Segment Synopsis: Leonard Burke was born in Youngstown, Ohio in the 1970s. In his interview he describes what growing up in Youngstown in the 1980s was like, going to college at Youngstown State University, and the variety of jobs he held before entering the Ohio National Guard. He talks about how he met his wife and his family's history of military service.
Keywords: Cincinnati (Ohio); Columbus (Ohio); Disc jockeys; Youngstown (Ohio)
Subjects: Family; School; September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001.; Work and jobs
Map Coordinates: 41.0944608,-80.7095869
Segment Synopsis: Burke discusses his feeling about joining the National Guard, boot camp, learning to work as a team in the Guard, his Military Occupational Specialty in avionics, and his Advanced Individual Training at Fort Eustis. He explained his decision to volunteer to go to Iraq in 2009, how he became a 15T Blackhawk repairer, and the job of a crew chief on a Blackhawk. He also gives an overview of the steps of his pre-deployment and deployment to Balad Air Base in Iraq. Burke reviews the types of missions he flew on Blackhawks, which include ring routes, detainee ops, state ops, and time sensitive target missions. He details his interest in Iraq history, dealing with the stresses of being in a combat zone, the positive aspects of belonging to the military community, and his humanitarian missions transporting high-profile guests. Burke talks about how he and others on the base stayed in touch with their families and how being on a military base could insulate you from things going on back home.
Keywords: Balad Air Base (Iraq); Black Hawk (Military transport helicopter); Crew Chiefs; Fort Eustis (Va.); Iraq; Ohio. National Guard
Subjects: Boot Camp; Deployment; Iraq; Life on Base; Missions
Map Coordinates: 33.933333, 44.366667
Segment Synopsis: Burke came home 3 days before Christmas and one day after his anniversary to a welcome home party at St. John Arena. He closes with his return home from deployment, finding a new career, coming to Columbus, Ohio and how the National Guard can have a positive influence on a person’s life.
Keywords: Columbus (Ohio)
Subjects: Coming home; What you learn serving your country; Work
TP: Today is Monday, November 23, 2015. My name is TP and I'm here interviewingLB about his service in the Ohio Army National Guard. This interview is being conducted at the Ohio History Center in Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Burke, for the record, please say and spell your full name.
LB: Sure. It's Leonard Paul Burke III. It's L-e-o-n-a-r-d; Paul, P-a-u-l; Burke,B-u-r-k-e and the Roman numeral III.
TP: Mr. Burke, can you tell us when and where were you born and where did yougrown up?
LB: I was born in Youngstown, Ohio. I grew up in the south side of Youngstownand moved to Boardman later in my elementary school days. My parents still live in the same house that they bought when I was, oh, gosh, it would have been the summer going into my 4th Grade year. They purchased that house. It was a little farmhouse with the area. Got a great deal on it because it had been vacant for a few years prior to and needed some work done to it, but they lucked into it. They got a great deal on it. Luckily, my dad was able to do a lot of the work and so also he's remodeled tons in the house already. Now, me and my two brothers are ... my youngest brother is back in the house now but my two brothers are all in there in everything and we have our own families and the house is pretty big for just my mom and my dad. They're so close to paying it off. She doesn't want to move out of there.
It was really great. The Youngstown where you're growing up especially in the'80s was a little difficult because you have that transition that was going on with that area, '50s, '60s, big steel town, a lot of industry, a lot of opportunity, '70s come, the fall of the steel industry and the decline started 00:02:00to rapidly increase. You could see, looking back at my childhood now, you could really see how everything went downhill sharply, things that buildings that were there when I was a kid are no longer there. They've been torn down. Neighborhoods that were vibrant are on the downfall side now.
Everybody was moving to one area to live and going to Boardman to shop and nowBoardman shopping area that were really high class and very nice, very pristine have gone to the wayside because more traffic and less money to keep it up. It's really interesting to see the dynamics of how that area has changed since I was a kid.
TP: You said you had two brothers.
LB: Two brothers, yes.
TP: What was ... and you moved in 4th Grade.
LB: Yes, we moved --
TP: When you were in 4th Grade.
LB: When I was in 4th Grade, yes. My youngest brother hadn't been born yet sothis would have been '89, yeah. The summer of '89, we moved. I was 9 years old. My brother 6 years old. My middle brother, Michael was 6 years old. We moved from south side of Youngstown to just outside of the south side of Youngstown into Boardman. Literally, two streets over in front of the city line so pretty close still. Yeah, we moved there into that home and like I said, just even that neighborhood that we moved into when we first got there really vibrant. It had block parties. We had a block party every year where they had radio station coming because it's a dead end street. We would block off the end of the street in every way, just come out in the middle of street and put your tables up and had a big pig roast. It was great, awesome.
For our first couple of years when we're there, we did that and then people00:04:00start to move away and it goes down and then the neighborhoods gotten a little bit more rundown. A few houses got knocked down and it's tough because I remember the way I remember it as a kid and now going back and looking at it and my kids are seeing that neighborhood. Now, I'm realizing similar situations for we would go to my grandparents house and see their neighborhood and their neighborhoods. It's not really the best shape now but when my mom and dad were growing up, yeah, the neighborhood had to be a lot nicer. I'm understanding that the economy now that I didn't get when I was a kid.
TP: What did your parents do for a living?
LB: My dad is a jack of all trades. He's worked in a few different factories fora few different companies, unfortunately. Like I said in the Youngstown area, they're gone by the wayside. One of those being Aero Aluminum in Mineral Ridge, Ohio. He's worked as a extrusion operator, as a dye press operator. He's worked in a desk or chair plants building chairs, high quality chairs for casinos, stuff like that. Since then has moved into more of the maintenance field. He does a little bit of maintenance work on the side but he's also the head maintenance man for a two-section, in-housing apartments in Youngstown. The Calvary apartments and I'm not sure what the other building. It's named after somebody. It's in Austintown that [inaudible 00:05:35] I want to say is the building. He's the head maintenance man for both buildings now. He's been doing that for a few years. Unfortunately, his health is catching up to him. He's been a smoker all his life so that heart attacks and stuff have certainly catch up to him a little bit so he's not been able to do as much but still actively working, stubborn as old pea.
My mom, ironically enough, my mom was pregnant with me during her senior year of00:06:00high school. She was actually able to ... would have graduated valedictorian with a 4.0 but her one teacher ... I don't want say that they was biased against her but she gave her the short end of the stroll and she gave her a B in her Latin course. She really loved Latin and unfortunately she got a B there so she was a salutatorian instead of valedictorian for that. She actually wound up taking her whole second semester, her last semester of her senior year off because she had enough credits. She was a perfect student, had everything done so she had that luxury.
Having a child right in high school and right after she wasn't able to followher dreams or go to college or anything like that until a little bit later in life. She went in and enrolled in the ITT Tech and still holds the record if I'm correct, still holds the record for the fastest typer in ITT history for the Youngstown branch. Extremely fast typer. I walked in her office. She's typing, talking on the phone and talking to me at the same time. I don't know how she does it. She went from ITT and got a position with the Easter Seals Society of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana Counties and has basically been working at Easter Seals ever since close to 30 years now. She's been there for quite some time. Worked her way up, she's the second in command now but unfortunately it's a non-profit organization so doesn't make a whole lot of money but she likes what she does. She loves the organization. She's a good woman, a very good woman.
TP: Okay. Cool. Was there a tradition of military service in your family? If so,00:08:00or if not, does that affect you in any way?
LB: My dad got [PDqued 00:08:05] during his teen years when they were looking... drafting him. He was disqualified for a throat asthma so he wasn't able to join the service but my grandfather served in World War II. Other than that, also my grandmother on my mom's side was in the Navy during World War II. Other than that, I don't really have any personal knowledge of any military history in my immediate family. I always felt the ... not the urge but maybe the calling to do something with the service. Right out of high school, I had the option of going into the service.
Unfortunately, the only recruiter that was really beating down my door was aMarine recruiter and he went through and I went through the steps and I took the ASVAB tests and he saw my scores and he's like, Oh, I'm going to make you an officer. This is going to be great. Yeah, and everything's awesome. I got a scholarship to go Youngstown State and I'm like, I want to go to Youngstown State. I don't really want to leave. If I would have known about the National Guard at that point in time and someone would say, Hey, you can go to school and still do the Guard and still do all these great things, I would have said, Okay, yeah. Great. In my mind, it was boot camp or college and I wanted the college so I waited later in life to join the military.
TP: You graduated in high school, started to go through the process and missedit up, came to go over here.
TP: You attended Youngstown State.
TP: Describe ... How was Youngstown State. Can you describe your experiencethere? What were you studying? What was your mental plan for life at that point?
LB: At that point in time, Youngstown State years, I was there for almost twoyears, a year and a half. I bragged it's the Coach Tressel years. It's the end 00:10:00of the Coach Tressel years. I knew Coach Tressel while I graduated with his oldest son, Zach, from Boardman High School so I knew the family. I knew them really well. Great people, great people. I went into Youngstown State to actually go into the physical therapy programs there. They have a great physical therapy program and I enrolled for that purpose. I fell into the trap of the freshman where, Hey, they're not really taking attendance so I don't have to go to class today, and started to bite me a little bit for that and my grades did start to suffer a little because of it and had to kick myself in the year and find that motivation to go do what I needed to do.
Unfortunately, ran out of money. I had only a partial scholarship to go. Icouldn't afford to go. My parents couldn't afford to go and really was against student loans at that point in my life. I don't want to burden myself. I stepped out of college and went into the working world and no regrets. I loved Youngstown State as a school. It's a great school. It's the best part of Youngstown right now. It's ever expanding. It's getting bigger and bigger. The borders of the campus are just growing. Every day, they're absorbing a rundown building and either knocking it down or renovating it and making it into something new. It's really the highlight of that city right now so I love the campus. I will always speak highly of the university, upset that I never got a chance to finish my degree there but my time spent there was great.
TP: You enter ... jumped into the working world. What stuff were you doing. How00:12:00is life at that point? If my timeline in my head is correct, you've got several years between then and when you would have enlisted.
TP: What happened in life right then?
LB: A lot of everything. I did the jack of all trades where I didn't really wantsettle down into one item. I probably got the work ethic from my father but I got my first job all in high school and while having a job in high school, got a second job and then wound up carrying two jobs and technically now since still were the National Guard. I still am carrying two jobs at the same time. I did everything from ... I worked at a corporate store selling carpet. I worked at a ... it's since defunct but that was a so-called home place. It's very similar ... it was similar to Bed Bath & Beyond is now selling home goods and soft lines and hard lines. I was working on the hard line side, dishware, cookware, cutlery, that kind of stuff.
I sold frozen food to Amish people which is really funny to say but it's true. Iworked for a company called ... I don't think they're in existence anymore either right now but they were called Colorado Prime Foods. It was an in-home grocery service. There's something similar to that in the Columbus market now called Naturally Farmed Foods which is an offshoot of the company I found out. It's a really good service. It really is. You would go in and say, Okay. How much your family of five, how much are you spending on groceries? Okay. Are you spending this much? How much are you spending your toiletries and everything else? You're spending this much. Then we'd work out a plan to say, Okay. I'm going to give you a six-months' worth of food and a freezer to stored it in. It's all going to be under one monthly payment thing. It's better quality meats, 00:14:00better quality foods and it's for about the same price or maybe even a little cheaper than what you're already spending.
It's just a concept to try and get people over the idea of, Hey, I'm just goingto drop six months of food on your doorstep at one point in time. That was really difficult for people but there was a screening process. People had to meet a certain household income to even qualify and so on and so forth. Our leads were screened; however, there was one situation where I got a call to go out to a lead. It was northeast Ohio. The one gentleman worked at KraftMaid which is a great company, Amish cabinetry. Awesome, awesome stuff. I got the address and I drove by once then I'm like, Okay. That can't be it. I drove down the street and I came back and checked. I'm like, I better call in.
Back pre-cellphone base, I went and found a payphone and called in to thecalling service and said, Are you sure this is the address? They're like, Yeah, why? I'm like, It's an Amish salesman. I'm like, There's an outhouse. I'm like, Are you positive because I don't know whether there's an electricity for this guy. They're like, No. I'm like, All right. I went in and, God, loved them. They're great people. They invited me in and I gave them my spiel and told them this is what I can do you for you. They bought. I don't know why. I don't know how they're keeping it cold. I don't want to know but it worked. It's the strangest situation having the ... they had a solar powered calculator and it was getting dark and that went into your lighting and my calculator was dying. He brings out a propane tank with a mast and two lanterns and I actually did the rest of my speech by a propane lamp at the end.
That was interesting. That was interesting. From there, I worked in a garage00:16:00door warehouse for a little bit then started installing garage doors for a while. I got out of that. I've tried pretty much everything except for a fast food. I made a decision ... I worked in a restaurant, did everything in a restaurant but I made the decision I didn't want ever to get in the fast food. That wasn't me so I just never did that. I actually was working with the garage door company and got hurt and wasn't able to do installations for a little bit and they gave me a better [inaudible 00:16:44] as well and I was at that time also doing part-time game show host, basically. I was working for a DJ company that did a live version of Name That Tune in local sports bars and Buffalo Wild Wings. It was a lot of fun. Great time. Two hours of partying, they can drunk people to do funny things.
While I was working at the time, my boss actually came to me when I got hurt andsaid, Hey, why don't you come work for me full-time and do sales? Do full-time sales during the day, still do shows at night. I said, Sure. Why not? Did that and wound up meeting the gentleman inventing the game. He's a Canadian, had dual citizenship, met him. He came down and decided the office I worked for ... Tom, my boss, owned the [inaudible 00:17:39] Cleveland, Pittsburgh like western PA eastern Ohio market and Kurt came down and wanted to build a Toledo office and asked to have me and one other person go up to Toledo to help them open it and went into that. Two months later, he comes back into town saying, Hey, I'm going to spend a year or so here in the States. I'm going to open up a Columbus, 00:18:00Cincinnati, Indianapolis office as well. He said, Oh, by the way, Buddy and Diane are coming with me. Buddy is my nickname, by the way, just in case you don't know.
