Face of Defense: Soldier Finds Niche in Nuristan

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2010 — Since arriv­ing here sev­er­al months ago to serve with Task Force Bas­togne, Army Pfc. Ray­mond Cecil — a can­non crewmem­ber with Bat­tery A, 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 320th Field Artillery Reg­i­ment, has made a pos­i­tive impres­sion on his lead­ers.

Forward Operating Base Kalagush in eastern Afghanistan's Nuristan province
Army Pfc. Ray­mond Cecil rais­es the ele­va­tion on his how­itzer at For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Kala­gush in east­ern Afghanistan’s Nuris­tan province Dec. 12, 2010.
U.S. Army pho­to by Sgt. Bill Mur­ray
Click to enlarge

He’s an extreme­ly moti­vat­ed, com­pe­tent and con­fi­dent sol­dier,” said Army 1st Sgt. Jere­my Bar­ton, Cecil’s senior enlist­ed advi­sor for Bat­tery A. “He is very respect­ful and is always in the thick of things. He is always learn­ing and train­ing, and is excelling at his job. I am proud of Cecil and would love to have more sol­diers with his atti­tude, ini­tia­tive and abil­i­ty to learn and retain infor­ma­tion.”

To some, it’s not sur­pris­ing to hear the Ten­nessee native — a 1st Brigade Com­bat Team sol­dier with the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion — is doing so well. He’s the fourth gen­er­a­tion in his fam­i­ly to join the mil­i­tary and deploy to war.

“When Cecil was in the third grade, his father was diag­nosed with mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and was in and out of hos­pi­tals for treat­ment,” explained Bar­ton, a Clarksville, Tenn., native. Cecil, 21, has known since he was a boy he want­ed to join the mil­i­tary. His father’s debil­i­tat­ing dis­ease only slowed him down a lit­tle.

“It got a lit­tle crazy,” he said. “It seemed like we spent almost every night in the [emer­gency room] or hos­pi­tal. He has almost kicked the buck­et on us a few times. It’s not a fun thing to have hap­pen to some­one in your fam­i­ly — no dis­ease is ever fun on a fam­i­ly.”

When Cecil was 12 and a few years after he learned his father had MS, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed his world. In response to those attacks, Cecil’s father, who was a region­al man­ag­er for Waste Man­age­ment, was asked to assist in the Pen­ta­gon clean-up efforts in the attack’s wake. On his last day on the assign­ment, he fell from the back of a trash con­tain­er, land­ed on a con­crete road bar­ri­er and broke his back. The injury result­ed in many painful surg­eries, and com­bined with his MS, made him unable to go back to work.

It was only a mat­ter of time before Cecil decid­ed to drop out of high school and start work­ing full time to help in sup­port­ing his fam­i­ly. After work­ing for three years in var­i­ous jobs, he decid­ed it was time to join the mil­i­tary.

“Before I joined the Army, I was a jack-of-all-trades, I guess you would say,” Cecil recount­ed. “I did con­struc­tion and home main­te­nance, detailed cars, worked as a jan­i­tor. There isn’t much good out there for some­one who doesn’t have a diplo­ma.”

At 19, he met with an Army recruiter. He enlist­ed in the Army on Feb. 13, 2009, and left for the Army Prepara­to­ry School at Fort Jack­son, S.C., June 1.

After obtain­ing his GED diplo­ma at Fort Jack­son, Cecil shipped out to Fort Sill, Okla., where he com­plet­ed basic train­ing, fol­lowed by advanced indi­vid­ual train­ing to be a can­non crewmem­ber.

“A can­non crewmem­ber wasn’t my first choice,” Cecil said, “but it was that or the infantry when I went to [the Mil­i­tary Entrance Pro­cess­ing Sta­tion]. It’s an OK job, I guess. It’s bet­ter than scrub­bing floors.”

Just days after com­plet­ing his ini­tial train­ing, Cecil arrived at his first duty assign­ment with Bat­tery A, 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 320th Field Artillery Reg­i­ment at Fort Camp­bell, Ky. A lit­tle more than a year lat­er, he was sent to the Joint Readi­ness Train­ing Cen­ter, Fort Polk, La., in Jan­u­ary, to pre­pare for war with his fel­low Bas­togne Bull­dogs.

“My dad was very sup­port­ive, and hap­py I was get­ting out of my crowd and dead-end jobs,” Cecil recalled. “My moth­er and sis­ter cried and went crazy, almost. They didn’t like it at all for about a week or two, but they came around. My par­ents are both very proud of me. My dad doesn’t wor­ry too much, or at least that he lets on. My mom cries every time she watch­es the news, but she still knows I can han­dle what­ev­er the Tal­iban throws at me.”

He proved that May 26.

“There was a com­plex attack on our [for­ward oper­at­ing base],” Cecil said. “Me and my sec­tion fought in an intense bat­tle for a cou­ple of hours. After that, you always feel good about your­self — that you made it out of some­thing like that alive. It real­ly builds trust in your­self, your fel­low sol­diers and your lead­er­ship. I knew then I had the best chain of lead­er­ship in the Army, because they had prop­er­ly pre­pared me and the oth­ers for just that sit­u­a­tion.”

On this deploy­ment, Cecil is respon­si­ble for man­ning an M198 how­itzer as the assis­tant gun­ner. He is also a gun­ner on the 120 mm mor­tar. His job, he said, is to defend his base and shoot the can­nons to sup­press the ene­my when sol­diers are under attack on the bat­tle­field.

Although Cecil real­izes his mis­sion here and the impor­tance of it all, he still finds time to think about his dreams, goals and of his future.

“Some of my dreams might sound crazy, but I plan on doing every sin­gle one of them, because the min­i­mum is nev­er good enough,” Cecil said. “I will climb Mount Ever­est one day, and when I get home, I plan on doing my first marathon.”

His pla­toon leader, Army Capt. William Mayville, a Fayet­teville, N.C., native, has no doubt Cecil will do great things and is proud to have him on his team.

“Cecil is a go-to guy,” he said. “I think he feels sat­is­fac­tion from the fact he is looked up to by his peers and his supe­ri­ors look to him to get things done. It is the con­stant search for that feel­ing that is what dri­ves him to be the best at what­ev­er it is he is doing, and once that is com­plete, move on to the next lev­el.

“He strives to be the best in every dis­ci­pline of his pro­fes­sion,” Mayville con­tin­ued. “He is head and shoul­ders above his peers in terms of per­for­mance. He’s an absolute asset to his sec­tion and pla­toon. I wish there were more sol­diers like him.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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