“I wanted to be able to look my kid in the eye and tell him I didn’t work in fast food,” Vickery said. He decided to enlist because the Army presented him with a way to accomplish that.
As a high school dropout and an 18-year-old who was about to become a father, his options were somewhat limited.
But through the Army, Vickery knew he would be able to earn a living and gain an education. His story was not unusual, he said.
“Most of the guys that I served with — whether they were from Chicago or wherever — were trying to get out of where they were because of what was around them.”
Vickery was stationed with different units as a medic when he was deployed in Iraq — in both Mosul and Talifar.
While deployed, it was his job to make sure his unit was ready for combat — including both physical and mental capacity.
Some of the challenge lies in the fact that there were long stretches of time where soldiers weren’t “soldiering,” but had to come back to the front and be at 100 percent.
“My biggest thing was knowing all my guys, knowing all of their information — marriage problems, are they hurt, what medicines are they allergic to … that was 99.5 (percent) of it,” Vickery said. “I kind of equate it to Mom: ‘Come here, take your shoe off, let me see…’”
Units generally didn’t have mental health or orthopedic services, so Vickery had to provide all of the care for the men in his unit.
He had to communicate with the experts via radio in order to find out how he should treat some of the ailments the men had.
The Diyala River valley is where Vickery remembers seeing the fruits of the efforts being made by the Army.
The colonel attached to the unit “wrote the book on counterterrorism,” Vickery said.
“When we left after 18 months, there was an explosion. One of our last missions, when we pulled up, the fire department was on scene fighting a fire,” he said.
People already had been taken to the hospital and police officers were conducting an investigation. “It was pretty well night and day in comparison (to before),” he said.
Vickery attributed the majority of the issue to fear.
Prior to their arrival, there was a very real probability that people responding to such an event would have their lives or the lives of their family threatened for merely doing their jobs, he said.
The real hero
Vickery chose not to re-enlist after his contract was up in 2012.
“It was starting to mess with my kids, which in turn messed with me,” he said. “Let’s go home and live a normal life.”
He and his family — his wife, Kali, and their three daughters — lived in Germany for six years while he was deployed there.
But Kali Vickery has been with him since high school.
“She’s been there through the whole shebang,” Vickery said. “Kali’s my hero in the whole thing. Everything that parents do, she did by herself from 18.”
When he left, she stayed with their three children and had to be both parents for them.
While almost everyone in the family was able to go to Germany, it was not the same as living stateside.