5:44 | Between West Point and Ranger school, mind and body were as well trained as it gets. Doug Heckman valued those experiences as he deployed to Europe when Ronald Reagan faced off with the Soviets.
Doug Heckman had been part of the initial Special Forces leadership in Afghanistan and in 2005 he volunteered for Iraq. He and his men got their combat badges the very first day when an IED hit their convoy. He says the Iraqi people are like people anywhere and were very hospitable to him.
The surge was succeeding but at a price. Doug Heckman liked riding in the lead vehicle but was in the second one the day Captain Shawn English had the lead and took the brunt of the blast from an IED. This altered his view of how high the bar should be set for military commitment.
Doug Heckman returned for a second Iraq tour and chipped a golf ball into Saddam's lake at the Grand Palace on his birthday. This was the wrap up to a great career and he reflects on that and on the relationship between Americans and their warriors.
He rose early to play golf but the sight of the Twin Towers in flames changed his plans. Doug Heckman was a Green Beret in the reserve and he knew what was coming. Soon he was selected by Col. John Mulholland for the Special Forces team leading the mission in Afghanistan.
The logistical problems were monumental, but a few hundred Americans from a range of units and agencies ran the effort in Northern Afghanistan from a former Soviet air base in Uzbekistan. Doug Heckman describes the challenges the team faced in supporting the Northern Alliance and remembers Johnny Spann, the first American to lose his life in the war.
Doug Heckman's Green Beret A Team was a group of highly trained and experienced specialists. Their primary mission area was North Africa. He got to see Rommel's caves in the Sahara but felt the lure of a business career and pursued an MBA while staying active in reserve.
Being home after a year and a half in Iraq was good, at first. But Robert Walton wasn't ready to deal with civilian life, so he secured a place in a different National Guard outfit and did an individual mobilization from home, joining the unit in Iraq.
Justice details a too-close-for-comfort interaction with a vehicle-borne IED. The IED came as a complete surprise and the entire F.O.B. fell into what Justice could only describe as “chaos” immediately following the explosion. She suffered several injuries and had to work with the nurses back in Bagram and depend on the friendship of comrade Colonel Ellison to come back from the injuries.
His second tour was coming to a close when Robert Walton was approached by a sergeant major from a California National Guard unit that was coming over to Iraq. Would he be interested in extending with them? His knowledge of the Iraqi roads and his combat experience were highly valued.
Milton Kassel was called from the Naval Reserve into active duty during the Korean War. He was assigned to serve on a Merchant Marine vessel, going between the US and Korea, but through a stroke of luck, he wound up on a ship out of Charleston, SC and enjoyed a nice Med cruise.
He extended in Iraq to help a green unit get on it's feet, agreeing to two months. Robert Walton ended up staying for a year. He had a job to do. When he returned home, it was only a few months before he decided to volunteer yet again. The civilian world did not have the structure and discipline he craved.
At the induction center, the men were told that some are going to the Navy, some to the Army. When the sergeant got to Stan Seaman, he laughed and said, "You know where you're going!" After basic training in Bainbridge, the next destination was Pensacola.
Milton Kassel was engaged and the wedding was set upon his return from Atlantic exercises. While on watch, he received a message that his ship would be delayed, making him late to his own wedding. He was pretty upset when the ship's doctor said to him, "I can't let them do this to you."
Why would you volunteer for a fourth combat tour? For Robert Walton, one reason was the illogical world of civilian hiring. He possessed many qualifications and certifications, but they weren't good enough because they were in a military setting.
Stan Seaman was an aircraft electrician on the USS Tarawa. In addition to those duties, he was assigned as a firefighter during emergencies. The ship performed anti-submarine patrols off the East Coast, along with a sister ship, each taking half the area. There was no shooting war, but the work was still dangerous.
His ship was preparing for a NATO cruise, but Navy cutbacks led to the discharge of all personnel who were drafted. That meant that, after 21 months in the Navy, Stan Seaman was returning home. That was fine with him since he had a great job at Grumman, where he went on to a long career.
During Robert Walton's first deployment to Iraq, the soldiers' hands were not yet tied by the government. They were freely able to eliminate threats. He lost his first friend in a Bradley rollover accident. He was in the vehicle and it was his first big scare.
The power plant was supposed to be clear, but when Robert Walton was walking through, he heard voices nearby and they weren't speaking English. It turned out to be not much of a threat. What was a real threat in Iraq was the huge amount of munitions stockpiled by the insurgents to use in IED's.
During his second deployment to Iraq, there was the same danger from IED's, but Robert Walton had to deal with a new problem. His own military leadership had decided that there would be strict rules of engagement going forward. Not only that, but a financial shakedown of Iraqi vendors was creating more terrorists.
Richard Jackson was enjoying football games at Camp Lejeune. His battalion was on alert when the word went out to deploy. Thinking it was another exercise, he was astonished to find himself on a plane to Cuba. Unknown to him, the Cuban Missile Crisis was in full swing. He made a fateful decision on that flight.
When running convoys in Iraq, Robert Walton was a gunner on a Humvee. On his first mission, a local civilian in a Mazda took off at high speed and the commander gave chase. He tapped Walton on the leg and said, "Stop him!" The training kicked in.