Segment Synopsis: Randall S. Schumacher was born in New Iberia, Louisiana in 1983. He moved with his family to Dresden, Ohio in the 1990s when his father relocated for work. In his interview he talks about his family and their military history, his memories of 9/11, going to college, and his choice to join the Ohio National Guard. Schumacher recounts his basic training at Fort Jackson, training as a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Specialist.
Keywords: Dresden (Ohio); Fort Jackson (Columbia, S.C.); Fort Leonard Wood (Mo.); New Iberia (La.); Newark (Ohio); Ohio State University; Ohio. Army National Guard; September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001.; U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School
Subjects: Childhood; Decision to Enlist; Military Heritage; Military training; School
Map Coordinates: 34.0550785,-80.8344315
Segment Synopsis: Schumacher recounts his decision to join the 684th Area Support Medical Company and what it was like working with them. He discusses why he was chosen to go to Afghanistan during the troop surge in 2011, his pre-mobilization, and what Manas, Kyrgyzstan and western Afghanistan were like. Schumacher describes his mission at Shindand Air Base, a typical day on base, making friends in the military, and an average surgical team scenario. He explains how he dealt with the stresses of his job, the dark humor of medical staff, communicating with his family, and preparing to return home.
Keywords: Fort Hood (Tex.); Fort Lewis (Wash.); IED; Improvised explosive device; Kandahar; MEDEVAC; Shindand Air Base (Afghanistan); Transit Center at Manas (Kyrgyzstan : Air base); United States. Army. Medical Company, 684th
Subjects: Afghanistan; Deployment; Kyrgyzstan; Pre-mobilization; Working with the surgical unit
Segment Synopsis: September 1, 2012 Schumacher returned to the United States with a dense of nervous euphoria. For the first time in years he was free to do what he wanted, when he wanted. Schumacher had a job interview, which he ended up getting, and a new apartment, life was wide open. He concludes by talking about his life now, his aspirations, how he feels the military affected him, and what people should know about those who serve.
Keywords: Columbus (Ohio); John Glenn School of Public Affairs; Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Railroad Division
Subjects: Coming home; Life now; Reflections on service
JH: It is Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015. I'm Jess Holler and I'm here with JamesMarsh, and we're speaking with Mr. Randal Schumacher at the Ohio History Connection in Columbus, Ohio about his service experience and his deployment to Afghanistan. Mr. Schumacher, for the record, could say and spell your full name?
RS: Randall Scott Schumacher. R-A-N-D-A-L-L S-C-O-T-T S-C-H-U-M-A-C-H-E-R.
JH: To begin, can you tell us a little bit about when and where you were born?
RS: I was born in a town south of Lafayette, Louisiana called New Iberia,Louisiana. It's right on the coast, and it's a lot of oil field industry down there, my dad was in the oil field. It's kind of a small town, kind of gritty, kind of dirty, but I lived there for about 14 years, 15 years I think, and then we moved to Ohio in about '97 or '98, I think.
JH: What year were you born?
JH: Can you tell us a little bit more about what your childhood was like growingup in New Iberia? What were your early school years like?
RS: They were pretty good. I was an only child. My mom was from New York, my dadwas from Ohio. In that area of Louisiana, there's a lot of Cajun influence. There is like Cajun and Creole people, so it was kind of interesting. I grew up with a lot different culture around me, a lot of good food, a lot of spicy food. Pretty good, I think I remember being outside a lot because there's a lot to do outside. We had bayous and stuff, and there were alligators and snakes. It was actually neat, but it was a pretty good childhood. I think I grew up slightly 00:02:00lower middle class when I was growing up, and then I watched my parents go a little higher and maybe accomplish better things. We grew up and things got a little better, but it was good childhood, I think. My parents were both really nice, and caring, and cared about me, and my education, and everything.
JH: What prompted the family to move to Ohio?
RS: My dad was ready to get out of the oil industry. It's not really an eighthour a day job, it was 24 hours a day. He would get called out to do things all the time. I think as I got older and as he got older, he didn't want to be involved in that too much more, I think. I think he said, "I've had enough of this. I just want to enjoy my life a little bit more." I think it was quality of life for him. We had family still back in Ohio, because my dad was from Ohio, and then we moved back, and he ended up working for a family company for a while. That's what prompted that move, and obviously, my mom came with him.
JH: What was your high school experience like?
RS: I went to high school in a placed called ... in Dresden, Ohio, which isnorth of Zanesville, about an hour east of Columbus. It was nice, it was just a small rural school. I don't remember it being, it was nice facilities, the teachers seemed interested, I learned quite a bit. I probably didn't apply myself as much as I should have, but I enjoyed it. I do remember being ready to get out. I remember coming from Louisiana, going from eighth grade into ninth grade, and going into with all the new kids, and everything. It was a different culture. I was a different culture shock.
I was used to more minorities and different types of culture. Then, when I cameto rural Ohio, it was a different culture. I wasn't used to like this really farming, agrarian kind of, everybody farmed, everybody was in FAA, I think, is 00:04:00it called Future FFA? I didn't know what that was until I moved up to Ohio. It was definitely different. At first, I was shocked. I was like, "Where am I?" My mom asked me the first day, she said, "How was your first day at school?" I remember just being like, "What have you done? Where are we?" I ended up really liking it. I made really good close friends that I still keep in touch to this day, which is almost getting close to 15 years since I graduated. I have great friends, intelligent, successful people that I've met through high school. It wasn't bad.
I do remember thinking there's got to be something more than this. I guessthere's a lot of high school kids who are thinking that though, I want to get out and do something different. I do remember that specifically thinking, I never really was one of those people that's like, "This is going to be the greatest days in my life." I was like, this is something that's in the way of me getting out, doing something else with myself. I do remember that kind of anxiety about getting out, but that's probably normal, I think.
JH: Toward the end of your senior year of high school, what are you thinking interms of your future and your career?
RS: Towards the end of high school?
JH: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
RS: Honestly, I don't think I'd really thought much about it. I think I justknew that college was going to happen. I looked into, initially, joining the navy. My father was really encouraging me to join the navy and my mom was ambivalent, but my dad was really, "Hey, you should join the military. Join the navy." I scored high enough to do those things, it just didn't really grab me and I didn't really want to do it enough. Of course, this was right before 9/11. I graduated from high school in May of 2001. That following spring, September, would have been when 9/11 happened, so that changed up everything.
I remember thinking my friends are going to college. I want to go to college. A00:06:00lot of my friends went to Ohio State, which is where I chose to go. I deferred and thought to myself, "I'm just going to do this. I don't like college, I can join the military afterwards," but I always knew that I was going to join at some point in some capacity. I didn't know if I just wanted to do it at that point or do I want to do it later on.
JH: Where did that come from? Had there been a prior tradition for militaryservice in your family?
RS: Yeah, there has been. A decent amount of men in my family have been in themilitary, on the mother's side and my father's side. I definitely grew up looking up to, especially my grandfather who was a Marine Corps infantry officer in World War II, which is interesting, I'm only 32, but I have a grandfather who has since passed, but he was in World War II, because my mom was a little bit later-in-life child than most people. I remember I have his medals. I have a lot of his things that he had from the end of World War II and he was in the Pacific, in the Marine Corps. I just remember looking up to him. I had pictures of him and thinking wow, that's great. That's kind of what you're supposed to do. I don't know, that's what I thought, so I looked up to that.
An uncle on my father's side was in the Army. I remember hearing him tellstories. I think he was on Europe for a while. He was in Germany for roughly three years and he just talked about how much he love his time in Germany, in the Army in general. Then I had an uncle who was in the Navy, a pretty high up officer on a nuclear submarine.
I remember speaking with him about it and he loved it. I had all these differentcontacts in with it and I just always really admired the military and looked up to it. I knew that was something that was eventually going to be part of my life, but I think I was even probably ... I graduated when I was 17 years old and I didn't turn 18 until actually well into my freshman year. September 26, 2001 is when I turned 18, so I was still really, really immature, and I really didn't have, I'd go back ... What you asked me initially, I really didn't have 00:08:00an idea of what I wanted to do. I hadn't really thought it out, planned it out, but I decided to go to college instead.
JH: How far did you get back in high school on the path to enlisting? Have youtalked with your parents?
RS: I had gone pretty far. I had taken my ASVAB as was mandatory, and I scoredhigh enough, initially, to get into the Nuclear Submarine Program. The Navy recruiters came to my house and spoke with my parents and told me everything that I was to expect out of it. I remember at 17, thinking to myself, "Oh my God," because it was two years of training. Just two years of training, I think, in South and North Carolina, or somewhere on the East Coast and that was just school, that wasn't even part of your service. Then they were talking about how hard it is, and how challenging, and then there was four year commitment after that you'd be on a sub or on a ... whatever, had some sort of nuclear mode of power.
I remember thinking to myself at 17, I saw like six years, "Oh my God, what isthat? I can't do that," but I think I got pretty far, and I remember telling my father, "I don't think I want to this. I want to go to college first." He really didn't push it too much, which probably helped out. I just wanted to go school first.
JH: I was going to ask your parents, or your wider family's reaction to yourinterest in learning in high school, and it seems like they were behind this?
RS: Yeah, there was no apprehension. I knew some guys, I knew people in the Armynow, that they told ... I guess, in 2001 prior to 9/11, it was probably a little bit different. Joining the military at that time was seen as just a good way to be a vehicle to better yourself and do these things. I guess it wasn't a clear path to a deployment and to put you in harm's way like it is now, probably, so I'm sure that changed up. Because then when I enlisted after college and selected a unit, I was given the option to join three units and I selected the 00:10:00one that I was told was deploying. That was a different story and my mom was not very happy about that. They were pretty supportive about the military, in general. Maybe that would have been different if I'd had been younger, and 9/11 was reality and Iraq and Afghanistan were reality.
JH: I wanted to look back and ask you about that. Can you describe for us whatyou remember, where you were on 9/11 and tell us about how that impacted you?
RS: Sure, I had apply to go to Ohio State and my grades weren't good enough toget into the main campus, and so I had to go to a branch campus. I started, I had gotten an apartment in Newark, Ohio. I had just gone to the cable place and got my cable box and I have plugged the cable box in. It was right after the first plane had hit. They were talking about how it's a horrible accident and everything, and I was like, wow, that's really terrible. I don't know what kind of pilot is going to fly into a building. It was a beautiful sunny day, but I remember that.
I plugged it in and saw it on the news. I honestly just kept going about my dayand didn't know that a second plane had hit because I had to drive somewhere else, around, I think I had to get a haircut and then for some reason, I had kept the person that cut my hair. It was just like an hour away, so I drove there after a while. I had CD's, I didn't listen to the radio, so I didn't know what was going on. I didn't find out until noon that the towers had fallen, and then it was obviously, you know, terrorism.
JH: What was going through your mind at the time?
RS: It sounds horrible, but I remember just being, thinking wow, this is ... Idon't remember having this dread or terror that a lot people say they do, but you know, I was 17, about to turn 18, kind of oblivious to world events. I had 00:12:00no idea how dramatically it was going to impact everything in the world, especially the course of my life, and the experiences I would have up and even to this day.
JH: At that point in time, you had already decided to delay military service,you were in college. When 9/11 hit, did that bring back any of that decision process?
RS: Yeah, sure. It did. I remember thinking, "Oh, wow." I don't think instantly,it wasn't. I think, afterwards, after I knew that they were going to Afghanistan and at that point, it was the Taliban who had, if I remember, the Taliban had allowed Al Qaeda to exist in Afghanistan, train and operate out of Afghanistan. I remember thinking those guys, they're going to go over there and do all that stuff. I didn't really think I need to go over there. I knew I still wanted to join the military, but it did, not to get too far ahead, but it definitely did change from some other experiences. I had friends that had decided to join the military because of that. They said, "Okay, I'm going to go and do my part."
A guy that I knew from high school who was mostly an acquaintance, I didn'treally know him very well, he had join the Marine Corps, and he ended up getting killed in 2005 in an IED attack. There was a story in, I think it was GQ, it was some sort of a men's magazine. I remember hearing that he had passed away and then I remember seeing a story about it. That was definitely something that kind of impacted to me. Although I wasn't best friends with him, I didn't really know him very, very well, I remembered it about him, but I remember thinking wow, that guy is out there and has done that, and has made that sacrifice. That was actually really one of the galvanizing moments for me when I saw that. I knew about him, and then I saw it on the news, I was like, "Wow, this guy, this is really something that I should be contributing too as well."
Because it's different probably when it's other people, but when you know00:14:00someone that's done it, maybe some people's tendency is to say, "Oh, this is horrible. Why are we doing this?" I don't think you think that way when you're actually in the military, you're in that mindset. It reinforces why you're doing it, what you're doing it, and the sacrifices that come along with it. I do remember that being the point where that was really, I just said, "Yup, you're doing this. You've got to do it at some point." It was never a question of if I was going to do it, but when I was going to do it. I knew I was getting a ...
I took some time off in college. Like I said, I wasn't very driven, I reallywasn't. It wasn't until I was about 24, 25 when I left school for a while, came back after working and realized, "Okay, I need to get my degree and finish everything up." I started working while going to school instead of being just a full-time student. That's probably how it happened. I'm pretty sure that I decided I'm going to get my degree, and then I'm going to go and join up.
JH: Can you tell us a little bit more about those years in between 9/11 andultimately enlisting?
RS: Yeah. It was about nine years.
JH: You were at OSU Newark ...
JH: You said you were kind of looking for what you wanted to do and youultimately took some time off.
JH: Can you tell us about that period of time?
RS: I went to college, obviously, then I transferred to Ohio State, my sophomoreyear, the main campus in Columbus here and really enjoyed the life. Again, I was young and I'm taking out loans. I didn't really think about things long term, which is my fault, no problem, but I'll take responsibility for it. Ultimately, yeah, I had left school and needed to get time off. I just realized at one point, I was like, "I need to focus and get things together," so I worked for a 00:16:00company that allowed me to travel a little bit, which was nice because I got exposure to things and people. I realized pretty quickly that I needed my degree to have that type of lifestyle that I wanted. It was becoming more important to have the degree, just as, I guess, an initial starting point. They always say it's like having a high school diploma now. I don't believe that, I think that's garbage. I think people just say that to make themselves feel better about not having a diploma.
