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Thank a local vet - Bakers Bastards

Lusby, MD - Jeremy Callaway grew up 30 miles  north of Dallas and signed up to serve his country right after he graduated high school in Preston, Texas. He wanted a challenge and scored high marks on the aptitude tests. With a general technical score of 124 he could pick any segment of the Army he wanted to choose.

The recruiting officer and his parents spent over a week trying to persuade him to go into the intel track, but Callaway was determined. He wanted to be a warrior, infantry combat was the challenge he took on.The year was 2005 and Callaway was 18 years old." I was dead set on being in the infantry," said Callaway. "When I arrived for basic training it was rough. The Army had just changed uniform camouflage to digital, so all the newbies, or as we were known--Joes--stood out like a sore thumb. The first three months of training was tough, I was in a team which had returned from theater, and I was just a kid working alongside grizzled veterans of combat. They put me through a lot. It was tough to get up in the morning knowing what lay ahead for me every day although I understood I needed to earn their respect to be accepted.  I understood why, because they had to take me from being a kid to the war zone. Along that path would be defining moments as I became a warrior."

Before he was deployed to South Baghdad in October of 2006, Calloway was given additional responsibilities as being the RTO, responsible for all 16 radios and updating encryption in his team. "When I arrived in Baghdad it was chaos, it was the day that Saddam was hanged and I looked to my team leader to tell me everything I had to do, as the platoon set up a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in South Baghdad. The entire zone was chaotic, with different sects, Al Qaeda and sometimes we would be just firing at the unknown enemy firing at us. The biggest frustration dealing with the daily patrols in humvees with armor slapped on them but with an exposed under carriage were the IED's. If you overlaid a map of where IED's were suspected the entire city of Baghdad turned red. They were everywhere. I didn't stop and think about the policy, or why we were at war, I just knew I had to be the best alongside my comrades. Humvees were blown up all of the time. They ended up in the "boneyard" where a mounting pile of damaged Humvees accumulated daily. It was hard to not get jaded, as there were reports that South Africa had Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPS) ready to be sent over in 2006, but Halliburton had the contract and it was not until that the end of 2007 that they started being shipped in small quantities to us. I didn't question the politics or the people at the top of  the chain but we knew they were completely remote from us. Every day each platoon would send out 12 trucks and one would be blown up. Defense contracting companies and individuals made millions upon millions of dollars on that MRAP program and many lives were lost during that time. (Editorial note: There was a scandal about the delay in fielding MRAPS and senior Defense officials were hauled up to answer to congressional oversight committees)

"As the low man on the totem pole my job was to be the fourth humvee in line as we went on patrol We nicknamed it the "Bastard Caboose." When the lead vehicle suspected a stretch of road ahead it stopped the convoy. It was my job to pull out of formation and drive along that stretch of road to ensure it was clear. Sort of like the canary in the coal mine. It was impossible to notice areas where the ground had been disturbed or a suspicious bump may contain an IED, and the streets were in ruins with sewage running along around the rubble. I figured out a method where, if I suspected an IED I would swing my truck so the left rear tire would pass over that spot. If an IED blew up, no one would be sitting in that seat. Being in an explosion was traumatic, you may have gotten hit by shrapnel, but your whole body went into some kind of shock that would last three or four days, no time for recovery back on patrol the next day. Foot patrol was hard, between, body armor, helmet weapons, for me radios as I held responsibility for communications. Each soldier would carry a piece of the large weapons and by the time we were fully dressed we were carrying at least 200 pounds. A brother comrade who was a big guy was struggling, and so I took pieces of his equipment, ammo for example to lighten his load. Sure enough, when we are back at the FOB there is an inspection and all our bags are laid out, one of course was short ammo. The sergeant found one empty, the two of us were dressed down, I explained that my comrade had knee trouble and was finding it hard to keep up. We were asked how long this had been going on, before I could answer "just today" my comrade told the truth. I was pulled to one side and felt a bond and glimmer of respect from my team leader, a defining moment for me. During the deployment I received a promotion to specialist. I felt I had become a warrior, the terrors of being attacked with RPG's the bloodshed or experiences of standing behind my buddy watching his legs getting blown off somehow I had to compartmentalize, and harden myself, it was the only way to become a true warrior and leader. They extended our tour three months and in December we returned to Carson. During that time my wife gave birth to our second daughter prematurely, and the baby passed away. I dealt with that trauma in the the same hardened person I had become, compartmentalizing. Keeping everything inside.

