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James Field

Ohio History Connection
Jess Holler and Ty Pierce, Interviewer |
Standing Together: Ohio Veterans and the War on Terror |

0:00 - Introduction

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0:47 - Early Life and Childhood

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  • Born in Newark, Ohio; then to the countryside around Hebron, Ohio

  • Had a "fairly normal childhood"; interested in team sports and was a starter for teams at the high school level

  • Father worked for McDonnell-Douglas; mother stayed at home with the kids, and then became a principal in the school district

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6:52 - Family History of Military Service

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  • Family history of military service: grandfather was in the Guard;

brothers had served as well. Grandpa, especially, was ranger-qualified and served in Korea as a young man.

  • Family military memorabilia was always around the home - from uniforms from the Korean War to rucksacks from Desert Storm; Field spent much of his childhood hearing the narrative around these objects

  • Grandpa had gotten out of the army and retired to the Guard; always spoke affectionately of this ""Summer Camp"" experiences during Annual Training

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10:46 - Early Impressions of Military Service

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  • Field grew up thinking that the Marine Corps had "cooler uniforms"; but that the Army was more of a professional endeavor that provided more opportunity to go to training schools, etc.

  • Younger brother had already joined the Guard - joined during his senior year of high school, right after 9/11.

  • Field went to college instead, and graduated OSU in 2007; meanwhile, his brother was still a part of the Guard -- and the U.S. was still at war, almost 10 years out from 9/11

  • Field wanted to join his brother's unit; knew that his brother was deploying for Iraq

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13:29 - 9/11 Experience and the Call to Service

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  • Field took football very seriously in high school; and first heard of the 9/11 attacks during football strength training

-Field remembers that he thought his friend was "fibbing"; everyone began watching the TV in class

  • Field remembers his high school as being one of the few in the area that kept football practice in spite of the attacks

  • The 9/11 attacks were influential in Field's decision to joint he Army; he became aware, early on, of the news of the conflict overseas, and began following coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soon after 9/11, Field met with a recruiter; the military still worked under a

"peacetime" model of recruitment, in which the recruiter visits the potential recruit and family at their home

  • Field's parents insisted that he go to college; attended OSU Newark and watched Fox News anchor Shep Smith announced the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003

  • After the initial invasion, Field became less focused on what was going on in U.S. Wars overseas; only his uncle, at the time, was still serving

  • In his junior year of college, Field's brother joined the Guard, and went to Ft. Banning, Georgia, for his combination basic training/advanced individual training (AIT). Field attended his brother's graduation and was moved by the graduation speech and attendant demonstration

  • 9/11 had "started a fire"; but, by the time he'd graduated college, Field felt like he was letting "someone else carry the load"; he felt called to "do his part."

  • Relationship with younger brother had been marked by lots of competition; the brothers were close, but not sentimental - but they did share many experiences: playing Army and football

  • Brother overcame seizure diagnosis and was able to receive a waiver to join the Guard; became trained as a sniper with the Guard

  • Field felt called to serve in combat, specifically, because he wanted to know his "mental breaking point"; to have the opportunity to chase that challenge, and to be trained through school, and by reading books on service. Seeing news of Operation Anaconda (2002) in the media,

for example, made Field wonder if he could do that.

  • Infantry seemed the most direct route to this sort of service experience

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28:05 - Civilian Life; College and Early Career

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  • Meanwhile, Field completed his college at OSU Newark and transferred to the main branch of OSU campus;

he worked cutting grass, and met his wife-to-be in 2005

  • Before joining the military, Field hoped to work in journalism; worked at The Lantern at

Ohio State and wanted to get a job writing for the Dispatch; but this was a difficult moment for journalism

  • Submitted applications and PR kits to several small papers; but disheartened by the idea of having

to move all around the country to pursue journalism jobs

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33:10 - Enlistment

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  • Enlisted on 27 September 2007 at the Ohio Army National Guard MEPS in Gahanna, Ohio

  • Almost went in for full-time active duty army service; but Field's brother's unit was deploying to Iraq soon; and Field expected he might become active duty through the Guard

  • Excited by the romantic idea of "going to war" alongside his little brother

  • Brother's unit ended up mobilizing out of Fort Hood in April of 2008; Field graduated from infantry school in May, and was assigned to the rear detachment -- 4 guys, stuck on base; but received some opportunities in the process

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40:54 - Rear Guard Detachment

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  • Field entered his rear guard detachment duty as an E-4; had the opportunity to train up as an E-5 through Non-commissioned Officer (NCO) training

  • Participated in a number of available trainings; as the unit prepared to return home, attended Air Assault School (2009) in Ft. Benning.

