NAPLES, Italy – While talking about his deployments, he shifted slightly in his seat and had difficulty speaking to me. When he spoke, his voice was soft and shaky, and when I looked into his eyes, I could tell they held memories that he wished he didn’t have.
Big boys don’t show emotion. Do they?
When I met Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician 1st Class William ‘Chip’ Greathouse for the first time, the first thing I noticed was his size and the fact that he looks like he could cripple the Incredible Hulk.
And EOD guys – you know, the fearless, cammie-clad techno-Sailors who swim with SEALs, dive with divers, jump with paratroopers, and hump with Green Berets … I thought they had their tear ducts removed in the second week of training and were forbidden to show any sort of emotional grief.
Greathouse is a guy that, from what I knew of his exploits, has gone into dangerous situations and performed feats that I would call extraordinary. One particular story was told to me that proves my point.
While deployed with EOD Mobile Unit (EODMU) 8, Platoon 822, in the Zabul province of Afghanistan from April-June 2009 in support of combat operations during Operation Enduring Freedom, Greathouse lead a team of six Navy EOD technicians and three Air Force EOD technicians to provide various ordnance disposal services and render safe all types of ordnance.
On May 24, 2009, he and his team were walking to their base under the cover of darkness when an Afghan National Army (ANA) truck carrying seven ANA soldiers fell into a four foot deep river when a bridge they were crossing collapsed. The truck rolled onto its side in the river and several soldiers were trapped inside and underneath the vehicle.
Noticing that lives were in danger, Greathouse and his team leapt into action. With the assistance of several Special Forces members, they located and evacuated six of the ANA soldiers with relative ease, but were unable to locate one soldier. After searching the area for the missing soldier without any luck, Greathouse made a snap decision.
Deducing that the missing soldier had to be trapped underneath the tipped vehicle, Greathouse grabbed the bottom of the tipped vehicle, lifted the vehicle and tipped it onto its side, exposing the missing soldier.
When I heard that story, I immediately rolled my eyes and discarded it as fiction. That story just seemed too ridiculous and to me, there was absolutely no way that one person, no matter how strong, could lift and tilt a vehicle by himself.
Upon seeing Greathouse for the very first time, fiction all of a sudden became fact.
When you think about a man over 6 feet tall, 240 pounds of solid muscle and multiple tattoos on his arms, you would think that he would knock you out with one punch if you looked at him wrong. The last thing you would expect from someone like that would be sadness of any kind.
Hell, the man’s name is Greathouse. And it’s not a nickname.
When I sat down with him, the second thing that I saw was a noticeable discomfort when it came to talking about his experiences.
Greathouse, a Sailor attached to EODMU 8, is an 8-year Navy veteran and has deployed in support of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
“Our job was to clear any impedance to an assault, often without any intel that an improvised explosive device (IED) was in place along the proposed route,” said Greathouse. “We frequently took direct enemy fire during these engagements.”
During his 2009 deployment Greathouse lead his team on more than 45 combat missions in the 6,696 square mile province, and while in charge, his team neutralized more than 15 IEDs and captured 5,466 pieces of anti-coalition forces ammunition and explosives; most of the time while insurgents shot at them.
At the time, it was inconceivable for me to think that this behemoth, having faced everything that he has, would be afraid to talk to a journalist. It didn’t take long to learn why. While he didn’t cry, I knew this gentle giant cared and was plenty man enough to show it.
While talking to Greathouse, I discovered that was only the tip of the iceberg, and I could understand why this Hulkbuster felt as uncomfortable as he did about talking about his experiences. Many people have specific events that they keep hidden deep in the mind and they don’t care to remember. Doing the job that EOD guys volunteer for would rank high on anyone’s list of moments not to be relived.
On July 6, 2009, while riding in the Deh Chopan district of Zabul province, his vehicle struck an IED that fatally wounded two members and wounded both himself and the crew serve weapon operator in the turret. While he himself was injured and bleeding, Greathouse administered first aid to the other injured men before he was medically evacuated.
"Navy EOD is a brotherhood," said Greathouse, his voice barely audible. "When you lose a teammate, you lose a brother and a friend, and I’ve already lost several.”
What I didn’t know previously was that Greathouse survived four separate direct IED hits that killed six of his EOD brethren. I couldn’t begin to imagine what that was like for him, living through something that killed his brothers.
I didn’t ask Greathouse how it felt to lose a teammate. It was written all over his face. It was in his nervous shake, his soft-spoken voice and his haunted gaze.
For his actions in Afghanistan, Greathouse was awarded the Bronze Star, and on Aug. 25, Vice Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the U.S. 6th Fleet, pinned the medal on his chest.
I asked Greathouse how it felt to receive the Bronze Star from Harris, and I was surprised by his response.
“I am glad (Harris) pinned my Bronze Star because he also pinned my Purple Heart in Iraq,” said Greathouse. “But when it comes down to it, coming home from the war zone to my family is the biggest prize of all.”
And now Greathouse can also boast the title of chief petty officer. He joined the goat locker Sep. 16, when he had anchors pinned to the collar of his khakis for the first time.
And that is enough to make any man show emotion.