Excerpt from my (in-progress) book

Post 9/11

It was mid-morning and Chyna and I were still lying in the bed asleep.

Scan_20160222

During those days, I slept with the radio on. To the best of my knowledge that’s the only time in my life that I’ve ever done that. As I awakened and became more and more alert, I realized that the radio was airing coverage of a disaster at the World Trade Center. For some reason, I thought it may have been the anniversary of the first World Trade Center bombing back in 1993 but soon realized it was not. It was happening right then. We were under attack.

I wish I could say that I got dressed and immediately went to the recruiting station to reenlist in the army, but that just wasn’t the case; however, the thought did cross my mind more than once. One of the things I missed from my first stint in the army was the honor of wearing a combat patch on my right shoulder. I had a strong gut feeling that I might wind up there eventually, but I wanted to explore other options first.

Some of the job opportunities I’m about to go over happened before 9/11, but most of them took place afterwards.

One of my good friends sold insurance and asked if I was interested in coming to work for his company. My interest was piqued when he told me how much money I could make, so I took what I can only describe as a multiple choice personality or character exam to see if I’d be a good fit for the insurance business. As it turns out, I was not. I think I was too honest for the business. Honestly. They really thought I could excel and asked me to retake the test after a little coaching, but I declined. Insurance was not for me. Besides, I didn’t want people to scatter whenever they saw me approaching.

It’s funny, because nowadays, when people ask me what I do for a living and I don’t feel like telling them “comic, speaker, soldier, blah, blah, blah,” I simply tell them I sell insurance and the conversation comes to a screeching halt.

I also interviewed for a job at a furniture store. He made a snide comment about my stuttering but seemed like an okay guy. The interview went well but ended abruptly when he said he had to go run a credit check. He went to run it and I ran the other way. I never heard back from him.

The Duck Head outlet was next on the agenda. Due to my history in retail and my exceptional customer service skills, the interview went quite well. I likely would’ve landed the job had I not snickered when the lady mentioned that her cat had just died, and they buried it in a casket.

Adrian let me borrow a shirt for the next interview at the Hilton Garden Inn. I can’t remember what the position was, but the interview lasted a good 90 minutes and was filled with positive vibes. At the end, the lady was ready to offer me the job.

“Now this position starts out at $7.00 an hour,” she said.

“Do what? Why didn’t you tell me that 90 minutes ago?” I thought to myself.

Heck, I was making $11.95 an hour at Kroger. I told her thanks but no thanks.

Leaving Kroger before landing a job was a huge mistake. If I could go back and change anything about this period of time in my life, it would be that. My mindset was that companies would be lining up to hire me, not only because I was a veteran and a college graduate but also because of my proven job stability at Kroger. That was simply not the case, but I learned a valuable life lesson. Don’t quit your job until you have another one. It shouldn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to figure that one out, but I did have more opportunities.

Russell Stover Candies was a great interview and took place in Montgomery at a fancy hotel, one of those with the doors on the inside of the building. I vividly remember it being the Friday after 9/11. I was very excited about this opportunity and was confident that the job was mine to lose. I was very familiar with the company from my time working at Kroger. This job started off at $31,000 a year and came with a company car. I always thought that if I ever made even $25,000 a year, I would feel like a millionaire. Millionaire or not, it was not meant to be. I didn’t get the job and was highly disappointed.

I was struggling through it all. I was getting further and further behind on bills. I had to make choices between which bills to pay and which one to let slide. Of course, I paid the utilities first. They were necessities. One time, I went to pay my telephone bill after it had been disconnected. I needed it back on ASAP just in case someone called about a job.

“My phone was disconnected this morning, so I need to pay it,” I said as I handed her my check.

“Ok, let me see. It appears they are just doing some work on that line, so it’s not been disconnected,” she said.

“Cool. Can I get that check back?” I asked.

I was serious. She gave it back. My phone was disconnected the next week.

