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April 20, 2015


SPC Zach Wooten US Army (Ret) (1991-2006)

by dianeshort2014

wootenPersonal Service Reflections of US Soldier:

SPC Zach Wooten

US Army (Ret)


Shadow Box:

(Veterans – record and share your own service story with friends and family by joining This is a free service)


As children my twin brother, younger brother and myself were all taught to love our country and always stand up for our rights and freedoms. Even before joining the Army, I found out military life runs in my family’s blood. For many men in my family, they joined out of a sense of duty or a calling of a higher meaning. My Grandfather served in the U.S. Army during World War II. My father served in Vietnam, as did my step-father. My twin brother, Jacob, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. As for myself, I ended up spending 15 years serving in the US Army and Washington State Army National Guard.

Service to my country came naturally. I realized how unique it was to have a family military heritage that stretches back generations. I was proud to be able to have the opportunity to continue my family’s tradition of service. My father John ‘Marty’ Wooten is now a retired postman and divides his time between Washington State and Arizona. He was drafted into the Army in 1969 as an 11B-Infantryman and was quickly assigned to a long range reconnaissance patrol (LRRP) unit with the 1st Cavalry Division shortly after arriving to Vietnam. My dad was very proud of us joining the military. That was when he finally opened up about his military service. He pulled out a bunch of medals and pictures that I had never seen and showed me a uniform that I never knew he had. Before that, my grandfather Eugene Alfonsin (Mom’s father) spent his adult life as part of the New York Army National Guard, including deployments to Europe after World War II as part of the stabilization force serving with the US Constabulary.

For me, the idea of military service is more than just a family tradition; its a calling to serve your country. It’s always humbling when you see someone just stop to thank a soldier when they are in uniform. Even after everything I have endured I still believe it is one of the most honorable professions that a person can do. As a child, I always admired the military. I went to Veterans Day and Memorial Day parades and was fascinated with it. I never planned to serve, but in the back of mind I think I always knew it was an option.

After graduating from high school in 1991, I had plans to attend Central Washington University. However, when scholarships couldn’t cover the cost of tuition, I and my twin brother decided to pursue other alternatives. Service to our country came naturally to us so we both decided to join the United States Army. At the last minute my brother ended up changing his mind but eventually he ended up enlisting in the United States Marine Corps a couple of years later.


I enlisted in the U.S. Army on July 23, 1991 and completed Basic Combat Training at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, in December 1991. I then received training as a Man Portable Air Defense Crewmember (16S) at Fort Bliss, Texas between January 1992 – March 1992.

My first permanent duty station was with the 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery in the 3rd Infantry Division in Kitzingen, Germany. I was cross-trained as a Bradley-Stinger Fighting Vehicle Crewmember (14R) in Vilsek, Germany.

When my tour of duty was up, I reenlisted and PCS’d to Fort Carson, Colorado and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery in the 4th Infantry Division. During my time there my entire battalion was deployed in support of humanitarian operations (Operation Sea Signal) in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from Feb – July 1995. I then ETS’d from Active Duty and opted to join the Army National Guard to continue my military service.

I then joined the Washington Army National Guard and served between October 1995 – October 1996.

Frustrated with civilian life and nostalgic for my time on active duty, I decided to reup and went back into active duty on November 1, 1996 and was assigned to the 5th Battalion (Patriot), 7th Air Defense Artillery in Hanau, Germany. Shortly after arriving, my unit was called up to serve was to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Southern Watch from March – Sept 1997.

This was a massive operation conducted by Joint Task Force Southwest Asia (JTF-SWA) with the mission of monitoring and controlling airspace south of the 32nd Parallel (extended to the 33rd Parallel in 1996) in Iraq, following the 1991 Gulf War until the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

We were assigned to a Patriot site just outside of King Khalid International Airport (KKIA). Our mission was to provide a High to Medium Air Defense (HIMAD) platform, patrolling the skies with our advanced radar system against any Iraq aircraft that violated the no fly zone. This ensured Iraqi compliance with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 688. After returning from our deployment in September, it was back to the mundane life of garrison duty and the occasional field training exercises.

