JOLIET – James Cheney said he has become more patriotic since joining the U.S. Army.
Cheney, 26, is headed for his third tour of duty overseas since joining the Army Corps of Engineers in 2009.
He joined the Army after graduating Joliet Central High School. The military appealed to him not only because several relatives were in the military, but because he wanted to test his boundaries.
He has fought in Afghanistan, has been stationed in Germany to train soldiers and supervise weapons and is set to head to Korea this month to train soldiers and handle explosives. While his experiences changed his outlook in ways that caused rifts with his family at times, Cheney said patriotism for the U.S. definitely motivates people like him in the military.
“Everything that I do will revolve around being an American,” he said. “I’ve spent three years in Germany and I was always wearing something that revolved around America. I never tried to blend into my surroundings.”
What he enjoys about being an American is making decisions without someone else making them for him. On the lighter side, he likes stores that are open 24 hours a day.
“I wish more kids would follow in his footsteps,” said Jim Cheney, his grandfather, “because so many kids don’t know what’s going on in the world and it would be a good thing for them.”
James Cheney always is looking for a challenge and he found one when he became part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. When he was sent to Afghanistan, it was a culture shock.
Cheney spent his time in Afghanistan looking for bombs in roads, where most of the time “the bombs found us.” The bomb detection equipment didn’t always work, he said.
When he first came to Afghanistan, he was nervous but in three months he had calmed down. Like other soldiers, he tried not to worry about death since it was not something he could control. He said once every other day he and other soldiers would get into a bad fire fight.
His experience in Afghanistan changed his outlook on life and it ended up destroying some relationships, including the one with his now his ex-wife.
“I came home with probably no emotions,” he said. “Like I came home for two weeks and my family showed me a video of something on YouTube of someone being killed and they said, ‘What do you think about this?’ ‘[Stuff] happens.’ They were completely baffled by my answer.”
He said some of his family didn’t understand he had just come from a place where death was a regular occurrence and thought he no longer cared about them. He grew close to other people in his family, such as his uncle and father-in-law, who fought in the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, respectively.
In his family, they wouldn’t share war stories until he had his own to share.
“They wouldn’t talk about it until I was actually old enough and understood what they understand,” he said.
Jim Cheney said his grandson is the best guy he knows and is “one heck of a solider.” He never served in the military himself but he is proud James Cheney wants to make a career out serving his country in the military.
“We’re just proud as hell of what he’s doing,” he said.