“I would say before [my first] deployment, I was more of a negative person,” said Bagley, who enlisted with parental consent during his senior year at Cass High School. “I would get upset about things that probably were miniscule. After seeing the bigger picture, I really value human life a lot more and I realize a lot of the problems we have here aren’t that bad because [conditions in Afghanistan] ... [are] awful and they still maintain a positive attitude. And I really feel like here, we take for granted a lot of things.
“The Afghans, they live in poverty. Half the kids don’t get to go to school but we brought infrastructure to them. We’ve brought indoor plumbing to them, paved the streets, put street lights out, opened schools, started irrigation. It’s really improved their quality of life and to me that’s worth it. It really feels like being a part of something much bigger than yourself. I feel like I’ve made my mark. I’ve helped them build something for themselves. Twenty years from now when Afghanistan is on its own two feet, I can say I played a role in that. And a lot of those kids, I’m sure I’ve made an impression on. A lot of those kids, they are 8 and 9 years old. As long as they’ve been alive, we’ve been there. So they’ve always known us. They don’t know an Afghanistan without us. So I just hope that once we transition out [of Afghanistan] they can continue to grow.”
Serving as a combat medic, Bagley saw various levels of danger in Afghanistan when the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team was activated from early 2009 to March 2010. The sergeant’s duties ranged from training Afghan medics to conducting foot patrols in villages to working in a troop medical center.
“Just because you’re deployed to Afghanistan doesn’t mean you’re in the face of the enemy,” said Bagley, who will return to Afghanistan in late 2013 to serve about a year. “When I first got there I was just training medics to go forward. So the first few months, it was relatively quiet. Then toward the middle of it, when the summertime came around, the voting season started and I was actually out there, walking the villages. It was pretty dangerous. That’s where I got most of my experience and that’s where a lot of our guys unfortunately didn’t make it back.
“Then after that, again, it calmed down. I was in the medical center. We would work on Afghan injuries. They’d bring them to us. Some areas there’s isolated pockets of extreme violence. It’s kind of the luck of the draw of where you are and your job. Like our intelligence analysts, they [spend] most of their time indoors. Unfortunately, being a medic you’re everywhere. You might be in a hospital or you might be out there with the guys, who knows.”
Currently an EMT at the Cartersville Medical Center, Bagley is using the skills he learned from the Army to benefit his community. In the center’s emergency department, Bagley performs numerous tasks, such as transporting patients, starting intravenous access, securing orthopedic splints and assisting during codes when a person is having a heart attack.
“As far as emergency medicine goes, I’m drawn to it because I feel like not everybody’s cut out for it and that I just fit into it well,” said Bagley, who also is studying to be a physician’s assistant at Georgia Highlands College. “My personality fits it. My skill set fits it. The Army’s trained me well and I feel like I’d be doing a disservice to the community if I chose to do something else that I didn’t really love. I just enjoy it so much. Every day is just so different. You don’t come to work 9 to 5 and look at the same screen every day.”
Serving alongside several of his former classmates, Bagley referred to the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, especially his 1-108th Cavalry Squadron in Calhoun, as a family.
“The majority of my friends at the high school, they were in [the ROTC program] too and the majority of them joined in the unit after that and the majority of them I deployed with,” said Bagley, who has a 5-year-old son, Jacsen. “So it’s kind of been a community thing. That’s the thing about the guard, is that it’s people from your community and you move together. So a lot of the guys I went to high school with, I went to Afghanistan with. We still deploy together.”
According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Bagley is one of about 7,842 veterans residing in Bartow County. With Veterans Day a week away, Robert Turner — senior veterans field service officer for the Georgia Department of Veterans Service in Cartersville — urges the community to show their support by attending observations throughout the county.
“It makes them realize that all the hard work or sacrifice that they may have endured was not wasted,” Turner said. “And they understand that people recognize their hard work and their sacrifice because some of them lost family members while they were in the service, some of them were injured while they were in the service.
“Sometimes you have some widows that appreciate people coming to these because they lost their husband in the war or they lost their son in the war. That’s the main thing, is they realize people appreciate their hard work and their pain and their sacrifice.”
For Bagley, Veterans Day is a time to reflect on fallen soldiers and connect with fellow service men and women.
“[On Veterans Day] I usually visit the graves of a couple of guys that I know that were killed in Afghanistan and sometimes I’ll watch the Veterans Day Parade or something like that,” Bagley said. “Less than 1 percent of the whole nation serves in the military. We’re a very small percentage. We cover the other 99 percent.
“Veterans Day is all about brotherhood. We have each others’ backs. It doesn’t matter how old you are or which conflicts you were in, we watch over each other. Veterans Day is just a day to observe the sacrifice we give with each other.”