COMING OCTOBER 10, 2020. 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
COMING OCTOBER 10, 2020. 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
MEET OUR VETERANS:
U.S. Navy – Vietnam (1969-1971)
Raymond Smith was born in Irving, Texas on November 21st of 1950. He had two brothers named Robert and Ronnie and a sister named Rita. Robert served in the Seabees in the early 60’s and was in for ten years.
His dad was named Ellis and his mother Edna. His dad served in the Marine Corps in both WWII and Korea. “He wouldn’t talk about his military service at all,” said Raymond. “He gave me a book one time and it talked a lot about why he didn’t discuss his time in. He had been shot in the back and I am sure he suffered from “shell shock.” He just never discussed it with me.”
“Until I was 3 years old we lived where Texas Stadium was torn down. I went to Irving High School and played some football. I played as a guard on the offensive side of the ball for about two years. I ended up quitting school and went into the Navy.”
“I volunteered for the Navy when I was 18 years old. All of the things that were going on in Vietnam, I didn’t want to go into the Marine Corp. I really wanted to go into the Navy, I like the water and I like boats. I water skied and fished up until a few years ago. My education was part of the reason. Without a High School diploma all branches of the military wouldn’t take you. My dad went to a Navy League out of an airbase in Grand Prairie and he helped me get into the Navy. I took a test and made a high score and they took me even though I did not have a High School diploma. Later I went a few months to Tyler Junior College and took Air Conditioning and Refrigeration,” said Raymond. I enlisted on June 25th 1969.
“I went to boot camp in San Diego, California. It wasn’t the first time I left Texas. My family did a lot of travelling when I was young like New York and the Grand Canyon in Colorado and all over the state. We did a lot of camping out in those days. We had an old 56 Nash Rambler and slept in the back. Up until about five years ago we had a diesel camper,” Raymond recalled.
“Boot camp was great. I spent eight weeks there. I remember we took a lot of smoke breaks and letter writing breaks. We would go out and watch the Marines hump it around the course. We would laugh and holler at them. I was a Boatswain mate in the Navy. My job was to lower and raise the anchor on the ship. Sometimes we would load and unload on the gun deck as well.
From boot camp I went straight to the Vancouver (LPD-2). She was based in San Diego. We had two days of R&R and then we headed to Vietnam. It was about a 14-day trip.”
1969 (Aboard the LPD-2)
That employment lasted until early in February 1969 when she began the first portion of her regular overhaul at San Francisco. That phase of the task was completed in mid-April and, after a brief return to San Diego, the ship entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for drydocking. The refurbishing was finished near the end of May, and Vancouver returned to San Diego on 28 February. Following two months of inspections and refresher training, the ship loaded vehicles and cargo at San Diego and got underway for the Western Pacific on 1 August. She made a three-day stop at Pearl Harbor from 8 to 11 August; then resumed her voyage and arrived at Okinawa on 21 August. After unloading cargo at Buckner Bay, she got underway for Vietnam on 24 August. Upon arriving at Tau My, South Vietnam on 27 August, Vancouver unloaded cargo there and at Da Nang before departing Vietnam that same day.
She arrived off Da Nang two days later and entered the harbor on 10 September to unload more cargo. On 12 September, she and her group participated in Operation Defiant Stand by staging an amphibious operations about ten miles south of the actual landing beaches to draw off defenders while ARG Alfa stormed ashore. The task group completed its deception early that morning and headed back out to sea to steam around until needed again. That routine, punctuated by brief visits to Da Nang and a series of amphibious and other exercises, occupied her until late October.
On 20 October, Vancouver began a new phase in her participation in the Vietnam War. Operation Defiant Stand had been the last amphibious operation of the war. On the heels of President Nixon’s announcement of the staged withdrawal of large numbers of American troops from the war, the amphibious ready group began carrying out the withdrawal. On 20 October, Vancouver moved from Da Nang to Cửa Việt Base and began loading elements of BLT 1/4. She completed Operation Keystone Cardinal on 22 October and set course for Okinawa the following day. She disembarked the Marines at Okinawa on 25 and 26 October but remained at the island for liberty until 2 November. After embarking BLT 1/9, she headed for Subic Bay where she disembarked the marines on 4 November.
Following a week of repairs at Subic Bay, she reembarked BLT 1/9 on 12 November, conducted an amphibious assault exercise on 13 November, and got underway for Vietnam on 14 November. The new line period, unlike those before, consisted entirely of steaming well off the coast outside the territorial waters of Vietnam in order that the amphibious ready group’s presence not be construed as a violation of President Nixon’s troop reduction in Vietnam. She continued steaming in the new operating area until 23 November at which time she retired toward the Philippines. She entered Subic Bay on 27 November. Another practice landing in the Philippines followed on 1 December and Vancouver repaired storm damage sustained during the transit from Vietnam to the Philippines.
1970 to 1971 ( aboard LSD-2 Vancouver ).
On 6 December, the ship once more got underway for the coast of Vietnam. She arrived off Da Nang on 9 December; but, four days later, she left the combat zone for visits to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Okinawa. Vancouver returned to the Vietnamese coast on 31 December 1969. 1 January 1970, however, brought her departure from the area on her way back to the Philippines. She entered Subic Bay on 11 January and remained in the Philippines until 20 January when she started a round-trip voyage to Okinawa. The ship returned to Subic Bay on 27 January and remained in the area until 4 February when she headed for Taiwan. After a patrol of the Taiwan Strait, she entered port at Kaohsiung, Taiwan, for a four-day visit. She returned to Subic Bay on 21 February and began turnover operations with her relief ship Denver. On 4 March, she departed Subic Bay for Okinawa where she delivered cargo on 6 March. Continuing her voyage on 7 March, she stopped at Da Nang on 11 March, unloaded cargo, and headed back to Okinawa where she refueled on 14 March before continuing on toward the United States.
Vancouver arrived in Del Mar California on 27 March and, the following day, moved to the San Diego Naval Station for drydocking and repairs. Repairs were completed early in June, and the ship departed San Diego on 10 June with United States Naval Academy midshipmen embarked for their summer cruise. She arrived in Yokosuka on 24 June and departed again on 29 June. The ship visited [Hong Kong between 4 and 8 July and stopped at Da Nang on 9 and 10 July to load cargo bound for the United States. On the way back home, she stopped at Pearl Harbor from 24 to 27 July and then reentered San Diego on 1 August. Local operations out of San Diego, including LVT training and amphibious refresher training, occupied the ship’s time through the end of the year and for the first three months of 1971.
On 30 March, Vancouver put to sea to return to the Western Pacific. She made a two-day stop at Pearl Harbor at the end of the first week in April and arrived in Subic Bay on 19 April.
On 25 September, she embarked upon a roundtrip voyage to Okinawa and returned to Subic Bay on 9 October. On 14 October, Vancouver set out on her voyage back to the United States, stopping in route at Okinawa and Pearl Harbor before arriving back in San Diego on 5 November 1971.
“We were a transport ship and we hauled Marines in and out of Vietnam. We carried all of their supplies and everything they needed. We could carry a thousand Marines in the lower deck. We would sit about a mile and a half off shore in the harbor where we did the loading and unloading. We would take the Marines and their equipment into Da Nang. We offloaded both large equipment like tanks and Deuce and a 1/2s and a lot of pallets full of beer. There were about 50 cases of beer per pallet. Pearl and Black Label were the most common beers we shipped to the Marines.
In the later part of 69 we went thru a typhoon (A hurricane in the Pacific ).
The Vancouver is a flat-bottomed ship. It doesn’t do well in large ocean swells. It had a balancer on her and it kind of helped. The ship was dipping plumb under the water, splashing up over our heads.
The waves were fifty foot or higher. I was on watch and I had myself tied in. It was more survival than it was watching. First couple of days I was aboard ship I was really sick. I couldn’t eat nothing but crackers and they wouldn’t stay down. During the Typhoon, however, it didn’t seem to bother me. Just about everybody on board was sick. We had about 600 men aboard the Vancouver,” Raymond said.
“We did have a lot of R&R in places like Hawaii, Taiwan, Okinawa and in the Philippines. We would spend about a week in Vietnam, unload and move to another port. We would go to Hawaii, Danang and then to the Philippines and back to Danang. I did go on land in Vietnam once but it was just for a haircut. I left the fighting to the Marines. We made about three trips into the Harbor. A marine ship was mined once while we were in the Harbor and was sunk. Gun boats would always protect the Harbor. They did get the diver who planted the mine. These were the same gun boats that would come by the ship and had a skier behind it. A good way to blow off some pressure in a war zone.
Our ship was on a “need to know” status. A lot of times I did not know where we were docked and a lot of times I didn’t want to know,” said Raymond.
“There was a place on Grandy Island in Subic Bay. It was just a short boat ride over to the Philippines. It is just one big ole bar that was open 24 hours a day. You could go skin diving out in the Bay. There were a lot of girls there and not enough and there were always fights breaking out,” he laughed. “We ran liberty posts day and night. We usually stayed there for about two weeks. The Philippines had lot of bars but I liked to take a ride up into the private islands and watch a baseball games. I got to go to Manilla while I was there.
I didn’t do much fishing in shore but a couple of friends and I did catch Hammerhead shark on board ship. It weighed 65 pounds. It took five of us to get it in. We got it on board, processed it and cooked the fish. The shark tasted good but I much rather have had a hamburger,” smiled Raymond.
“Captain Brown had worked up thru the ranks and was a great skipper. He told us we were going to have a fun time and it wasn’t going to be all work,” said Raymond.
There was a memo sent out to the crew of the USS Vancouver and Raymond kept it all these years. It reads:
TIME TO SMILE
From: The Skipper
To: All Hands
SUBJ: Command Policy on Special Liberty
There are 365 days in a year. The average sailor takes 30 days annual leave per year, leaving 335 days. There are 104 Saturdays and Sundays which are non-working days, leaving 231 days. Of these, 8 are legal holidays. The average Sailor spends one hour and fifteen minutes drinking coffee which is approximately 19 days per year, leaving 204 days. He spends ten days a year on emergency leave. He also sleeps on the average of 8 hours a day or 122 days a year, leaving 77 days. Of these he averages 15 hours a week, or 33 days on authorized liberty during working days, leaving 44 days. Of this he spends 2 hours and 45 minutes per day eating, or 43 days. This leaves only 1 day per year for working and I’ll be damned if I’ll give ANYONE that day off !!!
We continue our Interview:
“I met a friend named “Weights” who was a mess cook for the officers. Another friend was Keith Smith from San Francisco. We called him “Little Smith” and they called me “Big Smith.”
“I loved the experience of being on the Vancouver. I played a lot of basketball in the “well deck” of the ship and ran track around the top deck. We had “swim call” now and then where they lowered the back end of the ship and we would fill it up with water and go swimming. I had mess deck duty for a while, about a week. I liked that because the cooks always made a nice meal and we got to eat before everyone else. A lot of good steaks and fieta salads. We even played football on the deck until we lost the ball over the side of the ship,” he laughed.
“I did get to shoot the 50-caliber machine gun on the ship once. Our ship hit a whale and did some damage to the front of it. We had to turn around the shoot it to get it out of its misery.
One of our life boats got torn off during the typhoon. It was next to the ship. It took the 50 cal to sink it, but we did. We tried to retrieve it but the water was too rough.
I did a lot of painting on the side of the ship. My job was to maintain the front quarter of the ship. We had to take care of the maintenance of the anchor and the anchor chain. The chain lengths were 80 pounds each. The anchor weighed about 16,000 pounds. We had to chip out the rust and repaint it Navy gray. We had to hang out the side of a ship hanging from a chair with a rope tied over from the top. There were a couple of guys who came to the end of the rope and didn’t realize it and took a dip,” he laughed.
“I served 20 months active duty in the Navy and it was all on the Vancouver. I signed up for two years but when we got back to San Diego we were getting ready for another cruise and I would have to re-enlist for another six months or be discharged. They would not give me any more rank than what I was so I decided to get out. I served another 28 months on in-active reserve. I did learn to say “yes sir” and “no sir” in the military. I recommend everyone to get their education. I was fortunate to not have an education but to make something out of life. I made it thru the military.
COMING BACK TO VAN ZANDT COUNTY
Raymond worked for the State of Texas for forty years.
I am retired today and am dealing with Parkinson’s. I got that from the exposure to Agent Orange while serving off the shores of Vietnam. I never knew I was exposed to the defoliant until I was tested. They told me I couldn’t get it because I was aboard a ship out to sea. When the planes flew over and spread “that stuff” it spread over several miles. I am a disabled vet with high blood pressure and suffer from diabetes.
NOTE: Raymond took a break from our interview at this point when he could only whisper and grabbed some water.
“I have been disabled for the last 10-15 years,” said Raymond struggling to talk and coughing. We took another break.
“I was diagnosed in 2009,” said Raymond after calling his wife on the phone. “She is a history book,” laughed Raymond.
“I could never understand why we were there. It was where our leaders thought we needed to be. I don’t regret what I did and how it went. If I had to do it over again, I would do it right now,” Raymond said emphatically.
Raymond proudly showed me with pride of all his family pictures of military on his wall. “My families military history goes back to the Civil War,” said Raymond pointing at a picture on his bedroom wall. “My mother was a genealogy nut. She travelled all over the United States with my father. They had it loaded with computers and printers when they travelled. She has copies of our history going back to the 1600’s.”
There is a picture on the wall of a German sub with his grandfather, Robert Reeves, standing on the deck with the number UB88 on the side. (That picture is located in the WW1 display case at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Canton, Texas).
“My mother gave me that picture a couple of years ago and told me about it. She told me who it was and put the name on the back of the picture. It was her father, so I am sure she knew. He worked for the railroad when he got out of the service.
SM UB-88 WW1 German Submarine
UB-88 was surrendered to the United States on 26 November 1918 in accordance with the requirements of the Armistice with Germany. She was refurbished and did an exhibition tour in 1919 from New York, down the East Coast, and up the Mississippi River before passing through the Panama Canal and touring the West Coast as far north as Seattle, Washington.
After having all useful parts and salvage stripped from her, she was sunk as a target on 3 January 1921 in waters off Los Angeles County, California. The propellers were saved and placed on display in the city of San Pedro but were stolen in 1923 by metal thieves and were never recovered.
