- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

Spc. Nathan Stopps, 24, from Deerfield, Ill., was wounded by a roadside bomb during a foot patrol on Oct. 15, 2008, on his first deployment to Iraq. Stopps holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and is single.

Stopps carried his wallet with him as a reminder of his life back home, including a receipt from the time he won a free T-shirt for eating three burritos from a restaurant in Deerfield.

His perspectives on serving in Iraq:

“I think there is a misconception about Iraq that the fighting is the worst part. The fighting is the best part _ I mean, that’s why I signed up.”

“I guess anytime we were in any kind of engagement, something got blew up or someone got shot at was my favorite part. When something like that happens, nine out of 10 times no one gets hurt and later you smoke a cigarette and you joke about it.”

“You realize that this point in time in your life is the most danger you’re ever going to be in, the most excitement you’re ever going to be in. It’s the closest you’re ever going to be in a Hollywood action movie you’re ever going to be in.”

“Honestly I thought it was a privilege to fight a war and I can’t believe that everyone my age didn’t do it.”

“I didn’t know the meaning of safety in numbers until I came to Iraq. … You realize that the only thing keeping you alive is the amount of firepower your platoon is carrying on their backs and in their hands and the amount of fire you can bring through the radio. That was kind of an odd feeling; I felt the power of violence, the spectrum of violence. And the power through fear.”

“Most of the time we got attacked nothing really happened. No one got hurt on either side, insurgent or coalition, so it felt like you walked on a tightrope walk for the first time and you’re on the other side and you’re like, wow, I made it. It was really dangerous and I was scared at first and it was probably a really stupid thing to do but I’m on the other side and I survived it and it is pretty cool and now I can say for the rest of my life that I walked across a tightrope.”

“I’m most proud of the fact that the attitude that I kept. Realizing that I’m not a hero for doing this stuff and that there’s a million heroes back home that never put on a uniform, and do great things. And I’m no better than anyone else because I put on a uniform.”

“I think a hero is anyone that puts someone else before themselves. It could be a father raising a kid or a neighbor helping a neighbor. And also you put yourself ahead of others for their benefit, not for your own.”

“There’s 25 people in my platoon and two of them died so that means I have a 1 out of 12 chance of dying out there, if you want to quantify it like that. I never felt like my odds were 1 out of 12 _ it felt like 1 in a million. It never felt like I was going to die or get hurt.”

“The lower enlisted American soldier … has so much to worry about. I mean you’re fighting a war, roger, but are wearing a clean uniform, are your boot laces tucked in, are you wearing your headgear correctly, do you have a whole checklist of things, did you remember to wipe down your taillights? You have so much to worry about and you take it seriously because your bosses take that stuff seriously.”

“So the American soldier has plenty of stuff to worry about, plenty of small stuff to worry about. Their minds are not idle to the point were they sit around thinking about dying all day… We’re thinking about what’s going on immediately, things we can control.”

“The best part of Iraq _ I said before it was the fighting but it might be the friendships, and if you’ve been on a sports team in high school you’ll know what I’m talking about.”

“The Army is the only job were you get shot at in the morning and still have to go back to work in the afternoon.”

“If everyone was like `are you OK’ or `you need to rest, take the rest of the day off,’ maybe I would have started thinking `you know what, I’m messed up, something bad just happened, and I need to contemplate my mortality.’ But that’s not how we roll in the American army _ you got a job to do. Guys will act how the guys around them act, you know? You want to act cool and you don’t want to be that guy trying to be drama king to make a big deal out of stuff.”

“You focus on the stuff you can control and deny the stuff you can’t.”

After Staff Sgt. Chad Caldwell died, “I went into my room and watched a movie and ate a granola bar. I didn’t know what else to do and I didn’t cry, until the next morning. I went to the truck to clean his stuff out and he still had cigarette butts down on the ground and he still had his coffee mug. I actually still have the coffee mug, I secured that for myself, his coffee mug up on the dash and I sat in his seat in the Humvee and I cried for the first time in a long time. Then I cried again when I told someone about it over the phone.”

“Within a month afterwards I could talk about it without showing any emotions. And I don’t know if I’m proud of that or ashamed of that or if it’s good or bad. Or if it still means I’m a fish or if I’m resilient or if it means I don’t know what.”

“And I was even more stoic when Sgt. Regalado died. I still haven’t shed a tear for that, and that is something that I am ashamed of and it really makes me wonder what kind of person I am. And it actually makes me kind of scared that I can lose a friend and have it affect me so little.”

After Stopps was injured along with several other soldiers, “I’m down in the firing line and there is a guy next to me shooting and another guy next to me shooting and I’m firing rounds and I can’t concentrate on the target. I can’t control my breathing and I start to get nervous and start to freak out and I start to cry. I clear my weapon put it down and have to walk off the line.”

“I went to combat stress and I talked to someone about it and they said it was like a Pavlovian-ike neurological thing where I was associating gunshots with people getting hurt and stuff like that. That comforted me a little bit. But after that I did lose a lot of confidence in myself as a soldier. That might have been the realest Iraq has ever gotten for me, when I realized I was vulnerable like that. Not just physically but psychologically vulnerable.”

“War is a problem that can’t be solved. And since it can’t be solved, people think they can solve it by eliminating the opposition.”

“War is the biggest case of denial in human history. War is a struggle between two different wills that apparently that does not have an answer because … even when the war is over the problem normally still remains. Just one side is too weak to make its case anymore.”

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