Josh Presser: Part 2
Josh deployed to Haiti in January 2010 in response to the devastating earthquake earlier that month. In Part 2 of his interview, he discusses what it was like contributing to the recovery effort in Port-au-Prince in the aftermath of the disaster. He also discusses leaving active duty and his recent separation from the military.
Part 1 of Josh's interview can be found here.
Interview conducted on August 29, 2015 in Valhalla, New York
Present: Richard Hayden and Josh Presser
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
RH: Alright. You deployed to Haiti as well, right?
RH: So now, for future historians, this is not part of the Global War on Terrorism but this is a pretty significant deployment as well so I want to make sure we get it in before we talk about getting out. When did you deploy to Haiti and what for?
JP: So, I deployed to Haiti after the earthquake in January of 2010. I was stationed in South Carolina and I had been there only, maybe, three months. We got there in October of ’09, me and my wife, and I had gotten back from Iraq in June of ’09. We left England, PCS’ed to South Carolina in October of ’09. In January of 2010 the earthquake happened.
It was kind of weird. I was getting to watch the evolution of kind of a half-assed, bullshit “you gotta go, you gotta go, you gotta go.” So it came up and my buddy Chris was telling me, he was like, “yo. There’s a deployment coming up to Miami for six months.” I was like, “Miami? Fuck yeah! I’ll go to Miami for six months. This sounds genius! I’ll make a ton of money.” I put my name in a hat and I had just submitted a retraining application to get out of fuels to get into air traffic and I was kind of waiting for the decision on that.
So I heard about this deployment and, like I said, it was evolving instantaneously. One minute I heard it and within ten minutes it went from not hearing about nothing to, alright, you’re leaving in twelve hours. I had talked to the Chief that was working down there and I was like, “yo, I’ll go.” She was like, “what have you got going on for the next six months?” I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow. I don’t know what I’m doing in six months. I have no idea.” She was like, “what about your retraining?” I said, “I’m going to dent it anyway when I get it and I’m going to get out.” She was like, “OK.” I didn’t really believe that I was actually going to get my retraining. My retraining was a big deal that kind of put me where I am now.
But anyways, so they were like, “Alright. You’re leaving in twelve hours. Go home and pack. You’ve got a couple of computer trainings that you’ve got to do. But yeah, you’re going to Miami. You’re going to Homestead Air Reserve Base to just help pump the gas for the 130s and the 17s that were going back and forth from southern Miami to Haiti down to Port-au-Prince.” I’m like, “jeez.” I’m in South Carolina, my wife can come down on the weekends. Every other weekend I’ll fly her down to Miami. I’m going to be making two hundred and twenty dollars a day with per diem and everything. That was a Friday. We were supposed to leave later that night and you had to have a passport. You had to have a passport. That was the key thing. And I had a passport. Obviously, we were living in England so I had a passport.
So I went to the house, I packed and I remember I packed two big sea bags. I had bathing suits, [laughs] I had nice clothes to go out with. I brought, like, two uniforms but I had all this other stuff like flip flops. I’m going out, I’m going to Miami, bla, bla, bla. That was a Friday. It was a three day weekend. I think it was Martin Luther King Day weekend. Not Martin Luther King – January. What was it?
RH: Yeah. Martin Luther King weekend.
JP: Yes. So it was Martin Luther King weekend. So Friday never happened. Nothing ever happened about it. I was home just like, “alright.” We’re waiting for the call to get on the flight to get the hell out of here, you know? Saturday – didn’t hear nothing. This is ridiculous. What the hell is going on? Maybe we’re going, maybe we’re not going. It was four of us. Originally slotted it was four of us to go. We were back and forth talking, “I guess we’re not going.” We didn’t work on the weekends.
That Monday I had to come in because we had a NAOC landing at the base which is a National Airborne Operations Center. It’s a 747. It’s a big deal. There’s always one flying in the air. I remember I had to go in because the way you refuel that was it always had an engine running. It never shut an engine down. It was always running wherever it was. If it was there for two days it always kept the engine going. So you had to fill it with – we called it a hot pit. Well, at the time I wasn’t qualified down there to do them. I had done them for years in England prior to getting to South Carolina but I had never done them down there. So I came in and I was just kid of the guy – we also had an alert mission in South Carolina – so I was the guy that was backup essentially if an alert needed fuel.
