“I’m not one to put myself in the spotlight, especially with so many other vets with much worse injuries than I,” said Rick Robertson when we talked to him about a feature article on his experiences serving in the US Army. And what he said was true—his story is just one of the many that we receive every day through the APW Heroes Automobile Gallery—stories of courage, perseverance, and hope
The Heroes Automobile Gallery features the vehicles driven by the brave service men and women currently serving, or who have previously served, as well as the stories of their lives while in the service and after. From veterans disabled from far-flung wars, to soldiers returning home from duty trying to cope in a world they’ve almost forgotten about, to service members cherishing precious time with their loved ones until they are called for their next tour, these stories have touched us greatly.
We wanted to share Rick’s story because it offers such inspiration. And although Rick was at first hesitant, we are appreciative that he agreed to share more about his life as a retired serviceman and the fateful night his unit was attacked by mortars in the middle of the night during his first tour to Iraq.
Tell us a little bit more about yourself? What keeps you busy?
I’m just a guy from Brown County, Ohio that grew up dreaming about being G.I. Joe. All my life I wanted to be a Soldier fighting the bad guys, standing up for those that couldn’t stand up for themselves, or were/are too scared to.
I remember watching “Rambo” when I was a kid, and wanting to be “Rambo.” I’ve always been the outdoor type. If I’m in the house then it’s raining, I’m resting, or there’s something else much more serious going on. I love shooting guns, fishing, hunting, camping, and just generally being out in the woods all year round. I’m retired, so the wife and kids get way more of me than they ever bargained for.
How important is working on your truck and how much time do you spend maintaining/driving it?
Working on my truck/s is one of my favorite pastimes. I own a 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT 4×4, and a 2012 Dodge Ram 1500 Sport 4×4. Right now I’m going through the 2005, replacing everything that has worn out, and upgrading some things.
All the rubber is getting replaced along with all of the suspension components. I recently start hearing an exhaust leak on the passenger side coming from the manifold. A couple of the bolt heads popped off at the rear of the manifold.
So now I’m in the process of saving the $ for headers, and a high flow exhaust system. After I get the exhaust complete, I’ll move on to other upgrades for HP. I spend at least a week out of the month doing various maintenance tasks on both of the trucks. As well as upgrades on the 2005.
Tell us about your truck. Are there any reasons why you chose that particular year, make, and model to buy? Where is your favorite place to drive?
I chose this particular Ram because it was black and I wanted a 2005 specifically. I figured Dodge had worked out all the kinks that previous models had, like the electrical system faults and the various problems with the Hemi in general. I was pleasantly surprised when the 2005 ran exactly how I had expected it to.
I love driving my 2005 because it drives like a car but can tow 4 tons if need be. It has loads of power and is 4×4, so I can put it in the mud, and have a lot of fun. I like to take it on cruises through the country, in the hills and curves. I cannot stand big cities ‘cause they’re just too crowded for my tastes. But sometimes you get lucky and some guy thinks his 4 cylinder can smoke the ol’ Hemi. It’s always fun to see the look on their face when the 3-ton truck leaves them in the dust.
What was your first vehicle and is the current truck your dream vehicle? If not, what is your dream vehicle?
My first vehicle was a Plymouth Champ. It was blue and had a blown motor when I got it. My uncle and I replaced the motor and I drove that car for 3 more years until I joined the Army. I don’t really have a dream vehicle. There is always something new coming out like the new Challenger or the new Ram R/T with the 8-speed transmission. I used to really like the “Fast and Furious” type of cars but those just get people into trouble—or dead.
If I had to pick a vehicle right now, it would be the Challenger R/T. I just love the body style. Even the Challengers from the 70s were gorgeous vehicles.
Where do you currently live or your hometown?
Well, when I joined the Army I lived in Fayetteville, Ohio. I basically grew up there and left a lot behind. When I joined the Army I stayed with the 101st for 10 years in the same unit, so my wife and I kind of fell in love with the landscape and decided to stay in the TN area. We settled on a small piece of land in Hohenwald, TN that we plan to live out the rest of our lives at. It’s not too hot and not too cold.
Can you talk about your reasons for serving in the military?
When I was 22 years old, I was involved with the wrong crowd and my life seemed to just be going nowhere. I had been in the Army reserves and National Guard all of my adult life at that point. I was in the Army Reserves as a Combat Engineer and the National Guard as a Power Generations equipment mechanic.
