Yesterday, I wrote about my cousin Shane’s Combat Parachute Jump into Iraq during OPERATION Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Today, I ask him a few questions about his experience in the military.
What made you want to join the military? Why Army?
This is always a two-part answer. The reason that I initially joined the Army was simply because they funded my college degree. I earned an ROTC scholarship while in high school, which earned me a commission into the Army upon completion of the program, so that got me in. The reasons why I continue to serve in the Army are because I believe there are few other jobs that present the types of challenges experienced through military service and combat, I take great pride in adding to the positive lineage of the American Soldier, and most of all I thoroughly enjoy sharing in the camaraderie of working with some exceptional men and women in uniform.> Reflecting on your Army life from 10 years ago, what have you learned since then?>
Just when I think I know everything, I learn a valuable lesson. The Army life, especially during a time of war, is ever-changing and evolving. The only thing that is consistent in the Army is change, which has impacted me in two significant ways. First, I have learned to approach unknown situations or environments fluidly with an open but focused mindset for what may come. This is not just a mindset that is needed in nearly any combat situation, but also helps me make the best out of almost any situation in all aspects of life. Second, I have grown as a leader significantly in the last 10 years by connecting with Soldiers and finding various methods to motivate them in their accomplishing their duties. 10 years ago, I would run around barking orders to make things move. Now I provide guidance and motivation and am always impressed by what Soldiers are capable of accomplishing.
What are you presently doing?
I am now a Military Intelligence Officer and most recently earned my M.S. in Strategic Intelligence. In my current job, I help support policymakers and military leaders with intelligence products concerning some of our national adversaries.
Were you scared during the jump into Iraq?
I should have been. The Soldiers on my plane heading to the jump were displaying a gambit of emotions. Some were sleeping, some were crying, some were talking to themselves to psych themselves up. I kept reviewing in my head all of the details for our plan on the ground, rehearsing through my mind over and over the tasks that my platoon needed to accomplish. I was so focused on what I had to do on the ground that I didn’t pay enough attention to what I had to do to get out the door, which is why I smacked my head twice on the side of the plane. Before you can conquer the day, you have to get up out of bed successfully.
How did your first experience in Iraq compare to your subsequent tours in Afghanistan and again in Iraq?
There are far too many differences between the locations, people, times, and even objectives when comparing my three deployments, but I will focus on two key differences. The first one was the redeployment frame of mind. What I mean is that we jumped into the dark abyss with no idea of when we would return during the first deployment, so my mindset was “one thing at a time” and “this will end at some point.” However, I went into the second and third deployments with an expected end date, which changed the mindset a little bit to “let’s see how much I am able to accomplish or cram into 12 or 15 months.” The other major difference, especially when compared in order, was the evolution of the threat/counter-threat cycle. I think it is very commendable for an enormous and generally slow changing organization like the Army to adapt to the fast paced insurgent environments in both countries and relatively quickly provide resources to counter the greatest threats on the battlefield. I’m sure this issue will be debated for many years to come, but I witnessed the evolution of resources and techniques in the Army firsthand over the course of my deployments and believe that the Army’s ability to evolve quickly attributes to much of the successes that can be claimed in both countries.
Your wife Tiffany served in the Army. Tell me about her role, how you served together, and what she is doing now.
My wife and I met while we were both in training at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. She deployed to Iraq as an Intelligence Officer initially in her Army career and then finished her time working for a Wounded Warrior unit helping Soldiers receive care for a wide range of physical and mental issues. Now, she is attending law school and working at a law firm while amazingly raising two young boys.
What advice do you have for anyone wanting to serve in the military today?
Military service comes with sacrifices and benefits. Talk to multiple men and women that have served to gain a variety of perspectives on the positive and negative aspects of a military career. Like any decision, learn as much as you can about both the good and the bad and weigh them for your own situation. Don’t forget to include the intangible aspects of serving your country when weighing your options because they are some of the greatest benefits of all.
What do you want to share with your kids when they are older?
The reasons why it is important to contribute to the greater good and why it is important for some to sacrifice on behalf of the many.