by Deborah Steele Hazen
After serving 15 months in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division, Sergeant McMann, a 2005 graduate of Clatskanie High School, has now become a recruiter for the U.S. Army at Ocean Beach Recruiting Station in San Francisco.
Part of the requirements of becoming a recruiter was to write about his Army experience, and Sergeant McMann’s story – so moving, heartfelt and powerfully-written in words that capture the reality of today’s American soldier – has been read and praised by the highest level of our nation’s military leaders.
The McMann family has given much more than its share in defense of our freedom. Michael McMann served 22 years in the military, and his wife Norma served for six. Their eldest son, Don “Mikie” McMann, as related by his brother in the story below, gave his life 10 years ago.
In addition to Anthony, the McMann’s other son, Warrant Officer 1 Derek McMann, is also in the military, currently training as an Army helicopter pilot at Fort Rucker, Ala.
We are indebted to the McMann family for this story, so appropriate to Memorial Day.
by Sergeant Anthony McMann
My Army story began the 29th of September, 2001. It was early morning when I was just 14 years old that my mother greeted two Army men in Class-A uniforms at our door.
My mother came to my bedroom door barely being able to walk and with a quiver in her voice and a knot in her throat she delivered the news that no parent should ever have to endure. My oldest brother, Mikie, was killed while serving in the United States Army as an Infantryman.
For the remaining four years of my high school career I sought out an answer. Not an answer of how or why my brother was killed, but an answer of what it was that pulled him to the Infantry so much, what were his work days like, how much did he make, and, most importantly, was he happy?
To most Army recruiters, recruiting is a hit or miss with someone they expect will join. They either have a change of heart or just get too scared of change. For whatever reason it may be, I knew I was not that person. I kept myself in the best physical shape possible, running my mind and body into the ground to be what it took. I still had a life outside of my new grown obsession with wanting to join the Army. I wrestled, played football, attended school-related activities, but nothing, and I seriously mean NOTHING, was going to stop me from joining.
My father, being a retired FAG (field artillery guy) in the Army, had no objection or questions when I asked for his permission to sign my enlistment paperwork at the age of 17. Not even two weeks after completion of my junior year did I sign my paperwork and become a DEP (Delayed Enlistment Program) in the United States Army.
I was my recruiter’s dream come true. From the day I walked through the door until the day I left, I was eager to learn and knew what I wanted. I let nothing and no one stand in my way of seeking answers to the questions I needed to find out.
I did my time eudiring the so-called “suck” of Basic Training and Airborne School. But nothing had set me up for what was to come. Just nearly six months after arriving to my first duty station in the 82nd Airborne Division did I deploy to Iraq. I had no clue what to expect. This wasn’t “Call of Duty” (a computer game) and there are definitely no pause and respawn buttons in this life.
Over the course of my 15 months in the Diyala River Valley I found my answers. I knew what it was that pulled my brother to the Infantry. It wasn’t just being able to drive a Gator out the back of a Chinook on a landing zone while taking fire, or shooting an HE (high explosive) round into the chest of the enemy from an M203 grenade launcher.
It was the Brotherhood, the “Real Suck,” and being able to rely on just one another to get you through the hardest times in your life. The people that would literally jump in front of a bullet for one another. The ones that would show you an envelope with a letter inside, postage and address already on it and tell you that if something happens to make sure it was sent. One who would lose a hand by a 50-caliber round and continue on to lead a fire team to wipe out four insurgents in a canal while being under fire. Ones who would stay away for three days, unburying their brothers who were trapped under a collapsed school house that was hit by two dump truck VBIEDs (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device); who would break fingers and cut skin while scraping over rocks and rubble just to find another one who didn’t make it.
It is the sweat dedication and bond that we all share with one another that makes us the Infantry and something I am proud to be a part of.
My battalion alone lost 22 men on that deployment. The men I served with were true Americans, patriots, and my brothers, and will never be forgotten.
I made it a point to have my mom drive out to a small town in Central Oregon to attend one of my friend’s funeral and to talk to his mother, whom I myself had unburied her son’s body that day, carried him to the casualty collection point and wiped the dust off of his patches, and slid his body into that black bag. It’s the honesty, sincerity and true care for one another that keep us a team. I wanted someone to be able to explain to his mother her son’s hard dedication and sacrifice. How he was day to day, what we did and how I never got to hear any of that about my very own brother. I wanted to know that she would be at peace knowing that he was happy and doing something he loved, and none of us who were there that day would ever forget him.
The reason I felt it so important to seek out answers about my brother and his life is: I was a young, dumb and, at the time, very immature child. I never had my questions answered, I had to find them out on my own accord. Every time my brother would call home and ask to talk to me I would tell my mother, “Just tell him I’m not here or that I just walked out!” There is not a day that goes by that I don’t take back not talking to him over the phone. Maybe things would be different, maybe he wouldn’t be gone, and maybe, just maybe, we could have fought side by side.
I want to be there for young Americans in a time where they need to hear the harder right over the easy wrong.
I want to be there to help people have their questions answered without having to go through the hardship of losing friends and family. I will not spend another day regretting not taking the opportunity to reach out if only for a moment to hold onto what no one else in this world has control over, life and death.
I choose Life and like they say, the streets are paved with the graves of men who had good intentions. I will be a part of the road. I will take part in my community and I will help out the greatest country in the world get back on its feet. I will remain Army Strong. Will You?