I definitely realized how important the education was. I had always have this,even though I didn't have a drive or a path to get there, I always knew I had a quality of life and a standard for myself that I wanted to have. Obviously, I wanted to have my college degree, I wanted to have a good job, I wanted to have military service. I think I put those model stones and those goals in mind without actually thinking about what path I was going to take to get there. I knew that that's what I ultimately was driving for. Once I came back and got back into school, I was a pretty good student after that, but there was definitely a sense of urgency at that point to, "Okay, I've been here long enough. It's time to go. It's time to move and get on with things."
JH: What did you end up studying?
RS: Political science. I had enough credits to get a double major, which wouldhave been in International Studies, but I didn't want to take two German literature classes. If I would have taken two German literature classes, it would be a major instead of a minor. I have a minor in international studies, which in Ohio state the international studies is kind of a ... I guess I'm trying to say it right, it's kind of an umbrella. There's a lot of different things. Mine was Intelligence and Security. The curriculum, was obviously political science, so I focused more American politics. There's a lot of literature classes or reading and writing classes, different topics, studying UN operations, and some international study stuff, and American presidency. Anything you can think of in that regards. 00:18:00
I took a lot more credits than I needed to, I don't know why. I also took somemap-making courses, which I really liked. I got exposure to GIS in the international studies part, which incidentally, I'm using now where I work. Yeah, that's where I started, really and I never changed. I never changed my major once. I knew I wanted to study politics, and government, and history, and I kept that the same all the way through.
JH: What year did you graduate?
RS: I end up graduating in March of 2010. I think I ended up actually first ...If you count solid quarters of attendance, because there was intermittent attendance towards the end. There was probably about a good five years and some change, if not more. It's embarrassing.
JH: I was going to ask you next, what you were thinking about your career atthat point, but I'm looking at your enlistment date and they kind of line up.
RS: Yeah. My career was, on paper, having a political science degree, in 2010especially, right after 2008 when our economy definitely slowed down. I knew that people weren't going to be ringing my phone off the hook for job-offers with a Poli-Sci degree and really no other experience. Joining the military was kind of a twofold deal, something I wanted to do personally, but also something that I knew was going to benefit me and my career and show people that I could commit to things and be part of something bigger.
JH: When you enlisted, did you enlist directly in the Ohio National Guard?
RS: I did. Yeah. I went in to the ROTC building, I think it was March 11th orMarch 10th. It's one of the two days. I think it's March 10th and I was going graduate on March 21st. I talked with the recruiter previously and I said, "One 00:20:00of the main things I want to do is I want to go through, but I also want to go to Iraq or Afghanistan." Iraq was still going at that time, I wanted to deploy. He was pretty helpful. He was like, "We can do that for you, or at least try." I had chosen an MOS, when I was going through MEPS, they had told me, "Well, there's three units that are available for you that have slots that you can go into," and he said, "The one here, I'm pretty sure they're deploying." I said, "Well, put that in that medical company," which is in Columbus, which worked for me because I still lived in Columbus at the time. That's where I chose it.
I knew I was going to go straight in that. By March, I had enlisted. I wassupposed to get shipped out, I think in July, initially, late July. I remember contacting the recruiter that, when you get put into a training company, it's called RSP, it's just something that the Guard has, you just go into it. I remember thinking why am I wasting time? I didn't have anything to do. I had already graduated, and I didn't have a job, so I tried to get my paperwork done. I ended up leaving early and I left in May instead of July, so I could just get everything out of the way.
JH: I want to ask you about your MOS assignment and basic training, but first, Iwant to know why did you want to deploy? Why did you say that to the recruiter?
RS: Again, I guess hearing my grandfather and seeing that friend of mine thathad passed away. I just wanted to feel like I was at least contributing to some part, some effort. I guess some people, some young people, you're always trying to ... Some people just want to go out and prove something to themselves. You want to go out and do something great that you can convince yourself that you're able to do it. I think that's part of it. I definitely knew that it was, in my 00:22:00mind and maybe not to everybody, but I don't really care, I thought it was a noble undertaking. I thought it was something that needed to be done.
After the years have passed, 9/11, the reality of it and how much you realizedit changed pretty much the whole world. It changed everything, and so I wanted to be part of that. You know, to talk, that when one of my kids ask me, "What did you during that time?" "Well, I went to Afghanistan, I joined the Ohio National Guard, and got training in the Army and deployed." I wanted to do that and I thought that was going to be a good thing for me and it has been, it really has, both formatively and career-wise. I didn't how it was going to change me, but I knew it was going to be a good thing. I guess I knew it was going to be something I wanted to do. Also, just the idea of adventure.
I had a couple of friends in college that were Marines and Army guys that haddeployed even while we're in college and came back and told me about what they had done and the things they had done. Obviously, they told me everything. It wasn't all great. It wasn't all good things. They saw bad things there too, but overall, I could tell the sense of pride they had for doing it and from saying that they are a war veteran and had contributed to that. People looked at them a little differently.
It might seem silly, but they've been through stuff. They've been tested.They've proved themselves whereas you really don't get a whole lot of opportunities to do that. They seem to be very, very calm and confident, not that kind of guys that you would think who are going to ... They're not loudmouth, belligerent type of people. Very mild-mannered people and I always admired that. I guess in my mind, someway I connected that with being and having that status or having gone there and done those things. I think that was another 00:24:00thing that definitely attracted me to it, was the idea that you were going to gain some insight on yourself, I guess.
JH: What was your family's reaction to you actually enlisting this time around?
RS: My dad was, again, even though there are wars, and I told him I was going todeploy, he was pretty encouraging. He started to think, "This is a great opportunity for you." Obviously, having not been encouraged by me spending so much time in college, he was probably like, "This might what you need," which at that point in time, I had really turned things around and just gotten ... It wasn't that I was somebody who is lazy or dumb, I just didn't have any drive. I had nothing around to push me towards something. I know he was very encouraging. He thought it was going to help out quite a bit and really be an asset to me for the rest of my life.
My mom, on the other hand, was not very happy. She wasn't hysterical or anythinglike that, and she was definitely supportive, but I could tell there was something that ... She wasn't onboard all the way, definitely. Being an only child, and at that point, my parents were divorced as well. My parents split up when I was actually about 18, 17 or 18. She' still living in Ohio and all of her family are living in New York or Virginia. I was pretty much the only thing she had here, so I could tell, the prospect of me going away into potentially in harm's way for a year is definitely not something that she took greatly, I can tell. She never really made me feel guilty about it. She never really said, "Oh, don't do this to me." I guess she dealt with it as maybe valiantly as a mom 00:26:00could with an only child.
JH: What do you remember what the political climate was like in terms of the USinvolvement in Iraq and Afghanistan in the spring of 2010?
JH: What were the media saying about what was going on?
RS: You know what? Honestly, by that point in time I had just kind of resignedmyself to paying attention. Just from studying in college and learning things, it's even being reinforced now that I work for the state, and just the nature of my job, I was pretty sharp and I knew everybody pretty much at that point had a political ax to grind, which kind of upset me. I don't think it was either side, Democrat or Republican, but you could tell everything was about some sort of politics. Obviously, there was politicization of everything and it probably is nave to not expect that in any war at any time, but it definitely upset me, and I do remember thinking I don't care. I'll try not to swear, but I don't care what people think, I know X happened, this happened, and I think what we're doing there is right.
If we're there and we're not doing it the right way, that's a different story,but if we're there for a reason, I did believe in that. I think there was a lot ... I do remember there was a lot, even the years preceding 2010, there was just so much vitriol going out, there was so much just strange things in the media. These wars had been around, this one war has been around for so long that just these weird people are taking it and using it for their own purposes, like Westboro Baptist Church, and all these other ...
It's just really odd and strange, and I remember thinking that back then too,just how ... I do remember feeling like I'm definitely not going to come home to 00:28:00some sort of a ticker-tape parade like my grandfather did in World War II, where everybody's behind it, and everybody is contributing to the war effort, because you know, I definitely remember hearing things like, I would hear people talk about their issues and their problems, and I'm like, "You know, there's wars going on right now," but no one really seemed to care, I do remember that. I don't want to say no one, but especially younger people who are obviously more prone to be oblivious to world events, but even adults and other people. When I was 24, 25, 26, I think I was 26 when I enlisted, but I didn't consider myself to be an adult at that point in time, but I remember thinking, you know, nobody really is ... Everybody is conscious of the war, but nobody is really that involved, like not many people had much skin in the game at all, I do remember that.
I do remember thinking there's going to be select few people who are reallygoing to support us. The military is obviously going to support us, our families are support us, politicians may support us if it suits them, but I do remember kind of feeling like we're just going to be out there on our own. I don't know, I guess that's probably the best way to put it. I do remember those things.
JM: It was more, and this isn't a question, it's not like a right or wrong answer.
JM: You kind of joined the military for personal reasons, rather than it beingthe 9/11 ...
RS: Sure, sure. I think 9/11 was definitely a big push that demonstrated theneed to do it, but it was definitely, my interest in the military was probably 100% personal, is that altruistic, I don't know. Is that the term? I don't know, I think everybody's reason is personal though. I think it always comes back to how it's going to serve you because it sounds kind of horrible to say I did it for personal reasons, but personally, being of service, and doing those things, 00:30:00that is important to me, to be able to say, "I did it," so you know, as an offshoot, I definitely thought I was benefiting everyone around me, and I thought that was going to benefit me greatly too, so it was definitely personal. It wasn't some sort of revenge-type, you know, where I felt angry.
I don't really watch, I couldn't watch, even at an early age, I was never reallysqueamish or anything, but I could never watch the planes fly into the towers or seeing them fall, or seeing the people, which is weird to me because I can pretty much see anything, and I'm sure we'll get into later about what I saw in the medical unit in war, but I still can't do that, it's weird.
JH: Can you tell us a little bit about what basic training was like? You took avery short timeline between enlisting and mobilization, so where does that fit in?
RS: Basic training is, I tell a lot of people, I wasn't in bad shape when Ijoined, I used a lot of tobacco, I knew that was going to be an issue and that was going to make me pretty irritable, but I mean, right off the bat I had a lot of friends that told me, "Look, it's not hard, they make it out to be this huge mountain that you have to climb," and I'm sure for some people it is. Actually, I remember being there saying, "This is great." Every day I'd wake up, you'd hear the different bugle calls in the morning on base, and as you'd start to get indoctrinated, you started to feel, even though you were definitely treated like a fourth-class citizen as a private in IET or Initial Entry Training is what it's called, it's not basic or AIT, but you still, because you started to feel like, "Okay, I'm part of this," you're wearing the uniform, you're getting up, you're doing PT, and it starts to feel great.
You're carrying a weapon, and you're learning things, and you're starting tofeel integrated to an extent, so that was encouraging for me. This is going to sound horrible, but I tell people all the time the worst thing about basic is 00:32:00not the training, it's the people, because every kid there ... There's a lot of young kids, and even at 25, 26, I was like an old man to those kids, you know, some of them were 17 or 18, 19 years old. I'm sure that they've changed since then, but at that time, you know a lot of these kids are very irresponsible, a lot of kids had trouble listening. I don't know why the hell you join the Army if you have a problem with someone yelling at you, but there are people that do it on a regular basis and think that they can be in charge for a little bit, which is not the case at all.
Basic, I think I've heard it described as the best thing you never, ever want todo again, because looking back on it there's some nostalgia because your mind tends to condense out the boring and the terrible, and you kind of remember the good stuff, but there was definitely, it was pretty interesting, and I still talk to a couple guys I went to basic with. To sum it all up, I definitely felt that I was being pulled into the Army system and I felt good, I wanted that and I knew that I was training better. I was getting in very good health. I was running, we were running all the time, and with running, I was decent at running. I'd never really been that great at it, but I never really also put much work into it, and in basic I did, and I realized I'm really good at this, this is something I can excel at, which was kind of nice.
When you can overcome a personal hurdle you thought ... I looked at some ofthose times, "I'm never going to be able to do that," then when you do it, and you start to correlate that amount of work and effort into achieving those goals that you thought were impossible, that's really a transition point for anybody, when you can get to that point where you're forced to do something but then in your mind you correlate achieving something. That was probably the biggest takeaway I took from it, I think, was I did look at it as a monumental task regardless of what my friends had told me, "Oh, you'll be fine, just don't get hurt, don't be the first guy, don't be the last guy, don't be smart, don't be 00:34:00cute to anybody," they say, "Gray man, just get in there, do the job, don't be the first, don't be the last, don't get hurt and you're going to be fine."
That was true, but in between that there is challenges and stuff that make yougrow as a person, definitely. Even though those kids acted like kids, and even though I was still a kid, I always did have respect even for a kid that probably needed the most help, because to join the military is to say I need some help, or I'm trying to better myself. A lot of kids that I went to school with, or went to basic with, were not pretty much like me. You know, thy definitely weren't recent college grads in their mid-20s who were joining for these idealistic reasons. A lot of them were joining, you know, the necessity to pay for college, or to do the other things to better themselves, which you've got to hand it to them, a lot of people aren't going to make that commitment, especially at that young age. A lot of people can't make that commitment to save their life nowadays.
It was interesting. I got exposed to a lot of different people, a lot ofdifferent people. It sounds crazy, but living in Louisiana, and then living in Ohio, I mean, maybe Louisiana is different now, but when I was there, I didn't really know many Hispanic people, but I met guys from Puerto Rico, from Queens, New York, who were Dominican, I've met guys from everywhere. I knew guys that literally, some of them could barely speak English, so it was kind of interesting. I'd never really been exposed to any of that that kind of Caribbean culture outside, out in those island areas where ... It was kind of neat.
JH: Where were you guys stationed for basic?
RS: I was in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Columbia, South Carolina, which is,they call it Relaxin' Jackson. It didn't feel like it when I was there though. It was really hot, I got there in May and left in July I think, and it was 00:36:00super-hot, super-humid. I don't know why, but I had in my mind, "Oh yeah, we're in South Carolina, we're probably going to be near the beach," we were not. We were not even anywhere near it was just hot. It was hot and sandy.
JH: I meant to ask you earlier, in high school you had been looking into the Navy.
RS: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
JH: At this point in 2010, you'd go with the Ohio Army National Guard.
JH: How would your thoughts on The Guard, and what changed in the years inbetween? Why'd you go with The Guard?
RS: Well, initially, when I was looking into, after I knew I was going to begraduating, I looked into the Marine Corps OCS Program, and then I looked into the Army OCS Program, and I had a girlfriend at the time, and she wasn't really keen on me leaving for four years and going somewhere, and I guess I let that influence me. I need up saying, "Well, I can join The Guard, I can go train and I can come back. I can deploy and I can come back and be here, and then I can always go active duty if I want to." That was really the reason that pushed me towards the Army Guard.
