From left: FF Lance Campbell, FF Nate Broussard, and DE Jacob Czekanski. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

From left: FF Lance Campbell, FF Nate Broussard, and DE Jacob Czekanski. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Defending freedom to battling flames

Veterans now serving as firefighters reflect on service to country.

For 56 members of South King Fire and Rescue, the dedication to service has been a lifelong spark.

“These veterans chose South King Fire and Rescue because of our overall guiding principles and our mission to serve with pride and safeguard the community,” said SKFR public information officer Brad Chaney. “South King Fire and Rescue is proud to have 28 currently employed veterans and 28 retired personnel who are veterans.”

Veterans have a unique desire and passion for serving both country and community, Chaney said, which they reflect through their own stories of service.

Pebbles of pain

When joining the military, you put on an imaginary backpack.

“You have a backpack on and you throw a pebble in there,” said firefighter Lance Campbell. “There’s so many pebbles that build up from everything we’ve seen or done and going into the fire service, it’s still growing.”

Some pebbles are heavier than others, but even a bunch of small pebbles weigh as much as the big ones, he explained.

Campbell enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2000 and was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord before retiring as a sergeant first class and joining the reserves in 2006. He has been with South King Fire for seven years.

Each of the careers brings an overwhelming mass of difficult situations to witness, and later process.

“A lot of us suppress a lot of stuff, or it’s not something we try to present to people,” Campbell said. “But it’s always a constant thought in our minds.”

Campbell deployed multiple times to the Middle East. During his first raid overseas, there were no casualties but his troop soon went into a nine-hour contact raid on a mosque. A month later, his battalion lost three men at one time. The next month saw the deaths of another two.

“We all lost a lot of friends and continue to lose friends,” Campbell said.

Recently, Campbell’s eighth friend died by suicide since returning from service in 2006.

“Those are the people that you want to remember, that you honor.”

Remembering those times is a form of respect, and also provides validation for the sense of why, Campbell said.

“At that time, it felt like we were there for a reason. We were doing what we were doing for our brothers and sisters to our left and right,” he said. “I don’t think you ever really get that fulfillment since we’ve been back.”

Raised by warriors

Nate Broussard met one of the most influential leaders of his Army career on a 10-mile run around the grounds of Joint Base Lewis-McChord on his first day of boot camp.

During the five-mile loop around the airfield, which Broussard and his leader Ben Purdy ran twice, you could see Mount Rainier the entire time, Broussard noted.

“We got to the end and he says, ‘You see that mountain? You’re climbing it with me next week,’” Broussard recalls, adding that he had arrived in Washington for the first time from Northern California two days prior. “I did that mountain that next week with him.”

After joining the U.S. Army right out of high school in 2008, Broussard deployed six times to the Middle East during his seven-year career. Since retiring as a sergeant, Broussard has been a firefighter with South King for three years.

Stepping away from a trail of misdeeds in his teenage years, Broussard said the military was what he needed at the young age of 18.

“I [was] being raised by warriors, technically, that are a lot like I was and they molded me,” Broussard said of “growing up” in the military. “Civilian or not, everyone needs to see good and bad leadership.”

Broussard’s family history of service goes back to World War I on his father’s side and extends to the Revolutionary War on his mother’s side, actualized by a letter from his great-great-great-great-great uncle during the first battle in 1775.

For some veterans, serving their country was “the thing they held onto most in their life,” he said. For example, the holiday is for the older gentleman you pass in the store wearing his Vietnam veteran hat.

“Just to stop and say thanks means so much to him,” Broussard said. “[Veterans Day] is not so much for myself, but for my father and past generations … I know that I am a veteran but I think it’s more so to appreciate the older guys. You always think there’s others who deserve it much more.”

Value the veterans

Honoring a veteran can be done in more ways than simply saying “thank you,” said driver engineer Jacob Czekanski, who has been with SKFR for four years.

After initially enlisting in January 1993, Czekanski served seven years and re-enlisted in the U.S. Army after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Throughout his 21-year career, Czekanski completed five deployments to the Middle East including Egypt, Kuwait and thrice to Iraq before retiring as a captain.

While the five-word expression of gratitude may be meant with sincerity, it rings hollow, Czekanski said — but there are other ways civilians can show appreciation for the freedom military men and women defend.

“This is the easiest state to vote in and it’s ridiculous,” he said of the low voter turnout both county and state-wide. “When people decide to not take their citizenship seriously … that’s insulting.”

He witnessed those in Iraq and Afghanistan put their lives on the line to walk to the polling stations. Some missions were dedicated to protecting this right to engage in civic action by ensuring voters had secure avenues of approach.

“It’s definitely the day where saying ‘thank you for your service’ is appropriate,” Czekanski said. “But more so, I think I’d prefer someone to ask me to talk about my service or talk about the things that I did.”

South King Fire & Rescue Military Veterans

Commissioners: James Fossos and Bill Gates

Captains: Alex Charoni and Tom Batten Jr.

Civilians: Sean Nichols

Lieutenants: Joel Bergfalk, Barry Hassell, James Cromwell, Robert Bryant, Ross Anderson, Chris Mathis, Randy White, and Brett Otness.

Firefighters: Eric Kiphart, Jacob Czekanski, Nathan Broussard, Jim Wilson, Ryleigh Carr, Stephen Royalty, Kelly Salvage, Jon Knudtson, Matt Clark, Sal Somoza, Jason Koffarnus, Cesar Villagran, M. Eric Hansen, Lance Campbell, Brandon Church, Kevin McDermott, and Abdiel Duarte.

Retirees: Bud Thorson, Oril Swieso, David Lawrence, Greg Brozek, Ed Coutts, Clint Farmer, Cole Kiphart, Bob Poague, Lee Grilley, Bill Bonnell, Tom Batten Sr. Terry Sullivan, Roger Hershey, Mark Freitas, Ron Biesold, Duane Warner, Dean Gullickson, Jack Jones, Mark McNally, Gene Nucci, Nick Spaeder, Geoff Meyers, David Lawson, Dave Smothers, Rob Pysher, and Tyrel Rose

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