Stay tuned for future sneak peeks as I continue writing my still yet to be titled book about this poor stuttering kid from Opelika, Ala., who’s struggled to make something of his life with a whole lot of help from faith, family, and friends. Make sure you’re signed up on this email list. These previews are just the meat and potatoes, so please don’t notify me of any incorrect grammar 🙂

We’re also getting closer and closer to unveiling the brand new jodyfuller.com. Good things are happening. 

Does saying closer and closer actually make it any closer than just simply saying closer?

Thanks for reading,

Jody

Jody Fuller is from Opelika, Ala. He is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He currently holds the rank of Major in the US Army Reserves. He is also a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

Promo pic small

Advertisements

Who are the GIs of Comedy?

GIs Korea

Greetings from Korea, the Land of the Rising Sun…wait, that’s not right. Why can’t we get it right?

Who are the GIs of Comedy? Well, per the bio The GIs of Comedy is a comedic troupe of troops, who have taken their love of their country and brought it to the comedy stage. Quite simply, as the motto says, they’re Standup Comics. All Veterans. Still Serving Their Country. One Joke At A Time.

GIs logo

And there are a handful of us, however, on this current Fall 2015 tour to Korea & Japan, there are five of us, courtesy of Armed Forces Entertainment. So, again, who are we? What are we? Apparently, that’s open for debate.

Thom Tran, US Army, ret.

Thom Tran, SSG (ret.) US Army

Follow Thom on Twitter.

First of all there’s the creator of the GIs. His name is Thom Tran. He was born in Vietnam but raised in Buffalo. He’s a medically retired Staff Sergeant who was injured in Iraq in 2003. To be more specific he was shot in the head and awarded a Purple Heart. He the Asian guy in Call of Duty Black Ops. Which Asian guy? All of them. Really. But who is he? What is he? People ask all the time. In fact, the Korean flight attendants on Korean Air started talking to him in Korean.

Major, USAF Reserves

Major, USAF Reserves

Follow Jose on Twitter.

Jose Sarduy is a pilot/instructor for the Air Force when he’s not telling jokes. He’s a graduate of the Air Force Academy and has served for 20 years. He even flew President Bush to China. But who is he? The Mexican and Puerto Rican sergeants at lunch the other day were amazed that he was an expert salsa dancer. Why were they amazed? “Because he was white.” So is he? No. What is he? What kind of name is Sarduy? It’s Cuban. Jose was born in Cuba and raised in Miami.

I met Thom and Jose in 2012. We’ve toured extensively. Great comedians! Great guys! Great Americans! Then there are the rest of the “GIs of the Comedy” as we were once dubbed by a local television anchor in Buffalo. But I’ll talk about us, too, extensively. Sherwood Schwartz dissed the Professor and Mary Ann on the early opening theme of Gilligan’s Island by referring to them as “the rest.” They were just as important as “the millionaire and his wife” and so are the rest of the GIs.

Key Lewis, US Navy

Key Lewis, US Navy

Follow Key on Twitter.

Key Lewis is a veteran of the US Navy. I met Key last year when we entertained troops in Italy, Jordan, Israel, and Jordan. He such a great comedian and so full of energy. Great guy who loves his family, hats, and shoes, but who is he? What is he? He tells a great joke that starts with: “I’m half white, half black, and look Mexican.” And everyone thinks that. He says he didn’t have a choice. Hell, I even call him “Llave” which is Spanish for key.

Ralph Figueroa, US Army

Ralph Figueroa, US Army

Follow Ralph on Twitter.

My newest pal is Ralph Figueroa. We did a show together over the summer in Vegas. He served in the Army for 12 years. Our paths likely crossed at Ft. Sill back in the mid-90’s and we have hit it off well. Ralph is a great guy, too, and does so much to give back to veterans. It’s quite impressive. He’s into cars and hair gel. He let me borrow some last night and after a show, walking in the rain, and 7 hours of sleep, my hair is still holding up well. But who is Ralph? What is Ralph? He’s half Mexican, half El Salvadoran, yet everyone thinks he’s Puerto Rican. They call him “Papi.”

Jody Fuller, Major, USAR

Jody Fuller, Major, USAR

Follow me on Twitter.

