OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Robert “Robby” Pickett was born in Sherborn, Mass., but the family moved to Florida in 1983, when he was about 1 year old. He said there was a massive blizzard in Massachusetts that year, and that helped the family make the decision to move. They started out in Fort Lauderdale but moved around the state quite a bit before settling down in Jupiter.
In 2001, he was attending EMT school when the attacks came on 9/11. He wanted to join the military, because he felt the patriotic pull that was surging across the country. He was married and working construction-type jobs, and when he broached the subject with his wife, Jamie, she said, “No way!” He finished up EMT school and then fire academy before going to work in that field.
A couple of years later, he made the decision to join the Army no matter what his wife thought. “I was not a good guy. I didn’t want to be married anymore,” he said. “I told Jamie, I know you didn’t want me to join the Army, but I went ahead and joined it. I’m leaving in January, and I don’t care what you do. You can stay or you can go, and it wouldn’t make a difference to me in the world.” At the time, they had a 1-year-old child.
Pickett went to basic training in Fort Knox, Ky., where he saw snow for the first time. “Snow is a lot colder than it looks in pictures,” he laughed. “I was cold, cold!” He graduated from basic as “Soldier of the Cycle.” He was the top soldier of his platoon and of his company. He won the Abrams Award.
He was sent to Fort Sam Houston and began his training. Because he was already an EMT, he stayed with that and became a combat medic. When he graduated four months later, he was asked where he wanted to go. “I was still running from my wife and my responsibilities. I wanted to look like a man, a tough guy, and I said wherever would guarantee me combat.” They put him in the 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, Ga., but he got there a month after the 164 Armored Battalion left for the Thunder Run, the strike to capture Baghdad. So, while his unit was fighting in Iraq, he was cleaning the motor pool in Fort Stewart. During the six months the unit was away, he spent his time cleaning, and begged them to send him over there.
His wife did not stay in Florida after his parting speech. She followed him and stood beside him every step of the way. “She’s just a good woman,” he said. They got an apartment, and she worked and took care of their child, while he spent most of his nights out with the guys. “She was always there when I got home. When I was too drunk to drive myself home, she would pick me and my friends up. I spent money on tattoos and beer that I should have been spending on my son and my wife.”
It was determined his unit would be home for a year and then go right back to Iraq. They spent the year in the field, sometimes at Fort
Stewart and sometimes on other bases. Pickett also volunteered for extra field duty. “That’s just where my mind was, you know?”
In January 2005, they went back to Baghdad, Iraq, and this time, Pickett went with them. Because he was so motivated, he was assigned as the scout platoon’s medic. They were the “unit of action.” He worked as a scout until he was needed as a medic. “I trained my guys to be combat lifesavers, so in a mass casualty incident, I could throw equipment at somebody, and say, ‘Do this.’ Then, I could go on and do something else. It was kind of a force multiplier.”
While attached to the scout platoon, they were separated from their unit of action on purpose. He was there for 12 months and lived eight of those months in one of Hussein’s palaces, where they trained Iraqi special forces. He trained the medics to be medics. The scouts trained them to be forward observers, scouts and infantrymen. They also conducted escort missions and raids with Delta and special forces units on the compound. They worked with American, Australian and English forces.
The first rocket attack he experienced was right after they arrived. He was at the medical battalion with one of his buddies. They were walking out of the aid station and they were getting rocketed. He remembers stopping mid stride and looking up at the sky thinking, “These rockets sound EXACTLY like they sound on TV. That’s AMAZING!” Then his friend almost ran him over trying to get back to the aid station. “That’s when I remembered we were actually being rocketed, and I ran after him,” he laughed.
The first vehicle-borne IED he responded to occurred when a man drove a car into a crowd of people and blew the car up. As they pulled up, they could see constantina wire. It’s kind of like spiral barbed wire they put out on the ground to make walkways, he explained. “It was strewn with pieces of I didn’t know what, but I would find out it was pieces of meat. There was rubble everywhere and smoke. It was like everything was painted gray. As we are walking up, I’m realizing the rubble, the rocks I am stepping on are squishing under my feet. They aren’t rubble at all. They are pieces of people.” This was within a week of his arrival.
The one thing he is most proud of from his military service, is not his military service. “Obviously, you can see, I had very selfish motives for my military service,” he said. While he was in Iraq, his wife prayed that God would either save him or have him killed. “I was pretty rough on my wife. I never hit her, but I was rough on her emotionally.” While he was in the field, he was constantly around their chaplain. “I loved picking on our chaplain, because I did not think Christianity was an intellectual position to hold. I loved picking at him and questioning him about evolution and God.” One day, the chaplain challenged Pickett to read the books of John, Acts and Romans in the Bible. “On my third time through, reading a Bible he gave me, I read in John 14 where Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.’ I can’t even explain it except to say the words almost came off the page! I was just hit with the knowledge that this was for me!” Prior to this, he had always believed Americans get to heaven through Jesus, and Saudi Arabians got to heaven through Mohammed, and in China, you go by way of Buddha, he explained. “Right then, I realized that Jesus Christ claimed to be God and claimed to be the only way to God. I realized I was not a good guy in spite of all my patriotism. Christ saved me that day.”
From that day forth, his life changed completely. “Nobody told me to give up alcohol, but I gave up alcohol. Nobody told me to stop getting tattoos and put my money on more godly things like my family and my church, but I did. Nobody told me to stop watching pornography, but I just lost my taste for it. Nobody told me to love my wife more, but I just did, because of the prayers of my wife, a faithful woman who followed me into the service and suffered reproach for the cause of Christ. This is what I am most proud of during my military career. Jesus Christ found ME in the Army.”
The entire time he was there, he volunteered for everything that came up. He had no fear of death. He said he knows why he was not afraid. It is because the book of Hebrews says, “He came to ransom them that were all their lives held captive by fear of death.” The Bible also says, “Perfect love casteth out fear.”
“When God changed me, he took away fear, too. Fear was just gone,” he said. “I can remember more than one time, walking up an alley toward a mosque while they were shooting at us, and I would just keep moving. There were rocket attacks on the palace, grenades thrown over the wall. I was never afraid. It’s not because I’m brave. I’m a coward, but I’m not afraid of death. It’s all part of God’s plan, and I can rest.”