When we returned, I continued to serve in this unit until June 1999, when I reenlisted and was reassigned to Fort Lewis, Washington with the 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery, 3rd Brigade – 2nd Infantry Division.

While assigned to this unit I served as an Air Defense Early Warning Systems Operator (14J) and was later reassigned to duties as a Small Arms Maintenance Repairman (45B). I served there until June 2001, when I finally decided I had had my fill of active duty.

Once again, I joined the Washington State Army National Guard and was reassigned to the 181st Support Battalion at the Seattle Armory in Seattle. I served there in a variety of capacities; chaplain assistant, motor vehicle operator, radio operator and finally, as a multi-media illustrator with our battalion operations section. In September 2003 my unit was called up to mobilize and deploy to Iraq in February 2004. It was the largest mobilization our state had seen since World War II. Around 4,000 soldiers from throughout the state were called up for active duty to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

We were to be a part of a large multi-national force that would be the first occupying force in Iraq since the initial invasion in March 2003. It was definitely an unforgettable experience going to an actual combat zone for the first time. I was a little bit apprehensive but excited at the same time. Like my father before me, who served in Vietnam, I would finally have the honor of serving my country during a time of war. This was something I had wanted to do since I enlisted way back in July 1991 after the end of Operation Desert Storm. It was what I had been trained to do for the last twelve years.

My unit deployed to Logistics Support Area (LSA) Anaconda near Balad. Spread over fifteen square miles, this was one of the largest American military bases in Iraq which was formerly the largest Iraqi air base during the Desert Storm era. I was to be assigned as a provisional infantry soldier. Our mission was to perform site security for the entire base. We performed some infantry tasks like looking for IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) along some of the Main Supply Routes (MSR’s) near our base. Our security force also conducted foot-patrols along these same MSR’s. We also stopped traffic and performed random searches to find and detain people on our watch lists. Our security force was also assigned to man three separate Entry Control Points (ECP’s), monitoring convoys going in and out of the base and doing personnel searches on Iraqi civilians and Iraqi National Guard (ING) soldiers entering and leaving our base.

But before I was assigned to the security element, I was initially assigned to my battalion operations section to perform radio watch duties and monitor convoy radio traffic. It was my job to annotate what units were entering and leaving our base as well as the number of vehicles, personnel, weapons and sensitive items they possessed. Needless to say, this was very tedious and extremely boring work. I told myself if I had to do this for a year I was going to go crazy. I had come to Iraq to see some action. This wasn’t exactly what I had bargained for.

My prayers were quickly answered. But you know what they say, be careful what you wish for, for you may just get it! The operations Officer in Charge (OIC) notified our staff that they were short on personnel to help work in the security element that was to provide security for the entire base. I quickly jumped at the chance and volunteered immediately. I had performed site security duties at the Patriot site in Saudi Arabia back in 1997. My OIC then informed my Platoon Sergeant that I would be starting my security duties within a week.

On my ninth day ‘in country’, I was wounded in action during an enemy rocket attack that occurred on 12 April 2004, sustaining a TBI and nerve damage to my neck, left shoulder and arm. During my tenure in Iraq, I was also awarded the newly created Combat Action Badge for being personally present and actively engaging or being engaged by the enemy, and performing satisfactorily in accordance with the prescribed rules of engagement in an incident that occurred on 9 June 2004.

After returning home from Iraq in March 2005, I continued to work for my unit in a temporary capacity assisting the S-3 Operations section as we continued to transition back to our garrison in Seattle, WA. In September 2005, I volunteered for the humanitarian relief efforts in Louisiana after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in Sept. thru Oct. 2005, serving in some of the hardest hit areas to include the 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parrish. Those of us whom volunteered to serve were awarded the Louisiana Emergency Service Medal from the Louisiana National Guard and the Governor of Louisiana Barely a year later I was found unfit to continue serving in the military and was medically retired in November 2006 after 15 years of honorable service.