Sunday I got a phone call. I remember this so I’ll backtrack a day. Sunday I got a phone call asking me if I had a passport. “Yeah, yeah. I got a passport, I got a passport.” OK. Never heard nothing else from that Sunday. Monday I went in to do what I had to do. That Tuesday I was supposed to come in for a night shift so I’m coming in at three and I get a phone call from my buddy and he said, “yo. Get your bags. You’re leaving today.” It’s like eight in the morning. “Alright, alright. Let’s go.” I grab my bags, shoot over to the UDM’s office, the Deployment manager’s office, and I see this one other guy in there and he’s sitting there and he’s got a look on his face like, “fuck.” I’m like, “what’s up dude? We’re outta here!” [RH laughs] “We’re going to Miami. This is going to be awesome. Six months in Miami! This is going to be great.”
I should have known because our orders were a hundred and eighty-seven days. A hundred and eighty-seven days, from what I’ve been told, is a forward deployment order. If you get a hundred and eighty days, where you’re going is where you’re going. A hundred and eighty-seven days you’re going to get forward deployed somewhere. So he’s like, “no, we a’int going to Miami.” I’m like, “I don’t know about you but I’m going to Miami. You can go wherever, I’m going to Miami. Fuck this. I’m going six months to Miami. This is going to be awesome.” The UDM looked at me and said, “no you’re not.” I said, “what do you mean I’m not?” She said, “you’re going to Part-au-Prince, Haiti.” I said, “what? We’re actually going downrange into downtown Haiti?” She’s like, “yeah. You’re going to live at the airport. Toussaint Louverture airport.” I said, “this is fucking dumb. I’m not happy about this.” I’ve got to go repack my bags now. I’ve got bathing suits, I’ve got nice clothes I’m going to go out with, flip flops. You don’t need them! She’s like, “keep the flip flops but you don’t need all that other shit.” So I went to repack my bag with uniforms and PT gear and some civvies.
I went back up to the UDM’s office with my new bags packed. It was probably 10:00 AM and they made us go shoot. We had to go qual on – I think we just shot M16s. I don’t remember exactly – either M4 or M16. But we had to get .9 mil qualled. We went up there and there was a class actually and their yearly or two year requirement, they were going to their class. We bypassed all of that. We didn’t do it. We jumped in with this class on the line, on the firing line, and we just shot. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Obviously we had to qual with our flak vests on. They were supposed to shoot the M9 but they were going a little bit slower so they were like, “you guys just stand still.” They gave us the .9s and were like, “Here’s forty rounds, fifty rounds. Shoot!” Alright. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Now here’s your fifty qualifying rounds or twenty-five – whatever the hell it was. So we qualled – bang, bang. We were in and out of the range in like two hours which is unheard of. Usually it’s like a twelve hour day sitting out there.
We were doing our JPAZs and our JPAZ, I don’t know what it stands for, but your JPAZ was – I remember it took us forever because you had four sentences that you had to come up with and in those four sentences, out of each sentence they had to be able to ask you four questions out of each sentence. It took us fucking forever to come up with these sentences. It basically was for if you got captured. They come run in and be like, “your 2001 blue truck has what size tires on it?” It was something like that. Jesus Christ. I remember they pulled us out of that to go shoot and then we came back and we finished it and then that was Tuesday, I think. And then I think we didn’t even leave Tuesday and this was a twelve hour – you’re leaving in a couple hours. We didn’t leave Tuesday.
Then they kind of bundled us all up with everybody else from the base who was going down there – medics and I don’t remember what other jobs went. We all took a bus from Shaw in Sumter, South Carolina down to Charleston Air Force Base. They had this big deployment bas – not a big deployment – it’s an air mobility command base. There’s C-17s out there going and going and going and going. We get down there and they had put us up in a nice hotel. I was like, “alright. I’m going to bring my wife down with me.” So she came with me and took the dog. We were there for like four days and we finally got the notice we’re leaving. We had to wait for the 82nd Airborne out of Fort Bragg to get there. They were locking up all the landing times. From what I remember is, they were locking up all the landing times. We couldn’t get out because the 82nd Airborne had all these fucking times locked up with their trucks and this and all their nonsense.
We finally got out and it was wild. We flew in, we circled for a while because you couldn’t land until there was a spot for you on the ramp so we circled for a little while and I remember sitting on the C-17, I wish I brought a picture of it because it’s a pretty wild picture, we’re in the C-17 sitting sideways in the cargo net or whatever the hell it is – I don’t think it was a cargo net on that. And there was a forklift, there was a forklift in the plane with us and then it’s just pallets of water. I think we had two pallets – 460 pallets, big steel pallets – pallets of our luggage for everybody on the plane and then it was like water, medical supplies, food – all this type of shit.
