Staff Sgt. Bill McCarthy, who retired in 2007, has spent 24 years of his life serving in the U.S. military, 22 of those with the Army and the rest with the Navy.He was sent to different bases that included Fort Rucker, Ala.; Fort Still, Okla.; Fort Hood, Texas; and Ray Barracks in what was then West Germany.

McCarthy is in his first semester at PCC. The 46-year-old Connecticut native has been living in California for 12 years.

“It’s tough at times but I wanted to go to college and get my education,” said McCarthy of his experience at PCC so far.

He plans to major in either political science or philosophy and eventually get his master’s in English. He wants to have a career in a government program like the CIA after receiving his degree.

McCarthy joined the Army because he felt the need to serve his country and because he felt it had good education programs for him.

“I joined the Army in 1981, which was two months before my graduation,” he said. “I didn’t graduate since I joined the army.”

McCarthy served in the Iraq war for one 18-month tour of duty from 2003-2005.

During the war he was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division in Task Force 6-26.

Like many war veterans, he has many traumatizing memories.

“I was almost ambushed during one trip,” he said.

McCarthy also told of a time he had seen an eight-year-old child who had a control in his hand. He didn’t know why the child was at the site but before he could ask he had to leave the place.

“One of my partners told me we had to get out of the site. By the end, we left and the site exploded. I was lucky that I got out of the site in time,” he said.

After returning from war, McCarthy said it was hard for him to adjust to the life he had before. He suffered from post-traumatic disorder, which is common for veterans.

Unfortunately for McCarthy, more hardships awaited when he returned home to a brother suffering from leukemia.

“My brother died a year after I came back from Iraq,” he said. “It was a tough time for me, as it was all the pain and suffering.”

McCarthy is still struggling with the disorder. He admitted he still has nightmares and flashbacks from his experiences in Iraq and is getting some medical help to manage his condition.

According to McCarthy, veterans originally returned from this war with honor and respect but that changed as public support of the war fell drastically.

“Then when [they] looked at us, it looked like we did something wrong, questioning our purpose,” he said.

McCarthy believes that the difference of the public’s reaction to the war from 2003 until now is that people have been focusing less on the facts and more on the political issues and violent aspect of the war.

“I’ve been there, I’ve seen what happened in Iraq firsthand so I know what the war is like.”

Even in his short time here, McCarthy has been able to make connections with other veterans.

“He’s talked about some of his stories to me before, from his struggles then and now,” said classmate and fellow veteran Jessica Cooper. “He has a good personality, he’s honest, and outstanding.”

McCarthy had a message for students who want to join the military in the future.

“If I had a great opportunity to talk to the future veterans, I would say one satisfaction is to have a decent education and defend America.

Former Army Staff Sgt. Bill McCarthy left the life of a soldier for the life of a student. (Michael Cheng)

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