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Ashe County Veterans History Project: Thomas Campbell
Thomas Campbell, 18 years old, in Beaver Creek ROTC (1988)
Thomas with his father, Roger, before he deployed to Iraq (1990)
Thomas's mom left the porch light on the whole time he was away.
When Thomas got home, the light could finally be turned off!
Thomas at the National Guard Armory (1997)
Thomas Campbell's Story
Thomas Roger Campbell, a native of Ashe County, was born in August 1972. He attended Beaver Creek High School and began his military career as a JROTC student while in high school. He joined the National Guard in the middle of his senior year, on December 14, 1989.
After graduating from high school, Thomas went to Fort Ord, California, to begin training with the 91st Training Division, an Army Reserves Unit. While training in the summer months, his group was given a new drill sergeant every two weeks. “Once you had the routine down with one instructor, you basically had to start over and learn how the next one wanted things done,” he said. Thomas graduated from basic training the day after his eighteenth birthday, in August 1990.
After finishing basic training, Thomas went to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for AIT (advanced individualized training) to be a truck driver. He remembers how everything began to ramp up in August with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and especially how his base was locked down the first days in early August. On October 24, 1990, he graduated from AIT, and his parents came up to see him for graduation. The day before graduation he got a call from a Chief Warrant Officer from North Carolina who gave him two possible assignments. He could be transferred to another unit or be sent to catch up with the unit from Fort Lee, Virginia. Thomas choose to go to Fort Lee, since he was already friends with several soldiers there. The next day (Oct. 25), his parents took him to Virginia to meet up with that unit, and he had to take a ‘crash course,’ basically cramming three weeks of learning into a day and a half. After taking the required shots and catching up to speed with the others, he shipped out with his group, the 1450th Transportation Company to Saudi Arabia.
Thomas remembers that the green tents at their desert base camp were basically sun-bleached and sand covered. Since everything looked white, the place was nicknamed “Cement City.” His first assignment was mail duty and he was bussed to another base everyday where he worked until 5:00 p.m. sorting mail. There were at least four semi-truck loads of mail per day!
In another area of their camp, referred to as “the zoo,” there were quite a few camels, goats, and chickens roaming around. When the Gulf War Air Campaign started he stayed at Moon Base, a place of all sand and rock, no vegetation. From here his company was kept busy hauling other units northward to Log Base Charlie, right on the Iraqi border. This was open desert and while trying to set up a tent the gas alarm suddenly went off. Everyone had to put on their gas masks and run for cover to the HQ tent, which was about 100-150 yards away. The detection devices were very sensitive and it was really a false alarm, so maybe some fumes from fuel tanks set it off.
After returning home, in 1996 Thomas began attending UNC Charlotte. He was able to change units to 1454th Transportation Company, a sister company stationed in Concord, NC. Here Thomas drove 10x10 trucks with Palletized Loading Systems. On September 11, 1997, Thomas was deployed with this unit to Bosnia. He had just finished college when the unit was activated.
The first stop on his second tour overseas was Taszar, Hungary. This was a staging area for operations in Bosnia and was called “The Box.” Vehicles were picked up there and driven into Bosnia. There were three defense sectors setup.
The US supported bases in the eastern sector, with routes called Taz, Dino, Tweety, etc. These routes served all US bases in the American sector. Thomas rode on the Dino route, which was a mountainous area of Bosnia, and stayed at Guardian Base, the logistics base in Bosnia. He got to ride on a Chinook helicopter to haul a transfer case for a Humvee at a live-fire exercise in southern Bosnia. One vivid memory was during the trip, the rear mechanic had his feet and legs dangling out the open back ramp of the helicopter while flying over the mountains. Suddenly some flares went off and then everything was covered in smoke. Luckily the guy was okay, but when it happened everyone was concerned.
One time Thomas was in a convoy going up the mountains when the lead Humvee, right in front of him, started smoking. The convoy commander didn’t believe him when Thomas reported that they were smoking. They slowed down and stopped when the truck’s cabin filled with smoke. It took all the fire extinguishers in the convoy to put the fire out. The convoy was stopped in a straight section of the mountain road, and Thomas along with another soldier used their radios to direct traffic around the convoy. One car did not want to stop coming down the mountain, and Thomas had to get his weapon ready before the car came to a very fast stop.
Another time a war criminal was captured in Doboj, Bosnia. The captured enemy had been wounded in a fire fight, and Guardian base had the only hospital in the country. Thomas was on a mission to pick up Danish tanks outside the town Doboj, and there was a real fear of retaliation. Everyone had to stay in a three-day lock down until this was resolved. Several service people had to go see a psychiatrist due to mental stress.
After two tours and ten years of service in the National Guard, Thomas had to decide whether to get out and pursue an engineering career or to reenlist. He decided not to reenlist. His dad had passed away from cancer and his mom wanted him to get out. He got out just in time to avoid going to Kuwait when his unit was activated in 2003. Currently Thomas works for a Japanese automotive company as a Manufacturing Engineer. He would not have been able to manage the multi-million dollar projects he works on if he had stayed in the National Guard.
In reflecting on those service years, Thomas says he learned to be disciplined and developed a strong work ethic. “You learn to really study and get the job done. Even if it is real difficult, you finish the job. Even today, people recognize me as being in the military by the way I handle myself. The military gives you a discipline structure to take on each task and get the job done. In service work, the motto was ‘train the trainer.’ You pass on what you’ve learned and everything I learned still helps me today.”
Thomas believes that "war is never a good thing, and not something we should seek out, but tyrants shouldn’t be allowed to run around freely in the world either. If going to war is what it takes, we’ll do it and give them hell."
The hardest part about adjusting to military life was being away from family and home. While serving abroad, Thomas missed two Christmases. The best part was that he knew people he was with and together they all supported each other. The men in his unit grew close like brothers and that made it easier to be away from home.
Roger Samuel Campbell, Thomas’s father, was a Vietnam veteran and raised his children to have a sense of patriotic pride for the United States. When Thomas left home to serve, he remembers his dad saying. “Just don’t try to be a hero, do your job and do it well. Big shot heroes never come home. We support you but want you home safe.”