He said we're coming with him and we went down to Columbus and open up theoffices and at one point in time, I was spending a day a week in Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis, Toledo, driving all over the place at 20 years old, 21 years old and it was great. It was a lot of fun, a lot of hard work. A lot of hard work, pun in the pavement looking for places to do the show. Trying to convince people, Hey, this is why you need to give us money and not karaoke. This is why we're different. We were. We were a much better way to entertain people. We were a better way to make the establishment more money. It was specifically designed that way over karaoke, over DJ or a live band or anything like that. A lot of hard work but it came down to I had some family issues back home and my grandmother was diagnosed with MS. I felt the need to go back home to Youngstown to take care of things in the personal side and told my boss and he wasn't happy, of course.
He sat me down and said, This is really against my plans. He goes, I know it'snot what you had planned. He goes, It's the best decision for you personally. He goes, It's the best decision for you personally. He goes, I'm going to have to live with that. Great person, one of the best bosses I've ever worked with. I left Columbus and Cincinnati and everything and came back home to be with my kids. Ironically enough, the day I told Kurt that I wasn't going to work for him anymore, Tom happened to be in that meeting, my old boss from Youngstown. He immediately spoke and said, Hey, you want to do shows for me part-time? I said, 00:20:00Okay, sure. You know I'm going to need a job when I get home anyway so why not? I started doing shows with him part-time and actually wound up meeting my wife that way. She came out to one of my shows. She was divorced previously and was completely against wanting to meet a guy in a bar.
Her sister and her niece had come out to my show in Massillon, Ohio at BW3s andthey're like, You got to come out, you got to come out, you got to come out. She's like, No, no, no. Then she decided to go out and meet them the one night while they were out there to show them pictures because she just got back from a trip to Arizona. Looking at me and my partner Travis at the time and said, Ah, DJs are cute. I'm going to stick around. Then decided that she got it in her head that she was going to go after with one of us. They tried to convince her to go after Travis because he was more shy, quiet, shorter guy, great guy but they're like, He's more your speed. She said no. She goes, I like him because he makes me laugh.
She start to follow me around the shows and we have a strict You don't date fromyour shows just because you don't want to bring that drama into the workplace. We flirt with people and everything and it's like, Hey, see you next week. I was playing that game and she was getting upset about it. The more we would hang out and talk, I got to the idea that, Yeah, I maybe want to try a relationship and give it a shot. I did it the right way. I told my boss, Hey, I met this girl. She has been coming to my shows. I really want to try something. I want to try a relationship. Bring somebody else into the show and I'll cycle out of it.
I did it the right way and we met at the end of August 2001, got engaged at thebeginning of October 2001. Officially started dating at the beginning of October 2001, engaged by the end of October. Then got married in December of 2001. We 00:22:00found out in January that she was pregnant from the honeymoon. Did things quickly but this December will be 14 years. Things are great. She's a great woman. I'm very lucky. We have a great family and definitely no regrets there.
Yeah, I moved in with her, bring the timeline up to right after 9/11 actually.During that time period, ironically enough that I met her then wound up dating her but on September 11, I was actually dating my old, high school sweetheart still at the time off and on. We weren't actually dating but we're then off and on period. I stayed at her apartment the night prior to. It was a Tuesday morning, I remember. It was a Tuesday morning. Monday night, I stayed at her apartment after I did a show and I got in really late and didn't get a chance to talk to her and she got up and went to work and then I woke up later in the morning not nearly enough but had to page her at the time.
I had a bunch of texts or a bunch of pages. I'm like, What's all this going on?I had 2 from my boss and I had 10 from her. I'm like, Okay. I call her and as I'm calling her I'm turning on the TV and she's like, Did you see what's going on? I'm like, No, and turned on the TV and it was right maybe 3 or 4 minutes before the second plane hit the tower, the south tower. It's funny how things like that in life when they happen, I remember what I was wearing. I remembered ... I can vividly close my eyes and picture the apartment and the TV and know 00:24:00exactly where I was at that point in time. You never really truly understood people when they were talking about when John F. Kennedy died, when Elvis died, during Pearl Harbor, how people when they found out and knew that it's just like that photograph is imprinted in your mind forever and so that situation.
I'm not in the military at that point in time, not doing anything really therebut still patriotic. It's just deflating when that moment hit especially working at the time in an entertainment business where I'm going out to try make people forget about everything and have a good time and have fun and you look at that and you look at what's going on and you're like, How can I do that? How can I go play music and act like the world is great and everything's fine when this is going on? I immediately called my boss and said, Am I working that night? Am I doing a show? He said, I'm not sure. He goes, I don't know what's going on right now. Let me call around. I'll call you back. He called. The location I was working on was a Panini's Bar & Grill up in Cleveland, one of the suburbs at Cleveland that night as we have a schedule.
He called that boss, that manager and owner and said, Hey, do you want us tostill come out knowing what's going on right now? He's like, Let me call you back, and he called him right back like 5 minutes later and said, You know what, no game, I don't want to play the game, he goes. But if you can come, play some music, he goes. We need to get people's minds off of it, he goes. That's what they want us to do. They want us to stop our normal lives. He goes, We need to get our minds off of this. We need to try to move forward from this point forward.
He goes, If you could come and play some music at least. My boss called me and00:26:00says, Do you mind? I said, No, I'll go up and play some music. Immediately run up to Best Buy and bought every patriotic song CD I could think of, Lee Greenwood, God Bless the USA, any bring me home, country roads, any patriotic, love of this country song I could find, I went and gathered it all up and went out there. It was like in a continuous loop. That's all I played all night long and probably had 100 requests for God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood. I came on the mic a couple of times and tried to ... a 21-year-old kid trying to impart as much wisdom as I could to say, Look, we're a great country. The sucker punched us. We're going to come back from it. Don't worry about it, and try to get people's minds off of it for a while.
It was a difficult day, difficult day but in the middle of all of that, I hadstarted a relationship, friendship with my now wife and not even a month later because it was October 4th, we started dating and it moved forward. Out of that tragedy, there was something great that came out of it for me personally. I can't really fault 2001 for that. I moved in with my wife. She had the house already so I went and move in with her in Massillon. I moved in with her and she's a little older than I am. She's 5 years older than me but we started living together and started looking for something that wasn't working in a bar every night so that I could be with her. I became a portrait studio manager for Walmart Portrait Studios and then moved over to Sears Portrait Studios. 00:28:00
From there, still doing shows, the two-job thing and then wound up working forDell Computers where they have their low kiosks in the malls selling computers and doing, working as a computer consultant basically, sales consultant. I worked there for actually from the time they opened that kiosk till the time they closed it. During that time, I was still working for Sears, still working for Dell and decided I wanted to go back to school so this is the spring of 2006. I wanted to go back to school. I'm thinking to myself, again, naive, I got a house. I've got two children now. I'll be able to get financial aid. It won't be that expensive for me to go to school. It was still going to be quite expensive for me to go to school. I was getting down on myself. I wasn't really sure that I was going to have that opportunity.
One of the co-workers that my wife worked with actually mentioned to her, Whydon't your husband enter the National Guard though? They'll give him tuition assistance to go back to school. I went up to talk to a great recruiter, Sgt. 1st Class Terry Carpenter. He was very frank with me. He was very upfront. He said, Look, you're not some punk kid out of high school. I have to beat down your door to make sure I stay on you for your decision because you have a house, wife and family. He goes, A job. He goes, I will tell you everything I could do for you, any way I can help you out, I'll let you know. If you're interested, great. I will help you every step of the way. If you're not, thanks for coming and at least listening to me. Okay.
He said, First up, you got to take the ASVAB. You got to take the test. I said,Okay. I was a little nervous. I told him, Hey, I haven't been in college for 5, 6 years now. I don't know how I'm going to do on this test. I haven't taken a test in that long. He goes, If you don't score high enough, I can't offer you certain things. He goes, Do the best you can and then we'll go from there. I 00:30:00said, Okay. I sat down, took the test, came out of the test. Then in his office, he's got the envelope and he's like, All right. Just so you know, if you didn't score high enough, I can't offer you certain jobs. I just want to be upfront about that. I said, Okay.
He opens the envelope, looks at me, looks at the envelope, looks at me, throwsit on the table, says, Tell me what you want to do. You scored a 93. He goes, Whatever you want to do in the Army, you can. I'm like, Okay, cool. I said, I want to stay at this location, which was the [inaudible 00:30:33] base at that time because I live near there. I said, I really want to stay here. He goes, Okay. How do you feel about deployment? I said, Me, I don't really care but my wife, not so much. He said ... he goes, Okay, you've got two options, cook or avionics. I said, Avionics sounds like computers, that sounds like fun, that's what I want to do. I did avionics and, basically, as they said the rest is history.
TP: What were your thoughts about the Ohio National Guard at the time? You said,in retrospect, had that recruiter that you talked with after high school, had the Guard been on the table then for you, you would ... yeah.
LB: Oh, absolutely.
TP: What were your thoughts about the Guard? This is '06 so --
TP: ... they're fairly upfront asking you about your thoughts on enlistment butjust how did you view that commitment over your goals? Where were your thoughts on that aspect?
LB: At the time, I'd probably thought of the National Guard like most people atthat point in time. They're the people they called up when there's a tornado hit or a flood happens. The National Guard was here to help people out when there's a national disaster thing. I didn't really have an image of our own National Guard is an organization outside of the Army. I just lumped it all together in 00:32:00my mind at that point in time. Now, I know. It's much different. Two totally different organizations under the same uniforms, same umbrella and all that. At that point in time, yeah, my concept of the Guard was much different than it is now. I just looked at it as I was going in the Army, I just wasn't going in full time. I didn't have to leave home. I could just do it on a part-time basis situation. Yeah, I really didn't have the same knowledge base or the same perceptions of the Guard as I do now at that time.
TP: How did your wife view your enlistment and then how did the rest of yourfamily react? How about family friends? Your circles at that point.
LB: At that point, my mom two years earlier had been diagnosed with breastcancer and had fought through that. She's a survivor now. She fought through that. There was a lot of family stuff going on at that point in time when I decided to join the military. It was a long conversation with my wife because I told her this is not my decision. It's our decision. This is something that's going to affect us as a family so I have to include you in there. If you're not on board, I'm not doing it. I told her that the more information I found out, the more I talked to the recruiters, it was something I wanted to do on a high school but decided to go to college instead. I wanted to serve. I told her, Hey, I'll try for one contract. It'll give me the chance to go back to school and get school paid for. Why not? Why not give it a shot? Plus, it'll make us a little extra money.
I don't see any downfall to it. I said I know deployment is a scary situation.That possibility will always be there but it's something I think I want to do. 00:34:00She said, I agree. I think you should do it. We had two small children. My son Leo was just born in May of that year and my oldest Kathleen was ... she just turned 4 in August of '06. We have 2 small kids and everything but my wife's thinking at that point in time was, He's joining the National Guard. He's not going anywhere, situation. We decided, yeah, that's what I wanted to do.
I went up and told my parents and they were very supportive of me. Of course, mymom, like any mom, she's going to being nervous, My baby is going to war, situation. She's very centered and understanding. That was my decision and that it was an honor to serve your country and not very many people, less than 1% of the U.S. population serves. It was a great honor to serve and to enlist and so she was okay with it. My dad was all for it. The rest of my family never really showed me any real negativity or hostility towards my decision. They always said, Are you sure that's what you wanted to do? Do you know we're at war at this time?
I said, Yeah, I know. It's something I wanted to do. I want to get my school.This is really the only way I think I'm going to be able to do it financially so I don't put a financial burden on my family. It just makes sense. I said, This is something I feel I have to do, and so I enlisted.
TP: Can you describe the big camp experience? What happens from that? Can you00:36:00describe boot camp? Can you describe ... you already picked your MOS and one thing to some degree but what did boot camp look like for you and then moving into your MOS training, what was that like?
LB: That's one of the perks of the National Guard is that you get to choose yourunit and your MOS. You have an idea when you get out of basic in AIT, Advanced Individual Training for the military, when you get out of that you know where you're going. Whereas, MOS, the duty guys, they're like, Hey, I know I'm going to be doing this job and when I'm done learning how to do the job, it's okay. I'm going to Hawaii. Okay. I'm going to Korea. All right. I'm going to Alaska. Okay. That's one of the perks of the National Guard is that you have that ... I know exactly where I'm going. I'm going back home. Like I said, I enlisted at 15th November avionics mechanic and 26 years old and enlisted into the short ship, actually.
I enlisted ironically enough 15th of November 2006, as the 15th November so I'llalways remember that but mostly the 15th of November and got a short ship basic training day to fly out at the end of January of 2007. I went home from the [inaudible 00:37:28] experience and told my wife, This is when I'm leaving, and everything. This is where I'm going. She's okay. I was like, It's only two months away. I got ready and actually ship for basic training the day before my brother's birthday which was a little hard but went to basic, Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Again, 26 years old. I wasn't that punk teenager out of high school so it was a different ... I went in with a different mentality. I had been a manager and I had worked in retail and store management and all that 00:38:00before so I had that ... I knew how the corporate world worked. I wasn't just some naive kid anymore.
I had a little bit of a different mentality going into basic because of that. Iwent it, try to be a straight arrow and all of that. I had a great mix. We had 18-year-old, 17-year-old kids and we also had two individuals that were over 40. We had a woman who's 41 and a gentleman who's 42. Mama Mendoza and Papa Engel. I still remember them. Great people. Great soldiers as well but it's really cool having that wide range of experiences in age range and everything to work with the basics. I made some great friends, some people I still talk to. Not as much as I'd like. Basic training, you have the Stanley Kubrick version of the training in your head. You see [inaudible 00:39:14] and that's what you see in your head.
You're seeing Full Metal Jacket, that whole story of sequences playing throughyour mind when you're going in and you're standing in line and you're getting yelled up by the drill sergeants and you don't know these people around you but that's the whole point. That's the whole point of boot camp is to scare you, shock you. Take everything that you had and break it down to the bare bones to see what your true moral character and your true compass is and to break you all down as a group so that you can pick yourselves up together and build those bonds and work as a team and all of that. It was something that we struggled with, my group in particular struggled with. 00:40:00
There was one point, I actually got hurt in basic. I separated my hip on myright side so I was on crutches for a little bit and there was one point one night, we were standing outside the barracks and drill sergeant McClowen was in charge of us that night and he had everybody in formation and someone had done something and screwed up and he's like, Fine. You guys want to play around? You don't want to be on time? You don't want to be in the right uniforms. This is what we're going to do. I'm going to give your uniform. You've got 5 minutes up change. Back in formation in 5 minutes. If you don't do it in 5 minutes, we will continue this drill until everybody is.
