"YOU DO YOUR JOB" McFarlane.
NAME | Chad McFarlane
AGE | 30
THE BASICS | Former US Army M1A1 tank gunner with the 3rd Infantry Division (mechanized), out of Ft. Stewart, GA
• Enlisted in 2002, honorably discharged in 2007
• Currently studies electrical engineering at CCRI, where he serves as President of the Student Veterans Organization
HIS WORDS | In high school, we have junior ROTC programs; it’s the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. High schools around the country have them. I was actually in a Navy unit in Florida. So I got my taste of the military there. I thought about joining, wasn’t necessarily sure. And then 9/11 happened and I was like, “I need to join.”
I tried to join the Marine Corps, but I ended up not being able to join there. But I ended up joining the Army. Right after my 19th birthday, I shipped off to basic training. After basic training, [I] reported to my first duty station, which was Fort Stewart, the 3rd Infantry Division, and I was there three weeks and then I shipped off to Kuwait.
Quite honestly, I was wondering why we were going to Iraq, because I thought the bad guys were in Afghanistan. I grapple with it. [But when] you join the military, you have a job to do, essentially. You don’t really ask questions. It’s not what you’re there to do. You’re there to do your job.
So when I got to Kuwait. . . the war hadn’t started yet. This was the buildup. My unit was already there for another deployment. And then when they started talking war, the forces started building up. So I saw it from, essentially, the inception. All the units started to fill up and build up, and you kind of don’t know what was going on. It was quite the surreal experience, I really gotta say. You go from the green East Coast, and then you land [and] there’s nothing but flat, expansive of sand and what they call a “cabal” in the Kuwaiti desert. So it’s just a bunch of tents and vehicles, and it’s just sand as far as you can see. Mind you, I’m a fresh, new private, “green behind the ears,” and you’re landed, and you’re here, knowing that there’s a war about to start. I was kinda wide-eyed, like deer-in-the-headlights, like, “Uhh. . . .”
The war actually started in April, if I remember correctly. So it was just build-up, until then. We were lined up; we were at the border, to cross over. I think we were the first brigade, and I believe we were the fifth unit in line to cross over. So while we’re sitting there, gearing up, ready to go, Saddam launched some Scud missiles into Kuwait. In basic training they teach you about chemicals weapons. . . [and] it was known that Saddam, obviously, has chemical weapons. In basic, you have going to the gas chamber for training filled with CS [tear gas], so you understand how to [put on] your mask and that stuff. So all I could do was of think back then. . . then they started doing the signal to “put on all your gear.” So the missiles fly over, and then we’re putting on all our chemical gear. And we were like that for at least two weeks, I would say, until they gave the “all clear,” then we could get out of that stuff.
Eventually we got the “all clear.” We were driving up into Iraq. And then, essentially, it was a whole lot of nothing. Sand. And then. . . you started seeing some remnants from the Gulf War I. We started seeing vehicle shells all over the place. And then the further we go on, we start getting near civilization and, all this time, I’m really trying to just ask myself and come up with a reason why we’re here. Why are we here? What’s going on?
The answer I settled on was: Saddam and his folks were despots. They tortured their people, they did a lot of bad things. Once we got into Baghdad, we ran into some civilians. . . they were actually happy to see us, at the time. They were telling us some stories about what went on. We found someone who actually could speak English and he was just saying how they used to snatch women off the streets and take them to the palace, [never to be] seen again — all kind of crazy torture stuff that they used to do to folks. So they were happy that we were there, at the time. That’s how I look at it. That’s what I settled with.
In hindsight, now, I kinda look at it [as], “Well, you know, there are a lot of despots in the world. But we’re not invading everybody. We’re not liberating every country that has a dictator.” [But] you do your job. Basically, what it boils down to is, you look at the person who’s right next to you, who’s sleeping in the rack next to you. . . you look at the guy to your left, the guy to your right, and the only thing you focus on in the heat of it is, “Make sure I have his back. Make sure they have my back. And let’s go home.”