The wreck of the vessel was found in July 2003 using publicly available sonar data from the Pacific Seafloor Mapping project. She sits upright approximately 7.5 miles (12 km) south of the entrance to the Port of Los Angeles at a depth of 190 feet (58 m). The outer hull has corroded revealing the inner pressure hull. Divers have entered the wreck and found the interior to be almost completely bare. As she was given a special commission to the United States Navy, she is protected by the Sunken Military Craft Act.
AFTER THE MILITARY
Raymond moved back to Irving when he left the Navy. He wanted to make sure his two kids grew up in a country school so he and his newly married wife moved to Van Zandt County. “I worked for the state of Texas when I moved to Canton,” he said. “I worked on a “roader mill,” which ground up the old road and loaded it into the back of a truck. We were recycling and using it a lot for washout areas. I worked mostly in Smith, Wood, Henderson and Van Zandt County. I spent forty years working for the state and then retired. It was a good job and had some good bosses and supervisors. Of the two though, I would rather be back on the ship,” he laughed. “I kind of missed those days in the Navy. I did work on repairing sewing machines and sold some tools for a friend on First Monday Trade Days. The Parkinson’s makes it hard where I can hardly do anything. I have been retired for about ten years now and it has been nice spending some time with my wife,” he smiled.
I really have no regrets, I have had a pretty good life. The military is taking good care of me. I receive 100% benefits with a 90% disability he said pointing down to his stomach. I can’t eat it unless I can drink it thru a tube. I wish I didn’t have to deal with this. I really want to pray for our veterans. A lot of them come home without arms and legs. Just pray for them,” he said.
Raymond, thank you for your service to our country while serving in the United States Navy. Your courage and bravery will not be forgotten.
NOTE: Meet other Veterans from Van Zandt County by going to the top of www.vzcm webpage and click on MEET OUR VETERANS and click one of the (5) branches of services and the veterans last name first and click to read.
“Every Veteran has a story to tell.” Phil Smith
GOD BLESS OUR VETERANS AND GOD BLESS AMERICA
(ALL photos on this Facebook page are ©2020, Phil Smith and Van Zandt County Veterans Memorial. NO unauthorized use without permission) All Rights Reserved.
MEET OUR VETERANS: Jerry Powell
WILLS POINT, TEXAS
U.S. Army/Air Force 1995-2015 (Bosnia and 2-tours in Afghanistan)
Diagnosed PTSD 2013
“I spent the next seven years at Fort Campbell with the 101st Airborne and I was taught one thing, “HOW TO KILL.” Jerry Powell
Jerry Powell was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on October 11th of 1975. He had three brothers, and two sisters. Jerry was the only brother who served in the military. “We moved from Oklahoma City to the Wills Point area in 1982,” said Jerry. “I made All-County as an offensive left tackle. I also played guard and center on the Wills Point football team and in my senior year I played both ways. I also ran track. I ran the 300 intermediate hurdles. In practice, I remember I clipped the first hurdle and fell and broke my wrist in about six different places. My running days were over,” laughed Jerry.
Jerry graduated in 1994. “I worked at Eckerd Drugs in Wills Point. My only route out of Wills Point was to join the military. My father was Army and I had friends from Wills Point that went into the Navy or Coast Guard. My dad was a combat engineer during WWII. His job was to build a Pontoon Bridge over the Rhine River into Berlin and France. He was in the Battle of the Bulge,” said Jerry.
“My dad stayed neutral about the war. He kept it put away, the stories and what they did. When I was young we played Army in the field with camo with one team good guys and other the bad guys. We used code. I researched it. We used hand signals etc. I went to First Monday and purchased books in depth. Never did I believe that one day I would be using those same skills in the military,” he said.
JOINING THE ARMY:
With few job opportunities in Wills Point Jerry decided to join the military in September of 1995. He enlisted in Dallas and shortly after was shipped off to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri for boot camp. His MOS was 91 Bravo, combat medic. Jerry went to Fort Sam Houston for medical training. “They had the best food in the world,” Jerry told me. “I trained for anatomy and medical nomenclature, what medical terms meant and equipment and modules A,B,C etc. I finished the module portion and then took the written and hands on test. I learned how to do Injections, IV’s, drugs, burns, major and poly trauma. I also learned how to triage that patient, stop bleeding, major wounds etc. I was at Ft. Houston for about 20 weeks but it felt like a year,” laughed Jerry.
“From there I went to combat medical school and then Orthopedic specialist. I did my On the Job Training at Darnell Army Medical Center at Ft. Hood. That was at a hospital. Later when I was in the Air Force I taught medical students. It seemed to come naturally to me,” said Jerry. “I once had a Major come to me and said, thank you, for teaching us what you did. It helped us in Baghdad.”
“At the Ft. Hood hospital, I also learned about hands on casting. Setting broken hands for casting molds. How the OR (operating room) and ER (emergency room) operates. The NCO would praise us or go nuclear on us. There were many up and downs. I was at Ft Hood for six weeks,” said Jerry.
“From Fort Hood I went back to the 94th General Hospital at Ft. Bliss. My job was to see and treat patients. I was an E-4 writing referrals. That was very unusual. Word of mouth spread on what we did and that felt good. I ended up spending about three weeks at Ft. Bliss.”
BOSNIA ( 1997 to late 1998 ):
Jerry picked for a deployment to Bosnia because of his combat medic experience, his rank and his experience in the medical field. “I was a specialist E-4. They liked my training and they looked at my time and grade and service. I was good to go. We were given a Bosnia handbook. Before going to Bosnia, we went to Ft. Benning, Georgia. There I trained up on what to expect in Bosnia. I learned a lot about land mines and how to get them out of there without hitting other land mines.
These were old school land mines, some were anti-tank, bouncing betties and anti-personal. I learned to speak part of the Bosnian language. I was sent to an air base in Hungary and several compounds in Sarajevo and parts of the country that were totally decimated. There was an extremely high security there. It was bad. Get up in morning at 0600, link up with team members to go to breakfast, move over to the clinic and get de-briefings. I would count the narcotics to make sure none had been used. Then we went to the clinic for a routine day. We had a lab and x-ray for patients. We had Physical Therapy and Psychiatry. We had the whole ball of wax there. No MRI capabilities but we could send patients to Sarajevo. If someone stepped on a mine, they would bring that patient to us and we would prep them and get them under control. When they were stable they were sent to another major hospital nearby. We always had a C-130 on standby and air evac them to Germany with no problem. Most of the evacs were non-combat related. There were over doses and people who got drunk and fell,” said Jerry.
“We had a kid who was putting a battery down into a sump of a Humvee. All the caps came off and splashed him in the face. He needed all his clothes removed and placed in a shower immediately. Above the clinic is where the Generals and all their aids stayed. They had very nice showers. I took this kid up there and stripped him down and I knew he had to be washed off for several minutes. In the end the kid was pissed that I had him in the shower that long. It turned out good. He could walk, talk and see again, that is all that mattered,” Jerry said shaking his head.
When Jerry returned back to the United States he came back to SeaglevilIe, Texas. “I felt very unappreciated. We were in Task Force 94 General and it felt like we were our own little family. We distanced ourselves from the rest of the mess that was going on. Most of the people back in the states were there to simply draw a check and spend the weekend to get it over with. There were a lot of new grads from Fort Sam who really didn’t care.
We had to do a PT test immediately on returning. So, everyone from Task Force 94 was there at the finish line for the run. We hated our Commander with a passion. After I passed my PT test they handed me a cup of coffee and a cigarette and they said there you go, congratulations. It made the Commanders head spin. She had a lot of grads around that couldn’t finish, but here was this fat boy who had been gone for a year that could do it. I just smoked my cigarette, drank my coffee and grinned.
Seagoville was a Reserve unit but had some active duty portions. I spent eight years in Seagoville. No one wanted to cross paths with me as a medic or as an orthopedic guy or as one of the guys that was highly trained.”
FORT LEWIS, WASHINGTON:
“We were the medical support for ROTC training. We worked medical treatment for the firing range, the artillery range and land map range. To this day I still hold the record for treating patients there in a 24-hour period. I treated broken ankles, broken feet, blisters, teach them how to wear their socks, things like that. The record was 424 patients in a day. I had two other medics with me. I was senior medic on the scene. I had two Ranger medics and two of his lackies showed up. He was very proud of what I did. When it came to that ankle fracture, I had just enough material make a splint. That was the last operation I had and went back to Seagoville and got out of the Army. I spent a total of 14 years in the military including my Reserve time and received an Honorable discharge. I did not want to stay in the Reserves so I started looking at the other branches of the military.”
JOINING THE AIR FORCE:
Jerry went to Texas A&M in Corpus Christi and majored in nursing. “I was a junior when I got there with all the background I already had. I wanted to be a flight nurse. I flew back to Dallas for my Air Force Reserve and I had to get a job and never finished my degree.
I had to go back to a military service that was deploying. It was in my blood. At that time the Air Force had developed their expeditionary forces. I had to go to that. I joined the Air Force Reserves. I had been to Bosnia and now I was ready for my next deployment. The Air Force, when I got there, was very political. Because I was prior service Army, some of the things they taught were completely incorrect. They wanted to use Hydrogen Peroxide on a wound and I told them Hydrogen Peroxide would destroy any new growth of skin and it was completely inappropriate. They didn’t like me and I got some of the worst deployments stateside and I loved it. I ended up as a teacher in Wichita Falls in the summer time teaching a course called “Med Red.” My Army training taught me to just make the best of my situation and I did. Then I was sent to Bastrop, Texas. They thought they were sending me to Hell on Earth. It was a very nice building and I was a medic. My MOS was 407 in the Air Force. I had two lesser medics under me. It was nice. I was the lead medic. Good food, air conditioning, big windows. I did not mind it a bit.
They were going to send me to Baghdad but I pissed off this Lieutenant about the semantics of how much gear and what we should take over there. He eventually made Captain and I was taken off the list. While I was at Bastrop they sent me over to Ft. Hood. That is where I had my first seizure, all attributed to lack of sleep.
I was in the Air Force Reserve and went on 8-month medical leave for my seizures.
I started to get seizures quite often and could tell many times when they were about to come on. I had previous head injuries as a kid playing football and I sometimes think that may have contributed to my seizures. They thought the seizures was the first sign of my PTSD. This was a civilian neurologist. He thought what happened to me in football and my trauma in Bosnia may have contributed to the PTSD.”
THE 101st AIRBORNE:
Jerry eventually got out of the Air Force and went to the Army recruiter. “I wanted to go back as a medic. I had some EMT experience. They said, no. They said I had three choices. Drive a truck, bomb squad or infantry. I decided on infantry. I went back in as an E-5 in the regular Army. I got my orders and was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in the 101st Airborne.
Once I got to Ft. Campbell I was then assigned to the Combat Brigade, 1st, 2nd, 3rd or fourth. Brigade would then send you to a Company.”
When Jerry received his orders for the 101st Airborne in Ft. Campbell he was 36-years old. What chances did you think you had at that age to make the 101st Airborne? I asked Jerry. He started laughing. “I guess they sent me because I was an NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer). Age didn’t really play into it. I was considered old man-two. There actually was someone there older than me.
There were 129 guys in the Company. I thought I was going to end up in the mailroom for old guys. The Sargent Major asked us, “who is not supposed to be here?” One guy raised his hand and said, “I don’t’ belong here. We all looked at each other. No one gives that answer,” said Jerry. “I thought I was going to Ft. Hood. But my choices where you can go two years or you can deploy with us and then go to Ft. Hood. So, I thought, I guess I am stuck here. Ft. Campbell is called “The Black Hole.” Once you get there you never leave. I ended up in Ft. Campbell for seven years.”
I knew all about the 101st Airborne and their history. I never thought I could pass the rigorous tests and physical training. I figured I would be a failure there. The 10-mile runs, the 24-mile marches, I made it. Even though my rotator cuff was torn. I had a lot of injuries but I powered thru it. My squad leader was a mean SOB from Louisiana. He shook my hand, told me I had made it, and I had done a good job. He said you are a good NCO. I got his approval. It meant the world to me.”
SHORT HISTORY OF THE 101ST AIRBORNE:
Since 1974 the 101st Airborne Division has been the United States Army’s “Air Assault” Division. The Division is capable of lifting, by helicopter, a 4,000 soldier combined arms force up to 150 kilometers behind enemy lines in one lift. Having approximately 281 helicopters, including three battalions of Apache attack helicopters, makes the “Screaming Eagles” the most versatile fighting unit in the Army. It is the world’s only air assault division. The 101st consists of three infantry brigades, Division Artillery, Division Support Command, the 101st Aviation Brigade, the 159th Aviation Brigade, the 101st Corps Support Group, and various other separate commands stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
The United States Army began testing the viability of parachute units in 1940, after seeing the success of British and German paratroop units in the early days of World War Two. The first tests, conducted at Fort Benning, Georgia, were so successful that soon the army was forming Parachute Infantry Regiments (PIR). Once the United States was thrust into the war, the Army authorized Airborne Divisions. The 82nd and 101st would serve in the European Theater and later the 11th Airborne Division would see action in the Pacific.
On June 6, 1944 the Pathfinders of the 101st Airborne Division were leading the way into France for Operation Overlord: D-Day. The 101st would spend 33 days in combat before returning to England to receive replacements and train for their next operation.
In September 1944, the 101st Airborne Division made its second combat jump. This time the jump was in Holland for Operation Market Garden. The Division spent 72 days in combat before being moved to France for refit.
On December 16, 1944, the Germans launched a surprise attack with thirteen armored and infantry divisions in the Ardennes region of Belgium. The front of the Americans was in danger of collapse. On December 17th the 101st received orders to move north out of France and defend the town of Bastogne, Belgium. This was the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge.
Bastogne was a hub of highways that moved through the Ardennes, a forested area that forced the German mechanized forces to use these roads. The Germans surrounded the city on December 20th, isolating the 101st and some elements of the 10th Armored Division. On December 22nd the Germans issued a demand for surrender. The acting Commander of the 101st, General Anthony C. McAuliffe, gave his famous reply of “Nuts.”
In the next eleven years the 101st Airborne was activated and deactivated three times. Finally, in 1956 the Division was reorganized as a five-brigade division and came back to the Regular Army and its permanent home of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
The First Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division was deployed to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam on July 29, 1965. They were the third United States Army unit to arrive in country.
