As we mark twenty years since the attacks on September 11, we look back at the conflicts that followed this tragic event in American history. In 2014, Foxfire student Thomas Fountain interviewed Navy veteran James Jobbit about his experience overseas. Jobbit was among the many men and women from Appalachia who responded to the terrorist attacks by enlisting in the military. James’s story was featured in the Fall/Winter issue of the Foxfire magazine.

Over the years, numerous Rabun County natives have enlisted to serve the United States of America as members of our armed forces. They have represented our country in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and a number of Middle Eastern conflicts. Many, like James Jobbit, answered the call to service following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 that killed 2,753 in New York City, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Jobbit spent almost two years with Recon and about three years with the Navy, primarily in Iraq. During his service, Jobbit learned many different skills. In the Navy, he was an engineman, working primarily with large diesel fuel engines, boilers and other machine-made engines. In Recon, he learned
diving, parachuting, weapons training and other skills. James is no doubt patriotic. He went out into the world to make it better and to serve his country. Without the lessons and trials he wouldn’t be the man he is today. In knowing James for three years and working beside him, I feel I’ve come to know him on a deeper level, which makes my thanks for his service even greater. In speaking with James, his personality showed as he relived his experiences. You could see in his eyes how hard it was serve ones country and how he respects the ones who are still fighting.

~ Thomas Fountain

That’s my advice: to just think before they
jump into something with both feet. They should use their heads and hearts before they start using their hands and feet.

“The skills I learned in the Navy helped me a lot, especially in operations. On one trip, I was with the Second Recon Unit and was getting deployed  overseas. That was technically my first command in a war zone. We were specifically told that we [The United States] were not a conquering army. We were there to hunt an enemy, and the people of the country were not enemies. We were fighting a group of terrorists, which were extremely active in this area. On our last stop of one mission, our unit was approaching Kuwait City in a C-130 aircraft. Their airport was smack dab in the middle of the city. Our CO, Commanding Officer, gave us a choice: land and walk out like the other soldiers or do it in style. We took the stylish way into the city and floated down. The first couple of guys did the whole back-flip and somersault out [of the plane]. They were doing all kinds of crazy things. My Second Lieutenant was right behind me. I turned around and said, ‘I live for this,’ and I pulled my parachute. Right at that moment when the parachute opened up, the wind was blowing through the plane. It caught the parachute and pulled me out of the plane.

When I got back to my home command, which was the USS Kennedy, the ship was getting a new CO. He was a captain, and [yet] I had as many, if not more, medals than he did. I hate to say this, because we all served our country in our own way, but the cool thing was being in the Navy with two and a half years of combat experience. You have a tendency to collect more medals than somebody that sat behind a desk for fifteen years. In the time ,when we were not busy working, we had time to evaluate ourselves. Primarily, we did whatever it took to get  our minds off things. We were allowed off the base when we were overseas, depending on how the civilian crowd was doing. We were able to gain a lot of trust from the local people by interacting with them.

We had the funniest thing happen. We had two small puppies we actually brought onto the base. It was hilarious because every day we got MREs [Made Ready to Eat meals] and they got their own little MREs. These little puppies eating – it was just hilarious! Aside from all the fun and work, my time in the military was an interesting experience. It felt like the blink of an eye. To tell the truth, it felt like five minutes. You’re just continuously physically moving, and your mind’s just trying to play catch-up the entire time. It just feels like a flash, but it was fun. I got to meet a lot of people and see a lot of cultures.

Changes occurred as a result of the U.S. military being in Iraq. Seeing these new cultures made it seem like the war was a success. There were large groups of us that helped with the elections in Iraq. I think that was the first huge domino falling over, because not too much longer after that, Egypt’s government started to change. People started uprisings in other countries in the region, saying, ‘Hey we don’t have to do this. We like this other way better.’ So, I like to think in the large global scheme of things that we did make a difference. It was the changing world with countries becoming more evolved that made the job interesting. Honestly, it varied from day-to-day. Like I said earlier, we were there to wage a war on a group of terrorists in the area, but to also be a peace-keeping force for the local population. We were practically doing operations in their back yards. We had to stay in their good graces, while at the same time root out the enemy. Wherever we were, we had to resort back to the peace-keeping part. Mainly, everybody knows we are always a soldier first, and whatever we were trained for second. If you’re a radioman, you are supposed to be a rifleman first, and a radio operator second. When it comes down to what we are supposed to be, everyone across the board is an infantryman. Everything else is secondary. We were there serving and protecting the local population, and weeding out the enemies of the country at the same time.

