PROGRESS 2024: Veteran Spotlight – Eric Reason

His father was a colonel who served in Desert Storm and Vietnam. His uncle served in Korea. His grandfather served in World War II. “I always knew that I wanted to fight for the freedoms of my future family.” As is the case for so many, for Eric Reason, joining the military in 1997 was continuing a family legacy of service.

His first stop was Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for basic training and then Fort Lee – recently renamed Fort Gregg-Adams – in Virginia for AIT. Next was heavy wheel vehicle operator school, through which he gained his H7 additional skill identifier. Then, the first duty station for the newly minted soldier was Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga., where he served with 110th Quartermaster fuel company, in the 360th Quartermaster Battalion. He was stationed there for three years. In addition to his fueling duties and flight line operations, Reason took college courses and had time occasionally to enjoy nearby attractions like Tybee Island, Georgia. “I’d break uniform – I’d wear my bathing suit underneath my uniform, and as soon as the closing formation would go off, me and my buddies would get in my truck and go out to the island and go on the beach.”

Reason said he enjoyed his time at Hunter Army Airfield, and he re-enlisted while there.

In 1999-2000 his battalion traveled to Egypt for Operation Bright Star, joint military exercises between the United States Armed Forces and Egyptian Armed Forces. “I was right there on the Mediterranean Sea, and my job was bringing fuel into the nation,” Reason explained. He also got to see the pyramids and said he enjoyed learning a little bit of the language.

After they returned home from Bright Star, they got orders to Korea. After two weeks of leave, they deployed to Korea. There was a ceasefire at the time, but Reason and his fellow soldiers trained with the South Korean Army and maintained the military’s presence in a show of strength at the edge of the Demilitarized Zone. He was just returning to Camp Casey from a stint at the DMZ and watching the news – when he saw the events of Sept. 11, 2001, televised. About half an hour later, his team was ordered to return to the DMZ to guard against North Korea potentially capitalizing on the tumultuous situation.

He remained in Korea until December 2001. Back in the states he was ordered to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with the 101st Airborne Division. He earned his air assault wings while there. It was right around the time the U.S. officially went to war with Iraq that Reason re-enlisted again. “I thought, ‘I cannot with a clear conscience get out of the Army now, when we’re finally at war,’” he said. “If I had dropped out, I would have considered myself a coward.” He was part of the nation’s initial invasion into Iraq.

An early action stands out starkly in his mind. “When we went into the country, we were nine vehicles wide, five miles long. I was driving a 60,000-gallon fuel truck,” he said. “We were under orders, ‘Do not stop for anything.’ And the Iraqis knew how much Americans valued life, so they would send women and children in front of the convoy to try to stop us. And we had no choice but to run over these people. That really messed me up for a while afterward. One of those little girls looked identical to my daughter later on in life, and I realized I was pushing her away.”

Iraq brought plenty of harrowing experiences, but Reason also found ways to have a positive impact. At one point he became the chaplain’s assistant, and he was also in charge of the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program for his unit, which aimed to enhance quality of life for single and unaccompanied soldiers by providing them with a support network and a range of opportunities for personal and professional development. He would organize trips and outings – to shops, to historic monasteries, to go swimming in Saddam Hussein’s abandoned pool at his palace. Reason said he also enjoyed having the opportunity to with some of the locals – although with some unsavory complications. “Throughout my career, 13 Muslims came to know Jesus,” he said. “Out of those 13, eight of them I saw later on a BBC news broadcast. I saw their heads on the gates of Mosul when ISIS took over that area … I have mixed feelings about that. They died for their faith … I’m partly responsible for that.”

They were told they would be deployed for six months. It turned out to be a year.

Following that deployment, upon their return to the United States, Reason transitioned to a different role, in chemical warfare, in deference to a knee injury he sustained overseas. He also continued coordinating the BOSS program from stateside soldiers.

Reason got married, and he was soon posted to Alaska for three years. “I get assigned to this special duty assignment to run phone lines and internet cables throughout the base in Alaska,” Reason said. He’d been redesignated and promoted to supply sergeant by that point. It was around this time, Reason said, that he started to realize the Army wasn’t the same as it was when he first enlisted. Upstart young soldiers made him feel the uniform, the country, was being disrespected, and there didn’t seem to be a way to address it. “The Army is letting the young soldiers rule the roost. This is getting under my skin,” Reason said. “It was that ‘kinder, gentler approach’ the Army went to. That’s when I realized it wasn’t the same.” He did enjoy the opportunity to lead a group of Wounded Warriors through the Arctic Challenge while in Alaska.

As his three years were almost up, he requested to be sent to Korea again, excited to share the country and culture with his family; his daughter’s asthma, however, precluded them from that move, and instead in 2012 the family was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, where Reason finished his term of military service and retired as a staff sergeant in 2018 – although a year of that was spent in another deployment, to Afghanistan.

Traumatic brain injury and PTSD followed Reason out of the Army, as well as rare pattern double vision, but he hasn’t let that or anything else stop him from making his next steps. After a distressing divorce, Reason knew he needed a change of scene – which brought him to Alabama, through unconventional means. “I put a map of the United States on a dart, walked back 15 feet, and threw a dart. It landed in Alabama. I took a map of Alabama and did the same thing. It landed in Franklin County – and I let realtor.com do the rest.”

He lives a on a 20-acre piece in Phil Campbell, with woods and fields. “I love it here. I adore this place.” He stays with busy with his animals – he’s had goats and a horse – and is a substitute teacher. He is also affiliated with the Republican Committee, and he is the commander of the county VFW post. His two sons come to visit each summer and every other holiday; he also has two older stepdaughters. He said he hopes to soon start working toward his master’s degree in social work.

“I learned a lot of life lessons (in the military),” Reason said. “I had good and bad experiences … and one thing that service taught me was not only a love for life, a love for learning and a love for new experiences but that my faith is unshakeable.”

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