Guard unit returns from Afghanistan
by Terri Winder
On April 25, the 624th Engineer Company Utah National Guard Unit returned from an eleven month deployment to Afghanistan, bringing back at least five San Juan County natives: Jesse Barton, Derrick Jones, Armando Coronado, and the Carr brothers, Montana and David. Their father, Ivan, also deployed with the Unit but came home earlier, having suffered injuries.
Following is the Carr family story.
“The worst day of my time in Afghanistan was the day I helped put my dad on a gurney to fly him out to Germany,” Sgt. Montana Carr confessed, “I felt very alone after he left.”
“That’s how it was for me, too,” David added. Sgt. David Carr was there when his father, Staff Sergeant Ivan Carr, was injured at Matun Hill, of the Khost Providence in Afghanistan. David helped the medics load Ivan into the helicopter that would take him to FOB Salerno, a Forward Operating Base Hospital. Montano would fly from Camp Clark to Salerno to meet up with his father, and then accompany him to Bagram Airfield Hospital, before Ivan was transported to Germany and then stateside.
“That’s when the war became real for me,” Montana acknowledged. “That’s when I really realized how much danger we were all in, every day.”
Ivan joined the Utah National Guard in February, 1986, initially as a gunner with the 222nd in St. George, UT. He transferred into the 1457th in the spring of 1988, when he and his family moved to Blanding. His first deployment—with four days’ notice—was to Desert Storm, in February of 1990. The unit was stationed in Germany and returned four months later.
“That was ‘the short war’”, his wife, Lisa, commented. It was a trial run for what would follow.
Ivan’s second deployment was in February of 2003, at the beginning of the Iraqi War. The 1457th suffered dangers and deprivations of all kinds as they established a base for those who would follow.
That deployment lasted 15 months. That time, Ivan left behind his wife and six children, including Montana and David, who were 17 and 14, respectively. In between deployments, Ivan had spent four months at a time doing service missions in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Indonesia, as well as going to Germany, South Korea, and Alaska, for annual training.
Afghanistan was Ivan’s third deployment. This time his two sons went with him.
Influenced by his father and cousin’s military service, Montana joined the National Guard in November of 2004, at age 18. He simply “felt it was the right thing to do.”
He experienced training missions in Germany, Cambodia, and the Dominican Republic before being deployed to Afghanistan. Montana was married in 2008. When the 624th deployed in May of 2012, Montana left behind his wife, Emily, and their four- month-old son, Zane.
Even after having lost a first cousin in Iraq, David wasn’t thinking about war when he joined the National Guard; he was thinking about the benefits – like tuition, health, and retirement – as well as the income that could help support his young family.
However, as the Unit was called up, it wasn’t a surprise to him; they had all been expecting it. Utah National Guard Units are favored by the Federal Government, as they are some of the best in the country. David left behind his wife of three years, Mandy, and their nine- month-old baby daughter, Elcee.
Though they were all in the same unit, stationed at Camp Clark, Montana had been designated as an NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge) of construction operations and assigned to work in the (TOC) Tactical Operations Center.
He would finish his deployment as a squad leader, training men of the ANA (Afghan National Army) in horizontal construction operations. He and his men helped with repairs on the Khost-Gardez Pass, making it safer for military convoys transporting supplies and equipment.
At an elevation of over 9,400 feet, the 60-mile narrow mountain pass is little more than a goat trail along the spine of the Hindukush Mountains, with thousand foot drop-offs on either side.
During the Soviet occupation, in the 80’s, this pass provided ideal conditions for Mujahedeen attacks on Soviet convoys. The security situation in the Khost-Gardez Pass remains precarious. Coalition forces maintain outposts at various points to provide security for travelers, both civilian and military, as attacks by insurgents are still common. Nicknamed the K-G Pass, it’s also known by locals as Seti Kandow--the death pass.
After his brother left, David took Montana’s place working at the TOC, reporting construction operations. Much of the work done by the 624th Engineer Company was erecting buildings, like barracks.
“The day my dad got hurt we were roofing a B-Hut,” David said, the “B” designating the size of the building, which was 20’ x40’. “They would take about a week to finish, starting with the footer pads. We were working on one at Matun Hill when my dad came to inspect what we were doing.”
Ivan had been quite sick for several days before the accident. The troops working on the roof had been using an A frame ladder as they had been going up and down in the mid-August heat.
Just before noon, a soldier brought them an extension ladder, thinking it would make their work easier. Ivan arrived shortly after and set it up, using it to climb onto the roof and then—queasy in the heat of the sun reflecting off from the black tar paper—he started back down.
“I heard the racket of the ladder collapsing,” David said. “I ran to the edge of the roof and I could see my dad lying on the ground. He wasn’t moving.”
As the faulty extension ladder had folded in on itself, Ivan tried to lunge forward, grasping for the edge of the roof. All that effort produced was lacerated elbows and forearms. As he fell backwards, landing hard against the ground, the heavy ladder followed, striking him full force.
Men rushed for the camp medic, who brought his supply bag. No sooner had they put a neck brace on Ivan and started an IV, than a medevac helicopter arrived, accompanied by a gun support helicopter. Hospital medics — from Salerno — jumped from the chopper before it even hit the ground.
David threw a few clothes for his father and himself into a duffle bag, but in the end he wasn’t able to accompany Ivan. However, late that night, Montana was flown from Camp Clark to Salerno.
When he walked into the base hospital, he found his heavily medicated father in a room with three other men. One had pneumonia; the other two were suffering from battle wounds.
The first had survived a bomb explosion; his team leader had not. The second had a bullet wound that began in his knee, extending through his leg to his foot. The wound had gone septic and amputation was likely.
“As I looked at the soldiers in that room,” Montana said, “That’s when the war became real for me.”