During the early days of Vietnam, the Division made its transition from parachutes to helicopters as the method of insertion. In July of 1968, the Division changed its name to the 101st Air Cavalry Division. The next year, on August 29, 1969, the Division changed its name again to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Mobile), making it the Army’s second air mobile division.
In late 1971 and early 1972 the Screaming Eagles left Vietnam and returned to Fort Campbell. During almost seven years of action in Vietnam, the 101st Airborne participated in 15 campaigns. Most notable were Hamburger Hill in 1969 and Firebase Ripcord in 1970.
Since the end of the Cold War, the 101st has served proudly in the Persian Gulf War in January of 1991, conducting an air assault deep into enemy territory in the Iraqi desert. The Division sustained no soldiers Killed in Action during the “100-hour war” and captured thousands of enemy prisoners. The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) was the first conventional unit to deploy in the War on Terror. In 2002 the Division’s Third Brigade participated in Operation Anaconda facing an intense period of combat in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. In 2003 the Screaming Eagles, led by Major General David Petraeus invaded Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Division has made a second deployment to Iraq in November of 2005 to conduct counterinsurgent operations and to train Iraqi security forces.
General Order Number Five, which gave birth to the 101st Airborne Division in the early days of World War II. “The 101st Airborne Division…has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny.” The Division has certainly lived up to those prophetic words. The 101st is one of the most famous fighting forces in the world. Thousands upon thousands of proud soldiers have worn the distinctive “Screaming Eagle” shoulder patch, which is arguably the most recognizable unit insignia in the United States military.
PUTTING ON THE PATCH:
“Putting that 101st Airborne patch on my shoulder was the proudest moment of my life. I retired from 425 but I can always say the 101st Airborne was my home,” said a smiling Jerry.
“When I first put it on, it was awkward,” said Jerry. “When placed on the right sleeve it is considered a combat patch. Which meant you spent at least 30 days in an eminent danger zone. “The Right Way is the Army Way,” according to Jerry.
Two Tours of Afghanistan
“I spent the next seven years at Fort Campbell with the 101st Airborne and I was taught one thing, “HOW TO KILL.” Seven years of hard training. They taught us how to kill with small arms, anti-tank weapons and AT-4s. We learned how to channel the enemy into a certain point. We learned the correct use of air assets and using them for anti-IED’s. Everybody wants to kill us, so we have to kill them first. Physical strength is very important. We would carry fuel cans loaded with water and we would just run with them. If we had to move logs or wood we would learn how to flip that telephone pole. Mental strength is very important. History of the 101st is very important. I was pseudo-intelligence. I had to go to a lot of meetings on weapons and briefings. I briefed a British Captain who had an extremely deep accent. So, I was talking about a bend in the road. We all knew that a bend in the road is IED Heaven. I started explaining to him how common this was and he started to chew me up and down. My first Sargent came over and said, ”J-Dub I knew exactly what you meant so don’t let this get you down.”
We would sometimes spend eight straight hours of stress shooting, both during the day and night. We had to learn how to wear full body armor correctly and how to handle prisoners. We were also taught how to clear houses. We did a huge amount of that.
The 101st can be anywhere on the globe in 72-hours. With the helicopters today, we can be dropped all over the world.
There were rumors we were going to be sent to Afghanistan. The first Sargent came to me and said you are very important to the company, you are very important to me. He said you have an option, you have a year or so left. He said I want you to go to Afghanistan. I said for you, I will go. It was 2010.
I landed in Bravo Company, 502nd in Afghanistan in infantry. I was in the 101st from 2007 thru 2012,” Jerry said.
“We flew into Kurdistan to a civilian airport. I was going as light infantry. We were on standby to fly into Kandahar Airfield on a C-130.
We arrived at the Airfield and headed over to a large hangar. We hear this voice come over the loud speaker, Incoming missiles, prepare for impact, incoming missiles prepare for impact.
We are the 101st, can’t nobody hurt us. We are here to square this place away. We are here to kill the Taliban. We are here to catch Mullah Omar and we are going to make this place a Democracy.
I was a highly trained killer at this point and very accurate with small arms and using air assets. I was highly trained to figure out who the bad guys were.
That was very difficult in Afghanistan, because you could be talking to a farmer who says we love Americans blah, blah, blah and the next day he is planting an IED. We went out on ops to learn how to interact with the locals. We learned about the IED’s, the explosives.
We were in high pursuit of an asset named Mullah Omar who had one eye. We only had one picture of him. We were not considered Delta Force, Rangers, or Navy Seals . We were perceived as brothers to them.
If any of us say the sky is Purple, roger that, the sky is Purple. We were trained to work with everybody and everybody appreciates the 101. They know that we are just machines to kill and kill. We trained at Kandahar for about a week, hopped on another C-130 and head to a camp called FOB Wilson (Forward Operating Base). It is horrible. My best buddie catches pneumonia. It is 129 degrees when we hit the ground.
We were there to replace 10th Mountain Army Unit. Their job was to clear the land of IED’s and Taliban and to gather intel on the locals. They were also on the hunt for Mullah Omar. We started doing our patrols and interactions. Everyone was living in metal containers, what we called “Train Cars.” Some of these contained eight men living quarters.
I had no air conditioning in my container and stayed by myself. It took them several months to get my air conditioning working. In addition, I caught all the new soldiers.”
Kandahar and other bases around Iraq and Afghanistan relied heavily on HESCO Bastion or Barriers for protection.
The HESCO BASTION or Barrier is primarily used for flood control and military fortifications. Galvanized Hesco Bastion is made of a collapsible wire mesh container and heavy duty fabric liner, and used as a temporary to semi – permanent levee or blast wall against explosions or small-arms.
Below is an excerpt from an NPR war correspondent, David Gilkey, who was imbedded with Jerry’s Bravo Company, 101st outside Kandahar City in 2010.
https://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2010/07/06/128334660/afghanfight (101st Bravo Company in Afghanistan)
Excerpts from UNDER FIRE, THE FIGHT HEATS UP IN AFGHANISTAN by David Gilkey NPR
NPR photographer David Gilkey has embedded with the 101st Airborne Division outside of Kandahar City in southern Afghanistan. The mission for American soldiers in this region is to cooperate with the Afghan National Army to secure the area — pushing out the Taliban and empowering locals to protect themselves. But that’s easier said than done.
The effort in Kandahar requires routine joint patrols throughout a 16-mile stretch of Taliban stronghold. The main, paved roads are laden with homemade explosive devices and thus too dangerous for travel.
The soldiers must navigate a jungle-like terrain of fields and farmland in 100-degree heat to continue their outreach efforts, talking to farmers and field hands along the way.
On a recent patrol, the 101st came under heavy fire and engaged in a 4-hour battle with Taliban insurgents. There were no casualties, but exhaustion has settled in. Army officials have said that the key to winning the war is winning the trust of locals. But until American forces can rid the region of the Taliban — which would allow the military to move freely and alleviate fear among Afghan civilians — face time with those locals will remain limited.
David Gilkey was taking pictures and covering stories of war-related events in Afghanistan around the time of his death. Multiple attacks were happening between the Afghan military and Taliban fighters, and so Gilkey traveled to Marjah, located in southern Afghanistan, to cover the conflict. Gilkey was traveling with the Afghan military to cover fights near Marjah. On June 5, 2016, a rocket-propelled grenade fired by the Taliban hit the Afghan Army vehicle that Gilkey shared with his native handler Zahihullah Tamanna, and an unknown Afghan army driver.
“David and I roomed together in Afghanistan,” said Jerry. “We would go out on patrol and meet with the locals and try and talk with them and see if they needed anything. When the sun starts to set and you have that “LAST CALL TO PRAYER,” the locals put their agricultural tools up and pick up their AK-47’s. Every day for six months we got attacked twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the evening. In the morning before they picked up their tools to farm and right after their mosque visit in the evening. Most of the locals wore flipflops but we had credible intel that some of the fighters were coming from Germany and we were on the watch for those wearing black leather boots. We never saw them where we were but we got intelligence reports all the time.
Most of what we saw were those in country dress and burkas. We hit the Taliban pretty hard and soon we were referred to as “THE MONSTERS.” We were blowing up two rows of roads at a time. Eventually we got things under control.
When we first got there the streets were deserted. We saw them crossing the streets, playing soccer. It was weird,” said Jerry. “One of the things we learned early on, you can’t trust the locals. We just didn’t trust them.”
The Rules of Engagement (ROE) and under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) determine when a soldier can fire and when he can’t. It is a very fine line to hoe when your split-second decisions in the heat of the battle will dictate whether you live or die.”
“This place was a mess,” said Jerry. “They could have an AR-47 like we can have a concealed weapon. RPG’s were a no go. We had a young kid who gave us intel that he saw three Taliban with RPG’s and should he shoot them. That news made it to the top of command and they lit into him. The kid was stupid enough to slam the door on the way out. We were supposed to go out with the Afghans. Most of them were either stoned or stupid,” he laughed. “We were always more on guard and more apprehensive. Especially about the information you put out. You never knew what these guys were going to tell others about an operation. We would tell them we are going on routine patrol and then go on a major operation. We just wouldn’t share intel with them. Every single night we had, what was called, the CUB, (combat update brief) and the BUG, (battle update brief). All the NCO’s would crowd into the CPs. We would listen to the Battalion Commander about what was going on. There were no Afghans there. They were never privileged to that and even slept about 600 meters in each direction.
When it came to Rules of Engagement, (ROE) it had to be reaction. Muscle memory is not uncommon for a warrior.”
THE CONSTANT SHELLING’S:
“Every day twice a day for six months we were attacked. Small arms and RPG’ed ( Rocket Propelled Grenades). We called this “Prime Time.” It became like a regular routine. 1800, it is Prime Time. By 1900 ZULU everyone stopped eating, everyone put out their cigarettes, everybody manned their posts because we were fixing to get hit. Every day, twice a day, it just became routine. I hate being dirty, I hate not getting a shower. Every day, I would grab eight bottles of water, hit the hygiene place. Fill it up, shave, wash and walk back to my hooch and get ready for my day.
We had no way to cook or refrigerate food. We had a 55-gallon drum cut in half and charcoal or some wood and we had JPA as a starter. We had no silverware, everything was eaten by hand. I sit down to eat and about that time, Prime Time started. When I got back to my shave kit, it had been RPG’d. We believe there were some turncoats among us and they had reported me as being there. That is when I came to the realization this was the real deal.
The attacks grade on you mentally. There are so many small checks and balances in your mind. If it is not muscle memory you will forget to do something. Simple things like placing your spare magazines correctly on your body so that when you got into a firefight at night you can rub your thumb across it and tell whether it is an empty or full magazine. I pat myself down every time I went out. I wasn’t superstitious, just wanted to be ready. I learned to accept death. You can’t live day to day with what might happen. What is going to happen is going to happen. There was always a brief and debrief after every mission. You could get complacent. This is what I feared the most, that enemy in your mind,” said Jerry.
“The boss named us the “Hunter Care Team.” We only did night operations. The rest of the time we were Battle Captains. I was the Battle Captain and worked exclusive with the Battalion. It was ordered that no one was to touch me. I got a call from Battalion. It was the middle of the day and I had platoons spread all out in the area. They said, Bulldog 7 we are going to lay in some artillery. We have spotters on top of a mud hut.
We had 5 minutes before the artillery hit. Next thing I know we are getting incoming. I was a nervous wreck.
I got a call from one of the towers saying I had a herd of sheep passing. I have a translator to my left. He tells me they are moving into the sheep. Meaning the Taliban were moving into the sheep setting up IED’s. I said, I need a Predator or a Scan Eagle now. Battalion had them tied up, I could not get either one. I had three Canadians sitting on the top of the mountain with nothing to do. They saw them putting down the IED’s. They asked for what kind of rounds I needed and I said I needed high explosives. They opened up on them. Just greased them. There were three of them. I won a Dr. Pepper out of that one. They bet me I could not grease them all.”
“The M240 Bravo was my favorite small weapon in the 101st also called a “squad assault weapon.” It fired a 556 round, but it was automatic. It was light to carry and could lay enough firepower. It was a multi-functional weapon.
The 203-grenade launcher was another of my favorite weapons of choice. It was attached to the bottom of your M-4. You could lay in smoke or grenades and it was also multi-functional. The only thing the Taliban was afraid of was the 9mm pistol. There were so many executions by the 9mm. We used chainsaws sometimes to get a clean line of fire, but the biggest weapon they were afraid of was the 9mm pistol. We had shotguns and 50calibre machine guns, but to get their attention was the 9 on the side.
Air assaults were much different. When they learned how much firepower from an Apache or Kiowa could do especially when we could do an RC (remote controlled or radio control) burn at night. There they could run thru the frequencies on the radio and detonate any RC explosives that were being placed or were being handled.
I was the company master driver for the MRAPS and I liked it. I trained on everything from the old MRAPS to the new M-ATV’s and the 4×2’s. We ended up with the MATV’s. It was light, fast and you could place any weapon system on it.
I always liked being in the rear of the convoy. The place they loved to hit was the 2nd or 3rd vehicle in line. The plan was to trap the rest of the vehicles in. I rode in a lot of three-vehicle convoys but did a lot of ops in much larger convoys. It all depended on the missions. I had a lot of what we called, just a feeling or an eerie feeling, about some missions. Something was about to happen type of mission. I would ask my buddies; did you feel it? Everybody in the truck felt it. There were those missions where you would think, well this is it, this one is going to hit us.
You always looked for the guy who drove the “jingle” trucks or the ones that swerved at you or the little bitty white car that came speeding at you. That was always my worst fear. Route 1 was just a two-lane road. I would always keep to one side of the road. That gave me a little bit of “duck time” if they came right at me. I was lucky with the IED’s. One day we took out 17 of them. Clearance guys were sweeping the roads every day for us. There were quick rabbit up ops and others planned accordingly.
We had drop down visors on our vehicles to view at night like a night vision goggle. That made me extremely nauseous. I couldn’t do that. It was a lot easier for me to go with low lights and follow the dust trails,” Jerry said. “I drove everything from an ambulance, MRAP, a bridge layer to an old school 5-ton. I drove them all,” said Jerry. “But my favorite was the MATV’s.”
