Face of Defense: Soldier’s Service Rooted in Patriotism
By Army Pvt. Christopher McKenna
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP STRIKER, Iraq, June 30, 2008 When terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, a high school student in New Orleans knew he needed to fight back.
Army Spc. Jontel Watson, a combat medic with 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, examines another soldier in the Patrol Base Yusifiyah, Iraq, aid station, June 15, 2008. U.S. Army photo by Pvt. Christopher McKenna, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“I was 16 years old when 9/11 happened, and being the hot-blooded person that I am, I joined the Army on my 17th birthday,” said Army Spc. Jontel Watson, a combat medic with 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment. “I graduated (from high school) early and went to basic training in 2002.”
Watson, who was raised in a military family, planned to join the Army even before the events of 9/11.
“I was going to go to college and get a degree first,” he explained. “After I finished college, I was planning to come in as an officer, until 9/11 happened. For me, it was the final nail in the coffin toward joining. I was going to do it right away.”
Watson graduated from basic combat training at Fort Benning, Ga., and received the Soldier of the Cycle award.
“I felt proud; I felt unstoppable,” he said. “I had just gone through what people told me would be the most difficult place for basic, and I came out on top.”
Watson faced a major decision in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed his family’s home in New Orleans.
“I literally had nothing to go back to,” Watson said. “My family was safe, though. They left the city prior to the actual hurricane, when the mayor ordered evacuation.”
Watson was stationed in South Korea at the time and was given the option of receiving a compassionate reassignment to be closer to his family.
“My family is proud,” he said. “They refused to receive assistance from myself, the government or anybody; but as time’s gone by, they have improved and are once again doing well.”
He spent another year in South Korea before receiving orders for reassignment to Fort Campbell, Ky. Shortly thereafter, his unit received orders to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“When we came on orders to deploy here, I expected the worst, Watson said. “I was expecting some adventurous stuff.”
Stories told by servicemembers who had served multiple deployments in Iraq cultivated Watson’s expectations of what lay before him. But he found that conditions have improved.
“I haven’t had to work on one American soldier during this deployment,” he said. “I have, however, worked on a couple of gunshot wounds and stab wounds [on local citizens and Iraqi soldiers], things I have already seen before.”
Watson said being deployed to this area of Iraq gives him a positive outlook on the future. He’s decided to shoot for a college education when he leaves the military.
“I’m looking to pursue a degree in engineering, or maybe even journalism,” he said.
(Army Pvt. Christopher McKenna serves with the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)