A SOLDIER'S STORY

By SFC (Ret.) Gregory Wade Quarles

 

When the conflict in Somalia (Black Hawk Down) broke out that was when I knew what I wanted to be and do. I knew at that time I wanted to join the Army and become an Airborne Ranger. I was still in High School and had to wait until I graduated before I could join. On 21 November 1994 I only had a few months left until graduation day so I enlisted in to the Army with a Ranger contract. I graduated in May and on 11 July 1995 I started infantry basic training at Fort Benning Georgia. After successful graduation from basic training I went straight to airborne school.

When airborne school was completed I immediately went to Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP). That was a very mentally and physically intense assessment and selection course to get into the 75th Ranger Regiment. Upon successful completion and selection on 15 December 1995, I became a member of Alpha Company 3/75th Ranger Regiment. This was the start of my long and successful military career. At this point I had become a part of the best unit in the Army in my mind.

Throughout my military career I have earned and been awarded numerous awards and medals. Here are the awards and medals I have received; 2 Purple Heart (PH), Meritorious Service Medal (MSM), 9 Army Commendation Medals (ARCOM), 2 Army Achievement Medals (AAM), Valorous Unit Award (VUA), 2 Meritorious Unit Citation (MUC), 5 Army Good Conduct Medals (AGCM), 2 National Defense Service Medals (NDSM), Afghanistan Campaign Medal w/Campaign Star (ACM-CS) ,2  Iraq Campaign Medal w/Campaign Star (ICM-CS), Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal (GWTEM), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal (GWTSM), Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal (MOVSM), 3 Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon (NOPDR), Army Service Ribbon (ASR), 4  Overseas Service Ribbon (OSR), and a NATO Medal (NATOMDL).

Over my military career I went to and attended many military schools and courses to include; Airborne School, Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP), Jungle Warfare School, Air Assault Course, Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC), Pre-Ranger Course, Ranger School, Airborne Leaders Course, Small Arms Master Gunner Course, Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS), Special Operations Target Interdiction Course,  Harris Radio Operators Course, Combative’s level 1 and 2, Reconnaissance Surveillance Leaders Course (RSLC), Jumpmaster School, Advance Leader Course (ALC), and Maneuver Senior Leader Course. Through these schools and course’s I became the Army soldier and leader I am today.

Throughout my career I have been in numerous units. Like I stated before I started my career with 3rd Ranger Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment (3/75) as a weapons squad assistant gunner. After there I was assigned to 1/11th Infantry Regiment as an Operations Noncommission Officer. In 1998 I reenlisted to go to Hawaii, where I was a member of Bravo Company 2/27th Infantry Light as a Weapons team Leader and then a Rifle Team Leader. In Dec 2003 I permanently changed station (PCS’d) to Fort Bragg North Carolina 82nd Airborne and was an Airborne Team Leader with Alpha Company 1/504th Airborne Regiment. I volunteered to deploy to Iraq with the 3/505 Airborne Regiment as a Squad Leader.

I deployed to Iraq from September 2003 to 2004 at FOB Saint Michael in Mahmudiyah. This was my first deployment and was a long rigorous one at that. During this deployment we fought Iraq Republican Guards and a lot of Ba’ath Party. We encountered everything from rocket and mortar attacks daily to IED’s and ambushes on a regular bases. During this deployment I was injured a few times from a knife wound to shrapnel and small burns from IED’s and rockets. Upon returning from this deployment I ETS’d out of the Army on 29 July 2004.

After I got out of the US Army in 2004 I moved to Australia and joined the Australian Special Forces. After enlisting into their military I had to 1st go through their basic training in Wagga Wagga, NSW. After a short stay there I moved to Singleton NSW, Australia where I went through their version of Infantry basic training and then over to SFTC (Special Forces Training Center). Here I went through everything from assessment and selection and then the Commando pipe line to become a commando. After successful completion of this I moved and was assigned to the 4th Royal Australian Regiment (4th RAR) Commando unit out of Holsworthy Barracks, New South Wales, Australia.

I returned to the United States in 2008 and on 1 May 2008 reenlisted into the US Army. After my reenlistment I was sent to White Sands, New Mexico to go through the Warrior Transitioning Course. This was for any prior enlisted soldier that had been out of the US Army for 4 or more years or was a transfer from another branch. This course lasted just over a month. When I graduated from this course I was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia and was assigned to the Special Forces Liaison office there. My job while there was to train new solders and get them ready for Special Forces Selection. After about a month there I moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina and was assigned to the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center.