Why didn't go like the Navy Reserves or anything like that is that I think fromtalking to my friends and seeing things, I actually wanted to carry a rifle and be on the ground, and do those types of things. Not that the Navy doesn't do that, but I think you have a higher chance of being on the ground, in the country, on your deployment obviously, say, if you're in the Army or the Marine Corps as opposed to the Navy or something like that. That may be false, I don't want to say anything negative or disparaging, but that was just my view of it. I wanted to carry a rifle, and I wanted to be soldier. I wanted to have that designation.
JH: At what point in time, before or after basic did you receive your MLS?
RS: Well, I had to go through AIT, so I think basic was 11 weeks or somethinglike that, 10, 11 weeks, and then I went to AIT just right after that was done and that was another, I think, 11 or 12 weeks, something like that. 00:38:00
JH: Where was that?
RS: That's in Fort Leonard Wood, which is Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Also,hot, very hot. I thought I was going to catch another break, but it was hot there, and there was skunks everywhere, which was weird. After that, I became, I was MOS qualified, and then sent back to Ohio, and sent back to my unit.
JH: Did you get to choose your MOS?
RS: Yeah, I did. Well, there was a lot of slots that weren't open, I rememberthat. In 2010, the Ohio Guard Was pretty filled up and that was one of the few things. I actually didn't get it, originally I was looking at military intelligence, MI stuff, because I had very high ASVAB scores, but apparently there weren't any openings. Whether that's true or not, because recruiters aren't exactly notorious for being honest, and I'm not afraid to put that on camera.
JH: What did you go with, the available options, what did you pick?
RS: I picked, 74 Delta is the designation, that chemical, biological,radiological, and nuclear operations specialist. What that is, is somebody who specializes in handling or the cleanup and decontamination of, say, a CBRN [Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear] event is what we call it, it's the acronym. In AIT we learned a lot, it looked like we were just washing cars, but you systematically decontaminate people or vehicles who had been contaminated by say some sort of an air agent, or something like that had hit a convoy. Those people had to get decontaminated, so we would set up decon lines for the vehicles and then personnel, and then the equipment, and that was a big part of it. Then there was some classroom stuff where we learned about different biological pathogens, and chemical agents, and things.
It wasn't very academic and super rigorous, it was pretty much kind of arefresher course, here's this, here's that, be able to ID it, be able to ID this 00:40:00kind of gas, what kind of agent it is, and what some of the symptoms are just to give you a real cursory knowledge of it, because there is, even in my enlistment, there's a lot more in depth schooling you can go through that really makes you experts in certain parts of it.
JH: What drew you to the CBRN MOS?
RS: I had taken a Weapons of Mass Destruction class, it was called Weapons ofMass Destruction in International Studies at Ohio State, and I remember being fascinated by that. We read a book called Scourge, which is about the weaponization, or smallpox history, and the weaponization of smallpox, and the interactions in the Cold War and everything. I remember just being glued to that book, actually, you should read it, it's pretty good. I was really fascinated about that, that Cold War era, and how chemical and biological weapons, and nuclear weapons were integrated into that, obviously pretty closely. I remember, I saw that, and there were some other MLSs, and I was like, "This doesn't look that great," so I picked CBRN because I thought it would be interesting.
I probably didn't do a whole heck of a lot of research before going into it, butyou know, you're kind of nave, you don't know anything about the Army. Anybody that tells me they're going to join the Army, I tell them, "I'll go to the recruiters office with you, I'm tell you everything that I know." I picked that, and I joined. I was in a hurry, I mean, I signed my paperwork and I was gone in two months. I knew I wanted to get in to serve.
JH: When you deployed, you deployed as a part of a unit, a company?
RS: Yes. I deployed with the unit I had selected, when I say selected, they gaveme the choice at MAPS. Typically, you know, they'll just throw you in there, but the guy was nice enough and said, "Oh you've got these two units in Kettering for chemical, or you got this unit here in Columbus, and I know they are 00:42:00slighted to deploy in Afghanistan," and I said, " I definitely want that one," so they sent me to 684th Area Support Medical Company in, it's out at the DSCC, out on the east side of Columbus. You've probably seen that facility, that big DLA facility.
Out there, and what they do is, Area Support Medical Company, they set up. Iknow they have a platoon of ambulances, they have a platoon that's called treatment, if it's still the same, it wasn't this time. Then we had the ability to go somewhere to set up what's called Role 2 is what we did. Role 2 or Level 2, depending on if you're NATO or just doing Army operations, which is essentially one step up from a battalion aid station, which is basically they're just going to throw ibuprofen at you. This place was combat trauma so typically you'd have some surgeons attached to you, depending on what form, I'm not, I'm kind of fuzzy on the actual structure, but I know what we had. We had what's called and asked FST, and I think it's a Frward Surgical Team, which had, you had a general surgeon, and had an orthopedic surgeon.
Obviously, pretty trauma related there. We basically had an ER, so we set up acombat ER, and people would roll in on the back of trucks, or a lot of times, helicopters was the majority of our movements, or we would pick them up in an ambulance. That was kind of the idea, it's kind of like MASH, but a lot different. We had an ER, we had an ICU, and when I'm saying this, I mean, like they are tents, so the ER was pretty, you could tell they had high tech stuff there and the doctors were obviously pretty good at what they did, but if you'd go look at the conditions, I'd imagine a doctor from here would look at a surgeon, where they performed surgery, and just, "What is this," because it's a tent, and there's not much that we did we were able to do with ventilation control or anything like that.
It's pretty austere. I think we have four beds, it doesn't sound like a lot with00:44:00the company of 100 people but it takes a lot of effort to have people bring you in, triage you and evaluate you, do you go to surgery, or are you just treated by a medic, and then to put them in ICU if they have to stay there, which was pretty rare. From what I understood, our job was essentially, get somebody in, and maybe they had their legs shot, blown off, typically blown off by an IED or something like that, get them packaged up, make sure that they are safe and secure, and get them sent up and out. That was pretty much our job, our place was not a place for you to be. You wanted to be there, get well enough, or packaged up enough to be moved to the higher level of care. That's pretty much all we did.
It wasn't like your frontline, like your medic sitting there on the ground,putting a tourniquet on, but we were the people that the medic brought back casualty to.
JH: This mission that you guys were being sent on as a part of The 684th AreaSupport Medical Company, that sounds slightly different from what you've described CBRN MOS.
RS: Right, right. How I fit in there, that's a good question. A lot of yourunits, things kind of change, as the years go on, things change. What unit is allowed to have in the Guard, at least, I know a unit is allowed to have X a number of equipment, and that includes people. Most of the units have a CBRN person, and that depends on, do they manage the masks, because one of the things were also trained to do is to manage everyone's protection masks, or gas masks. We have a room, typically, with all of them stacked up there, we service them and everything, and make sure people are trained up on the bottom level to what we call 10-Level Skills that every soldier should know in the event that they are hit, and make sure that they know how to use decon, personal decontamination packets. A whole other thing is different instrumentation that the regular soldiers should be able to use.
I was there to do that job, but also one of my roles was to be pre-triage, so00:46:00triage, being you've got a medical NCO outside, for a doctor saying, "Okay, this person ..." There's different categories, so if you have a mass casualty situation, you'll have someone come in, so you've got five people and you know you can only operate on three. It up to that medical NCO or officer to determine who's going to get treated and who's going to wait. They are going for the most utility, which is how can we save the most numbers? They are not going to take the guy that needs surgery that requires eight hours of surgery when three people are going to die instead, do you know what I mean? That's what triage is.
What my role would have been in the most extreme form, which probably wouldnever happen, is if say a group of people, we had medical casualties that were coming in that were contaminated, I would be one of the people there with what's called a CBRN Defense Team, which is made up of other people that aren't CBRN, but they've gone through a little school to train them up, would be to go through and scan these people to make sure that they are clear before they can go in. That's one of the roles, the other one is to maintain that CBRN equipment at the unit level, because I had a lot more equipment than most CBRN NCOs is what we call them, had. I had a lot of detection of equipment that I could put out, that would detect incoming contamination and things of that nature. It was old, but I had it.
JH: Before you guys got into country, what was your understanding of how muchchemical or biological ...
RS: Oh, there was zero.
RS: My understanding was good that there was not going to be anything like thatin Afghanistan. At that point, I actually got lucky that I did deploy. When I got to my unit, you know, I volunteered for a lot of things, I was tasked with doing a lot of not really menial tasks, but just tasked with doing things, and I 00:48:00kind of got reputation for just being motivated and ready to go. I mean, I was ready to get deployed, I was trying to do all of that. My captain, my first one really liked my work ethic and they kept me on the DMD, which is your list of people who were going to deploy, and not everybody was chosen. At that point, we still had the, I think it was, we were surge troops.
There was 100,000 troop limit in Afghanistan at the time, and then they surgedup to, I think, 125,000, or 135,000, I'm not sure, but that's a hard number, isn't just kind of 135,000. It's not 135,001, literally 135,000 because when we were flying in on leave from Kuwait, Army member of guy was sitting there from like nine weeks because they had miscalculated on, his unit had miscalculated on how many people they had or something crazy happened. We were part of that group, so they were really trimming us down. We weren't taking extra people who were going to be doing anything.
We were taking everybody, and they really wanted everybody to be prettymultifaceted. The captain and First lieutenant definitely knew that they needed people who were going to be able to fill multiple roles, not just come and do one thing, "Well, I don't do that," just someone who is going to work a lot and be able to take on multiple tasks and do them correctly because that person is going to be worth more in that situation because we were cramped and constrained on how many people we could take. It became even more clear because I think we took 80 people, and then we ended up, once he got in the country not more than two months later I think they had to cut us by 25 or 30%, so they ended up sending home even further more people. We were really, really constrained, but that was one of the reasons that I got chosen.
I was proud of that. I remember them saying, "Usually ..." I mean, for a medicalcompany, when they are constrained, they are usually going to take a medic, especially in an environment they know they're not going to meet my MOS skill, 00:50:00but being that I had a good work ethic, and they liked the things that I had done at the unit, I was brought on to help around the TOC as a battle captain.
JH: What was your pre-mobilization like, and how did you guys actually get intothe country? What was that timeline like?
RS: Oh yeah, well, our pre-mob was pretty much, we were going through ourregular drill schedule, and you don't know what to expect, I didn't know what to expect, it was my first deployment. A lot of people had already been to Iraq, and kind of knew sort of what to expect. I've never deployed to Iraq, I've been told that Afghanistan is not Iraq, and obviously it's not Iraq, but it's definitely not what you go through getting there and doing, it's a whole different animal. Afghanistan is typically, from what I'm told, more austere. We lived in tents, there are some of those huge FOBS, like at Kandahar, and Bagram, but where we were at, it was a large space, but amenities weren't very, we didn't have the Burger Kings and things you hear about.
We had a DFAC, I think we had a little coffee shop, we had a sandwich shop, andthat was it, they were all in trailers. The pre-mob, you know, we're hearing all these things, and I'm trying to determine what to internalize, what to say. You know, "This is BS, this isn't real, these people are just saying ..." There was all kinds of stuff to being like the worst things out there, or it's going to be easy, but just really I didn't know what to expect, so anytime I sat in front of anyone official, I was really soaking up anything I could. I didn't really care about hearing the hearsay from somebody else, "Oh, this is what it's like over there," but I was really the whole time just trying to formulate what am I going to be doing, what it's going to be like, are we going to expect, are we going to get attacked, are people going to die?
I didn't know anything, even the bottom level, of course at that point, arepretty new to the Army. I didn't know much about anything, but interestingly enough, we mobilized September 11th, 2011, is when we had our call orders, our 00:52:00ceremony that was going to put us on our active duty orders, and that point we were active duty, and we had to abide by all those different rules. I remember at that point I was nervous, but I was like, here it goes, it's starting now. At least I don't have to have this absurd anticipation all the time of what it's going to be like, and I actually ended up getting promoted to sergeant at the time, too. Since I had a college degree, I joined as an E4 Specialist, and so after that, I have enough time in grade and I became a sergeant pretty quickly.
Interestingly enough, I got promoted into another unit, and they gave me thechoice, did I want to take that promotion, or since I was already on the DMD they would freeze me. I said, "Well, I don't want to go anywhere," so they froze me, I was obviously promoted, and then I went to that unit when I got back. I became an NCO and was still new to the Army, and still fairly new to be a sergeant. It was a lot of learning, but I was up to it, and I was ready to go. The pre-mob, we went to, I think, god, I can't believe I can't remember this. It was either at our unit out in, I thought it might have been in Westerville, I don't know, but September 11th, and we flew out not many days after that to go to Fort Lewis in Washington. I think it's about 80 miles from Seattle, which was really neat.
Fort Lewis was pretty nice, it was gorgeous. For me, I hadn't been exposed tothe Pacific Northwest at all, so just the trees and everything was pretty neat. We would run in the morning and I could smell the pine. When it was clear, you could actually see Mount Rainier far away which was really awesome. I remember I 00:54:00was still dating my girlfriend at the time, we're not longer dating, but I remember I was excited, I was happy, but there was still that kind of, you know, that melancholy of the anticipation of I'm going to have to leave for a whole year. This was before they switched to nine month deployments. I was looking at a full year, it wasn't a nine month deal, which even those nine month ones now, they end up being a year because you have your pre-mob, and then your post-mob, but ours was supposed to be, it could have possibly extended out to 15, 16, 17 months, so I wasn't really looking forward to that.
Again though, there was that anticipation that this is going to be awesome, thisis going to be great, this is going to be something that's kind of neat, but I definitely was nervous. I did have four days leave, so I went to Fort Lewis, I think we were there for about two weeks, which was extremely fast. Most pre-mobs, some people, they have to do three months, which is crazy. I've heard people say pre-mobs are worse than mob. I had a friend who went down to Camp Shelby, I think it's in Mississippi, for like three months, and he said it was way worse than Afghanistan, but we were lucky, we didn't have to do that. We just spent a couple weeks, a few weeks in Fort Lewis, and we were in and out, I mean, it was pretty quick. There were some pretty quick training, we went over, "Here's your equipment, here you go, here's what to expect," dos, don'ts, go.
