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Face of Defense: Captain Continues Career 20 Years After Retirement

By Army Sgt. Amber Robinson
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHANK, Afghanistan, June 15, 2009 – The average Army career, if a soldier chooses to make a life of the service, is a little more than 20 years. But for one jovial 62-year old Army captain, 20 years hardly seemed like enough.

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Army Capt. Samuel Carlson, left, and Army Maj. Ryan O’Connor, then assigned to Combined Joint Task Force 101, pose at Bagram Airfield in 2005 during Carlson’s first tour to Afghanistan. Courtesy photo
  

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Capt. Samuel Carlson, an intelligence officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Task Force Spartan, is on his second voluntary tour to Afghanistan. For a soldier to volunteer to come to a combat zone twice is one thing; but to voluntarily deploy after being retired for more than 20 years is quite another.

Carlson came into the Army on May 9, 1967 as an infantryman and later transitioned to intelligence operations. He served in various conflicts until he officially retired on Oct. 1, 1987.

“I was an infantryman that could type,” he said. “I was sent to work for the personnel sergeant major of my unit, but made the mistake of pronouncing his name wrong when I went to report for my new job.”

The sergeant major, apparently very sensitive about the pronunciation of his name, sent Carlson away to work for the intelligence officer, where he began to foster an interest in intelligence. His small mistake led to a long career in the intelligence field.

In 1991, Carlson volunteered to return and serve in Operation Desert Storm. Although his mission to Kuwait was cancelled due to the short duration of the fight, he chose to stay on active status.

Carlson served with the Texas National Guard from 1992 to 1995, working as the executive officer of the 502nd Military Police Battalion out of Fort Worth, Texas. He commanded the unit after it reorganized until his second retirement. He volunteered to come into the service again after the attacks of 9/11.

“That [ticked] me off,” Carlson said. “I took that personally. I had family that worked in the World Trade Center, so that made it personal.”

Carlson served with the 308th Military Intelligence Battalion, 902nd Military Intelligence Group, on his first tour in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2006. He returned to the United States for a short period before serving with Task Force Spartan with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan’s Logar province this time around.

Carlson’s love of the service is based on simple principles, he said, but it keeps him going.

“I missed soldiers,” Carlson said. “In the civilian world, it’s hard to find the same camaraderie, teamwork and sense of brotherhood that you find in the Army.”

Carlson’s conventional military career spanned the globe. He served in El Salvador, Honduras, Germany, South Korea, and a short stint in Vietnam.

Carlson’s call to duty was passed down through a legacy of soldiers, starting with his grandfather, a Norwegian immigrant who joined the American military in World War I. Too old to attain the position he desired, he lied and said he was younger, allowing him to receive his desired position.

“Grandad was not of military age when he came to America from Fredrikstad, Norway,” Carlson said. “So to join, he indicated that he had been born in 1891, as opposed to his real birth date of 1889. He registered for the draft in 1917 and served in the Air Service, Signal Corps. He went to France for World War I in 1918, and was still on the front lines when the Armistice was signed on Nov. 11 [of that year].”

Carlson’s father joined the Army in 1937, received his commission in 1942 and fought in Normandy in 1944 during the invasion of France.

“Dad was on the northern edge of the bulge during the Battle of the Bulge,” Carlson said. “He was also involved in the crossing of the Rhine and Ruhr rivers, as well as the encirclement of the Ruhr industrial region.”

Carlson’s father left the Army as a first lieutenant in 1946, but, much like his son, missed the service and re-entered as a noncommissioned officer a few months after his initial departure. He was recommissioned shortly thereafter, and took off to serve in the Korean War. He retired in 1963. Still harboring the desire to serve, his father now is a volunteer deputy sheriff in his community.

Not only have Carlson’s ancestors served faithfully, but his son and now his grandson have answered the call of their country.

“My son will soon come to Afghanistan to be the first sergeant for the Laghman provincial reconstruction team,” Carlson said. “He is finishing up training at Camp Atterbury [in Indiana].”

Carlson’s son will be in Afghanistan at the end of June, to serve in the same war at the same time as his father. Carlson said he is proud to be a part of the struggle in Afghanistan, as he hopes his son will be as well.

“I can understand this war,” Carlson said. “It makes sense to me. It’s well thought out as opposed [to] the other conflicts I have been a part of.”

Carlson said he hopes he will be able to see him while both are in Afghanistan. “It may be a little difficult, but I’d like to make it happen if I can,” he said.

To cap the long line of Carlsons serving in the military, the captain’s grandson, Army Sgt. David Carlson, is stationed in South Korea.

The Carlson tapestry of military service is tightly woven. Throughout the ages, the men of Carlson’s family have served in the armed forces.

“My Norwegian grandfather came overseas and joined the American Army, but my Swedish grandfather and forefathers also served in the Swedish military, which is mandatory there,” Carlson said. “It was never anything planned, but for as long as we can trace back, the men of our family have served.”

Carolson has been referred to as the “OCITA,” or, “Oldest Captain in the Army.” He smiles warmly at the jokes.

“I may be old, but the soldiers I work with help me to feel much younger than my age,” he said.

Carlson plans to retire for the third and final time when Task Force Spartan completes its deployment at the end of the year. He said he hopes to settle down and take some time to catch up with his family and engage in some of his favorite pastimes, such as playing music in his rock band.

“It’s been a long career, but I’d do it all again,” he said.

(Army Sgt. Amber Robinson serves in the Task Force Spartan public affairs office.)

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U.S. Forces Afghanistan
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U.S. Forces Afghanistan on Facebook
NATO International Security Assistance Force
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSamuel Carlson, now an Army captain, receives his commission to second lieutenant at Daley Barracks, Bad Kissingen, Germany, in front of the unit's Sherman Tank memorial. Carlson was 31 when he received his commission. Courtesy photo   
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