“The day I was supposed to come home I went out on one of those eerie feeling ops. We were out at an Afghan Police Station. I always stayed in my vehicle. This guy comes at me, dressed in an all-white robe. Taliban usually always wore all white. I called him in and was told, yeah we are tracking this guy. Two Afghans came by and went up to him and talked to him and he left. When we left the Police station to go back to the Forward Operating Base, (FOB) someone fired a red flare. We were told to spin up and make sure your guns are hot. The Police Station was going to be attacked. I thought to myself, damn I am going home tomorrow. I don’t need this shit.”
ROUTE CRYSTAL OP:
“This is when I lost it. There was a four way in a field. There was an IED placement here and an IED placement on the other side. We took 14 casualties that night. The Commander said F this, we have MASSCAL, MASSCAL, MASSCAL (MASS CASUALTIES).
Which meant anything that had an engine, a jet, a helicopter, vehicle or whatever was to move to our point. Luckily, I was not on that patrol. The night before I had driven over an IED, I had straddled it. I, for some reason, was the guy who could drive everything. My co-driver just told me where to drive and I just straddled an IED. I had 40,000 lbs. of demo on that truck. I drove back to where we were at and was on standby.
We had everything you could think of, Chinooks, Blackhawks and other equipment to mark where the injured were located. You take a glow stick on a piece of string and you swing it. With that the pilots can pick an (LZ), landing zone.
They brought some of the casualties to where we were located. We had about seven bodies hidden under blankets. None were injured, they were all dead. Under Universal Code of Military Law, a soldier is NOT to identify an American casualty. They have our DNA and our picture for that. There is no need for an American soldier to go over and look at this mess. This E-6 said, J-Dub, come over here and tell us who these people are. The first guy just had a shoulder and a piece of torso left on his body. On his shoulder was a tattoo with a picture of all his kids. I knew this guy. Only two weeks previous I had an argument with him. I came to the second guy, and all of a sudden, I saw a huge white light. Different than you could ever expect. Something in my head said, you are done, go back to where you are at. So, that is what I did. In my heat, I felt I am thru with this war. F this, I am done. I went back to where I was at and sat down for six or eight hours, without moving. I didn’t talk, didn’t eat or drink water. My best buddy, who was a Lieutenant, came walking up with his hands up in the air. I am cussing and yelling at him. He had (TBI), Traumatic Brain Injury. I told him to get on the bird and get evac. I went nuclear. I found out my (PO),Project Officer had lost the top of his head; a leg was shot but he was still alive. Later, I found out he had been killed. I was a wash. I was done. My First Sargent was livid because of what they asked me to do.
They announced over the radio my Lieutenant’s battle roster number and his name, and said, he was dead. This was my close friend who lost the top of his head. Again, this was totally against Army regulations. It is called (GO-1), General Order Number One,” Jerry said taking a break.
“Working directly for the Boss, I had to see every casualty that came thru there. The (CAO), Casualty Assistance Officer gathered their gear. I had to pack their goods and saw pictures of these guys and their families. This all happened after I attempted to identify those seven bodies. I was taken back to FOB Wilson and told to put on a clean uniform. I was going back to Kandahar Airfield and eventually back to Atlanta, Georgia. I followed these orders to a tee, but in my heart, I was done. I was on a (MLA), Military Leave of Absence. I considered going (AWOL), Absence Without Leave.
When I was on MLA and back at home in Wills Point, Texas, all I could eat were BLT’s. I ate, I would throw it up. I threw up every day for two weeks. I was still seriously considering going AWOL. I started thinking about my First Sargent and my brothers in the 101st, and I just did not want to let them down.”
2nd TOUR OF AFGHANISTAN:
“I was sent back to Afghanistan and met with my First Sargent and was given a de-briefing of all the personal changes since I had went back to the states. He was glad I was back in country. We had gotten the new MRAPS by this time.
MRAP -A design of vehicle from various vendors were deployed as part of the MRAP program. MRAP vehicles usually have “V”- shaped hulls to deflect explosive forces from land mines or IEDs below the vehicle, thereby protecting vehicle and passengers.
MRAPs weigh 14 to 18 tons, 9 feet high, and cost between US$500,000 and US$1,000,000.
I could go anywhere on these things. These monsters looked like something out of Mad Max. There were four of us inside including First Sargent, a medic and a man on the 50 caliber. Everything that happened to me before, I just kept it all inside.
We usually rode with a three-truck minimum with several guns and personal. We had to carry 48 hours of food, fuel and water. Boss said keep that truck gassed up at all times. We are back at Forward Operating Base Wilson and sent out to different Command Operation Posts (COPS). We were going to another FOB that was blown up. We moved from RC South (near Pakistan) to RC East, an area that I found out that another friend of mine had been killed by an IED. We chased the Taliban all over the deserts. Of course, the helicopters are faster than the Taliban on motorcycles.
We are now in the M-ATV’s. On top we have the 50 Calibers. One BIG gun. I am the driver. We did a lot of mounted patrols.
INFO: The Oshkosh M-ATV is a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle developed by the Oshkosh Corporation for the MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) program. Intended to replace the M1114. It is designed to provide the same levels of protection as the larger and heavier previous MRAPs but with improved mobility.
The Battalion Commander shows up in my truck. An MRAP will only go so fast because it weighs so much. I have my foot to the floor in these 18-ton behemoths. The Commander wants to go faster and faster. Me and the first commander just look at each other. We were ordered to go south to a COP area just to see what was going on. It was not a good scene. Remember this place is hit every day, twice a day.
He knew I was the best driver and fighter they had. I had a 240 Bravo kid in the vehicle with us. First thing the kid does is hit the Fire Support System, the fire suppression system. Halogen goes everywhere, this giant flash of white fills the vehicle. I thought to myself, this is what death feels like. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t bad at all. I had thought we had been hit with a mortar or an 82. Once the air filled, I realized it was just a big screw up.
We built a place call COP Yates. That was the name of my Project Officer (PO) who had been killed, the Lieutenant. Life there was not bad at all as far as military life goes.
However, we had no racks to sleep in. So, we had to sleep on the ground.
We were driving in a 3-vehicle convoy, and were always last in the convoy. That way we could always back out, swerve around and get our guns on the bad guys. Or we could flip around and tow that damaged vehicle out. Even if it was seven trucks we were always the last truck in line. We are driving along and the man on the 50 cal says I think I see a surfaced land mine. These are different than an IED. We let the rest of the vehicles know what is up. My First Sargant who is as close as a brother to me, goes and checks it out. He jumps out and starts walking towards this land mine and shuts the door. I turned around and told that 50 cal guy, and said, if anything happens to him I will stick that barrel up his ass. When he got out there it was simply a green sand bag that had been blown away. He kicked it and I thought that was the end of the Boss.
This was the winding down of the operation. On another mission we passed a jingle truck and all of a sudden I felt like it was the end. The First Sarge and I both felt like that was the end. Went back to the FOB without any problems. Just a feeling we both had.
When an individual in our unit was killed we had roll call. All the senior NCO’s from the Battalion would come and sit. They would call the roll of everybody in the Company. All the names called in alphabetical order. They got to this individual who was dead. They would call his name three times. They went on to the next person. It just broke my heart.
Next day I packed my bags and got on the Freedom Bird. I was headed back to Fort Campbell. Got debriefed and was told about this new MOS in Electronic Warfare. He said, you are smart and you would be interested in it. So, I stayed and went into Electronic Warfare Training and graduated from the course.
I landed in 425 Alaska and was told I was going back to Afghanistan. I said, look, I need a shoulder repaired, a neck that needs repair and I have all these injuries. They told me to go get checked out. I had surgery on my neck and surgery on my rotator cuff. I had seizures. I had flashbacks. I was taken off the mission. Nineteen-point six months, we will call it twenty months brother. I got out August 14th 2015. I retired for good.
I also was diagnosed from TBI, (Traumatic Brain Injury). I fell and broke my orbital socket. I was seeing a psychologist in Alaska and diagnosed for PTSD around 2013. The Army knew I had PTSD but was ready to ship me over for a third tour in Afghanistan.
For the first couple of years back at home, I had severe flashbacks. Twice I ended up in the lockdown unit.
My wife and I got into an argument and I got into a flash. I completely tore a locked door off the hinges, threw it to the side and went after her. She had two dogs that were biting me and I just threw them aside. When I got to her throat I realized who she was. I just stopped and backed off. A huge amount of anger. There are still a lot of things afterwards that would have caused my PTSD.
The memories and my dreams in Afghanistan, they were crazy. What they write books about,” said Jerry finishing his story.
PTSD SERIES FOR VETERANS MEMORIAL: Author
I had interviewed several veterans in my “MEET OUR VETERANS,” segments for our website www.vzcm.org and realized four of the last five interviewees shared with me they had been diagnosed with PTSD.
My brother, Jimmy Smith, served with the Marine Corps in Vietnam in 1968. I didn’t know the person who came back from that war. He suffered severe PTSD issues. Over the years Jimmy had gotten involved with the drug cartels and served time in prison. In his 40’s his body, racked with long term drug abuse, liver damage and Agent Orange exposure, passed away from cardiac arrest at a rest stop on a trip from Texas to Florida.
I wanted to learn and understand the symptoms and treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress. I visited a veteran’s, group therapy session, in Tyler several times. I talked to Doctors, Psychiatrist, five PTSD diagnosed veterans and the VA for a 6-Part Series I was working on for the website.
In that research I learned about a treatment called SGB, Stellate Ganglion Block.
That is when I met Jerry Powell. He was doing volunteer work at our Veterans Memorial Visitor’s Center. He shared with me his history and PTSD diagnosis. I told him about SGB and, being a medic in the military he started doing his own research. We continued to collaborate about the treatment and Jerry agreed and was willing to give the procedure a try.
I talked with Dr. Sean Mulvaney. He is a former Navy Seal and medical doctor and considered one of the top PTSD/SGB doctors in the world. He was treating veterans with a 15-minute procedure where he injected the patient with a drug called Ropivacaine into the Stellate Ganglion in the neck. The injection goes into the vein and is directed to the Amygdala part of the brain. The center for fear and anxiety.
Jerry took a PCL-5 test. The standardized test the VA uses to verify a veteran with symptoms of PTSD. The highest score is an 80. Jerry scored a 78. We flew to Annapolis, Maryland on the 17th of September 2019 for the injection.
THE MIRACLE IN ANNAPOLIS:
Jerry Powell in Annapolis, Md.
Comments after SGB Treatment:
Four hours after his SGB treatment, Army veteran Jerry Powell and I went out to eat at a restaurant about a block from Dr. Sean Mulvaney’s office. As we finished our meal Jerry asked me to look over my shoulder. As I turned my head he asked, “Do you see what I see?” I turned my head back and Jerry was smiling. “Do you want to do an experiment with me,” he asked. “Are you ready?” I answered back.
We got up from our table and headed out of the restaurant to drive the hundred yards to the front of the Annapolis Shopping Center. It had been over 20 years since Jerry had stepped foot in a mall. It was time for him to test the SGB block. The advice Dr. Mulvaney had told Jerry in their talks in his office earlier.
As we entered the front doors of the mall I deliberately walked a couple steps behind Jerry. I wanted to see his reactions and ask him questions as we strolled along. We entered the main corridor and Jerry turned right and saw a Sears store and to his left a long way down was a JC Penney’s. Jerry turned right and walked towards the Sears store. He kept his eyes straight ahead, occasionally looking at the storefront displays to his right and left. On a couple of occasions looking at other shoppers but mostly focused on where the men’s department was as we entered Sears. We got to the back and I asked him what he was feeling. He said, “normally, I scan the store looking for a way out. Where are the exits? Perhaps a table I can dive under, looking for that escape route.” He then looked towards the ceiling at the security camera. “Always look for those,” as he pointed up towards the ceiling. Jerry saw the shirts on the men’s rack and looked at the prices and noticing they were 50% off. “I like this one,” he said. Several customers passed by but he was more focused on the shirts and the prices. After several minutes he asked if I would walk down the Penney’s stores to see if maybe he could find a similar one at a cheaper price. Sure, let’s go. Again, I stayed a few paces behind Jerry taking note of his reactions. Once again, his eyes were focused forward, occasionally looking into the other stores. As we entered JC Penney’s Jerry looked for the men’s department and found it in the back. I tagged along. Jerry looked at several shirts but most were overpriced and asked if we could go back to Sears. Once again we walk the Mall. I felt like I was shopping with my wife. Out looking for the best bargains.
Jerry tried on the Extra Large then the XXL and chose the XL. We walked over and a saleslady from Croatia with a thick accent asked Jerry how he was doing. He quickly struck up a conversation with her and asked where she was from. He was recalling his days in Bosnia.
As we left the store I immediately saw her walking towards us. She was about 30 yards away. I glanced over at Jerry. His eyes fixed on the exit door. As she came closer I stayed fixed on Jerry. She passed within a foot of him and in a couple of seconds he started smiling. I asked him what was going on. I knew. “Yesterday,” he said, “I would have been walking fast to the other side of the mall.” The woman he just passed was Islamic wearing a full Hijab. “I would have thought she was a suicide bomber, today she is just a customer,” said Jerry.
I realized at that moment Jerry Powell was back. The 101st Army Airborne light Infantry soldier was home. His war in Bosnia and Afghanistan were over. His demons from PTSD were gone.
8-months after the SGB injection:
In a phone interview I talked to Jerry eight months after his SGB Injection.
Any flashbacks? “Only one minor flashback in last eight months. That was from a motorcycle that was revving up his engine when he passed my house. It took me back to Afghanistan and hearing all the motorcycles. They used them to set IED’s.
What about lack of sleep? “No sleep problems. I used to stay up all hours of the night. Hated to go to sleep because of all the bad memories.
Would you recommend SGB when all has failed for a PTSD veteran and why? I would definitely recommend SGB. It was awesome. It was kind of like the match that lit the fire for me. I would be completely lost without that treatment. I see things like I have never seen before.
How many drugs were you taking before the SGB and how many today? “I took up to 17 drugs before SGB, now taking about five and they are all for seizures I have. Overall I am in a great place,”
If you are a veteran and have tried one on one counseling or group therapy and have taken multiple drugs and you are still in a bad place. I encourage you to please research and consider the SGB Injection.