While assigned here I myself got ready for SFAS (Special Forces Assessment and Selection) in September 2008. After SFAS was done and over I had to wait for a class date my pipe line to start. While waiting for this course my security clearance was revoked due to my influence in a foreign military and was denied my SF school date. At this time Ranger branch that I belonged to called me up and said they had a job offer for me. I was to move from Fort Bragg, NC to Fort Lewis Washington. At Fort Lewis I was to help start up a new unit that was forming there. This unit was Charlie Company 38 LRS. It would become the 3rd company of a 3 Company Long Range Surveillance unit. The 1st company was already at Fort Bragg, NC and the 2nd company was at Fort Hood, TX.

     In November of 2008 we successfully stood up C. Co 3/38th LRS. This company was made up of 3 detachments; 1st Det. Air and HALO detachment, 2nd Det. A Water detachment, and 3rd Det. a Ground and Mountains detachment. I was a detachment team leader for a 6 man ground and mountains LRS team. While in this position I deployed to Iraq in 2009 and 2010. As a LRS company our mission was to conduct surveillance missions along the Iraq and Iran border and report back to higher. This was a long and hot deployment. We were based out of Camp Adder also known as Tallil Air base located near Nasiriyah, Iraq. From here we would leave the Camp for 2 weeks at a time to conduct these surveillance missions.

After returning from this deployment I became the Team Sergeant of the sniper section for this unit. Here I was in charge of 3 2 man sniper teams. I was in charge of all training and getting the non-sniper qualified men ready for sniper school.

In December 2011 I PCS’d from Fort Lewis Washington to Vicenza, Italy to the 173rd Airborne Brigade. When I arrived there I was assigned to Attack Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment. I went to 3rd Platoon Combat Wombats and took over as weapons Squad leader. I was in charge of 3 2 man weapons squads, the medic and the forward observer.  From Jan 2012 to June 2012 all we did was train getting ready for the deployment to Afghanistan. In July 2012 we deployed to Afghanistan. I was based out of Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shank, located in the Logar province of Eastern Afghanistan. We would conduct foot patrols out of FOB Shank to the surrounding areas. OP English was one of our main objectives because no one had been to that key piece of terrain by foot in many years.

   

On July 21, 2012 in the Logar province, Eastern Afghanistan, just north of village Gardez, my platoon conducted a foot patrol outside of FOB Shank. As the foot patrol came to a key piece of terrain known as OP English and had crested the top of a rolling hill we came under enemy small arms fire. Everyone bolted down to the ground and took cover. My Platoon Leader, Lieutenant Williams and Platoon Sergeant SFC Elkins assessed the situation and moved the Platoon to the top of OP English. I, SSG Quarles was then told to take my weapons squad to the northwestern tip of the hill and set up a support by fire position. This would enable the rest of the Platoon to flank around and make contact with the enemy. I guided all of my men safely to this location and set them all in to position. At this point we came under fire again by an enemy sniper. The first few shots were not effective.

     Soon the enemy sniper began impacting his rounds closer and taking more precise and accurate shots. As a result of this, I felt that my men and I were in harm’s way. I then made the decision to fall back behind the crest of the hill. Just as I made it to the closest support by fire position that was on a spread of 60 meters of three positions, an enemy bullet impacted just inches in front of me. Worrying about the lives of my Soldiers, I independently grabbed the two Soldiers from the first position and pulled them to the back side of the hill out of enemy sniper fire. I then moved to the other two locations and did the same thing.

     I had just made it back to my original location to grab the last Support by fire position to pull them to safety when I was struck in the side of the head by the enemy sniper. It felt like a sledge hammer hit the side of my helmet and forced my head into my left shoulder. This incredible power knocked me off my feet. Being dazed and confused, SPC Price asked me if I was all right and then told me I had been shot on the right side of my helmet. After a few seconds I gathered myself and called the Platoon Leader to inform him what had just happened.

     With an intense and severe headache, the pain in my neck was on a level like nothing I had ever experienced before in my life. Meanwhile, the assaulting party of my Platoon was making their way to the back side of the hill for link up and to assess the situation and my condition. SPC Price and I were pinned down by direct sniper fire. I then threw two smoke grenades to help conceal SPC Price and myself as we moved to a more safe position for link up with the rest of the Platoon.