To backtrack a little bit, we had to go and we had to bring our own food with us. We had to bring a week’s worth of food and a week’s worth of water with us. While we were in Charleston we got a phone call from our commander and he told us that we need to go out and buy camping tents. My first thought was, “where the fuck are you sending me? I need to bring my own house on a deployment? Are you kidding me? This is ridiculous.” [RH laughs] Yeah, I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “this is ridiculous.” Everybody else I was with, they all bought two man tents. I was like, “are you guys retarded? We’re putting this on our government travel cards.” I got a big six man tent. I still use it! [RH laughs] I still have it. I went camping last weekend.
So anyway, we had to bring our own food, our own water, we had to bring tents. We brought cots and everything and we get there and it was nighttime. It was pitch black. You couldn’t see anything. This was, I think, this was day five, day six, maybe, of the earthquake. You couldn’t see anything. All you heard – it was similar to Iraq, smelled worse, but the hum of the generators was just non-stop. And all you heard was planes. There was constant planes. At that time it was a single runway. I think we were pushing a hundred and fifty airplanes in and out of there a day on a single runway with twelve spots for the ramp or something like that.
But our job wasn’t to put gas on airplanes. Originally we got there to relieve the Air Force special ops fuels guys who had gotten there at like hour thirty after the earthquake. They were basically in charge of setting up the generators and keeping them running. We didn’t have a fuel truck when we first got there. They didn’t have a fuel truck when they first got there. They had five gallon jerry cans that they were walking around to all the generators and filling them up that way. We were receiving our fuel from the Dominican Republic. It was being driven over by guys from Louisiana – civilian contractors from Louisiana.
When I first got there it was wild. It was pitch black and I remember walking towards where we were going to set up camp. We showed up with a group of Red Horse guys. Red Horse is a special ops civil engineering squadron. Thank God because we didn’t have to sleep in our tents, I think, at all. They put up the Alaskan huts pretty much immediately. No running water, no showers. Port-o-potties – that’s all we had. It was similar to stories you hear about the initial push into Iraq in ’03 and Afghanistan in ’01. It was very similar to that. We brought our own food. We had no hot meals. I brought two cartons of cigarettes because I didn’t know how long I was going to be there for. It was pretty wild.
We did ground fuels. We basically ran a gas station. We did the generator stuff. We didn’t have a fuel truck. We had a gator – a John Deere with two fifty-five gallon drums that were ratchet-strapped to the back of this thing with hand pumps on it and that’s how we pumped gas for the diesel route and pretty much everything until, after being there for a little while, we finally got our fuel truck there. Once we got that we were going downtown pretty much regularly. There was a satellite medical facility that we called EMEDS right on the water that we were going down to. We were doing that stuff a lot.
We did search and recovery at the hotel Montana. We were actually pulling bodies out. That was pretty crazy. I had never really seen a dead body until this and I didn’t even get warmed up to it. I didn’t get warmed up to it at all. So we get out to the site and they were like, “alright.” At this point the hotel Montana had been broke down into four. The whole thing. It was a beautiful hotel and the whole thing came down. It was broke up into four corners: A, B, C, D. They were like, “alight, you’re going to A,” and they sent me to B. They were like, “you go out on the pile first,” because it was an hour in and an hour out. “You go out on the pile first.” I was like, “alright.” And they were like, “oh, by the way. Bring the stokes bucket because we got a body,” and I was like, [sighs] “uhh. Fuck.” I’m not even going to get warmed up to this fucking thing, am I?
So I carry the stokes bucket out there and, sure as shit, they had these guys called Topos. I think they were from Mexico and they were these little guys and this is what they did. After these catastrophic events happened, they were little enough where they would crawl into these little crevices in fallen buildings and they were doing search and rescue and search and recovery. They went in – they had gotten there before us – and they went in and they had a guy. He had, I remember, it didn’t look like anything to me. It was just a pile of meat is what it reminded me of until they started rolling it. He had no legs, he had one arm, and he had a half a head. And I was like, “I’m not fucking touching that. This is crazy. This is crazy!” I’m out here with nothing – nothing. I had a pair of gloves, I had a respirator, I put – what the fuck was it? – something underneath my nose. Vicks! I put it underneath my nose so that I couldn’t smell the smell of the bodies and it didn’t help nothing. The smell was [claps his hands together] like BAM, getting punched in the face. It was crazy. We found four bodies that day so we were pretty excited.
