Soldier on leave talks about time in Iraq, honors father with flag
By Lee Ann Sides Garrett
Nancy McClanahan’s eyes sparkle as she looks across the room at her son. It’s been seven months since she last saw him.
“It feels good to have him home,” she says.
Sgt. 1st Class Dana “Chip” McClanahan Jr. is home on leave from Iraq and enjoying time with family and friends. Chip, his wife, Jackie, and their children, Crystal and Joey, joined his mother and dad, Dana Sr., at the Wednesday evening meal at Salisbury Christian Fellowship on Ritchie Road. But Chip was there for more than just food and fellowship. He was there to present a special flag to his father.
During one of his two tours in Afghanistan, Chip had flags flown over Kandahar for his children and his father.
He presented one of the flags, specially framed, to his father. The presentation took place in front of about 50 people and Chip was flanked by fellow soldiers ó Dr. Lawrence Lee, founder of the church and World War II veteran, and church member Spc. 1st Class Mike Mallimo, who has completed two year-long tours in Iraq and will deploy again soon, and Chip’s son Joey, who completed Army basic training Aug. 1.
This is Chip’s third tour overseas, his first in Iraq.
“Speech!” someone called out.
“No,” Chip’s father said, obviously a little emotional.
Nancy McClanahan says Salisbury Christian Fellowship has made its contribution to the military. The church holds a special prayer meeting every Monday night to pray for the military, including the 18 members of the congregation on active duty, though not all of them overseas.
Nancy has special reason for her concern and prayers. Chip works with the bomb squad ó or Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team ó disposing of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the roadside bombs that have taken the lives of many American soldiers. After spending the first three of his more than 21 years in the Army as an infantryman, Chip decided he wanted to do something a little different.
“I like the high stress jobs,” he says, laughing.
And he’s always been interested in blowing things up.
“We use robots most of the time,” Chip says. “But I have defused some by hand.”
And sometimes under fire, he adds.
His unit has undertaken more than 700 missions since January. Chip made the decision to go on this particular tour to join a group of all rookies going to Iraq.
“I couldn’t stand back and watch that happen,” he says.
The worst time came when his unit lost three men in Kandahar.
The most rewarding moment presented itself when he and fellow soldiers helped repair the home of an Iraqi family.
Chip tells this story:
While spending three months in the Green Zone ó the heavily protected area where military and Iraqi leaders live in Baghdad ó his unit was taking heavy rocket fire.
A girl knocked on the side of their truck and said her house was on fire. A rocket had hit a nearby building, spraying shrapnel on a fuel truck parked behind her house. Covered in fuel from the truck, the house quickly caught fire.
They couldn’t do much at the time, but Chip and several guys from his unit returned later. They rewired the house, replaced appliances, got furniture from nearby unoccupied trailers and brought the family clothes and food.
Chip says he did a lot of trading, something he’s learned to do well, for most of the items. The family’s husband and father had died a few years ago, and the children had been sleeping outside in a courtyard.
“It was good to get the kids inside,” he says. “I wouldn’t want my kids in that situation.”
Chip says he tried to talk his daughter, Crystal, into joining the military, but he doesn’t think she’ll do it. Joey McClanahan wants to become a military police officer.
“I think it’s the stories I tell when I get back,” he says. “I’m proud of him for joining. I just want him to be safe over there.”
Joey says he wanted to be a teacher until the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“That changed my mind,” he says.
After three tours, Chip says he’s thinking of hanging up his boots. He’s considering working as a civilian bomb squad instructor when he gets out this summer.
Is it all worth it?
“To me it is,” Chip says. “The more IEDs I get rid of, the less people get killed.”