Vet profile 1

Retired Sgt. 1st Class Chris Whitaker served 21 years in the military, including combat in Iraq.

COPPERAS COVE — Retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Chris Whitaker was wounded in combat in Iraq, but never wanted a medal or any other kind of recognition for something he considered fairly minor and all part of the job.

“When we first got there, we didn’t get a lot of mortar attacks,” said Whitaker, a 58-year-old Copperas Cove resident who served with Fort Hood’s 4th Infantry Division before it was transferred to Fort Carson, Colo. “It got kind of quiet there for a little while. This was before the whole IED (threat began).

“When we started getting mortar attacks, it was twice a day, every day. It got so bad that our brigade commander had two Apache helicopters positioned at our FOB (forward operating base) that would go out and take care of the insurgencies.

“I’ve had shrapnel go through my tent; had shrapnel stuck inside of my leg. I had to pull it out, wrap it up, and go back to work. I’ve been shot at more times than I can remember.

“I was awarded the Bronze Star, but I didn’t make a big deal out of it (being wounded). I was of the belief that (with) a piece of shrapnel the size of a half-dollar, I’m going to pull it out, stuff (the wound) full of gauze, have the medics give it a once-over later, and I’m good. So, I never pursued reporting anything.

“I don’t know … it’s kind of like if you have a cut on your arm, you just deal with it and drive on. I know that may sound kind of stupid, and now I have regrets about it from the VA (disability) perspective, but I think I did the right thing. It’s all good.”

Whitaker was born in Champagne, Ill., but has lived in Texas since he was two years old. He graduated from Plano Senior High School in 1981, went to work and attended community college for a year. A less than enthusiastic student, he eventually decided to follow in his father’s and brothers’ footsteps and join the military.

“I was young and stupid, and college just wasn’t for me,” Whitaker said. “So I did about a year (and) worked full-time in the stockroom at an insurance company. I also worked part-time at Sears in the evenings — that’s where I met my wife, Carla.

“My dad was Navy; my oldest brother was a Marine; my next older brother went in the Army; so, it seemed like the thing to do.”

He joined the Army in October 1983. Introduction to military life was fairly uneventful as he made the transition from civilian to soldier.

“I enjoyed basic training; it was all right. I got a lot of ‘edumacation,’ if you will. It made me grow up a lot, put it that way.

“I did my job and didn’t really cause a lot of trouble. My dad and my brothers were military, so I grew up with a certain level of respect. I wasn’t a lazy person, so I didn’t need a boot up my butt or any of that.”

After Advanced Individual Training (AIT), he got married to the former Carla Martell in March 1984, was sent to Germany, and later decided to start a family when they returned stateside. The couple now has two daughters: Amber and Paige. Since then, the family has moved to several locations including Fort Polk, La., then over to Fort Hood in 1990.

His primary job throughout most of his career was working as a chemical operations specialist, but Whitaker also served at various times in infantry units, field artillery and a medical unit.

“When I was in 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, here at Fort Hood before I retired, I was in the brigade S3 section assigned as the chemical operations noncommissioned officer,” he said. “But when we went to Iraq, I ended up being on the brigade commander’s security team.

“I was one of the guys going in, busting open doors, clearing buildings, things like that. Instead of doing chemical stuff, I was in more of an infantry position.”

Whitaker spent a year in Iraq (late March 2003-04) during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the invasion of Iraq. He remembers more than a few close calls during combat operations.

“It got pretty squirrely at times, I guess you could say.

“It got to the point over there that we had to establish the forward operating base we were on, which was FOB Warhorse, just northeast of Baghdad. I guess it used to be an air strip where they did pilot training for civilians, so the place was an airfield. We went in there and had to get the regular Iraqi forces off there, so we cleared the area, set up our TOC (tactical operations center), then the forward operating base, and then had to set up a forward operating post in the town of Baqubah, at the police station.

“We had half of our unit downtown and the other half outside of town at this forward operating base. We were going into town and clearing buildings and stuff.

“I remember being in the middle of the desert in Iraq when (President) Bush was on the aircraft carrier and said the war was over. We were pretty fired up (angry) about that one.”

All those mortar attacks, getting hit by shrapnel, and having buddies get killed took its toll after Whitaker came back to Fort Hood, and even after he retired in 2005 with 21 years’ service. He was plagued with constant anger issues that went undiagnosed for years.

“I was in denial of that for quite some time,” he said. “I had a lot of friends working as a contractor on post who said, ‘Hey, Chris, you seem really angry all the time. Trying to talk to you sometimes is like trying to handle a porcupine.’

“After about 10 years, I talked to a couple of buddies I went over there with and they were like, ‘You know, you need to go to the VA and talk to a counselor.’ So I went and got evaluated, and they said I have moderate to severe PTSD and I’ve been treated for it ever since.”

Now working as a Fort Hood contractor teaching soldiers how to operate various computer systems, Whitaker says life is good and he has learned to deal with his combat-related issues. Along with his full-time gig, he also owns and operates One in the Chamber Sports Range between Copperas Cove and Gatesville, a facility open on weekends that includes 25 long-range rifle stations (out to 600 yards), as well as a 10-bay pistol area.

“I’ve been around firearms my whole life,” Whitaker said. “I realized really quickly that there are certain triggers to PTSD, and fortunately for me, gunfire is not one of them. I find it kind of therapeutic — teaching people how to use firearms safely and giving them a good, affordable place to come shoot.”

For more information on the gun range, go to oneinthechambersportsrange.com, or visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/accuracyatdistance.

Looking back on his military career, Whitaker says despite the negative experiences he endured that caused so much pain, he has no regrets and is glad he served.

“I think that it made me a better person overall. It definitely made me grow up, and I met some of the best people in the world in the military. A lot of them, I stay in touch with to this day.

“Going into combat, you lose people — there were buddies of mine who didn’t get to come home — and I still struggle with that. But I do my best to keep my head up because I know they’re looking down at me, going, ‘Hey, man, you’re doing all right.’

“I can live with that.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.