Deputy district attorney Jeff Cheney earns Bronze Star, golden appreciation
Capt. Jeff Cheney doesn’t like to talk about how he volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army in Iraq last year.By Carrie ClickPost Independent StaffCapt. Jeff Cheney doesn’t like to talk about how he volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army in Iraq last year.”He doesn’t like to brag,” said Jeff’s wife, Kerri, looking over at him as her husband put his head down and shook it from side to side. Not only does Cheney not like to brag, he downright downplays his time in Iraq. “My service is a blip on the radar screen,” he said. “There are people who are there when I was there who are already going back. I’m really undeserving of attention and recognition.” On Sept. 14, Cheney, a Garfield County deputy district attorney, was discharged from a one-year deployment with the U.S. Army. That deployment took him to Iraq for 10 months, then briefly to South Korea and Fort Carson before he returned home to Rifle, his wife Kerri and the couple’s two children, Abbie, 5, and Jacob, 3. Jeff’s first day back to work was Oct. 4. He said his office, on the third floor of the Garfield County Courthouse, was exactly how he left it – including the large American flag hanging in his office window. “My year-old gum was still in the drawer,” he said, “and so were the crayons from my kids. They kept everything for me, just how I left it.” Ten hours aheadJeff, however, is not the same. “I really have to say that this has changed me as a person,” he said. “A year and a month ago, I was not the same person I am today.”Jeff said perhaps the most impactful change is his realization that “we live in the greatest country on the planet.” Before he was deployed, Jeff had visited just two foreign countries: Canada and Mexico. But going to Iraq has given him a mind-boggling perspective. “I see the way we live, and the way they live, and I see how blessed I am,” he said. And he can’t help thinking 10 hours ahead.”When we’re ending our day here, they’re starting theirs,” he said. “Many soldiers are still there gutting it out day in and day out in a very dangerous, unforgiving place.”There’s not a day that goes by that I do not think about Iraq and those soldiers, as well as the Iraqis who are genuinely trying to carve out a peaceful place in the world for themselves,” he added. Volunteered to serveJeff had been in the Army National Guard for about 13 years on Sept. 11, 2001. But after 9/11, Jeff recounted, “My mentality towards ‘service’ changed.” Immediately after 9/11, Jeff was so outraged he started running and working out, and even bought a new pair of combat boots.”The boots showed up and Kerri said, ‘What are these?'” Jeff said. “I told Kerri ‘I have to be ready.'”Jeff also requested a transfer to an Airborne special operations detachment because he knew it would likely get mobilized to fight the war on terror. But when the unit was called up to go to Iraq in 2003, Jeff discovered he was merely attached to the unit and not assigned, which means there was no slot for him to go – and he wasn’t going.”I argued that I had trained with the unit and I requested to go, because it was important to me to serve,” Jeff relayed. “The powers that be then allowed me to go.” Kerri said she has always known that Jeff’s overriding sense of duty to his country is part of who he is. “I knew when I married Jeff that his love for his country was as close to his love for me,” said Kerri, a YouthZone counselor raised in Glenwood Springs. ” He believes everybody should serve. He believes everybody should give back. He’s super-patriotic.” As a father and a soldier, Jeff said his children will not have the freedoms they have now unless someone defends them. Even with his convictions, he said, it was tough on the couple when it came time to leave. “We had lots of emotional discussions,” Cheney said. “We talked about it being really hard for the kids not having their dad around.”A Bronze Star for KerriJeff is cautious about discussing his time overseas. “Our troops are still there, and we have to be very careful not to aid the insurgent enemy there trying to do our troops harm and undermine Iraq’s democratic future,” he said. Plenty can be learned about Jeff through the narrative that accompanied Jeff’s Bronze Star, which he won for his “exceptionally meritorious service” as a judge advocate for a special operations task force, and a Special Forces forward operation base. Cheney doesn’t talk about that, but it’s clear the attorney wasn’t just doing desk duty. The narrative describes him providing legal services by “traveling extensively across some of the most hostile areas of Iraq,” and by “serving as a combat soldier and leader.” Jeff said more than any accolades he’s received, Kerri should receive more. When he received his Bronze Star, “I pinned it on her,” he said. “She’s suffered through this, worked, and raised two little kids. The spouses get overlooked, but she did all the hard work.”Conversely, Kerri said her family and the community provided much-needed support.”I couldn’t have done it without my parents and our circle of friends,” she said. From the couple’s church, Trinity Baptist, to the Rifle Police Department to Jeff’s boss, District Attorney Mac Myers, support for the family came in all forms from all over. Support came to Jeff serving in Iraq, too. He said he got postcards from area schools, and care packages from friends and supportive citizens. “I want to thank the community for all of that support,” he said. ‘Fly in a jar’He said for the Iraqi people, their newfound freedom is like “being a fly in a jar. You can take the lid off but the fly won’t fly out. It doesn’t know it can. It doesn’t know what to do.”He described Iraq as “a tough place to be. It’s hot, and it’s brutal.” And it’s unsafe.”I can lay down in my house here, and I don’t have to open my eyes until the other side of night,” he said. “It’s a mental adjustment. I am always watching people’s hands, watching where they are. I face doors, and I’m constantly checking around me.”Just being able to drive down the street and feel safe is something to get used to again. Even still, Cheney has positive recollections, too.”I saw beautiful smiles there,” he said. “There’s kindness there, too. There are a lot of good people in Iraq who really want to be free of their past and embrace liberty.”The focus of every American should be to never forget that we have professional soldiers sacrificing every day for our freedom,” he said. “We should pray for them and be grateful every day for their sacrifice and service. They are our heroes.” Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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