Sergeant Major LaMonta Caldwell spent 31 years in the Army, deploying all over the world, but the 15 months he spent fighting in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley were the toughest test of his military career.
During his 2008 deployment, he and his soldiers came under fire on a daily basis while struggling to improve their position in the rugged mountains surrounding the valley. The unit lost eight men in combat, another fifteen were wounded.
"What do you say when you come back and see their families?" said Caldwell, recalling those soldiers. "And they looked up to you?"
The first day on the ground in Afghanistan, Caldwell's unit suffered a startling loss when the son of the brigade sergeant major was killed in action. That death hit Caldwell hard. The soldier and his family were personal friends.
"His dad was my brigade sergeant major, and he told his dad he wanted to be in my company because I was in his dad's company long time ago," said Caldwell.
Throughout his long military career, Caldwell has relied on his faith to cope with hardship.
"I always remember my minister told me I am where the Lord wants me to be at," he said. "If that's where He wants me to be, that's the right place."
These days, Caldwell teaches JROTC at Westover High School in Fayetteville. It's a job he loves.
"I'm tickled to death to have the opportunity to continue to wear the uniform, but also empower our young adults."
The Ft. Bragg Stories series is a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project to commemorate a century of history at Fort Bragg through personal narratives. You can hear other stories in the series here. If you'd like to share your Fort Bragg story, you can send it here, or email email@example.com.