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From mortgage broker to medic: Saint Robert man receives Bronze Star
From mortgage broker to medic: Saint Robert man receives Bronze Star

Sgt. James H. Carter received the Bronze Star for valor in saving Navy personnel from a blown-up vehicle in Iraq.
SAINT ROBERT, Mo. (July 22, 2009) — A Waynesville High School graduate serving in Iraq received the Bronze Star with valor device for his role as a medic in rescuing Navy personnel from a burning explosive ordinance disposal vehicle that had been blown into the air by a roadside culvert bomb.

Sgt. James H. Carter, 33, followed up on that 2007 award by recently being named Medic of the Year for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team in Iraq, to which he’s assigned as part of the 82nd Airborne in his second tour of duty in Iraq.

Although he’s the son of a former Marine who transferred to the Army and retired after serving two terms during the Vietnam conflict, Carter didn’t originally plan a career wearing a military uniform. After graduating from Waynesville High School in 1994, he went to the University of Missouri in Columbia and became a mortgage broker in that city, continuing in that career until he began to reconsider the direction of his life after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“Especially after 9/11, just realizing the vulnerability of the country, I took a step back, looked at my life, and asked what I had done. Everything I had done was geared toward me,” Carter said. “I was studying for a while and resisted but eventually I gave in. It’s the best decision I made in my life so far.”

He has an entirely different focus now as a line medic.

“I knew right away that being a medic was something I would want to go into,” Carter said. “That’s the first thing we need, medics. We need to make sure the scene is secure, and once you get inside, you don’t think about anything else except helping the people who are there. It’s all about the guys around you, not yourself.”

Carter’s first tour of duty in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 coincided with one of the most violent times in Iraq; his current tour of duty has been “far different than the first tour,” he said.

As a sergeant, his duties now can include teaching the lessons he’s learned in the field to junior medics who won’t have to face the intense combat environment he faced a few years ago.

“As an NCO, my role has changed in that now I am the teacher, and I try to incorporate realistic, tough training to prepare our medics for the great responsibility of being ‘Doc,’” Carter said in an earlier interview with Army Public Affairs personnel.

Things were much harder when Carter went on patrol in the Iraqi city of Samarra on July 17, 2007. He was accompanying members of Company D of the 2nd Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment who, rather than doing the parachute jumps for which the 82nd Airborne Division is known, were assigned to an explosive ordinance disposal escort mission along a major supply route. According to an Army Public Affairs press release, while the unit was on patrol, “a massive improvised explosive device detonated inside a culvert, throwing a US Navy EOD vehicle in the convoy high into the air. The vehicle landed on its side on fire, trapping three Navy EOD personnel inside.”

Carter acted quickly, risking his own life by repeatedly re-entering the burning vehicle to pull out the three trapped Navy personnel. Two died, but Carter’s actions saved the life of a third.

Maj. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, subsequently presented Carter with the Bronze Star for his actions that day.

Carter credited his fellow paratroopers for providing him with the protection needed to provide medical care under combat conditions.

“Being a medic, we do tend to get a lot more awards than the guys we are with, and that’s unfortunate,” Carter said. “They slept on the same rooftop I slept on, they went to the same scenes I went to, pulled people out of the truck. It isn’t anything I did on my own … It’s a catch-22 being a medic; you would give the awards back if you could take back the injuries that caused you to win the awards.”

Carter signed up for the Army with an initial three-year commitment but has recently re-enlisted and plans to make the Army his career.

Older recruits are becoming a more frequent sight in basic training, but Carter was a dozen years older than many of his fellow recruits in basic training. That wasn’t easy, he admitted.

“Basic training, for me, coming in at 30, it was tough. The drill sergeants are all pretty much younger than you, but for me, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” Carter said. “I never felt more proud than when I graduated from basic training and AIT (advanced individual training to become a medic).”

Getting an older man’s body to do the rigorous exercise and other physical training required in basic training or expected from a junior enlisted man was difficult, Carter said, but he had some advice for others who enlist in the Army — regardless of age.

“I out-PTed most of the 18- and 19-year-olds who were in my platoon,” Carter said. “One of the things that we do to stay fit is to run a lot. We run a lot in the 82nd Airborne; I don’t think people back home can imagine how much we run.”

Other techniques used by Carter to stay physically fit include lifting weights and taking a men’s multivitamin.

“You’ve got to jeep the joints fluid and mobile,” Carter said.

The most difficult part of military duty as a medic, Carter said, wasn’t so much the physical demands but the stresses inherent in being responsible for saving people who, without his help, would likely die or suffer lifelong injuries.

Handling stress requires teamwork, Carter said.

“As far as coping with the stress, you always have your buddies. Sometimes you want to just be by yourself, but you look to your left and your right,” Carter said. “When you are sucking, they are sucking.”

Carter said he remembers that in the incident for which he was awarded the Bronze Star, even though he saved one person in the blown-up and burning vehicle, two others didn’t make it. As an experienced medic who now trains other medics in Iraq, Carter said he reminds new medics that the Army training in which medics learn their skills is harder than the routine day-to-day duties in Iraq.

“I would just go ahead and reassure (new medics) that they made it through the hardest part, which is AIT. Being in the medical background, our job is to help people, but we are not going to save everybody. You need to focus on the people you can help, but there are some people you are going to lose,” Carter said. “If you gave it 100 percent and did all you could for that person, they are in a better place.”

So why become a medic?

“Any men and women who are interested in the military and want a challenging career, line medic is the way to go,” Carter said. “This job as a line medic is good for anyone who wants to give back … it instills a lot of discipline in you and it makes you a better person.”

As a line medic, Carter said he’s attached to infantry battalions and small platoons so he can use his training, which is comparable to a civilian EMT or emergency medical technician who serves on an ambulance crew, to provide immediate aid to injured soldiers.

“When they are outside the wire, being the medics, we are tight with them,” Carter said. “A typical day for a line medic would be you would wake up fairly late in the morning, you get your op orders, you load up your truck and go on patrol. Hopefully, everything is quiet … (when you get back) you help the guys get the trucks cleaned up and get a rest period throughout the day. Then at night, you go on the second patrol.”

Line medics often have the opportunity to interact with the Iraqi civilian population since medical personnel are often viewed as people who can help.

“You go out and talk to people to try to build a rapport. It’s a great camaraderie,” Carter said.

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