Then there’s me. Everyone else has their photo taken in front of a brick wall. I got a tree. I’m cool with that. They’re all big city guys. I’m not. I’m an Army guy for 23 years and counting…Enlisted, Officer, Reserves, National Guard, Regular Army, Salvation Army, you name it and I’ve done it in the Army…but who am I? What am I? I’m a white guy from Alabama, so naturally, people think I speak Roll Tide. I don’t. Not me. I’m an Auburn guy. War Eagle!

So now you know a little bit more about us, specifically, who we are. Now don’t get it mixed up again…

And a special thanks to our tour manager, Kennon, who is doing a great job and has her hands full keeping us all straight. I don’t envy her position at all. She also just happens to be Thom’s fiance.

Thom created the GIs of Comedy hoping to bring the therapy of laughter to troops still serving in combat zones, and technically Korea is still at war, even though they have a Captain D’s, Krispy Kreme, and the largest Base Exchange I have ever seen here at Osan.

Korea / Japan tour schedule

Korea / Japan tour schedule- Y’all come see us!

I’m honored to be able to entertain troops all around the world, but it’s even more special doing with such a great group of guys. I’m not just blowing smoke, I mean it. Now if we could just come up with a joke that starts with “A Korean, a Mexican, a Puerto Rican, a Bama fan, and a white guy named Jose walk into a bar….”

GIs Korea 2

Click here for the official website of the GIs of Comedy.

Click here for the official Facebook of The GIs of Comedy.

Click here for the official Twitter account of The GIs of Comedy.

Click here for the official Instagram account of The GIs of Comedy.

Sorry, we don’t do Pinterest…

Promo pic small

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He is also a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

One Tough ‘Ombre

One Tough ‘Ombre

Tom Ingram 8

Today is the 70th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Bulge. This is an article I wrote last year for East Alabama Living (http://www.eastalabamaliving.com) Obviously Tom is now a year older and has been back to Europe a couple of more times. He’s treated like a rock star over there and deservedly so.

Tom Ingram, 88, recently had a hip replaced. He stopped taking pain medication after just two days. When his doctor asked why he’d quit taking the medication, Ingram replied, “Because I’m tough. I’m a Tough ‘Ombre. Besides, I’ve already been through hell.”

Ingram was born in 1925, on a farm along highway 80 in what is now Lee County.

Ingram had two brothers, both of whom volunteered to serve during WWII, whereas Tom, the middle brother, was drafted.

The oldest brother served with the 42nd Infantry Division, more commonly known as the Rainbow Division, while the youngest brother served with the All-American 82nd Airborne Division.

In 1944, the middle brother completed 12 weeks of training at Camp Blanding, FL before embarking on an 18 day transatlantic journey aboard a troop carrier.

Those 18 days on board the converted British freightliner were challenging. The troops were required to stay below the deck for the duration of the voyage to keep from being spotted by the Germans. It also prevented the troops from tossing cigarette butts overboard, which would have been another indication of allied troop activity. If detected, torpedoes from German U-boats likely would have followed.

Ingram was one of the few troops who didn’t smoke, so he stayed sick while the others smoked and gambled their way across the Atlantic.

After arriving in England, he shipped out to Normandy the very next day and was assigned to the 90th Infantry Division, nicknamed the “Tough ‘Ombres.” They were originally called the Texas-Oklahoma Division, which was represented by the T & O on their shoulder patch. Their reputation on and off the battlefield warranted the change.

In December 1944, Ingram experienced his first taste of war in the Battle of Dilligen. It was here where he first witnessed the death of a platoon mate. It would not be the last.

Tom Ingram 1

The Battle of the Bulge, fought from December 16, 1944 – January 25, 1945, was the last major Nazi offensive against the Allies in WWII. The battle was a final effort by Hitler to divide the Allies in their drive towards Germany and to destroy their ability to supply themselves.

The surprise attack caught the Allied forces completely off guard and became the costliest battle of the war in terms of casualties for the United States.

Ingram will never forget how cold it was there amongst the densely forested Ardennes region of Belgium, France and Luxembourg.  He estimates there to have been 18-19 inches of snow on the ground.

One night, his unit marched through the snow, directly through an ambush zone, but the Germans were too cold to mount an offense.