It was ridiculous. It was PT shirts, dress pants, boots and beret, go. You justran off one green sock, one white sock, white dress shirt and ACUs, go. ACU pants, go. I mean, no shoes. Just come down. Just whatever you could think of, just randomness. Again, it was a drill to punish a little bit but also to teach teamwork. He was waiting for those people to say ... not the guys running out, the ones he chooses, I'm done, I'm coming down, is ... Stay until everybody is done and that we all come down as a group of a mentality. Eventually after about an hour, they got it. I'm standing there on my crutches and it was affecting me seeing my brothers and sisters have to do this. Drill sergeant actually came up to me at the one time that we had another person who's on profile, another soldier next to me on profile.
He says, You guys are happy, you don't have to be part of my little game rightnow. I told him, I said, Drill Sergeant, I just want to be part of the team. He goes, I know. He goes, That's why. He goes, I know this is hurting you as much 00:42:00as it's hurting them right now. He goes, Because you want to be out there. You want to be in the trenches with them. He goes, This is much of a punishment for you as it is for them. It took me aback. I'm like, I didn't think of it that way. I'm like, Okay. All right. Then the next week, I was working as a QC runner overnight at the time because I got tasked with that. One of other drill sergeants took us out. We had to take the van and drop off cones and block off some of the streets on base so that we can do runs in the morning.
We're dropping off cones, me and one other soldier and he's out actuallydropping the cone off. The drill sergeant actually looks up in the mirror and looks at me and says, Let me ask you something, Private. What do you think of basic? What's your opinion of basic right now? This is 6 weeks in the basic training. I said, Honestly, Drill Sergeant, don't hate me for it and done smoke me for it but I thought it'd be harder in honesty but that was my mentality coming in. I had a different picture of what it was going to be. I said, I understand and appreciate it for what it is. I said, I'm upset that I'm hurt right now. She said, Okay. Then just took it with a grain of salt. I don't think we all really got the full picture of basic training until the morning of family day.
It's Thursday morning, the day before graduation. We had just went out and wedid a battalion run. We took the slowest person in the battalion, the little, short girl, Douglas and put her up front. She ran right next to the battalion commander. He said, I want slowest person because we're all going to stay together and we're all going to go out there and run. He goes, You people that run a lot faster than she does, I want you to yell in cadence. I want the whole base woke up. I want to wake people up. You should be celebrating. This is the 00:44:00end of your journey. We went out and yelling cadence and singing and having a blast. We came back and did our formation and break to go up and shower and get changed and ready for family day to go meet our families.
We were still singing cadence. As we're getting change, we're in the base andwe're still singing cadence and having a good time. The drill sergeant snuck into the bay. One of us looks up and says, Oh, at ease, calling everybody at ease and drill sergeant looks over us and said, You guys just don't get it. If you guys would have been doing this 4 weeks ago, your life would have been so much easier. That's when we all looked at each other and realized if we'd just worked as a team and had that cohesion sooner, we would have saved a lot of heartache. It was cool to realize that. I left Fort Jackson, graduated from Fort Jackson. Went up immediately to Fort Eustis, Virginia, just outside of Virginia Beach, Newport News area and that's where my AIT was. Long, long AIT for a 15th November, 26-1/2 weeks, just the AIT.
I had already been gone 10 weeks. I left at the end of January, graduated justafter Easter, actually, the week after Easter from boot camp. My mom and my dad and my brothers and my aunt, actually, and my little cousin, all came down to see my graduation and we got to spend that Friday night and Saturday with them and they drove me up to Newport News, Virginia that Sunday morning I had to report it to AIT. I was in a holdover company or whole under company for a week. 00:46:00I didn't get a start date from my school for a little bit. They were behind on classes so I had to wait a little bit and then finally got in my school. At that point, I had 26-1/2 weeks ahead of me.
Different environment because I still had drill sergeants at that point in timein AIT. Since then we haven't but because we were all in aviation which aviation's paramount in safety. Safety is the number one thing especially for mechanics and people who worked in aircrafts because 9 times out of 10, it's not you that's going to be flying on that aircraft. You need to make sure that aircraft is perfect, ready to go to be flyable. Safety is hugely paramount and because it's so big, it's a stressful environment. Aviation is laid back because of that. There's a little bit more ... work hard but also play hard. Have some fun, de-stress as much as you can because of the environment that we live in.
Because we were there for so long in aviation, the drill sergeants are reallyquick, started to learn who were their problem soldier and who weren't. As long as you were staying up in your school work and you were getting ... you were making the grades, you were staying up in your PT scores and you weren't slack in there, they left you alone. They gave you a little bit of room. If they had to correct you, they corrected you but otherwise, you had a little bit more freedom to do what you wanted to do which was awesome. Our class, for the most part, we were a smaller class. There was only 14 of us. For the most part, we all kept our noses clean so they really didn't do much. Great experience 6 months I was there through the beginning of spring, through summer, end of the 00:48:00beginning of fall.
The one, excuse me, the one big memory I have is we had this coins, challengecoins. It's a popular thing in the Army, generals, colonels, battalion commanders, company commanders will have these coins that they'll have made up and it's a way to show recognition to soldiers immediately. Instead of giving them an award or anything like that, it's a way to come up and say, Hey, good job. A job well done. We had this really cool coins. It was a rectangle, it had a whole [inaudible 00:48:41] into it like you wear on your dog tags but you really didn't. On one side, it had the battalion logo in the center and the 4 company logos and then you flipped it over and had all 4 different rotary-wing aircraft in the Army at that time and a national spiel about like the aviation creed on the back.
I'm like, I want one of these ... I want one so bad. I spent 25, 24 weeks tryingto get one so hard, could never get one and then they told me our grad pass weekend, so this is the weekend prior to graduation, you're given a pass. You're able to go out. Friday afternoon, you're gone. You can go to whatever you want to do. You don't come back until Saturday night or a Sunday night. You could do anything you want, family and friends can come down, it doesn't matter. It's solely your time. We're all pumped and hyped about it. Then they say, By the way, we're a having a drill and ceremony competition between the companies, Saturday morning, none of you are leaving base Friday night. We're like, Oh, really? Uh, this sucks.
Then on top of that, they're like, You, Burke, you are going to be our student1st sergeant for the drilling ceremony team. On top of not being able to leave for grad pass weekend, I actually had to work and be the drill sergeant or the 00:50:00student 1st sergeant for the drilling ceremony's team. I got it into my head that, Fine, if I have to be here and I have to do this, I'm going to win it. I went out and did great and actually I made one mistake and drill sergeant later told me, he's like, Hey. He goes, I didn't even realize what happened. I was the facing movements and calling the group to fall in and doing the ranks inspection and all of that. Everything stationary with the group, I nailed it. I won that event.
The marching, I lost by one call because I was marching everybody and whenyou're marching a group, the 1st sergeant or the sergeant in charge will stand on the left side of the formation. We're marching along. I'm calling the calls and there are certain calls you had to call. You had to call so many column lefts, so many column rights, column half, left column half-right so on and so forth. I called a rear march which is you march forward, you move a step, you pivot and then the whole unit just turns where they are and they march backwards where they are. We had to go a re-march and they had to call another re-march to get people forward. In between the re-march is, I was running out of room so I called a change step march real quick to change their steps for the cadence and then called another re-marching came back.
Little did I know, you cannot call cadence from the right side of the formation.It's only the left side of the formation. When I called the re-march, I became on to the right side of the formation. The only call I could call from that point was another re-march. I called change step so I missed that one. Because of that, I didn't get both. I wasn't the overall champion because of that reason so that hurt me but because I won the first part of the competition and I was the student 1st sergeant, the colonel congratulated me and when she shook my 00:52:00hand, I had a coin. I got a coin. I was like, Yes, I got my coin.
Then I actually graduated distinguish honor grad, number one in my class. I onlymissed two questions. The whole six months I was there, two questions. I can still tell you the same two questions I missed. The one question I missed was on a test. It was a difficult test. It was about the old day system which is the computerized maintenance system where we would track the faults on the aircraft and the specific steps that we would do for the maintenance to fix it. Really hard course. It was the weed-out test. The people who were smart enough to make in, the people that were going to have to be recycled, maybe retrained. We have 5 or 6 guys fail that test. You were able to fail two tests as long as you didn't fail the retakes. If you fail the test, you've got to retake it one time. If you pass, you were good. You're only able to do that twice. Third time, you are done.
Everybody wasn't completely done but we had 5 guys fail that test and I missedone question. I'm looking at it and I'm reading it and I'm going, I know I answered that right. I wanted so bad to argue but I didn't feel like being that guy that was going to argue about not having the perfect score when everybody else was barely trying to pass the exam so I was like, No, I'm just going to bite my tongue. I'll take it. I miss the question. Then the second question I missed was later on in the course. Sergeant [Belamish 00:53:39], she was one of my instructors, I was talking with some of my classmates and she was there too and I said something about, Oh, yeah. That's why I always double check my work. I said, I always double check my work to make sure everything's accurate before I turn it in.
She looked at me and said, You always double check your work, huh? I said, Yeah.She goes, Interesting. I'm like, Why? She goes, Because you put the wrong date 00:54:00on the end of your dash two on this last test and that's why you missed that question. I'm like, Are you kidding me? She goes, Yeah, you put the wrong date on there and that's why you got it wrong. Everything else was perfect. I'm like, Ahh. It taught me a valuable lesson to make sure that I always, always double check my work. Yeah, I only missed two question the whole 6 months I was there so I took some pride in that. As the students ... as the distinguish honor grad, I was given the task of reading the mechanics creed at our graduation. My sergeant gives me the mechanics creed and says, You have to read this from memory so memorize it. I'm like, Oh, great.
I memorized it. Say it from memory and everything, loud, commanding voice andall of that and then graduates and the Sergeant Major who came to watch the graduation, he was the Sergeant Major of the TRADOC command there came to watch the graduation and he's coming on the line, shaking people's hands. He says to me, he's like, You said that all from memory, didn't you, son? I said, Yes, sir, Major, I did. He says, That's outstanding. I've never seen anyone say it from memory before. I'm like, You, ah. Are you kidding me? I went through all of that? Sergeant Belamish laughed about it. She said, I knew you could do it that's why I pushed you. She goes, I had to challenge you a little bit because you weren't challenged during the class ..., she goes, ... it seems so I wanted to challenge you a little bit there. She goes, I knew you could do that's why I wanted you to. I'm like, Okay. All right.
Then the battalion commander colonel come walking through again and shook myhand I was distinguish honor grad for ... we separated our class into two classes. One went through a night class for part of the 6 months and one was in day class and then we all came back together for the end so we had two distinguish honor grads, two honor grads, so myself and Private Benson were the 00:56:00two distinguish honor grads and myself and her both got the coin for being the distinguish honor. I tried 25 weeks to get a coin and then in the last week I was there, I get two. That's all worked. Yeah, that was AIT. It was a great time, great time.
TP: [Inaudible 00:56:23] because it was a long time.
TP: There are two things I wanted to ask you about. That was one. You said yourprofessional career between college and enlistment, you fell on certain things and you end up worked hard of those things but you said you're a jack of all trades. What's it like deciding to make this change and go into the military and then for this drill weekend, you're in charge and doing the drill and leading this team. What did that feel like? I mean, not just ... What did it feel like to be doing it? What did it feel like to be selected to do it for that? Did you think about that at the time of them saying it's you?
LB: No, not really. I guess the weight of that decision really didn't fall onme. It came down to the 1st sergeant, the company 1st sergeant. He wanted someone with a good commanding voice, someone with a loud voice to be the student 1st sergeant. He had all of us that were the loudest of the group stand by the pavilion and he stand way back by the barracks and he's like, Say a command. You would call out a command and we would each have to say it and then he would say, Private so and so, you're done. He would say, Private Burke, say this command. We had to just say the command with as much [inaudible 00:57:53] presence as we could and as best voice and projection as we could. It came down to it. He said, Burke, you're it. Go. I was like, Okay. I got selected. 00:58:00
I took it as an honor really to run that because ... and it really didn't hit meuntil that morning of the ceremony because my guys that were in my unit were just ... they were people in my company, they were in the classes behind us or in a different MOS class, they were just fellow soldiers in my company. All worked so hard at doing this and really gave me their full attention and respect and did everything but that morning of the competition and everything, they were really hyping me up. They're like, We got this. We got this. You're going to be fine. You're going to kick some butt. We're going to be awesome. You got this. I was like, Cool. That's awesome, that they gave me that opportunity and that really set up. Having that one small experience set me up for when I finally got a promotion to the non-commissioned officers corps, excuse me, and became a sergeant. That experience really laid the groundwork for that ability. I had that ...
Like I said, I had management experience before so I had experience leadingpeople but it was that undying faith that you're the guy and we're going to follow you and it doesn't matter, that really hit me hard that day and the win was even better. I mean, I was able to go up there with one of my fellow soldiers and get the trophy and bring it back to the group and we all celebrated and had a great time. It was a lot of fun for that. Yeah, the gravity of leading 01:00:00never really hit me until that point definitely.
TP: Is that the same time too and ... I mean, when you were going into this andyou were starting enlistment, did you talk to your wife about, Hey, I'm going to basic, you got a short shift.
TP: You're looking about 2 months or so and then you've got an AIC that's 6months so you're going from 8, 10 months, the same basic and AIT. How is starting that balance between home and the military while you're away at training and then what was it like coming back after you graduate from AIT and going back home?
LB: Yeah. Like I said, I shipped for basic training January 30th and I graduatedAIT October 19th so, yeah, I was gone quite a bit of time. It was weird going back to my civilian job, going back ... I was working for Dell at that point in time and going back and calling my boss back up and saying, Hey, by the way, I'm home. You can put me on the schedule now. That kind of a situation. It was unique because you get used to especially being on that long. You really get into that rhythm of ... wake up is 05 and PT until 0630 and then you shower and in formation by 7 then off to school and breakfast and all that. Then you get home and it's like you just really want to relax. You're sleeping a lot that first week you're home because you're like, I don't want to do anything. I can sleep in. I don't have to do anything.
You come home and you see all your family and you're in the best shape of your01:02:00life because you just got crap kicked out of you for 9 months. Everybody that you see were like, Man, you're in so good shape. I barely recognize you. That stuff makes you feel good. It's really great to come home and see friends and family and everything. They tell you in basic and in AIT, they really talked to you a lot about the mindset gap, the difference between military mindset and the civilian mindset and you don't really know the gravity of that thought and that idea in concept until you get home from AIT and then you start to try to transition back to the civilian world and you start to notice the little different things.