The memory that stands out amongst the rest would have to be my ‘alive day’;

I had only recently arrived at LSA Anaconda, having only been ‘in-country’ for approximately nine days. It was April 12, 2004. It was my wife’s birthday and I wanted to call her and wish her a happy birthday. I just wanted to hear her voice. So I decided I was going to walk the two miles in the 100-plus degree heat to the base’s local phone center to make a personal call. One of my friends, Sergeant Amos Atkinson agreed to accompany me. It was his birthday as well, and he wanted to call home and talk to his wife.

But what started off as a typical day wouldn’t remain that way for long, as fate had something else in store for me. I’ll never forget that day. It is a date that will always be ingrained into my mind for the rest of my life. Sergeant Atkinson and I walked the two miles in the stifling heat. Although it was uncomfortable having to walk while wearing our helmets, body armor, weapon and combat load, it was worth it. We made idle chit-chat trying not to focus on the oppressive heat. We mostly chatted about home.

When we finally arrived at the Phone Center (which was actually a large tent) the lines outside, of course, were quite long. But we didn’t mind. It gave us a chance to talk to the other Soldiers, Airmen and Marines who were also waiting their turn. It was very interesting listening to the cacophony of conversations that were going on around us, as we patiently waited our turn to step inside the tent.

Finally after about twenty minutes we were able to step inside the crowded tent and make our calls home. We had both agreed that when we finished our phone calls we would both wait for the small van that came around periodically, known as the shuttle bus. We opted to hitch a ride back rather than walk the two miles in the scorching sun to the transient tents. This was our unit’s temporary lodging until the base logistics command saw fit to put our unit somewhere more permanent. Though the van lacked any kind of air conditioning and it was usually packed with servicemen like sardines in a can, we didn’t mind.

When I finished my phone call I informed Sergeant Atkinson that I was going to step outside and meet him at the shuttle bus stop. He nodded his affirmation and I departed from the phone center. Once outside, I decided to walk over to one of the concrete barriers lining the sidewalk near the bus stops to have a cigarette. The location of the barrier that I perched myself upon was approximately ten feet away from the two bus stops located directly in front of the main post exchange. Known locally as ‘hescoe’ barriers, these concrete barricades provided some minor protection from incoming mortars and rockets. They lined most of the sidewalks along the network of dilapidated roads throughout the large airbase. Most of these roads were narrow, with only two lanes, barely wide enough for two hummers going in opposite directions to pass each other. But somehow they always managed.

As I finished my cigarette I stood up to walk over to the bus stop to wait for the shuttle bus. Suddenly I was rocked by a massive explosion. I recall seeing a large white flash, feeling the heat of the explosion on my face, and being rocked by a deafening shockwave from the rocket’s impact. The force of the exploding 82mm rocket threw me off the barrier. The next thing I knew I was on my back looking skyward. The blast wave from the exploding rocket had thrown me over the concrete barrier and onto my back. I didn’t know it at the time, but the hescoe barrier that I was thrown from had been viciously peppered with deadly shrapnel.

I don’t know how long I was unconscious, but when I came to I had a horrible headache and had very loud ringing in my ears. Time seemed to slow down. Everything sounded muffled as I struggled to rise to my feet. Seconds felt like minutes as my mind tried to rationalize what had just occurred.

Suddenly everything snapped back to normal when I heard someone yell, ‘Take cover!’

My adrenaline immediately began pumping throughout my entire body. I could hear people screaming as they attempted flee from the chaotic scene. Then I heard the heart rending sound of a fellow soldier screaming out in agony. I later learned that the soldier I heard screaming after the rocket exploded was an Army Staff Sergeant. Ironically, his tour in Iraq was up and he was supposed to be going home the next day. Unfortunately he wouldn’t be flying back to the States the way he anticipated.

The senior Non-Commissioned Officer had taken shrapnel to his legs and from what I witnessed, had lost most of his right foot. I later found out that he had to have part of his right leg amputated just below the knee, as the damage was too severe for him to ever gain any full function in his foot again.

