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Stories of Honor: A Navy soldier reflects on his time in service with emotion | New

When Butte native Zach Cramer wanted to join the military after graduating from high school in 2003, his father said no.

“My dad said to me, ‘You’re not going to join the army and keep a 50-gallon barrel of oil in the desert and you’re not going to be a jarhead,'” Cramer recounted. “‘You’re going to join the navy or the air force.'”

His father spoke to the Army recruiter and then drove Cramer to the Navy recruiter, Cramer said.

Cramer’s father was in the Navy, and that’s the branch Cramer enlisted in as a corpsman — a doctor — he said. He left for boot camp at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on April 27, 2004, and remained in the Navy for about six years. When he enlisted his rank was E-2, when he discharged it was E-4. He earned a Navy Medal of Honor.

Although Cramer avoided the army as his father advised, he said he decided to enlist as a corpsman because that was “about where he told me not to. not go”, in terms of being a “jarhead”.

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Now, he said, if one of his two children wanted to join the army when they came of age, he would encourage them to go to school first and become an officer.

“You know, there will always be bullshit–” he said. “Wherever you go, there is someone above your head. You kind of have to do what you’re told, but there’s less of that when you’re an officer. And you are more or less responsible.

“There are more responsibilities… (but) you don’t have to live in the barracks, you don’t have to do work parties and all that. It’s just the little things.

During his time, he deployed to Kuwait and twice to Iraq for about nine months each time, in 2005 and 2007.

While Cramer had fun in the Navy and joined up because he thought it would be fun, he said he now thinks the Army recruiter he first spoke to times had oversold it a bit.

“I had no intention of going into the military,” Cramer said. After graduating from high school, he took a year off and planned to attend Montana Technological University in the fall.

“He was like, ‘Well, you can drive Humvees all the time, that’s cool,'” Cramer recounted, telling the Army recruiter. “And, you know, you think of Humvees and you see them on TV or in the movies, and you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s adorable.’ And then you walk into one in the hot desert and you’re like, “That really sucks.”

The over-hyped Humvee desert rides aside, Cramer said he had fun in the Navy and had many fond memories of his time there, including fishing the Euphrates. in Iraq, firing rockets, cleaning houses and a particularly memorable night for him and his team. spent in a house with Iraqi policemen.

He said his team came up with the idea of ​​making a kind of water trap like you sometimes see in the movies, with a bucket of water attached to a door frame designed to soak an unsuspecting person walking through it. .

Except instead of a bucket of water, Cramer and his team used a cinder block.

“You know, just block the door…in case someone comes in who wasn’t supposed to come in,” Cramer said. “Well, one of the Iraqi police guys came in, and it worked, it worked really well.

“Like, we knew he was there, and he was pretty shaken up. It was pretty funny; he didn’t think it was funny.

Other than a bump to the head, the man was uninjured, Cramer said, but he wasn’t amused either.

Another fond memory for Cramer is when another member of the team received a backpack and a fishing rod from his father, and they went fishing in the Euphrates.

While most of Cramer’s memories of his time in the Navy are amusing, there are a few that disturb him. In particular, those who have been injured and who have unwittingly taken part in the war.

“I wanted to go, but I knew what I was getting into,” Cramer said. “And we have all these people who obviously know what they’re getting into and they want to come and like, shoot us or fire rockets, they know what they’re getting into.

“But people who don’t want anything to do with it, and they’re in the middle of it…that’s what bothers me, they had no choice.”

It contributed to the two things Cramer said he took away from his service: the first being “if it has to happen, it will happen” and not taking things for granted.

He said it’s helpful to talk about it with people who understand, rather than “toss it around and stuff it”.

After Cramer’s release, he worked as a forest firefighter with the Forest Service for about five years, and now works as a civilian technician with NorthWestern Energy.