Ingram survived the Battle of the Bulge and soon found his way to the Czechoslovakian border as the war came to an end.

Tom Ingram 3

Tom Ingram 2

For his service, Ingram received many medals including two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

He returned home to East Alabama where he enrolled at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (API.) In 1950, he graduated with a degree in Agricultural Education and went on to teach for 18 years. API is now known as Auburn University.

In the early fifties, he married Myrtle, who gave birth to five children.

Since the end of WWII, he has returned to Europe 20 times and is actively involved in many WWII ventures, including the 90th Infantry Division Association. He frequently attends Battle of the Bulge reunions.

“There was a break in action around Christmas of ‘44,” Ingram recalls. “I remember having Christmas dinner with all the fixings. It sure was good. I got to eat it at the radio station but as soon as I finished, I had to go back outside and get in my foxhole.”

These days, Ingram enjoys the holidays in the comfort of his own home as he gathers with his family each year on Christmas Eve.

His lovely bride of 50 years passed away in 2003.

Tom Ingram is a proud member of the greatest generation and a tough ‘ombre to boot, but he wants to set the record straight about one thing. “They say our unit walked 1,946 miles across Europe but that’s not true, because half the time we ran like hell,” explained a chuckling Ingram.

Tom Ingram 5

 

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

Promo pic small

Mr. Fuller goes to Washington

Last Monday, I had the incredible honor of attending retired Command Sergeant Major Bennie Adkins’ Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House. Without hesitation, I can honestly say that it was and will always be one of the highlights of my life.

Bennie and me

The only drawback was that Lucy wasn’t able to go with me. She was planning on it, but Emily got sick and spiked a 105 degree temperature the morning we were to leave. Lucy did what military wives do. With very little fanfare, she took care of things at home while I went out and got all the glory. The next morning, Emily’s fever was broken. Chalk one up for mamma.

Although Lucy was unable to attend, I did spend a great deal of time with other friends during the trip. I think that it’s important to be able to share memories of such an important and monumental event with like-minded people. Having said that, neither Johnny nor Jay are as pretty as my wife.

Because of my lifelong stutter, I was hoping to meet Vice President Joe Biden, who is himself a stutterer. I wanted to give him an iStutter lapel that was created by one of my friends from the National Stuttering Association; however, the vice president was not in attendance.

The iStutter lapel was designed by my friend David Friedman to bring awareness to stuttering.

The iStutter lapel was designed by my friend David Friedman to bring awareness to stuttering.

Several of my friends were incredibly excited about drinking adult beverages in the White House. I can’t blame them. I was, too. We all took pictures and sent them back home. One father received major cool points from his two adult sons.

During the ceremony, I sat next to a two-star general from the United States Marine Corps. When I told him I was from Opelika, right next door to Auburn, he told me that he’d played football for Pat Dye at East Carolina.

MG O'Donnell played for Coach Pat Dye at East Carolina.

MG O’Donnell played for Coach Pat Dye at East Carolina.

The ceremony was absolutely incredible. President Barack Obama did a phenomenal job, and Bennie was as humble as ever.

Bennie POTUS

After the ceremony, we had another drink or two. Some of us found it so entertaining that we could put our drinks on the furniture without using coasters. The food was amazing, too. I took a couple of napkins home as souvenirs and may or may not have taken a plate. I’m from Opelika. I can’t help it.

I was talking to a friend when Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defense, walked by all alone. I started trying to say his name, but, as usual, was stuck on the letter S. “S-S-S-Secretary Hagel,” I yelled just before he rounded the corner. He returned and was very kind. After talking for a few minutes, I gave him the iStutter lapel and asked if he could pass it on to the vice president. He asked for my card and said he would but, due to his position, I had my doubts.

Me with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

Me with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

I then told the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, how I came to be in possession of a Christmas card sent to him from the commander of Ft. Drum. He found it humorous, but I’ll save that story for another day.

Me with the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey

Me with the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey

Monday night, I had a phone call from an unknown caller, so I didn’t answer it. If it was important, they’d leave a message. We were still celebrating.