It is being used on a trial basis at a California VA Hospital. It is not for every veteran, but again, it just may save your life.
Please contact me, Phil Smith, PR Director at the Veterans Memorial in Canton for more information. (903) 567-0657. Please learn more about the SGB 15-minute procedure on our website at www.vzcm.org. Part-6 has more information on the treatment. It is FREE to veterans diagnosed with PTSD thru the Dakota Meyer GoFundMe page.
“I had the SGB treatment and I went from being late for a meeting in New York City to driving in the country with no place to go.” Dakota Meyer – Medal of Honor recipient, Afghanistan
Jerry Powell, thank you for your service to our country while serving in the United States Air Force and the U.S. Army. Your courage and bravery will not be forgotten.
NOTE: Meet other Veterans from Van Zandt County by going to the top of www.vzcm webpage and click on MEET OUR VETERANS and click one of the (5) branches of services and the veterans last name first and click to read.
“Every Veteran has a story to tell.” Phil Smith
GOD BLESS OUR VETERANS AND GOD BLESS AMERICA
(ALL photos on this Facebook page are ©2020, Phil Smith and Van Zandt County Veterans Memorial. NO unauthorized use without permission) All Rights Reserved.
MEET OUR VETERANS:
Tim Pennington was born April 12th, 1971 in Mesquite, Texas. His parents built a house in Canton in 1972 and Tim attended private school in Arlington where the family stayed in a small RV and commuted back to Canton each weekend to work on the family farm. His dad worked at Yellow Freightways in Dallas and on the weekends the family took care of the 80 cattle on their 92-acre farm in Southeast Canton.
This is where Tim learned how to use a manual clutch driving the old farm tractor at a young age of 12 or 13 when he could barely reach the gas or clutch pedals. He wanted to drive everywhere and everything.
Tim fished some for Bass and Gar and Quail and Dove hunting when they were available. He has two older sisters named Valerie and Tina. In 1989 Tim graduated from Burton Adventist Academy. He attended Tarrant County Junior College and TVCC in Athens and eventually took enough classes to get an equivalent of an Associate’s Degree in General Studies.
His dad Bob Pennington served in the Army during Korea. (His profile can be read here wwww.vzcm.org ). His family has a long history dating back to the Civil War, WWI and WWII and Vietnam. His wife’s son is currently serving in the Air Force.
JOINING THE MILITARY:
After taking college courses Tim decided he was not that interested in continuing school so he went over to Tyler and talked with an Air Force recruiter. He had talked to his dad about the Army and thought the Air Force was the right way to go. Tim scored a 93 on the test and had lots of options for a career path. The year was 1991.
He went to Boot Camp at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. “I remember the Drill Sargant came in and said, you may not be going to your tech school training, you may be going straight to Saudi,” said Tim. “Next thing I knew I was heading to Desert Storm as a 46150 Munitions System Specialist. He attended tech school training in a six-week course at Lowery AFB in Denver. I liked the idea of working with bombs and ammunitions. Hey, it makes things go BOOM, that sounds like a lot of fun,” laughed Tim.
“I trained on a lot of air-to-air and air-to-ground using Mark-82s and Mark-84s. The 82’s were the 500-pound general purpose bombs and the 84s were the 2,000-pound general purpose bombs. I also trained on the Blu-102’s which were both air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles. I worked with some C-4 and small arms like the 556 and how to look for the rust and corrosion and some training on using grenades.
HAHN AFB, GERMANY:
“My first station was Hahn Air Force Base in Germany,” Tim said. “It was cool, but a little bit of a culture shock. Our Command was based in Ramstein and our over 100-acre bomb dump was in Morbach, Germany. I was single at the time and was moved to off base housing outside of Hahn after Hahn AFB closed down. It was nice over there, I liked it,” said Tim with a smile. “We were on 12-hour shifts, 7-days a week putting munitions together and sending them to the railheads.
I was usually running a 15K Forklift loading the railhead or riding in the government contracted German 40-foot flatbed trucks transporting the finished products from the bomb dump to the railhead.
The Mark 82 and 84’s they didn’t use in Desert Storm was sent back to us to repair and sandblast everything. I spent about a year and a half in Hahn. I was offered an early out of the Air Force if I wanted to go back to college. I would still be in the IRR, Inactive Ready Reserve. I liked the Air Force but realized I really didn’t like to work with bombs as much as I thought I did with the hazards and the short life spans working in that career. There are no mistakes you live from, or telling a story after the fact,” he said.
JOINING THE ARMY:
Tim received his early out and went back to college. “Still wasn’t thrilled with college,” Tim said. “I’ll go back to the Air Force and load bombs if I have too. Since my time out of the Air Force they had condensed all those 461 MOS’s into one career field. They would train an Airman to be “Jack of All Trades,” he said. “A lot more work load, more risks and more OJT, “On the Job Training.”
Six months later Tim was back to Tyler and the recruiting offices. They had Air Force, Army and then Marine recruiting offices. “I am glad the Army came before the Marines, or I would have been in trouble,” laughed Tim. “I started out as a Grand Ole PFC in the Army. I even had to go back to basic. I guess the Army didn’t think the Air Force basic was that hard. So off to boot again.
This time at “Fort, lost in the woods,” I mean Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I did both boot and AIT there. On graduation they gave me several options and I was not too thrilled. Then they asked me if I could drive.
Yea, I can drive. Well then you will be in 88-Mike and off I went,” said Tim. “The Army used mostly 5-ton, Humvee and the old 931’s which were basically the Deuce and a Halves,” Tim said.
“I had the opportunity to join the 82nd Airborne Special Forces and decided to give that a try. Off to Fort Benning, Georgia I went. It can’t be that hard,” said Tim. “I love to run and at Ft. Leonard Wood we ran, and ran a lot on rollercoaster roads. I was in good shape but ended up getting shin splints. They are hard to get rid of. When I got to Airborne School I ran every day. I made it thru the second week and I just couldn’t take the pain anymore. I got a release and the Army assigned me to Fort Eustace, Virginia, the 7th Group 10th Battalion motor pool.”
“I do remember looking at my records online and I came across my military career and saw where there was a completed certificate for Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. What the Hell? I thought. To this day I still do not know why they have me completing the course when I was only there for two weeks. I went thru my S-1 and told them it needed to be removed. They never removed it. I am not going to wear something I never earned,” stated Tim emphatically.
I did a lot of different training there including working with the HAGLAN Crane in Norfolk off the USS Independence. We did a 72-hour exercise where we loaded 949 vehicles and unloaded them. I was only one who knew how to drive the Deuce and a Half with a clutch. I eventually became the Battalion driver. I did that for about 2-years.
Tim got a letter from the Department of Defense and they said he had been selected to go to the White House Communications Agency in their transportation section. My security clearance from my time in the Air Force helped me to get this position.
I was then upgraded to a top-secret security clearance. This was during the end of 1995. It was good and bad times for me. I was married for about 18-months. I was gone a lot travelling and about this same time my wife decided to file for divorce. So, there were some happy days and some not so happy times during this period,” said Tim.
In the Fall of 1996 Tim was going thru a divorce and heading to Washington D.C. to work with the White House. Bill Clinton was the President and Tim worked with the Clinton staff for about three years.
It was a special assignment so Tim signed up for four-years of duty which paid for his move to Washington and costs for his top-secret security clearance. After the first four years he was involuntarily extended again, for the White House duty.
President George W. Bush was the new President. “I was pushing to get Crawford, Texas set up and maintained for the new incoming President, George W. Bush Jr. One of my side jobs working in Washington was working logistics and operations. I would travel with the Officer in Charge and we would go in advance to wherever the President was going to be visiting stateside or overseas. We provided all the communications for everybody and all the support required by the President. We worked with different branches of the military and different branches of the government,” said Tim.
“I was assigned to drive Fords and Volvos in the 48 and 53-foot Boxed and lowboy commercial government 18-wheeler trucks. The big rigs had a single sleeper in them for long haul runs. We drove them cross-country quite a bit. I saw parts of America I had never seen before. I had remarried in 1997 and those long road hauls were fun at first, but got old quick.”
“It was a great job travelling the world and not having to be in a uniform or being in the Middle East. I travelled to England, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Nicaragua, and Bangladesh. We spent a lot of hours in C-5s. I had never seen poverty and the extent of a people going hungry like I did in Nicaragua. I was traveling around in a rickshaw and could look down and see the dirt roads.
I saw so many kids begging for food. At night I would look up at these hills and all the lights. Those were fires inside the homes. They had no doors, windows or roofs, no running water or bathroom and they would have little campfires in the house where they cooked their food. Now, that is primitive. Here in America no one could survive in that type of environment. The country also some of the most active volcanoes in the world. The country had a bad mud slide when I was working with the Clinton Administration. They were flying over for a humanitarian aid visit and we rode along on some of the Helicopters and saw the devastation from the mud slide. Villages were levelled and so many people killed. Those sights made a big impact on me,” said Tim.
“On the bright side I enjoyed Ireland and England. Three times I spent three weeks at a time in England. We would usually arrive about ten days before the President and get set up. We worked a regular 8-5 job and had time in the evenings to visit the area. We visited the Parliament and Big Ben in England. Being in logistics I was able to assign what vehicles we would be driving around the country in. I picked a Jaguar. In most of the countries we visited we were assigned drivers, so I was able to enjoy the countryside of England in the back of a Jag. We wanted to visit the mom and pop places and not the traditional McDonald franchises.” Tim was King for the day.
“On my second stint is when 9-11 hit,” said Tim. It was just a normal day. My office was located right across from the Potomac from the Pentagon. We saw the smoke coming from the first tower and watching on the television. We all thought, this can’t be right. The consensus was this is a terrorist attack. Then our building starts to shake. This facility is concrete blocks and few windows. We all ran outside to see what was going on.
We saw large black smoke come up from the Pentagon. Then we hear the sirens and a jet buzzed right over our heads heading to New York. At this point there is mass chaos. Everyone was told to get out of D.C., civilians, tourists and government. I was put on the night shift and slept as much as I could during the day. They needed people who knew the roads of D.C. and I knew them very well. None of us knew what to expect next. We shuttled civilian and government around D.C. where there was limited parking and dropped off and picked up at central locations. We did that from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday thru Friday. We lived in Maryland at the time and sometimes it would take from 1-3 hours for the trip to the office. There were a lot of 12-hour days,” said Tim.
“The sheer panic on people’s faces is what I remember most. The confusion and fear. The horror of the whole thing and people’s lives were so disrupted. They all have nightmares, most have PTSD,” said Tim looking down at the floor in his own thoughts.
From a Patriotic and Military standpoint, Tim went on to say he saw people lining the streets holding American flags, there were flags all over the bridges. “It shouldn’t take an attack on American soil to bring out the love for this country. We have become so complacent in this country and not thankful of what we have. A month or two after 9-11 people were right back to their lives before the attack. They forgot so easily,” said Tim solemnly.
WORKING IN CRAWFORD, TEXAS:
“I was still working logistics for President Bush as I was for Clinton,” Tim said. “It was right after 9-11 and I received another involuntary extension and was assigned my next four years to go to Crawford, Texas. It was nice since I was closer to Canton. My parents were able to come down and stay in the same hotel I was in and able to eat dinner and visit. I was a Sergeant now and feeling more comfortable in my role and job working alongside the White House and the Senior Officers,” he said.
Tim can’t talk a lot about the logistic of working in Crawford where he became very close to President Bush and his wife Laura. “I can say that he was always and still is a big supporter of the military,” said Tim. “There were a lot of pre-checks and going into certain facilities within the ranch. Normally, there was always an escort. But, because of the trust I had earned thru different agencies, I was able to do many of the pre-checks without an escort. It was an honor, but also made me a little nervous. We are talking about the President of the United States here,” he laughed.
Tim had close or direct contact with the first family. He worked hand in hand with the Ranch Manager, the Deputy and Chief of Staff at the White House. Tim was the go-to person if there was any problems with a building, vehicle, hotel, tv, or any issues within the ranch. With his hands-on experience, background and top-secret security clearance Tim was a very trusted person around the President.
“I guess since I was “good ole country folk” and from Texas I fit right In,” smiled Tim. “Where the trust came in, was when I went down and I proved myself on the first couple of trips. They got feedback from the Chief of Staff, the Deputy Chief of Staff, the Ranch Manager, Secret Service and even the President himself. That reinforced to me and everyone that, “hey this guy must know what he is doing.”
For his service Tim received a very nice citation and letter from the White House for his service. It read:
Sergeant Timothy B. Pennington, United States Army, distinguished himself by exceptionally meritorious service as Crawford Communications Detachment Operations Noncommissioned Officer, Special Missions, Command, White House Communications Agency, from 3 December 1996 to 1 July 2005. Sergeant Pennington obligated over 1.8 million dollars in business contracts supporting 40 Presidential missions to Crawford, Texas, including 12 Heads of State visits.
He was solely responsible for travel plans and lodging arrangements for over 1,000 personnel that deployed to the ranch in support of these visits, receiving praise from the White House Travel Office for his diligence in accomplishing the mission. Sergeant Pennington volunteered for and assumed duties as facility manager of three additional mobile homes worth over 100,000 dollars on the ranch after the White House Military Office representative departed unexpectedly. He was commended by the White House deputy chief of Staff or his 3 years of outstanding service and support. Sergeant Pennington worked around the clock identifying damaged equipment and ordering 70,000 dollars’ worth of repair parts after a catastrophic lightning strike crippled multiple communications systems 48 hours prior to a Presidential visit. His efforts resulted in a 100 per cent communications restoral. He navigated congested streets transporting 117 mission-critical personnel to the white House complex during 1999 North Atlantic Treaty Organization Summit. He taught drivers training, which resulted in 102 newly assigned personnel becoming licensed drivers. He drove over 80,000 miles in 5 years while transporting 15,000 people without incident. The distinctive accomplishments of Sergeant Pennington reflect credit upon himself, the United States Army, and the Department of Defense.
Signed: The White House
KUWAIT ( June 2005 – June 2006 ):
Tim spent five years of his career working in Crawford and kept up little with what was going on in other parts of the world. “I had no clue what was going on in Kuwait when I got my orders,” said Tim. “I was assigned the Brigade driver.
