Our pre-mobilization training at Camp Atterbury officially ended at 0600 hours, 26 May 2009, but not before our 1st Army cadre got one last stab at us. At about 0300 hrs, I was jolted out of my sleep by a screeching klaxon horn and the announcement over the compound loudspeaker, "INCOMING! INCOMING! ALL PERSONNEL REPORT TO THE BUNKERS!" This was followed by the loudest and most convincing simulated mortar attack I've ever experienced. "Are you fucking kidding me??", I protested. Soldiers spilled from their trailers in various forms of dress; boxer shorts and tee-shirts, gym shorts and boots pulled on hastily over bare feet, and ACU pants and flip-flops. Some ran for the bunkers while others, including me, cursed loudly at being woken at such an ungodly hour by something as rude as a mortar attack, and walked, zombie-like as artillery simulators exploded around us in two's and three's. I reported to the bunker to await accountability and passed the time by peeing in the corner. I was not in the mood to play war on this particular morning, and my little protest brought me a certain satisfaction of sticking it to the man. It took an additional 25 minutes to obtain accountability for two whole companies. We returned to our racks 40 minutes later, and I lay awake until 0445 when my cell phone alarm signalled that it was time to get up and GTFO (Get the Fuck out).
Having already packed the night before, we quickly got dressed, and with a renewed energy that was in direct contradiction to the previous sleepless night, quickly dragged our gear outside and loaded the HUMVEES. 5 days prior, I had entered FOB Nighthawk with a certain sense of trepidation, uncertain of how I would perform in my role as a gun truck commander. I was, after all, responsible for two other lives in my truck, not to mention the lives of those on the convoy. To say that I was nervous about how I might perform in combat, even in simulated combat, was an understatement. Leaving FOB Nighthawk in the cool morning air 5 days later, and watching it shrink behind us, I was not the same man. Nineteen years of work on the streets of Phoenix and Carson City as Police Officer, responding to homicides, suicides, fatal traffic accidents, domestic violence scenes, countless fights with suspects, and my own first ever officer involved shooting just 2 years earlier, had instilled in me a sense of what it truly means to be a part of a unique group of people whose job it is to run towards gunfire, and not away from it. I had accepted the fact that whatever would happen or not happen over there had already been written. I had no control over it. I was not going to make the same mistake twice and allow myself to be so concerned with my own fate that my performance would be hamstrung by fear. "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the victory over it". It was not enough to have those words scrawled in ink under the visor of my patrol cap. I had to live them as well.
Finally, I was ready. This chapter of my life was about to begin. I was about to embark upon my own "Great Crusade". For decades, I had been in awe of the young men, born some 80 plus years earlier, who unquestionably enlisted in droves and went off to Europe, North Africa, Italy, and the Pacific to fight and defeat evil. These men had been my heroes. Like them, the young men and women of my generation had now been called upon to ensure that their sacrifices would not be in vain. I thought of men like Don Burgett, a 19 year old paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division who in the early morning hours of June 6th, 1944, jumped into the night over Normandy, France amidst murderous anti-aircraft fire, and wounded twice, fought his way through France, Belgium and Germany. Men like Larry Sutherland, an 18 year old Air Force SP in 1968-1969, who served in Vietnam, and taught me what it was to really be an NCO. Larry died way too early, and I miss him still to this day. Men Like Mark Marshall, my Sergeant at the Carson City Sheriff's Office and a veteran of the Tet Offensive in 1968. I've never met a truer patriot. Men like Gary Denham, a fellow Deputy and a former US Army Ranger, and veteran of the conflict in Panama. One of the bravest guys I've ever known. Men like Jake Sere. A .50 gunner who, with the 1st Marine Division in 2004-2005, was involved in the early days of the war in Iraq and was wounded twice. I look up to Jake and love him like a brother. My own brother Gage. A USAF Security Forces NCO. I can only hope that one day I can overcome my own personal adversity with as much courage as he has his. Men like my Dad.... a man who never gave up on his family. And finally, men like Jason Bueno. Also a fellow Deputy and a USMC Recon veteran of both recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are the men who have inspired me, and it's an honor to be counted among them and carry on in their names.