In addition to my friend CSM Adkins, I met four other Medal of Honor recipients on this trip. Maj. Drew Dix, LTC Ron Ray, MSG Melvin Morris, and Col. Roger Donlon are all heroes of the highest regard, and it was truly an honor to meet each of them.

Major Drew Dix

Major Drew Dix

LTC Ron Ray

LTC Ron Ray

MSG Melvin Morris and COL Roger Donlon

MSG Melvin Morris and COL Roger Donlon

The next day, CSM Adkins and Army Specialist Four Donald P. Sloat, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor the previous day, were inducted into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon by Secretary Hagel. It was another incredible ceremony, and I was just honored to be there.

CSM Adkins being inducted into the Hall of Heroes by SecDef Hagel,  Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army General Allyn and the Sergeant Major of the Army Chandler.

CSM Adkins being inducted into the Hall of Heroes by SecDef Hagel, Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army General Allyn and the Sergeant Major of the Army Chandler.

As I was driving back to Opelika on Wednesday morning, I decided to check the voicemail from the unknown caller. “Jody, this is Joe Biden, Vice President Biden,” he said. I almost had a wreck. I don’t care where one stands politically, it should always be an honor to receive a call from someone of his stature. He left a really nice voicemail and asked me to call him back. I did, but he wasn’t there at the time. His secretary said he’d return my call. I had my doubts.

On Monday of this week, he called me back. We had a great 18-minute conversation pertaining mostly to stuttering and service. Thankfully, he didn’t ask me about the plate.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. He is also a lifetime stutterer. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. 

Promo pic small

 

Frank Waldrop: local war hero

I love interviewing members of our military. Here is a story from the Opelika Observer I did a few weeks ago on a gentleman from my hometown. Turns out, we are related by marriage. Enjoy.

photo (19)

Frank Waldrop’s roots run deep in Opelika. He was born on South Eighth Street in 1921 to Thomas and Fannie May (Trotter) Waldrop. He also had a sister, Mable.

Thomas, a WWI veteran, was co-owner of Crossley and Waldrop Furniture. He was also a mortician.

He has pleasant memories of growing up in Opelika. Those memories include meeting his buddies for a game of baseball down by the Confederate monument behind First Baptist Church. “The road was paved there,” he says, “but was a dirt road just beyond there.”

Another of his favorite “gathering places” was the city pool behind Clift High School, adjacent to Moore Stadium.

Young Frank went to first grade at Palmer Hall, which was located where Opelika City Hall is now. The school became too crowded, so he attended second grade at Miss Nettie E. Webb’s house on South Railroad Avenue. Her classroom was filled with switches, and, according to Frank, she wasn’t afraid to use them.

He went to Southside School for the next four years. Southside would eventually become Miriam S. Brown Elementary School. Today, it’s known as the Cultural Center of Opelika.

From the 7th to 11th grade, he attended Clift High, where he played football under Coach Lindy Hatfield, a former running back at Auburn.

“FDR had Moore Stadium built by the Public Works Administration the year I got there. Before that, they played the games at the fairgrounds,” he recalls.

When not playing football, Frank worked with his father, who’d left the furniture and undertaking business in favor of the grocery business. Waldrop’s Grocery was located in downtown Opelika on Seventh Street.

When Frank was 15, his father went back to the furniture business but also started a mattress business. This was during the Depression, so people did whatever they could do to provide for their families. Wherever his father went, young Frank was right there along his side.

“In those days, we only went to school through the 11th grade. It wasn’t until the year after I graduated that they implemented the 12th grade,” said Waldrop, who graduated in 1937.

At 16, while still in high school, Waldrop joined the Alabama National Guard. He was a combat medic assigned to 167th Infantry Regiment of the 31st Division. His service included training soldiers in Jacksonville, Fla., and Alexandria, La.

In 1941 he left the Fort Dallas Smith Armory for Camp Blanding, Fla., for a yearlong assignment. He was there training soldiers when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The first units he helped train were sent to Europe and North Africa.

“We were not allowed to call them draftees,” he said. “We were instructed to refer to them as selectees.”