I was the personal protection for Senior Officers and civilians for the Brigade. I was also the driver and every civilian that came thru had to go thru a driving course. I was their instructor. We did both air and ground ops over Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait and Afghanistan and other duties assigned as needed. I was driving around in an upper armored Tahoe. BIG difference from being in Crawford, Texas to the Middle East,” Tim laughed.
Tim was transporting several VIP’s all around the area. On one particular assignment he was driving the Tahoe. On the side was his 12-gauge tactical shotgun. In the vehicle with him were an outgoing and incoming Sergeant Majors, Captain and a Major. Three in the back and one in the front. All had on seatbelts except Tim. “I never wore my seatbelt over there because If I needed quick access to my shotgun I wanted to be able to exit the vehicle quickly. We were headed to one of the bases near the Iraqi border for a meeting. There had been a sandstorm the day before and was difficult to navigate. I wasn’t really familiar with the area and rarely drove that far north. We finally saw the base and had gone too far so we had to cross back. We were late for the meeting and I saw this hump in front of us. It was like a big sandhill and I was going to slow down. The Sergeant Major yelled “speed up” and I gunned it to jump over the hill. At the last second, I saw there was about a two-foot-wide by four-foot-deep ditch. I yelled, “hang on.” I floored it and jumped it and cleared it. The back end came up and threw me into the headboard. It crunched my neck and I started seeing stars. The Sergeant Major was yelling, coffee flying and computers banging all over the vehicle. I just kept my mouth shut. I was pretty dizzy and had an extreme headache. I couldn’t just stop and yell time out and get another driver. I was it.
FT. MEADE, MARYLAND ( 2006 – 2009 ):
In 2006, Tim received his orders to become a Department of Defense Courier Service at Ft. Meade, Maryland. He did a lot of travelling across the U.S. and Canada transporting small boxes and using forklifts.
We transported nation’s secrets all over the world. We never knew what we were transporting. Sometimes we would hop in a vehicle and deliver the package and sometimes we would hop on a plane and make the delivery. We lived on base and met a lot of good friends. Once again, I was the trainer for lot of the drivers who did not know how to use a clutch. I never owned a CDL, a commercial driver’s license. I saved the government $3,000 by not ever having to take the course.
FT. HOOD, TEXAS ( 2009-2012 ):
In 2010 thru 2011 Tim was sent to Iraq. He was working in the G-3 operations working mainly inside the wire. His main responsibility was supporting the MSL mission support orders and assigned the tasks to our units or battalions. We handled and assigned the casualty notifications, blotter reports of all types including suicides.
During this period Tim was stationed back at Ft. Hood in Texas. He was having a hard time with PT, his physical therapy tests. Tim finally realized he needed to get profiled. “Every time I put my gear on I felt a numbness in my hands and arms,” Tim said. In January 2012 he went thru the MEB, a Medical Evaluation Board. It took about eight months and his top-secret clearance became in-active.
Tim has thought about that incident in Kuwait in 2005 and asked himself why he didn’t get checked out right after the incident? Why he did not document what happened to him? “It is the stigma attached to it,” Tim said dejectedly. The stigma of asking for help and getting judged, declared a bad person and you are screwed. Your career is screwed and your security clearance is pulled because they can’t trust you. Getting rank, getting promoted and you won’t be put in leadership positions. I had that fear of asking for help. I had a top-secret clearance my entire career. There was a lot of pressure on me. You could not be in debt. Once you lose your security clearance, you will never get it back. That was my biggest fear and getting stuck doing something, I had no experience at.”
Tim did not qualify for combat compensation pay. Kuwait was a combat zone at the time he was stationed there. In 2012, seven years after the incident in Kuwait, Tim was given a medical discharge and diagnosed with PTSD. He has no documentation of the accident in Kuwait.
With the VA, it is a revolving door. No documentation, therefor no proof. “During that seven years, I never felt like I did anything to stress it. When I got back to Ft. Hood and started exercising more it seemed to aggravate it more.”
Tim received an initial PTSD rating with 80% disability. Travelling to Nicaragua, in Bangladesh when an F-16 from an air show slammed into the hotel next to where he was staying, the 9-11 aftermath, a decapitated body in Kuwait, and being stationed at Ft. Hood during the shooting incident all cumulatively added to his PTSD diagnosis. He was reevaluated later for knee, neck and PTSD and the disability was raised to 90%. In 2015 Tim received a full 100% disability with a 3rd diagnosis. For Tim Pennington, getting past the pride and realizing his trigger points, help him get to the next day. He understands drugs and alcohol, for the most part, only mask the pain.
PTSD is a daily struggle, there is no cure. You just have to cope with it the best way possible. I don’t like crowds, I don’t like to be in an area where kids will be screaming and hollering. It reminds me of kids starving, bleeding, missing limbs or parents killed.
Having PTSD, and being deployed for long periods, was very difficult on his marriage and his children. “The spouse has to play both roles at home,” said Tim. “They become heads of the house, take care of the medical needs, the kids, go shopping, they too become secluded and have no help. That is a lot to deal with.” Many marriages don’t survive and in Tim’s case two failed marriages. “I saw that so many times at Ft. Hood. A vet comes home, sees his bank account empty, no one at the house and a manila folder with the divorce paper’s inside. Next thing we hear is he has taken his own life. Unfortunately, I have seen it too many times, said Tim.”
MEMORIES FROM THE MILITARY:
“My fondest memories of the military was working down at the ranch in Crawford and meeting a lot of neat people. I was only an E-5 and got to see and meet people and have that opportunity. It was a lot of work, but it sure was rewarding. That was the “High Point” of my career. Feeling part of a mission in the military was really important to me. Being part of something bigger than I could have imagined. I wouldn’t trade the comradeship and the structure of the military for anything. I learned to hang low and your ass lower,” he laughed.
“One of my special missions was providing transportation and security for a group of military senior officers to meet/dine with Senior Kuwaiti officials. This meeting was held at the Prince of Kuwait compound. I had two marines to help me with security. Once the dignitaries finished eating and moved to a man-made grassy area, my Colonel signaled me to have the two marines come and get something to eat, after they got done eating, I went to get a plate.
The Prince of Kuwait came over and introduced himself, asked if I would like something to drink, I said sure, he came out with what looked like milk, it was… it was goats milk. He asked if I had kids, I spoke of my daughters and it happen that he had several kids and several wives, but that wasn’t the point. The point was he had a son about same age as my oldest, and I caught on quick to what he was trying to hint, so did my Col who squeezed my shoulder as he knew how my mouth sometimes got me in bit of a bind. Well back to the milk, the milk was goats milk, so the Prince asked if I wanted more, I said sure and my Colonel thumped my ear in a reminder to mind my manners. This party didn’t start until 10pm due to the heat and I think we finally got back on base around 6 a.m.,” said Tim.
Today, Tim is happily married to a wonderful Christian woman, with two beautiful daughters and a stepson in the Air Force. “I want to take my wife to London, England for a couple of weeks,” said Tim. “My wife and I got married October 22nd 2016 in Hawaii. She is my Angel, without her, I do not know where I would be. She has been understanding about my trauma and very patient with me. She has also never been out of the country. I spent several trips to London when I was in England and it has a lot of places to see without leaving the city. Even though I am a good driver, it is a little different driving on the wrong side of the road,” he laughed.
Tim likes to hunt and has started a Facebook page on hunting and fishing with veterans called Van Zandt County Veterans Alliance. “ I have always wanted to go Moose hunting, I could build a house around one of their racks,” he laughed.
“I have been involved with non-profits that take out disabled veterans and combat veterans on deer-meat hunts. The hunt is secondary where being together with vets and the campfire, drink a few cold ones and just the comradeship is the goal. If a veteran is struggling, that is when they will likely talk about it. A chance to open up with like-minded veterans. It helped me thru my dark times. This page is for veterans in Van Zandt County to go off on these hunts and fishing trips, to try and get them out from the “dark side.” We want them to realize that there are other veterans and people who care,” he said.
The Veterans Memorial in Van Zandt County has teamed up with Tim and Veterans Alliance to help veterans in the county have an opportunity to hunt big game, meat-hunt or book a group fishing trip.
Please visit Tim’s Facebook page at Veterans Alliance. if you want to learn more about Post Traumatic Stress please visit our webpage at www.vzcm.org and click on the top, 6-Part PTSD series.
Tim Pennington, thank you for your service to our country while serving in the United States Air Force and Army. Your courage and bravery will not be forgotten.
NOTE: Meet other Veterans from Van Zandt County by going to the top of www.vzcm webpage and click on MEET OUR VETERANS and click one of the (5) branches of services and the veterans last name first and click to read.
“Every Veteran has a story to tell.” Phil Smith
GOD BLESS OUR VETERANS AND GOD BLESS AMERICA
(ALL photos on this Facebook page are ©2020, Phil Smith and Van Zandt County Veterans Memorial. NO unauthorized use without permission) All Rights Reserved.
MEET OUR VETERANS:
Cary Hilliard’s father was a Doctor in the Navy during WWII and was stationed in the Pacific. His mother and father married in medical school and when he graduated he went into the Navy and she came to Canton to live with his parents.
“My mother was pregnant with me and my grandfather drove her to Dallas and I was born on February 2nd, 1945 in the old Florence Nightingale Hospital. The next day we came back to Canton and I have lived here ever since,” said Cary in a phone interview.
Cary had a younger sister, Andrea, and a younger brother, George, who was 14 years younger than him. His dad’s name was George Homer Hilliard, Jr. and his mother’s name was Faughlette. Her father, Faugh, was also a Doctor during WWII. His grandfather Sr. was in the Army during WWI. So, his Grandfather and Great-Grandfather were Doctors and two Great Uncles who were Doctors along with his father and uncle were all Doctors.
GROWING UP IN CANTON
“I grew up in a one-story frame house that my Grandfather lived in. When I was about a year-old my mother took a military train to visit my dad in San Diego. They lived in a Quonset hut until the end of the war. His parents came home and his dad worked in a clinic in Dr. Baker’s office in Wills Point. He worked there for about a year. At that time, he lived in an upstairs garage apartment in Wills Point. “We lived there until I was about two years old. My dad eventually came back to Canton to practice where he occupied the same office in the Eagle Drug Store that my uncle Dr. Horace Hilliard had used. Dr. Horace had passed away before my dad came back to Canton,” Cary said.
“This was in the late 40’s. We moved to a little frame house which is the Allstate office today. Eventually we moved to where I grew up near my grandparents’ house about a block away.
There were a bunch of kids around my age in the neighborhood and we just played all the time. Of course, the houses were not air conditioned in those days. I started the first grade in Canton and there were about 50-60 of us in the class,” he said Cary was involved in the Boy Scouts and church activities in the early years and met new friends to pal around with when he started school.
“My Grandfather who lived across the street from us was a merchant at a place called Hilliard Furniture in downtown Canton. My great Grandfather built that building. His sons, including My Grandfather helped run the business. He and his brother, Dr. Horace Hilliard, loved cattle and they started purchasing land around Canton for about 15-20 years. My Grandfather was kind of like a cowboy,” said Cary. “He loved cattle and eventually he sold his part of the store and went full time in raising cattle. My father also got interested in cattle too. My first memories were when my dad and grandfather went out and started buying cattle. My dad was a Doctor but he enjoyed clearing up land and raising cattle with his brother on the weekends. They were very close and best friends. Soon, I was tagging along with them. Around 1954 my grandfather got rheumatoid arthritis. He was almost disabled. My father had to take over the cattle business. My grandfather had about 1,500 acres and different farms all over. My dad never had any time off being a doctor and running the cattle.
My father really liked this piece of property near Hwy 17. It was over 400 acres. My grandfather owned the land and my dad inherited that property when my grandfather passed away in August of 1959.
My dad eventually turned into an independent operator and raised his own cattle there, along with my grandfather’s other farms. My dad raised regular cattle along with registered Hereford’s. Every weekend the family would go out to that farm and work on it. Within a couple of years of purchasing the property my dad started building a large cabin on the property. My dad designed the cabin over the lake and we cut the Red Oak trees off the property to build it. We lived there on the weekends while I was growing up. Eventually the family added a bathroom, a kitchen and another bedroom and a screened in front porch,” said Cary.
“I got my driver’s license when I was a sophomore in High School and started spending more time with my friends. I had been driving since I was 12 years old. My dad hired me to mow different pastures including our place on Hwy 17. We had a tractor and mower. He paid me $5. a day. I would mow all day long. Sometimes, it would take me a month to mow all those pastures,” laughed Cary.
Cary played guard on the basketball team at Canton High School and little bit of football. “I only weighed about 120 pounds in High School,” laughed Cary. “I never was a great athlete. I was an honor student in High School. I graduated in 1963 and there were only about 60 of us in the class. Out of that class maybe ten of us went to college and the rest went out and got jobs. My dad and my grandmother, who had a great influence on my life, both went to Baylor. She thought I should have been a preacher. So, I knew I was going to college. My dad wanted me to go to medical school and that was his plan.
I only applied to one school and that was Baylor. I had never been to Waco nor had I ever seen the campus. I just knew it was a strict Baptist school and it was a good pre-Med school. I got accepted to Baylor and hopped into my car and wasn’t sure how to get to Waco. Went I got to Waco I still didn’t know where the campus was.
At the time, I assumed I was going to be a doctor, so I applied for pre-Med. To be honest, I was not prepared to study. I thought I was going to sail thru Baylor like I sailed thru High School. It was a huge shock to my system. I took Chemistry and Physics in High School from a guy who never had a Chemistry or Physics course. The only thing I was prepared for was Math and English. Those Chemistry classed just ate me up. I did really well in Biology, History, Math and English. The other classes floored me. You had to pass those classes to get into Medical School. I had to take a Chemistry course twice. My grades were not as good as I thought they should have been and I was also getting tired of school. It was my Junior year in college.”
