Face of Defense: Soldier Finds Niche in Nuristan
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Paula Taylor
Task Force Bastogne
WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2010 Since arriving here several months ago to serve with Task Force Bastogne, Army Pfc. Raymond Cecil -- a cannon crewmember with Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, has made a positive impression on his leaders.
Army Pfc. Raymond Cecil raises the elevation on his howitzer at Forward Operating Base Kalagush in eastern Afghanistan’s Nuristan province Dec. 12, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Bill Murray
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“He’s an extremely motivated, competent and confident soldier,” said Army 1st Sgt. Jeremy Barton, Cecil’s senior enlisted advisor for Battery A. “He is very respectful and is always in the thick of things. He is always learning and training, and is excelling at his job. I am proud of Cecil and would love to have more soldiers with his attitude, initiative and ability to learn and retain information.”
To some, it’s not surprising to hear the Tennessee native -- a 1st Brigade Combat Team soldier with the 101st Airborne Division -- is doing so well. He’s the fourth generation in his family to join the military and deploy to war.
“When Cecil was in the third grade, his father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was in and out of hospitals for treatment,” explained Barton, a Clarksville, Tenn., native. Cecil, 21, has known since he was a boy he wanted to join the military. His father’s debilitating disease only slowed him down a little.
“It got a little crazy,” he said. “It seemed like we spent almost every night in the [emergency room] or hospital. He has almost kicked the bucket on us a few times. It's not a fun thing to have happen to someone in your family -- no disease is ever fun on a family.”
When Cecil was 12 and a few years after he learned his father had MS, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed his world. In response to those attacks, Cecil’s father, who was a regional manager for Waste Management, was asked to assist in the Pentagon clean-up efforts in the attack’s wake. On his last day on the assignment, he fell from the back of a trash container, landed on a concrete road barrier and broke his back. The injury resulted in many painful surgeries, and combined with his MS, made him unable to go back to work.
It was only a matter of time before Cecil decided to drop out of high school and start working full time to help in supporting his family. After working for three years in various jobs, he decided it was time to join the military.
“Before I joined the Army, I was a jack-of-all-trades, I guess you would say,” Cecil recounted. “I did construction and home maintenance, detailed cars, worked as a janitor. There isn't much good out there for someone who doesn't have a diploma.”
At 19, he met with an Army recruiter. He enlisted in the Army on Feb. 13, 2009, and left for the Army Preparatory School at Fort Jackson, S.C., June 1.
After obtaining his GED diploma at Fort Jackson, Cecil shipped out to Fort Sill, Okla., where he completed basic training, followed by advanced individual training to be a cannon crewmember.
“A cannon crewmember wasn't my first choice,” Cecil said, “but it was that or the infantry when I went to [the Military Entrance Processing Station]. It's an OK job, I guess. It’s better than scrubbing floors.”
Just days after completing his initial training, Cecil arrived at his first duty assignment with Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Campbell, Ky. A little more than a year later, he was sent to the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La., in January, to prepare for war with his fellow Bastogne Bulldogs.
“My dad was very supportive, and happy I was getting out of my crowd and dead-end jobs,” Cecil recalled. “My mother and sister cried and went crazy, almost. They didn't like it at all for about a week or two, but they came around. My parents are both very proud of me. My dad doesn’t worry too much, or at least that he lets on. My mom cries every time she watches the news, but she still knows I can handle whatever the Taliban throws at me.”
He proved that May 26.
“There was a complex attack on our [forward operating base],” Cecil said. “Me and my section fought in an intense battle for a couple of hours. After that, you always feel good about yourself -- that you made it out of something like that alive. It really builds trust in yourself, your fellow soldiers and your leadership. I knew then I had the best chain of leadership in the Army, because they had properly prepared me and the others for just that situation.”
On this deployment, Cecil is responsible for manning an M198 howitzer as the assistant gunner. He is also a gunner on the 120 mm mortar. His job, he said, is to defend his base and shoot the cannons to suppress the enemy when soldiers are under attack on the battlefield.
Although Cecil realizes his mission here and the importance of it all, he still finds time to think about his dreams, goals and of his future.
“Some of my dreams might sound crazy, but I plan on doing every single one of them, because the minimum is never good enough,” Cecil said. “I will climb Mount Everest one day, and when I get home, I plan on doing my first marathon.”
His platoon leader, Army Capt. William Mayville, a Fayetteville, N.C., native, has no doubt Cecil will do great things and is proud to have him on his team.
“Cecil is a go-to guy,” he said. “I think he feels satisfaction from the fact he is looked up to by his peers and his superiors look to him to get things done. It is the constant search for that feeling that is what drives him to be the best at whatever it is he is doing, and once that is complete, move on to the next level.
“He strives to be the best in every discipline of his profession,” Mayville continued. “He is head and shoulders above his peers in terms of performance. He’s an absolute asset to his section and platoon. I wish there were more soldiers like him.”