That sergeant’s screams and what happened to him afterwards still haunt my sleep to this day.

Gathering my wits about myself I immediately ran towards the source of the screams of the wounded NCO, but I was disoriented from the explosion and the prevalent dust cloud that covered the entire area, which made it difficult to find the wounded soldiers. Suddenly I ran into an unidentified Non-Commissioned Officer who ordered me to take cover inside the Post Exchange. I didn’t immediately acknowledge him as I noticed there were several Soldiers gathered around some of the wounded at the bus stop.

Looking down I noticed a few Soldiers attending to some of the soldiers hurt in the attack. One of them looked severely wounded as most of his right foot had been shredded by shrapnel. There was blood everywhere. This was the first time I had ever seen fellow Soldiers hurt from enemy action.

The unidentified Non-Cmmissioned Officer then told me once again in a gentle, but firm voice to take cover. Acknowledging his commands I immediately made my way to the PX.

I noticed that there were dozens of Soldiers trying to push their way through the front doors of the main entrance. I immediately decided to run to the backside of the PX to the loading dock area. As I was running up the ramp of the nearest loading dock another rocket impacted directly behind the PX approximately seventy-five to one-hundred meters near Dining Facility (DFAC) 3.

I immediately made my way into the nearest rear entrance of the PX when suddenly we were rocked by a series of multiple impacts along the same trajectory of where the last couple of rounds had impacted. Dozens of Soldiers, Marines, Airman, and Civilian Contractors were huddled inside the confines of the hardened structure. I noticed at least two Soldiers with minor wounds to their hands and arms and one civilian PX employee with a minor laceration to her head.

I walked around in a daze, my hands shaking uncontrollably from adrenaline and fear. Whatever complacent thoughts I had about being in a nice big, secure base were dispelled in an instant. The shocking realization that someone is trying to kill you is not an easy thing to come to terms with.

We waited for half an hour or so, as the warning sirens blared their ear piercing, wailing tone. I can still hear these sirens whenever I think of my time in Iraq. Even to this day, I’ll suffer panic attacks when I hear any kind of siren blaring. Huddling for cover, we continued to wait until the ‘All Clear’ alarm was given so that we could report back to our units for accountability. Once the ‘All clear’ was finally given, I stumbled in a daze back to my Battalion headquarters.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the physical symptoms that I experienced were the lasting affects of the concussion that I had sustained as a result of the rocket attack, and the resultant nerve damage on the left side of my neck, shoulder and arm would continue to plague me long after I returned home from my combat tour in Iraq.

It was not until 2008, three years after I returned home that I even knew what the name of the medical condition that I had, that was affecting my daily life, and continues to do so, to this day.


At approximately 1145 hours, 08 June 2004, the East Entry Control Point (EECP) of Logistics Support Area (LSA) Anaconda was subject to a standoff attack. Unknown number of enemy insurgents fired one 57mm rocket which impacted in the vicinity of the inner perimeter of the EECP. One US Soldier and one Iraqi Army (IA) officer was wounded. Just before the attack I was manning a .50 Caliber machine gun mounted on a M113 APC gunner’s turret providing security overwatch. While performing my duties I heard a Point of Origin (POO) of a rocket launch northeast of my position from an unknown distance.

I immediately took a defensive posture by hunkering down in the gunner’s turret and began to scan the surrounding area for any further signs of activity from the insurgents. At the time of the attack a U.S. Army NCO and an Iraqi Army officer were walking behind the M113 APC along the bridge that spanned over the canal to the main gate of the EECP.

They were standing on the north side of the bridge when the rocket impacted just below them into the concrete surface of the man-made canal. I continued to steadfastly perform my defensive duties without hesitation as the round impacted within 5 meters of my position.

Immediately following the attack the Army NCO stumbled over to my position clutching her right arm closely to her side. She looked like she was apparently in a state of shock. I immediately began to dismount the gunner’s cupola to assist the NCO but was ordered to continue manning my position by my senior NCOIC. Shortly thereafter, medical assistance arrived and both the Army NCO and IA officer were taken away to the base field support hospital for medical treatment.