Over the next couple of years, his unit trained soldiers at different locations around the country to replicate the vast terrain differences that soldiers would experience in Europe, Northern Africa and the Pacific. They included Camp Bowie, Texas, and the mountains of West Virginia.

They were also assigned to Camp Pickett, Va., for amphibious training in Chesapeake Bay. This training would serve him invaluably.

Frank Waldrop’s unit was initially slated for Italy, but that changed. Instead, they were sent to General Douglas MacArthur. “They didn’t need us in Italy, so they sent us to MacArthur. We went to the South Pacific,” he said.

Their point of embarkation was the aforementioned Chesapeake Bay. Their mode of transportation was a Dutch freighter that was converted to a troop carrier. Because of the constant threat of attacks from German submarines, the carrier was escorted along the east coast all the way to the Panama Canal.

Once they cleared the Panama Canal, they were all alone in the South Pacific for four weeks before landing on the world’s second largest island, New Guinea. Frank and his unit had a month to get climatized before seeing any combat duty.

The natives in New Guinea’s coast weren’t civilized, and there was no infrastructure. A battalion of Navy Seabees attached to his unit built roads and airstrips once the area was secure. Within a matter of days, the airstrips were fully functional.

In spite of heavy combat, his unit eventually made it all the way up the New Guinea coast and built bases along the way. Although he was a medic, he was a target the entire way. The Japanese had no respect for the red cross on his shoulder. He mended and repaired broken bodies throughout the war, which was a foreshadowing of things to come.

After a stop in the Dutch East Indies, his battalion, First battalion, fought on the island of Morotai. Second Battalion remained in reserve for some much needed rest while First Battalion did all the fighting.

They were on Morotai preparing to invade the Philippines when the atomic bomb fell on Japan. “That was the best thing to ever happen to us. MacArthur was getting organized and ready to go back into the Philippines. Had that happened, there’s no telling how many more would have died.

“The Japanese soldiers we were fighting on Morotai had other ideas about surrendering. They took off into the jungle. For all I know, they may still be there,” he said with a chuckle.

First Battalion was given a break while Second Battalion was tasked to take a weather station three days away. Technician Third Grade Frank Waldrop was reassigned to Second Battalion. “I missed out on the rest,” he said. “It was the easiest assault job I ever got into. The amphibious assault vehicles drove all the way onto the beach. I didn’t even have to get my boots wet – ordinarily, we were all the way up to our neck in water. And there were just a handful of Japanese.”

By this time, he had enough points to be eligible for discharge as soon as the war ended.

“I left out of the Philippines on a real big, nice ship. It wasn’t a regular troop carrier. It was more like a hotel,” he fondly recalled. “It took us to San Francisco where we stayed for two weeks.”

After a week-long train ride, he arrived at Camp Shelby, Miss., where he spent a week in the hospital. Upon his release, he boarded a bus back to Opelika.

“I caught up on five years of fun in about two,” he said with a smile.

Upon his return, he had a couple of local jobs in the auto industry before landing a job in the body shop at Tatum Chevrolet, where he’d spend the next 40 years. “For the first 10 years, I was on the line repairing wrecked cars but spent the last 30 in management,” he said.

“He was the best body man in Lee County,” said one friend.

In 1948, he married the former Johnny Lou Knight and has been happily married for 65 years. They were blessed with two children, Thomas and Belva, and are proud of Chandler, their only grandchild, who is simply described as “the best.”

Scan_20140510 (2)

 

Since retiring at the age of 71, Frank has kept busy with work in and around the house and, along with his bride, has been an active member at First United Methodist Church.

When asked what the secret to their longevity was, Johnny Lou said, “Well, we never did fuss much. We just always got along. He didn’t drink and didn’t cuss much. Sometimes he might say “doggone!” but that’s about it.”

At 93 years old, he’s not as active as he once was. He spends a lot of time resting, but if anyone deserves the rest, it’s Frank Waldrop. After all, he’s still owed that doggone rest from the war.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

Promo pic small

Operation Iraqi Freedom (11 years later)

It’s hard to believe the War in Iraq started 11 years ago this week.