I joke with my buddies, I say the difference between your civilian friend andyour military friend is your civilian friends say, Hey, you want to run to the store? Yeah, no problem. Where is it? Ah, just on the block. Okay. You jump in the car and you drive. The military guys says, Hey, want to go to the PX? Sure. Where is it? That's about a mile down the road. No, problem. Then you just start walking. That's the big difference. This little luxuries that we take advantage of, no one really wants to walk a block and a half or two blocks. In the military, you're just so used to it. It's second nature. You just go do it. What's the one thing you say to your friend? Military friends will ... or your civilian friends will stand outside the door when you're trying to make out with the girl you just met in the bar. Your military friends will do a 360 group rooming around you. That was another great joke.
It's true. The mentality is knowing how to follow orders, understanding01:04:00structure, understanding the rank and hierarchy, knowing mission first, what you need to get the job done and that structure, it's a completely different mindset from the civilian world. Working in the corporate world, it takes you back for an hour, you wanted to dive into that military mindset and then you're like, I can't. They're technically not an officer but they're above me in rank and the company is like you can't say anything. It's just an interesting contrast between those two worlds. It's even more difficult for the National Guard guys because you have to play both actively at the same time.
You're one week and a month, you're in the military mindset and that's where youstay and then you're two weeks in the summer back there again and then you go home and it's like you got to switch gears and flip the switch to one former thinking to another. It's not just that one weekend, you get calls from your soldiers in the middle of the month. Hey, I need to talk to somebody. You got a chance to talk? Yeah, no problem. You have to kick back into the military gear for a little bit and then move forward again. It's an interesting dual personality that you have to wield and be able to flow in and out of it with the National Guard.
TP: Let's talk about your MOS. You're going through school. You picked thisbecause of they were the one of two things you could do close to home. How did you find AIT? What was it like learning about these things? Did you enjoy it? How did that strike you and how do you feel that set you up for when you [inaudible 01:05:57] and were doing your one weekend, two weeks guard duty? 01:06:00
LB: I love the AIT. I really loved it. The school was great. I already had theidea that I wanted to go back to school for something in computers, something in IT anyways. Going to learn ... with avionics, you had to learn ... the first part of the course was basic electrical so you're learning AC circuit, DC circuit, resistors, transistors, that kind of stuff which is something that you can take through to any electrical, computer, it doesn't matter. It's all the same stuff. It was a great foundational knowledge and then getting more into the specifics of the aircraft and wiring and how to know the difference between a short or a short or an open on the line, how to understand how a wiring diagram works that if you know this part of --
If the radio, for example, is on hot mics so there's a switch that you can puton the intercom system within the rotary-wing aircraft, Chinook, Black Hawk and the Apache that you can flip the switch and you're mic is constantly on at that point in time. They call it hot mic so you don't have to ... if you're doing a lot of talking, you don't have to keep pushing the button all the time. There's a switch on the console where you can do that. Occasionally, that switch would short out or the wire would get crossed and that would stay on constantly and the toggle switch wouldn't work anymore. You had to have the understanding and know the inner workings of the radio to understand that if that's the problem, it's probably this wire, this pen, this is what's causing it and be able to break it down and troubleshoot.
That piece of my MOS, the troubleshooting, trying to take, okay, pilot comes in01:08:00and says, This doesn't work, it could be anything at that point in time, right? We have situations especially in deployment, we had situations where it's like, Hey, yeah, yeah, this isn't working. We go out and we look and we're looking at it going, It should be working just fine. I don't understand. Then we look up and see the circuit breaker and we go, Aha, now it's working. It's just a circuit breaker. Again, understanding that circuit and how everything works let's you pick out exactly where the issue is. Sometimes when you pick out where the issue is, it's not the underlying issue. There were something else that was causing that but by knowing the system, knowing how everything works, you're able to narrow it down and fix those things.
That troubleshooting, that mentality can be applied to a lot of differentthings. Actually, with my position now with the JPMorgan Chase, when I was interviewing, I was interviewing for two different positions and the second position that I interviewed for that I wound up not accepting except that another one but the hiring manager there, her husband was an avionics mechanic in the Air Force. She's like, I understand your mentality and how you think and you troubleshoot. She's like, Talking about a problem. I said, Oh, absolutely. Said, Any more with my guys in the military, it's becoming ... everything's becoming so computerized in the airframes anymore. There's no analog instruments. It's all computer screens and computer modules. It's to the point everything is so sophisticated that all they want you to do is, okay, it's this, it's this component that's screwed up, pop it and put a new one in and send it out somewhere else to get repaired. They don't want you tinkering with it anymore.
I said, No, I want to be the one tinkering with it because I want ... I don'twant my guys to just learn, hey, yeah, it's that radio that's wrong. I want them to know why it's that radio that's wrong. She looks at me. She goes, It's the 01:10:00why. She goes, I love you. You're hired. She goes, Yeah, that's absolutely it. It's the why. Dig into it and to find out the root cause. That's troubleshooting. That's the one great thing I take from being an avionics mechanic is that ability. Plus, it's really cool to switch gears. I'll be working in computers during the week and then at the weekend, I go to plan helicopters so that's really cool too.
TP: You mentioned Chinook, Black Hawk, Apache [inaudible 01:10:35]. What are the four?
LB: At that time, when I was there, there are Chinook, Black Hawk, Apache, andthe Kiowa, the OH-58. Since then, the Kiowa has been phased out of the National Guard and the UH-58 has gone away and the UH-72 Lakota has come in. It's a non-deployable airframe. It's a non-hostile deployment airframe. It's not combat-ready. It's actually a civilian aircraft that they modified for military purposes. It's primarily used for surveillance and MEDEVAC unit. I actually had the privilege of going to school to learn the Lakota as well and working and flying as a crew chief for the Lakota unit here in Ohio for a period of time so it was a lot of fun.
Right now in the National Guard as of 2015, we have the UH-60 Black Hawks. Wehave the CH-47 Chinooks. We don't any in Ohio but the National Guard as a whole does have the AH-64 Apache still and then there's the UH-72 Lakota. There's still the OH-1 Little Birds which are used primarily in special forces anymore so we don't get to play with those very often because we don't have them in the National Guard but it's still an airframe in the Army and with my MOS in 01:12:00avionics, I'm not airframe specific, I get to work on all of them which is a lot of fun and very cool but there are certain ones that I get to work a lot more than the other ones.
TP: At some point, did you end up reclassified? Did you change affiliation?There was this post or pre-deployment.
LB: This is all pre-deployment working as an avionics mechanic. The unit I wentit, enlisted into with the 638th ASB, they are still my unit actually but when I was in that unit, it was a year, basically a year out of basic training and AIT, I got home on October of 2007. January of 2008, they asked for volunteers because our parent battalion, the 137th aviation battalion here out at Columbus was deploying. They're a Black Hawk unit and they were deploying and they needed extra help because they were taking the whole battalion and they asked volunteers, anybody that wants to go. I was talking to my wife at the time and I told her, I said, It's one of those things where deployments are an inevitability. When I came in, I enlisted, the idea of maybe I can skirt around deployment but I told her the more I think about it, I'm going to have to go sooner or later. I want to go on my terms.
I knew they're going to Balad which was a great base in Iraq. Some of the guysactually ... one of the guys that I went to AIT with, he was in a class right before me was in the 137th as well so I already knew somebody and I had friends 01:14:00in the 638th that were deploying and volunteering as well. I told her, Why not? Why not go and get it out of the way, sort of thinking. I volunteered and 4 weeks after I volunteered, they called me and said, We don't need any more avionics mechanics. We've got enough, but we could really use 15 Tangos and crew chiefs, general Black Hawk mechanics. Would you care to reclass? I said, Sure, yeah, no problem. I'll reclass. It took them forever to send me to school but so I reclass as a 15 Tango, general Black Hawk mechanic and crew chief and actually graduated distinguished honor grad from that MOS school as well.
I came out of that, like I said, it took forever to get me to that course. Thatwas only 13 weeks for that one. I graduated there the middle of December and came home for Christmas and then we deployed the beginning of January 2009. Yeah, that's how I got my second MOS. It was during that. Then like I said, the Lakotas are new airframe and there's not ... because it was a civilian airframe that they modified to be for military purposes for the Army, there's not a specific MOS for that airframe. They just considered the Black Hawk was the closest thing to it so they said you have a Tango MOS, you can do the Lakota. When they were standing up, our MEDEVAC until, the Lakota MEDEVAC unit, they were looking for Tangos to become crew chief and the commander that was becoming the company commander for the new unit, I deployed with.
I flew with him a bunch of times in Iraq and he called me and said, Hey, you'restill the Tango MOS, right? I said, Yeah. It's my secondary MOS. He goes, Would 01:16:00you like to crew again? I said, I'd love too, sir. He goes, Okay, come in and interview for the position and apply and we'll see about it. I came in, got selected as one of four guys in the state to be the crew chiefs for that unit standing up and so I got to fly in the Lakota as well for a little bit which was a lot of fun. I hurt my shoulder in Iraq in '09 and it suddenly got worse over the next few years and it got to the point where I can't fly anymore because I had so many issues with my shoulder so I had to step away from being a crew chief but I went right back to working as an avionics mechanic with the 638th and actually moved up to being a technical inspector now for avionics. It worked out in the long run.
TP: You said that Tango designation is mechanic and crew chief. What is thedifference? How does that play out?
LB: You have a 15 Tango which is your general Black Hawk mechanic. You have a 15uniform which is your general Chinook [inaudible 01:17:11] 47 mechanic. The big difference between the two is the fly qualifications. You have to have the same knowledge, you have to know the airframe inside and out. You don't have that full knowledge of each component because that's why you have your propeller rotary guys, you have your engine guys, you have your sheet metal people, your avionics but you have an overall working of understanding how all the systems work together as a whole airframe. You have Tangos that are mechanics that are just ground mechanics that don't fly but they fix aircraft and then you have Tangos that understand everything but then they also fly so it's a little bit more training but you have to have that one MOS because there's not a crew chief MOS. You have to have the general MOS and then be selected to go fly. 01:18:00
It's more training, a lot more medical and physical requirements on you. Youhave to meet certain requirements before you're able to fly so you have to go through way more extensive physicals, do a lot more flight training and then you have to maintain so many flight hours during the year as well to maintain your skill set and your readiness level, they call it.
TP: Just to confirm, you're actually flying? I mean, when you say flyqualifications ...
LB: Flying in them. I'm not behind the controls. The officers, they get to fly,actually control the aircraft. Actually, I had a patch on my helmet in Iraq that said, It takes a college education to break it and a high education to fix it. Because the enlisted guys, we were the crew chiefs and we're riding on the airframe. We're not behind the controls but on the Chinook, you'll have three other crew members that are flying along with the two pilots. You have the flight engineer who is monitoring the aircraft and understanding the weight loads and the sling load capabilities. You have one crew chief up front as well and then you have a crew chief in the back that's looking at the off the deck, the back ramp of the Chinook because it's such a large airframe.
In a Black Hawk, you'll have two crew chiefs along with two pilots so you have acrew of four because you'll have a crew chief on the left and a crew chief on the right that can call ... Your job as a crew chief in the air is the pilots got the controls but your scanning. You're looking for environment hazards. You're looking for anything that could go wrong. In combat, you'll also have a weapon that you're manning as well at that point in time so you're the security 01:20:00for that airframe too. You're also thinking, okay, there's wires coming out on the right-hand side. Just radio over to the pilot and say, Hey, we have wires on the right just so you're aware. They'll say, You got the wires. It's just these little things they keep aircraft safe because the pilots can only see so much.
They'll always say I've got from the 3 to the 12 or from the 3 to the 10, you'vegot from the 2 to the 9 and then the crew chief on the back, you've got from the 9 to the 6, you've got from 3 to 6 and that's your scan sector. If anything that's a hazard to the airframe is in that sector, you call it out. That's yours to watch. Yeah, you actually get to not to actually control it and fly it but we always ... I like to kid the pilot and say, This is my airframe, you're just driving it. I'm really the one in charge.
TP: Can you describe the process of mobilization and then going over to Iraq?
LB: At the time I deployed, they had been making a little bit of a change in theNational Guard's deployments. At that point in time, you'd heard about 18-month, 24-month deployments for the Army. The Army started to realize that that's just wasn't feasible. You're burning people out so quick. They change the National Guard from an 18-month requirement. It used to be 6 months of prep work or 4 months of pre-deployment prep work, 2 months of post-deployment prep work and then a 12-month deployment to 12 months, we call it couch to couch. You're called up and 12 months later, you're done. All your pre-deployment and post-deployment activities are all encompassed in that 12-month period.
When we were called up, we were sent to our mobilization station at Fort Sill,Oklahoma and we spent about 2-1/2 months there prepping and learning different 01:22:00rules of engagement of the areas that we're going to, customs and courtesies, everything that we would need in country. From there, mobilized and flew over to Kuwait because that's where everybody is staged in Kuwait to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. At that point in time, spent another 3 weeks in Kuwait prepping everything and getting environmental qualifications before the flight time. Actually, getting to fly in sand and dust environments and everything so that we were qualified to move up and then moved up into our Iraq and then serve out the rest of our deployment there.
When you get into your deployment station then, of course, you're following inon another unit that's already been there, that's already been running these missions so we called them reaping. You would set left seat, right seat with these guys. We have a crew of four on the Black Hawk, one pilot, one crew chief from the outgoing unit, one pilot and one crew chief from the incoming unit so you understand the mission and you know where everybody is coming from. You know the calls all that fun stuff. Those guys that learned it from the outgoing unit then would teach the rest of our unit and then we would all ... by the end of the first month, everybody knows what we're doing and those guys can leave and know that the mission is going to be handled and taken care of and we've got it from that point. Same thing as we were prepping to leave. We had a unit following on us and we did the same stuff with them.
TP: As you went over, what was your ... you said you're going to Balad. What wasyour mission? Did you have a sense of how that played into the overall, the larger mission of the Iraq thing?
LB: We knew we were going to Balad. I know I was going to be a crew chief so Iknow I was going to be flying missions. There was the unknown of we weren't sure exactly what we were going to be doing when we're there. We got a little bit of 01:24:00pieces because, of course, our battalion commander and some of our upper headquarters officers were going over a month prior to us, so they were a little bit ahead of us there, advance party. They were getting things ... they were laying the groundwork so that when we got there, everything was fine. They were making sure our housing was squared away and taken care of, where we were going to live, where we were going to eat, all of our equipment, all of that stuff. They were laying the groundwork for us.