Three years later I would be awarded the Combat Action Badge.

From a personal standpoint I don’t think there is any Valor here. I was just doing my job.


I would have to say the most meaningful of all the awards and military decorations I have received throughout my career, would be the Purple Heart.

Back in October 2008, after I was finally diagnosed and treated for a moderate TBI, I came to the realization that I warranted the Purple Heart under current applicable award regulations. Specifically, that I had been wounded and received a concussion as, ‘A direct result of enemy generated explosions.

Keeping in mind that I had sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) while serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom 2. This serious incident occurred on 12, Apr. 2004. I was less than ten feet away when an enemy 57mm rocket exploded, knocking me over a concrete barrier. I was briefly knocked unconscious, and when I came to I was disoriented and had a splitting headache.

The problem was, I didn’t realize the extent of the damage and didn’t seek medical attention right away. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the symptoms of dizziness, sensitivity to light, and sleep disturbances were attributed to the concussion I had sustained.

By the time I was seen, many of these symptoms had slowly begun to subside a little bit, but they still continued to affect my day-to-day routine. When I finally sought medical treatment the only thing the medics noted in my medical records was that I had scarring on my right eardrum, indicating that I most likely sustained a perforated eardrum from the acoustic trauma when the rocket exploded.

Despite being home for approximately three years, I still experienced many symptoms due to the TBI that I sustained, only seeking diagnosis and treatment in the summer of 2008, when my suspicions were corroborated and I was diagnosed with a lasting moderate TBI through the Polytrauma Clinic at the Seattle Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

Later, when I was reevaluated by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs under the new criteria for TBI’s I was rated at approximately 40% for the TBI symptoms that I still struggle with on a daily basis. But this wouldn’t be the end of my saga for recognition for wounds received in combat.

Until I was seen, diagnosed and treated by the Chief of the Polytrauma Clinic at the Seattle Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital in 2008, I had never even considered being eligible for the award of the Purple Heart.

Like many OIF/OEF veterans, those whom sustained a TBI during the first few years of the Global War on Terror, it was difficult to recognize what the symptoms of a TBI were. Many of us did not seek treatment for years, therefore it was never made a part of the Official Casualty Reports.

Traumatic Brain Injury is a physical injury affecting neurological structures and functions. It is often erroneously connected to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Simply put, TBI affects physiology and PTSD affects the psyche.

Since TBI often does not have immediate, outward signs of injury, its impact on the health and welfare of soldiers is often overlooked as they appear normal. In essence, when soldiers lose appendages or have a visible, bleeding wound – it is noticed and recognized as a wartime injury.

When people see a veteran in a wheelchair, or using crutches it is obvious that service member has been injured. Members of the military with TBI may not have any functional aids and may not show outward signs of injury. That does not mean that their neurological injury is any less debilitating or severe.

Traumatic Brain Injuries deserve as much recognition as any other physical wartime trauma. Its effects last as long or longer than non-neurological trauma and have the potential to affect every aspect of service members’ lives; from cognitive functioning to generalized pain, neurological injury should be recognized with the Purple Heart at every level of service – from line units to division levels.

For three years I continuously submitted every document and shred of evidence that the Army Human Resources Command had required of me, yet, I had been told time and again to submit the same evidence.

It was only through the advocacy of a non-profit organization (who will continue to remain anonymous) that assisted me with obtaining the Purple Heart. After these advocates helped assist me after being denied four separate times by the US Army Awards Branch, in March 2011, I received a phone call from my old Brigade notifying my that I had been submitted and approved for the award of the Purple Heart.

My old unit even went out of its way to recognize me in a formal awards ceremony, presenting me with my Purple Heart on April 3, 2011 Almost seven years after-the-fact, but finally myself and my family have received some closure.