The toughest one is we found a twelve or thirteen year-old boy. The only reason we knew it was a boy is because he had toy trucks around. He was laying on a mattress. His face was pretty mangled. His leg from his knee down was just bone. That one stuck with me. I think about that one a lot. I don’t know why but I do.
They had found a girl who was, I think, three stories down when it came to where she actually stayed at the hotel. It was probably three stories down. I remember the roof of the building had fallen sideways and kind of everything was on a slant. She was under the bed when it happened or while it happened I think she went under the bed. That’s where they found her. When we found a full body we were all pretty excited because outside the site was a lot of families. We wouldn’t let them up there so we would get excited because we found that we can give you your loved one back, you know? And we were pretty excited because when we saw her she was underneath the bed and all you saw was her waist down. I remember she had long dark black hair. Once they lifted the bed, that was it. She was just the upper half. Her legs were kind of far away. And we carried her out. When we carried her out we blew an air horn and everybody stopped working because we use track hoes – these big back hoes – and we would just scrape the top of it and you’d see this cyclone of flies and then the smell would hit you. That’s how we knew we got close to a body.
Going out that day I thought I was alright but I don’t think I really was. I was kind of just taken back. I don’t know. I could go on for hours about Haiti. I could tell you everything. Haiti was wild. I was sitting there praying. I wanted to go back to Iraq so fucking bad. Just get me out of this place. I’m eating four MREs, five MRES a day, didn’t have no running water. That’s a lot. After probably day four that Red Horse squadron put up showers but it was, [makes a dismissive motion] showers. Hardly that. And we got washers and dryers. The Army guys were living in tents with no air conditioning. We had air conditioning. You had to have it. It was like ninety-eight degrees every day with a hundred percent humidity. It was fucking wild. And yeah, the Army guys would be like, [makes a deep voice] “all you fucking Air Force boys. You got washers and dryers.” And I go back to my favorite saying, “everybody had a choice.” [RH laughs] Everybody had a choice. You might have been too retarded to get into the Air Force.”
We were going downtown. I was going downtown a lot. They found that I was from New York and I could drive down there so I drove this fucking Daewoo, this white Daewoo. I was driving Generals and Colonels around. When they would come in I’d take them to the embassy. And there’s no laws that govern driving in that country. It was a complete fucking free for all. A free for all! These guys, I remember, they were holding onto the “oh shit” kind of like this [grabs onto the table and makes a pained face] and I was just zipping around. I was going down to the embassy and I loved going to the embassy because I could get a hot dog. I’d get a hot dog and a Snapple. I loved it.
Haiti was cool. It was a good experience. Good experience – fucked up place. Really fucked up place. The things we did out there, you know you were helping but all you wanted to do was punch these people sometimes because they were stealing everything. Everything! And they were stealing from us. This is what I did not understand. I guess I was only twenty-four at the time. I didn’t understand, “I’m here to help you. What part of this do you not fucking understand? I’m here to help you and you want to steal everything? We’re giving you food but you want to steal it. You just need more.” There was a million dollars a day coming into the airport and going out the back door. No fucking track of it, no nothing. It just drove me crazy.
Do you mind if I grab a hot dog?
RH: Yeah. We’re going to pause real quick.
JP: Dude, I could go on for hours. If you want to know about Haiti, I could tell you about Haiti.
RH: OK. Let me pause.
[Note: Josh was getting a little hungry and there was a food truck parked close to us. He went to get a hot dog and some water. I paused the interview.]
RH: Alright. We’re continuing. How long were you in Haiti for altogether?
JP: Like two and a half months, I think. When it all came down to it, I got there January of 2010. I left in, I think it was March. The end of March maybe. I always remember because it was before my mother’s birthday. Her birthday is in May. I was home for her birthday. It was like two months, two and a half months.
RH: Alright. Before we move on, any other significant Haiti events?
