NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Eric Rogers served his country in the Army as a specialist from 2010 to 2014.
He joined the service one week before his 21st birthday and did his basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.
"It wasn't as bad as it was annoying. There's a big gap between guys that were 18 and 21. I kept getting in trouble for stupid things the younger guys did," he said.
After basic, Rogers was sent to Army School in Huntsville, Ala., where he spent a few months, then to the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The Navy-controlled program is extremely long and expensive and produces a high attrition rate.
Specialist Rogers' first assignment was initially Fort Drum, N.Y., but was later rescheduled, sending him to a training center in Yakama in Washington State. Here he performed the duties of an EOD technician at the small facility.
"Our job was to take care of the unexploded bombs from the firing range, detonating or diffusing them," he said, explaining the mindset one must be in for this type of work. "When you're stateside, you're pretty calm. The people who shot the bombs help you with location ... you take down information, prepare your truck, gear, sign out explosives for the job (if needed) ... it's safe for the most part."
In 2012, Rogers was deployed to Afghanistan and would remain there for nine months. "I was kind of nervous in the moment, hearing the news wasn't that bad," he recalled.
Upon arriving in Afghanistan, his EOD team was assigned to a special forces unit.
"We just got in country, got briefed and were told that we were going on a night mission," he said. "I don't know the
people I'm with, in very unfamiliar territory, pitch black at night. All of my nerves came from the meetings I was in.
"It wasn't bad at all in the 'moment' ... you learn to trust the people that you're with — that can be a lifesaver."
He continued, "most firefights I was engaged in weren't in close quarters. That makes you feel a little bit better. You're focused on what you have to do — get cover, watch my guys — your natural instincts kick in and you handle it in the way you were trained, in the best possible way. Special forces helped us a lot with training."
Rogers also spoke about the intense dangers of his missions.
"When detonating or disarming a bomb you want to do it remotely or with a robot," he said. "In special forces, we had to be extremely mobile. We couldn't carry every tool and it was always worst-case scenario ... If we found an IED, we would blow it up. If it was near a building or road, you had to dismantle it. You also were a sitting duck for snipers."
What was it like being away for the holidays? "The only thing that changed was the theme of dinner. The Army tried to spoil you on dinner," he said. "If we could, we might do a mission. For the most part, they tried to let you communicate with your family and let you relax for the day."
His thoughts on service? "I was absolutely glad I joined. It helped me grow up," Rogers said. "My attitude
could have been a little better. Getting to play with some explosives was pretty fun ...
"I made friendships that will last a lifetime and the GI Bill set me up for college."
He is currently an android software engineer and resides in North Adams. Specialist Eric Rogers, thank you for
your service to our great country.
Veteran Spotlight is a column by Wayne Soares that runs twice a month. Soares is a motivational speaker and comedian who has frequently entertained the troops overseas with the USO. To recommend a veteran for Soares' column, write to email@example.com