At that point in time is where we started to get a little bit more of anunderstanding of this is what our mission is actually going to be over there. As a Black Hawk, we could have been doing a lot of different things. We could be doing what we call, ring routes. They're basically bus routes. You would go from one base to another base to another base to another base and you had specific personnel that you were manifested that you had to pick up to take to certain locations. Then you had space available where I have 5 open seats and I got 5 guys that got to go to the next base that we're going to. Jump on, we'll take them there kind of a situation.
Then you have humanitarian missions and state department missions where you'recarrying around the ambassador or celebrities that are coming into the country to entertain the troops, senators, anything like that. You'd be carrying those types of people around and doing those type of missions or generals or high ranking officers. You'd be moving them around and picking them up, taking them where they needed to go. Then you have the combat stuff where you actually taking the operators, the special forces guys, that guys that were the ground pounders going in and fighting and infilling them and exfilling them from different battles.
We weren't sure exactly what we were going to be doing until we really got thereand then we said, Okay, here you're following on this company and this is what 01:26:00the company was doing before you so this is what you're doing now too. When we actually got there, we were ... I was with Bravo company. We were running four different mission sets at that point in time. One of them was the state mission. We were carrying the ambassador, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, carrying him around to wherever he needed to go basically or any other state officials that were in country at that point in time. That was one mission set.
Another mission set was what we call the TST, time sensitive target mission setwhich is more of a combat mission where you would prep the aircraft, you'd be ready to go and then wait until you got the call that, yeah, we've got the target. We're going now. Let's go, let's go. That was a secondary mission. Then we had two other missions. The state mission, the F4 mission we call is the code name for it was F4. The F4 mission was a daytime mission, the TST mission was a night time mission because you operated at night for most combat situations. Then we had two missions, one day, one night where we were doing detainee ops, moving detainees and around with their special forces escorts.
Those are what we fell in on to. Of course, that's what we took over. About 2months in, 3 months into the tour, first [inaudible 01:27:29] had a new rotation come through and they wanted all the special forces missions. They wanted all that stuff. We're like, Okay, fine. We gave up our detainee ops missions and our TST mission and we started going ring routes. We started becoming bus drivers, basically, for guys and moving them around which was still a lot of fun. It's still very critical because everybody ... every person that we had on our airframe that were taken from one location to another is one less that had to be 01:28:00in a Humvee or a [inaudible 01:28:05] or anything like that driving on the roads where it was way more dangerous at that point in time.
It was a very crucial and integral mission. It just wasn't flashier, exciting.You're just ... long, long days too. I mean, we would get up at 3:00 in the morning to go out and prep the airframe for a 6:00 departure. We wouldn't get back in to base until 15, 1600, sometimes later. Very, very long days. Then, of course, as a crew chief, when you get back after your mission, you still have to inspect your airframe to make sure it's good for the next day. You land and you take all your gear off and you close the airframe up and then you still have an hour's worth of work to make sure everything is good for the next anyway so it compounds on top of your day. An 8-hour mission is really 15 hours of work.
Ironically enough, a month after we gave the missions up the [inaudible01:29:09], the 168th group called us and said, We want you guys back. They said, You guys were reliable. We never had any issues with you. This other units have been dropping hit times. They haven't been making missions. We can't rely on them. We want you guys back. We're like, Cool, thanks. We went back and started doing the fun, special forces stuff and getting to fly around the Seals and the Green Berets and the Airbornes, the Rangers. It was a lot of fun. Each night, it could have been a different team that was working on a specific mission set but a lot of fun, a lot of fun. Yeah, dangerous, of course, but got a lot of good times, a lot of good times flying.
TP: I want to ask you generally, what it's like dropping- It sounds like you,01:30:00with those formation sets [inaudible 00:00:03] most of your deployment had those [inaudible 00:00:06] over the short period of time where they got [hopped 00:00:08] over here first cabin and back.
TP: I'm just interested to know, what's this experience like in this aircraft. Iguess regardless of the mission, but then also I'd be interested to know, are there different things that you do as a [cruise ship 00:00:26], as a total crew for like a [inaudible 00:00:30] mission as opposed to [inaudible 00:00:32] and those sorts of things.
LB: Absolutely. Especially for like something like a simple route, like the ringroutes type of a mission, we would fly two aircraft; you always flew in pairs at least, but we would fly with our two aircraft and I knew ... You had four crew members at that point in time, two crew chiefs and then we deployed with specifically door gunners. They weren't necessarily crew chiefs, they were other different MOSs, but they were trained to be able to fly and to shoot, that was their whole job. They still made their calls on the left side of the aircraft, they were still in charge of those scan sectors, but as far as understanding the airframe, and doing the maintenance and all that stuff, that was a crew chief's job. They still flew with us and they were still considered equals when we were flying at that point in time. Out of the two crew chiefs, you would have ... One of those two crew chiefs would be in charge for the day, and we just said that, You knew you were the lead pimp, basically for the day, You're the head honcho.
If you were the lead pimp for that day, you were in charge of that entiremission so you were given a manifest and said, I'm picking up these people at these locations, and dropping them off at these locations. I have this many seats in our ... You have 12 seats in one airframe, 12 seats in another, so as you're flying from one location to another, you're scanning your sector, you're looking for danger, maintaining your weapon, but in your head you're also 01:32:00running through, you know, I've got eight people on this aircraft, I've got nine people on that aircraft, that means I have this many open seats. I'm dropping off this many, I'm picking up this many at this next location. Oh wait, we didn't pick up this guy at the last location and we're supposed to take him here, and Oh, that's the only reason we're going there, so you're radioing up to your pilot saying, Hey, we don't necessarily have to make this stop anymore. We don't have anybody going there, we're not picking anybody up.
You want to radio ahead, just to make sure there's no one there and we can justskip that leg of the mission and we're like Okay, cool. You have all of that going on in your mind, at the same time you're trying to hold a weapon, hold a machine gun and maintain scan sectors, to make sure you guys are safe as well. It's an interesting dichotomy. For the state mission, there's a lot of customs and courtesies that you pay respects to: the ambassador, the colonels and the generals, that you're flying around. There's still a crew chief in charge but ... Then you're also deciding, Okay, well is the general flying on the lead aircraft, or the trail aircraft today? You're standing at [inaudible 00:03:14], you're saluting, you're giving all the proper customs and courtesies that you didn't have to worry about with the other missions, because you were just flying and taking normal Joes in and out.
Then with the Special Forces type stuff, you have not only understanding thatyou have to keep track of how many people you have on your frame at one time, you're also making calls to the pilots saying, Wheels are on the ground, and as soon as they're all off, we're clear, so that they can take off and all the time you're making sure they're getting on and off the airframe safely. Whatever side of the aircraft the hostility is on, [he's 00:03:56] trying to suppress and lay down, suppress a fire and keep you safe. A lot of stuff going on at one point in 01:34:00time but each mission had different hats that you really had to put on as a crew member to accomplish the mission to the best of your ability.
Flying in Iraq was just fantastic. I really got into ... I'm not trying to playinto the crowd or anything here, but I really got into the history of Iraq when I was there. It really didn't hit me until I was in country and flying around, that that was Mesopotamia, Syria. I saw and I have pictures of the ruins of Babylon, the actual Babylon. I've seen a courtyard that Alexander the Great used to meet with his generals, and the ancient city of Erbil, which is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, the Ziggurat of Ur. I have all of these biblical locations and artifacts that I got to see personally and take pictures of and it was really cool to see all of that. I really got into it and started researching like, Okay, we flew over this, I really want to know what that is, and so the next time we fly over it I would tell the pilots and the crew chiefs and --
My first sergeant; he actually became sergeant major, he's a good buddy of mine,Sergeant Major Camacho, he was the first sergeant at the time, and he was flying with me, he was my door gunner at one mission, we said something and he came on the radio and he said, You know why I like flying with you Burke? I get a history lesson every time I fly with you. You tell me what stuff is. I'm like, Okay cool. Thanks for saying that. I started to be known as the history guy. Pilots would fly across an artifact or a ruin or a formation or something and 01:36:00not know what it is, and the next time they would fly with me they're like, Hey, what's that? We flew over it a couple of times, I don't what it is.
There was one specific artifact and it was just ... Let me see if I can get mydirections properly ... It was just north west of Baghdad International Airport, just outside of Baghdad International Airport. From the air, the one side of it, it looked like a sphinx, it really did. It had the features of the sphinx and so the pilots were always asking, What's this sphinx of [inaudible 00:06:36]? What's that all about? I looked it up and it's actually an old ziggurat, an old pyramid style formation temple that had just been eroded and decayed because of wars and everything. It was beat up, but the way it looked from the air, it looked like the sphinx but from the ground it looked totally different, so it was just unique that they were like, Hey, why is there a sphinx in the middle of Iraq? They asked me and I researched it and found it out but yeah.
I mean, I got see the ... Seeing Babylon really, that was the major highlight.Seeing the ruins and the portion of the ruins that were starting to be renovated by Saddam Hussein when he was there, researching where archaeologists think the Tower of Babel stood, and where they think the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were. It was really cool to understand that that area has had people for a millennia, in and around that area, and to see what it is now and to know that that was such a great sprawling city, it was the jewel of the world at that point in time, and now it's a wasteland, and there's just a little bit of ruins that are ... All the ruins are under the earth and that some have been unearthed but it's 01:38:00just really cool, and it makes you think too that that situation ... Since then Iraq is starting to open up to a little bit more tourism, [they'll let 00:08:09] people come in.
Though it was disheartening to think that, if that area of the world was alittle bit more stable, you could have so much great tourism over there because people would flock to go see those areas, to walk amongst history. It was a little disheartening to know that I was flying over Babylon and have pictures from the air of Babylon that very few people in the world can ever say that they had that opportunity, and were able to do that. Kind of makes you sad when you think of that but being able to fly all over the country and not just be in a convoy or on the ground where you only get to see one or two bases, or you know like one piece of Iraq. I got to see the really desolate desert lands in Southern Iraq, and then the more fertile grasslands and mountains in Northern Iraq.
Like I said, Erbil is beautiful. The Citadel in the center of the city is theoldest part of the city, it's the continuously inhabited part of the city, that's the old part but it's the old shear walls with the slopping sides and like the old fortress towns. It's like brings it up if you'd play the Assassin's Creed, it's Assassin's Creed, the home game. It's really cool, that area, the [cards would 00:09:39] have opened that area predominantly but you could see the millennia of time as you look through the Citadel and then looked out, it got more modern as you went out. You get 3 or 4 miles away from the Citadel and there's a Pepsi plant and a college, and like a condo community. You could see 01:40:00the old traditional history and then as it gets further away it's more modern and more modern, and they have a great balance of old traditionalism and new modernism in that part of the country. You look around and go, Why can't they run the whole of Iraq? This is beautiful. This is great. That was probably one of my favorite places to fly, it was up in Erbil.
TP: You need to describe a [inaudible 00:10:28] because you through differentmissions. It seems to me that you and this Black Hawk ended up to be kind of an axis of a lot of different things that we back home ... Those were the bits that we heard about, right? You're hearing about [inaudible 00:10:43] that [inaudible 00:10:46] side of things going on. You're hearing about special operations stuff, you start hearing about detainees. Those are very big conversations, it strikes me that you're kind of ... You guys are the guys that are the ... Where all these people come to get [places 00:11:01], right?
TP: I'm interested to know, and I'm assuming that [special ops that 00:11:06]go, what is it like, because at this point it sounds like you really enjoy your MOS. We went into this ... I volunteered to [deploy 00:11:15] because there were kind of some known [inaudible 00:11:18] to these, right?
TP: Then you get on the ground, find out what [stats you running 00:11:23], whatis it like the first time you end up in a combat situation?
LB: The first time you call any ... They call it [inaudible 00:11:39], a[inaudible 00:11:40] fire, so we just say [inaudible 00:11:41]. The first time you see that, the first time you hear an explosion in a country, even on the ground, even in base, you hear an explosion ... Balad was nicknamed Mortaritaville because it got mortared constantly. The first time you're in country and you hear that boom, they'd say the [Parker factor 00:12:06], you 01:42:00tensen up and you really get into it, and even when you've been there for a while, in country and the mortar start hitting, you can always tell the guys that are new to Balad and those guys that have been there for a while. Because a mortar hits, and someone is hiding under a table, they're in a multi-billion dollar structure that's got a canopy over it, that's safe for mortars and everything, and they're hiding under a plywood table, I don't get it. You got those guys that have been there for a while, they hear it and they're like, they're running outside to look and see, Where's the boom? We want to see the crater, you know.
Different mentalities of course but, even when you've been there for a while,when you know that you're one in a snatch-and-grab operation and you know, for a lot of those [deformations 00:12:52] you might be be dropping off the guys, three or four clicks out, because they don't want the sound of the airframes to tip off anybody. You'll drop them off a little far, a little distance away, so that they can assault the objective. Sometimes when you're picking them up, if they can assault through quietly and you know nothing major is going on, they'll bring to a safe environment to pick them back up later, so we don't have to worry about it. Then there's times where they'll be taking heavy fire and you've got to come in and you got to get them out of there, so you have to return fire, and you have to go into that situation.
Anytime you're in that situation, the gravity of it hits you, you know that this... You might not come back from that particular mission-set, but you also know that you're the one that has to do it, you guys have to go do this mission. You just rely back on your training and reflex kicks in, everything that you were trained to do, everything that ... All of your knowledge set ... It's just 01:44:00instinct, it all comes so you know exactly what you need to do. You do pre-briefings with the SF guys, with your company and [inaudible 00:14:15] the four different Black Hawks. All the crews are coming together and everybody goes through everything, that you know, We're the lead aircraft. We're the trail aircraft, the pilots know, Okay, this is the signals I need to look for, this is what my job in the aircraft is, and in the convoy as a whole. Each crew chief knows that, This is what my specific job of this mission is, and that's what you rely on.
You trust in the fact that everybody else has their business handled, I'm goingto take care of my portion of the mission to the best of my ability, and know everybody else would do the same and we will get back safe. Combat is definitely something that you can't really explain unless you've experienced it, unless you've been there. The adrenaline, knowing this is going on, you're running on pure adrenaline at that point in time. You're trying to keep your wits about you, and at the same time where everything seems to be going so chaotic and so much going on, everything seems to slow down and you hit specific points where you know, I got do this, I got to ... This has to happen. This has to happen.
