PEOPLE OF LA SAL
Jon and Josh Stocks
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Jon and Josh have lived in La Sal for twenty-ish years.
Jon and Josh are brothers, born and raised in La Sal, with their other brother, Gus. All three have served in the military, but Gus no longer lives in La Sal. They come from a family of many service men and women. Their father served in the National Guard right after the Vietnam War. Two of their great-uncles were in the Air Force, one of which served in the Korean War. Another great-uncle was a Green Beret. And one of their great-aunts was also in the Air Force.
Jon joined the National Guard’s 118th Unit in 2004 and served for seven years. He liked the idea of being a soldier. And after three years of playing soldier one weekend a month and two weeks a year on home turf he decided it wasn’t enough. He wanted to do what soldiers do. So when he heard that the 116th Secfor (Security Force) was looking for volunteers to go to Iraq he quickly volunteered to go.
In May, 2007, he was deployed to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, for three months of convoy security training. His training consisted mostly of classroom lectures. He found it monotonous and couldn’t wait to get overseas to do the real thing. Finally, in August, he flew to Mosūl, Iraq, via a short stop in Kuwait. When he stepped off the plane in Kuwait he said it felt like sticking your head into a 400 degree oven. The heat seared his skin like a hot sauna gone bad.
Finally at his F.O.B. (Forward Operating Base….where he was stationed) just outside of Mosūl he started his job of convoy security. Convoy security consists of escorting and protecting personnel, vehicles, and equipment while on the move from point A to point B. For Jon it was usually from the F.O.B. to the Turkish border and back, about 15-20 miles. The largest convoy he escorted consisted of 90 trucks that strung out three miles long.
It was usually done in the dark of night and it was impossible to see very far. This worried the driver of Jon’s truck. The driver, from Brazil, was afraid that if he stepped out of the truck there might be a sniper waiting to take him down. Jon, seeing his fear, would volunteer to exit the vehicle first to take the hit for his comrade if indeed there was a sniper. To make sure he got the attention of any potential sniper Jon would climb on top of the vehicle and pee off it. Waiting. Nothing ever happened. No fire ever came raining down. No bombs ever went off. He never even had to use his gun for protection, for the entire nine months that he was there.
Jon says that for him it was not like what everyone perceives war to be. It was rather boring driving back and forth with nothing happening. He was a little disappointed.
He got bored. The company of men (and one woman) in his truck got bored. During one of the escorts the convoy came to a stop, for a while. The truck commander decided it would be funny to take off his clothes, leaving his body armor on of course for protection. Then Jon and one other was egged-on to join in the fun. Figuring it as a way to cure some
boredom they started stripping down to their birthday suits too, then putting the body armor back on. The body armor covered only the shoulders, chest, head and feet. The three bare-bottomed boys then jumped out of the truck and proceeded to run all the way around the convoy. The officer in charge did not find amusement in it at all. All three were taken off escort duty and placed on “Extra Duty” for the remaining three months of deployment. Extra Duty consisted of doing menial tasks around the base like scrubbing toilets, running errands, handyman fixes, etc. When asked if the streaking escapade was worth it he chuckled a little and nodded his head. He’d do it again.
Extra Duty only added to the boredom and they started doing other stuff for entertainment like pouring gun powder in ant hills and lighting it to watch flaming ant larvae come flying out, or joy riding on the sand dunes, in which, if caught, would have put them on more Extra Duty.
Josh’s experience was a little different. He was sent to Afghanistan.
He joined the National Guard’s 118th Unit in 2005. He received orders in 2010 to go to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin for one and a half months of Combat Engineer training. He learned how to identify I.E.D.s (Improvised Explosive Device, otherwise known as bombs). Suicide bombers, car bombs, wire-triggered bombs, pressure-plate bombs, etc. He looked for anything that looked unnatural or disturbed. If he identified something as a bomb he would then mark it and call in the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) specialists to take care of it, unless it was a smaller bomb then his squad would take care of it, usually by detonation. One way he would identify a bomb would be to send a drone up into the air and fly it over potential areas and then actually watch the terrorists placing the bomb. Those were the easiest to find.
Each day brought new challenges and was a new adventure. Each morning he wondered what the day ahead would bring. It wasn’t always exciting though. Some days were alarming, others were horrendous. One such terrible day came and Josh witnessed losing his platoon sergeant to a bomb. It is a day he would not discuss with me. He says he never talks about it. He admits that he went to Afghanistan knowing that at least one bomb would probably detonate inadvertently, but you can never be prepared for the carnage that might follow.
Josh served in a province of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. His first reaction to the area was that it was very primitive. No electricity, poor hygiene, and archaic farming techniques. The local food was composed mostly of rice, beans, and flat bread. He said it tasted pretty good.
He was in Afghanistan for eleven months. It is great to be home but he misses the comradery he had with the guys. War has a way of forming a bond between soldiers.
Whether it was not what they were expecting or more than what they were expecting Jon and Josh Stocks served the Unites States willingly and gladly. Their family and friends were happy to see them come home safe, unlike too many families in America whom lose sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers in this thing we call war. For those of you who may not understand the wars that these two men served in here it is in a nutshell. The war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan are two separate wars. The War in Afghanistan is called Operation Enduring Freedom. It started in 2001 due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It is us against terrorists. We want to stop them from killing people, but they aren’t deterred. This war is still ongoing and is projected to remain at least through 2014. The war in Iraq was called Operation Iraqi Freedom. It started in 2003. It was us trying to help Iraqi civilians gain their freedom from Saddam Hussein’s brute rule. The war technically ended in 2010, but our troops stayed in Iraq for a new cause called Operation New Dawn. In Operation New Dawn our troops are “advising and assisting Iraq’s Security Forces, supporting Iraqi troops targeted in counterterrorism missions, and protecting U.S. civilians.” (from the Congressional Research Service Report for Congress). This “operation” technically ended in December 2011.