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Veterans of Atlanta: Jose Salazar

From the fall of the Berlin Wall to international drug busts to the Iraq war, Salazar reflects on more than two decades with the U.S. army

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SERVE AND PROTECT: Salazar (back row, second from right) with his Bosnia Protective Services Detail team members in Tuzla, Bosnia, 1996/1997.
  • Courtesy Jose Salazar
  • SERVE AND PROTECT: Salazar (back row, second from right) with his Bosnia Protective Services Detail team members in Tuzla, Bosnia, 1996/1997.

We did have a bunch of high points. We got to do security for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Princess Diana, [Rep.] Sonny Bono. I got to work part of the security for President Clinton, and part of the security for the Pope. Everybody came to Bosnia.

Then we came back to Bragg, but we didn't stay there long. We had to deploy to Turkey, then to Egypt. I was told I was going to get out. Your rank is only allowed to be in for a certain amount of time, and trying to get promoted from sergeant to staff sergeant was a point system. I could never make the points because I was always deploying. I got out in '98 and went to the Reserves in Raleigh, N.C.

It was a really hard adjustment. After we'd come back from New Mexico, me and my wife, we'd had a lot of problems and we ended up separating. I was trying to balance two jobs and the military. I did all of that up until I got called up for deployment to Iraq.

In 2003, Salazar's reserve unit was activated for a deployment to Iraq as part of the first invasion force of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and he remained in the country for 15 months, through the first year of Operation Enduring Freedom.

When we first got there during the Shock and Awe, we were doing customs. We had to make sure [the soldiers] weren't bringing back contraband — you didn't want to bring something bad back from Iraq. And you had another group doing vehicles and equipment.

After three months, they moved us to the border of Iraq and Kuwait and we started doing convoy escorts, all through the country, whatever they needed. We were running convoys of three Humvees to 50 or 60 18-wheelers. It's no fun trying to keep track of all that.

We started right at the border of Iraq and Kuwait. As time moved along, we kept moving further and further up to other bases, doing convoy escorts through the Sunni Triangle. We had to deal with Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army around Fallujah, when the Marines had their incident up there.

In early April of 2004, the First Battle of Fallujah took place, sparked by the kidnapping and killing of several U.S. government contractors. The 1st Marines Expeditionary Force assaulted the city April 4-9. The operation's success remains a matter of contention.

We got hit a couple of times. It will wake you up. It bothers you when you come back home. Even now, I try to avoid stuff that's in the road. People don't understand that. Most people see a bag in the road, they'll just keep going. To us, a bag in the road could be a nice size bomb. You had to have everything working for you, all of your senses. You gotta watch the convoy, you gotta watch the road, and you've gotta watch the sides for anything that's out of place.

We did have unlucky incidents. We were doing a night mission up to Baghdad. Normally, on convoys, I was the lead vehicle, but during that mission, my driver was home on R&R. My platoon sergeant put this other guy in the front. We were coming down one of the main access roads [and] there were Abrams tanks [coming from the opposite direction]. The road was so small. My buddy, if he would have steered the vehicle to avoid the tank, would have gone over the side, rolled the vehicle, and probably killed everybody. He tried to get as close as possible, and the tank actually hit the front of the vehicle, crushed him and then flipped the vehicle onto its side.

We finally got the fire quelled, got the kid out, got the helicopter there to Medevac him, and then the rest of us went to the base. When we got the word that our soldier had passed away, it crushed all of us. I'd brought him in from the beginning in North Carolina as a young, brand-new private. I knew his family, I knew everybody. That should have been my vehicle.

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