"I finally felt that I was truly initiated and given responsibility to lead my squad.
In May of 2009 we deployed to Afghanistan for 12 months which was a much easier tour.  A completely different environment from Iraq. Our team had developed the reputation of being at the top of the game and wanted to carry the ball in the big one, be in the thick of the battle. Instead we we assigned a National Guard unit. To us we were babysitting, they trained for a month a year and were not combat hardened. I used the time to hone my skill's technologically and being a leader, taking 18 year old  and turning the into men, soldiers

"We returned to Carson where I  attend won the Warriors Leadership Award and made Commandants List, then competed with peers from other platoons at the Distinguished Leadership Board. I was selected top of class. Now I am initiated, I am one of the leaders they give me my own squad. I felt I had officially grown up.
We were then deployed to Korea in May of 2011, which was very different, many moving parts. I was a squad leader and a Sergeant. No real bandwidth of leadership above me. Being a squad leader enabled me to be strategic, you are really like the quarterback. For me that was the perfect spot. You are calling the ball I loved that position When I got to Korea  found 40-50  privates in my platoon only one Lt. and one staff sergeant. The privates spent most of their time goofing off At that point the staff sargeant had given up, he washed his hands of bringing the privates to where they needed to be. The lieutenant took me to lunch and he just  looked wasted and worn out, the staff sergeant just negative. No one knew what to do with these 50  privates who just didn't care. No one was watching them. I asked the lieutenant to give me the reins and I was fresh, battle trained and at the top of my game. I said I can turn this around.

"I went "red faced on these guys" I worked them mercilessly very  hard, gave them extra duties, I was really hated, they painted pictures of me with devil horns. But after a while they understood what I was doing and why and they started to fall into line. I didn't care about parades or paperwork, i just cared about and teaching them to be prepared soldiers and not get killed when they found themselves in war zones. It wasn't what I was told to do but I took it upon myself to make these guys soldiers, because if they weren't prepared they would go out into the field in hot zones and get killed. As my soldiers got to know me, they got into the groove they stopped talking about me as Hitler, they knew I had their backs

"By now additional leadership showed up, the new first sergeant said I am now here and every thing will come from me. I know you have been running the show but it all now will be directed my me. He addressed the entire platoon but I knew he was talking to me.

"He was out front one day and noticed soldiers cleaning up putting items away in sheds, and asked what they were doing. They said Sergeant Callaway had told them to do it. He said go get Callaway, and asked me why I had directed the men to clean up, I said because we have an inspection tomorrow. He said 'that order did not come from me. Drop down and do push ups.' We had nicknamed ourselves "Baker's Bastards," partially after my days in Iraq driving the Bastards Caboose and were were in Baker company. As I was doing my push ups in front of the first sergeant I heard someone scream BASTARDS!, which was of course inappropriate, the next thing I knew, the entire platoon had run to line up in formation behind me all of them doing doing push ups. That was the most defining and fond memory I have of my service. Things ended well with the first sergeant, he told me he had never seen such loyalty demonstrated like that in years. We worked well together for the rest of the tour.

"After that tour, I returned to Fort Campbell, KY and found that I was feeling like I had run out of steam. Little by little the hardness fell away, my wife was in the third trimester and gave birth to my third daughter and I struggled wondering if there was a 'me' inside the hard compartmentalized robot I used to deal with my deployments. It felt like a splinter that had been in for a long time, festering infected and was now pulled out with all of the puss coming out, I was losing touch as the hardness fell away. I sought psychiatric help and medications, even though I wasn't well I managed my symptoms it to the best of my ability. My unit deployed leaving me behind to work through recovery.

"My immediate superior was doing things that were unethical and illegal and I felt obligated to report him. Well it was he I had to start with on the report, no whistle blowing protocols other than that. He started an administrative file on me, having gotten back to a semblance of normalcy, from my psychiatric issues, which he was aware of. He told me that every time I sneezed he would add to the file, when it reached a certain thickness he would take my stripes and kick me out.

"2013 was a watershed year as the new administration started the pull back. I wanted to re-enlist get on with my career and so prepared a enlistment package which needed to be submitted up my chain of command. The first sergeant called me into his office  and held up my administrative file waving it in my face, he told me it wasn't full enough to use it, but he tossed my enlistment package in the trash. There was nothing I could do, but to serve out my time and wait 6 months to re-enlist starting from square one with no guarantees of what rank I would have. He said you are not the kind of NCO the Army wants. That hurt, it was very disheartening. I felt abandoned by the army it really stung. I served the balance of the time on my contract.

"I always knew that when the guys at the top made decisions that were way out of my control, but had come to believe that for the guys in the field, there was a kind of code that we would take care of each other. I felt the Army had really abandoned me. After I left,it threw me into sort of an identity crisis. It took me a while to bounce back from that. It also hurt me that I heard some of my guys had been deployed and gotten killed or hurt and wondered if I had been able to  finish training them maybe I would have made a difference."

Jeremy Callaway, now 30, took a sales job in Dallas for a while but through support from his wife and family is now living in Lusby and is a program manager for Bay Community Services a regional care provider for challenged and disabled individuals. Between  his army disability payments of and his job he gets by. Studying to get a degree and writing a novel.

After meeting with Jeremy and hearing his story and how he was abandoned by the Army this correspondent was shattered and humbled. The U.S. is engaged in 134 war zones around the world, and the politicians are detached. It is Jeremy Callaway and his brothers and sisters in arms who face the unknown enemy where saying "thank you for your service" just doesn't seem to cut it. Our veterans are all heroes, I write this listening to the big guns at Dahlgren shaking Breton Bay like thunder and wonder what future Jeremy's children and all our grandchildren will face.

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