Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Craig Crowley: An American Soldier

Craig with Donald Rumsfeld and a friend on Christmas in 2005.

Craig Crowley, a native of Dorchester, MA, enlisted in the army when he was just 17 years old. He said he almost felt like it was his duty, since so many other men had been in the military in his family. He had many uncles and a grandfather who had served before him in other wars. He also felt like he wasn’t ready for college and really wanted to challenge himself with something he needed to do on his own. Craig attended Curry College for a year after returning home from Iraq in 2005, and while he did enjoy it and did better than he had in high school, he stopped attending because he wasn’t where he wanted to be financially. He plans to take classes or attend a school that offers free tuition to veterans of the state of Massachusetts in the near future.

Since Craig was only 17 when he joined the army, he needed both of his parents’ consent. “My father had no trouble signing the paperwork because he knew this was what I wanted and knew I would make the decision with or without their support in November, a few short months later when I would turn 18. My mother took a little more convincing because June of 2002 was less than 10 months after the September 11th attacks and the United States was gearing up for a war that was inevitable.” Before entering the army, Craig had to begin physical training to see where he stood with their APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test), which consists of the max number of pushups and sit-ups you can do in two minutes respectively and also run two miles in a predetermined set time. “All standards are based on your age. So I practiced running and worked on strength training with my recruiter for a few months before leaving for basic training.”

Craig attended basic training at Ft. Leonardwood, Missouri. This is also where he received his job training that he has in the army. He spent a total of nine weeks in basic training and an additional nine weeks in the AIT (Advanced Individual Training) and was there from the end of June 2003 until November 2003. When asked if he made any friends at basic training, Craig responded very enthusiastically. “I made some very good friends who I will never forget, and although I have lost touch with some of them, I have found a few people through Facebook and Myspace over the years. I also gained friends for life that I was deployed with, and still talk to them on a regular basis.”

In 2004, Craig bounced from Hawaii to Kuwait to Iraq (where he stayed for 12 months) and back again, before returning home to Massachusetts in 2005. While he was in Iraq, he was involved in various construction projects throughout Camp Liberty, Baghdad Airport and various camps surrounding Baghdad. He also pulled security details on main gates, securing and checking vehicles and civilians that entered the base, and on convoys throughout the country to different camps and job sites. He learned to operate and fire various rifles and automatic squad weapons, how to plant and use explosives, and practiced hand to hand combat, survival skills and tactics.

When asked what it was like to be on base, Craig said, “Being on base was a home away from home to say the least, you made it as cozy as possible. Day to day was different depending on if you had a mission to conduct or a detail to do, and if not you had down time to take care of anything you needed to. We passed the time by joking around together, playing sports, working out, playing video games and ragging on each other. We were the only family we had away from our real families and we acted just like we would at home. Any day that involved travel outside the confines and safety of the base was scary because you didn’t know if today was your time to get hit or not. It was always a crap shoot leaving the base and you just had to rely on the training you received and your battle buddies’ training to take care of each other.”
Craig is second from the left. This picture was taken in Kuwait.

“Being away for so long was the hardest thing to deal with because your family and friends were thousands of miles away and the only contact you had was through mail, email, phone calls and video chat on the internet. It got easier as the internet was more easily accessible and mail moved a lot faster. It was hard to call home and hear everyone having fun at parties and things because I knew I was missing out, but at the same time I knew that what I was doing was a sacrifice for the choice I made in my life. I also learned to miss the little things that anyone else might take for granted, like being able to pick up the phone and call a friend and head straight to the mall or their house, and even down to the littlest thing like having your own shower.”

When he first came home, Craig felt like he was on the outside looking in. He had to reintegrate himself back into his group of friends and meet their new friends. He said, “I came home to everyone living their college life and doing their own things and I had to somehow find a way to fit back in and readjust to civilian life. Coming home from a war zone has effects that I wasn’t completely ready for. I was so used to carrying my weapon that sometimes I would look for it or wake up in the middle of the night looking for it, because I was taught to know where it was all the time. How I looked and reacted to people and situations because of training and reaction on an everyday basis affected me. It wasn’t always bad and I eventually began to act normal and return to everyday civilian life.”

Craig re-enlisted in the army in November 2009 for an additional six years. He said he did it because it is something he is good at and loves to do and is the biggest accomplishment so far in his life. “I have traveled the world and seen places, people and things that most people may not ever see ever in their lives. I want to make it to 20 years and earn my retirement. I do consider this a career. I put on the uniform one weekend a month and anywhere from one to three weeks a year. I know I’m not active duty and do this job on a daily basis, but this is a career that I have committed to for the time.”
Craig guarding a checkpoint.

When asked what being in the army means to him, Craig said, “It gives me a sense of pride. I made a decision that not many people make or are willing to make. I feel that I am extending a small family tradition and being part of a “Brotherhood” of past, present and future soldiers, and we all share some common bond to one another. I do not feel that I am a hero, and my father has seen that from me over the years and tells everyone the same thing. I have had people shake my hand in uniform and thank me and call me a hero, but I cannot see myself as a hero. I reserve that status for all the men and women who have died in the past wars that have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend us. It feels weird to be thanked for a job I signed up to do without being thanked.”

Craig will be 26 on November 21, and is currently working for the City of Boston at the Inspectional Services Department as a city inspector. He gets to write people tickets for not parking in the correct places, not disposing of trash properly, or forgetting to shovel their sidewalks in the winter. He also busts illegal vendors at Fenway Park for selling merchandise. He recently became engaged to his girlfriend of five years, Kara, and they plan on tying the knot this summer. He has been trying to join the Boston Police and Fire Departments and wishes to begin a family one day in the future. No matter what happens in his future, Craig will always be admired by myself and others for the service he has provided for this country.

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