It seems like that next step in the mission takes forever. You're flying in andyou know where you're going to be landing and you see the fire fight going on and you know that my side of the aircraft is going to be between the good guys that we're picking up and the enemy. Once you get to a certain level, you start 01:46:00returning fire, delay suppressive fire so that these guys can lift and get on to the aircraft and you know that's your job, that as soon as the wheels are down ... A certain point from wheels down to a certain point wheels up, all your primary objective is to put as many bullets down range as possible, to try to suppress the enemy so that they're not firing at you while you're trying to get the guys out of there. Just unique situations. Like I said, unless you've really been there and experienced it's really hard to describe.
Luckily, we didn't see a whole lot of combat for our particular mission-set, sothe disappointment of some of our guys ... Some of our guys were [inaudible 00:16:46] they really wanted to get [home 00:16:47] but we were lucky. We had one accident while we were over there and it was a training mission, it was a weather related accident, we had a crash. We did have one soldier, not in our unit, but with a company that was attached to us that passed away. A couple of our guys were pretty injured, pretty badly but survived and are doing well now, but all of us that went over, all count our blessings and are very thankful that we all basically made it through unscathed. I tell everybody war changes you no matter what. I don't care what you were doing. You could have been working in the chow hall and manning the gate at the chow hall, and that was your job but, being in that environment, being in that situation, being around everybody else in that situation changes you. It has to. It's just the different degrees that some people are changed.
Some people are really significantly changed by it and it shakes them to thecore and they can't come back from it and they have issues later in life. Some 01:48:00people, it barely affected them, hardly at all. Everybody, my wife especially, has always said that she knows I'm different, when I came back from Iraq, but she says that she's thankful that I'm not very different. I'm basically the same person still but ... I tell everybody I don't really have ... I was lucky to not suffer from PTSD or anything along those lines.
There're situations still, where I'll be at work, and somebody brought inballoons or something and then a balloon will pop two or three rows over, and it's one of those things where you still jump, you still catch yourself and you catch those instincts wanting to take place again, the fight or flight comes in. Fireworks even, you know 4th of July time, you know what the fireworks are but if it catches you off guard, a door slamming at night at a neighbors house or if you're trying to fall asleep and you're not expecting your dog or your cat knock something off the shelf and it makes a loud enough boom.
It's these little things where ... I consider myself okay and everything's finebut I still catch myself every now and then, where you jump, you're a little uneasy. The heart will get racing and it will take a second for it to calm down, and you'll calm down and realize, Okay you're cool, but it's just ... Like I said, anybody who's been in that situation, anybody who's had to experience it, you're changed [for it 00:19:39]. Not always to the extreme degrees that everybody are thinking I'm shell shock and PTSD and people that can't cope. Everybody's changed a little bit, it's just ... Maybe it's different personalities or mentalities, maybe it's genetics.
I'm actually part of a study that has been going on for about six year now. I01:50:00want to say it's the Ohio State University or University of Toledo, I'm not sure, but there're working with the Ohio National Guard to do a medical study, and they do interviews once a year. They'll interview us to see ... Ask us different medical questions and different history questions, and you know, have we had any trouble sleeping in the last year, have we had loss of a job or loss of a loved one in the last year? How did you cope with that kind of stuff? To kind of document things. Then they took DNA samples from everybody as well to see are there DNA markers that this individual is coded differently that's why they handle it different? Or it all their social upbringing? Or is it the environment that they lived in in their post-deployment? All of those questions.
When they asked me to be part of that study I was very honored because if, likeI said, my ... The way I was affected is completely different from the way some of the guys ... My roommate for example, in Iraq, the way I was affected compared to the way he's been affected by it, is completely different. Like I said, I don't consider myself anything major with PTSD or anything, but he, granted he has also deployed a couple of other times over me; I've only had one deployment, he's had 3. He has anger issues and he's got stress and he actually has a service dog and a companion to help him with that kind of stuff, and to ease himself. He finds himself not able to cope in society sometimes and he's had a much more difficult situation on it.
Luckily my family has adopted him as another part of the family as well. He cameover one day and he was living in an apartment with his roommate, and I guess 01:52:00his roommate threw out all the pots and pans because one was rusted or something, or he didn't want to clean them, so he just threw them out. He's like, I have nothing to cook with and ... My wife looked at me and she goes like, That just sad. She goes like ... She left, and she had to go to the store anyway, she says, I'm going to the store, and she pulled me to the side and she goes, I'm going to go get him pots and pans. She went to Walmart and she bought him ... I mean nothing fancy, but she bought him a set of pots and pans and a couple of things of food, and brought it back to him and gave it to him. He was so appreciative of that. Then I tried to tell him, I'm like, Dude, you don't have to go through it alone. You got friends. If you need help, call.
It's one of those things that, maybe it's having a strong faith that has helpedme see the bigger picture out of everything, but I wasn't affected. I'm thankful that my deployment has affected me more positively than it has negatively. Looking back I have more good memories of things than I do bad memories of the deployment.
TP: You said that, you feel it's affected you more positively, how so?
LB: The experience of being able to go to a different part of the country or adifferent part of the world, I've been able to see a couple of different countries that I never would have been able to go through. Just to be immersed in a different culture and a style of living, makes you appreciate what we have in this country. The one side of Balad, of the east side of Balad, we were 01:54:00driving along the perimeter road by the fence and there was this one house, it's basically a mud hut ... Mud walls and leaf roof and then ironically enough you drive around it, and then the other side you look back and there's a dark TV satellite hanging from the side of it.
It's weird but it just makes you appreciate our culture and the luxuries that wehave a little bit more. Seeing how their culture is lived and everything and ... But really the comradery, being placed in that type of an environment, being placed in those situations with those people, you always ... You have something, you have a bond, you have a connection that you'll never lose because you shared it and experienced it together.
That [in it 00:25:09] of itself ... A couple of the guys that I've deployed withI'm still extremely good friends with today, even if a few of them have moved out of state, I still keep in contact with them. I consider them brothers and sisters and I would do anything for them. They know that I would and I know that they would do anything for me. Those positive relationships and experiences, I can list way more of those than I can of things that I didn't like about being deployed. Of course you know being away from your friends and family is paramount on that list. Not knowing when a mortar is just going to burst through your roof of your [inaudible 00:25:56] and blow you up is another big thing. Always being on edge.
At the same point, you try to bring a little bit of home there and we all had01:56:00Xbox's and we would set up the Xbox's in the TVs and someone got their hands on a 24-port switch router and we had ... One guy ordered a bunch of cat 5 cable and connections, and we measured it all out and sat there crimping, making cables, and being an avionics, they're like, Hey, you can help us. Come on. We wound up wiring all of these different rooms together so that we can ... When we were done with the mission go back and turn on the Xbox and play Call of Duty or Halo. Then there's like 5 or 6 other guys online at that time. I mean, you're not online but you're in your local network and you're able to play video games, you're able to relax and ... There were certain sporting events and stuff that we would get ... Able to see on TV over there.
The MichiganOhio State game, we were able to see the MichiganOhio Stategame. Funny enough, one of the guys ... I got a really good friend of mine, a door gunner, [inaudible 00:27:20]. He was a big Michigan fan. Big, big, Michigan fan so of course we gave him a lot of crap because we won that year in '09. There was things that we were able to experience like that, and then there were little things that you missed, like Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is this coming Thursday but in '09 I spent Thanksgiving in Balad and it's not a day off. Its a holiday here, everybody gets to relax and be with their families, worried about Black Friday and deals there. Us, we were worrying about running a mission that night. They tried to help you out and give you a really good meal in the [DFAC 00:28:00] and an awesome Thanksgiving turkey. 01:58:00
They had this one guy, he was a foreign national working as part of the crew,because we have a lot of third-country nationals that would work on base as well: security details and in housing and various places. We had this one guy who worked in our [DFAC 00:28:23] on our side of base, that was extremely talented in sand art. He made this beautiful sand art picture of the Mayflower with the ocean and it was just gorgeous, and happy Thanksgiving on the floor. They roped off the area around it so no one would go up, and everybody is going up taking pictures and it was really cool. It's little things like that where ... It's of course different from home, but you try to make it a little bit of home there.
I was lucky that we deployed right after Christmas and we were lucky enough toget out of there right before Christmas. We were home at Christmas. I didn't have to experience a Christmas away from my family. Looking at the guys who were taking our place, who you knew they were missing Christmas with their families, you really felt for them, especially that Christmas because we got back December 22nd. It's when we got back and had our welcome home ceremony and all that and left with our families that night, December 22nd. With Christmas being just 3 days later, it really ... That was a very emotional, probably my most emotional Christmas because, you're so thankful to be with your family and your wife and kids, and your mum and dad and everybody. My brother had enlisted in the 02:00:00military at that point in time too, my middle brother. He understands why he hadn't deployed so didn't really know but, in the back of your mind you're thinking about all those guys that you met that were coming in and falling in on you over in Iraq and you know exactly what they're doing that day.
It's hard not to think about what they're going through and again reallyappreciate what you have. You grab your kids and your wife and you hold them a little tighter that day and make sure to get to church and say an extra prayer that day, and say an extra prayer for those guys. That the next Christmas they don't have to be there and that all of them will make it to the next Christmas, and they'll all be safe and complete the mission successfully. It's just that part of it, the missing home and the emotional aspects of it was probably the toughest part but again, those little things, which don't really seem like little things, they seem pretty big. There're definitely not as numerous as seeing Babylon and taking those pictures, and flying Angelina Jolie around or seeing the Vice President of the United States and flying different people, you know you're like, Hey, I met that person. I saw that person. I did this. I did that. Those things are way more numerous than the bad stuff. 02:02:00
It's funny when we post-deployed, we came back through Fort Dix, New Jersey. Itwas the middle of December in Fort Dix, New Jersey. We got off the plane at 2 o'clock in the morning and you walk outside and you smell ... You just take this big whiff of air and you start to laugh and go, It's good to be home, and you now how bad Iraq stunk when Jersey air smells good. We got in at 2 o'clock in the morning and 7AM we're starting our processing, because all those people that are working at Fort Dix are civilians, they don't want to be there over Christmas. They want us out of there just as much as we want out of there. We started right back into the out-processing process immediately, 5 hours later and we're all dog tired and we're sitting there going through all these briefings that we've got to go through. It's about lunch time and we're all looking forward to eating and they're not letting us go, and we're like, What the heck is going on?
Finally, one sergeant in charge comes up and he says, I'm sorry guys, we hadsomething special planned for you but they're running a little bit late right now, so you guys just bear with us. We're like, What do you mean they're running late? They're like, Well, the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders are in town and they wanted to come over and say hi to you guys since you just got back, We're like, Okay, we can wait. It's funny, the Eagles Cheerleaders finally got there, they all run in and they're shaking their pompoms and everything, everybody is going nuts and the head cheerleader gets up there and she's like, I hope you guys didn't have to wait too long, and one of the guys in the back yells, We waited 12 months. It's little things like that which is really kind of cool. The fact that they were coming there, to base to do something else but then they 02:04:00found out that we were a unit that just got back from Iraq that morning, and they wanted to come over and show their thanks and support and everything. The one cheerleader in the squad was going through our [RTC 00:34:16] and she was going to bcome an officer and all these stuff, so of course everybody is like, Yeah. We like you.
Since then I've ... Actually I've heard, watching a football game like thisseason, I heard that she did get her commission and she's an officer in the army now. It's kind of cool. Little things like that where you're like, Hey, I saw her at Fort Dix. Those are the funny little stories that you have to fall back on with deployment.
TP: You had hit a couple of things that I just want to get, as we were talkingabout deployment, but in talking about family, when you said you were glad to be back at Christmas, you deployed with two very young kids --
LB: Three at that point in time actually.
TP: Three? Okay.
LB: Yeah. My son was only seven months old when I left for basic, but myyoungest daughter, [Aubrey 00:35:10], was just born in September before I left, so she was born in September '08 and I deployed in January. Yeah, three very young children.
TP: What's it like communicating at home? How is it being in Iraq, trying tokeep those ties? What did you do? Did you [inaudible 00:35:34] I'm just curious how you approached that.
LB: Sure. Again, being in aviation it's kind of nice because you are on moreestablished bases usually, because you're usually with the Air Force. The military guys will always kid that the Air Force has life so much easier than anybody else. Being on an airbase, it's a little bit more established, so you 02:06:00have a few more amenities. We had, we called it the [Q pod 00:36:05], it was a trailer in the [Q 00:36:09] area of the housing section, because everything was blocked off by a letter. It was a trailer in the [Q 00:36:16] area just outside of the [inaudible 00:36:18], that had 15 computers and 8 telephone stations and you were able to go in and make 15-minute phone calls home and you were able to get online for half an hour at a time.
Of course, there're parts of the day, people are off of work, would be busierthan others, so sometimes you have to wait in line for a while. Sometimes you'd be able to get a 15-minute call and then jump right back on and get another 15-minute call. Of course you paid for it; you paid for your computer time, your phone time, but it was like one cent a minute or something like that. It was a company out of Britain that was ... They're running everything for you. It was nice to know that you had that ability to call home and to get online and check in with people at home on a more regular basis. Some of the other guys that were at smaller FOBs and smaller locations that didn't have those amenities didn't always have that. When they got to the bigger bases they really wanted to take advantage. Whenever those guys would show up, we would always tell everybody, Hey, hey. Get off. Let these guys on. Give them first [dibs 00:37:30]. We tried to pay them those respects but it's things ... Like my brother's best friend, he was getting married and he was a ... I considered like a little brother myself because he was always around the house growing up. He was getting married and I was deployed. I told him. I'm like, All right, ... I told my wife ... She went to the reception and the service and everything. I said, I will call you when 02:08:00you're at the reception. I said, About 6:30 there, it's going to be about 12:30, 1 o'clock in the morning my time. I said, I'll get up. I'll run over to the [Q pod 00:38:08], I'll get on the phone and I'll call so that I can talk to them, at least on their wedding day.
