Evan Avery graduated from Moulton-Udell High School in 2000 and almost immediately joined the .
“I wanted to get into the Naval Academy, but I didn’t,” laughed Avery. “I don’t think I really knew what I was going to do. I want to say the Monday after I graduated…the Marine recruiter called…he didn’t have to twist my arm very hard.”
Avery left in September of that year, completing basic training in San Diego before entering the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton where he graduated from the Light Armored Vehicle School in April of 2001. He was then stationed at 29 Palms, California with the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
On the morning of Sept. 11 his unit was training for their first deployment to Okinawa, Japan and that week were planning to go on a training exercise at Camp Pendleton.
“I remember…it was on TV,” said Avery. “It’s hard to understand how large those buildings were. I think when I saw it on TV it looked as if it was like a small Cessna plane or something even though it was actually quite a large jet.”
The news spread slowly throughout the morning, but there was not a true realization of what was happening.
“I remember listening to the radio all day,” said Avery. “Somebody had brought a radio down to where we were working so we were listening to what was going on…”
As the realization came that the United States had been deliberately attacked, the unit realized that there would most likely be a war, but they were more excited about that possibility then scared.
“I was in the Infantry and so I don’t know what other people in the service were doing but we were all probably getting very excited I would say at the thought of going to war,” said Avery. “It’s that young kind of naiveté. It’s like a football team or something that finally gets to play a football game…I don’t think I was thinking much about my family.”
However, nothing changed immediately for Avery. The unit left for their training in Camp Pendleton, and traveling there was a surreal experience.
“It was either the next day or the day after, we went on our field op and we had to drive these armored vehicles on the Interstate to get to the other base where we were going to go train,” said Avery.
“I think everybody thought we were all heading to wherever, to somewhere. But we weren’t. We were just going from one base to another. I remember that day … because everybody was waving, and they had American flags.”
The unit deployed to Okinawa as planned for six months. Although some military deployed to Afghanistan, at that point Avery said, going to Iraq was not really on anyone’s mind.
After returning to America, during Christmas break of 2002, something different happened. They did not allow all the Marines to go on break at the same time.
Half, including Avery, were sent home for a Christmas break, but had to be back before New Year’s. Then the second half were allowed to go home for a New Year’s break, but they were called back early.
“And then shortly after everybody got back we packed up our stuff and got on ships to sail to Kuwait…that was January ’03,” said Avery.
Sailing to Kuwait took one month and then they waited in Kuwait for about a month before the invasion of Iraq began.
“I think March 21 or 22 is when we invaded Iraq,” said Avery.
His unit entered Iraq in the south and traveled north, eventually ending up in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, about 90 miles north of Baghdad. His unit did not go into Baghdad. In total they were in Iraq for a few months.
“My unit’s total time in Iraq I think was barely over three months, just because it was the initial invasion and it went so fast…and as far as combat action there wasn’t a lot,” said Avery. “The really heavy stuff didn’t come in until ’05 to ’08.”
Avery remained in Kuwait for a while after his unit returned to the U.S., helping to load vehicles onto ships. He was discharged from the Marines in September of 2004.
He now works in construction and he and his wife, Rodganna, who also graduated from Moulton-Udell, currently live in Maryland and have three children.
But Avery said the family are nomads. Last summer and fall he was working in New Jersey, right across the Hudson River from New York City.
“Last year I was actually around the city around September 11 …,” said Avery. “They have these two big lights that they light up on September 11 to show where the buildings were. You can see them pretty far away.”
“After being actually in New York City and experiencing that city a little bit…it really hits me a lot more how big the event was…,” said Avery. “It’s very hard to imagine the mass of humanity that lives in New York City and what those buildings are like. Thinking back now …it’s a different feeling just knowing how much bigger it was. I was a fairly small piece in that whole thing.”
Avery said all of his experiences have given him a unique perspective and made him grateful for the freedom American citizens are guaranteed.
“I was proud to serve and I enjoy the fact that we still live in a country where we are free to, well, sit during the national anthem if we want to or wear a burkini on the beach,” said Avery. “It’s a place where you’re allowed to express your religion and express your freedom in many different ways. I think my time in the has given me that kind of perspective. I know a lot of people get pretty worked up about what they deem as people being disrespectful to…this country but … I think veterans have a different view because they fought for it. They’re like, ‘Well that’s your right to do that.’ Obviously we can disagree with them, but it is wonderful to live in a place where you can still express that right.”
Krystal Fowler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (641) 856-6336.
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