Shane Baumgartner first served in Iraq with the Marine Corps, returned as a civilian contractor and then made his
|Marine Corps soldier Shane Baumgartner
with his wife Elizabeth (Wasserman), a Clay
High School graduate, on their wedding day.
(Photo courtesy of Noel Donnell)
third deployment working for the U.S. state department.
On his final excursion, he survived being kidnapped by the enemy and being locked in the trunk of a Humvee.
Baumgartner was a Reconnaissance Marine who recently graduated from the police academy. Today, the veteran is a Northwood firefighter and paramedic. However, Baumgartner does not necessarily like to be called a “hero.”
Baumgartner spoke to over 200 people during the Northwood VFW Post 2984 Veterans Appreciation Day celebration August 21. The event was organized by the post’s appreciation day co-chairpersons Mike Myers and Audrey Caligirui.
In attendance were Baumgartner’s wife Elizabeth (Wasserman) and her grandfather, Noel Donnell, a World War II vet. Donnell was impressed with Baumgartner’s message.
“Today I find myself in a bit of an uncomfortable situation,” Baumgartner began. “This has really only happened twice in my life. Once was my first combat mission. The second was when I asked my father-in-law for his daughter’s hand in marriage. To me, today feels like one of those days.
“Being called a hero makes me uncomfortable. A bit nervous. My palms are sweaty and I feel like my voice might crack a little bit. When I was asked to be a hometown hero I was sincerely deeply honored but felt a little out of place. I didn’t do anything different than those other guys who stood next to me in the sand. So please allow me to
|Northwood’s Shane Baumgartner in top row, far right with sunglasses
on, in Bayji, Iraq on April 24, 2005. (Photo courtesy of Noel Donnell)
speak on their behalf.”
He spoke about the occasions he felt appreciated, including —
• Being kissed by a “frail Iraqi man” in 2003.
• “The way my little brother looked at me the day I became a Marine.” He says people tried to talk him out of joining, including counselors, girlfriends, teachers, friends, coaches, and “even my Mom.”
• “Being moved up to first class on an airplane, just because (I’m a soldier).”
• “My family having patience with me whenever I come home from dealing with ‘the bad guys.’”
“But there are also some things where I don’t feel appreciated and sometimes I get a little terse,” Baumgartner said. “Being told by those who have not been there, ‘War is only for this or for that’ depending on which we are talking about.
“I’ve been asked many times if I would do it over again. Given I’ve broken bones, lost friends, and have an adjustment disorder because I still think it’s OK to express my feelings in NATO 5.56 ball ammo.”
Baumgartner quoted two passages — one from British philosopher John Stewart Mill and the other from President Ronald Reagan. Then he described in detail his military experience.
“As many servicemen do, I bounced around for a few years, learned some new skills and had the best of times. Somewhere between liberating a military bus and going to Reno, skiing off the back end of a Zodiak in Africa, shivering north of the Arctic Circle I found myself in a little place called Iraq. Some of you may have heard of it,” Baumgartner said.
“Iraq...it’s a word that evokes so much emotion in me it’s difficult to explain, but those of you who know, know,” he continued.
“I made a choice with those boys to do our job and we did it well. I remember leaving the Mosul airfield a few months after we took it over. We had to go to Liberia ‘to deal with this other thing’ and I remember thinking this is the last time I’ll see this place.”
After a brief stint home, he returned to Iraq as a civilian contractor. The treatment did not improve, he says.
“I was met with the same type of resistance as when I joined the corps,” Baumgartner said. “‘You’re doing it for this reason or for that reason,’ ‘Don’t you know it’s dangerous,’ etc. etc. So as I landed at the Mosul airfield I found peace knowing the only reason I was there was because of those guys who made the same choice as I did. I think that’s why a lot of vets do it...because it needs to be done. I know I appreciate that. I finished out my time and made it home doing pretty good. It took me awhile to get used to driving though, I can tell you that.”
He later returned to the Mosul airfield a third time serving on a protective security detail for the state department.
“We were stopped and harassed by the Iraqis at checkpoint,” Baumgartner said. “They pointed their guns, muzzle thumped my window, and we had to stop when the tank levelled its main gun at us. There were more Iraqis, more guns, and no support. I can tell you I really wanted to see some Marines at that point. Heck, I would have liked some Army dogs, too. But it didn’t happen.
“What did happen is we were assisted out of our vehicles, separated, handcuffed and I was lucky enough to be placed into the trunk of an overstuffed Humvee. When I awoke from the festivities I found I couldn’t move my arms very well and they were hurting pretty bad. I had vomited on myself and had no idea where I was going.
“Then it hit me. I was alone in a combat zone and I was with the enemy and I probably was going to miss lunch. I made a choice. I chose to put my faith in my God and made the choice to get through whatever would come next. We went through some rough talks and I was fortunate enough to be reunited with my teammates a short time later. I appreciated them...all Marines.”
Then Baumgartner talks about how his experience is affecting him now.
“I know my war will never be over. I know this because I see it in the faces of men who have fought. You see we leave the battlefield but it never leaves us. I’m OK with this.
“I know when I see my flag fly at a baseball game, I’m going to cry...and I don’t know when I’ll stop waking up trying to fight something that isn’t there,” Baumgartner added.