On September 11th 2001 I was at a friend’s house hanging out. We were outside working on his car when his wife came out and yelled at us. She told us we had to come in to see what was on the TV, so we ran inside, and sat down just in time to see the twin towers in NY smoking and on fire. I remember having so much anger in me for what was happening before my eyes and being confused as to why someone would want to do this type of thing.
At that point in my life I was just looking for a reason to join the Army as Active Duty, so within two days of watching the towers fall, I was in the recruiter’s office. I didn’t want any special treatment or favors for my time already spent in the reserves or NG. I remember telling the recruiter that all I wanted was to fight for my country. We discussed it for a while and the best job to have to fight was the Infantry. So I signed the papers for Infantry and was at MEPPS 2 weeks later.
I joined the active duty because I wanted to protect our flag, our people, my friends, your friends, my family, and your family. I didn’t care about anything else. I didn’t get a sign on bonus, or college money. I got a rifle, and a ton of training so I could fight effectively to keep the guy to my right and to my left alive—ultimately to defend our nation with my life if need be.
In your entry to the Heroes Automobile Gallery, you said that you were attacked by mortars in the middle of the night during your first tour to Iraq. Can you describe that experience in more detail? How was it for you, considering it was your first time in Iraq?
My first tour to Iraq was in February 2003. About 6 months into our 1 year combat tour we landed on an old Iraqi Air Force base that had a runway. Before we landed there, our Air Force bombed the runway with 2000lbs JDAM bombs which left HUGE bomb craters throughout the entire runway. These craters were 30ft. deep, and 50ft. across. The base was just outside Mosul and we called it Q-West. For the first couple months we were there, things were sort of quiet and most things were business as usual. Every now and then, we would get attacked by mortars but the mortars would always hit way far away from anything and they were never a real threat.
I guess over time the bad guys just got better at shooting mortars out of makeshift mortar tubes and their mortars started hitting a little closer to home. The attacks were still just every now and again, just more accurate. Every time they shot at us we were required to get back to our buildings and check in for accountability to make sure no one was hit. Well, on November 4th, the bad guys started slinging mortars at us at around 2200hrs. I think they shot 6 or 7 mortars that night and they were all on our side and very close. Myself and 2 friends were at the phone center when the mortars started hitting, so we started heading back to check in.
On our way across the runway, while we were running in the confusion of mortars dropping in the dark, myself and one of my buddies fell into one of the very large craters in the runway. At first everything seemed OK. Then after 2 days I could barely move enough to go to the latrine and a buddy was bringing me food. My squad leader sent me to the med station we had there and they said I just pulled some muscles, and that I may be down for a couple weeks. Well, a month went by without any relief and I finally started feeling better around 7 weeks after basically living on a cot. I was determined to get back out to the fight. So at 7 ½ weeks, and in excruciating pain, I got up, and continued doing patrols, and missions with my squad.
I didn’t know that I had actually broken my back until after my third and final tour to Iraq when I felt a pop in my spine after picking up a radio mount for a HMMV. After getting several X-rays and 2 MRIs, it was determined that I had two vertebrae on my spine that had previously been broken, one low and one high. Due to that I now have arthritis in my spine, multiple herniated and bulging discs, and one extruded disc. I have actually gotten shorter by over an inch in the 3 years that I’ve been out of the Army.
You said you still wanted to fight even after sustaining a major injury. How were you able to overcome the trauma and pain of that injury and retain your courage to fight?
I was there to fight. I wasn’t going to let a couple pulled muscles take me out of the fight. I was young—25 then—and knew I would heal. But moreover, the thought of home, my family, friends, and country needed us to stand tall. Being Infantry, you’re trained and bred to walk into the face of danger when no one else will, to seek out the enemy and destroy him. PERIOD!
Was it difficult having to leave the military due to your medical condition?
Leaving the Army was very difficult for myself as well as my family. It was something we learned and lived for a decade of our lives. At that point it could almost be said that it’s all we knew. My wife had the support of the other wives. I had the camaraderie of my brother in arms. Life was good! But we have since relearned how to live a civilian life and we’re happy with everything we have.
My wife still has support channels she needs, which for a Military wife is a big deal. These women go through hell day in and day out. They have to put up with us soldiers and all of our problems. They have to take care of the family when we’re gone to foreign lands. If it weren’t for my wife, life in general would have been much harder. The wives are the real hero’s of wars!
When we asked Rick if there’s anything more he could add to his story, he said “I believe things happen for a reason in life. I have always been one to roll with the punches. There are no mistakes, only lessons.”
Thank you for your service, Rick. We wish you and your family all the best.