(I wrote this last year for the 10 year anniversary, so if it seems familiar, that’s why)

I was a Second Lieutenant attending the Transportation Officer Basic Course at Fort Eustis, Virginia, when the invasion began.

SFC Milanio used his Photoshopping skills many years ago to do this for me.

SFC Milanio used his Photoshopping skills many years ago to do this for me.

Initially, it looked very promising as the Iraqis seemed very eager for a new day—a day without Saddam Hussein in power. We all remember the toppling of Saddam’s statue followed by the obligatory flip flop slaps to his sculpted face.

Saddam was no longer in power and was now on the run.

In July 2003, his heartless and ruthless sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed in a raid in the northern city of Mosul by soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division.

Years later, on my third tour in Iraq, I would often see what was called the Perfume Palace, which is where Uday and Qusay committed most of their atrocities against women.

I know there is a special place in hell for them.

By December 2003, my unit, the 3rd Brigade of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, also known as the First Stryker Brigade, was at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Pacesetter near Samarra, a major city within the Sunni Triangle. It was perhaps the coldest, wettest, muddiest places I’d ever been.

I remember when the news broke that Saddam Hussein had been captured near his hometown of Tikrit, just 30 miles from our location.

We were sitting in an old bombed out hangar when one of my esteemed colleagues said that he’d read where Ted Nugent was offering a $1,000,000 reward to anyone who captured or killed the brutal dictator. I quickly chimed in by saying that I’d read the same thing.

We were looking at each other like two dogs exposed to high pitched sounds when I quietly asked where he’d read that vital piece of information. It turned out that we’d both read it from the same source—the wall of a porta-potty in Kuwait.

As you can imagine, rumors were running rampant. We were in an austere environment so communication with the outside world was extremely limited.

We got to call home one day but due to the length of the line, each call was limited to just five minutes. I called my mother, but because of the time restraints and the fact that I stuttered, I let her do most of the talking to maximize the time.

Soon after Saddam’s capture, the rumors of our early departure spread like wildfire. Some soldiers were really excited that we’d be going home sooner rather than later.

Of course that was not the case. We would be in Iraq for eight more years.

After Samarra, we moved north to the city of Mosul to replace 101st.

On April 4, two of my soldiers were hit with a daisy chain IED while out on a convoy in Mosul. SPC Philip Rogers was killed instantly, while SPC Tyanna Felder would succumb to her wounds just three days later.

Felder rogers

A month later, our battalion lost another soldier as SGT Isela Rubalcava, known by most as SGT Ruby, was killed when she was hit by flying shrapnel from a mortar while leaving the chow hall.

The brigade as a whole would lose countless others on that first deployment.

In all, there were roughly 4,487 casualties of war during Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. In previous wars and conflicts, that number would have been much higher but was mitigated by advancements in medicine, training, technology, and transportation.

Between Iraq and Afghanistan there are well over a 1,200 amputees.

Over 32,000 soldiers were wounded in Iraq alone, not to mention the thousands who suffer internally with PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The American people supported the soldiers in Iraq unconditionally for the duration of the war and we are forever grateful for that support, but for many, it’s not over. The battle has just begun, and they need your help now more than ever.

You can do your part by contacting your representatives to ensure they work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to end the backlog for those veterans filing claims.

Getting involved with worthy organizations such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the Wounded Warrior Project are also ways to show your support for those who served voluntarily so you or your loved ones wouldn’t have to serve involuntarily.

IAVA

Wounded Warrior

Although we did have few bad apples amongst the ranks over the years, the overwhelming majority of soldiers served in a noble manner and made Iraq a better place for its people. Of that, I am certain.

So, on behalf of each and every soldier who has ever had the honor of wearing the uniform, I offer a sincere thank you for your past, present, and future support. We simply couldn’t do what we do without it.

We’re just hoping you don’t forget about us when we’re no longer wearing that uniform.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

Promo pic small

Veterans Day: A Day of Celebration

Veterans-Day-image

Last year, I took a character strengths survey for the Army. It is a 240 item, scientifically validated, questionnaire that provides a rank order of an adult’s 24 character strengths.

