Former soldier gets lost in beauracracy

By Robert Morales —

Gary Edward Rumbaugh doesn't look like a soldier when you first meet him; he looks like more like your average teenager.

Although he's 28, he's experienced what most of us will never get to witness in our lives, and most of it not good.

He was born in Pecos and he attended school there. He graduated in 2004 from Zion Christian High School.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
Rumbaugh had already decided he would enlist in the Army as soon as he
graduated from high school. Only two months after graduation, he
enlisted in the U.S. Army. Shortly thereafter, he was dispatched to Ft.
Jackson, SC for 11weeks of basic training.

After basic training, Rambaugh attended Alternate Individualized
Training (AIT), a program that allows the new graduate select the
best-suited program, ranging from infantry to office work. In Rambaugh's
case, he chose mechanics. He stayed in Ft. Jackson for 12 weeks.
Subsequently, Rumbaugh chose to go back to Pecos to perform recruiting
duties as his former high school for two weeks.

Once his recruiting assignment in Pecos was completed, he reported to
his duty station in Ft. Lewis, WA, where he trained for two more years
from 2005 to 2007.

As Rumbaugh explains it, the Army has “cycles” of units that have
been scheduled to go to a certain military destination. In Rumbaugh's
case, his destination was Iraq. In April 2007, he left for Taji, Iraq,
an area northeast of Baghdad. “We knew we'd be in Iraq for 15 months,”
says Rumbaugh because the duty had been extended from 12 months to 15
months. Once he arrived in Iraq, he was informed that three more months
had been added to the 15 months.

“At this point in the war, the U.S. was trying to turn all of Iraq
into a ‘green zone,'” Rumbaugh says. In theory, a green zone was
intended to “neutralize” the dangerous areas of the country into much
more friendlier areas that allowed civilians to try and enjoy a safe
area in which to live, work, shop and play.

About six months later, Rumbaugh learned from his commanders that the
Taji area had indeed been converted into a green zone, and that now the
soldiers at Camp Taji would move to the northwest part of Iraq in an
effort to turn this area into a green zone. Shortly, thereafter,
Rumbaugh's battalion packed and moved to Forward Operating Base (FOB)
Warhorse.

The move to FOB Warhorse became an eye-opening experience for Rumbaugh and his fellow soldiers.

“At Camp Taji, we were met with vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs), the
vehicles that have explosives inside, and they ram right through our
gate to try and kill as many people as they can. We here hit twice by
the IEDs and we were mortared three times. In one of those attacks is
when I received shrapnel to the back of my legs, and this was right
outside of our barracks.”

Rumbaugh recalls an incident from sniper fire that killed his friend,
Ham. Ham and Rumbaugh were on a routine supply mission to transport
supplies toa smaller base. Rumbaugh and Ham were traveling in a striker. Rumbaugh was a rear gunner and Ham was a front gunner.

About 50 to 65 yards away, a sniper hit Ham. “Once I saw the flash, I
immediately felt his blood all over me,” says Rumbaugh. “I reacted
quickly and neutralized the sniper and we did a 360-degree perimeter
check around the vehicle per our rules. That was the last time I saw my
best friend Ham.”

Ham had no chance. The sniper had used a 50-caliber weapon that hit
Ham in the face. Ham was flown to Baghdad for medical attention, but was
he was declared dead on arrival.

Two weeks later, in November 2007, Rumbaugh was traveling from FOB
Warhorse to FOB Falcon to re-supply Falcon with food and ammunition. On
the way back to Warhorse, Rumbaugh says a bulletin came in that an
infantry unit had been attacked by an IED (improved explosive device).

“About 150 meters away, there were three Al-quaeda terrorists. We
were being shot at, and my sergeant gave us a confirmed shoot-to-kill
order. One of the terrorists launched a grenade at us. I thought we were
going to die because the grenade came so close to us. All of it felt
like slow motion.”

The grenade didn't explode. The External Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team picked up the grenade.

“After this, it actually sunk in how real this whole war thing was,” says Rumbaugh.

“This was no video game. This wasn't a movie or a TV show. This was life or death.”

In another incident Rumbaugh accompanied a new soldier who had just arrived to camp, fresh from basic training.

They were traveling to pick up plates of food from the dining
facility. A few minutes later, Rumbaugh says he heard the familiar
“whistle sound,” the sound of sound of a mortar. “

It's a distinct sound,” he says.

Rumbaugh and his new companion ran to a nearby Humvee for cover. The
new soldier had suffered from shock and Rumbaugh recognized the
symptoms, so he picked up the soldier and put him over his shoulder, and
he ran as fast as he could.

When they came to a stop, a mortar landed close to the soldier near
the dining facility. Rumbaugh threw the soldier under the Humvee for
protection, an instinct that saved the soldier's life.

In yet another supply mission, Rumbaugh was in the lead vehicle. It was a mission that would change Rumbaugh's life.

IEDs had been planted all along this route, and although the heavily-fortified Humvees were known to
withstand IED attacks, one exploded on the right passenger side of the
vehicle, sending the vehicle into the air.

The jolt hurled Rumbaugh into the Humvee's ceiling, where he hit his
head, causing his spine to become compressed. A second blast hit from
behind, sending the vehicle backward toward the first IED. A piece of
metal struck Rumbaugh's leg which tore his ACL.

The vehicle rolled, which sent Rumbaugh falling from the “bird nest” atop the Humvee. He now had chicken wire in his arm.

“I felt a warm, tingly sensation. My sergeant came to pluck out the
chicken wire, and I passed out. I saw the blue sky, and I knew this was
the end.”

He woke up in a hospital. He was taken to Baghdad, and from Baghdad,
he was flown to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Once back in the U.S., Rumbaugh's life was turned upside down. He had
a shrapnel in his legs and a torn ACL. Military officials asked
Rumbaugh to get medical treatment at Madigan Hospital in Washington
state.

Because Rumbaugh hadn't seen his family in more than a year, and the
Veterans Affairs (VA) office had not come through with a check for a
flight to Washington, Rumbaugh decided to visit his mother in Odessa.

Rumbaugh's mother petitioned the VA for her son's medical treatment,
but years later, Rumbaugh has still not had surgery for his torn ACL.

He has now developed severe arthritis in his knees and he complains of constant back pain.

Since coming back to the states, Rumbaugh has done odd jobs from
tattooing to work in the oilfield. He moved back to Pecos last year, and
he says it was the best move of his life because that's where he met
his wife, Gloria.

“My life would have turned out totally different had I not met
Gloria,” says Rumbaugh. “She has been my saving grace, and I thank God
every day that I met her.”

Aside from the aches and pains associated with the injuries incurred
in Iraq, Rumbaugh also suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome
(PTSD), and he says that every day is a struggle. He says sleep is
something he dreams about because it is rare that he gets one night of
sleep without waking up in distress – distress deriving from seeing his
best friend killed in Iraq and from his personal injuries.

Regardless of the many obstacles Rumbaugh has faced since he decided to join the Army, he maintains a positive attitude.

He's working for a local contractor, and he's enjoying. “Things can only get better,” he says.