Service is serious...the second time around

by C.F. David

For now, Robert Shank, at 40, is the oldest PFC in the United States Army.

“It's a normal foul-up, they said I should be an E-4 in a couple of weeks and a Sergeant by the time I get back,” Shank smiled.

This is Shank's second time in uniform, the first tour was in peacetime, as a Marine from 1986 to 1990. He got out in April, before the buildup for the invasion of Kuwait and Iraq in 1991.

“I tried to get back in then, but they didn't need my MOS; I was a mechanic on a Harrier jet. I really regret I missed that, it's what I was trained to do.”

“But ever since 9/11, I've felt helpless, wanting to do something...something that mattered. Years from now, when I'm bouncing my grandchildren on my knee I wanted to say I'd done something besides wash cars and haul camping trailers. Then one day, I was driving along and I heard that the army was raising its age limits to 39. I called the recruiter for the New Mexico National Guard, because Clayton was close by and it was a transportation unit. He told me that with prior service, the age was 52.”

As a truck driver, Shank had the expertise and experience the unit was needing. He left on Sept. 3, for training at a base in Southwest Texas, and from there...who knows, Afghanistan, Iraq, or the flood-soaked Mississippi Delta all beckon an American soldier. He will be on active duty for 18 months.

Shank, would prefer service in Iraq, because he wants to be, “Where the action is. Besides, if we pull out of there, I think they'll be attacking us here.”

Asked how she feels about her husband's decision Martha Shank quickly responds that she is “Happy, excited and proud. God has told me he's coming back alive, she added.”

Shank has already taken some combat training and remarked on the lessons learned from the bloody fight the marines had at Falujjah.

“It's totally different. When I was a marine we trained to target at 200-300 and 500 yards. Now the average target is at seven meters. The art of warfare is changing monthly. We learned the dos and don'ts, hand to hand combat, Ju-Jitsu, boxing and how to maintain control of our weapons in the street.”

As an Oklahoma soldier from a New Mexico unit, Shank spent the weekend of Sept. 24, at a yellow ribbon ceremony in New Mexico, along with its outspoken Governor, Democrat Bill Richardson.

“I had a Robert Shank moment I guess. I stepped up and shook his hand, told him that I was a conservative but that still I kinda liked him,” Shank grinned.

Those guys are mostly Navajo, and I really trust them. I asked if they were afraid of being beheaded; they said naw, we'll scalp those guys. They said they'd teach me Navajo, I said I'd teach them Redneck,” Shank laughed.

Shank, had until now, shunned the electronic age, but, in an effort to stay in touch with his family while overseas, he has recently purchased a computer and digital camera.

He's also busy downloading music onto a CD player he plans to take along.

“But I hope to catch up on my Bible reading and write lots of letters, Shank said.

I've been a truck driver for 10 years; they, (his family), are used to daddy not being home so much.”

A lot of the men are worried, and I might be if I lived anywhere else. But since I live in Cimarron County, that gives me peace. I know my family will be taken care of and they'll support them,” Shank said.

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