How fortunate we are that there are always the select few who are willing to step up to the plate to defend our way of life and the freedoms and liberties we enjoy.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me about my military service and some of our most popular podcast episodes to date are my interviews with Navy SEALs like Jocko Willink, Leif Babin, and Mark Divine as well as other military members.
Today, I thought I’d share some of my military story with you and give some background into who I am and how I was fortunate enough to serve you and this incredible nation.
I joined the Utah Army National Guard in High School with a couple buddies with the idea of my service paying for college.
Right out of high school, I shipped to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for basic and advanced individual training (AIT) which I really enjoyed. Me and the couple of my buddies I went with had the opportunity to do our weekend drills while we were still in school so we had the chance to wrap our heads around what the military life might actually look like.
I can tell you it was exactly like the movies. We got chewed out every single day. We were constantly being smoked (which is a term for a brutal exercise usually after getting in trouble for doing something we shouldn’t have been doing or looking at a drill sergeant that wrong way). Bottom line, those drill sergeants were looking for excuses to jump us.
After finishing up basic training, we began our individual training as “redlegs” – artillery men training to fire the Paladin (which is a howitzer that fires 155mm rounds are death and destruction). If you get the chance to see one of these machines at work, you will not be disappointed.
I excelled in AIT and, in fact, graduated as the top graduate from our class.
After that, it was back to our one weekend per month and our two weeks per year. We did the occasional extra duty. I spend 45 days in Salt Lake City manning the Olympics. I did another summer tour in Ft. Lewis, Washington training ROTC cadets.
But, the real service came in 2004 when our National Guard Unit was called to Iraq. I remember that phone call like it was yesterday. My wife and I had only been married for five months and we had just moved to Southern California to open up a clothing store I worked for.
She had already already left for our home town in Southern Utah for Thanksgiving and I was going to be following her up the next day after I closed the store down.
That night my section chief called and delivered the news that in January we would be deploying for a year and a half – six months was going to be training stateside and the remaining year of that would be spent in Ramadi, Iraq – to one of the most horrific places on the map at the time.
Long-story short, we completed our training and were allowed a quick leave of absence before we would be shipping to Iraq.
I remember what it was like to see my wife for the last time in a year. I remember how nervous I was as there was a real possibility I wouldn’t be coming home. I remember how quiet the bus was as we drove off and left our wives and parents and children (fortunately I didn’t have children at the time). I saw how hard that was on the fathers who were in my unit.
It was a surreal feeling flying the helicopter up the Euprates river that took us to Camp Ramadi. We landed, got of the helicopter and were welcomed to the base by our sergeant who was on an advance party to what we would call home for the next 12 months of our life.
It was an old Iraqi detention facility situated right smack in the middle of the province of Ramadi. We were surrounded by unknown territory on three of four sides. It was also bumped up against an abandoned glass factory that looked like something that belonged on Call of Duty – not my life.
Our unit was tasked with three missions -patroling the streets of Ramadi, base defense for the soldiers and marines stationed there, and an extrememly small counter-fire artillery mission (which was what all of us were formally trained to do).
Personally, I was assigned a base defense mission which meant that, as we faced threats, it was my job to act as the liason between our guard posts and front gate and our quick reaction force. We had to determine how best to respond to those threats – whether that was a situation at the front gate or an incoming mortar and/or rocket lobbed onto our base – and act accordingly.
We got hit with rockets and mortars just about every day.
I remember the first day I walked into what I would be calling my office for the next year of my life. As I walked in, I noticed there were 14 pictures on the wall representing each of the soldiers that had lost their lives from the unit that we would be replacing. That’s when the severity of the situation I had found myself in hit me.
I’m not going to get into all the details of what went on while I was in Iraq. I can tell you that I had the priviliage of serving with the finest men and women this country has to offer. I can tell you that not a single soldier form our unit lost his life which is a testament, in mind, of the divine protection we were afforded in my time overseas.
I can tell you that, as difficult experience as our time served was, that it is some of the most memorable experiences of my life – some good, some not so good.
I know one thing for certain – we have some of the finest men and women protecting our way of life that this planet has to offer. I had to step away from everything I knew and leave my family for 18 months of my life. I had to go to a foreign land where people hated us and wanted us dead. I saw an oppressed people fighting for their lives in the face of fear, tyranny, and destruction. I saw grown men weeping because they just lost one of their brothers in arms. I saw men literally give everything they had – the ultimate sacrifice – for a cause they believed in. I’ve had people question my honor for serving this great nation. I’ve cried with soldiers who lost their families while they were away. And, I can tell you that if I had the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I’m proud to say that I’ve served this nation along men and women who are greater heroes than I’ll ever be. As hard as we think things are, we live in an incredible time. For those of us who are blessed to live in this great nation, I pray we live worthy of the sacrifices of so many. Yes, we’ve had our challenges. Yes, we’ve had a checkered past and we certainly aren’t perfect. But, we are free. We’re free to do the things we want to do. We’re free to chase the dreams we have. We’re free to worship the way we see fit. We’re free to live the life we want to live. And, most important, we’re free to become who we were meant to be.
I used to feel awkward when people would thank me for my service. I just didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know how to express how I truly feel about my time in the military. And, in many ways, I still don’t but I can tell you, from the bottom of my heart, it has been my honor.
Guys, I just want to give you a quick reminder that, if you know a veteran, please reach out to them with a text or a phone call or drop by. These men and women have sacrificed so much to protect our way of life and allow us to do what we do.
If you see a veteran in line, please pay for their coffee or lunch. This is just a small, small way to say thank you and, I can tell you from experience, it goes a long way.
One other thing, if you do run into a veteran today, please post a picture in our Facebook Group with him or her. We’re reserving the group for only Veteran’s Day posts. You can do that at www.facebook.com/groups/orderofman.
Remember also, the best way to honor our veterans is to live a life worthy of their sacrifice, to be a great husband, to be a great father, to be a great citizen of this nation, to be a great man.
Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart, to our veterans and, as always, take action and live manfully.