He still remembers that. He's like, Man, I can't believe you took some time outto call me on my wedding day from Iraq. He goes, That's so cool. Thank you, and I'm like, Yeah. It's the least I could do. I couldn't be there. You adjust to little things like that and the hardest part is probably telling your friends and family that, Hey, if you don't hear from me, for a couple of days, don't freak out. Sometimes if something happens on base, especially right after an accident or anything like that, you are not allowed to call out. You're not allowed to say anything until they find out what's all going on and then they tell you what you can and can't say, the whole nine yards and you're like, Hey, if you hear anything on the news, or you don't hear from me, don't freak out. Till you see that convoy pull up in front of the house, at that point in time then you can start freaking out, but until then, you'll hear from me when I can.
That's probably the hard part and the fact that I was able to call home so much,when I was ... My wife got a little bit used to that and then over the 4th of July, the week of the 4th of July, we were running a state department mission to Baghdad and we got weathered in by a horrendous sandstorm. We weren't able to fly out for a whole week, so we were stuck in Baghdad for a week. I wasn't able to call home very much and when I finally got back on the phone, she was all worried and everything and I told her, I'm like, It's no big deal. You didn't see anything on the news. You didn't hear anything. I told you I'd be fine. That was kind of a wake up for her, of the, Hey, I don't have to freak out so much, and it's okay. Like I said, that's the hardest part of deployment; it's the 02:10:00friends and family. Sometimes calling home so much is harder than not calling home, because if you don't call home or you have those moments like that week where you can't, you compartmentalize it at that point in time. You know home is being taken care of because you've made all the arrangements, and you trust in your family and friends back home to handle things while you're gone. You just focus on what you can do here and now in the mission at that point in time, and that's all you do. You don't have to ... You don't miss people as much if you're not talking to them, kind of a situation. It's sad to say but true, but yeah; that's definitely the hardest part of deployment. It's the family aspect of it especially with young kids and a wife. Some of those guys that are over there, they're single, they don't have girlfriends or anything, they didn't understand as much, but having young kids and a wife, it was difficult.
TP: There is something else you mentioned a little bit that I wanted to get atwas this idea of third-country nationals [inaudible 00:41:13], you said you had the one guy who was really talented with the sand art.
TP: People are now starting to understand this idea of that when we go to warit's not just our military. At war you have contracted security companies, you have locals who are doing different jobs, you have other companies that are based in other countries that come in to provide services. [inaudible 00:41:39] ask you about this relationship with third-country nationals there, that you worked with and then also too, did you have any kind of relationships or a read on the local populations there in Iraq?
LB: I didn't have any really personal relationships with any third-countrynationals or foreign nationals that were working over there. Like you were 02:12:00saying, it's funny that everybody just assumes that the army is running everything, but you know, we get over there and we weren't doing our own laundry. They had a contract company that had their country nationals that were working on laundry. Our unit was in charge of the chow hall but we weren't the ones serving the food, cooking the food though, we were just supervising the third-country nationals that were doing that. It's a weird situation, especially for those guys that worked in the chow hall because they had to work with those guys every day. Just like here in the States, you have good workers and you have shady workers, they're like the sham all the time. It's the same situation. They knew the people that they could rely on and trust to do the job right and they knew the people that they had to keep their eye on all the time.
Then there's a different aspect of security purposes too. You're worried becauseyou don't know what their motives are and their motivations are sometimes, because sometimes you look at them all more suspiciously than you should and you have to weigh that struggle of personal security, but also realize they're a human being and they're a person, and they're there doing a job just like you are, and supporting you in all aspects. Then you also hear about those situations where you have guys working in the chow hall that are part of terrorist cells that come in and try to harm people. It's that balance of being vigilant but still trying to maintain your humanity and understand that they're people too, is really, really tough. As far as the local population, again flying, you don't get to immerse yourself as much. You get to see a little bit 02:14:00and you get to experience the culture from a distance, so you get to see it a little bit more uniquely, I think. There's one situation, we were flying through downtown Baghdad, it's the middle of the city, and we fly around this apartment building. It's an apartment building, you fly around you get to the other side of the apartment building and there's a guy herding sheep through the middle city, and I'm like, There's no grass anywhere around here. What is he doing?
We were flying through the middle of a desert in Southern Iraq and literallywe're probably 600 to 700 feet in the air, almost 1,000 feet in the air, and as far as I can see, that high in the air, there's no civilization; no towns, no nothing for miles. Then you look down and there's this one guy walking through the middle of the desert, and you're thinking to yourself, Okay. A, how did you get there? B, are you going to be okay? Because you're in the middle of a desert, and there's nothing around you for miles. It's just ironic little idiosyncrasies like that and [inaudible 00:45:16] the funniest situation. We were driving ... [You're fine 00:45:27]. We were driving on the southern part of base. The way the base was set up, the airstrips would run north and south. The base itself, most of our primary locations and setups were on the east and west of the base. Then the north and south portions were closer to the end of the airfield, so there was mostly just a couple of buildings and a road to get from 02:16:00the east side to the west side, and back and forth.
We're riding in a pickup truck from the west side to the east side of base to goover to do something. I was in the back of the pickup truck and I'm sitting with my back to the fence. One of the other guys that was riding with me is sitting there and we're talking and all of a sudden I see his face and he's looking over my shoulder like ... I'm like, What is he looking at? I turned over and I look and there's this kid, probably 7-year old Iraqi kid, standing on the berm outside the fence, butt-naked going, Woo. For what reason, I have no idea, but it's just weird. The funniest thing I remember about that whole situation is [inaudible 00:46:48] face sitting there. He's talking like, no problem and all of a sudden he's like ... [I'm like, 00:46:55] What the heck is going on? Not being on the ground and interacting with the culture, flying and observing is a totally unique experience because you don't make that personal connection to them. You just ... It's like the fishbowl, you're outside the aquarium looking in at the fish going through, you're not actually swimming with them. It's a totally unique concept and I try to go at it from that mindset, that they're a different culture, it's a different way of life, different upbringings, different everything, and just observe and not judge at the same point in time.
On the same hand, it's really cool to see the way they live and the way we live,and to appreciate the blessings that we have in this country, as compared to what they have to live through every day. To also really recognize the beauty of 02:18:00their culture and their architecture and also realize how cheap Saddam really was. You go through some of his palaces and ... Some of these palaces are very well established areas, so of course when we came into those areas, because they were already well-fortified and well-established, they became our bases because we didn't have to do as much work. It's not that we wanted to take everybody's precious stuff, they were already fortified so why not use it as a base? You walk through some of these palaces and you're like, Wow! These are the most beautiful marble and all these, and then you see where a mortar had hit or gunfire had hit and some of it had been chipped away, and you can see the back structure of the wall and you realize the marble was paper-thin. It's like, barely any marble there to begin with, and you're like, Wow, you really skimped. You're like, It's gorgeous, but superficially gorgeous, otherwise it's garbage. That's kind of cool too.
TP: One thing you mentioned too based on some your missions that I wanted totalk about was you said, some of the people that you're carrying around ... Kind of the opposite side of combat is you're flying around with, apparently Angelina Jolie at some point, isn't that what you meant? Vice President Cheney at some point.
LB: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It was actually Biden at that time.
TP: Oh, that's right. I'm sorry. '09, you're correct. I completely blew that.What's that like?
LB: Those are kind of the cool stories, the fun missions. Those are the missionsthat everybody tries to fight for to get. We were ... Sometimes you're the decoys, which is funny too. Sometimes if there's a high priority, an individual ... At the time, Hillary Clinton was Secretary of the State. She was coming over 02:20:00to do a visit, an ambassador mission or something, and we were tasked as one of the flight crews for it. Little did we know that we'd get there and there's two airframes, and there's two other airframes, and there's two other airframes from other companies that are like, they're there for the same mission. Of course, you know, one of your sets is getting to take the passenger. The other ones are a flying decoy mission, so they don't know where to go with, which I always laughed at because two Black Hawks fly off one way, two Black Hawks fly off another way, two Black Hawks fly off another way, but the apache follows them.
It's kind of stupid because there's two going that way, and two going that way,but let's just follow the ones that have the gun [shipped 00:50:42] after it. That's the one that you should be worried about usually. It's kind of redundant that they would even have a decoy at that point in time because you're already giving away where it is. Those are kind of cool. They're really cool little missions that ... You're doing your job so you're in there flying and it's loud. You're trying to give them headsets so that they can talk to the crew while you're flying and staff too. For the most part it's a couple of minutes, to half an hour at the most, and you're just on the aircraft and off. It's kind of the situation where you don't really have a chance to sit and talk with them or anything like that. We had one funny situation, it wasn't a mission I was on but our Alpha Company was stationed down in Baghdad International Airport, and not up in Balad with us, and they were flying around. One of their big missions was they were ... General [Odierno 00:51:38] was the commanding officer in Iraq at the time and they were basically his personal taxi. They took him wherever he needed to go. They also flew around [some state in 00:51:47] humanitarian mission stuff too. We had the country singer, Craig Morgan, he came over in the country to perform for the troops. He's a former army ranger so he knows the country pretty well, the environment and the military pretty well. It was him 02:22:00and Nan Kelly from GAC.
They were flying and one of my good friends [Schubert 00:52:10] was flying onthat mission with them and he's like, Yeah, he goes, We took them. They're flying in the aircraft, and he goes, I had all the seats out. I had my two seats up by the crew and then we had the four across the back, and that was it. He goes, They were sitting across the back and we're sitting out there. I'm scanning and I'm looking back to make sure everything is all right. he goes, Of course, Craig Morgan is looking out the Black Hawk, just sitting there. All relaxed, he's done this before. Then Kelley is enjoying everything. She's a little bit more holding on to her seatbelt and looking around. He goes, All I hear on the radio is, as we're doing this is, we're flying to this really small FOB in the middle of nowhere, and it's really small. He goes, I hear the pilots talking like, I don't know where this place is. Man, I can't find it. Where are we going? I don't know. He's like, The whole time I'm looking back to make sure everything is okay, and I'm looking down and also looking for this FOB too.
He goes, All I remember hearing was the one pilot, Mr. [Corby 00:53:09] say, Oh,there it is. He goes, The next thing you know, we're on a diving left hand turn which you go 0 Gs real fast. He goes, I feel myself come up and out of my seat into the top of the seatbelts and everything, and I look back, and Nan Kelley is back there, like she's having a baby, freaking out. He goes, I look back and Craig Morgan is back there, Yeah! I just love it. He said they got to the base and they're sitting there, they shut down because it's a little base in the middle of nowhere, so they had to bring him in and take him out. They're waiting for the concert and everything and they got to sit there with the two of them and talked for a little bit and then Kelley is like, Oh yeah. That was a great flight and everything, and they would sneak her in there like, Yeah. She was scared. 02:24:00
It's cool. It's cool that you would have people like that come over. We hadCharlie Daniels Band came and did a concert at Balad, while we were there. It was fun. It was raining cats and dogs, but we were in the mud and had a good time. It kind of felt like a country concert anyway, so it was cool. When we were also there we had the ... ESPN brought over college football coaches, head coaches tour. We had Rick Neuheisel, Houston Nutt, Jim Tressel from Ohio State at the time, and Mack Brown from Texas at the time. It was great because we had us from Ohio, we had a battalion from Ohio that was there, and then there was also a battalion from the Texas National Guard, that was there at the same time. They were on the other side of the base from us.
When we got there, the Texas guys were all set up in front of Mack Brown and theOhio guys we all set up in front of Coach Tressel. The coaches came and they're talking and everything, and Rick Neuheisel got up and he joked, he said, Now all the rest of us know what it's like to open for Elvis, because none of you guys are here for us. You're only here for Tress and Mack here. Super, super great coaches. Super great guys. They brought hats, t-shirts, copies of theirs books and autographed everything. Took pictures with everybody. Stayed even past when they were supposed to be there to make sure everybody got pictures, everybody got autographs. We got Mack Brown to do O-H-I-O with us, so the Texas guys ran over and got Coach Tressel to do the Hook 'em Horns with them. It was pretty funny, but very cool, very laid back, super appreciative. Of course saying thank you, We're trying to give you guys a little piece of home because you're over 02:26:00here doing what you do for us. It was really cool.
That aspect of it, getting to see celebrities and ... Not so much of thegovernment officials, because when you're doing the flying around, like Secretary of State or Vice President, or anything like that, it's more mission because you're like, I know exactly what we have to do. It's an honor to be able to fly them around, to shake their hand and meet them, and that kind of stuff, but it's more ... That's cool. Senator Lieberman, come on on, that kind of stuff. One of those things like, Hey, it's Angelina Jolie. It's like one of those things there, Do I help her into the aircraft? Do I give her a tap on the bottom or? Am I going to get in trouble for that one?
It's different situations but it's really cool to see those type of people comeover. It breaks the monotony of same mission, same stuff every day. It gives you a little something to get excited about and also to call home about and say, Hey, guess who was on my aircraft today? It's cool. It was very cool.
TP: One thing I've been asking people who were deployed either to Iraq orAfghanistan is ... At your point in time, you were there at an interesting time because you've just had a change over in administration. How much were you guys aware of media back home? How did that come about? Was it something you paid attention to? Were you just ... How did that play on your conscience of it all?
LB: Well, it was really interesting because we deployed right after PresidentObama was elected. He was elected in November of '08 and we deployed two months 02:28:00later. We had an understanding of what the media culture and the state of affairs were when we were leaving, but being over there in a country, you don't get CNN, ESPN and Fox News and all that stuff. You get the Air Force's Network, that's all you have as far as media is concerned, unless you're getting online checking Facebook, that kind of stuff. For the most part you're not listening to Rush Limbaugh, or any of those guys. You're listening to other soldiers who are in a country broadcasting radio stuff, just like you are, and that kind of stuff. You don't really concern yourself with it as much either. You're not worried about what the news is saying back home.
You're checking local news to make sure family and friends are all fine, makesure everything is okay. You heard, Oh, there's bad weather coming through. Ohio and Northeast Ohio had some tornados and stuff. You're online checking, calling home, making sure everybody is okay, but other than that, you're getting more ... Even though we had radio, phone, TV and internet, it was more old school, because you were getting a lot of word of mouth. You ran a 9-hour mission, you didn't have a chance to get online or listen to the radio or check out the TV that day, and one of the other guys in the unit was online and found out something that was on the media, an award show, or something like that. They would tell somebody else and then that person would tell ... It was a lot of word of mouth news and media when we were there. Except for little things like ... I mean, like big events like the Michigan-Ohio State game or something like that, then yeah; of course we had that opportunity to watch it.