We had four days leave, I flew back to Ohio, and then flew back to Fort Lewis,and that was it, we left. We went to, where did we fly to? I hope I'm going to say it right, we flew to Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyzstan? I've been corrected like three times, and I've heard three different ways to say it, but Kyrgyzstan is what a lot of people say, in Manas, we flew to the air base there, which is north of 00:56:00Afghanistan, it's like one of those old satellite countries, I think. I think it is. We were there, I remember that was a really strange place, just very odd. I'd never even heard of it, and I hate to admit it because I don't like to think of myself as geographically ignorant, but at that point I was like, "Where is this place?" It was kind of neat to go there.
We were only there for a couple days, and then we flew straight into Kandahar,which is Kandahar Province, south southwest. Afghanistan is kind of weird, so it was like south southwest, but it's on the eastern little slope that goes up there. That's a huge base, that is huge. There were all sorts of NATO people there, and there's so many people, there's different countries that have their own dining facilities, so it's kind of neat. You can go to these different dining facilities and get all this different food. I remember everybody, a lot of people liked to got into the German DFAC, but we weren't there for too long. We were only there for, I think, five days, and we had to hitch a ride on a C-130 to get out to Shindand, which is where I was at, was at RC West. It was Herat Province, and it was an air base out there.
It's the home to the Afghan National Army Air Force, so on one side of the base,the Air Force was actually the landowner, a Colonel was the base commander, an Air Force Colonel, so we had a lot of airmen there, and there were some Army people who were doing QRF. There was an Italian base there, which was kind of its own little FOB within the FOB, and then on the other side of the base was the Afghan National Army, ANA Air Force. I don't know if it was called ANA at that point, but it was just the Afghan Air Force was there, but it wasn't populated. They had all of these big facilities, and it was supposed to house 5000 people, and at any point it was continually throughout deployment, at any point there is going to be about 5000 Afghan airmen, and it never actually 00:58:00happened while we were there, but there was some Afghans there too.
JM: Was this the first time you actually left the States?
RS: No, no it wasn't. I mean, left the States substantially? Yes, I'd never beento Europe, I stopped in Germany for about four hours when I was coming back on leave, but this was the first time I'd left this hemisphere, you know what I mean? I had been to the Bahamas and Canada, but never, definitely not those parts of Asia, you know? Most definitely not.
JM: Paint me a picture. Show me, what was it like going there?
RS: When we got off the airplane in Kyrgyzstan, I remember thinking to myself,we got off the plane in Manas and I remember it was really early in the morning and it was like a bright red sunrise, and I remember getting off and I looked at one of the guys I was there with, another Sergeant, and we got promoted on the same day, and I'm still friends with him to this day. I remember thinking what is this, because the airport was just this all-concrete pad. It didn't look like your standard. There was no, what do they call that, the extension that hooks up to the plane, we walked off of the plane onto this tarmac, and it was just this huge concrete pad and it definitely looked dilapidated. It was not nice looking, and I remember seeing the building, and I'm pretty sure there was some Cyrillic writing on it, and just looked very cold war, kind of Soviet, and I remember thinking where the hell are we? What is this?
It was kind of neat, again, you're starting to get excited, you're startinglike, "Here we are, we're getting into this," so it was kind of cool, but we didn't really get to spend much time out at all. We took a bus and got in there, because once you're out there, they pretty much keep you under wraps. There is no, "yeah, you can go out on the town for a couple nights." It's nothing like 01:00:00that. You're under wraps, and we went to a transient barracks, which is just a huge tent that smells like socks because there's about 100 or 200 people in it that are waiting to either go on leave, or they're leaving country and they're coming back. You could tell people who had been in country, you could tell guys that were leaving because their uniforms were just sun-bleached and tattered, and you could even tell the guys that were outside the wire, and you could tell the guys who kind of hung back on the base, kind of more like what we did.
It was just, you could see a guy, his face was tanned, super-tanned, and therewas people like us. Probably some of us looked a little pale, maybe a little more weight than we should have, but there wasn't much there, just those tents, the DFAC there for us to eat at. There was some little shops and that was pretty much it. We were just kind of sitting there waiting. If I remember correctly, there was no procedures, there was no thing we were doing, we were just sitting there waiting, waiting to go to Kandahar. That wasn't too dramatic. It was still kind of, I do remember it being kind of alpine. I remember a lot of pine and everything, it was definitely different. I could tell, I was like, "This is a different place," you know, you don't recognize the trees, and the bushes, and the flowers, it was definitely something different, but Afghanistan was definitely where I could tell this is definitely not like anything I'm used to, because it was desert where we went to.
There was parts in the south east that are pretty lush in Afghanistan, but wewere on the mountain step, in what's called the Circa Valley, and that was in Herat Province, and it's desert out there. We were only about 80 kilometers away from the boarder with Iran, so you're starting to get into that desert. There was a lot dirt, I mean, a lot of just that really fine sand and grit that got 01:02:00everywhere and into everything. There were mountains, but the mountains looked really old, I remember that, they looked like they were crumbling, like they were rounded and soft, and they were ancient. All mountains are ancient, right, but you look at it like this, say like the Himalayas are sharp, they're angular, they're jagged, they didn't look like that, they looked kind of older.
We had a couple little mountain ranges where we were at because we were on themountain step, but we weren't in the mountains. We could see some out there, it was kind of neat. There was snow-covered mountains, and then there was desert. I would be a hundred degrees, and then we'd look and there was snow on the mountains, which was kind of neat. There was a ton of wind, an absolutely ton of wind. I think they call it the 120 days of wind is what they call it, but there's a period of time, I think it starts early March, April, up to maybe October, around that area where it's just tons, and tons, and tons of wind, and I mean it's insane. Lots of wind, enough wind to where, most places no matter what, air operations are going to monitor the wind.
That's just kind of what they do from what I understand, but I remember that wasa big deal for us, for helicopter operations, because we had a MEDEVAC platoon that was with us, and there were some times they couldn't go anywhere because I think if the wind got over 40 knots, they were grounded. It was actually something that we paid attention to the whole time. There was nothing there, there was no trees, there was no wind breaks, it was just flat, and then you could see the mountains that were around us. It was definitely kind of desolate. There wasn't much vegetation at all, but that's pretty much what I remember. The Army puts rocks, they put these huge pieces of gravel down, so there's just everywhere you go there's gravel, and it's just weird because it looks like something you'd see that someone would drop on their driveway in Ohio, and it's 01:04:00on the ground in Afghanistan.
I don't know if it's native, but it certainly didn't look like ... I think theyjust shipped the rocks in and dropped them down. The base actual floor, the base was all rocks, but not the rocks that you would think should be there.
JH: Once you got to Shindand Air Base, did your understanding of the mission,and your particular role in it, change at all?
RS: Not really. I kind of knew. My commander talked to me, said, "We want you tobe a battle captain and help run the TOC, which basically there was three of us. There was a lieutenant, a staff sergeant and me as an E5 that were going to be the main ones that went about this. We had another E5 at the time, but he actually ended up getting sent home in that first cut, so it was us three. I mean, that was pretty much what I was told my role was going to be. It was explained to me that I had to be ready to do kind of a multifaceted, fill that multifaceted role, to be able to hurry up and help out and do those things, because sometimes I'd drive an ambulance and take a medic out.
We had a lot of people that were coming to the gates, civilians would come tothe gate, and maybe they had been treated, and maybe they had follow-up appointments or something, which sounds crazy to say, but that happened. Somebody would take like a kid and would come in, and we'd drive to the gate, or we'd drive right outside the gate to grab a child to bring him back in, and back to their family, so I did that. My idea was to provide security for them if they needed it. Also, part of my role was to, kind of when I was there as a battle captain, the title is similar to all sorts of different TOCs, or Tactical Operations Centers, but what you're doing is dependent on your unit's mission.
For us, the Area Support Medical Company, we were basically tasked with01:06:00supporting, I guess, a certain radius, miles around the base, so all these different MEDEVAC units would radio up to I think it's a Patient Evacuation Center, or a Patient Evacuation Cell, or something. They coordinate all the movements, so they're looking at the map, saying, "You go here, you go here, you go here," depending on where you're at, where your pick up's at, and they're dispatching people and telling people who is going to get what. Basically, I would be the one that received those messages, to tell everybody, "Hey, this is what we've got coming in," and then also, at the same time, interface with the doctor, which in Army terms, like in medical terms, someone who would be watching this would understand, a PAD [Patient Administration] NCO.
They worked a PAD NCO into the battle captain because they felt they could cutthe PAD NCO, which is basically taking down what's wrong, what's happening, and I'm probably oversimplifying it, I'm sure the PAD NCO does more, but from what I was told they were like, you're going to do a bit of PAD and you're going to do the battle captain, so I would take down stuff and then I would say, talk to a doctor, say, "When do I need to get him out? Who do I put on this first helicopter?" We'd draw up our own 9 Lines to this evacuation cell that had an overall picture of it, and we'd send them out, or they would determine who went where, and we would say, "We'd like to get these three people out on this mission."
Sometimes the pilots would come in and say, "We can take another one," somethingmight have changed. Also, I was keeping tabs on when our ambulances were out, we had our own radios, we had base radio with security, we had coms with the incoming MEDEVAC choppers, if we knew they were coming, which most of the time we did. It was just basically, my commander, my first sergeant should be able to walk up to me and say, "What's going on," and I could tell him exactly and concisely, "This is what's happening, these are all the moving pieces that we have." If they wanted further details I could push them in the right direction, 01:08:00which honestly was a perfect role for me. I either liked to be doing a ton of stuff, or nothing, which is exactly what it is. I don't like to be doing small, menial tasks, I'd rather be doing something important.
When things would happen in that role, I would look down at my watch and threeor four hours would pass and I wouldn't even think about it. I was just like, "Jesus, that felt like 10, 15 minutes." It was a lot of high energy stuff, especially in the beginning when you're not used to seeing a lot of that stuff. That was my role, and that was exactly what I did throughout the whole deployment.
JH: What was your day-to-day like? What might an average day, but what would itlook like?
RS: There's an average day, but the days vary. I mean, honestly, at Shindand wewere told, "This is going to be a pretty quiet deployment, it's not going to be too crazy," it's not going to be like some of the movies that are out. It's definitely not going to be like a Restrepo type of situation, nothing like that at all, but we got a lot of casualties. We actually ended up having a lot of interactions with patients. I think we had over 300-and-something patient interactions, and how many of those were trauma, I'm not really sure the numbers, but we had a lot of trauma. A lot of it came into like, a lot of our trauma was Afghan National Army, Afghan Local Police, or civilians. Very, very, very few times that we'd actually see US service personnel or foreign national, or foreign military, I should say, which we did, but that's another story.
Actually, you can Google this international story that our mission, we touchedpart of this, where there was an Italian vehicle rolled over, and all of the people inside of the vehicle died except for the gunner, and our unit helped out 01:10:00in getting that gunner out. We actually received little appreciation certificates from the Italian Army, but most of what we saw was civilians. Most of what we saw was definitely a lot of ANA, Afghan National Army. ALP is Afghan Local Police. Those were our real, big-time traumas, we'd see IEDs, the legs blown off, gunshot wounds, and the civilians. A lot of civilians, there was contact with the Taliban. There were Taliban that attacked, shot civilians, which is crazy to me because it's not on the news but civilians get shot, and killed by the Taliban on a regular basis, it happens.
There's extortion that exists, there's things that happen out there, a lot, andit's just not reported, I don't know why. It seems like great evidence to say, "Look at these horrible people that are here," but whatever. On an average day, probably nothing happened, so maybe about once a week we'd get some serious casualties in. We ran a battalion aid station, and I had nothing to do with that. The bulk of our medics were working in that battalion aid station. We had doctors rotate in and out for that, so that was, "Oh, my ear hurts," this, that, the other. You kind of had daily ailments, and that was for the whole base, or at least the majority of the base came to us, a lot of them did, just typical medical stuff.
On the other side we had our, like I said, we had an ICU, we had an FST, ForwardSurgical Team, which is the general surgeon, the orthopedic surgeon, and then there was some active duty. The two surgeons were active duty if I remember correctly, and they rotated in every three months, or six months, I'm not really sure, but they weren't there as long as we were. They had their support staff of 01:12:00their active duty NCOs, and medics, and things, and we got to know them really well. There were a lot of great people, and so they were there to help with that FST piece, and we had the ER, we helped out in the ICU, and we had an ambulance too, I think we had two ambulance vehicles.
Next to us we had a platoon of Black Hawks from I think it was an Army ReserveUnit out of Tampa, Florida. I think it was Tampa, Florida. I remember they had some stingray emblem. We worked with them a lot, they were our pilots, they were the guys that were going out and grabbing people and bringing them back in for the most part, so we knew them a lot. We talked with them quite a bit about that kind of stuff. My typical day was, at that point being an E5, there was an E6 and a lieutenant, so I got the shifts that nobody wanted at first. I had, I think my first time, I was doing nights, so I would come to work, I think I would start working at roughly ... I think the first time we did it was like 7:00 at night, 1900h, and then I would leave, I would do a 12 hour shift.
A lot of that was sitting there and doing nothing, and oddly enough, it seemedlike it was always my time when we got hit with rockets, so I was always the one out there when the Taliban would shoot rockets at us or something, I'd always have to do the roll-up if the first sergeant weren't available, which is basically accountability. If something happens, anytime the alarms go off, you have to get to your bunker. You have to take accountability obviously, so I would do stuff like that, and then we only got hit, our actual footprint only got hit one time, so I had to do battle damage, and helped out with an executive summary with my captain and stuff like that.
The average day was go to work, don't do anything. At that point I was studyingfor my, I studied for the GMAT to go to business school, because I wanted to go 01:14:00to grad school, and I was doing a lot of that. There was other things, writing SOPs, our captain did a good job of keeping us busy, of, "Hey, I don't like the way this SOP looks, write this, rewrite this." We were always trying to make what we had, better, so if that was procedure, if that was the physical structure, whatever it was, our captain did a good job of saying, "Try to do this, and do that." I think that was probably good, it was probably more to keep us busy, and to keep us occupied, more than really to, I mean, do we really need to have a windbreak on the AFN satellite?, I don't know, probably not, but it kept us busy for an afternoon, you know?
We did a lot of stuff like that, and I did a lot of PT. I ran a tremendousamount. I was running constantly. I lost a lot of weight, I would run up to 15 miles on a Friday, that was my long run day. I remember we had a little airstrip, so I would get up ... I would either run at the end of my shift, or the beginning of my shift, it would depend on what I felt like. I got to the point where I had switched over and I was working in the middle, I was working from 12:00 to 12:00, so basically lunch to midnight. That was nice because I was able to get off, I would stay up, read, do whatever until about 4am when it just started to get a little light, and I would go out to the little track we had and run.
