Why I Serve: The Memories Keep 'Sarge' Going
By Master Sgt. Jack Gordon, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, BALAD, Sept. 20, 2004 "I've been taking taxpayers' money all these years, and I can't refuse duty. It would be like me telling my mom and dad 'thanks for the money' without giving them anything back for it."
Army Sgt. Jack Cormack of the 362nd Military Police
Battalion, Ashley, Pa., uses a speed gun to track speeders on Logistics Support
Area Anaconda, Balad, Iraq. The bullet hole in the unit's patrol car came from
a shot fired from outside the camp perimeter while Cormack was on patrol. Photo
by Master Sgt. Jack Gordon, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
That's how Army Reserve Sgt. Jack Cormack of the 362nd Military Police Battalion sees his service, dating back to 1971. He said he enlisted then instead of waiting to be drafted, perhaps have more control over his destiny in green.
Today, some of the much younger 362nd soldiers call Cormack "Pappy."
"They kid me about being in so long," Cormack said. "I was in before some of my boys were born I call them my boys, but they're men every one of them. Sometimes they call me 'Grandpa,'" he mused.
Like the rest of the unit's soldiers, Cormack performs patrols every day within Anaconda's perimeter. Anaconda, the hub for distribution of material and supplies in Iraq, is home to some 23,000 soldiers.
Cormack said the patrolling isn't always uneventful. He recalled a recent night when a round whizzed past his head. Ballistics examiners determined that the hole in his vehicle's glass was indeed made by a bullet.
"Some nights are so quiet you'd think you were back home in Pennsylvania or West Virginia," Cormack said, "and other nights it gets pretty interesting." Cormack still recalls his "early" training for being a soldier came from his Boy Scout leader, who also recruited him into the Army. Cormack said the Scout leader "had us looking like a bunch of miniature Rangers: Every piece of camping equipment we had was government-issue surplus, down to the entrenching tool. We had web belts everything!"
Cormack completed basic and advanced training for an infantry assignment at Fort Polk, La., where he also qualified with the mortar and 90 mm recoilless rifle.
His first assignment was with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, and within months found himself in Thailand, where his unit was assigned as a security force for the 7th Air Force. Cormack's service during the next year in Southeast Asia is something he keeps close, but it isn't because he can't remember it.
"I look back on that period as the Army's darkest days the public wasn't behind the army like it is today," Cormack said.
He contrasted the early 1970s perception and awareness of military service to that of today. "When I went to Ashley, Pa., I was shown patriotism like never before," he said. "The people of Ashley will remain as my 'other' hometown for as long as I live. It's something I didn't experience in the early days. If I get Alzheimer's, that's the one thing I hope would keep repeating itself. I hope the good Lord never lets me forget that."
Cormack said he's glad to see soldiers today "getting their due" from America. In fact, when he was returning home on rest and recuperation leave during his Iraq deployment, he was moved into a first-class seat on the final leg of the long flight, and was presented with a set of wings from the collar of a Delta pilot.
"He said he had 28 years with Delta and he remembered the old days," said Cormack. "I couldn't take off my sewn-on rank, so I gave him a bill with Saddam on it, from the old money."
Before being called to duty again for Operation Iraqi Freedom, Cormack served as a "Hometown Hero" recruiter during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 1990s. The taste of military life again was enough to rekindle his interest. After his tour, he joined the Army Reserve and was assigned to the 492nd Replacement Company in Beaver, W.Va.
After a few more unit changes, he served a year in Bosnia in 1996-97 with the 335th Military Police Battalion. His law enforcement experience with the Department of Public Safety made his training as a military policeman much easier, he said. He graduated in the top 10 percent of the class.
Cormack enjoys his role as the old soldier in the 362nd, and is always ready to crack a joke to maintain the morale of his troops. He is proud too, to still be serving again.
"I've seen a lot of 'em come and go," Cormack said. "I remember 'Two-Dots Running,' a young cadet. I raised him up he's a captain now and I'm proud of that. These young men have really shown me what an American soldier the new American fighting man is all about. It is a world of difference I've seen a lot of changes."
Before his mobilization for OIF, Cormack was content as owner of "Mad Jack's Cycle Dreams," a Harley Davidson dealer and motorcycle repair shop, in Beckley.
(Army Master Sgt. Jack Gordon is assigned to the Public Affairs acquisition team, Army Reserve Command.)