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Becoming An Old War Vet


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The_Chieftain #1 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 00:28

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I fear I must face the cold, hard truth. I am no longer the spring chicken I used to be. There is a very definite amount of grey in my hair, and it has been many moons since I’ve been able to run the Army’s two miles in under fifteen minutes. When my troopers would refer to me as ‘the old man’ (Assuming they did), they would have meant it literally: I was old enough to be the father of some of the junior lads. I am not ageing gracefully, I am advancing in my years screaming and kicking. I wasn’t always that way, though.

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Last weekend I attended a reunion, of the company with which I served in Iraq. The ten-year reunion. Ten.

OK, they sortof cheated a bit. We didn’t actually hit boots on the ground within the Iraqi borders until the first week of April 2004, so really 9 is more appropriate, but they went with the initial spin-up, wiggled a month, and there you go.

Fresh out of Armor Officer Basic Course, I was, young and handsome, when my soon-to-be CO came up to me at NTC where I was a TOC supernumary, grabbed the Pershing on my collar, and asked me if I wanted to take a tank platoon to Iraq. Duh. Yeah.

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And so began a year’s deployment of unbridled happiness and flowers raining from candy-floss clouds as we patrolled on the banks of rivers of chocolate.
OK. Maybe not. But I had a tank platoon, and that was pretty cool, especially in the days that most tankers were going without their tanks.


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My 4-tank on patrol next to aforementioned chocolate waterway. The TC and driver made the reunion


Still, a lot of stress and a lot of workload. About ten days in I had some downtime, and I was pacing the length of the tent because I knew there was something I had to be doing, but didn’t know what it was. That first month was also when the grey hairs first appeared. I recall going to the post office for a package:
“Sir, I need to see your ID please”
“Here you go”
“Hey, Sir, you’ve gone grey since that photo was taken”
“-Beep- you very much. Give me my package”

Things went downhill for my ageing process from there.

Anyway, as anyone who has been on a deployment will know, you become very close to the lads you deploy with. You may not keep contact with them (and in some cases, you may actively avoid them for various reasons), but there is the mythical bond of military fraternity which always results.

So it was with some anticipation that I pulled into the parking lot where we were going to have our barbequeue and catch-up session. I was never massively good at faces and names to begin with, and my personnel identification skills became even more strained with the passage of a decade on people’s faces. Or worse, with the acquisition of facial hair which always seems to follow upon release from military service.

A few extra pounds and inches of girth have also accumulated over the years.


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There were a couple of additional observations which went through my mind after the initial obvious ones.

Firstly, where is everyone?

Some, like my driver, who was last seen walking into the dark mysterious forests of Washington State, vanished the day we got back, and have never been heard from since. Near as we can tell, he came from those woods as well; a combat engineer he just showed up from somewhere one day, was given a crash course in tanking, and did fairly well considering. His work done, he returned to the mists whence he came.

Some, the Army just wouldn’t let them come. It may have been a bit impolitic to select a date that the CO was at Leavenworth (“At”, not “in”). Hopefully not a bad career move for us.

Some, like my stop-lossed gunner who spent most of the deployment demanding that upon our return he receive his discharge papers hand-delivered on a gilded frame, were just no-shows. (He was a good man, just a little irritated at being dragged to the Iraqi desert instead of being allowed to stay in his civilian job in the California desert).

Some, we just suffered the effects of age. My 2-tank TC and loader could not for the life of them remember who was their gunner for a large portion of the deployment before a replacement came in. After bringing in myself and the platoon sergeant, that gunner was obviously so amazingly significant to the operation of our platoon, we couldn’t even remember what he looked like, let alone his name. In the end, we concluded that they ran a three-man-crew for a couple of months. (This, by the way, is an example as to why memoirs should never be taken as gospel, even when written by those who were there. Not looking at Belton Cooper’s book at all, here…)

And some, we simply had no idea. “Well, he said he was coming….”

