While his parents took to serving the community – volunteering their time for Pop Warner football or South Shore Day Care - Justin Carson devoted his time to serving his country. At 24, the army sergeant returned from a tour in Iraq a month ago.
While his parents took to serving the community – volunteering their time for Pop Warner football or South Shore Day Care - Justin Carson devoted his time to serving his country.
At 24, the army sergeant returned from a tour in Iraq a month ago.
“I’m going back,” he said. “I like the way the military has molded me.”
The change in Justin is not just physical, but mental as well.
He left for basic training weighing between 150 and 160 pounds, his mother said, Now, he’s 210.
“The mental part is where you can definitely see and lot of maturity,” his mother, Michelle, said. “Justin was that child you would say, ‘Justin, clean you room,’ and you would say it for like three days. Now, it’s like you don’t have to say it.”
Six years ago, just before graduating from Randolph High School, he enlisted in the army.
“When he said he joined, his dad and I were both sort of shocked,” Michelle said.
Their first reaction, she said, was to ask if he knew there was a war going on.
“We anticipated Justin going to college, but as parents, we encourage our children to follow their dreams,” Michelle said. “That was his dream.”
“Everybody was real supportive of it,” Carson said of his decision.
His older brother, Christopher Fernandes, had served in the army, and some of his uncles had served in both the army and navy.
After enlisting, at age 18, Justin had the summer, and then shipped off to basic training in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, in November.
“I was nervous. As nervous as a horse in a glue shop,” he said. “Once you touch down in the airport, the drill sergeants are there. They’re not nice about it.”
The nine weeks of basic training was culture shock, Justin said,
Recruits are only required to get four hours of sleep.
When his family traveled to South Carolina for his graduation, he slept for two days, his father said.
“That was good sleep,” Justin said.
After basic training, Carson headed to Ft. Gordon in Georgia for 17 weeks, for communications training – learning about satellites, networking, computers and radios.
From then on, Carson donated one weekend a month to the reserves, and then two weeks each summer.
He was almost deployed in April 2006, but his unit only needed to send 70 soldiers. The unit had 72. Since he had a child on the way – his son Camren, 3, was born later in July - and a captain in the unit had a broken knee, they were the two sent home, Carson said.
That didn’t stop him from breaking an important rule – not to surprise your family.
In May of that year, Justin returned to his Bayberry Lane home, without telling his family. At 11 p.m. one night, his parents thought someone was trying to break into the house. His father opened a second-floor window and shouted, but no one answered.
His brother, Raymond, ran downstairs and announced that it was Justin.
It was not until 2008 that he was deployed to Iraq.
Before that, he spent a month at Ft. Dix, Pennsylvania, receiving special ops training, everything form room clearing and convoys, to rollover drills.
From there, he went to Ft. Lewis in Washington, where he celebrated Thanksgiving by spending the day in the movie theater.
“That was probably the worst phone call I ever had,” Justin said of calling home.
In addition to Thanksgiving being his favorite holiday, it’s also one of the biggest in the Carson household. Michelle said it’s not uncommon to have 60 people over for the meal, so the phone call was a long one, being passed around to every person.
When he finally arrived in Iraq, it was October, and 32 degrees outside.
“It didn’t really hit us that we were in Iraq,” Carson said. “It didn’t really hit until it was Christmas night (and) we got hit by three or four mortar rounds over the wall.”
His base was stationed one mile from Nazarea.
“You grow to get used to it. It feels comfortable over there,” he said.
It was the benefits offered that really made the army an attractive option, Justin said, but so was the adrenaline.
“I do miss it, though, the family aspect of it. It’s kind of like everyone you’re around is basically going through the same thing,” he said. “No one’s really complaining. They’re just digging in and getting the job (done).”
It’s a very different mindset on the civilian side of life, he said.
“Everyone’s just here for themselves,” Carson said.
Being deployed into a war zone does something to the whole family, Raymond said.
“We all grew while he was gone. Missing him grew us closer together,” he said.
Lauren DeFilippo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-967-3516.