“As parents, we don’t always realize how much we need our kids just as much as they need us.”
– SFC David Carlton, US Army
“I wasn’t worried about myself ever during that time because I knew they had my back. What I was worried about more than anything was keeping them safe. Being in the Infantry isn’t a glorious job in the Army, but I do it for the men on my left and right. To me, that is what being in the military is all about.”
Not many people realize the extent of the sacrifice American service members make to keep our country safe. It’s not just the extreme threat to their lives in the line of fire–many of our soldiers spend so much time serving away from home that it takes a toll on their personal relationships back home. It takes great strength and courage to face such responsibilities, which is why we are truly honored and grateful to be able to feature a story on Sergeant First Class David Carlton.
David, who currently lives near Baltimore, MD, was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Valor for his actions during a deployment to Iraq in December 2004—but that’s only part of what makes his story so special. His service took him away from his now 17 year old son Tiler during much of his life, and now he’s making up for lost time by being with his son as much as possible before he’s called up for his next tour. As part of this, he is fixing up a 1996 Chevrolet Camaro (which is badly in need of repair), to give to his son as a birthday present.
David tells us his story in the following Q&A:
Tell us a little bit more about yourself? What keeps you busy?
I am 35 years old, married to a wonderful woman and we have two amazing boys. My wife and I have been married for almost 11 years now, and she truly is my rock. Things have been going good for me I guess, but honestly I don’t tend to worry about myself too much. As long as my family is taken care of and they are all happy, I’m happy. For my hobbies, I enjoy fishing the most but I do enjoy working on cars and detailing them in my free time. Most weekends for me are usually spent with my family though because I know at some point I will have to be away from them.
Can you talk about your reasons for serving in the US Army?
I serve in the US Army because I absolutely love it. I never planned on joining the Army but due to some unforeseen circumstances, I decided to join. First, my oldest son was born when I was 18, right after I graduated from high school. The relationship between my son’s mother and I didn’t work out, and she at that point moved away with my son.
To me, it seemed like life was over, but I did what I could, enrolled in college at the Art Institute of Houston, and even landed a good job doing computer-aided drafting design (CADD). The job was amazing, especially since I was only 19. However, about a year and a half later, I lost that job, which meant I couldn’t afford college anymore, so I decided to look elsewhere.
This is when a friend of mine convinced me to join the US Army. For me, it was an easy decision; I was going to be employed, have insurance for my son, and ultimately create a better life for myself. I initially only signed up for 5 years, but once I got used to it, I really enjoyed having structure; and although I had never been away from home, I found that the Army was my new family and my brothers in arms would watch over me. The Army has its ups and downs, just like anything else in life but I know that I’m taken care of, my family is taken care of, and more importantly I’m doing something meaningful.
In your entry to the Heroes Automobile Gallery, you mentioned that you’ve served in the US Army for 14 years and that you were awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received during combat and a Bronze Star with Valor for actions during combat. Could you please tell us more about how you came to receive these honors?
I received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Valor during a deployment to Iraq in December 2004. While working as a vehicle commander on a Stryker, our element was ambushed from all directions. During the engagement, my remote weapon system was damaged, which meant I had to expose myself under fire to manually fire the weapon. I did not hesitate to do so since we were under fire and I knew we needed to engage the enemy. While doing so, I was struck in the back of the neck by an enemy round. I immediately fell down inside of my hatch because I knew I had been hit in the neck. However, when I felt my neck and looked at my hand, I could tell I was bleeding, but also knew I could continue on. At that point, I made the decision, wounded, under fire, to continue to engage the enemy.
Shortly after beginning to engage the enemy after being wounded, my weapon system ran out of ammunition. In order for me to reload, I would have to expose myself even more. I yelled back to the guys in my rear hatches to cover me, and they said they had me, so I went on top of the vehicle, grabbed an ammo can full of rounds, and began to reload the machine gun. I reloaded the machine gun and we continued to engage the enemy. The mission continued on for another hour and a half or so, but finally, we were all done and made it back to base. Once we got back to base, I had small fragments pulled out of my neck and got bandaged up.