I would run until the sun came up because it was so hot. I mean, the sun wouldcome down and you couldn't run, it was over. It was kind of neat because there was no fence, there was no nothing between us and the airstrip, because Shindand was a big airbase, a huge airbase, a lot of cargo supply stuff comes in. You'd be running, and I'd have my headphones in, which I'm not sure I was supposed to do. I think I was told I was okay to do that as long as I was on a track, but 01:16:00you would just see a plane land, so it was kind of neat, you know, 150 yards away from you this big, huge cargo jet lands while you're running. It was kind of neat, definitely. It was a rock course though, I twisted an ankle a few times on that.
JM: How was it? Can you say you were quite bored?
RS: Yeah, I mean, I think so. I think a lot times we were bored. There wasdefinitely a time where you're like, you know, I'm here, I'm doing this, so you always had that kind of energy to roll off, but there was times that, I mean, you're just ... Like I said, nostalgia kicks in and you just remember the good times, but there was a large amount of time where you're bored, and then boredom goes to reflecting, and then some people don't handle that well, there were people that got really depressed that were just really bummed out. I don't know, they couldn't handle that but there was an extreme amount of boredom. We would talk and some of the topics of conversation were just, "What is wrong with you," but you just explore everything that you have on hand.
When you don't have things to entertain you, you use your mind, and then youhave a lot of weird stuff in your mind that you're going to talk about and think about, especially when you get a bunch, a group of young men in their 20s, conversations get pretty interesting. I'll just leave it at that. There is definitely a lot of mind-numbing boredom. What was really interesting though is then walking to get a coffee, or getting a care package, which might seem pretty mundane to most people. It really did mean a lot. One of my good friends was taking new music, we'd listen to a lot of music, and he would take CDs and burn, just mp3s and send them to me, and that was like gold to me. There was no CD 01:18:00stores or anything like that, so getting those was a big deal.
People would send a ton of stuff. We had a little MWR tent is what we called it,and it was just filled to the brim with stale candy, and just toiletries. It would look like this absurd CVS. There was toothpaste, toilet paper, all this stuff, it was a lot of stuff the Army was able to give us. We had stores to get that stuff, it was nice when you didn't have to buy it, but I was like, "I want this soap, I want this kind of stuff," I was able to get that. I was lucky enough to be on a base where we had pretty regular supplies of that kind of stuff. It wasn't always continuous, but I don't every remember being of want for stuff like that, but entertainment-wise, there wasn't much you could do.
I do remember watching the Italians, the Italians could drink, and we obviouslycouldn't. The Italians had a little bar there, so we would go to the Italian dining facility, which was the DFAC, and their food was amazing. I don't know if it was by comparison ... I don't think our food was bad, I don't like to get negative about that. They use to serve a lot of curry, chicken curry, rice curry for the third country nationals that were there, and I would always get in that line and eat that because I loved curry, but the Italian food was amazing. They really knew how to do field-food pretty well. I actually took pictures with my phone of dishes that I ate from the Italian DFAC, and it was pretty neat. They had some really weird stuff, thinks that you would pay probably $50 for an entre, it seemed like.
When you have a cup, as an American, it might be normal for Italians, but whenyou have a space, a space on the tray where you put your vinaigrette and you olive oil for your dipping bread, it was just ... They had vinaigrette and olive 01:20:00oil, and we had just this nasty mustard and ketchup packets, so it's just like, "I want to go there all the time." The food was great. Little things began to really entertain us, which is kind of good. It kind of brings you back. You realize that you're going to live if you don't have a new cell phone, or a big screen TV, or all this stuff, so it almost in a way is like a good, sobering experience, it kind of cleanses you a little bit and you can look at how materialistic you may have been before and realize ...
I know a lot of people really rethought their lives, so I think that boredom waspart of it. People really rethought a lot of their assumptions of where they wanted to be and what they wanted to do in life, and I think a lot of it was born out of that boredom, probably. Being absent of all distractions, other than obviously the war that was going on, absent of all those distractions, absent of your family. Some of these kids, probably their family wasn't the best influence, maybe that was part of the reason they joined the Army in the first place, or their friends, or the pressure to be like other people, they were away from that, and they were exposed to, for the most part, pretty good people who had this self-betterment mindset. We definitely had a good culture that our command team instilled on us.
Don't just be out here, be out here making yourself better, do something. Ifyou're going to take an online class, which didn't really pan out because our internet service wasn't that great at all, actually, we pretty much might as well not even had internet, but always try to do something, read books, take classes, or try to do something. I remember I bought some Excel books off of Amazon because I always wanted to be good at Excel, and finally I took the time to learn how to do it, and then studied for my GMAT, got really good at a lot of that stuff.
I think, although we probably hated it at that time, a lot of people becamepretty, I think that they were glad that they were there and did it. I know two 01:22:00people that completely changed their course of life. They ended up getting married, while they were over there, they stated that they weren't dating when they were over there, but that's neither here nor there right now, but they ended up moving to New Zealand, and the girl now is a Park Ranger in New Zealand, so I really have a hard time believing that person would have done that had they not gone to Afghanistan and had that time to reflect and think, you know what it mean?
I feel like there's a lot of things that happened that way. I know, for me, itchanged a lot of my assumptions and what I was looking for out of life, and it really just made me more focused on just trying to learn, and grow, and basically, I think it instilled in me more, don't be so concerned with your end place. Be happy as you're getting there, look around and enjoy things. Don't be so sent on where you're getting that you don't enjoy the trip there. It made more more happy for sure.
JH: In those moments of downtime and reflection, you were starting to do GMAT.What else were you thinking in terms of what you would do next in your life?
RS: I had gotten this almost like manic energy level, it was really weird. Idon't know if it was clinical or not. I remember thinking this is kind of crazy, but I just remember having so much drive just from being there. You see these energy situations where you would have casualties come, and then everybody is moving and yelling, and you're just moving and acting without thinking that much about it. Your actions are obviously deliberate, but they don't feel deliberate. They feel like you just do this, do that, do that, and you know the stakes. You know, somebody is sitting there, we need to get them moving. Even writing on a piece of paper, and getting things entered into a computer, or to a radio, getting a radio up kind of takes, you feel pressure. You don't want to be the person that doesn't know how to do their job, or doesn't do their job as efficiently as possible that could cost somebody, potentially, their life.
I think when you're in those situations, you take that, and you put that into01:24:00your own life, which is probably good, and probably bad at the same time. I do remember me thinking, if the question was where I was going to go, I remember thinking okay, I set out a list of things that I really wanted to do with different courses of action. I didn't really have a singular goal, I knew I wanted to be here, and I had different ways of getting there. I probably never would have done that without this opportunity. I'd probably would have just been going through the motions and taking the next opportunity ahead. I had a plan, I wanted to go to grad school, I wanted to get my MBA, I wanted to continue on into the hazardous materials type of field on some level, I wanted to work in some sort of industrial setting. I don't know why, but that's what I chose, or I was thinking about pursuing a career, or trying to become a contractor.
I had spoken with some guys who did some HAZMAT work in Afghanistan, and theguys told me, "You're a shoe-in for this, even from some of your work experience, you're good to go." I remember I was really focused and really driven at that point in my life, but, it really narrowed that focus, and it almost was intimidating, how driven I was. Even that GMAT stuff, I probably pulled it from the military. Like I said earlier, you know, when you see something that you think is impossible, and you realize just effort and continually putting forth that effort in earnest, and being disciplined about how you engage in tying to accomplish that task is going to pay off. I think that definitely I adopted a lot of that, and started to work that into my life with the GMAT.
I was studying constantly, I had these disciplined times. I would say, "I'mgoing to do this chapter, I'm going to redo this chapter." I remember I always felt that my math skills were weaker. I don't think they really are, but the math skills for me felt very perishable. I was like, if you're not continually 01:26:00looking at them, and continually doing them, you're going to forget. There's all these little tips and tricks, because you can't use a calculator on the GMAT, you have to know how to divide big numbers. There are little tips and tricks with the different number sequences you can do, and I remember thinking I've got to memorize all of this, I'm going to be a failure if I don't know everything. You internalize that work ethic, and that definitely, I guess to answer your question in a roundabout way, that's what I took away from it. That helped me focus on where I wanted to be.
I think, especially towards the end of my deployment, when I started to thinkabout what we had accomplished, what I had done, it really started to reinforce that, and I kind of calmed down a little bit. I said, "Okay, you've got the tools and the work ethic, and the ability, and the intelligence to take care of and to do what you want to do out of your life, so maybe you can calm down and pump the brakes a little bit just being so ... I don't know what the word is, but just so dogged about achieving it, and maybe try to relax and enjoy life a little bit more because I definitely got pretty focused, but then kind of realized I needed to reign it back in a little bit. I think it put me in a really good place.
JH: Was there a wider culture around being driven and taking up these projectsin downtime or quiet time? Or was that something you were doing?
RS: Yeah, I think there was, but it was one of those things where the commandteam, which is my first sergeant our captain, they were more ... The first sergeant used to say I don't want to see anybody just sitting around in their tent. We don't want to do that, you need to use this time. In reality, he was telling a lot of these kids the truth, don't be online spending your money on stupid stuff. Be thinking about your future, be thinking about college. He was definitely trying to push him, kind of like a father-figure, a parental figure 01:28:00would, but ultimately, he couldn't tie their hands. He wasn't going to go around and make sure that, "Are you reading a book? Write me a report." It wasn't like that, but I know a lot of the NCO squad leaders are NCO. My platoon sergeant pushed it a little bit. He said, "What are you doing? You need to be doing something. Don't just ..."
It was more like, it wasn't like, "Come on, let's do this," it was more like,"What are you doing?" Kind of like, "Come on, get with the program. Don't be such a slouch, take this time and use it." Definitely, people took it more to the extreme than others. I definitely did. I remember being like I'm here, I'm going to do this, here's all the things I want to do. I had never spent so much time on a resume because I started looking for jobs towards the end. I was looking for jobs, online in Ohio before I even left Shindand to de-mob, and my resume was picture-perfect, I think. I had all these people look at it, I fine-tuned it. I had the ability to fine-tune it for a job, which is the way you're supposed to do it, and rarely do people do that, I think.
I think seeing people like me and other people doing that definitely encouragedit though, and it was positive. I think it was a good culture.
JH: I'm curious what kind of connections you made with other servicemen and women.
RS: Some pretty solid ones, some pretty lifelong connections where you gothrough that kind of shared, traumatic experience, and seeing things. Some of the stuff that we saw, while it wasn't on a daily basis, and we saw a lot of death and we saw a lot of trauma, we saw a lot of gore. I know it bothered some people more ... It didn't really bother me, but that shared experience, I knew 01:30:00that we were seeing something kind of profound, and out of the ordinary, so to me, being with those people, obviously, it was kind of like, you have this shared experience that you're never going to be able to share with anybody else, you're never going to do that with your spouse, your mom, your dad, anything for the most part, right? You definitely have something that you can talk about. It's interesting, I get together with them, and we always ultimately start talking about Afghanistan.
We'll say, "Hey, how's your kids doing?" "How's work?" "Great, good to hear, butlet's talk about Afghanistan." That's kind of what we always end up back down to, especially after a few drinks. I keep in contact with my platoon sergeant, I keep in contact with our supply sergeant who is was also in my little unit, my platoon, which our platoon was supposed to be like 40 people, but it got whittled down to six. Six NCOs is all we had, well, we had one specialist, a communications guy, I still keep in touch with him. I have lunch on a regular basis with the same guy, a younger sergeant that I got promoted to sergeant with. I still see him all the time, and although our lives are in different places, people are all over now, when we do get together it's just like the day we stepped off that plane. It's kind of nice, you know those are your good friendships when you don't have to see somebody for so long and you just pick right up where where you left off.
I probably would not have been friends with some of these people in my dailylife, and I probably wouldn't have even gotten past ... People like to act very noble and everything, but a lot of people have a lot of biases naturally, and it's just something that you have as a human. I don't mean racial bias or anything like that, but you'll look at a person and you'll determine, and it's just your human nature, and you have to be honest with yourself, but you'll determine in five minutes whether you want to be friends with somebody or not, whether you are going to go down the course to become friends with these people. All these people, I probably wouldn't have been, but I was forced to be, and I'm really glad I was because you realize, oh, I have more in common with this 01:32:00person than I thought I did, and you kind of put your biases out there for you to see them. I definitely think that that was really great, a good experience.
JM: What you've told me, basically, is it's very quiet times, then a traumatic experience.
RS: Right, right.
JM: Then it's quiet again. Can you, would you be happy to describe some?
RS: Sure, a lot of the time, so average scenario would be me sitting in our TOC,Tactical Operations Center, which is where we had all of our communications stuff. I don't really want to tell you too much about our coms, how things were set up, but messages would come down and it would be basically, "Here you go, this is what's coming your way." It would be what's called a 9 Line and anybody in the military understands that, but what a 9 Line is, is basically like a very quick encoded 911 call, but in military terms it's going to tell you what's coming, who's coming, what's the injury, where's the injury, who's bringing it in, what kind of equipment do you need, just a very, very quick rundown to prep the facility that's going to receive these people, to prep the flight crew that's going to go out, and to let everyone know what's going on. That would just drop down, and I would, "Oh, here we go."
I would run out, if I got something come down, I'd run out to the ER and grabradios to keep in contact, then I'd run out to the ER and I'd say, "Hey, you've got two ANA military aged males coming in, gunshot wound, one amputation. I would tell them just a quick rundown. Sometimes that information was not accurate. Sometimes it would be two amputations, sometimes it would be four people. You know, we weren't really sure what was coming in a lot of the times. Sometimes it would be civilians. The first half of our deployment, we were 01:34:00accepting civilian casualties, so people would bring their kids, whatever, in what we call a CASEVAC. A CASEVAC is a military evacuation in a non-military vehicle, or a vehicle that's not specifically set up for the purpose of MEDEVAC. Do you know what I mean? CASEVAC, you throw somebody in the back of a Humvee, and it's not a medical, it's a CASEVAC. Same thing with a pickup truck, something like that.