Probably my biggest influence that stands out to me during my military service would have to be Charles ‘Chuck’ Bennett. He was an outstanding NCO who mentored me and help guide me into becoming an outstanding, professional soldier. He was an ‘old school’ NCO who had been trained by NCOs that had served during the Vietnam War. They mentored him and turned him into a tough, professional, but fair leader. He could be hard, but he was always fair. I flourished under his expert guidance and pushed myself to be the best soldier that I could be, learning every aspect of my chosen profession and performing my duties to the best of my abilities. Sergeant Bennett never screwed anyone over and he never punished anyone or balled them out in front of their peers. He would pull you aside, chew your ass and then smoke the living crap out of you, but he would never put pen to paper. Sergeant Bennett didn’t believe in it. He firmly believed that ‘corrective training’ was much more effective than writing down every little minor infraction, which could affect his troops from receiving any type of favorable actions or affect their chances for promotion. And he was never afraid to take charge and stick up for his troops. If there was an issue with one of our senior NCOs or officers, he wasn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with them when he knew he was in-the-right. I miss you Chuck. You were like the big brother I never had! I’ll always raise a cold one in salute to you, brother! Prost!


Following my service on Active Duty, in December 2001 I was hired on as a Driver/Guard with Loomis Fargo and Co. driving and hauling around large sums of money, servicing ATMs, and picking up and delivering currency to multiple banks and vaults on a daily basis. I continued to work there for a little over six and a half years, when in June 2008 I was hired on to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, WA. I worked in the Human Resources Staffing Section, assisting veterans with the Federal hiring process and answering any questions pertaining to specific jobs, benefits and number of questions concerning the VA. Unfortunately, it was not to last, as my continuing physical and psychological issues that I still struggle with caught up to me during my tenure with the VA and I was forced to retire. Now I divide my time playing ‘Mr. Mom’ at home, which has been great being able to spend time with my family and volunteering with various Veteran Service Organizations to help advocate or assist veterans in any capacity that I can.


I am a member of multiple military associations to include;
– Air Defense Artillery Association
– Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
-Veterans of Foreign Wars (Life Member)
-Disabled American Veterans
-Military Order of the Purple Heart (Life Member)

I derived specific benefits from these organizations by being able to share in the type of camaraderie that can only be found amongst military service members. I also enjoy advocating and helping assist fellow veterans in anyway that I can; be it disability claims, general advice for seeking employment or state benefits or donating money and other items to assist veterans in need. I gain personal satisfaction in still being able to be a part of something that is much larger than myself; something that I hadn’t been able to do since I served in the US Army.


My military service greatly influenced my life in profound ways. It help give me definitive purpose and a sense to strive for excellence, and never settle for anything less. I continue to maintain a professional attitude and appearance and always perform my professional duties to the best of my ability. My military experiences also help me gain the confidence to be able to step forward and grab an opportunity and not let it slip by.


Remember, that all of you are carrying the torch for those of us who have hung up our covers and put away our old boots in the closet. Cherish your time serving in the greatest armed forces in the world! And always do your best to document your career and time in the military through pictures and the good old fashion written word. Some day you’ll want to share it with your grandchildren and they may want to keep passing it down to their kids! Do it for posterity’s sake! This way your descendants will have a clear understanding of what you did during your time in the military, as well as the world changing events and history-in-the-making that you may have been a part of. It is a tangible part of your legacy that will be cherished by generations of family members.


TWS has been an outstanding social networking site for those of us whom served in the Armed Forces. Personally, I’ve been able to stay in contact with many fellow Soldiers that I served with, and continue to enjoy reminiscing about our shared experiences both in garrison and in combat. Its been a pleasure being able to talk to like-minded people who are patriotic and loyal to our country and to their respective military branches of service.

This website has also been a great way for me to connect with my father-in-law, who is a US Navy Vietnam War veteran by helping him get connecting with fellow sailors he hasn’t talked to in close to forty years!

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Shane Tenney
    Feb 12 2016

    I just came across this today and saw the platoon picture from the guard force it brought back great memories of some amazing soldiers. Thanks Wooten




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