JP: Pfftt. The whole thing was significant. It was just a fucked up situation, a fucked up place. I don’t know. My biggest thing was I wish we were treated better. I remember one day it rained. It rained one night and it was just a wall separating us from them. That’s essentially what it was. And it rained one night and they blamed us. They were big into the voodoo. They blamed us for the fucking rain. There was like ten thousand of them that tried to come over the fucking fence. We had fucking snipers set up on a humanitarian mission. What? What is wrong with you guys? I remember that. The whole thing was crazy. I could go on for days about Haiti. When you do the Haiti Oral history project let me know. [both laugh]
RH: Alright. I’ll come and talk to you. So after you got back from Haiti, how long was it before you left the military?
JP: I got back from Haiti in March of 2010. I didn’t come off of active duty until January of 2014.
RH: What were some of your immediate post-military experiences like?
JP: I only got out this month. I was off of the [National] Guard. I was in the Guard for eighteen months.
RH: Alright. Cool.
JP: When I got off active – the Guard was a joke. I didn’t go much but when I got off of active duty in January of ‘14 I got out with a job. I got hired by the FAA to work at where I work now as an air traffic controller and that’s why I got out early. I wasn’t supposed to get until October of 2014 but I got out early. We did this, we call it a Palace Chase program. So I had nine months left, I had to double my contract in the Guard, I did eighteen months in the Guard, but I got out of my contract and I could take the job. I got out in January of ’14. I was in school March of ’14 down in Oklahoma City.
When I first got out, the transition was pretty easy for me. We were living in Jersey. We were coming up here all the time. We were seeing our family. You know, “come home for dinner.” “Yeah, alright. I’ll be home for dinner.” It was an hour and a half so it was easy. But I was on unemployment which, in Jersey, was awesome. I was making six hundred and thirty dollars a week for unemployment. [laughs] So I was just hanging out. I was going out damn near every night and, I’ll tell you what, it was tough on me and my wife. You know, I was going out a lot. I’m not a hundred percent sure the reason why I was doing that. Maybe because I was back full time in damn near ten years but it was pretty easy for me. It really was. And like I said, I just got out of the military – completely done – August 3rd. Today’s what? The 28th? The 29th?
RH: Congrats man. Good to go. So actually, have you joined any veterans’ related organizations? You’ve only been a veteran for three weeks but… [laughs]
JP: I had a friend who was part of IAVA. That’s the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America. I joined that. I’m not active into that type of stuff. I don’t know. I think there’s other people that are more worthy of being a veteran than I am. That’s the way I always thought about it but, veteran’s organizations, I don’t know. I’m on a burn put registry. [laughs] That’s about it.
RH: Do you still communicate with anyone that you served with in Iraq?
JP: Yeah, kind of. I mean, not as much as I should. Thank God for 2015 and facebook. It’s the easiest thing in the world. I don’t even need to talk to you to know what you’re doing. So, I don’t know. Yeah, somewhat.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Let’s shift gears a little bit. How do you feel about ISIS and the current direction that Iraq is taking?
JP: I think it was fucked from the jumpstreet. When we left – I’m not going to get into us being there and all that because that’s a whole different issue – but when we left in the capacity we left, I knew something. ISIS didn’t exist in the fashion, in the way it is now. But it’s just going to be a never ending war, you know? We’ve been in war since 2001 and it’s only the second war of my generation and that’s pretty big. So I just think this thing is never going to end. How do I feel about them? I have a simple solution but nobody wants to hear about my plan. We got this thing that we made great in fucking Japan. Make the whole place a parking lot and we’ll be done with this shit. Put a Walmart there and call it a day.
RH: Alright. I’ve got a couple of spiritual questions for you. Has deploying affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
JP: No. I’m not a spiritual person.
RH: Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?
JP: I’m more numb to it. I don’t really give a sit about dying. I think that was more from, not so much Iraq but I don’t know. Maybe it was. It is what it is. People have died for all sorts of different reasons. I don’t know. The only reason I don’t want to die is because I don’t want to hurt my family. [laughs] That’s really it. Me? I personally don’t really give a shit.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So I’m going to shift it up a little bit. What’s your happiest memory of the entire time you served?
JP: The happiest memory of the whole time I served?
RH: And that can be from the moment that you started boot camp until three weeks ago when you got out.
JP: The happiest moment. I don’t know. One of the happiest moments I think was when I found out I was going to get to go to Iraq because I had watched so many people come and go. I was like, “this is bullshit.” And this was in ’08 so I had been in for two years and I was like, “this sucks.” All my friends are going to Iraq – da, da, da, da, da. You guys all got these stories about deployments, bla, bla, bla. I want to go. And at the time I really didn’t want to go to Qatar or Kuwait or one of these places. I wanted to go to Iraq. And when I found out I was going to Iraq I was super happy. I was really excited. Don’t tell my wife that but [laughs] I was really excited.
