Portraits of veterans

Portraits of veterans

He knew what he wanted

Captain Benjamin Glasgall

From the time he was in his early teens, Benjamin Glasgall, who grew up in Harrington Park, knew exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up.

Other kids might have gone through their fireman and policeman stages or aim themselves at law or medicine, or – given that this was the 1980s, at the wads of money wafting from the towers of Wall Street – but not Ben.

He didn’t even want to be politician, even though when he got to high school, at Northern Valley in Old Tappan, the large shadow cast by the fairly-recent-graduate and all-around superman Corey Booker, in defiance of all laws of physics, still was visible.

No, Ben wanted to be a soldier.

Benjamin Glasgall, who is 30, is now a captain in the United States Army, a career serviceman well on his way to becoming a major, and a two-time veteran of Iraq.

It began in 1997, when his parents, who were members of Temple Emanu-el, which now is in Closter but then was in Englewood, sent him to Camp Pok-o-MacCready in Willsboro, N.Y. One of his counselors there had been in the Army – he was a veteran of Operation Just Cause, which removed Panama’s Gen. Manuel Noriega from power. “He got me into physical fitness and weight lifting, and getting into shape in general,” Capt. Glasgall said. “He was a very positive influence on me at a young and impressionable age.

“And here we are, 15 years later, give or take a year, and he and his family are still friends of mine.”

So there was Ben, a good student in high school, “weighing my options,” he said. “I knew where I wanted to be, but I didn’t know how to get there.”

His parents were “dead set against my enlisting right after high school. I briefly looked at the academy at West Point, but I didn’t think I had the SATs for it. And then my guidance counselor talked to me about ROTC; how you can go to a normal college and have a normal college experience, while at the same time you prepare for the service, and at the end of your four years you get a commission as an Army officer. A second lieutenant.

“So that’s what I did. I went to George Washington University in Washington. Georgetown, also in Washington, has an ROTC program, so I did academics at GW and ROTC at Georgetown.”

In 2005, when he graduated, 2nd Lt. Glasgall was commissioned as an active duty field artillery officer. “I reported to Fort Sill, Okla., in a lovely town called Lawton, which I never want to go back to again,” he said. He took a six month course that taught him “everything a lieutenant needs to know about being an artillery officer,” he said.

From there, 2nd Lt. Glasgall was assigned to the third armored cavalry regiment. “The back story is that it has a distinguished heritage,” he said. “It’s one of the oldest units in the Army. In 1846, it was created to blaze the trail behind the explorers Lewis and Clark. And then the Mexican American War kicked off, and they got sent there. Then it was cavalry; over time, as new technologies came about, they traded their horses for tracked vehicles, wheeled vehicles, Bradleys. What makes cavalry cavalry is not having horses, but what the unit does. Its prime mission is to act as a reconnaissance force for a larger unit.

“Flexibility and agility are the hallmarks of the cavalry organization.”

Much of the cavalry’s iconic paraphernalia goes back to its roots. “They would wear spurs to control their horses, so we wear spurs. We have to earn them. If you have earned your spurs, you have shown your mettle as a cavalry man.” Unit members also wear Stetsons, he added.

2nd Lt. Glasgall joined his unit in August 2006. After more than a year of training, it deployed to Iraq.

“I got there in the beginning of November 2007, and I was deployed to a city in the northern portion of Iraq, in Ninewah Province.” The city was Mosul, where some of the worst fighting in the war took place. Ninewah is home to the ancient city of Nineveh, the city where God directed Jonah, greatly against his will, to urge the people to repent, and where, to Jonah’s dismay, the people actually did so.

2nd Lt. Glasgall’s experience was not nearly as conflict-free as Jonah’s. “This was part of the surge in Iraq. I was never engaged in direct combat, but I was ahead of or behind a couple of those roadside bombs – IEDs. That was the high point of al Qaida in Iraq. There were anywhere from 30 to 50 sig acts – short for significant activities – a day; sig acts could be anything from an IED going off to a unit on patrol being shot at.

“As the deployment wore down we got things under control, and that number decreased – but yeah…

“During the first part of the deployment, I was running our operations center, so I was responsible for a bunch of people who were working for me. We would track the movement of the units throughout the city, and if they needed support I would call over to the aviators, who had the attack helicopters and gunships, and they would call over to bring the air support to kill the enemy.

“There is really no other way to say it. We would kill the enemy.

“One of the things about the army is that we’re here to defend freedom and democracy. And the truth is that war is an ugly and violent business. The army’s mission is to win the wars and kill the enemy. Whatever it takes.”

Despite his overwhelming desire to be in the Army, it was not always easy for him to adjust to what he saw, Capt. Glasgall added. “I kept a journal during my first deployment,” he said. “I would send it to a bunch of people, family and friends. During the end of the deployment, I was tired, angry, bitter – all that stuff. And it kind of reflected in my writing.

“I got married on February 15, 2011, in the middle of my second deployment, and my wife read the journals and she said, ‘Yeah, if I had met you back then, I don’t know if I would have married you.'”

Over time, though, he changed. Part of it was the way a deployment usually goes, he said. “You’re just tired. You want to go home. You’re looking at the light at the end of the tunnel. and then someone gets killed, and you’re like *** it…”

His second deployment – after a promotion to the rank of captain – was to another part of Iraq – a quieter section of the country during a more peaceful time. It was easier. “I was 27, 28 – the first time I was 24 – so there also was a little bit of maturity in there,” he said.

“But everyone goes through huge mood swings,” he said. “They said that the most dangerous point of a deployment is the first 100 day and the last 100 days. The first 100 days, you’re getting your feet wet. The last 100 days, you have getting-home syndrome. You’ve gotta remember that you’re not home until you’re in America.”

Capt. Glasgall now lives in Ellensburg, Wash., with his wife, Kristi, and their year-old twins, Alexandra and Abigail. He is an ROTC instructor.

His being Jewish has never been an issue in any way, he said. “One of the interesting things I found in my military career is that by and large religion doesn’t matter.” Neither does ethnicity. “Whether you’re white, black, Hispanic, Chinese, Jewish, Muslim — the cliché is that everybody is green, and in my experience it’s absolutely true.

“The Army is a microcosm of America,” he said. “Diversity is a big thing – even though the officer corps by and large is white males.

“Where I grew up, joining the military isn’t really a thing that people do,” he continued. “In my high school graduating class, out of 300, about five of us elected to join the military in some way or another. You’re talking about an incredibly small percentage.

“But I think that a lot of it has to do with a misperception. I identify myself as a left-of-center Democrat; pretty centrist on some things, but very liberal on social issues. There is a misperception on the part of a lot of people on the left that people in the military are stupid, or that they have nothing else to do, or that they’re just bloodthirsty, so they join the Army so that they can shoot a gun.

“That’s absolutely not been my experience. There are a million different reasons why someone joins the military, but those are misconceptions.

“I think its interesting that a lot of the kids I went to high school with are still living within a 25-mile radius of the high school,” he concluded. “That might be a generalization, but they haven’t gone very far from home.”

He has gone very far, and learned and grown much on his travels.

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