I was using the bathroom at midnight, and a mortar went off so close that the whole trailer shook.
It’s routinely in the hundreds here. It cools down to 99 at night. You put towels in your boots at night to keep the camel spiders, mice and lizards out.
Then there are the tactical landings when you come in fast and hard. I was flying into Balad on a C-130, a huge cargo jet. I went there to train soldiers on RFID tagging, making sure they’re writing the tags with the right level of detail to get visibility of the assets as they move along the supply routes. The week before I arrived, a young man had been shot getting out of a 130. As you’re landing, they tell you to put your flak jacket and helmet on. After landing, the back drops down, and you run as fast as you can.
The violence doesn’t affect me too much. I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. There were guns and drugs. Most of the classmates I grew up with are probably dead or in prison. My mother left me with an elderly couple when I was six months old. I knew my father, but he wasn’t a part of my life.
I get my motivation from my wife, Johnnie, and my 12-year-old daughter, Marissa. It was hard to say good-bye to them, but I told my daughter, “We have troops in Iraq, and we have folks over in Afghanistan. They’re fighting this war on terrorism, and they’re protecting us. At times, they have problems getting their food, getting their spare parts, getting bullets to protect them. So, Dad’s going over to help them get this stuff.”
She said, “Dad, that’s a good thing. Go do that.”
My wife didn’t want me to go, but she said, “If that’s what you need to do, that’s what you should do.” So with that kind of support, you can’t do anything but come over here and do well.
—As told to Allan Holmes