Desert Storm veteran Shane Yeager reflects on military service
November 11, 2009
Veterans Day events
■ A Veterans Day breakfast is from 6 to 8:30 a.m. at VFW Post No. 4264, 924 Lincoln Ave. The event is free to all veterans.
■ A Salute to Veterans program is at 9 a.m. at Soda Creek Elementary School. The public is invited. Veterans are asked to arrive between 8:30 and 8:50 a.m. and to wear white shirts and their caps.
■ A Veterans Day assembly is at 9:30 a.m. at South Routt Elementary School. The public is invited.
■ A coffee and visit with veterans is at 11 a.m. at the Doak Walker Care Center, adjoining Yampa Valley Medical Center. It will last about 45 minutes. RSVP to Jim Stanko at 879-3936.
Steamboat Springs — Shane Yeager said that when he returned from Kuwait, he couldn't put on his jeans.
His legs were too big from running in the sand, mile after mile and day after day, while serving with the Marines in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm.
"We ran everywhere. I think I ran from the border to (Kuwait) City," Yeager said Tuesday. "Felt like it, anyway."
Yeager said that as a "cannon cocker" in advance parties leading U.S. forces into Kuwait to expel invading Iraqi troops in January 1991, he ran about seven miles a day while wearing about 60 pounds of gear.
His job was to load artillery, sometimes meaning 240-pound rounds with a range of 26 miles, he said. The artillery was to provide "prep fire" for Marine units crossing the border of Kuwait, to secure airports, to fire on what he called the six-lane "Highway of Death" leaving Kuwait City, or for whatever situation arose.
"We were shooting all the time," he said. "I cleared all the fighter positions for my unit to come in."
Yeager, 39, is a fifth-generation Routt County resident. He works the family ranch on Routt County Road 52E in North Routt and coaches wrestling with local youths in kindergarten through high school. He served in the Marines from 1990 to 1994 — starting his service shortly after graduating from Steamboat Springs High School in 1989.
Yeager said he probably was the easiest recruit the Marines ever had. He knew as a child that he wanted to enlist.
"It was part of life, part of growing up," he said. "All my family served in branches of the military, but no one had been in the Marine Corps. So I decided to join the Marine Corps."
Yeager said he graduated from boot camp in San Diego on Aug. 10, 1990 — about a week after Iraq invaded Kuwait and just three days after U.S. troops were sent to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield.
Yeager said he learned a new meaning for the letters "USMC."
"It didn't mean 'United States Marine Corps,'" he said with a grin. "It meant 'You Suckers Miss Christmas.'"
Yeager, a burly man with a wrestler's build, has an outgoing personality and is quick to laugh at jokes, his own or others'. But Tuesday, wearing a Sailors hat and sitting in the high school's main office, he became serious and straightforward when talking about Desert Storm — about facing return fire.
"You're an idiot if you're not scared," he said. "You just spend all the time waiting for something to happen. It's what you do when it happens that counts."
Yeager said Tuesday, a day before Veterans Day and the birthday of the Marine Corps, he got phone calls from old friends he served with.
"I heard from buddies I haven't seen since the Marine Corps," he said. "That's 15, 16 years."
Yeager paused before saying what those phone conversations are like.
"Just say hi. Semper fi, keep going," he said. "They all want to come hunting."
Then what might have been a tear started to form in his eye. Yeager wiped it away.
"I'm lucky. I got to come home," Yeager said. "I always think about the ones who didn't come home — the sacrifice is huge."
Lessons for the mat
This will be Yeager's second season coaching Sailors varsity wrestling. Practice starts Thursday.
He's coached at Steamboat Springs Middle School for four years and with local "PeeWees" — starting in kindergarten — for about eight years.
Ann Brenner, the high school's athletic secretary, said wrestlers new to the sport can be surprised by Yeager's all-out, heavy-training approach.
"The kids that have wrestled before like Shane because he makes them work hard," she said. "The kids who haven't wrestled before can have problems with him because he makes them work hard."
Dennis Hensen, campus supervisor at the high school, said Yeager's love for the kids is apparent in his hours of teaching on the mat.
"He puts a lot of extra time into" coaching, Hensen said.
Yeager joked that at the high school level, he shoots for "two-pound practices."
"Lose two pounds a night," he said, before adding that, really, his goal is to make athletes give more than they think they can and surpass their expectations.
"Try to do something positive every night."
In the high school's training room Tuesday, junior Austin Ritzel and sophomore Grant Mader said Yeager can be funny at wrestling practices but also is serious about conditioning.
"He is hard core, definitely," Ritzel said. "A lot of wrestling. That's pretty much what we do. His practices are easy to apply on the mat."
Yeager said his military service doesn't come up often with his athletes, but sometimes they ask about it, and he talks about the experience.
When he thinks about Veterans Day, Yeager said, he also thinks about Memorial Day and about the troops who didn't come home.
"Somebody had to die for each of us to be where we are and do what we do," he said. "That's what we can't forget."
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233
or e-mail email@example.com