We heard from this Army paratrooper veteran, who fought alongside Medal of Honor recipient Sal Giunta, and we're honored to have his words on our blog.
I always wanted to be some sort of soldier, like the ones I saw in the movies. In an effort to be responsible, I tried college but failed or withdrew from most of my classes. That's when my dad gave me an ultimatum. Or perhaps it was a sort of prediction. He told me to shape up and join the military, or else I'd wind up in jail.
I picked the military.
You become attracted to the military by way of media. TV shows and movies offer a picture of an experience that, for many people who enlist, turns out to be totally inaccurate. There are a lot of jobs that, while they're definitely important to the overall mission, aren't as slam-bang action packed as you think they're going to be. So as a naive kid interested in the Army at age 20, my understanding was that I'd get to blow shit up and kill people.
But you know what? That actually turned out to be true.
What I didn't know was how instantly I would think of my family the first time I got shot at. The action was unlike anything I'd ever dreamed or imagined. I became aware of my own mortality, and experienced a deep fear that I'd never see my family ever again.
But what you lose to fear you gain back with comradery. You gain it back with a need to protect your brothers to the right and left, and with the confidence that they're protecting you as well. That's when those feelings of fear become less important. The fear never goes away entirely, but it does diminish to the point where you can do your job and fight alongside everyone else.
That was my first deployment. The Korengal Valley in Afghanistan's Kunar Province in May 2007. During that time I had the privilege of having SSGT Sal Giunta as my team leader. I was present at the ambush in October where he earned the Medal of Honor.
I'd been in combat before that. My first firefight was only a week and a half after I arrived in country. I remember hustling out to join the line for the first time, moving so quickly I forgot my helmet. There I was, shooting at the enemy without a helmet on, my team leader probably thinking I was some kind of idiot. That was my first time in combat, and there were other fights after that during my first deployment.
But the ambush in the Korengal … that was something else entirely. In other engagements, the enemy would be a long ways off, and we'd only just see their muzzle flashes. But during this fight, they were 10, maybe 15 meters away from us. It was an L-shaped ambush at night, and the incoming fire was so thick the trees turned to confetti. After it was all over, I found a bullet hole through my sleeve and black powder on my bicep.
Sal was my team leader, and you can read about his actions all over the internet. I know that he earned that medal. He definitely earned it.
Somehow I made it through that fight, and I made it through that deployment, and then received orders for the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg. I deployed with them once, and though it wasn't as hectic and stressful as my first deployment, I carried the lessons I'd learned with me through my time with those soldiers as well.
My deployments made me appreciate the little things in life. I hear and see people complain on social media about the littlest, most inconsequential things, and they just don't know how good they have it. Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't complain. I do my fair share of bitching about things that bug me. But I've learned to deal with things when they happen, in a hell of a lot more effective way than I'd had before my time in the service. By way of example; if my car breaks down, I might grumble about it, but then I'll get it fixed. I won't whine about it on Facebook. I figure, life can be a whole lot worse, and that's something I happen to know for a fact. I witnessed it.
When I got out of the Army, I felt like I was walking into a whole new world. I endured some troubles when my wife left me and moved back to Wisconsin with our son. I moved back in with my dad, and he helped me through this rough time. I worked on my dad's property in the woods. I drank. I thought no one would understand me. I probably had PTSD. But you know what? When I woke up in the morning, I appreciated it. I never really thought about how you should appreciate every morning you wake up to. Being in combat gave me that realization.
And there are other things I've grown to appreciate, or at least re-appreciate. I like being on the road, and being in traffic. Beats the hell out of trudging through mountains in full gear. If I'm not driving as fast as someone would like, I might get honked at, or someone might flip me off, and I think "well then, you should've left earlier if you're in such a hurry."
I appreciate electricity. And running water. Clean water. Home-cooked meals. Laundry. Being in country for just 15 minutes made me appreciate those things more than I ever had in the past.
I now have a girlfriend, and I'm a part of her daughter's life. It's a chance to participate in a family like I've always wanted—another thing I've grown to appreciate more. She's the daughter of a veteran who was also in the 82nd, so she knows what it's like to deal with the military, both during and after the deployment. I knew her when I was in high school, so in a way I feel like I've come full circle, and made me appreciate the path I was on in my younger days.
When you feel like you could die at any moment, you understand how crucial it is to show the love that you've got inside you. Combat taught me that. But it's something that I feel you don't need to be shot at in order to learn.