In early 1967 Cary got a notice from the Selective Service Board. “Several of my friends in college got married and others got deferments from the military. I figured at this point in my life I was going into the Army. In the Spring of my senior year I was going to join the Navy. My dad was in the Navy and he liked it so I thought I would go into that branch, too. I went to the Navy recruiter’s office and took the test and the physical. They accepted me into the Navy based on my interview with two officers in Dallas. However, both of them were jerks. I didn’t like either one of them. I then received a letter from the Navy medical office saying I didn’t qualify because I had a history of asthma. I told them I had never had asthma in my life. On the form, they said, you had hay fever as a kid and you are out. The Army also sent me a notice to report for duty. I reported to the Army and noticed a sign down the hall that said United States Air Force Recruiting Office. I thought, maybe the Air Force will take me. I told the recruiter my situation and he said, “ son, I have an answer for you. Go in that room and I am going to give you a test. It will take about two hours. I took the test and thought it was pretty simple. He scored it I nearly made a 100,” laughed Cary. “He looked at me and said, “ son, don’t worry about the Army, you are going to be in the Air Force.” Two weeks later I was in the United States Air Force with a three-year commitment and going into (OTS) Officer’s Training School.”
JOINING THE AIR FORCE
Cary received his orders to report to Lackland Air Force Base in early 1968. With a college graduation date or a degree, you could go directly into OTS. The Air Force was needing more officers and the Vietnam War was in full combat mode. “I went back to Baylor and graduated and had some time before I reported to OTS.
All the classes were full and I was waiting for an opening. I went up to Dallas for a job and started working for an Engineering firm called Halff and Associates. The owner was an old German man and had graduated from Texas A&M. I told him I needed a job until I got into OTC in the Air Force. He told me he could use a guy working the survey division. I got an apartment on the north end of Love Field in Dallas. There were a lot of women living in the apartments. Most were stewardesses working for the airlines. There were about a thousand women and fifty guys living there. I said, boy, this is Heaven on Earth,” he laughed.
“I started working for the firm in early September and at the end of the month I got a letter from the Air Force telling me there was an opening in the upcoming class at OTC and it starts in November. I worked at Halff until the last week and then drove down to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. My car sat in the parking lot for the next two months.
I went thru basic OTS getting a uniform and having all my hair cut off. We marched and marched every day. During this time, I also had applied for pilot training. My uncle was a retired Air Force pilot from WWII and a highly decorated guy. He was very happy that I had joined the Air Force. He and I were buddies and had been close for years. He told me I was going to fly airplanes and I said, “yes sir I am,” said Cary.
“They checked my vision and said it was not 100%. They told me I could be a navigator but not a pilot. I didn’t want to be a navigator and told them to give me something else. About a week before graduation I get this three-inch stack of orders of where I could serve. They told me I was going to be an 1825, Minuteman Two Missile Launch Officer. What the heck is that? I asked, and where am I going?”
GRAND FORKS AFB IN NORTH DAKOTA
Cary had no idea where Grand Forks, North Dakota was. He was told it was next door to Canada. They told him he had no choice, here you go, goodbye.
So, he graduated from Officer Training School. His famous uncle came along with his dad and family and there was a big parade for graduation. My uncle asked me, “Son, where you going?” “I said, well, I am going to Grand Forks, North Dakota.” He said, “Well, let me tell you some good news. Anywhere you go after that will only get better,” laughed Cary.
Cary learned how to be a Launch Officer on the ground for Minuteman 2 and then became an instructor. His Commander was a really nice guy and sharp as a tack and the Cary moved up rank in the Air Force.
Cary continued teaching class and about every four or five weeks he got in a new class. “Two of the guys in class were friends of mine from Officer Training School. From OTS they had gone to pilot training. They had both washed out. The class was full of guys who had washed out of pilot training and some had gone to navigator school and had washed out of that too. They had kidded me a lot for not going and now I am giving them paybacks for washing out. It was ironic,” laughed Cary.
“Inside the Command Center, On the left side, was the launch control center. This looked like another big egg and all the equipment was stored here. There were two computerized consoles that lit up. At both stations you monitored fifty nuclear weapons. Each was tipped with a nuclear bomb.” Cary can’t discuss a lot about his duties for security reasons, but said it was a really neat job.
“I went thru two blizzards and some of the coldest weather you could ever imagine in your life. Every car had to be plugged in and the heater going to keep the oil from turning into grease. In the summers there were ten billion mosquitos to contend with. North Dakota is flat as a pancake. There are swamps and water standing everywhere.” Cary said.
“There was the University of North Dakota and lots of girls there. I started dating a girl from the campus. Her dad was a Colonel. We got along really, really well. We eventually became engaged and was going to get married. I bought her a ring. Her mother was really pushing us to get married, but I wasn’t ready to get at that time,” said Cary.
“Then I got my next orders to Vandenberg AFB and be an instructor in California, on the beach. I said, “By gosh, get me out of here. I had been in Grand Forks for about two years.
VANDENBURG AFB, CALIFORNIA
Cary packed up all his belongings, hopped in his car, and headed for California. The Colonel’s daughter was in college and stayed behind. I got to California and became an instructor. I taught both in the simulator and in the classroom. I had a great time and met some new girls. I eventually called my fiancé and thought our relationship was a little pre-mature and called off our relationship. I broke her heart, and it made her mother a little angry. Her mother could have shot me. Her father, the full Colonel, flew out to see me. We went out to dinner and talked man to man. He was a heck of a nice guy. I was only 24 years old at the time. His daughter was 21 and I just told him I was not ready to settle down. He said, “If you are not ready, then don’t do it.” We shook hands and I never saw him again,” said Cary.
BECOMING A PILOT
Cary continued his training at Vandenburg and a good friend of his told him they had another chance to go to pilot training. “I said, what are you talking about?” asked Cary. “the Air Force wants 1st Lieutenants and Captains that did not qualify medically the first time can go with for a waiver and go to pilot training. We both applied, again, for pilot training. I had been in the Air Force for five years and had made Captain and had to go and take the physical again for pilot training. I was sitting in my office one day and a Colonel ,who was a Doctor, called and informed me he was reviewing my application for pilot training. All I see here is you have a little stigmatism but it is correctable with glasses to 20-20. It said it was pretty minor and asked if I was still interested. I said, sure. My application was stamped APPROVED.
Two weeks later I get a call that I was accepted and asked where I wanted to go to pilot training? I said, “Well how about Lubbock. I like Texas and would like to go back there. So, I was sent to Reese AFB in Lubbock, Texas.
Cary spent a little over a year of training in Lubbock. He got there in August of 1972. “Most of the pilot training classes were made up of Air Force Academy 2nd Lieutenants. It is a GUNG-HO bunch and they all want to be pilots. They usually all go in July and August. They needed some Captains to be class section leaders or class commanders of these young group of pilots. I would oversee about forty 2nd Lieutenants. There were two Captains in our class and one was a former navigator. He was senior to me for about six months. He was the class commander and I was the deputy class commander. I was in charge of forty Lieutenants.
They split us up into two sections. We flew T-41’s which was basically a souped-up civilian Cessna 72 airplane. We would go to class in the morning and fly in the afternoon. That went on for about six weeks of flying. Some of the class had flown before and were from foreign countries. Some of them had 200-300 hours of flying time. They were good pilots to start with. We did solo’s and went out and did all the flight checks. Basic 20-30 hours of training.
When we completed that training, we went back over to Reese. There we trained on the Cessna T-37’s, a twin-engine jet. Here you sit side by side in the plane. That is where you put on a helmet and mask and do basic acro, air maneuvers, instruments and basic formations. It is a fun and very safe airplane to fly. We trained on them for about four months. It was the same routine, where you train in the morning and fly in the afternoon and vice versa. You also did a lot of solo flying at night.
The class leader who was a navigator was training and got really scared and almost had a midair collision over the base. He landed, came over and put his helmet on the instructor’s desk and quit. They came to me and said you are now the class commander. So, now I am head of this class of about seventy pilots. We graduate from there and now go over to the T-38s.
The T-38’s are called the white rockets which is a twin-engine supersonic plane. In that plane you sit behind each other. In the T-37’s you can look over and see the instructor’s but not in the 38’s. We did formation flying and some cross country flying. You are a much better trained pilot at this point,” Cary said.
While living in Lubbock Cary met a girl who was flight attendant for Braniff. Her name was Sandy. “She was a smart and attractive lady, a down to earth Texas girl,” Cary said. “She was my age, about 27 or 28. She knew a lot about airplanes and flying. It was not a shock to her what I did. We met on a blind date. We dated for about six months,” said Cary. “He was in pilot training when I met him,” said Cary’s wife, Sandy. “One of his student’s wives asked me if I would consider going out with this older guy,” laughed Sandy. “I am six months older than he is,” she said. “We met at a popular tavern in Lubbock. Most of our conversation was about how we were not interested in any kind of relationship. My parents lived in Lubbock and I said sure I will go out with you and party when I am in town. Six months later we were married,” Sandy said.
MOVING TO LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS
It came graduation day and each pilot was ranked, like from 1 thru 70. “The guys on the bottom are probably going to be B-52 pilots,” Cary said. “Those on the top became F-4 or F-105 pilots.
The top guys go to fighter pilots and the lower ones go to bombers. I was kind of in the middle,” said Cary. “I didn’t want to be a fighter pilot so I ended up flying an AC-130 gunship which was going over to Thailand. The Vietnam War was still going on.
I went to Little Rock to learn how to fly C-130’s. I spent about two months learning to fly all the systems and the simulator of the C-130,” Cary said
While in Little Rock Cary and Sandy decided to get married. I took her to meet the family in Canton. The meeting went great and we went back to Little Rock,” Cary said.
Soon after, Cary got a phone call that his dad was in the hospital. “I came home that weekend,” said Cary. “Sandy and I went to Tyler to see my dad in the hospital. The doctor came out and told me my dad had passed away about thirty minutes before we arrived. We had the funeral and it was a big shock to the family,” said an emotional Cary.
“The day after my dad’s funeral, Sandy and I got married. That was in November of 1973. We got married by the minister of the First Baptist Church in Canton. We got married in his living room,” laughed Cary. “His mother, sister and brother and I believe his grandmother were there,” recalled Sandy. “It was a sad time for me. He told me if I ever needed you in my life, its now,” Sandy told me over the phone.
“I went back to my boss in Little Rock,” said Cary, “and told him about my father and said I didn’t think Thailand was the best place for me. Another of the pilots and I traded pilot positions. He took my gunship job and I went to a slot at Dyass AFB in Abilene. I went into plain C-130’s. It gave me the opportunity to be closer to my family,” said Cary.
FLYING THE C-130
There was a big difference in flying the AC-130 gunship and the C-130 cargo plane. “The C-130 gunship is a very heavy plane,” explained Cary. “You fly in circles and shoot. You don’t get to see a whole part of the world. The C-130 was strictly a cargo plane and gave me the opportunity to fly all over the world. You few tactical and low level and night low level along with parachute drops. We also did heavy equipment, air personals, short field landings and take-offs. It was a very versatile and neat plane to fly,” said Cary.
FLYING AROUND THE WORLD
“I was in Dyass for three years and half of the time I spent in Europe,” said Cary. “I was in England or Germany on rotations. When I got back home we would be flying tactical missions. I flew over to Ft. Bragg and had the Army jumping out of the plane,” Cary said.
“I flew to Panama and the Philippines, Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific. I was transferred to Japan for a three-year assignment. Sandy knew she could no longer work as air airline stewardess for Braniff, quit and went to Japan with me,” Cary said.
“I was the last girl to be put on the PACMAC as a reserve for Braniff. I spent a lot of my time in Vietnam, Philippines, and Japan and bringing the guys back and forth.
When the POW’s came back home from Vietnam I was an escort for one of the top 10 POW’s. They had been released from the Hanoi Hilton in 1973.
Ross Perot from Dallas was very instrumental and getting the Prisoner’s back to America. I got to know the POW’s very well. It was quite a shock for them to see how our country and their families had changed. It was a very moving experience for me,” Sandy said.
“When Cary got orders to Japan I retired from Braniff,” said Sandy. “They wanted me to stay but I did not want to leave for a three-year absence and then come back and take a job back from another stewardess only because I had more seniority. It just wasn’t right,” Sandy recalled. “After about a year in Japan, Braniff went bankrupt for the first time.
“Japan was very interesting,” recalled Sandy.
“I wanted to get out and know the people and the country. I taught conversation English in a village up in the mountains.
They wanted to be able to speak conversation, not proper English. It was an hour’s train ride from Fusa City near the AFB. I was never scared to go on a train anywhere in Japan. I felt very safe there,” Sandy said.
“I also learned to do “KATA” dancing. It is street dancing the Japanese women do in their parades and festivals. I also did a lot of volunteer work, even opening a bank account, which I think, still has some Yen in it,” laughed Sandy.
SCOTT AFB IN ILLINOIS
“From Japan I was told I needed to move to Headquarters and get a staff job to get promoted. I needed to get some more exposure and get to know all the Generals and Colonels. I then went to Scott AFB in Illinois,” said Cary. “It was a four-year assignment and a job I ended up hating. I managed the C-130 flying air program for the entire Air Force. You brief the Generals and you brief the Colonels and I was stuck at a desk and I just didn’t like it at all. While I was there I did manage to get my Master’s Degree in Management from Webster University.”
WHITE HOUSE ADVANCE TEAM – AIR FORCE ONE
“I heard that someone was coming to interview to see if they would like to work for the White House. You would be working with the advance team working for the White House military office. You travel around with Air Force One. I decided I wanted to interview. Two Lt. Colonels showed up and they interviewed about eight or ten of us. I went down and spent about 15-30 minutes with each one of them. A week later one of those guys called me and said we have accepted you to be one of the Air Force One’s advance agents.
I asked, well what does that mean. They said, “Anytime Air Force One travels anywhere in the world we have an advance team that goes to each location and makes all the arrangements for Air Force One, and the security and logistics of the airplane.” “Before I got started they had to do a different background investigation on me since I would be working with Air Force One and the President. I was going to get a deep background security investigation and I would have an SCI clearance. They said it would take about four or five months. I was called a few months later and said I had passed everything and you are cleared to do this job and I want you to come to Washington the next week and be briefed on it. I went,” Cary said.
“I worked for the assistant to the President working for the White House Military Office. We handled all of Air Force One’s movements. When they call you, you go. My boss told me to never say NO to them. You go when they say go. I did that job for three and a half years.
I did Air Force Advance trips several times with Vice President Bush but most of my trips were with President Reagan. I did get a chance to meet President Reagan. I really admired the way he conducted himself as President. I never heard him say a derogatory word, he was just a nice person. He was like a grandfather figure to me. I never did ride on Air Force one. My job was to get there ahead and get all the logistics taken care of before Air Force One arrived. I stayed there until they were gone and all the equipment was gone. So, my job was to set it all up….. and clean it all up,” said Cary.