We'd see that kind of stuff. Sometimes it would be coming in on a helicopter,and I'd have eyes on when they'd be telling me, "Hey, the helicopter is 20 minutes out," and I would radio that up, and I'd radio in increments, "Five mics, five minutes coming in," so the ER would know, and they'd prep. Based on that information they would wake up this many people if it was in the middle of the night, or they'd get this many people staged. When we got in, however they came in, we were ready to go, you know, it was get down to work. Not, "Okay, hey, go get this, that, and the other person." They were there with the medics to receive these people. When that happened, basically you would wait, and it was just a jumble of activity.
These medics, it was pretty impressive to watch them. You might meet thesepeople and not think they're impressive people but you see them in that capacity, and how people can just flip a switch and start working with some guy who is either screaming or maybe his legs are blown off, or whatever, maybe they were a server back in Ohio, and in this case, they're tying off wounds, yelling out information to the doctor, helping out, sticking people, and really doing things with pretty serious consequence, you know? That would be going on, and I'd wait. I say, "What do you want me to do," or talk to a doctor, one of the surgeons, and say, "What do you got," and he would tell me, "We're going to be doing this," and I would send reports up that would say here's what's happening, a person's going into surgery, doing this, that, the other.
Then, I would wait for the doctor. The doctor would say, "Okay ... " or surgeons01:36:00typically would be the ones interfacing with me and saying, "Okay, these two guys, we need to get them out now. I've got them stabilized, they can leave. This guy, we're going to keep here depending on what's going ... " Very rarely would we move like an ALP. I think they tried to avoid moving an ANA as much as they could. They tried to handle it there because you'd have to take a guy ... We had translators there too, we had two translators. You'd have to take a guy, like and ANA who didn't speak any English, and then they'd send them, and they'd have to send a translator and stuff, so it was kind of a pain.
We did move people up, but that would probably be three, four hours probably,depending on if there was surgery that was needed, or what happened. Our major stuff was like an afternoon of what was going on, and once that happened and everybody is down, it's just kind of the dust settles, and everybody cleans up, mops the floor, whatever has to be done, they get it basically back to the same way it was, to be able to receive again. We had blood, we had all this stuff ready there. We only had a little bit for enough people, so it didn't take long to overwhelm those facilities, so immediately after someone was out, you had to get it back to where it was before and be ready to receive more patients.
If there was blood, that was another part of my job, I would interface with the,I think it was an actual nurse, an Army nurse who would tell me, "Hey, this is the blood we've used. Where are we at?" We would radio, message that up and say, "Here's our blood." Sometimes if we were down on blood, they would fly specifically from Kandahar or wherever it was, just fly us a little box of blood. One military flight was just to get us that because we needed that to operate, but we didn't have much. That was pretty much it, and that would be it, okay, business as usual. Go get lunch or dinner if you missed it, and that was 01:38:00pretty much it.
JH: I want to ask you what it's like doing this intake work, and dealing withfolks who have experiences traumatic injuries ...
JH: ... working with casualties or working especially with the Afghan NationalArmy, and Afghan Local Police, these people who were speaking a different language, or working though a translator, there might be different customs and beliefs around healthcare. How does that all look? How do you guys, part of this core team, how do you handle that?
RS: What I did, I didn't touch, interface, with a lot of the people. I wouldwork through a translator if I had to. A lot of times, say civilians came in and there was a family with them, the translator would talk to the family and then relay information to us, or if I had to give any information, or if the doctors had to talk to them, or the medics were asking them questions. I didn't really do a lot of that, obviously I wasn't a medics, so I didn't really actually put hands on people. The only time I ever even really interfaced-interfaced, was if there was family and I was trying to help them out, like hold them somewhere, or sometimes ... We had kind of a wavering kind of procedure on that. Sometimes, they'd take a look and go, "Hey, keep an eye on these guys, and keep them over here, like if it was family.
I was part of the manpower team is what we called it, so I'd run up and grab thehelicopter, we'd grab a casualty off the helicopter when they were coming in and run them in or pull them off the truck. I had really a lot of different roles there. What do you mean when you say how was it, I guess?
JH: I guess I just mean that you guys are seeing a lot of the consequences ofthe war ...
JH: ... directly, and you don't really have the choice to go off somewhere.01:40:00You've got to do it again the next day, later that day. How would you process that, when you're seeing so much?
RS: I think that's really personal in terms of how people dealt with it. I knowthat it is. I got some good advice, and I kind of internalized it myself. I'll have a little nicotine lozenge here ... I internalized it myself by saying, "This isn't your country, this isn't your people, this isn't your reality. You're somewhere else," and that kind of worked for me. I was able to pull myself out of it. I think for me, personally, it helped that I wasn't seeing my friends get killed. I know some guys that, you know, you talk to somebody, an infantry guy, who might have seen a friend that he might have went to basic training with and to infantry school with, or whatever, he might, that's a different experience seeing somebody like that killed. I didn't have that.
We saw people die, we saw children that were bad off, we saw a lot of differentthings that was unnerving. There were some times I got a little unnerved. I remember there was a five year old kid that came in. The Taliban had thrown a grenade into this house, and they came into the gate, and it was a mother, father, and a little girl who was about seven, and a little boy that was about five. The boy had his ... Do you want me to tell you everything, or ...
RS: Okay, he had his leg ... it was a little boy, you know, not much older thana toddler, probably five or six, and it's hard to tell in Afghanistan because they're so malnourished where I was at. Everybody was so short. I'm 6'1, and I'm just towering over these Afghanees all the time, and this little kid had all his skin off of his, the leg right here, and his bone was showing, and you have to, as ruthless as it may sound, you have to wand these people and make sure that as they're coming into the facility, they're not carrying a bomb, they're not carrying a gun. Typically, yes, that is done at the gate when they come in, but 01:42:00sometimes our gate was worked by a partnership of Afghan National Army and whoever the landowner was. I think one of our gates for a while was just ANA, and then one of the other gates was American soldiers that were working the gate, so we kind of didn't trust it.
If we didn't do it, we didn't trust it, so we had to wand everybody, and thiskid was screaming, and screaming, and I didn't want to push him down, and somebody yelled at me and they're like, "Hold that kid down." I had to hold him down and he started screaming, and I was like, "Jesus," I just didn't feel good, but you know, we had to do that kind of stuff. That was one of the times we got unnerved, and then there was just really just bad things that we saw. A baby, we saw a baby shot, that was a little kid, and I continue to name that stuff, but I think the kids ... When you're a kid, yell or scream, it doesn't matter if that kid is of your race, creed, culture, whatever, you're hardwired to look and try to fix that child's problem, I think, just as a human. That was the hardest thing.
I could look, and it might sound horrible, if I saw an ANA soldier, I wouldrespect that you're serving your country, good for you, but it might sound ruthless to some people, but it just didn't bother me as much as when I saw children and civilians, and then like our own service members, which was rare. I don't know, it was different. There were some people that it affected, there were some people I know that, especially if you're in an OR, you're standing there, you're next to these people, you might have seen them breathing and living and talking, and now they're dead, because we had people that passed away. I wasn't right there with that stuff, I was kind of, you know, bring them in, I'd be around seeing it happen. In a lot of ways, I felt because of my role 01:44:00in the TOC and the battle captain role, I felt kind of like I was watching something happen.
I was facilitating things, and helping things out, and filling my role, but Iwas watching these medics work a lot of times too. I think that's probably the best way to say it, and it sounds kind of ruthless, it really does, but it's almost like a self-preservation type thing. Quite frankly, you just can't go there and care. If you do, you're going to be worthless, you're not going to be able to do your job. You're not going to be able to get up the next morning and conduct yourself the way that you need to be for the people that are going to be there that are going to rely on you to do whatever your job may be. It would be good to ask a medic too, because they, like I said, they were the ones touching these people, and I really wasn't, but I was watching it, and I saw all the things go down a lot of the time.
JM: Was there, you know I don't know if protocol is the right word, but a waythat the military would actually try and help people?
RS: Oh yeah, sure. There really was, I mean, they did a pretty good job. I mean,suicide at that time was, it still is a big problem in the Army, but I remember in the Army ... Suicide is a problem across the military, but at that time I remember the Army was leading the way in the number, and so there was a big push to watch soldiers. We actually had, I think they called them Combat Stress, which I had never heard of it until I got to Afghanistan. I think there was three active duty personnel there, and you could just go and talk to them, you could just go and see them, and talk to them, and it didn't matter what you wanted to talk to them about, they would just listen to you. They were pretty good about it. They had that, and our First Sergeant kept a pretty good eye on 01:46:00everybody, he was definitely conscientious of what somebody's personality was, and that's kind of the first indicator of that kind of stuff, if there's a dramatic personality change.
I know that if somebody started to be bummed out, didn't go to lunch with thesame people, didn't have the same interests, it would be a red flag and he would get in their business and figure out what's going on with you. I think the commander and the first definitely knew that that was something that could possibly happen. I think maybe in their past, previous experience when they had deployed to Iraq, I think that they had kind of learned that. I don't know that there was like, there was no silver bullet they had for it, but know that they would be conscientious and aware of it. We didn't have anybody that was too far gone, but then again I was an E5, they wouldn't have told me, come to me and said, "Hey, this is what's going on." Sometimes those things are kind of handled without, unbeknownst to everybody else.
JH: Could you do anything extra to process your experiences at the time, talkingwith some of these counselors, writing, sharing with groups of people who???
RS: Yeah, I did actually. I wrote a lot in my laptop. I had a lot of differentwritings and things. I'd just write some of the experience, I thought it was pretty ... You write these things and you feel kind of silly doing it. I wasn't trying to write some novel, I wasn't trying to do anything. I've only let like two people read any of the stuff that I had, and it's probably less of being embarrassed, or more being embarrassed because I'm probably pretty poor at writing, but it was very cathartic at first, like when you'd write this stuff out, you write what you saw, what you did, and at the first part of my deployment I did a lot more of that.
I'd write what we saw, this is what happened, it was just kind of interesting todo that. It felt like I was kind of getting it out, kind of like if you, you know, if you take notes, you'll remember stuff better. It's just a way of 01:48:00processing it, putting it down on paper. It just feels good and you kind of get a little closure from that event, you put it out of your mind, but not really, there was definitely times where I had to take a couple deep breaths. The little boy kind of unnerved me a little bit. I just remember being like I had this moment where I was like this is not where you're supposed to be. This is just bad, you know, everything seemed bad. I kind of put it into perspective too, I wasn't out on the front line getting shot at or shooting at people, so part of me is kind of like, hey, you're seeing some stuff, but it could be worse for you, do you know what I mean? I had that perspective.
I never felt sorry for myself or anything like that, it was just kind of dealingwith it and trying to keep you on driving forward and doing what we had to do until we could leave. I definitely fixated on that, let's just get home, let's get out of here. Let's do what we need to do, let's do it well, and let's go, and that definitely helped. I think having that end date, or those little milestones that you have are definitely what contributes to to you not going crazy. If somebody said you're going to be here for five years, I'd probably would have gone just absolutely bananas crazy, but I had leave in April. I got there early October, I think, or mid-October, somewhere around there is when I actually go in Afghanistan, and then I had leave in April.
That was my first milestone, it was like I get to go home in fifteen days, andthen you come back and then I had another four or five months, and then I was going home. Those times were manageable to me. I felt like I could go, I'd reset, I'd come back, almost like it was the first half of the football game and the second half of the football game. You just got to get through this, and then get through this and it will be done. 01:50:00
JM: Was it sort of traumatic experiences, quite often you can use comedy andhaving a laugh ...
RS: Right, right.
JM: ... because you've got to like counteract it. I've known nurses before andthey were basically ...
RS: Oh yeah.
JM: ... have to do it all the time because it is really difficult, what they'redoing, but they're kind of like, you know, they have to have something.
RS: Things get pretty dark, yeah.
JM: Do you know any funny stories?
RS: Well, yeah. I mean, I don't know, there was ... You definitely do ... I'veheard before, like doctors and nurses especially in trauma rooms have pretty dark senses of humor, and can laugh at some things that might freak people out. We got to that point where ... I remember we had a 19 year old kid, and he came to the gate and he had blown his hands off, and he had some injuries in his inner thigh. Immediately, that's a red flag. We also had a system that would, we didn't have it, we would call the security personnel who would come in and take clothes, take items, and they could tell if this person had been constructing a bomb, or they could tell what that person was doing some way. I don't know how the system worked, but it was just very, very suspicious. We notified the security personnel, people who worked on that kind of stuff.
They came over and they looked at it, and they were like, yeah this guy, we'repretty sure that he was constructing a bomb. At the end of it, yes, he was affiliated with the Taliban, and in some way he had blown both his hands off, and he was making a bomb, or trying to make an IED, which is odd to me because it must not have been a very big IED. You just blew your hands off and you were crouching, I don't know, maybe he wasn't doing it right, but he blew his hands off, and we had to keep him there. You know, we weren't going to turn him away and let him die. We got him there, and they fixed his hands, and he had these 01:52:00two little nubs, and that was like the first time we had ... I think that was the first time we had somebody that we knew was Taliban. There was always the question, were these civilians, or were they Taliban?
You'd see a guy in his 40s that had a gunshot wound in his leg, and he wasn'tALP, he wasn't ANA, and you're like, "What is it?" This guy is just here, and our translator, who is a 65, 60 year old guy from Kabul who had live in Afghanistan previous to the Soviet invasion. When was that, in the late 70s, 80s, somewhere around there. He could tell, he would say, "This guy's Taliban, I guarantee it." He knew, which obviously that wasn't something that was actionable by the Army. They had to conduct their own investigation, but he had a pretty good line on things. He was pretty sure this guy was Taliban, he said that, and we got it confirmed. It was the first time we had seen, who's this person that's here trying to kill our people, and us, and so it was weird.
It was just a 19, little skinny guy, and really looked very harmless in a way.He didn't look scary, but we had jokes where I remember somebody sitting in the ICU, he had no hands, and somebody was like, "Well, why don't you bring him the Xbox, you know, he might get bored. Wait, he doesn't have any more hands." Stuff like that, that's probably one of the more tame things we heard. I mean, it sounds vile, I'm sure, but I'm sure that other people who have been in that situation know exactly what I'm talking about, and know what I mean. I think that's kind of that dark humor. That's pretty dark if you really think about it. It makes you seem pretty horrible, but it was just something that was said between people. There was no mixed treatment or anything like that.
People were very professional, did their jobs the way they were supposed to do,but offhand comments between soldiers out in the tent, it's different. I think 01:54:00it was kind of a coping mechanism that people use, some of that dark humor, and I'm sure there was probably way worse than that.