Fortunately, in this case, at least, nobody was absent due to being on eternal watch. I could not make the same claim were we to have a battalion reunion, however, as we lost the colonel shortly after our return due to cancer, or even the squadron reunion for my most recent deployment which saw some loss of life due to accident since, and one trooper who was killed on duty as a sheriff’s deputy. But as the years progress, it will happen.



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Secondly: They have been fruitful, and multiplied. Obviously the exposure to depleted uranium, anthrax shots (That series really hurt, by the way), burned chemicals, and whatnot, had not affected fertility. There was a significant number of little ones running around, all of whom were old enough to put on your knee and understand when told “This is Nicholas, he was your daddy’s boss in Iraq, long before you were born…”

I’m not taking that too well, as you can gather. Reminds me of that time in the USMC museum when mom was talking to her ten-year-old at the 9/11 timeline exhibit. “This was all before you were born…”

Argh! I’m getting old!

I certainly don’t think I’m the picture of the grizzled old war vet. That is my tank commander for my 3-tank, he was in the 1991 war, and is still in. But I wonder, now. When I took command of my Troop, most troopers had bare right shoulders, and the old geezer standing in front of them had a 1ID patch on the right sleeve and a CAB. Did they think of me the same way I thought of my -3 TC?

Then, as we posed for the reunion photo, my next thought was ‘what will we be like in ten years when we do this again?’ Or fifteen?  I presume it’ll happen, the Doolittle Raiders just had their last reunion, and that was scores of years later.

I just can’t imagine, though, that one day I and my colleagues will be the guys wearing decades-old uniforms, or medals and  VFW headgear, escorted by our grandkids. Yet I can’t help but feel that those who do so today probably felt the same way several decades previously.



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Still, I’m not there yet. If I last long enough, I’ll get there, though, whether I like it or not. I guess I need to find a way to get there gracefully, in a manner that won’t embarrass the grandchildren.
Anyway, to any future grandchild I may have who is reading this decades from now (wondering what the hell granddad did for a living), if I ask you to drag me out to a reunion because I’m too feeble to get there myself, humour me. I probably really want to see them.



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KapisaPanzerKrieg2010 #2 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 16:21

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My team leader went a bit grey (mostly because of me, I was his RG-31 driver), and 2 that almost went bald.

Iamtheultimate #3 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 16:31

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At least you weren't a fat, squishy, huggable intelligence guy like my dad...

Edited by Iamtheultimate, Jun 29 2013 - 16:33.


killemallfor1 #4 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 16:37

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Old Man with grey hair? ha, My father lost HALF his hair not by driving tanks, but fixing Dueces and the horrible Gama-Goats. You must fancy yourself a fan of the Sven Hassel books then with the reference to being called Old man?

stickjock #5 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 16:41

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Chieftain... gotta remember... we're not that old yet... thanks for sharing this tho'...

Harbingers_Havoc #6 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 16:50

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I Like the Last pic Chieftain :D

Blackhorse_Six_ #7 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 16:55

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View PostThe_Chieftain, on Jun 29 2013 - 00:28, said:

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Great post, Chieftain ...

I need this picture, please ...

There is something I want to add to it ...

So often, I have seen combat vets of subsequent wars tell the Old Hands before them ...

Things were different in Our War ... we had it worse ...

The technology changes, but yet the lines go back and forth ...

And the butchery remains the same ...

ackackbetty #8 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 16:56

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As a Marine that served with 2nd Light Armored Infantry Bn, 2nd MarDiv out of Camp Lejuene, NC (1987 - 1993), the part of the article that made me laugh was when he said,"...and it has been many moons since I’ve been able to run the Army’s two miles in under fifteen minutes." A first class pft score for the Corps is 3 miles in 18minutes or less, well, it was when I was in. But, in all fairness, I can run about 300 ft, in 18 minutes now.

Blackhorse_Six_ #9 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 17:06

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View Postkillemallfor1, on Jun 29 2013 - 16:37, said:

You must fancy yourself a fan of the Sven Hassel books then with the reference to being called Old man?

