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VETERANS DAY 2017

Bronze Star winner-turned-singer helps raise funds for wounded vets

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Chris Perkinson says his service as a U.S. Army combat medic in Iraq a decade ago was an eye-opening moment for him.

Perkinson, a 33-year-old Bronze Star recipient, says too many Americans get bogged down with what he calls “first-world problems” and lose sight of how good their lives are compared to those lived by people in less-advantaged countries.

"You get mad here when your food is not right at the drive-thru or you get mad when traffic takes too long," he said. "People are upset over political issues and this and that — and they say the government is corrupt."

Perkinson says they ought to try living in war-torn Middle Eastern countries like Iraq where destitute citizens struggle to make ends meet and even children work as farm hands or as peddlers in street markets.

"Over there, people live in mud huts," he said. "Half the country doesn't have electricity. There were people, literally, living in houses made out of old oil cans – in what we would consider a trash dump, a garbage dump."

On top of the destitution is the rampant corruption. Perkinson recalls his unit working for the removal of an Iraqi general who was so corrupt, he was lining his own pockets with his troops' pay.

"He was literally taking their paychecks," he said.

Perkinson didn’t always have his current views of U.S.’ involvement in foreign wars.

When he graduated from Currituck County High School in 2002, Perkinson decided, after working a few jobs, that he wanted to do something that helped people. Both his late grandfather and an uncle had served in the Army, so he decided he, too, would join up.

Enlisting as a combat medic in 2006, Perkinson completed his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and his specialty training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. He would move on to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, site of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, which develops solder and civilian leaders. He became an instructor in combat lifesaver courses, training that helps soldiers in the field tend to themselves and others before medic help arrives.

While at Fort Leonard Wood, Perkinson switched to the 5th Engineer Battalion and by 2008 he was in Iraq. His job was to coordinate training for Iraqi Army troops and medical personnel, getting them up to speed on the latest techniques in combat medicine.

As part of his job, Perkinson went out on routine patrols with combat troops. He also helped show Iraqi Army soldiers how to destroy improvised explosive devices.

"We did pretty much everything," he said.

Perkinson would receive the Bronze Star for his work in Iraq. He said he received the honor for his role in responding to two mass casualty incidents. The first involved an explosion caused to an Iraq Army convoy by an improvised explosive device. The other involved a firefight that resulted from an internal squabble by Iraqi forces over parking spaces at a base.

Although Perkinson says he made it through his deployment to Iraq OK, the experience would have an effect on him when he got home.

He says he underwent a series of surgeries for nerve damage in both legs and torn ligaments in one of his shoulders. He also suffers from post traumatic stress disorder — a condition he believes was sparked by learning that two medics he served with in Iraq committed suicide when they came home.

After returning to Fort Leonard Wood and serving for at a clinic there, he joined the Virginia National Guard. He served as a medic as part of the 183rd Calvary Regiment in Portsmouth until 2012, when he was discharged for medical reasons.

He worked for a time as a detention officer at Albemarle District Jail, but he said the job "didn't really fit the bill for me." Still desiring to help others, worked a couple of years as a crisis intervention specialist for Integrated Family Services, which provides mental health services in eastern North Carolina.

Today, Perkinson is a folk musician who performs at events like those sponsored by Elizabeth City Hero Operations, which holds fundraising concerts twice a year at Coasters Downtown Draught House.

Part of the proceeds from Hero Operations events help pay for fishing and hunting trips for wounded veterans. Some of the proceeds go to the Fisher House in Virginia. The Fisher House serves as a home away from home for families of military personnel and retirees receiving medical care at military and VA medical centers.

Perkinson, a member of  Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6060, will also be performing at the post in Elizabeth City from 2 p.m. on 6 p.m. on Veterans Day, Saturday, Nov. 11.

After his service in Iraq, Perkinson said he credits a combination of music, family and faith with helping him turn a corner in his life.

"You have to have something more than medication to get you through," he said.

Despite the trauma of seeing war up close, Perkinson still reveres his time in the military.

"That soldier never really leaves you," he said. "You can take the man out of the Army, but you can never take the Army out of the man."

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