“I am supposed to be in that picture with Cary and President Reagan,” laughed Sandy. “My son decided to quit college and he was back at my parents’ house in Lubbock. So, I had to leave but I can see myself in the back of that picture,” Sandy laughed.
“A lot of people don’t know this but in the month of August every year during his eight years in office, he went to his ranch up on that mountain and stayed a month. I went up and stayed for a month, not on his ranch.
Only he, his wife and security staff stayed there. But that month when he went there, he told everyone on his staff at the White House to go and take a vacation. Go somewhere for two weeks and relax.
When he was on his ranch he was in his blue jeans, his cowboy hat and he loved to ride his horses. He had an old jeep and he would go out and cut firewood. He lived in an adobe three-hundred-year-old house with a fireplace for heating. It was built by the Spanish. He had one bedroom, one living room and a kitchen. That is what he lived in,” Cary said.
“I was there with Cary and got to go into President Reagan’s little cabin. There was this plain ordinary furniture in a small house. At the end of this little couch is Nancy’s knitting basket. They live just like we do,” Sandy said.
“I went to Windsor Castle in England and President Reagan and the Queen went riding horses around the castle.
He then invited the Queen to come over to California to visit his ranch. He had lunch with her at that one-bedroom ranch house. I wonder what she thought when she saw that,” laughed Cary.
“I had a pass as a White House staffer,” said Sandy. “We had our own driver and he drove us all over London. It was a lot of fun. I got to see things I would have never gotten to see. I saw where Shakespeare had his theatre and I got a picture of a street there called, HILLIARD STREET,” laughed Sandy.
“It was a lot of fun and I got to travel all over the world. I never knew what first class was until I got this job,” laughed Cary. “I could rent airplanes, trains, busses, boats…anything I needed those orders paid for it,” Cary said.
“I went to President Reagan’s ranch. It was such a great job and I did that the entire time I was at Scott AFB. When that job was up the Air Force offered me a job in Saudi Arabia and run the training program for Saudi pilots to fly C-130’s. I wanted to keep flying and I did.”
“I took the job and then the Colonel came in and said, “Cary, I don’t think Sandy would like to go to Saudi Arabia,” he said, “You don’t want to go there.” I said, “Then where do I want to go?, and he said, “HAWAII.” “I laughed and asked, what is in Hawaii? and he said, “It was a secret job and you needed your special SCI clearance. You will be dealing with highly classified information and programs, and Sandy will like Hawaii.” “I came home and told Sandy we are going to the beach, but it is not Saudi Beach it is Hawaii,” laughed Cary. “She thought that was wonderful.”
“It was WONDERFUL,” said Sandy. “I was a Vice President with the wives club in Hawaii. Have you ever tried to please seventeen General’s wives at one time?” asked Sandy. “I think I had the toughest job,” She laughed.
“Well, I went to Washington and to the Pentagon and got to meet a lot of people and found out what my job was in Hawaii. I could not tell my wife what I did. It was Top Secret.
When we got to Hawaii we lived on base in a small house, but we loved living there,” Cary said.
“I would have to entertain all these people when they came in.” said Sandy. “Cary told me, he said Sandy….You can’t ask these people their names. You can’t ask them what they do, or where they live. You just smile and be nice. Be yourself, but don’t ask anything. I said ok,” said Sandy. “So, we are at this big party and this guy comes up to me, puts his hand out, and says, Hi, I am Charlie Smith, and Cary just about fell over. Several more came over and they are all telling me their names. I looked at Cary and asked him why he was so shocked. He said, because that is their REAL names,” laughed Sandy. “They would tell me, oh we just got back from so and so, and Cary interrupted and said, she doesn’t know I go to China.” It was hilarious.
“The building I worked in was a concrete room with no windows and a vault door. There were three of us that worked in that building, an NCO and two officers. We handled special covert operations and programs all over the Pacific theatre. They included Japan, Korea, the Philippians, and several other countries. We always used an encrypted secure telephone for all communications to any of those places. I worked for the 2-star and the 4-star PACAF Commander and the Navy 4-star Admiral, the CINC PACOM. We had several people run the office and when I was promoted to Lt. Colonel I was running the office. I ran the office for two years. I was travelling half the time I was stationed there. It was a very interesting and challenging job. One of the jobs I did had to be authorized by the President to do it,” Cary said in a straight forward way.
“I would tell Cary,” Sandy continued, “I see you are going to Taiwan tomorrow and then you are going over to the Philippines. He would say, WHAT? Who have you been talking to? I said Cary, you go to the wives club and you learn everything. Guess how they learned it?”
Cary had a wonderful career and quite a partner in life, I thought to myself.
“I had a chance to stay in Hawaii for another year but another offer came up. I had a chance to take over a Command Unit at Eglin AFB, near Ft. Walton Beach Florida. “That same organization required my special clearance. It involved the same type of classified mission. It was a very secure base out in the boondocks and very few people had access. They selected me to be the Commander of that organization. So, we left Hawaii and went to Florida.
The job at Eglin was another of the top-secret positions in my career,” recalled Cary.
“Once again he had his little area out there, these people come in and I don’t know what you do,” said Sandy. “It was similar to Hawaii, where people would come in sometimes and we would have picnics and all the wives and people working under Cary were there. I know the drill, said Sandy. “You can’t ask them their names, you can’t ask them what they do,” she laughed. “I was talking to one of his friends at our house for dinner and he tells me his name, where he works and what he does. Cary is sitting there and I start laughing. I told them, you guys should really brief him (Cary) before you talk to me. He said, but you have a need to know….because I have a bunch of guys who have wives. You got to let me know when stuff is going on that I need to know about. Cary just sat there shaking his head,” Sandy was once again laughing at the story.
Cary stayed at Eglin AFB in Florida for a couple of years and decided to retire. He and Sandy, who at the time was a Regional Vice President for a fragrance company, moved back to Texas in 1993. Both of their mothers had been ill and felt it was time to move back and help take care of them. “When Cary retired, it was a very proud moment for him. There was so much that we talked about and remembered,” recalled Sandy.
LOOKING BACK OVER HIS CAREER
“Looking back over my career, Phil, it was quite interesting. I made a lot of good friends and was able to travel all over the world. When I was in England for two years Sandy would fly over and stay a month and we had a chance to tour England.
She came over about two or three times. Many times, when I was working with Air Force One she would make those trips. She had clearance to work with me on the pre planning and staging and did some volunteer office work and errands for the White House staff. My wife and son both got to go on Air Force One. We got to go to President Reagans Ranch and tour that. It was just a very unique experience all around for me,” said Cary. “We have had a VERY interesting career,” quipped Sandy.
“I told Cary, one day I am going to write a book about your career. I could always tell where he had been by the gifts he brought back from the various countries he visited,” laughed Sandy.
Cary, what would be your fondest memories over your long and illustrious career in the military? “One of the most challenging and exciting things I ever did was go thru and complete pilot training and being an Air Force Pilot. That put me in a special category in the Air Force.”
That made your uncle proud of you didn’t it Cary? “That is an interest story,” he told me. “When I graduated from Reese Air Force Base I was the class commander and I had to give a little speech. We were all at a very formal dinner with all the top brass there. My uncle Herbert Hartley, retired Colonel came in his little red convertible hot rod. He drove it from Austin to Lubbock just for my graduation. There he sat, next to me, with all those medals on his chest. He had more medals than all those Colonels in the room combined. The World War II Pilot hero. When he enlisted he joined the Canadian Air Force and was in England before America was in the war. When America joined the war, he switched from Canadian to the United States Air Force. So, he had all these medals from Canada, France, Britain and the U.S. I bet he had forty medals on his chest. He walked in there and he looked like some General from South America,” laughed Cary. “All these Colonels in the room were looking at him like, “Who in the Hell is this guy?” “I told them he was a World War II pilot and he saved America. They all went up and wanted to talk to him. He was the hit of the whole show. It was so funny,” laughed Cary. “He loved it. He drove up there for me. He told me that was one of the proudest days of his life, that I had did this and accomplished this. From that point on, I was the favorite person in the family for him. It was a truly special moment for me,” said Cary.
What were some of the values you garnered from the military? “I think I had a pretty good work ethic. You have a job and you do it. I tried to lead by example. I wouldn’t ask people to do things that I wouldn’t do. I thought it was important to participate in functions with my people. I went to group parties, played on the baseball and golf teams, participated in almost every function. I thought it was important to lead by example. Your men would follow you when you supported them. They would follow you anywhere.
I received the Outstanding Unit Award. I was proud of the work we accomplished for that. It represented everybody in the unit. It showed that the organization excelled. It was a group effort and everyone shared in that Award.
The worst military food I ate was in Korea for Team Spirit which was a two-week exercise. We were living in a South Korean enlisted man’s tent, on a cot, in the mud. It was horrible and freezing cold in the winter. You took a shower and there was no hot water. It was a rat and cockroach infested building. It was the worst food imaginable. I am glad we had some MRE’s,” laughed Cary.
“Air Force One food was good but we didn’t get to eat there much. When I was at the classified base in Florida we had the best chow hall anywhere. My tech Sergeant guy ran the chow hall. We had an unlimited budget for food. We had steaks every week. Every Friday we had an outdoor steak cookout. We had any kind of food or fish you wanted. Shrimp, Lobster, the freshest fish. I ate breakfast and lunch there but came home in the evenings. The food was just great,” said Cary.
COUNTY COMMISSIONER AND MAYOR
“I needed a job when I retired when I came back to Van Zandt County. There was a Veterans Service Officer who said I needed to run for County Commissioner. She convinced me to do it and I ran. The job paid $25,000 a year. That was some good extra money for me back in 1994. There were five or six of us running including the incumbent. I went door to door everywhere and ended up getting the most votes, but we had to have a runoff and I won. I was County Commissioner for four years. I learned a lot and tried to manage it the way I did in the military. We did a lot of good for that Precinct. Our Commissioner is both a Road Commissioner and a County Commissioner. There were a lot of administrative duties in the courthouse plus you are responsible for 300 miles of roads in the county. I had about ten guys working for me. I helped organize all the equipment and bought new equipment we needed for our road department. I came up with a road plan and a road map that nobody had before. There were nine different portions of the precinct and I would use a grease pencil and mark the roads that were worked on and we rotated around the county. In four years, we had built most of the roads. I bought a backhoe which was one of the smartest moved I ever made. I bought a motor grader and paid for it in three years. I drove around and checked the roads myself. The other part of the job was make good policies for the county,” said Cary.
“As Commissioner he fixed roads that had potholes so big and hadn’t been fixed in years,” said Sandy. “It was amazing all they did. He was never at the courthouse, he was out working with the guys. He believed in being around the people. He would go to all the smaller communities and I would go with him. He always wanted to know what they needed,” recalled Sandy.
“As Mayor I liked going around and talking to the business people. I enjoyed talking to the vendors at First Monday and tried to find out how we could improve and help them. I felt like it we took care of the vendors the customers would show up. We had some policies in the city that were really outdated, like how do you conduct a city council meeting. There was no policy. I went to conferences and talked with other Mayors about how they ran their cities. I stole ideas from them as to how you could run your city better. Their ideas helped me to share new guidelines and policies for Canton. The first question I asked the City Manager when I became Mayor was, what do we do if a tornado hits Canton, what is our plan? We had no updated plan for that or any other disaster. When we finally implemented a plan, I said now, we have to practice the plan. We need to exercise it every year, so people know what to do when it happens. That was my Air Force training,” said Cary.
“I think the County is in good hands. They have the best Commissioners Court and the best courthouse personal that I remember. The Judge and Commissioners are doing a really good job. In 1999 when I left, we had no debt and $500,000 in reserve. When I left the debt went up to $10-12M dollars. They just started cutting taxes and borrowing money. This group has got that down to about $2-3M. We are growing at about 1% a year in the city. Stead growth is good and will continue to bring good people into Van Zandt County. We need to do everything we can do be financially responsible for both the city and the county. You can’t be a big city if you are not a big city,” countered Cary.
VOLUNTEER FOR VETERANS MEMORIAL
“About Six years ago I was invited to go to lunch with a friend of mine to a board meeting for the Veterans Memorial. At that meeting they voted me in on the board, as a trustee. I knew a lot of the people. Red Montgomery was a friend of mine. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I found out pretty quickly how we were managing things financially.
We had someone come in from Twin Lakes Golf Course to talk to us about a fundraiser. They voted me to run the Tournament fundraiser for the Memorial. I told them I had played golf and had played in a lot of tournaments, so they said, you are the guy. I went out and talked to a lot of golfers and got sponsors. That first tournament we raised about $17-18 thousand dollars. You would have thought I had won the lottery. It paid off all our debt. We had money in the bank for the first time in years. Today, it is the biggest fund raiser we have to help finance the Veterans Memorial.
Of the veterans I talk to they say the Memorial is a wonderful tribute to the veterans. It is a very honorable thing to do for the veterans. They are all proud of it. They don’t participate as much, but they have a great respect and love for the memorial. We are on the right path to make it more relevant to our veterans,” Cary said.
CARY’S BUCKET LIST
“One of the things I have always wanted to do is to visit two pilot friends of mine and their families who live in Norway. They flew as fighter pilots in the Norwegian Air Force. They both flew F-5s. One of them, tragically, flew into a mountain and was killed. General Jell Larson, became a Norwegian Airline pilot. I would love to take Sandy there and visit him. I have never been to Norway, but I would love to go there and reconnect with him.”
Cary, looking over your career, any regrets or redo’s? “Oh, lots of them,” laughed Cary. “Two regrets, I should have stayed two more years at Eglin AFB. It was one of the best assignments in my career. I always thought the grass was greener on the other side. My second regret was when I was County Commissioner. I should have run for a second term. The first four years I worked hard to get it done and then the next four years I could have done more for the county,” said Cary.
“Cary is a very giving, loving man,” said Sandy. “He cares about this country and he cares about the veterans. I am just lucky to have him for a husband. I told Cary, one day I am going to write a book about your career,” laughed Sandy.
Cary Hilliard, thank you for your service to our country while serving in the United States Air Force. Your courage and bravery will not be forgotten.
“Every Veteran has a story to tell.” Phil Smith
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