     When the smoke started to billow that’s when the sniper shot the smoke canisters. I grabbed SPC Price and told him to fall back to the rear of the hill. Just as we started to move, more enemy bullets started to crack and zip past and over our heads. Fortunately we were able to make it to a more secure location on the backside of OP English out of harm’s way.

     The rest of the Platoon finally made it to our location and linked up with us. At this point I was very dazed and disoriented. We were only about 3-4 kilometers out from FOB Shank and had to walk back due to no air support being in our sector.

     Once we returned back to the FOB, the medical specialist SPC Elder conducted a full check on myself, but never recommended higher medical evaluation. For the next two weeks, SPC Elder kept giving me pain meds and injections in my neck so that I could still function somewhat and continue to do patrols.  The very next day we returned to the same location as the sniper attack. Our mission on this night was to set up a support by fire location and the platoon to move into the town to conduct a search. But as soon as we had set into position everything went wrong. The location was covered with dismounted IED’s and two of our soldier’s laid on top of one of them, That night we lost two American heroes and 5 others severely wounded. I continued to do patrols outside of FOB Shank up until 7 Aug 2012.

The morning of 7 Aug 2012 we had just taken over on perimeter guard and others where on down time. I decided to go to the gym located close to Charlie Med. I was in the gym tent doing some cardio when the blast went off. The force of the explosion threw me across the room and I was hit with debris. I remember getting up and climbing over things to get into the bunker. My head was pounding and I got sick. Someone yelled that a few people were trapped under debris. I immediately rushed back inside to help get them out. This is when the siren went off that there was a breach in the wire. I took off running trying to get back to my tent where my guys where located.

 I made it to the tent and my platoon leader and platoon sergeant where already there. I told them what had happened and we immediately grabbed our gear and started to make our way to the breach site. As soon as we arrived we could see the devastation of the blast. Special Operation Forces guys where already on the breach site pulling security. We started helping remove rubble and debris and pull bodies from the blast site. This is the last thing I remember. I woke up on a black hawk being medevac’d to Bagram Airfield (BAF). I freaked out on the flight medic and they shot me up with meds to control me. When I woke up a few days later I was being treated in the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) clinic at BAF.

I stayed here for about 2 weeks while I was treated for TBI and lower back injury. I still had mean that was back at FOB Shank. I was not about to leave anyone behind. I fought with the Dr’s for these 2 weeks to return me to duty. They finally gave into my request, but it was for light duty for 30 days. When I returned we were told we would be moving from FOB Shank to FOB Warrior in the Ghazni Province.

Our mission here would be to do patrols and help stop the Taliban from having free range of movement. We would go to out post for 2 weeks at a time and conduct foot patrols with the Afghan Army. While deployed to this location we had many close calls. The outpost we manned and FOB Warrior would get mortared and rocketed daily. One morning right before we left for a patrol the incoming alarm went off. Just as my platoon sergeant and I entered a bunker, that bunker took a direct hit. Lucky for us the bunker was there. The only thing that happened was we lost our hearing for a few hours; permanent ringing in the ears and it was load very load.

This would be my last deployment as soon as we returned back to Italy in Feb 2013 I started getting treated for my injuries. I also left Attack company and moved to Headquarters Company. Here I took over as the Sniper Section Leader. I trained my men hard to get them ready for another deployment. But I also went through a year of physical therapy, pain management, spine injections, behavioral health, and occupational therapy. In Jan 2014 I PCS’d to Fort Benning to be a Ranger School instructor. The whole time there I was still going through all the medical care trying to get my body fixed.

In Oct 2014 I was reassigned to the Fort Benning Warrior Transitioning Battalion WTB. I was moved here due to the severity of my injuries. I had been fighting with the Dr’s for about 2 years saying I was ok I can continue to do my job. But that was not the case; as soon as I got there I had a C-spine surgery to correct my neck injury from when I was shot. It had gotten so bad I was losing feeling in my hands. After this surgery I was limited what I could do while it healed. My wonderful wife Danielle Quarles quit her job just to take care of me. She had to help me do everything from shower, get dressed, eat, and etc. If it wasn’t for her I don’t know what I would have done. As soon as I was able to start physical therapy I did. I pushed myself hard to recover so that I could return to duty and do my job.

