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A1 THE VETERANS' PRESS: Combat: Before and after for this proud veteran

by RUTH ARESVIK/Veterans Help Net Correspondent
| October 19, 2021 1:06 AM

REFER:

Veterans Press/Inside today

Every military individual has a unique story. Every veteran absorbs that time in service into their blood — it becomes a part of their DNA.

For those who serve in combat, these tours of duty can be hard to explain; hard to talk about. They are mixed with raw memories and emotion. What happens before, during and after war is separate yet together — but always with you.

Richard Hannah of Post Falls experienced 24 years with the U.S. Army, including four combat deployments. He agreed to share his answers to these five questions:

1) What led you to join the Army?

In 1993, I was at rock bottom, constantly partying and losing jobs and I knew I had to make an extreme change in my life. My father suggested I consider the military. We visited the Army Recruiter, but my weight was not within the standards to join. After three months of dieting and riding my bike around a 5-mile lakeside loop, I was able to join the Army. In October 1993, I was shipped off to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, for basic training, then Ft. Gordon, Ga., for my specialty as a wire systems installer/maintainer.

2) You were stationed at Ft. Huachuca, Ariz., on 9/11. What was that day like for you?

I had just returned from training in Georgia on Sept. 9, 2011. My wife was visiting her mother in Colorado, and was scheduled to fly home to Arizona the next day, but all flights were grounded. My supervisor confirmed that we were at THREATCON Delta. He told me to be prepared to go to war. I was still officially on leave at the time, so I packed up my two young children and our dog into the minivan that afternoon. I drove about 11 hours to get my wife and brought her home, then prepared to deploy if called upon.

3) Can you share your story during your four combat deployments?

Qatar: I was deployed to Qatar in April 2002. Our mission was to wire seven warehouses and prepare them as CENTCOM headquarters, the main hub for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) command and control. We ran a total of 1,800 pair cable and 44 fiber optic strands with 3,773 splices to provide secure and non-secure voice and data.

Afghanistan No. 1: In August 2002, I went directly from Qatar to Afghanistan to support GWOT — Global War on Terror. We completely wired up Bagram Air Base with copper and fiber optic cable to support the communications infrastructure of Bagram. For 11 months, we completed miles of copper and fiber cable construction to support communications. We completely wired eight? 10? — lost count! — buildings.

Iraq: In 2005 while stationed in Ft. Drum, New York, I was deployed to Camp Liberty, Baghdad. I was with the 10th Mountain Division supporting the 1st Brigade Combat Team. My shop was responsible for providing radio communications to convoys that were escorting our support teams to Abu Grab to install cement barriers for protection from mortars. We also provided secure and non-secure voice and data to all headquarters buildings.

Afghanistan No. 2: I was in Ft. Lewis, Washington in 2009, and was deployed to Afghanistan for the second time. I was stationed with the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. The mission was to push the Taliban out of the Jelwar Province which was near the HQ's Kandahar Airfield. My Platoon was responsible for communications to Brigade Headquarters. We lost many soldiers the first six months due to flaws in the combat vehicles, which eventually were redesigned.

4) What issues or obstacles have you found challenging since your combat tours?

The most challenging issues were getting those horrid events that I witnessed during EACH deployment out of my head. I didn't realize I had PTSD for many years, until I retired from the Army and began post-medical with the VA. I was used to the "suck it up and drive on" — that unwritten soldier mentality as a leader. I was depressed, angry, and easily startled by loud noises for a long time. This was extremely challenging the last five to six years of my career.

5) Please explain your thoughts now that American troops have withdrawn from Afghanistan after 20 years.

I am extremely grateful that the soldiers, civilians and our Afghan counterparts were withdrawn, the best that could be done on an extremely tight deadline. I disagree with the timeline…the quick withdrawal was a big factor in the loss of the last 13 personnel. I feel we should have begun our withdrawal after Osama Bin Laden was killed. This is just my opinion, but I feel we went way above and beyond the call of duty in trying to provide democracy to a country which was split between adapting to democracy and fighting it tooth and nail. I feel this fueled many insurgents to step up the fight to stand against Americans' ways and against the adaptation of the western culture.