My cousin arrived back in the Coachella Valley this week after finishing his tour of duty in Baghdad. The local paper wrote an article about him, which I’ve copied and pasted below:
Local guardsman: ‘I don’t feel I’m a hero’
Jason Fincher returns from Iraq with Bronze Star
Nicole C. Brambila
The Desert Sun
January 20, 2006
Twenty shipped out – only four came home.
“The others were killed or wounded,” Staff Sgt. Jason Fincher said from his grandmother’s Rancho Mirage home Thursday. “The fear of being hurt or killed is always there.”
For the past year, Fincher patrolled south Baghdad as a reservist with the California Army National Guard in Delta Company 1-184st Infantry. Including his Hawaiian active-duty stint, Fincher has served in the military nearly nine years.
The 26-year-old came home Monday, decorated.
“I don’t feel I’m a hero by any means,” Fincher said of the Bronze Star Award he received in December in Iraq. “It was a whole bunch of us working together to accomplish the stuff we did.”
The Bronze Star is the fourth highest award given for heroic or meritorious service.
A military narrative cites five separate occasions insurgents ambushed or hit Fincher with explosives where he protected or saved men in his platoon.
“His bravery, courage and selfless acts never faltered in the face of the enemy,” the document states.
Piecing together the story proved difficult. As with many decorated veterans, Fincher shies away from talk of heroics.
Instead, he spoke matter-of-factly, in military acronyms, about his roommate and friend, Staff Sgt. Dan Schiele, who died in his arms. Fincher wears a black metal bracelet that bears Schiele’s name on his right wrist.
“If you said, ‘Man, I wish I had a stocking for Christmas.’ He could get it for you,” Fincher said of his friend.
“That was Schiele.”
A life’s dream to serve
The war in Iraq has become muddied in politics and protest – something Fincher said he understands, but doesn’t support.
“They have the right to do that,” Fincher said of the nation’s war protestors. “And, we defend that right.”
While patrolling in an armored personnel carrier, jumpy because the next thing the squad passes along the road could be a strategically placed bomb, patriotic duty is a faraway thought.
“What you’re fighting for, when it comes down to it, is your friends,” he said.
The bloodshed in the Middle East is not for democracy in Iraq nor liberty and freedom, but, Fincher said, for a man’s friends.
“They call them insurgents,” he said. “I call them thugs.
“We suffered a lot.”
A Rest In Peace tattoo on his left arm recalls the dead: Silva, Sonoda, Neubauer, Schiele, Guy.
The worldwide attention his battalion brought to the military after nabbing headlines for torture and ill-treatment of Iraqi detainees has left Fincher wary of the press. He’s quick to clarify the scandal didn’t touch him.
“It’s the same battalion, not the same company,” he said.
Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and, in the early 1990s, Desert Storm, has made sidestepping military conflict difficult.
Fincher, though, was born for such a time.
“If you’re like me and you want to join to go play war, it’s a great time,” he said.
Dressing in military fatigues as a child and “playing Army” clued Fincher in to what he wanted to be when he grew up. He always knew, Fincher said, that he wanted to enlist.
And, he did – just as soon as he graduated from Cathedral City High School in 1997.
“I’m not surprised; he’s a tough young man,” former teacher James Johnson said. “He was just an impressive young man, even then. He had a can-do attitude.”
Johnson was one of Fincher’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps instructors in high school. The high school program prepares young men and women for the military.
Prepared or not, Fincher’s grandmother, Luella, said she never got used to him being stationed in Iraq.
“Through the whole year,” she said, “every time a soldier got killed, I just froze.”
With the war behind him, Fincher said he hopes to resume his studies, pursuing a career with the border patrol or as a game warden.
Welcome home, Jason.