For my wounds I received the Purple Heart, and for my actions during combat I received the BSM-V. If you ever talk to other combat veterans, they’ll tell you though I wasn’t worried about myself ever during that time because I knew they had my back. What I was worried about more than anything was keeping them safe. Being in the Infantry isn’t a glorious job in the Army, but I do it for the men on my left and right. To me, that is what being in the military is all about.
What would you say are the most important things in your life?
The two things that are most important to me in life right now are my family and continued service to my country in the Army. For the first 13 years of my son’s life, he lived with his mother and because I was always busy in the Army and stationed at different locations, I only saw him 2-3 times a year (at most). Finally, after years of talking with my son about moving with me, he made that decision prior to his freshman year and moved in with me permanently.
I’ve spent the past few years trying to make up for lost time with him, trying to never miss a school event or wrestling match, and being involved in his life. My son is a great young man, and has always supported me in the Army, and helped out my wife when I was away from home. I’ve sacrificed some things in the Army that probably would have gotten me farther along in my career, so that I could be with him, but as I mentioned, I’m making up for the first 13 years of his life when I couldn’t be around. Getting this car on the road means a lot to me because it is my way of not only doing something great for him but also my way of showing how much I appreciate him being there for me. As parents, we don’t always realize how much we need our kids just as much as they need us. Next year, my son will hopefully go off to college, so this is really my last year to do something big like this for him while he’s still at home.
Can you tell us more about the 1996 Chevrolet Camaro you’re trying to fix to give to your son as a birthday present?
I chose the 1996 Camaro because I found it pretty cheap, but the body was in great shape. I have always loved this model Camaro, and once I showed my son the picture of it, he fell in love too. I’ll never be able to make it like I want it, but for me, as long as I can get it on the road where it’s safe for him to drive and he can enjoy it, that will be enough for me.
How’s the restoration going and do you think your son’s going to like it when it’s done?
I originally intended to have it all complete prior to his 17th birthday. The project was originally on track for that to happen until I recently noticed an oil pressure issue. The vehicle loses oil pressure once the engine gets warm, and once this happens there’s a tick coming from the motor. I’m not sure if this is due to an oil starvation issue or if this is coming from the lifters or possibly cam bearings. I recently took it to an engine shop to have diagnostics ran on it and they hooked up a manual oil pressure gauge to find out the oil pressure is indeed dropping to around 5 psi when at normal operating temp. They told me I could drop the oil pan and check the oil pickup screen, then if that wasn’t it, they could replace the oil pump, then if the ticking was still in the engine, they would have to look at the engine. That could get expensive really fast, especially with the costs of labor or a new engine. Because of all of this, the project is currently at a standstill and I’m not sure what I’m going to do.
At this point, there are already discussions of possibly having to sell the vehicle if I can’t get it running right. I don’t want to do this because the car was supposed to be for my son and it’s really important to me to do this for him. However, if I can’t get the vehicle repaired, I may have to go that route even though I don’t want to. I know if I choose to do that, I’ll lose all of the time and money I’ve put into it so far because I’ll have to sell it for less since it may have an engine problem. It’s a beautiful car, and I’d love to bring it back to life and put it on the road.
Thank you for your service, David! We hope you finish restoring the car for your son. Our team here at Auto Parts Warehouse is always ready to help you when you need us.
EDITOR’S NOTE (11/5/2014): SFC David Carlton was presented with a reconditioned 1996 Camaro for his son Tiler in Fort Meade on November 1, 2014 as part of AutoPartWarehouse.com’s Heroes Automobile Gallery Veterans Day celebration. Special thanks to the sponsors: ETE Reman, PartsAuthority, and Walt Eger’s Service Center. Read the press release here: https://www.autopartswarehouse.com/blog/2014/11/veterans-day-story-local-hero-gets-little-help-automotive-friends/