The happiest moment. I don’t know. I married my wife in ’07 right after I joined. That was pretty awesome. We travelled a ton. When I was stationed in England we went to Cyprus for a week when I got back from Iraq. We went to Italy a couple times. We went to Paris. We went to London more times than I can tell you. The whole thing was a really good experience. Yeah, there were some parts that sucked a lot but the whole experience – you ask anybody I know and they’ll tell you it was the best thing I ever did and I’ll tell you it was the best thing I ever did because I was on a road going nowhere fast and the military kind of helped me out. It gave me a career, a great career, and I barely have a high school diploma, you know?
RH: Alright. Good to go. What, if anything, do you miss about the military?
JP: The camaraderie. The camaraderie had kind of changed though. I was kind of spoiled being stationed overseas during my first duty station in England. All you have is the guys you’re with. It’s kind of like a deployment. It’s a long, extended deployment in a really cool place and you can leave. [laughs] But it’s kind of like that because the camaraderie – you never find that anywhere, you know? You lean on your guys so much and you’re with them so much. I didn’t know anybody. For the first year I was there I didn’t know anybody that wasn’t a POL guy. If you didn’t work with me, I really didn’t want to know you and I didn’t. A few maintenance guys and all this – I didn’t know any of them. The camaraderie was just awesome. It was awesome.
And then, like I said, I was spoiled. When I got to South Carolina, I was like, “this place sucks.” It’s like this – everybody just goes their own way. That’s the one thing I missed the most. But the good thing is everybody I work with pretty much is prior military. I got a guy that one of my good friends – we were stationed together in Jersey and we work together out here in Long Island so it’s kind like still being in the military except I got a big beard now.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What was the best MRE?
JP: Chili with beans. [RH laughs] Chili with beans. We got good at making them. Listen, Bobby Flay a’int got shit on me when it comes to MREs. [both laugh] My favorite was chili and beans because you used to take the corn and you used to heat it up and you used to take the jalapeno cheese sauce and you used to heat that up too and you put it all into one thing, into where the chili was. And you put the cheese sauce, you put the corn. And the pork rib. The pork rib was pretty damn good. That tasted like a McRib from McDonald’s. Listen bro, in Haiti like I said, two months all you got is MREs. We didn’t have a hot meal the whole time we were there, really. We got pretty creative. We had ways to make these things.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What was the best chow hall in the US, the best chow hall in England and the best chow hall in Iraq?
JP: Iraq it was the Air Force one. Well, it wasn’t – alright, I’m sorry. It wasn’t an Air Force chow hall. There was two though. There was one on the Army side and one closer to the Air Force side but they were used by both branches or by anybody. Anybody could use them. I forget what day it was. It was Mongolian bar-be-que in Iraq for lunch. God, we used to tear that shit up. Mongolian bar-be-que was awesome.
My favorite chow hall in the US? I don’t know. Once I got to the US, at that point with my rank I really didn’t go that much. And in England we had a – on the flight line it was like a snack joint and got chicken nuggets and shit like that which was cool. That was the best one.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What are some of the funniest stories you have?
JP: The funniest? That’s hard. I can’t think right now. I remember being in Iraq, we had a water balloon launcher and the Navy P-3s are parked right near us. We were taking huge rocks and using the water balloon launcher and shooting them at the Navy P-3s. [laughs] We were so stupid. And they were coming pretty close. We were like, “ohh man. That was a little close on that one.” And we’d do it again. Oh my God. It was so stupid. What else? We did so much stuff for fun. That was pretty funny. That was pretty funny.
RH: Actually, I’ve got a question while you were eating a hot dog that I wish I had asked earlier. You said that, so in Iraq, there were a lot of transient units coming through. Were there any unique units that stuck out to you that came through?
JP: Well, we were there with the Romanians. I forget who else was there. I think maybe the Aussies were there. I don’t remember.
RH: Any Special Ops? Anybody come through that were particularly memorable?