  • Adjusted back to cutting grass as his active-duty/full-time status changed; prior to the mobilization, Field had attended a number of training schools without a break in between

  • Family was very proud of Field's service, but also met it with apprehension; but the family was deeply supportive

  • Reintegration of forward & rear units after deployment proved difficult; Field's brother had received a combat infantryman patch; Field felt somehow "outpaced" by his brother - but, brother was very well-liked by unit, which helped Field to assimilate by reputation.

  • Field remembered listening to the stories of the combat experiences, the convoy escorts (CET) and the camaraderie, along with the other four rear-guardsmen

  • Field felt lucky to be so well-integrated into the returning unit; but the unit also saw alot of turnover: between 2012-2015, 40% of the unit mobilized, and was replaced with new recruits

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49:16 - Basic Training Experiences

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  • Field entered basic training at 24; "not a whiner." Expected it to be hard.

  • Formed strong bonds with other trainees, even across gaps of 7-8 years

  • Bonded over shared experience of "the suck": sharing uncomfortable experiences with others brings you closer

  • Learning to live and train closely with other guys, even if he didn't like them; this was easier for Field because he was older than the average recruit

  • AIT (2009) was at Camp Grayling; Federal OCS training at Ft. Benning (same as active duty); Federal Air Ranger Platoon Leader with the 148th; 2009 was federal OCS training, and 2010 was officer candidate school with the 2nd Lieutenant Infantry; had a three-week break in July -- knew, from basic training, that the unit would eventually be deploying to Afghanistan

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57:13 - Engagement and Ranger School

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  • Commissioned in July of 2010 to lead 36 guys in combat; wanted to get married so that the Army would be sure to recognize the marriage and his partner's benefits were something to go awry in combat

  • Proposed on 8-9-10 at the Ohio State University oval; then set out on the 4-month course of IBOLC (Infantry

Basic Officer Leadership Course) and Ranger School, and planned to prepare for mobilization after that.

  • Wife planned the entire wedding while Field attended Ranger School.

  • Ranger School is the 'unspoken gate' to the infantry world; leadership needs to have it -- more of a rite of passage

  • Soldiers serve as small unit leaders; must survive without a ton of food or sleep to be successful

  • Combat-simulation training in leading other stressed-out people, at the platoon level

  • Army National Guard Warrior Training Center (WTC) course at Ft. Benning, Georgia is a pre-rec for enrolling in Ranger School from the Guard; they vet soldiers first - even push-ups counts can make or break admission

  • Field ultimately did not make Ranger School the first go-round. All the pressure had been "put on himself";

but, because his Uncle had successful become a Ranger, Field didn't talk to his uncle until he ultimately graduated

from ranger school, in 2013

  • Not making Ranger School was a "devastating failure"; but the set-back came at the right time in Field's career --

he was set to head to Afghanistan, and already knew he'd come back a different leader. He was upset to have to

deploy without the experience, but became set on "trying to get the knowledge without that experience."

  • Not getting Ranger School before deployment became one of the defining moments of Field's officer career

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71:53 - Pre-mobilization Process for Afghanistan

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  • Mobilization site, paperwork, health check & family care plan at Ft. Shelby, for almost 4 months

  • Meanwhile, the operating environment had changed; another unit moved there

  • Unit had assumed Northwestern Afghanistan -- Obama administration put a strict cap on troops

  • Effects of these governmental decisions were felt down to the platoon-level

  • Delta and Bravo companies sent to a sister task force on another mission entirely

  • Battalion restructured themselves at Camp Shelby; falling in on a manning roster; moved to Ft. Irwin for National Training

  • A & B companies sliced down even further; unit functions changed

  • Moved into 3 man companies with 2 platoons each

  • Underwent other training rotations; upgraded to Title 10 (active Guard pay)

  • Ft. Irwin: 30-day training event intended to replicate the operating environment (miserable)!