During this process that is when I was introduced to adaptive sports.  Going from being a Ranger and having a mission, a purpose and an objective to nothing is very mind blowing. I went downhill fast and went in to a deep depression. Adaptive sports showed me that no matter what my level of injury or how bad that it was I still had a competitive edge. The first thing I was introduced to was cycling, archery, air rifle and pistol and field events. At first I said I can’t ride a bike with my neck and back injury and my TBI with vertigo issues. The occupational therapy director said yes you can. She showed me that there where many different types of bikes. I was shown a recumbent cycle. This is a 3 wheel bike that you sit on. This bike has one big wheel in the back and two smaller wheels in the front that you can steer with. I loved this bike from the start.

I started riding the recumbent in November 2014 and as early as Feb I went on a remarkable ride with Ride to Recovery (R2R). We rode the Gulf Coast Challenge from Atlanta Georgia to New Orleans Louisiana a 470 mile bicycle ride. As soon as this ride was finished I was chose to represent the Army and go tryout to make the Army Department of Defense Warrior Team. I went to Fort Bliss, TX and here I did well for being my first time ever trying out for the Team. Every event I participated in I medaled in. Cycling I took bronze, seated shot put silver, seated discus bronze, air rifle and pistol both bronze.

The adaptive sports had given me back what I thought I had lost. It had given me a purpose, a since of direction, a mission and a competitive edge. But soon all this would be taken from me again. Just when I thought I was getting better and made the Army team in 2015 I had to go under the knife again. My back from the explosion had multiple tears and impinged nerves. My L-spine 3, 4, and 5 where pushing into my nerves causing me horrible leg pains and lose of feeling in my feet. The opening ceremony for the 2015 DOD Warrior Games I was going under the knife again and having an L-spine fusion. It brought me back down into that deep dark hole again.

But with the help and support of my amazing wife and her determination to get her husband back she has helped me recover. My goal was to recover from this surgery and try out for the 2016 Army team. I pushed myself hard every day through my recovery process.  My surgery was in June 2015 and in Nov 2015 I was well enough to try out at the Army regionals at Fort Bragg, NC. Here I took gold in cycling; air rifle, pistol and shot put, and took silver in archery and discus. I was invited back to Fort Bliss, TX in March 2016 to compete for an Army spot on the 40 man team. Here I got hurt in cycling with horrible pains in my right leg and back. But I didn’t let that get me down. I went on the shoot in the medal round of Archery; I took gold in pistol, short put and 50 meter freestyle swimming, and took silver rifle and discus.

About a month after the Army Trials I got the terrific news that I had made the Army 2016 DOD Warrior Team and would be representing the Army in West Point, NY. I also got word that I had made the 2016 South East Valor games. I went to North Caroline in May to compete at the Valor games. I took gold in seated volley ball, archery, and air rifle; I took silver in shot put, and 2 bronze medals in rowing.  The 2nd week of June I went to West Point, NY for the Warrior Games. Here I competed in Archery, Air Rifle and Pistol, and Seated shot put and discus. I came home with Gold in Shot put, Silver in discus and air rifle and bronze in pistol. Being able to compete in adaptive sports has been a life saver for me. It lets me give back and have that edge I lost when injured.

I participated in the South West Valor Games in San Antonio in Sept 2016. Here I took Gold in Air rifle and pistol, Silver in Rowing and Weight lifting, and Bronze in Archery. I also shot in the Texas State 900 and know 3D archery competition on Aug 20-21 2016 and took 5th. I am training at this time for these games and for next year’s 2017 DOD Warrior Games and the 2017 Invictus Games.

These sports let me be able to help others that have similar of worse injuries than I do. It also lets me be around the same heroes that help keep this great nation at what it is and everyone free. My goal from here is to make the Paralympic Team and compete in that level. I also would love to coach other injured athletes and show them that the sky is the limit. Never let anything hold you back because no matter what you have wrong or going on you can adapt and overcome those injuries. Rangers Lead the Way all the way every day! RLTW!

I was born 15 Dec 1976 in Ashville, North Carolina. I grew up In North West Georgia.  I was your normal southern country boy. I loved to fish, hunt, and play sports. When it came to sports baseball and football was my passion.  My dream was to grow up and become a professional ball player, but that all changed when I was in High School. I had a teacher whose son was an Army Ranger with the 3rd Ranger Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment (3/75th) out of Fort Benning Georgia..

"Archery has done so much for me. First, it allows me to feel like I'm a part of a team again since being injured. It helps me deal with my PTSD, TBI, C/L Spine Fusions and other injuries. With archery you can have fun with a low impact sport".