"The Old Man" was in common use centuries before Sven Hassel ...

Most commonly associated with ship's captains, company leaders, captains of business, and the father's of sons ...

Gilamunsta #10 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 17:07

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This old goat isn't that old yet, but I'm getting there =)  And yes, I haven't been able to pass a PT test for a few years now. I found my 1st grey hair at the ripe old age of 40 in my beard, a few years later and the grey is creeping in in other places now =)  But, yeah, I do miss the majority of my shipmates, viewed as they are through the rose-colored glasses of advancing age =)

holdmecloserTonyDanza #11 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 17:15

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thanks for your service!  :honoring:

dorgunr70 #12 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 17:18

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Old, you ain't old yet, sonny. Wait until you can't put your leg in the right hole! :smile: Great artilcle though. Been there, done that - Echo Troop, 1/9 Cav (AIR), Lai Khe, 1970. Also did some aerial tank hunting at Bragg after that - those AA paratrooper boys never hid their tank tracks. More chum for our Snakes!

Thanks for the memories.

NotchbackFiero #13 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 17:22

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Thanks for your service. My roommate in Kuwait was an Active Duty M1A2 driver in Iraq (cant remember what year he was over there, but he's a WoT player as well), and seriously would not shut up about it. But, he was a Signal CO Cdr in an Aviation Support Battalion, so I could forgive him. You meat-eaters don't play nice in the Loggy world ;) (Or worse, around pilots. Even us Loggies don't understand them.)

But just to make you feel old, I had just started college (and not even decided to do ROTC at that point) when you deployed.

A CO 935th ASB CDR

Audie_3ID #14 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 17:30

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Sir, I can relate to your story. On May 1, 2013, I participated in a time honored tradition in the US Army. I attended my own retirement ceremony on a parade field at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Though the ceremony only lasted for thirty minutes, I had a chance to reflect on 22 years of loyal service to my nation. I too have seen the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have lost many comrades. I was not a tanker, but an aviator. I will always cherish the memories of serving with some great troopers, but just remember sir, age is only a number and as long as you remember that you will have many more years of great memories and reunions.

Mouse6977 #15 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 17:40

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Thank you...reminds me I have to call some old comrades.

SteampunkSniper #16 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 17:43

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Thank you for your service and God bless.

Haubitz #17 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 18:01

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Just 1 week ago I passed the 20 year mark of when I departed for the USMC Recruit Depot San Diego.  It truly feels like yesterday.  Those experiences between 18-22 still define who I am today.  I'm still in touch with a few people and like you said, girth has gone up while fitness has gone down for the most part, put the mythical fraternity is certainly still there.  Regretfully, I've lost touch with most of the grunts I deployed with.

We are old guys.  We even wore different cammies and carried different weapons.  The young guys today with their digital camouflage patters probably look at me with my 3-color deserts and M-16A2 the same way I looked at the Old Marines with their olive drab DBUs and their M-14's!

I still miss my M-60E3, and riding ringmount with the Mk-19.  But thankfully, I have World of Tanks to put my mind at ease!

LoRDa #18 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 18:06

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Loved your article sir, best wishes of good and slow aging to you  :teethhappy:

abramshunter #19 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 18:10

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View PostThe_Chieftain, on Jun 29 2013 - 00:28, said:





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My 4-tank on patrol next to aforementioned chocolate waterway. The TC and driver made the reunion





I can't believe that was one of your tanks, I used to have that picture as my desktop background haha (its on that M1 Abrams wikipedia page). Thanks for your service Chieftain!

poptop523 #20 Posted Jun 29 2013 - 18:12

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Well, Chieftain, thanks for your service to our country. Everyone is forever grateful for it... this story reminds me of something I said in battle on World of Tanks... they told me "stop sitting in the back, etc. etc..." with language I would not rather say. I replied Don't tell me not to be scared until you actually go into the service! Hahaha... once again, thanks for serving our country, we all appreciate it! :honoring:  :medal:




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