JP: No. We didn’t really see them much, the spec ops guys. You’d see then rarely but it wasn’t even a unit that I remember that stuck out in my mind. It was the Russians flying in the Antonov 12s and the, I think they’re called, the Ilyushin 76s. I remember these guys. This one guy, it’s got to be a hundred and ten degrees on the flight line – a hundred and twenty degrees. It was the middle of February or March, maybe. And they only did cash sales which is crazy. They took five thousand gallons worth of jet fuel and they paid me cash for it which was wild to being with.
But they took a bucket out of the airplane, hung it off the propeller of the plane, and took a shower on the fucking flight line. I couldn’t believe it.
RH: Naked and everything?
JP: No. Not naked. They had shorts on but that was it. I was like, “what the? What’s wrong with you guys? You guys are nuts! You guys are absolutely nuts." And they used to fly these planes – they were halfway drunk most of the time. Yeah, they were fucking wild. And there was new guys coming in all the time but they were all the same. Every last one of them did the same thing. They would shower on the flight line, cash sales. They’d come out with twenty grand, thirty grand and they’d give it to me. I’d be like, “I can’t take that. Talk to my supervisor. You’re killing me. Just relax.” [RH laughs] It’s a big contract that we have with them. Yeah, the Russians were wild. They were crazy. It was pretty cool.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Last couple of questions. If you could communicate something to young airmen who will be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
JP: If I could communicate something? It always gets better. It always gets better. The more time you got in, the time gets better. I don’t know. I really enjoyed my time in. I really enjoyed my time in. My thing is you signed the contract. You signed the contract, you knew what you were getting into. I don’t like guys that come in after two years and – I saw this more in air traffic than I did in POL. POL was a brotherhood. Guys were going to pump gas for twenty years and retire and they were fucking happy as hell about it. POL was different. Air traffic was different. You got a lot of guys that would be in for two years and they were like finding their way out. You haven’t done anything. You haven’t deployed. You haven’t even gone TDY somewhere. I’ve been on countless TDYs. You haven’t gone anywhere, you know?
You signed up, fulfil your contract and be good at it. Whatever your job is, whether it sucks, be good at it, you know? It could be your career, like I said, for me. I came out of the military and walked right into working with the FAA. Just be good at what you’re doing and try to enjoy it. Seriously. Try to enjoy it and see the world.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Is there anything that I left out that you would like to address?
JP: I don’t know. You pretty much know a lot about Haiti. I mean, like I said, I could go on for hours and tell you about the living conditions and shit like that. No, I think you pretty much nailed it.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Last question. What specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your service?
JP: Being in Iraq. I was doing a lot of stuff on the side because before I joined the military I was doing construction so I could build some shit. I built a ton of stuff for our use and I got coined by the Air Expeditionary Group commander, the full bird Colonel of the base. I had finally gotten recognized for something and I liked that. It was awesome. I got an achievement medal walking out of there. I got an achievement medal walking out of Haiti also. I remember that one. I’ll never forget that.
Also, I re-enlisted in Haiti. I re-enlisted in Haiti and I tried to [laughs] – you’ll actually get a kick out of this. Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chief of Staff…
RH: Yeah. He was the CNO while I was in.
JP: He was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 2010 and he was coming to Haiti and I had to re-enlist. I told my Chief – who was a great guy, really great guy – I said, “Chief, I want Michael Mullen to fucking re-enlist me.” And he was like, “are you kidding me?” “Chief, you gotta make it happen. You gotta make it happen.” He was like, “I’ll try. Don’t get your hopes up. Who’s your backup?” It was some Colonel. I don’t know. He came back and he was like, “you’re nuts. It’s not happening. There’s no way in hell.” But yeah, I re-enlisted in Haiti and it was cool. I was at work. We didn’t have air conditioning at work. We just had…
RH: So he did re-enlist you then?
JP: Not Michael Mullen. Just the Colonel of the AEG, the Air Expeditionary Group. [laughs] It was just a A-frame tent. It was hot as balls. I actually had to wear my top because our uniforms – we had no dress code out in Haiti. I didn’t tie my boots the whole time I was there. I didn’t blouse my pants. I didn’t tuck in my t-shirt. I didn’t shave. But I put on my blouse and I shaved and I think I trimmed around my ears or something and we hung an American flag with 550 cord from the A-frame tent and I re-enlisted right there in the tent in Haiti which is pretty cool. Actually, that was really cool. Between that and getting coined by the commander in Iraq, those were probably my two biggest accomplishments.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Anything else?
JP: I think that’s it. I think you pretty much nailed it on the head.
RH: Alright. Well thank you very much.
JP: Of course, brother.