If you had a mission, mission comes first, but if you were lucky enough to have02:30:00that day off, or to have an hour or two off, you were able to go over and watch the game, watch an event or a concert, or something. It was cool, but as far as media and news sources, it was a lot of the good old boy media news. You were hearing news and stuff that was happening around the world outside of your little piece of it at that point in time from other people most of the time. Or, when you're calling home, friends and family are telling you, Oh yeah, by the way this happened, or, Oh, and by the way this happened. This happened, and you're like, Oh, okay. Then in turn you're the guy that goes back and, Hey, did you guys hear that this happened? Oh, no. I didn't. Yeah. This went on and this went on. It's kind of cool.
TP: Coming back home, you said you came back right before Christmas.
TP: December 22nd I believe.
LB: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, day after my anniversary. Missed the anniversaryby one day.
TP: Coming back home, what are your memories of coming back? You mentioned alittle bit of Christmas, [inaudible 01:01:09] coming out from that. What was it like trying to assimilate back into civilian life? What was it like flipping ... You mentioned earlier that mental switch that happens. Did you have any difficulties coming back with either family or work, at home; just that transition?
LB: With work I had some issues. Family not so much. Family, when I came back,everybody is super happy to see you. Everybody wants to spend time with you, especially around Christmas, everybody wants to come over and see you because you're freshly home. Landing at Rickenbacker International Airport and getting the police escort over to St. John's Arena for our welcome home, that was kind of cool. This police escort through the city, and over to St. John's Arena and 02:32:00then you see everybody outside of the arena. All your family and friends are standing there waiting with signs and all these fun stuff, that's really cool. Then you do the ceremony and then you're all dismissed, and you go with your family. You leave, go out to eat and go home.
It starts to sink in that you're home, that you're not in combat anymore. Thatyou can sit on you lazy boy and you don't have to worry about a mortar coming through your roof, or depending on where you live in the country gunfire breaking out at random points in time. When you first get home ... Depending on how many deployments you've had, you accrue more leave time. If you've had multiple deployments, they give you two or three months off when you get back. Guys that were deployed once have a couple of weeks off.
We got back at the end of December. My terminal leave and all my leaves that Ihad accrued up, that I didn't get to use, of course carried me into the middle of January. Then I took two weeks off unpaid until the end of January. Called my work up and said, Hey, I'm coming back to work February 1st. Issues with work ... I was working as an assistant store manager for a regional department store called Pamida, it's now switched to Shopko. At the time, I was working at the store, it's a little store in Minerva, Ohio, and I was the assistant store manager. I got deployed and one of the four supervisors had to step up and take 02:34:00the assistant store manager position while I was gone. I called and said, Hey, I'm coming back, and by law, I get my old job back and any promotions or raises that I would have got I still ... I don't know, the word is ... They're still mine regardless ... I can't remember the word he said [inaudible 01:04:24].
That relationship with that individual, especially when I was hired originallyon for that position, she had applied for that position and wanted that position too. There was a little bit of friction at first because of that, anyways and then you get past that and then you're deployed. Then she has that position and then you come back and you take it from her again, it's a hard friction and that relationship wound up causing me to leave that position within a year. Just the way everything played out, she didn't trust me, I didn't trust her kind of a situation. It just didn't play out very well. It's unfortunate and what's really unfortunate is it caused ... You lose your job and then you try to find something else and you find something that's to fill the gap and not what you really want to do. Then that job doesn't work out so well and it was tough.
2010 as a whole was ... 2010 itself wasn't so bad but the end of 2010 throughthe summer of 2011 was tough. I had a couple of different jobs and trying to 02:36:00take care of my family and pay the bills but also trying to find something that I wanted to do as a career, and juggling, still doing National Guard as well. It was tough. Actually the saving grace for that was the National Guard. I wound up getting full-time orders to go onto state active duty with the National Guard. Because of that move from the Massillon area down to Columbus, Ohio, really took a leap to move away from family and friends from Northeast Ohio. That's where everybody lived and we're coming to an area we don't know and everything. It's really been a blessing though for the family; a better situation, kids love the school that they're in, they're in a great school district, much better than they were before. There's a lot more opportunities and options, and things to do down here.
My wife didn't really see it. I kind of had that forward thinking, I saw itbefore that we got to get out of this area and she didn't really see it because she ... It was where she grew up. She loved that area. Now when we go back to visit family and friends she understands. She's like, Yeah, there's nothing here. Everything is so run down. Everything is so depressed. I said, Yeah. It's the area. There's no big business. There's no opportunities in that area. All the struggles that I had to do at the end of 2010, beginning half of 2011, have leapt. All of that that we had to struggle through has paid off for us now because we're in a much better situation.
Coming off of deployment and transitioning back into the civilian world for somepeople who have been in their jobs for years ... Some guys they had been in 02:38:00their jobs five, six, seven years prior to, and then they're deployed and then they come back and it's like, No problem, because they were well-established and everything. Those guys that had only been in their job for six months or a year or two, they come back, had those readjustment issues, it's like you're the new guy all over again. Some guys used it as a way out.
I had been off for a year, I had been out of my job and away from my job for ayear, I don't really like that job all that well. I know they have to keep my spot and I can go back to it, but I can also look for something else in the meantime as something to fall back on. A lot of guys were like ... Actually when we redeployed into Fort Dix, that was one of the things that we went over. We went over the fact of who needs a job, who need to talk to people about hiring and employment right now, who's got a job that they really don't want to go back to situation. Do you want to get into a better situation? Now is the chance, go for it. You got 30 days, 60 days, paid off, why not? Use that time to go find something better to do.
Some of those guys took advantage of it, some of the guys were like, No. Ireally like what I do. I'm going to go back to that. Other people were like, Well, I don't really like what I'm doing but it's a good job and I'll go back to it. Some of them worked out, some of them didn't. It's a weird dichotomy but for me personally, it was really strange because of that specific situation I was in, but the ground work was laid well before I was deployed. It stinks because the store manager, Jack, that I worked with, fantastic; fantastic individual, one of the greatest managers I've ever had the privilege to work with. I still keep in touch with him on Facebook and Twitter. Super good guy. I always told 02:40:00him, If I ever get the opportunity to work with you again, I'm taking it hands down.
It was kind of crappy that I had to leave that great working relationship,because I felt we had a great working relationship. Looking back, it wasn't the best situation for me anyways. It created hardships and struggles but I was better for it after that fact. I look back on it now with a better heart and better eyes than I did at the time.
TP: Looking back, how do you think your military experience has affected you andyour family?
LB: Like I said, I'm still in the National Guard, so everything the Guard hasgiven me, I think has been a blessing, it really has. I've been able to get two degrees; my associates and my bachelors, thanks to the National Guard. From being a veteran, my kids have gotten to go to camps, and through different organizations like the USO, and another great organization VetTix; vettix.org, through those types of organizations we've gotten tickets to events and concerts and sporting events. I've gotten to take my kids to things that I would have never been able to afford to take them to on my own. The love and support of my military family, we've made friends and really close friends that I've served with, that my family loves just as much as I do.
My military experiences, and I know everybody's is not the same, but my personal02:42:00military experience has been great. I plan on staying in until I'm eligible for retirement, and actually looking at possibly becoming a chaplain in the National Guard. Now taking my faith outside of the military and kind of pulling it into ... I felt like it was a calling but I wanted to ... I also felt like, Hey, if I'm going to stay in for my full 20 years and get my full retirement, why not get the best retirement possible and try to work up the ranks as much as possible? Going into the chaplaincy seemed like a ... It was definitely a calling but I feel like I'm meant to go do it, it's something I want to go do, but it's a way for me to serve with honor the rest of my career in the military. Also, do something that I would really feel good about doing, and see if I can help other guys in the unit. I really like listening to people and trying to help other people, and what better way to do it?
I'm actually just within the last few weeks laying the ground work to start thatjourney now. Within the next six months or so I'll hopefully get accepted into the program and I'll be going that route.
TP: Are there certain values or aspects of your service that continue to havestrong meaning in your life, or are there things that ... You said everybody has changed in different ways. Are there aspects of yourself you think you either acquired or became stronger as part of your service?
LB: ... Something I think I lost ... I think I lost a little bit of patience. I02:44:00think I did lose a little bit of patience. My wife had always said that I had tons of patience with the kids and everything before, and now I'm a little bit more quick to fly off the handle, and my anger is a little quicker to fly out. It's probably a negative but on a positive aspect of it, just operationally understanding how things work, especially with my active duty, my [inaudible 01:14:39] orders with the state. I was actually working in the state operations department, so understanding the big picture. Understanding we have this many combat brigades in Ohio, you have engineers, you have infantry, you have truck drivers and you have aviation. They all come together and how they all serve the same mission, and they're different pieces of the same mission. Just that overall [inaudible 01:15:13] is awesome.
I think that's actually helping me in the corporate world a great deal, becausesome people say, Oh, that's the vice president, or, That's the executive manager. That's the CEO of the company, and I'm kind of like, He's a person too. I can talk to them just the same as I could talk to anybody else, and I don't have any fear of going up and addressing them or doing anything. When you have to give a briefing to a full bird colonel, or a two star or a one star, about 02:46:00why we don't have enough money in the state to make this mission run, and you have to get up there and say, These are the numbers sir. These are the numbers ma'am. I'm sorry. If we do this, if we do this, we might be able to make this happen, or, Here's option A. Here's option B. What do you want me to do?
Having to do that, I don't fear any CEO or anything anymore, no. They can't makeme do push-ups. That's probably one of the greatest benefits I've gotten from the military, is the, operationally understanding how everything works, and the team work. Knowing team work. Knowing that comradery of having the faith to understand that the guard on your left and your right is going to do their job to the best of their ability. You don't have to worry about them. You just do what you need to do because they'll take care of what they need to take care of. You don't find that in the civilian world as much, but when you do you really appreciate it because of what you've experienced in the military.
TP: Given that less than 1% of the population does service, like you hadmentioned earlier, what do you think people should know about military service from other people who serve? 02:48:00
LB: Like I told everybody, it's not ... Military service definitely isn't foreverybody. On the other side though, I think that everybody should try. Italy, it's a requirement for males at 18 and then the females they have the option, but at 18 you go into two years of military service. You serve in the military for two years, it's a requirement. I don't think we need to do that here but I've always said that if a kid is in high school and they're thinking about it ... Even out of high school, they're in their 20s and they don't really know what's going on, the military can give you so many great benefits, especially the National Guard. It's a one week in a month, two weeks in the summer thing. It's a way to give back to your country and to your community. When you go out there and you enlist and you say those words that, I pledge to defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, you say those words and you feel them really sink in and you understand the gravity of what you've decided to do. You also take the pride and the honor of taking that decision. Like you said, so few people actually do that, so you hold yourself in a different light, you're in a very elite crowd.
I told my kids this too, that if they wanted to go into the service I'm notgoing to stop them, and any kids in high school. Especially anybody that's struggling or, I don't know how I'm going to pay for school, or anything like that, why not? If nothing else, you go into the service, you serve one contract, 02:50:00active duty reserve, National Guard, doesn't matter. Serve one contract, try it out, if it's not for you, great. At least you were courageous enough to take that oath and go out there and try it. Then use some of the benefits that you can get from it. While you're in the service you can get such great skills, that you can learn, not just your job that you're doing but they have Army Correspondence Courses, where you can go in and learn a foreign language. You can take basically college credit courses for free through AKO online. Why not?
Why not go on there and take advantage of that stuff and then when you come outof the service, you have so many different shoppable and marketable skill sets and knowledge that even if you do a 4-year contract, or a 6-year contract, you're putting yourself above so many other people, especially if you can get your degree while you're doing it. You're going to be that much more marketable to everybody else, and why not give it a shot? Like I said, it's not for everybody, so if you look into it and you decide, This really isn't for me. I don't want to do it, hey, at least you had the guts and the fore thought and the open-mindedness to look into it. If you'd like, Yeah, I'm going to try one contract, and you're like, Wow, this sucked. I don't like this at all. At least you gave it a shot, you were one of the very few who decided to enlist. Then there's those rare individuals that get in and they're like, Hey, this is for me. I like this, it's great. The structure, the comradery, the skill sets; the military has so many great aspects. It gets very negative light because everybody is like, I'm going to deploy. I'm going to get shot at. I'm going to have the possibility of dying. Yeah, that all plays into it, that's part of the job, but a ... I won't say a police officer because that's a little bit, 02:52:00probably a similar situation. A garbage worker. A garbage truck driver can get smashed off the side of the road by some big SUV, or he's pulling the garbage off the road, somebody can walk up and smack him in the knees; stupid things happen, hit him in the knees with a baseball bat or something. Things can happen in any profession, but very few professions have something that you can do that means so much.
That's one of the great things about the National Guard in particular, it'sthat, yes you're army and you're part of the United States' overall army, but you're also Ohio; you're Ohio's National Guard. If there's floods or ... The water crisis in Toledo a couple of years ago, we ... I was working at headquarters at that point in time. We were up at all hours of the night, making sure we had water buffalos full of water that were going up, clean drinking water for people to use and going out there and helping people when they're in the war situations. That, the community aspect of it, is so rewarding, so rewarding.
I tell everybody, Consider it. Worst case scenario, you decide it's not for you,fine. At least consider it. Give it a shot. Of course you have the worst thing that can happen is you're deployed and you're a casualty of war, but the odds of that happening especially as our combat situations are winding down, the odds of that are becoming slimmer and slimmer. The benefits are extremely outweighing 02:54:00the negatives. I tell everybody, Give it a shot, see what you think.
TP: Is there anything else we've not asked that you'd like to add, or anythingyou'd like to address?
LB: ... I think I've really hit everything. The only other thing I would add wasjust kind of a caviar from the last point of, Give the military at least a try or a look. It really plays into the National Guard a lot too, is consider your options. When you're thinking about joining, really do your research and look into it. There're so many different jobs in the military. Think about a job in the civilian world, there's one in the military. That's the way it is. Field sanitation, you want to be a secretary there's clerical work, there's supply, there's armors, helicopter pilots; everything you can possibly think of. Look into what skill sets you'll be learning and how it will relate in the outside world.
Like me, I wanted to go into computers. I found avionics so I got to learn agreat basis in electrical and all of that, and troubleshooting and everything. It's definitely helping me in the civilian world. I got paid to go learn this skill and I get paid to use this skill one week in a month, two weeks in the summer, and it's skills that I'm learning to get paid somewhere else on the 02:56:00civilian side. If people think of the military that way, the benefit is huge. Other than that, no; that's ... I think all the major aspect of my military story are definitely laid out already.