In all seriousness, once you’re in [the military], you start to second guess yourself once you’ve left. Honestly, I don’t think you fully re-adjust back to civilian life. In boot camp, it is their job not only to physically, but to emotionally and mentally, tear you down as a person, and build you up as combat efficient. I don’t know how to describe it. You’re supposed to act before you think. If I had to compare it to something, the police department is supposed to ask you to freeze, talk you out of it, and use deadly force at the extreme last moment if they need to. With us, unless it’s going to break an international law, we pretty much have the authority to use deadly force before all else. There are some times we would be like ‘freeze,’ but nine times out of ten they wouldn’t. There were times they [insurgents] would just blatantly come up to you. This is going to sound funny and ironic at the same time, but they [love] white Mitsubishi pick-up trucks. I don’t know why, but they have machine guns mounted to the back of these pick-up trucks, and they’re always white. We always knew when they were coming. The military trains you to react, and ask questions later. In the civilian world, you’re supposed to think about it before you make any irrational decisions. There is a time of change that is needed for everybody after they have come home. It was quite an adjustment.

First, I went back to school to be a welder. Then, I literally bounced from job to job because I got so used to the fast pace of the military. Then, you get these other jobs where there are eight to ten hours to complete them, and the jobs are still going to be there tomorrow. To me, that was an adjustment—going from half a second to do a job, to an entire day to do a job. Now that I look back on it, I can see how some veterans can’t just go home. It’s a huge adjustment from having weapons training, and other training to get you to be combat efficient. Then we have to turn around and use this in the ‘real’ world.”

Thanks to my time in the service, I see things differently now that I’m back in Rabun County. The county itself is really a tight-knit community. Everyone practically knows everyone. There are a lot of retired veterans who call Rabun County home. I like to think that we all contributed to the change of the county. I like to think it affected me on a positive note. There were a lot of things I had to deal with mentally when I got back. It was like somebody yanked you out of a combat zone, put you into a peaceful community, and expected you to adjust overnight when something like that takes time.

My family was always supportive in their own way. Well, if anyone knows my mother in any way, shape, or form, they know she primarily worries to death about the tiniest thing that could go wrong. Then again, I think when my sister and I went into the military, my mother found God. Still, she supported my sister and me throughout it all. Actually, there were a lot of trips to Jacksonville, Florida, that she made to visit my sister and me. Not so much my dad, but then again he owns his own business, so I understood.

My experience and my family helped me understand the trials I faced. For me, I found I was blessed to be alive after three and a half years in a combat zone. These trials I went through made everything seem different—in a new light. As far as when I left and came back, I have to wish that somebody had hit the pause button or something. Because when we left, our lives got put on pause, but everything back home kept changing. Even in a time as short as three years, there’s a huge gap from when you left three years earlier. Despite that gap, I feel as though there is something new in the air. Rabun County and the surrounding areas are really rural counties, which allow us to be a very tight-knit community.

When I was growing up, I never got a speeding ticket. When I was in high school. They [the cops] would see me speeding. The only reason I didn’t get pulled over was because they knew my dad. Before I got home, the cops would have already call my dad before I got the chance to tell him I was speeding. I think the tight-knit community helped me with a lot of things in life. The one thing I missed the most when I went overseas was that everyone knew everyone, and that everyone cared for one another. That sort of connection helps you when everyone else’s lives have continued on while you’re gone. Like I said, when we leave home, nobody puts on the pause button for you. Your life gets put on hold, and when you get back, it continues. Whereas everyone else’s is continuously moving forward. Everyone is three or four years ahead of you as far as your life goes. On top of that, there’s a lot you miss if you have a child, and you leave that baby when it’s only a few months old. When you come back years later; it’s running around outside. At the same time, you can say you changed the world in some small way, but there’s a lot of sacrifice that goes with it. Even when you’re changing the world, you have to keep in touch with those who know what you have been through. I try my best. Thank God for Facebook. There’s a small group that I keep in touch with, and there is also a few veterans out there from other wars and conflicts that I talk to too. There are even some from when there were no conflicts going on. Veterans are almost drawn together for some odd reason. It’s a level of camaraderie that you normally wouldn’t get. You are trained to rely so much on the people around you, that when you get home, you still rely on those people.

It’s hard to let go. I could call or send an email to one, and I’m sure if I told them I needed help on some level, they would be here tomorrow. There are a few who live in Louisiana, California, and Washington State who would drop what they’re doing and fly over and see what they could do. I’m sure if they called on me, I would be on the next plane flying over to help them. Thanks to the people around me, I have this advice for the kids of today: I would tell them to keep charging forward, but make sure when you’re charging forward you go head first. I want them to think about things first before they do them. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. It’s like that one guy who’s holding a gun to somebody; he can pull the trigger and take a chance of killing a person, or he can lay the gun down and let the person walk away—it’s all up to that one person. The guy who’s been drinking all night has the choice of staying at his friend’s house or trying to drive home and end up hitting a family on the sidewalk. That’s my advice: to just think before they jump into something with both feet. They should use their heads and hearts before they start using their hands and feet.”

To all who have served our country, especially those who have given their lives, we extend our deepest gratitude. We will never forget the lives lost on 9/11/2001. As in every time of uncertainty and fear, we urge you to reach out to your community to find solace and support. Forever in our hearts.