Profiles of courage

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Nov 082007
 
Authors: Aaron Rongstad

Noah Roberts doesn’t advertise his military service with bumper stickers and over-the-top slogans on the back of an American pick-up truck. Landscape photos cover his apartment walls, where medals and other decorations could have been.

For those who meet him, the Purple Heart license plate on his humble ’96 Honda Civic is the only giveaway. But after persistent prodding, the former staff sergeant might share a war story or two /– like the time a bullet caught up with him while doing recon on Al Qaeda.

With a stout build and the usual five-o-clock shadow, Roberts, a senior history major, is just one of the 282 CSU students currently drawing veteran education benefits, a luxury afforded by the G.I. Bill.

He joined the Army in 1996 after graduating from high school in Brush, Colo. and became an air defense troop, operating shoulder-fired Stinger missile weapons.

Unsatisfied with his career field in the service, he put in for the Special Forces in 2000, graduating from a rigorous training program as a Green Beret two years later.

In 2003, he found himself in Afghanistan fighting Taliban forces.

“It was definitely an eye-opener,” Roberts said. “Something that less than one percent of the population will experience, let alone less than one percent of the military.”

Roberts was part of an A-Team: a 12-man long-range reconnaissance outfit performing missions gathering information on suspected Al Qaeda training camps.

Combat was hit and miss.

“In the end it was more than I bargained for,” he admits. “We fought for two days straight.”

After three months in the country, Roberts was shot through the shoulder near the end of the second day of fierce fighting while calling in close air support on an enemy position.

“I rolled out of the door of my vehicle and thought I’d see my arm up on the seat, but it was still attached,” he said.

He was transported to Germany shortly thereafter, prematurely ending his tour of duty, and was awarded the Purple Heart upon returning to the U.S.

After emergency exploratory surgery followed by a year of rehabilitation, his shoulder was healed.

“The bullet went clean through my armpit and out my shoulder,” Roberts said. “It hit some nerves, but didn’t cause any permanent damage.”

After leaving the active-duty Army, Roberts joined an Army National Guard unit in Fort Collins and enrolled in classes at Front Range before transferring to CSU. He has since left the Army entirely and is pursuing private security contact work overseas while working toward his degree.

Roberts joined the Army to live out his dream of becoming a soldier. Others signed up for other reasons.

From port to port

Junior political science major Matt Scott enlisted in the Navy to party and see the world.

“I heard they indulged in mass quantities of rum and corralled in women by the dozen when they came into port,” a muscular, square-jawed Scott said. “Then I found out you couldn’t drink for months at a time, and the women that flocked to sailors were the ones you paid for.”

Scott joined in 1999 at age 19 and trained to be a firefighter. In four years he traveled around the world and made stops in Thailand, Singapore, Australia, Guatemala, and India, to name a few.

After he got out of the service, Scott did two years of school at Front Range Community College before receiving a letter in the mail from the Navy, calling him back to active duty for a one-year period at some time in the near future.

Instead of waiting in anticipation, Scott volunteered for the year and was attached to an Army unit at Camp Navistar near Safwan, Iraq on the southern border of Kuwait performing customs work and doing vehicle searches.

“It was real relaxed duty, considering where we were,” he said. “I was chillin’ out reading magazines and carrying a gun.”

On top of that, Scott said he made it a point to send a hand-written letter once a day to his girlfriend. He was in Iraq for eight months.

Work consisted of seven-day weeks with 12-hour shifts and grew monotonous early on. Scott’s vehicle searches revealed many sorts of contraband from pornography, which is prohibited in many Muslim countries, to illegal weapons.

He said he didn’t see any sort of combat, but heard about mortar, rocket and IED (improvised explosive device) attacks in the vicinity.

Scott has attributed his military experience to a lot of good things, but most importantly, he doesn’t take the small stuff for granted anymore.

“Being in the military, I have come to appreciate every moment in our society and the liberties we have in comparison to people who live in third-world countries,” Scott said. “We live like kings over here.”

He bought a house with some of the cash he saved up and takes advantage of the G.I. bill to pay for school.

Balancing school and war

Carly Meckle, a junior sports medicine major, joined the Colorado Air National Guard in 2002 to pay for college. Being in the National Guard allows one to attend school while serving one weekend a month and two weeks a year in the military. Since 2001, though, many guard and reserve units have contributed much more.

In the summer of 2004, she and her fellow guardsmen were deployed to Balad Air Base, 30 kilometers northwest of Baghdad in the Sunni Triangle. Meckle loaded munitions on F-16 aircraft in 110 degree heat while enduring constant mortar and rocket attacks on base. But Meckle didn’t mind.

“I like getting away from regular life,” she said. “It’s a good change.”

Meckle read a lot of books, watched movies and ran a lot when she wasn’t working a 12-hour shift. The routine became repetitive, and pockets of brief excitement interrupted long periods of boredom.

A rocket struck the BX — the Air Force’s version of a general store — one afternoon, killing three and injuring 19. Meckle was nowhere near the area, but it still scared her.

“A mortar has no name on it,” Meckle said. “You’re just one unlucky person if you get hit.”

These types of attacks happened regularly, Meckle said. Alarms would go off, and everyone would scramble into the nearest hardened shelter. Sometimes at night she would see tracer fire being exchanged between the insurgents on the ground and the Blackhawk helicopters in the distance off base.

Meckle will be deploying back to Iraq this winter with her unit. She is excited to return and serve, she said.

She said she’d be spending this Veteran’s Day with her mom, who is coming from out of town to visit. It will be the last time she gets to see her before she leaves.

Editor’s Note: Staff writer Aaron Rognstad has completed two Middle East tours of duty and currently serves in an Air National Guard unit in Denver.

Staff writer Aaron Rognstad can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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