Captain Continues Career 20 Years After Retirement
(June 18, 2009)
Army Capt. Samuel Carlson, left, and Army Maj. Ryan O'Connor, then assigned to Combined Joint Task Force 101, pose at Bagram Airfield in 2005 during Carlson's first tour to Afghanistan.
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHANK, Afghanistan,
June 15, 2009 – The average Army career, if a soldier
chooses to make a life of the service, is a little more than
20 years. But for one jovial 62-year old Army captain, 20
years hardly seemed like enough.
Capt. Samuel Carlson, an intelligence officer with
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Task Force Spartan,
is on his second voluntary tour to Afghanistan. For a
soldier to volunteer to come to a combat zone twice is one
thing; but to voluntarily deploy after being retired for
more than 20 years is quite another.
Carlson came into the Army on May 9, 1967 as an infantryman
and later transitioned to intelligence operations. He served
in various conflicts until he officially retired on Oct. 1,
“I was an infantryman that could type,” he said. “I was sent
to work for the personnel sergeant major of my unit,
the mistake of
pronouncing his name wrong when I went to report
for my new job.”
The sergeant major, apparently very
sensitive about the pronunciation of his name, sent Carlson
away to work for the intelligence officer, where he began to
foster an interest in intelligence. His small mistake led to
a long career in the intelligence field.
In 1991, Carlson volunteered to return and serve in
Operation Desert Storm. Although his mission to Kuwait was
cancelled due to the short duration of the fight, he chose
to stay on active status.
Carlson served with the Texas National Guard from 1992 to
1995, working as the executive officer of the 502nd Military
Police Battalion out of Fort Worth, Texas. He commanded the
unit after it reorganized until his second retirement. He
volunteered to come into the service again after the attacks
“That [ticked] me off,” Carlson said. “I took that
personally. I had family that worked in the World Trade
Center, so that made it personal.”
Carlson served with the 308th Military Intelligence
Battalion, 902nd Military Intelligence Group, on his first
tour in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2006. He returned to the
United States for a short period before serving with Task
Force Spartan with the 10th Mountain Division in
Afghanistan's Logar province this time around.
Carlson's love of the service is based on simple principles,
he said, but it keeps him going.
“I missed soldiers,” Carlson said. “In the civilian world,
it's hard to find the same camaraderie, teamwork and sense
of brotherhood that you find in the Army.”
Carlson's conventional military career spanned the globe. He
served in El Salvador, Honduras, Germany, South Korea, and a
short stint in Vietnam.
Carlson's call to duty was passed down through a legacy of
soldiers, starting with his grandfather, a Norwegian
immigrant who joined the American military in World War I.
Too old to attain the position he desired, he lied and said
he was younger, allowing him to receive his desired
“Grandad was not of military age when he came to America
from Fredrikstad, Norway,” Carlson said. “So to join, he
indicated that he had been born in 1891, as opposed to his
real birth date of 1889. He registered for the draft in 1917
and served in the Air Service, Signal Corps. He went to
France for World War I in 1918, and was still on the front
lines when the Armistice was signed on Nov. 11 [of that
Carlson's father joined the Army in 1937, received his
commission in 1942 and fought in Normandy in 1944 during the
invasion of France.
“Dad was on the northern edge of the bulge during the Battle
of the Bulge,” Carlson said. “He was also involved in the
crossing of the Rhine and Ruhr rivers, as well as the
encirclement of the Ruhr industrial region.”
Carlson's father left the Army as a first lieutenant in
1946, but, much like his son, missed the service and
re-entered as a noncommissioned officer a few months after
his initial departure. He was recommissioned shortly
thereafter, and took off to serve in the Korean War. He
retired in 1963. Still harboring the desire to serve, his
father now is a volunteer deputy sheriff in his community.
Not only have Carlson's ancestors served faithfully, but his
son and now his grandson have answered the call of their
“My son will soon come to Afghanistan to be the first
sergeant for the Laghman provincial reconstruction team,”
Carlson said. “He is finishing up training at Camp Atterbury
Carlson's son will be in Afghanistan at the end of June, to
serve in the same war at the same time as his father.
Carlson said he is proud to be a part of the struggle in
Afghanistan, as he hopes his son will be as well.
“I can understand this war,” Carlson said. “It makes sense
to me. It's well thought out as opposed [to] the other
conflicts I have been a part of.”
Carlson said he hopes he will be able to see him while both
are in Afghanistan. “It may be a little difficult, but I'd
like to make it happen if I can,” he said.
To cap the long line of Carlsons serving in the military,
the captain's grandson, Army Sgt. David Carlson, is
stationed in South Korea.
The Carlson tapestry of military service is tightly woven.
Throughout the ages, the men of Carlson's family have served
in the armed forces.
“My Norwegian grandfather came overseas and joined the
American Army, but my Swedish grandfather and forefathers
also served in the Swedish military, which is mandatory
there,” Carlson said. “It was never anything planned, but
for as long as we can trace back, the men of our family have
Carolson has been referred to as the “OCITA,” or, “Oldest
Captain in the Army.” He smiles warmly at the jokes.
“I may be old, but the soldiers I work with help me to feel
much younger than my age,” he said.
Carlson plans to retire for the third and final time when
Task Force Spartan completes its deployment at the end of
the year. He said he hopes to settle down and take some time
to catch up with his family and engage in some of his
favorite pastimes, such as playing music in his rock band.
“It's been a long career, but I'd do it all again,” he said.
Article and photo by Army Sgt. Amber Robinson
Task Force Spartan public affairs office
American Forces Press Service
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