While the ranking of some of the character strengths left me baffled, the top character strength did not. Topping the list for me was gratitude.

Take your own survey now. You’ll find it interesting.

Gratefulness is November’s character trait for Opelika, a City of Character.

I have so much to be grateful for, but with Veterans Day upon us, I want to focus on our veterans, for whom I give thanks to every day.

Recently, I told a forty something year old friend of mine that had the U.S. not defeated the Axis powers in WWII, we’d all be speaking German. His reply was classic. “Not me. I can’t speak German.”

Last Sunday, I had the honor of attending the birthday party of 90 year old Husky Kirkwood, a Navy pilot during WWII. Not only was it an honor due to his rightful place in The Greatest Generation but also because according to him, it wasn’t a “phonebook crowd.” He didn’t just scroll through the phonebook looking for folks to invite; he only invited select personnel. Like I said, it was an honor.

Husky in his new birthday suit.

Husky in his new birthday suit. I wore a Navy shirt in his honor, which was tough for an Army guy.

This is the P2V5F, one of the planes Husky flew in the Navy.

This is the P2V5F, one of the planes Husky flew in the Navy.

As one can imagine, the “phonebook crowd” drives a lot of Buicks. I believe there were more Buicks at Husky’s house that day, per capita, than anywhere else in America.

Also, as you can imagine, the “phonebook crowd” consisted of many Veterans.

I know there were multiple WWII Veterans in attendance, as well as those from Vietnam. There was at least one from Desert Storm and even a couple of us from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s ironic that I didn’t mention the Korean War, which sadly is referred to as The Forgotten War; however, I didn’t forget about it and neither should you. I assume some of the guys served in Korea but it never came up in conversation. Perhaps they’ve tried to forget and for good reason. War is hell and Korea ranks right up there near the top.

While many people see Veterans Day as a sad day, I do not. I see it as a celebration for all who have served; those for whom deserve our unwavering gratitude.

It shouldn’t be confused with Memorial Day; Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving.

I missed out on a well-paying Veterans Day speaking engagement in California this year, because I stood my ground. I told the event planner that I could speak about anything but to expect a few laughs along the way, because Veterans Day shouldn’t be a somber day; it should be a day of celebration. Apparently that was too much for him to handle, but I’m ok with that and that’s what ultimately counts. You got to stand for something.

But for many, the celebration will soon be ending. According to the VA, we are losing 800-1000 WWII veterans each and every day, so the time to show your gratitude is now.

In recent months, many of my friends from around the country have been showering veterans with birthday cards.

My friend from Fairhope told me about her uncle who fought in WWII. He is 91 years old and blind. His wife died 15 years ago and all he has left is my friend and her mom.

As of Monday, he’d received 26 birthday cards and was deeply moved and brought to tears by the love and gratitude sent his way. He feels special knowing that he is not forgetten.

Uncle Bill message

It doesn’t have to be a holiday for you to reach out to veterans.

We are also losing Korean War veterans at an alarming rate.

Vietnam veterans were loathed by many during their era, so the time to sincerely thank them for answering their nation’s call for a very unpopular war is now.

I deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom three times, each time coming home to a bigger celebration. Sadly, the guys from Vietnam were spat upon and advised not to wear their uniform upon their return. The time to thank them and welcome them home is now.

I’m not forgetting about my generation of vets, I just ask that you focus on the older ones first. We plan on being around for a while, but if you see a younger veteran who is struggling, please reach out to him or her.

I encourage you to do something special this Veterans Day weekend. Make a phone call or two. Send a card. Drop by to see a friend. Visit your local veterans home. Bake some cookies. Who doesn’t like cookies?

I plan of taking a veteran or two to lunch on Monday. Heck, I might even drive them in style. Does anyone have a Buick I can borrow?

My "grandpa" is a WWII veteran and pinned on my lieutenant bars at Ft. Benning in Jan 2003. He's not really my grandpa but that's what I call him.

My “grandpa” is a WWII veteran and pinned on my lieutenant bars at Ft. Benning in Jan 2003. He’s not really my grandpa but that’s what I call him. He has a Buick.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

Promo pic small