  • Field trained up with the light infantry unit: prepared to walk everywhere; only 2 vehicles

  • Underwent MITUS Mind-Resistant vehicles (MRAR) drivers' training

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78:33 - Political Climate in Afghanistan at the Time

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  • Assigned to RC-North in Afghanistan, under administrative control of the Germans (at the 10-year mark); U.S. troops had a more restricted involvement there, and had to carefully follow rules of engagement

  • Via decisions made in Congress, U.S. military reduced footprint there.

  • Field notes this was otherwise a unique time in Afghanistan: burnings of the Quran; "Kandahar Massacre"

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81:11 - Arrival in Afghanistan; Readying the Platoon

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  • “Tail and tooth” model: “tail” (leadership) in and out first

  • Deployed Jan. 8th from Gulfport, Mississippi to Bangor; then to Munich; then to Manas in Kyrgystan for vehicle rollover training; customs, etc.

  • Advanced party already in-country; company arrived later

  • Entered at Mahmoul/Mazar I-Sharif to receive gear and plates

  • Mahmoul, at the time, was a large, progressive city in Northern Afghanistan; Field

recalls it as being “friendly-ish,” with German and Romanian zones of control

  • Company leadership stayed in transient tents; went through to PACS terminals and waited

for company to arrive; came in on commercial planes

  • Company’s gear was moved to truck; but folks traveled to outpost on a Blackhawk’s back and could only take one bag to the outpost

  • Mission split functions between the U.S. and Afghan National armies

  • By February 28th, 100% of the platoon had arrived in-country

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84:46 - Mission

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  • The mission changed, following counterinsurgency

  • Work was to separate “bad guys” from “good guys”; and to build walls

  • Served on “SFATs” — Security Force Assistant Teams — of 4-5 people each

  • Partnered with the Afghan National Army (ANA) on logistics and intelligence;

but main function was to train and developed the Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP),

based at Gormach Bazaar.

  • Working along the Ring Road/Highway 1 and paving stops at Gormach; the ANA

had assumed control of a Chinese camp there, in Taliban-sympathetic territory;

mission changed to include security that road and checkpoints in the mountains,

and checking in with AUP officers at those checkpoints, and generating reports

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99:54 - Collaboration with Afghan National Forces

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Collaboration with the ANA/AUP

  • Collaboration involved talking with the special forces team; navigating different

cultural understandings — working with these

  • Lots of cross-cultural dialogue and working with translators; little is stable

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106:02 - Daily Routines in Afghanistan

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  • 2 platoons worked on a weekly rotation: force protection, patrol check-in, etc.

  • Other ancillary patrol duties, as well — escorting VIP trips, supporting the actual

mission, and supporting ANA/AUP missions; cordon & search jobs; village clearance

  • Unit was the last to be there before shutting down American work and handing it all

over to the ANA/AUP

  • Around 100 Americans were stationed about 100 miles from the battalion’s HQ

  • Field sometimes wishes for more kinetic energy and opportunity to serve as infantrymen

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112:43 - Leadership Experiences

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  • Being a leader in combat service can be exhausting; “don’t have the luxury of being the guy who has the breakdown”

  • Needed sniper rifles, but this wasn’t an assigned need; Field’s brother Johnny got moved out on first day of deployment, and was stationed north of the COP, in very contested territory with lots of energy engagement

  • Observed dismounted firefight on a nearby hill that Johnny was involved it; followed this over CT radio

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118:49 - First Firefight: March 10

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  • Enemy was located North; company was “company minus”; had to walk to enemy location

  • Maneuvered up hilltops with 2 square units; worked to secure a larger open danger area —

attacks were possible as enemy forces were all along the ridgeline to the next hilltop

  • Worked with ANA platoon troops; rounds hit close — one soldier stayed to shoot the rounds

  • Field regrets not writing this soldier an award for his action

  • Troops were in a precarious spot: open fire; guys were on motorcycles and radios didn’t work; forgot to call for mortar fire

  • Leadership involved coordinating all this action

  • Field’s commander let him manage the fight; than never left his rucksack behind — helicopter/fighter jet passes over and is enough to settle down the cross-fire

  • Powerful to talk with ANA soldiers about their shared experiences; conversations about being brothers was humbling. Field trusted subordinates on the team to do the work.

  • Firefight produced a high, “as long as nobody gets hurt.”

