Last November, in honor of Veterans’ Day, Vinalhaven resident and Working Waterfront writer Kris Osgood interviewed Sergeant Kenny Spalding of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. Spalding, the son of Lainey Young of Vinalhaven, served three tours in Iraq. The first began Dec. 4, 2004 and the last ended March 12, 2008. Spalding has left the Army, having fulfilled his four-year contract. He and his wife, Chelsea, spent the summer on Vinalhaven before returning to Greenville, North Carolina. This fall Osgood interviewed Spalding again.
Kris Osgood: What were the jobs you held/did during the course of your three tours?
Kenny Spalding: I did everything. I started as a rifleman. I then was moved to SAW [Squad Automatic Weapon] gunner, it’s a small machine gun. As a SAW gunner I was one of our key assets to security because of my weapon system and its power. Then I moved to Weapons Squad. In Weapons Squad I carried the M240B medium weight machine gun. Weapons Squad is mainly a support by fire element. They provide watch over the objectives in which you’re operating [usually from a roof top or a couple.] Then I moved to RTO [Radio Telephone Operator]. My job as RTO was to maintain communication with our outpost where the other platoons lived. My job in the event that we had guys get injured was to get medical evacuation to our location ASAP. So I always knew exactly where we were and how to get there. This job is hard and time consuming because you carry a lot of weight and you are a huge target. I worked directly for my platoon leader. I actually got one of my awards for actions I took during contact when we had some soldiers hurt by an explosion. This position enabled me to prove my leadership capabilities. After that I moved to be a grenadier in Weapons Squad. While there I was learning how to be a team leader. My last job was a team leader. I also briefly acted as a squad leader when my friend Joe Vanek was killed. I got out as a sergeant. Most achieve this after four years of service; I earned my stripes in two years and eleven months.
Osgood: The political climate changed dramatically over the course of your time in the Army. Did that make it harder for you and your fellow soldiers to do your jobs?
Spalding: I have never been that political; however while we were overseas this last tour the government made a lot of empty promises such as when we were supposed to come home. But the thing that hurt us the most was one of our best friends was killed on a mission in Iraq almost five months after he should have gotten out. He was stop-lossed. There was no reason for him to be stop-lossed.
Osgood: Last year you said that you didn’t think the war was winnable. Do you still feel that way?
Spalding: I still don’t believe that we are going anywhere with this war. It has turned into a civil war that doesn’t pertain to us, and by being there we are only involving ourselves. We’re not working towards anything and if we are then it certainly doesn’t feel like we’re gaining any ground. Most of the attacks over there are aimed at each side [Shiite or Sunni.] Our guys get hurt because we’re there, in the way. But they do still attack us for being there because we’re the “Infidel.”
Osgood: While people still support the troops, many people don’t want the U.S. to continue this war. How does it feel to have made such a sacrifice for a war that is no longer popular?
Spalding: I joined the Army partly because my country was at war. This is where I live and where my family lives. If we didn’t have people that would fight for our country [even when the reason may not be exactly what we believe in] then we would be in danger of a great number of things; anarchy, attacks from other countries and just social unrest and fear of insecurity. Having soldiers fighting for our rights such as freedom, liberty, the right to bear arms, the right to freedom of speech-without those men and women we wouldn’t have those and many people don’t realize that. My sacrifice was worth every second of missing home and fear of death…I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Osgood: During your time in Iraq, did you ever notice a change in morale [for better or for worse] in the places you worked?
Spalding: There were several times while I was overseas that I witnessed changes in morale with the Iraqi people we were around. When we would get a section of the city cleaned up enough that kids could walk around without fear of being kidnapped for ransom or that they could play without winding up in the middle of a fire fight that is when we would see this morale change. Now as for us, morale was a constant roller coaster ride. One week we’d be all excited because missions were easy and we caught a bunch of bad people, then the next day we’d have a friend get injured or something bad from back home would find its way to a friend and everyone was effected by it, we all felt each other’s pain.
Osgood: How do you feel now, after having been out for a few months, about the work you did in Iraq?
Spalding: I have this overwhelming sense of pride. I find myself constantly telling stories to people and relating everything I do to past experiences. I could never be ashamed or even quiet about my service time. I met some of the best friends I’ll ever have, lost some of the best ones, and did things that people want to write books about. I have pushed my body and mind to extents that I never thought I could, and accomplishments like that made me the person I am today. That was an experience that most people can only dream of.