Actually, I ended up feeling pretty bad because after that had happened, we hadturned him over to those groups of people and I asked, "What's probably going to happen to this guy?" They said, "Well, we might just him go," and I'm like, "Why would you do that?" And the guy said, "Well, we might just let him go because we either take him and we put him in this camp, or he's out here and he's going to be useless for the rest of his life. What's he going to do? He's no longer a risk to us. I just remember being like, "Wow," kind of realizing this kid is like 18, obviously he wasn't making, he was probably wrapped up in something that he was probably either forced into or I don't think he was able to cognizantly make a real informed decision at that point in his life with his education level, granted where he was.
I kind of looked at him and I'm like, "He's going to be destitute." He might noteven be alive right now, you know? From what I understand, they don't have the same kind of, obviously they don't have a social safety net. There's no social security for this guy, and there's definitely no organizations that are going to take care of him. From what t was told, their families will pretty much shun you if you can't pull your weight, and so I remember feeling really bad, which is kind of conflicting. Like, he's Taliban, he was trying to make a bomb to kill people, potentially us, or some of our countrymen, but you have a conflicting view. I was looking at him as a person, as this helpless person, just doing what he thought was right as misguided in my perspective as it was, it was still pretty interesting.
JH: So with all that you were experiencing, what kind of communication did youhave with friends and family back at home? 01:56:00
RS: Actually, pretty good. We had what are called the DSN phones. Being in themedical unit we were a little spoiled with that because we had to have communications all the time, and we had DSN phones in our office, in our TOC there. The DSCC, the DOD, the Department of Defense, they set up, I don't know if it's DOD Army, whoever it is, but we have access to these MWR phone calls. I had a phone number, I would call the phone number, and then it was basically calling the States somewhere, and then I would enter in a phone number, and then they would call out from that base. I was able to talk in like 15 minute increments. First, I was redialing two and three times, which I'm not sure if I should have done, but to talk for long periods of time. I actually had gotten to the point where I would talk every two or three days to my girlfriend at the time, and I would talk to my mom and dad once a week, and sometimes some friends, less than that, periodic.
I was able to communicate quite a bit. I was able to send a lot of emails. Itook a digital camera with me, so I had pictures and things like that. I was able to communicate, which that, I think was a big part, and I know a lot of people didn't have that luxury, filling other roles, so I felt really lucky to have that, just be able to talk to somebody, and talk to somebody familiar. Also, kind of added on that, the communication part, was one of my friends from college joined the Guard, and unbeknownst to both of us. He sent me a message on email, and he said he was getting deployed to Afghanistan, and there was so many places to go, and he incidentally on a completely separate assignment got deployed and put in Shindand with me. It was kind of really neat to see an old college friend. 01:58:00
He was part of the security team, so he was like working the front gate, anddoing QRF. I think they did QRF, but all that kind of stuff, so I didn't see all that often, but I'd call him and say, "Hey, let's go meet at the DFAC at this time," if our schedules would match up, and so it was kind of neat to have that, just a familiar face on the other side of the world.
JH: When you were making phone calls or sending emails to your mom, your dad,your girlfriend at the time, what did you choose to tell them about? Did you tell them everything?
RS: No, I didn't talk about ... I definitely didn't tell them about the kid. Ididn't tell them about any of that stuff, especially for my mom. My mom was nervous about the whole thing the whole time, even my dad was. I could tell my dad, he's typically pretty stoic, and pretty straightforward, and doesn't show a whole lot of emotion, but I knew he was worried, obviously, because I had only seen my dad cry twice in his life, and it was when his father died when I was 10 years old, and when I went to Afghanistan he cried when I left. I had never, that wasn't my dad at all. I knew he was worried, and I was pretty tactful. I wasn't forthcoming with everything, and they didn't really ask, and I don't think they really wanted to know.
Even to this day, they don't, "What did you do over there?" They don't reallyask. I know that they know that we saw a lot of stuff, and we did a lot of things, but they didn't really make it a point to sit down and ... You know, like some people sit down and ask, they want to know everything you've done, and I'll tell them what I've done, but with friends and family ... I think there was a couple of friends I told some of the stuff. I say, "Yeah, we do this," especially friends in the military. You know, "Hey, we've seen this," you know people who have done that, it's not going to be shocking to them because I didn't want people to think ... There's this weird mindset that if you go 02:00:00through something like that, you're like damaged for life, that you're some sort of, you have now this trait that makes you different from everybody else.
I guess to an extent it does, but I mean, I just felt like it was just anotherstruggle, another hardship. It's just something that you're going to go through, it's just a part of life that, this is the path I've chosen, it's part of me, but it's not going to define me. I'm not going to go around and, "Look, this is what I did in Afghanistan," and some guys do, but that's their business. For me, personally, I chose to not have that kind of defined, you know, what my role is here. I would talk to him about things were, I would tell them, "This is the food," and they actually had, they'd do, our DFAC had Mexican night, which is my favorite night because they actually made ... It might be actually terrible. It could have been terrible Mexican food, but for me it was delicious. It was really good.
The guys in my platoon were like, "Schumacher, it's Mexican night. Get up, we'regoing," and I'm like, "Yeah, let's go." Then I'd tell them about stuff like that, keep things pretty lighthearted, especially my girlfriend who, at the time, she was just, she came from a very not-anti military, I don't want to say anti-military, but definitely the whole military institutional kind of concept was foreign. I was on the other end of the political spectrum from them, I was completely different from them in a lot of ways and I remember, I don't think her family understood why I wanted to do it. I think they were like, "What are you doing? You just graduated from college," so I definitely kept things lighthearted with her, I didn't want to tell her that stuff because she would worry a lot.
That's pretty much what it was, more mundane than you think of what ourday-to-day discussions were. This is what I ate, this is what's happening at 02:02:00home, can you mail me this, stuff like that.
JH: Is there anything else that you remember about culture on base was like,especially off-duty? Things that you guys were doing for entertainment?
RS: Honestly, being a different age, or my platoon sergeant, me and a coupleother guys our age, you know, mid to late 20s, early 30s, we kind of hung out a little bit more. I think the younger guys, and the younger girls, we had women in our unit, they had their own group, I think, really. That was their age, and I think they definitely made much more of a community than we did in terms of like our little base. Where we were at, we called it the medical footprint, we had walls around us, we were pretty walled off and segmented from the rest of the base. We were right in the middle of it, but we were walled off and separate. We had her own shower trailer, we had our own latrine trailers and everything because we needed to be separate, and sometimes depending on what was going on, we need to be able to cordon off that area, especially with something like a mass casualty event, which we did have one time, which is, essentially, you have so many casualties coming in.
Like I said earlier, you only have so much capacity, so then that triageprocedure comes into effect, where people are sitting here, maybe people aren't getting treated. Our mass casualty event, our commander and our first sergeant, our commander was actually a licensed nurse, he's an RN, and our first sergeant is also an RN in the prison system in Ohio. They were working on, and that wasn't their role but they were working on someone in a bed that was put off to the side. In that area, which situations like that happening, you have to be able to control that area, the entrance, people entering and people leaving, so we were kind of separate from everybody else. It was really weird, the culture, 02:04:00I don't know how to define it.
For me, it was just like an overwhelming sense of I don't want to be here, Iwant to get the hell out of here. I wasn't really there to put down roots and be part of that scene, I was there to get my job done, make sure I got back safe, and everything like that. Like I said, I had this really, this strong drive to get a lot of other things done in my personal life, but that kind of took over and that really consumed a lot of my time. Running, studying, and just kind of getting ready for the next step once I got home.
JH: What are some of your memories in the days leading up to your return backthe US?
RS: Pretty much like extreme euphoria. When you're in the military, you're usedto being disappointed, you get to the point where you're like this isn't going to happen, there is no way were going home, they're going to keep us. There was rumors we were going to stay there for three months, which I'm sure everybody has rumors like that, but I just remember being like, okay, although I was happy, I was extremely happy. At that point my girlfriend had pretty much broken up, and we had broken up early enough to where I had kind of gotten over it. There was still a chance, maybe, whatever, but I was a little hanging onto that but part of me was like yep, cut ties, cut her loose, that's it. There was definitely a level of anxiety because I didn't really have a set plan when I got back.
I applied for jobs, I had sent my resume out, I was ready, but there still wasan unknown. Even in Afghanistan, seeing the things that we saw, being in harm's way, there was still a level of comfort, that I was familiar with it, that I knew what I was doing. There was a little bit of apprehension. I knew ultimately 02:06:00it was going to be good, I knew I was going to come home and do this but there was some anxiety towards, okay, what do I do when I get home? Now I was in the Guard, I'm not active duty, I was active duty when I was there but I got back, I'm in the Guard. You come home, you get off the plane, you don't go to the barracks, you go home, you leave, that's it. I literally walked off a plane, my dad was there. I said, "Hey, how are you doing?" I talked with him for about five minutes, "Good to see ya," he brought my Jeep over to the airport. He said, "I parked your Jeep, here you go," and I left and I went to my apartment.
I knew that I was what was going to happen, so I'm like, "Well, hell, what areyou going to do now?" I had that apprehension but I had a job interview lined up, and I remember I was in Kandahar because we had to go to Kandahar for I think like a week or so before we left, and we went to Fort Hood, Texas. We stopped at El Paso, I can't remember the name of that post. Then we flew over to Fort Hood, which is where we demobilized. You know, they go through all the medical procedures, asking questions and basically they are supposed to reintegrate you, it was pretty much just procedure, check this box, check this box, here's this, here's this, go. Make sure you're not absolutely insane crazy, and then you can kick out.
I had that job interview, which was a good thing because I was nervous, I wasreally, really nervous because I was conscious of the fact that I was super, super, super military at that point. I was doing everything by the book, and I'm probably more by the book than even guys in the Army. You might think that it's kind of silly, but a friend of mine who had deployed in 2005 and 2006 to Iraq, just the first couple days when I came back, he made a point to come out to Columbus. He lives in Cincinnati, and we were going out. He wanted to cross a street and it wasn't at the crosswalk, and I said, "We can't go." He's like, "There's no cars, let's go, let's cross the street," and he started laughing. He was like, " I was just like you when I got back," you know?
I was in night mode, so I was kind of worried about this job interview that Ihad, because I got back, I ended up getting home at like September 1st, 02:08:00something like that, so we were a little shy, like 10 days shy of a full year. I got home, and I was living with my girlfriend but we had broken up so I had to move. I had signed a lease site unseen, I saw pictures online, so Friday, I moved. Then on Monday, I had to ... Friday, I got home, relaxed, Saturday, moved, got everything done, Monday, I had a job interview, so I was really nervous about that. I'm like, I'm going to freak these people out. I talk fast as you can tell already, I say a lot, and when I got back I was just like da da da da da ... I'm like, they're not going to hire me, they're going to think I'm crazy.
I remember being worried about that, but I ended up, it's the job I currentlyhave I did well, and that was a big, big, big relief for me. That was a huge relief, just knowing that this is what you've got because I had gone on this path, this undertaking of being in the military was to help me in my career and everything, and I just really dreaded the idea of having to get back to where I was when I started. Like, did I just do this for no reason, but it did pay off. The military was a huge part of my resume, and a huge part of the questioning that I had when I was going through the interview process, but those days leading up to it, it was. It was like anxiety, mixed euphoria, with you know, I was thinking I am going to go and eat the biggest pizza that I can find. I'm going to try and drink as much beer as possible.
You had all these plans and stuff, and when I got back it was, it was likedriving down the road, getting in my car by myself in civilian clothes, driving down the road was just like this great luxury. I was like, I want to go and do this right now, and I'm going to go do it, and I don't have to tell anybody and ask permission, I don't have to do it, I can just go and do it. I had been really smart with my money, so I had saved up quite a bit of money, and I had a 02:10:00lot of student loans, so I was able to pay off all my student loans, but also, looking back it was a very interesting point in my life because literally everything was starting from scratch, It was just like a blank slate. New apartment, I was single after dating this girl for almost three and a half years. I had this new job, I had this new apartment, and I didn't own much furniture.
She owned most of the furniture, so I'm sitting in this apartment, I had thisold couch from college and a TV on the floor, and boxes of books and clothes, and I'm like, okay. Part of it was kind of exciting, looking back it was exciting, it was an exciting time where I was able to really just kind of start anew, and after that experience that I had just gone through, I just felt really, without getting too touchy-feely, but I just felt really revived. I felt like my spirit was just like ready to go. There was a little bit of melancholy from the girlfriend, but I was like, you know what, stop feeling sorry for yourself. There's no reason to, you've got this great job, and I applied for the job and I didn't think I was going to get it.
I was convinced I was like, I'm not going to get this. My first sergeant waslike, "Apply for the job, I think you're going to do better than you think," and I was like, "Oh, it's too much money, I'm not going to ... " you know, and I ended up getting it. I was like, "Wow, this is great." That first month or two was like, I was just unleashed on the world for the first time, I was like a kid. I hadn't felt like that since I was a freshman in college, when all the rules are gone, mom and dad are gone, you're able to do what you want to do, and it just felt really good. It felt really good to know that I had done something great for myself, for my country. A lot of people were really appreciative of what I'd done, and I just remember like, okay, this is like the next chapter of 02:12:00my life could begin and I felt like I was just on a really good path, so I was really encouraged by that.
There was this dramatic euphoria for a while. An interesting thing about the jobtoo, it wasn't all great, because when I interviewed for the job, they said, "We'll get back to you in a week." I didn't hear anything for a week, and so I said, "Okay, I don't want to be pushy, I'll wait another week, and I didn't hear anything for another week. I said, "Oh, okay," so I sent an email and they said, "Sorry, we had to give the position to the person who scored highest on the interview, so I was kind of bummed out, like I was actually really bummed out. Then on my birthday, which was the 26th, they called me and said, "We just want to offer you officially the position," and I'm like wait a minute, hold on ... They had sent the email out to me because they thought I was somebody else who had applied for the job and not the person that had gotten the job, but they just hadn't offered it yet.
It was kind of like, back up. It was on my birthday too, which was nice. Afterthat, it was pretty good. I had this new job, this good career I was really confident and happy, and I lived in the Short North, which was pretty, it's just kind of like a real lively place. I'm sure you're familiar with it if you're from around here. It was a really cool place to be in too, there was a lot of stuff happening. I wasn't off in some apartment somewhere where there wasn't anything going on, it was good to be around people. I definitely noticed that I had, it doesn't matter, you think you don't have to but you do, there is a period of reintegration that you have to go through, and you have to realize when you're dealing with civilians, if you've been in that military mindset for so long, where I don't know how to describe it, but you're a lot more pushy, you want things to be done and you want things to be done as quickly as possible, and efficiently as possible, especially if you're like and NCO or an officer.