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137:06 - Subsequent Firefights

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  • Brother was outside the wire; was woken up in the middle of the night for a battle drill, then went back to command post

  • 20 men were walking towards the COP, with guns, heading to the Bazaar where a meeting had been scheduled

  • Field wanted to get to the watch-tower, to “be where the action is”; walked to the tower and simultaneous fire broke out. Field sprinted there and returned fire with brother

  • Field brothers decided to tell their mother about the firefight; but after they got back home

3rd Firefight:

  • Open air gym; shooting

  • Tons of small arms fire; holes started opening in the roof

  • Men were very excited for conflict to break out; no serious injuries

  • Mission was ending - deciding who gets what; trying to help the ANA rely on their own resources

  • Young girl was shot in the back; troops also had to worry about “fake injuries”, which could be used as infiltration by insurgent forces

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150:19 - Final Days; Preparation to Return to the States

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  • Field found it interesting to see the impact of trauma (the bombs, IEDs, etc.) on the human body

  • Final experience: flew out, and the rest of the platoon came later. Was originally going to drive out, but want his platoon to be the last to leave

  • De-mobilized in Ft. Bliss, Texas; shortly thereafter, two of Field’s men were shot in Gormach — difficult to not be able to be there. They were able to be MedEVAC’d and were OK.

  • Lost 4 people on April 4th

  • Served as the platoon leader under platoon Sgt. Rick for 8 months

  • Last few weeks: communication blackouts all the time (soldiers had been killed or injured)

  • Processing being a planner (E-6) for the battalion, and working to send soldiers outside

of the wire who may get hurt or injured. Difficult to not be as much a part of the direct service, and to get closure when something happens. Sometimes leadership gets restless.

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161:47 - Transition Home; Remembering Afghanistan

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  • Constructive and destructive ways to handle the loss of the “high” of being in a combat zone

  • Struggles with the feeling of “never being this awesome again”

  • Important to keep in touch with and give/receive counsel from fellow veterans

  • Field: “Sometimes Afghanistan is bigger than me”

  • Getting together with other soldiers from the unit

  • Afghanistan experience really shaped Field’s leadership style; working as a platoon commander you are “working for 131 people”; helped put things into perspective

  • Very shaped by his time serving with his brother

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179:29 - Seeking Services for Transition

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  • Sometimes post-combat soldiers “put a band-aid on it”; often overwhelmed by their combat

experiences and transition to civilian life

  • Nothing wrong with talking to someone; knowing the tools and resources available

  • Many of the “most together” soldiers, post-combat, have sought out counselors who

also served (shared ideological background)

  • Talking about combat experiences can help family understand; as can hanging out with

soldiers from the mobilization

  • Can be difficult to explain to family having a strong emotional attachment to another group of people

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185:44 - Lessons from Service

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  • Wouldn’t really tell his younger self anything: “don’t chase”; servicemen and -women

can’t plan for every contingency

  • Train up really hard; always take the least comfortable path

  • Resiliency: “imposing my own desire to find the breaking point”

  • Building a team sometimes means people have to suffer together

  • Combat isn’t romantic, like in war movies; leaders have to motivate their soldiers to get work done. The infantry means dealing with human capital.

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191:56 - Life After Afghanistan: Civilian and Service

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  • Ranger school

  • Family’s infertility struggle; having a daughter

  • Full-time job with the Guard; two years as the Executive Officer at command in

October 2012; 2-years of serving full-time

  • Took charge of the Charlie Company as Commander, 1st Sgt. — fantastic opportunity

to create change on-the-ground

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196:51 - Reflections on Service; Impact on Family

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Impact of Service on Family

  • Most impact on Field’s wife; wife and mother talk and share

  • Doesn’t see impacts on his mom; but father is really proud

  • Wife Terra has had to make a lot of sacrifices, enduring long periods of time

without contact, miscommunications, Field’s travels for work, etc.

  • Field has chosen to frontload what he wants to accomplish in his career, so that

he can be around for his daughter

  • Wife has been involved in rebuilding the Family Readiness Group with Charlie Company

Reflections on Service

  • Service is a job, like anything else; Field tries not to go about his civilian life in uniform

  • People nowadays still do serve out of a sense of duty

  • Only 20% of the 1% of the country in uniform serves in combat

  • PTSD exists

  • Service is a proud job; we have a volunteer army — veterans don’t think less of people that don’t service

  • Would like to see more programs and services for veterans; more hiring programs

  • Veterans of recent wars aren’t entitled to any less than the services available to the “Greatest Generation”

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