Sunday, July 20, 2008

Face of Defense: Commo Specialist 'Lives Dream' on Iraq Deployment

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Kerensa Hardy
Special to American Forces Press Service

July 18, 2008 -
Army Sgt. Jason Ruckman had a desire to be part of something that would make a difference. Six years ago, he joined the Army to whet his appetite for adventure, and he has never looked back. "Since I was in middle school, I've always wanted to wear a uniform; I thought they were cool-looking," the Orlando, Fla., native said.

It helped to have a family
military history that dated back to World War I, in which his great-grandfather fought. Ruckman's grandfather served in World War Two, and his father in Vietnam. "They always seemed kind of proud about it, so I wanted to do something right for my family," he said. "This was the best thing I could think of."

A 2002 graduate of William R. Boone High School in
Orlando, Ruckman joined the Army later that year. He graduated advanced individual training in 2003 as a signal support systems specialist.

Now, "I've got the uniform covered; it's fun to put on. I wanted to do 'hooah,' high-speed stuff," he said. "(The recruiter) told me my (job) would put me alongside some sort of a commander, running around with a radio doing high-speed stuff. ... That never happened."

Well, it happened; just a little later than he expected.

Ruckman served as his battalion commander's radio-telephone operator during his first deployment to Iraq in 2005. His recruiter's promise came to fruition as he traveled with his commander around the battlefield. He said he felt more at home out there than working communications issues on the base.

"I like going out on missions and being in the thick of things. I felt more like I was serving a purpose if I were outside the wire," said the 26-year-old, who is now assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.

He said he doesn't look down upon those whose jobs don't require them to leave the operating base. "Every (job) in the
Army is vital in some way, shape or form, [but] I feel like I have more of a purpose outside the wire than inside the wire.

"I don't feel like my full potential will be utilized by staying on the [base]," he added.

Staying put is not something Ruckman has to worry about these days. As a brigade commander's driver, he travels the roads of Iraq on an almost-daily basis. He doesn't take that lightly.

With two Purple Hearts under his belt, Ruckman knows well the potential dangers of duty in a combat zone. He reluctantly recounted the circumstances surrounding his injuries.

The first, in December 2003, was a result of a suicide car bomber in Tal Afar. The would-be assassin attempted to breach the entry control point of the battalion's compound with 1,000 pounds of explosives in his vehicle. No one was killed, but 67 were injured.

"It was a real mess," Ruckman remembered, shaking his head as though willing the memory to go away. He walked away with wounds to the face and hands from shards of flying glass.

His second Purple Heart came after an improvised explosive device detonated at a city council building north of Beiji in October 2005. This time he had shrapnel wounds and a broken hand.

Ruckman said the fact that things could have been much worse doesn't escape him. "I'm thankful (things) turned out the way they did," he said. "It's kind of tough to talk about the Purple Hearts because I look at some guys ... whose physical appearance and capabilities have been impaired for the rest of their lives, and I just got a few scars on me.

"So I don't like to make a big deal about it because there are those who got Purple Hearts ... whose lives were changed and affected by it a lot more than mine."

He said his close calls have given him a definite respect for the dangers soldiers face. He said he's not afraid to face those dangers head-on in the course of performing his duty, but some fear is healthy.

"If you're not fearful in some way, ... I think there's something wrong," he said matter-of-factly. "I think a little dose of fear or nervousness is normal. I go out knowing that I have to [go out], and I can see the bigger picture."

The "bigger picture" as far as Ruckman is concerned is making sure elements of the command group get where they need to go safely and without incident. This deployment has been relatively uneventful for the adventure seeker, and that's okay with him.

Uncertain as to whether he'll go for a fourth deployment to Iraq or look for a job as an instructor, Ruckman said he's leaving his options open right now. "I'm not sure what's next; there are so many possibilities out there," he said. "I really enjoy teaching younger soldiers how to tap into their full capabilities, to watch them rise up and become leaders."

With a family bursting at its seams with pride, Ruckman said he has a wonderful support system on which he can depend. "My dad ... is really proud of what I do; my sister loves it, she is both proud and petrified," he said with a laugh. "She shows me off ... when I go home. I'm like one of her heroes because of what I do."

His mom is somewhat torn, too, because of the dangers he faces in Iraq. But he said his mom is beside herself with pride. "She always calls me an honorable man," he said.

His older brother is a heavy-wheel mechanic in the
Army Reserves, so the tradition continues.

Ruckman initially joined the
Army for four years, but he has re-enlisted for five additional years. He said he's having fun now -- "living the dream," as so many soldiers like to say.

"For a commo guy to be able to go on numerous cordon and knocks, air-assault missions, and patrols is just my dream come true," he said, looking like a kid at Christmas. "I like being able to do a lot of what the infantry guys do."

Not yet willing to commit to being a "lifer" in the
Army, Ruckman admitted he can't think of himself in another profession. "I'm almost afraid of getting out because I wouldn't know what to do," he said with a shrug. "It probably will end up being my career."

Army Sgt. 1st Class Kerensa Hardy is assigned to the public Affairs Office of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.)

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