Local man returns from Iraq changed, but determined
Known as “KC” to friends and family, Stilwell recently came back to the town he grew up in, having completed the first half of his tour in Iraq as a specialist with the 349th Quartermaster Unit in Iraq.
He’s officially been in the military for almost two years, having entered right after graduating from New Horizons Christian School in Lassen County. He traded his part-time job as a typesetter at the Lassen County Times for a full-time job as a 92-Fox, otherwise known as a fueling specialist on the aviation side of the Army.
A resident of Susanville since he was 11 years old, Stilwell said he knew full well that he would eventually be playing a part in the war in Iraq.
“It’s hard being 8,000 miles away and trying to communicate with your family,” Stilwell said. “Some people are lucky and they can talk to their family everyday. I try to call my mom once a week and my fiancée twice a week. We’re at a point in the war where (the military) facilitates so many things for our welfare. It’s weird. (The military) tries to make the place sound more safe than it actually is.”
Stilwell explained that while some of the conditions have improved, it doesn’t mean a soldier can let his guard down.
“For example,” Stilwell said, “We’ve had people like the Washington Redskins cheerleaders and (actress) Scarlett Johansson stop by. We’ve also had a lot of mortars stop by.”
Stilwell explained while he and his fellow soldiers have some amenities that help them keep their sanity, they are still under attack.
As a fuel specialist, Stilwell said he constantly sees a stream of grisly injuries coming in off of medical helicopters. When he talked about some of the injuries he’s seen, he would get a far-off look in his eye, and the more he would talk about it, the more he visibly had to fight back tears.
“I’ve seen the results of war,” Stilwell said. “I’ve seen injured American soldiers. Everybody comes back from Iraq with some form of post traumatic stress disorder,” it just depends on how bad they have it. I’ve broken down a couple times, but for me it helps to talk with people about it. I try to be open about it.”
Stilwell said the support he’s received from his friends and family have been tremendous. The support he’s received from other people in the country has varied depending on where he was, whether in transit to or from Iraq. He said he received more support when getting off a plane at an airport on the East coast than he did when he arrived in Reno.
While Stilwell has even had to deal with people who showed negative support, he stands by his decision to enlist, explaining how he has no regrets.
As for his plans for the future, he plans to stay in the army for six more years, unless another war occurs and he “feels the call,” meaning he will stay in. He and fiancée Brittney Houston plan to move to Sacramento, where he plans to try and get a job at the airport, using the skills he has learned as a specialist in the army. He said this is only if he doesn’t get into warrant officer school, which is the route one would take if they wished to become a helicopter pilot.
By the time this story runs, Stilwell will be on his way back to Iraq. All of our best wishes go out to our friend, his friends and family.
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