Man of service
Glenn Yeager admits his early inspiration for military life didn't quite prepare him for the reality of it.
"I played Army a lot when I was a kid, like a lot of kids did," Yeager noted. "Back then it all came from G.I. Joe, and we didn't have all these documentaires of 'here's what it's actually like.'"
Once he made the decision, however, things moved fast.
The Sandy native enlisted in the U.S. Army and was off to boot camp only three weeks after graduating from Sandy High School in 1994.
"Basically at the beginning of senior year, I realized this was my last year with any real shelter," Yeager said.
So, he started talking to military recruiters and eventually chose the Army based on the helpfulness of the recruiter.
"I always wanted to be a pilot as a kid," Yeager admitted. "I wanted to fly a plane or a helicopter. I got diagnosed with color blindness and that kind of flew out the window — pun intended."
From there he spent eight years on active duty, serving in Saudi Arabia and Korea along the way. Yeager, who'd never really left Oregon, flew on a plane for the first time en route to Saudi Arabia.
"The biggest challenge was the first time I deployed," he noted. "I was still young. It wasn't a war zone, but it was a whole different country, all the way around the world. That was hard for me. It was a big leap of faith for me."
In 2002, Yeager entered the Oregon Army National Guard, and was soon after deployed to Afghanistan as a combat medic.
"I was never in direct fire," Yeager explained. "I saw a lot of the results though, of ambushes, IEDs, villages that were attacked. I was front line, me and 14 other guys, and I was the only medic. I stayed with a group of 14 people the whole time. I had it easy compared to others over there."
Yeager said what sustained him through the very foreign experiences of deployment were the people — both his fellow American soldiers and the members of the Afghanistan National Army.
"I had people there with me, and we were there together," Yeager noted. "I made a lot of really good friends, a lot of which I still stay in contact with today. I'll never forget the people I served with.
"One of the things that kind of rubs me the wrong way is on Memorial Day when people are always thanking veterans, but it's not for us," he added. "It's for those who died. Not those still living. I lost a good friend in Afghanistan. I remember him every Memorial Day, every time it's his birthday or the day he died. It seems like it's taking away from him if you're thanking me. That's what Veterans Day is for."
In 2008, Yeager retired from the military. But, even after 14 years of military service, he didn't feel finished giving back. So, he followed in his father's footsteps, returned to his hometown and became a volunteer firefighter for Sandy Fire District.
"I flew the nest, traveled the world three times, covered almost every demographic, but of all the places I've been, it never really felt like home," he said. "My lineage, my family was way back in the '60s at the old fire station. It's nice to have a job or volunteer position where you can actually see the difference you're making in somebody's life right there on the spot. It kind of makes you feel good."
Yeager sees several similarities between active military life and his career as a volunteer firefighter.
"When you're a combat medic, it's the same as being a firefighter," he explained. "People look to you in a time of need. They say when you're a combat medic, we're the ones we call for before they call for their moms."
Even 10 years after retiring, the effects of war are still with him. He noted that coming back to Sandy and taking up the volunteer firefighter position was akin to "leaving my security blanket, like in high school."
"I was stepping into a whole new arena of adulthood," he explained. "I was also more on edge when I came back. Even today, a jackhammer down the street sounds like a .50-caliber going off."
He said firefighting is also definitely like being on the front line because "one minute we're relaxing and the next we're reacting to a call for help."
Yeager calls the feeling his "situational awarenesss."
"That's a lot like Afghanistan."
But fortunately, he added, so is the camaraderie.
"The people I served with are like family, just like in the fire service," he noted, adding he also considers much of the community in Sandy family.
Yeager said he hopes to one day be a fire officer.
"The way I explain my (transition to firefighting) is this: I served my country, I served my state and now I'm serving my town."