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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Vet perspective: Seeing here from other there

  • America has been at war for 4,416 days, though relatively little has changed at home: the water is clean, the electricity is on and people go home and watch TV in peace, said Sgt. Frank Herrera of the Kansas National Guard.

    "There are so many things people take for granted."
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  • They don't really get it, the folks back home. Maybe they can't.
    America has been at war for 4,416 days, though relatively little has changed at home: the water is clean, the electricity is on and people go home and watch TV in peace, said Sgt. Frank Herrera of the Kansas National Guard.
    "There are so many things people take for granted."
    Coming home from war, as he did in 2008 via Iraq, or after a peacekeeping mission in Djibouti, Kenya in 2012, "It's definitely weird that people here kept going on with their lives." Sometimes he finds it hard to relate to those that don't have those experiences, he said.
    Being over there, "It really is kind of humbles you down a little bit," he said. "It makes you value life, your freedoms and your liberty here."
    There are good people over there whose lives have been overrun by war, he said.
    "Some of the simple issues are so complicated over there," he said. Most Americans "haven't experienced that, they don't have knowledge that the way things are affect how the people are." The schools are bad. The medicine is even worse. The man with a rusted junker of a car is the richest man in the village.
    Here, "It's just America.
    Outside of deployments, or one weekend a month and two weeks a year, Herrera is wearing the uniform of the Dodge City Police Department. He pursued the badge to be a bridge to the Hispanic community and the city. He wanted to help people navigate the laws and customs of their adopted homeland.
    The work is mostly about solving civil problems by negotiating and explaining, by trying to find new solutions to recurring problems, he said.
    In the National Guard, Herrera is trained as gunner, military occupational specialty 13B. He is one-quarter of the team that operates a M109A6 Paladin, a 155mm artillery piece attached to a tank, more or less. His team can fire accurately on a target up to 35 miles away.
    In Iraq, his unit performed base security at Forward Operating Base Grizzly, about 38 miles north of Baghdad and 12 miles from the Iran border. Among his duties, he was the lead convoy driver. "Luckily, somehow, I don't know how, we didn't get hit" by an IED for the nine months he was deployed.
    Often the base commander would go out to settle disputes between villages. Watching him "helped me see a third person point of view" about resolving cyclical issues like he has to as a police officer back home.
    The people change, the problems find a way to stay the same, he said. 
    Page 2 of 3 - Herrera was born in border city of Mexicali, Mexico. His father, a carpenter, worked for an American-owned electrical plant. When Herrera was 3, his family got visas to move north. They lived in California for a little while, then Texas. In 1998, Herrera moved to Dodge City and graduated from high school here in 2001.
    He joined the guard in 2000, during the summer before his senior year of high school. He wanted to make money for his family, he wanted access to the G.I. Bill and he wanted to make a life for himself.
    Joining the National Guard was "one of the best things I ever did," he said. It'll be 13 years in March. He plans to stay for the full 20.  
    Herrera became a U.S. citizen in 2004. He wanted to work as an officer, and he realized he'd probably never go back to Mexico.
    "One vote," he said. "I wanted to be heard, and here, I'm an important part of my community."
    Herrera's first law enforcement job was at the old Ford County Jail, which was rundown and overcrowded, he said. It was a step. In 2005, he got a job with the city police department at the height of the city's gang problem.
    The city had kind of a "wild west mentality," he said. He worked in the street crime unit before deploying, performing gang interdictions and drug arrests. He knew most of the players on the street since they'd passed under his watch at the jail. When he returned from Iraq in 2008, he became a beat cop.
    The hardest part about deploying, he said, is that "You have to put your life on pause while everything at home keeps going on." While deployed, life is kind of simple: you work 24 hours a day. But back home problems emerge and you can't step in to fix them.
    "It's a type of hardship," he said. "For some it's more difficult than for others." The anxiety comes in steps, he said. For the first few months, you are getting used to being in a new place, but the stress builds up from your personal life, from work and lack of sleep.
    "It gets hard," he said. Tempers flare. "Your buddies help you keep your sanity." They become your family, he said, "more than family, sort of."
    There's a shared understanding between war veterans, he said. It's good to go to a job and knowing someone else has had that experience. "They know how camaraderie works. It helps out your mood, your drive, your whole work."
    When he thinks about Veterans Day it's about showing respect to those that wore the uniform before him. "As a soldier, it's kind of a day to remember where you came from in a military sense."
    Page 3 of 3 - And, he said, it's a day to recognize in yourself a veteran who volunteered.
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