With the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 coming up, The Citizen caught up with some of the local veterans who have served the United States in the Middle East.
Chad Dunn, Cuyler Stoker and Casey Roberts are each proud of the service they have given their country through their military service, especially what they were able to accomplish in the Middle East.
Dunn joined the military as a high school graduate, three months before the terrorist attacks left him wondering what he’d signed himself up for. After training, he was sent to Iraq in 2004 and again in 2010. As a Calvary scout, he was part of a unit that gathered information for a unit of special forces. They were also tasked with surveillance and patrolling the cities in which they were based, such as Kirkuk.
“We would talk to the locals, identify people in the community that were setting IEDs (explosives) in our areas, or knew where weapons were, or who was fighting for Al Qaida,” he said.
Dunn and his unit also spent many nights on rooftops, watching for people planting explosives in the roadways or buildings intended for either the U.S. Military or the Iraqi army.
His second deployment was to Camp Victory in Baghdad, where his responsibility was primarily maintaining the security of the 20,000 civilians, military personnel and contractors on that base. That effort involved tracking down the people and the weapons involved in any direct fire on the people or facility.
“Those were scary days. When you start hearing of guys dying, you wanted to know everything about it, who it was, where it was,” because they would soon be going down the same roads. “It was, ‘When is it going to be us,’” he recalled.
Stoker joined the Utah Guard in 2009 because he likes service, being a part of something and the camaraderie with other soldiers and officers. “I wanted to do my part,” he said. He was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in 2016. Stoker was part of a construction unit tasked with building infrastructure, such as an airport.
“We tore out an old airport runway and poured 16,000 cubit meters of concrete,” on that project, he said. During the winter months they worked days, but in the summers, they would work nights due to the extreme temperatures. “Even then our air-conditioned huts were hot. I’d wake up in the afternoon to step outside for a few minutes, which would then make the hut feel cool,” he said.
Roberts, too, joined the military when he was 19 years old. He was deployed to Iraq in 2010 and was responsible for making sure the local security force was doing its job. He outfitted them with armor, hired them, and when necessary, fired them.
“That wasn’t fun,” he said. Neither was seeing the abject poverty he saw over there. “There was a family that lived near our base that came running out to dig for our garbage. It was kind of heartbreaking to see that they had so little, that our garbage was better than what they had,” he said. He also served guard duty for special forces teams and defended the base.
Both Dunn and Stoker emphasized the importance of not letting one’s service be dictated by current politics.
“There are so many people that are for our military...don’t let (the small amount) of people who want to kneel (instead of stand for the flag) bring you down or bug you. They can believe whatever they want. Let it pass. You believe what you believe. Just being a good American is all that matters,” said Dunn.
“Be proud of what you did and be proud of what you accomplished,” said Stoker.
Roberts feels the same way. “I did what I did because I believed in serving my country. I’m happy for my service. It is something I would never trade for anything,” he said.
Stoker and Roberts would not comment on the current chaos that has ensued with the exiting of U.S. Troops from Afghanistan, Roberts saying his thoughts weren’t printable. Dunn was willing to say that the soldiers he knew would go back in an instant to recover Americans and their allies that have been left behind if President Biden would just give the “OK” to do so.
As for efforts to remember 9/11, Roberts said he hopes the public will remember the good that came from Americans at that time, and the resilience they demonstrated.
“It shows just how strong we are as Americans when we need to be. That’s what I want people to remember. What’s America? We are free. We can make our decisions. We can be held accountable for our decisions. You don’t really see that in many other places,” he said.