I remember the first time that war really struck me as a reality. It was 2003 and I was 14 years old, visiting my family in Sugarland, Texas. My aunt came outside and told me that our family friend Jeremy was okay, but he'd been in a really intense battle and one of his friends had been hurt by a rocket propelled grenade. I remember I'd been playing outside with my cousins, and suddenly I didn't feel like playing anymore. War had become real to me. It turns out this battle was a part of Operation Tapeworm, the notorious six hour firefight that left Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay Hussein dead. The operation was carried out in Mosul and was considered a Special Operations mission (involving CIA, Green Berets, and Delta operators), although Garcia's unit from the 101st was also involved. Fast forward 13 years later and Jeremy is now an Airborne, Air Assault, and Pathfinder qualified Sergeant First Class. I'll let him tell the rest of the story though.
Talk a little bit about that first deployment of Iraq and what your mission was. What was that time in Iraq like? What was it like to be a part of the invasion?
JG: I remember Iraq a bit differently than most people now do. I had the chance to see things that changed my perspective on people forever in both a good and bad way. The main difference being…it was pure all-out war back then. It was in the streets…kicking down doors…shooting until there were no more bullets left kind of war. There was an ROE, but it was loose, and IED’s were a new thing back then as well.
What was the most frightening moment for you on any of your deployments?
JG: Iraq…having a 2.75” rocket smash into a building a few feet from my head, and getting burned from a mortar round that landed way too close. In Afghanistan… too many to recount (hint… I shouldn’t be alive).
Can you tell me a little bit about why you joined the Army?
JG: I always knew I would be in the Military… I think everyone did. I saw it as a family business. My mother, and pretty much everyone in my family going back several generations had all served. I just felt like I wanted to fulfill that role.
How old were you when you joined, what MOS, and what units did you serve with, how many tours to combat zones, and where?
JG: I originally joined at 17 and was in the Reserves for about a year as a 31U, now 25U (Signal Support Systems Specialist). I thought my time was wasted and I wanted more, so I went active duty as an 11B (Infantry). I started out in the 101st and in the first six years of being assigned to B CO, 1-187 INF I deployed to Saudi Arabia in 1997 to protect Patriot Missile sites and recover Air Force personnel after the Khobar Tower bombings, and Kosovo in 2000 during the second phase of the ground campaign there.
I went to Korea in 2001 and was assigned to C CO, 1-503 INF. After my year there, I went back to Fort Campbell and was assigned to B CO, 3-327 INF and deployed in 2003 to Iraq during OIF 1. After I came back from Iraq I was assigned to Fort Benning where I was an Airborne Instructor. This is also where I was injured… and should have paid more attention to my body. I went to Fort Bliss next and while I was in the field as a Platoon Sergeant, the pain I was experiencing was immeasurable.
I went to the doc a few days after the field and was told that I had broken my back, my neck, my collar bone, and separated my scapula along with some herniated / bulging disks and had some bone material floating around. This led to me being re-classed to 42A (Admin) and being permanently disqualified as an 11B after almost 16 years.
I did the therapy and wanted to go back to being a paratrooper. I asked my CSM five times to let me go before he said yes adding that I was a “retard” for wanting that. I went to Fort Bragg in 2011. I deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 with HHC, 1-504 PIR and ultimately didn’t get to do my job there. Instead I ran an entire HLZ and a post office essentially alone for six straight months.
Can you explain the complications of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Explain why the battle against terrorism is so complicated from your personal viewpoint.
JG: To answer both in one statement, the people of the Middle East have been fighting for literally thousands of years, and they like it. Pretty much anyone from the outside who has tried to subdue them has failed because of the lack of endurance. Also, terrorism is an ideal that is easy to sell unfortunately. If you motivate a young person to end their lives based on the faith that they will be rewarded in heaven, you will have countless willing puppets to meet an agenda.
What was your most memorable moment in any deployment as far as feeling like you made a difference?
JG: The 22nd of July 2003, Operation Tapeworm (as mentioned before).
If you could tell a civilian one thing in order to help how you are perceived or “handled,” what would that be?
JG: Don’t ask questions that are intentionally posed to get a reaction, and don't speak on an opinion that was formed from social media if you have never been there, nor have the balls to go deploy and have a two-way conversation with actual bad guys.
If there was one thing you could change about how you are perceived by civilians, what would that be?
JG: I would tell them that we don’t do what we do because we have a thirst for war. War should always be the last result. With that being said, just because we want to avoid war doesn’t mean we won’t kill for our country
What’s the hardest part about the actual deployment?
JG: Besides the constant knot that gets tighter in my gut about that “what’s around that corner” feeling, it’s the loss of friends and the anger that comes afterwards.
What was the hardest thing about being away from home?
JG: Not being able to physically touch my kids. Not being able to tell my fiancée how I feel face to face.
Do you feel stigmatized or at all detached from society when you came back?
JG: I never have. I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who understand real sacrifice.
Talk a little bit about what it means to you to be a soldier.
JG: It means to sacrifice… to care so much for your country that you are willing to go somewhere and destroy the people that mean to harm it.
What keeps you cool in your civilian life? What are some of the things you enjoy that are now therapeutic?
JG: I try to stay as active as possible when I am off duty. I compete in a lot of ultra-races with my fiancée and ride my motorcycle as much as possible.
I want to thank SFC Jeremy Garcia for being a part of the project. He's one of those men who was born to be a soldier, and hopefully you can see that in this post. I loved getting to watch him hang out with his daughter Kaylee because it's a reminder that a true warrior doesn't necessarily enjoy warfare. They stand as the sheepdogs protecting the flock because they feel it is their inherent duty to do so. I know that Jeremy sees things that way. Although I discharged after my six years, I'm very thankful for the men that make it a career because it is absolutely a necessity in an all-volunteer force.