Me: Can you tell me a little bit about why you joined the Marines and then why you joined the National Guard after your service with the Marines?
Carter: I joined the USMC because they had pretty uniforms for one, and I wanted to be the best. Growing up, I had an uncle that served in the Marines, called a China Marine and he would tell me stories and I was enamored with him. I joined and I loved it, but I got a little tired of all the deployments in four years so I was young and got out to try and start a family. I joined the National Guard because after September 11th I went to the Marines to reenlist and the Marines have a certain quota for private service recruits. They told me to come back in eight months and I thought the war would be over in eight months. Someone told me about the National Guard so I contacted a recruiter and told him I wanted to go infantry. I was told there was no infantry units in Texas but they had something very similar called a cav scout, so I joined up as a scout.
Me: What units did you serve with, how many tours, and where?
Carter: I’ve done four tours in Iraq and Somalia. I served with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines. I served with 2/112th Armored Cavalry Platoon out of Ft. Worth, and I served with Delta 3/141 Infantry out of Houston.
Me: What was the hardest thing about being away from home?
Carter: Not being there. You miss everything. I got activated in 2004. It’s now 2014. I finally got home full-time in 2013. I missed birthdays, anniversaries, baseball games, football games, stuff at school. You realize that yeah I’m their dad and husband, but I’m not there so how good could I be? You ask my youngest who’s seven, and I’ve missed almost all of his life. I’m trying to make up for it now, but what’s gone is gone. I can only move forward and they can only move forward with memories we make now.
Me: What’s the hardest part about the actual deployment?
Carter: The hardest part about being deployed is not even really saying good-bye. For me, when I was overseas what I tried to do was forget that I had a family, forget that I had anything other than the guys around me on that day-to-day mission. ‘Cause I found that if I was focused on my family and thinking. “Gosh, I’ve got another nine months to go,” it just made things harder. You start losing focus over there and it makes your tour longer. The hardest thing for me on deployments is when a mission doesn’t go right, when it goes bad. And by go bad, you may actually succeed in the mission but that buddy gets wounded or dies. That’s hard because you know everything about that guy. You probably drink beer with him. You know his family history, wife’s name, his kid’s names. You might’ve even met them. That’s the hardest thing.
Me: Now on the other side of that, what’s it like coming home? What’s the hardest part of that?
Carter: The hardest part? A couple things. One, trying to remember that your wife and your kids aren’t soldiers or marines. They don’t take orders. It’s remembering that you’re not in a combat environment anymore. You’re not gonna have that M9 on your hip, you’re not going to have that M4 slung. Ya know, it’s happened to a lot of guys. Walking down the street or walking in the mall and you have this freaking panic attack. You’re like, “O crap, I lost my weapon. Where’s my weapon?” Then you realize, “O yeah, I don’t have that anymore.” But really, I mean, the hardest is reintegrating with your family. You’ve gotta understand that you’re home. They’re not a soldier and they’re not going to take orders. And, nobody is going to shoot at you in Royce City, Texas.
Me: Talk a little bit about the superhero mantra that civilians attach to soldiers.
Carter: Not a superhero and not a hero period. There are heroes, yes. There are guys that come home missing both arms, both legs doing a job that very few people have the guts to do. There are heroes that get the Medal of Honor that jump on a grenade and save their buddy. They go above and beyond what the rest of us do. We’re not heroes. We are doing a job. There are heroes and your average soldier we’re not it. Guys that didn’t come home… They gave their all. Guys that came home with missing limbs, Medal of Honor winners, guys that didn’t come home… They’re the true heroes in my opinion.