ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — After high school, Lance Nutt enlisted as a combat engineer in the Marine Corps and was sworn in by his father.
“I grew up in the Company of Heroes,” he said. “My father was a 20-year marine himself.”
Nutt’s responsibilities as an engineer varied depending on the mission.
“I specialized in clearing a path,” Nutt said. “Using explosives to blow up trees, blow up landmines, you name it.”
About a year after he enlisted, Operation Desert Shield was announced and Nutt was off to Kuwait.
“We’re going in… from a standpoint of being prepared to get hit with chemical weapons,” he recalled.
After one combat mission, reality hit hard.
“I had to grow up fast. I faced death for the first time. I saw people die,” Nutt said.
Nutt remembers sorting through the aftermath of that firefight.
“I pulled out a wallet and opened up that wallet and this young Iraqi had pictures of his family,” he said. “And for me, that was the turning point.”
All of a sudden, he had a different perspective of war.
“Up to that point, the enemy was just a target,” Nutt said. “They weren’t human, right? And that’s the way you have to approach it. Because when you add that human element, it makes it very difficult to kill another person.”
There was a wide range of experiences that Nutt took back home with him — including some less serious ones.
“I still to this day have a phobia for baby wipes,” Nutt said. “Because we used to bathe daily with baby wipes. So now the smell and the touch of anything like a baby wipe just freaks me out.”
After the Gulf War, Nutt came home to Arkansas to go to college and raise a family. Then, after 9/11, he reenlisted and found a much different experience.
“By ’04, the insurgency was ramping up,” Nutt said. “We’re getting hit by IEDs on a regular basis on the road. Mortars are being dropped in on top of us even in the safety of our fobs.”
Now a staff sergeant, Nutt faced responsibilities that weighed on him as the war went on.
“I ended up you know, losing Marines and Sailors that I was responsible for leading,” he said. “And, you know, those combat experiences were a lot harsher.”
But even tougher was what happened after some of his soldiers went home.
“I knew what combat was like,” Nutt said. “What I was not prepared for, is coming home to have my Marines and Sailors kill themselves.”
That’s partly what inspired Nutt to create Sheepdog Impact Assistance, to help veterans find a sense of purpose in living.
It also shapes the way Nutt feels about this holiday.
“When you talk about Veterans Day, for me, it’s hard to celebrate,” Nutt said. “I would say it’s more of a day of remembrance, and in some ways a celebration… a celebration of the service that our veterans are willing to put forth.”