You're going to speak up when you see something not being done. You realize youcan't do that, that's not the way things work, so there was definitely a period 02:14:00of slow-down. It did hit the ground, I kept going and going. I never felt like I slowed down until probably about six months to a year in, and I remember there was a point where I got really just kind of bummed out. I don't know, I was like, "Why are you sad? What are you sad about? You have a great job, you have all these things lined up, you've done good things, you've done what you needed to do," but I think it was just that slow-down, where my body was getting back used to just the civilian lifestyle, and getting back into that swing of things. It didn't take long to get out of that, but that was pretty much the way that went.
JH: What line of work did you end up going into? I know you were thinking aboutgraduate school for a while?
RS: Yeah, I'm currently the head of the railroad division at the PublicUtilities Commission of Ohio. We're in charge of the safety regulation of Ohio's railroads, and we have a federal component that we work in too. I was able to stay into that kind of slightly HAZMAT. We deal with HAZMAT, there's a HAZMAT discipline, HAZMAT regulations on the railroad, and it's really great. I manage people, about 13 people that I manage, and it's just been a really good industry. Where I work is very supportive, I still have that element of self-betterment where I'm trying to learn things, I'm continually trying to better myself, so they're supportive of that. The railroad in general, they hire a lot of military. There's a lot of military people that I've met through working there, ex-military, either the federal side, or the actual railroads themselves, so that's kind of neat.
I have a common bond with a lot of the people that I work with, not on a regularbasis, but a lot of times, "Oh, I was in the Army," "Oh, I was in the Marine Corps," "I was in the Coast Guard, The Navy ..." or whatever. I ended up not 02:16:00going to graduate school. I'm planning on going in the absolute near future, because I started to do this post, like professional certification called a Certified Public Manager, and I just finished that up. That was a 20 month program, so once I got down I was ready to do this. I looked into this, it was free through the state, and we'd do it at the John Glenn School at Ohio State, and so I decided to do that instead of the MBA first, but I am going to be pursuing that MBA, and a graduate degree itself.
JH: What has happened in your service career since getting back?
RS: Actually, I'm coming up on the end of my six-year enlistment in March, andI'm thinking I'm probably going to re-enlist. I have a new girlfriend, we're very serious, so obviously serious enough to where I'm considering my long-term plans with her in this decision, and if I join for another certain amount of time the anticipation is that I'm going to be able to get this graduate degree completely free, to continue on that as education benefits that I've already earned through post-9/11, and Afghanistan, but I don't have 100%, so there's another agreement that I can do that I can get 100% of my tuition covered for that graduate degree, which that's huge. That's a lot of money that I won't have to pay, but military-wise, I got promoted. I'm a Staff Sergeant now, I moved over to a different unit.
I left that unit right when I came back. Typically, they'll do a 30 day eventwhere you just kind of show up, "Hey, is everybody okay?" A 60 day event, they're kind of reintegrating you into coming back into the military after that time, and then a 90 day event, and then after that I got cut loose and went to my other unit, and since then I moved from that other unit into this one I'm in now where I'm head of, it's called a CBRN Reconnaissance Team, which we just kind of go out and if there's any type of report of any chemical weapons used, 02:18:00or biological weapons, or whatever it may be, we go out and we survey and determine what's there, all the different-- Where is the wind blowing it, blah, blah, blah, report all that stuff up. I'm head of that, I'm the acting platoon sergeant for that.
It's been pretty good. I like what I'm doing there, I like being in that spot,so I don't mind being in for another two to four years maybe, depending on what that education benefit is, but it's good. I think the promotion even to the next level is right there, close for me, so I'll probably stay in a little longer. It's been good, the military has been really good to me. It was a good decision to join, it was a good decision to do all that, from like the stuff I got exposed to, to the experiences and everything. I almost feel like I owe something to it. I tell people all the time, and a lot of people don't feel that way. I know there's a lot of people, the military, I've noticed that everybody has got a different story, so it is not one-size-fits-all. Some people don't like their time, some people will tell you it's the worse decision they ever made, but I like to think a lot of people get something out of it, whether they know they do or not. I felt that way, definitely.
It's interesting, when I was in, when I first started, everybody had deployed.Everybody had been to Afghanistan, everybody had been to Iraq, but now there's younger kids that are, I'm 32, there are kids that are 18 that just look like little babies, and it's interesting now, I'm in that role where I'm kind of mentoring them. I like that, I think I have a lot to offer to help some kids and push them in the right direction on some life choice, when they ask for it, when they ask for your help. It's good to have that kind of an impact on people's lives too, even if you don't do anything great, if you can push somebody towards 02:20:00something good, or away from something bad, that's a good thing.
JH: How have you transitioned out from being active, full-time on deployment, tothe more traditional Guard career, doing this weekends, summer, what's that balance from, like with your civilian career, your family life
RS: I'm lucky, where I'm working at the State, they give me a lot of time, so Iget paid time off for my military duties. I know that's not the case for a lot of people, there's people that have to take no pay, especially when you get up, higher ranks, a lot of people who are further along in their careers, that's probably a pay cut, I'm sure, for a lot of guys that might not be ... especially if you're an NCO, if you've got a good career outside. I think obviously some of the officers are compensated better, but I think for a lot of higher level NCOs that have that, it is a sacrifice. For me, I'm lucky, it hasn't happened to me, but it is, as I'm getting older, I'm thinking about getting married, and if you look at a month and you say I'm going to give away one weekend, that means you only have maybe six days to yourself per month, and I think when I was younger, I didn't really care. Now, it kind of starts to weight a little bit more, especially if I want to start a family.
Obviously, that potential, we still have a war going on, and it looks like wemight have another one, but the idea of going off and doing that again if I have a family, which there are people that do that. I don't know if I like that. I can tell you, I wouldn't be so chipper and upbeat about my experience, say I was like some of the other guys or girls who had husbands and wives at home, and kids, and you're missing life because that's a big part about it that I think a lot of people talk ... Your life pauses, and everyone else's goes on. While you have these other pieces in your life, you know, yourself, you're concentrating 02:22:00on yourself, you're growing and things but it's really weird because you realize that things don't stop for you, things continue to go on after you.
In a way, when you're separated from your life, I missed friends' weddings, Imissed friends having kids, I missed family events, and you see those events go on, and you're like, "Oh, man." Part of you selfishly wants everybody to stop. Part of you is like what are you doing all of that stuff for? No, no, no, I'm over here ... but you realize that's not the way the world works. I wouldn't want to be in that situation with kids and a wife, especially with the formative years of a child's life. I probably wouldn't do it again if I have kids.
JH: All told how would you say that your military experiences have affected you,and have affected your wider family network?
RS: I think it's good, it's great. I think that it's a big period of growth onyour part for sure, but also your family's part too. For people who love you and care about you, they don't know what's going on day-to-day, and in fact, most people have a pretty skewed view of what goes on in the military. They think it's Saving Private Ryan where you're storming beaches and kicking down doors. The majority of it's not like that, so that unknown aspect obviously has to make them stronger, especially for a wife with kids, and she doesn't know what her husband's doing. That's got to be terrible. I know it's made people stronger and I think overall though, for me, it's just I feel very proud to have done it, and there's a sense of pride when ... You know, veteran's day is actually coming up, 02:24:00and I know a lot of my friends are going to make a point to call me and say, "Thank you," and that means a lot to me, you know?
It feels good to have contributed to something that, to have been that person inthat time, in that place, and to have been able to say, "Yeah, I'll go and do that," you know? It's not something that's thrust upon you, it's something that you choose, so it's nice to have that kind of recognition and it feels good. It feels good to have done that. I just feel much more calm and just much more relaxed overall than I think I did before, and just, I guess much more comfortable in my own skin, I'm just happy.
JH: Given that maybe less than 1% of the US population serves, what do you thinkpeople needed to know about military service, about combat, and about people who choose to serve now?
RS: Like, what does everybody on the whole need to know? I think for the mostpart, like I said earlier when we were talking, I talked about how I did feel like we were separate. Not that we didn't have support, but kind of piggy-backing off what I just said about everything goes on, and life goes on, how thing are politicized, and how things are done is really discouraging. I think it's really something that should be avoided at all costs, especially like I remember in Iraq, you'd see, I remember this kid, he was like 19, a 19 year old marine or something like that happened. They took fire on a patrol, I'm 02:26:00trying to remember, I'm doing this from memory so I don't remember, but I remember the principle of it was that I got really angry because the 19 year old marine had went in and kicked down a door after they had taken fire, and I think somebody got shot, and they killed a family, or something.
I don't know what happened. The news media was ready to take this kid and stringhim up, and that's it, it's done. If he did it, obviously, it's against the laws, it's against the rules. My personal feeling though, if you as a society are going to live somewhere where you're going to take a 19 year old kid and put him in situations like that, you're going to take us away from our families and our homes, and then expect them to never make a mistake, and expect them to be these robots, you know, that's where the common misconceptions of what the military is. It's a group of people who have been trained to do extraordinary things, and sometimes they screw up.
I remember seeing that, and that's another thing that kind of fueled me, peopledon't understand, because you shouldn't be looking at a kid that does something like that, you should be looking at the society that sends him there, or the people that say go there. I don't think people understand what war is, I really don't. I think people have no concept anymore in the western world where we're at. We don't see it, we don't see it in our back yard. People are like, "We can't win these wars anymore," and I'm like, "Well that's not true." The problem is that we have self-constraints. If wanted to, tomorrow, let the Air Force bomb everything, and flatten everything in Afghanistan, it would work, we would murder millions of people, but it would work, that's the way things were done in WWII to an extent. It was, here you go. We dropped the A-Bomb on people.
We don't engage in tactics like that, so when you hear people say, that'sanother thing that angers me. People say, "We can't win wars anymore," well, that's not really true. We're being put in places where we don't have the backing to go in and win that war. I guess I'm looking more at the political sense of it, like the higher level. It's just I think people really need to really be sure that you're conscientious of what you're saying because when you do put everything behind yourself in that effort, it really stings when people 02:28:00make sweeping statements like, "We can't win a war anymore." Well, sure we can, you just won't let us win the war anymore, because people don't understand war.
It's not this surgical kind of tool that is used to go in and kill people. Atthe same, somebody is going to say, "Oh, we shouldn't kill civilians, we shouldn't do this," and then on the other side, complain about us using drones, which are a way to save lives, American lives, and so war is used as a synonym for chaos and destruction. Yes, innocent people are going to die and accidents are going to happen. I just wish people would be more careful about when they say, "Yeah, let's go to war." Let's not be so happy about doing that, let's take a little step back and realize that innocent women and children are going to be killed as a byproduct. I saw it firsthand, you know, I saw these people in the middle who were caught up in this war, and people don't realize that's what a war is. It's not a tragedy, I hate to say it, but it's not a tragedy because these people were just statistics.
The same, I saw these kids get killed, or we saw these civilians that were shotup, that's what the effort is. I'm not saying it's like an anti-war, I have no, I think, what we went there for is, we should be there, but I feel like making everything so political now has undermined our original effort to go there, and I think that people are just taking the opportunity to take swipes and things, be it the military, or the effort in general, or, "This is Bush's war," and that's not true. Everybody voted for these wars. Nobody said no, and if you did, you were probably an idiot because you didn't look at the evidence that was there. You know, the evidence correct or not, to sit there and say that you have some omnipotent view of the future, is to be absolutely false and untrue. 02:30:00
It's just, if we're going to go to war, finish it, support us all the waythrough and get us out of there when we don't need to be there anymore, and stop using politics. I think that's the biggest thing people need to realize. When someone says war, you need to be very, very cautious, because people are dying, you know? I think that kind of fuels, and I don't sympathize with it, but I think that fuels some of the feelings that you hear from people in the Middle East and their anti-American sentiments, or their anti-Western sentiments, because we are so eager to say, "Yeah, let's go to war," but they don't see it. You don't make that choice and then go and see it, and I'm not saying you should, but you should be conscientious of what it looks like and what it is, and don't be so laissez-faire with how you throw it out there.
I think that's the biggest thing I've learned other than about myself, and abouteverything else, that's my biggest takeaway. People ask me what was that like? People kind of ask me, "Give me your thesis." I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I'm some genius who has the answers to these problems, but in my little piece, in my little part in that war, what I saw was that. That's kind of my takeaway, is that people are getting caught up in the middle of this, and people are being used as scapegoats for bigger societal problems. I just just think it's pretty damning, maybe, on the part of us, how we go out and we're all supportive of this stuff, but we're really not. People are like, "Oh yeah, I support you," but we're really not. You've got homeless veterans out there. I mean, if you were really that supportive, make some room for some people when they come home who maybe are trained to shoot a gun at 18 up through their late 20s.
Hey, it's great to pat me on the back and give me a t-shirt, but what theyreally need is a job. What they really need is some real support. I think there are companies that are out there that do that, but I think more needs to be done 02:32:00because they're not the ones that sent themselves there. I think I'm going off on like a diatribe now, you should probably ...
JH: Do you identify as a veteran?
RS: Sure, yeah, I do, and I'm proud to, yeah.
JH: Is there anything else we haven't asked you about that you'd like to add?
RS: We've covered a lot. I don't think I've ever talked this in-depth withanybody about this. I don't know, you might be the only people that would stay awake for most of it. I mean, I think, what do I have? Do I have anything else? I don't know. I think there was like phases of time where I felt differently about different things, but I think I'm on a more consistent basis with what I did, and what happened, and everything. I will say that I appreciate that you guys are doing this though. I think it's really great. I know people have done it with wars previous, but I think it's nice that you guys are actually taking the time to do it, I think it's really neat. I'm kind of interested to see what this is going to come out as, because like I said, it's not a one-size-fits-all. The military is so different.
There's probably going to be a guy in here that's like, "It's the worst, it'sterrible," but I think that's great. I think, I don't know why I feel this way, but I always take the time to thank a Vietnam vet, because I feel like they made sure that the vitriol that was happening in the political sense ... You know, back in the 60s, bad things happened to some of those vets, and I always feel a personal debt or gratitude to those guys, those Vietnam era vets who don't let that happen to us. I've noticed that, and I don't think they'd tolerate that kind of behavior in society, which is right, you know, they shouldn't have experienced those things. I don't know, that's pretty much it I think, unless 02:34:00you guys have anymore questions.