AJ Carmack: Coming Home
Being from Steamboat Springs helped to prepare Sgt. A.J. Carmack, 22, for his role as a U.S. Army soldier, recently returned from Iraq.
“Going to Steamboat Springs High School was beneficial to me,” Carmack says. “It’s good to be in this environment. It allows you to open up, to be a better person. In the city, you can get tainted. Here, there’s a strong work ethic. I was moving hay when I was 15. That’s how I grew up.”
Things that come easily to Carmack, like sleeping outdoors and carrying a heavy pack, were new experiences for some of the young men he met in basic training. He jokes that country boys could spot a city-dweller from their first look.
An infantryman, Carmack returned last summer from Balad, Iraq, where he served with the First Battalion, 23rd Regiment, First Stryker Brigade. Its mission was to assist in the handover to Iraqi Security Forces.
One assignment Carmack’s unit completed was to provide security for the workers in Taskforce Tomahawk’s makeover of an Iraqi school. “It was a pretty violent area,” Carmack recalls. “But we really wanted to give these kids a positive image of who we are.”
When the soldiers first arrived at the school, they found students bundled up in jackets. The building had no heat or air conditioning, no functioning toilets and no electricity in the classrooms. The soldiers worked for 24 hours a day for two days straight to finish the school on time.
Carmack’s unit trained Iraqi soliders in the use of modern arms and equipment. Before the transition, AK-47s were the Iraqis’ primary weapon. He notes that the “47” in the weapon’s name stands for the model year.
The language barrier added to the challenge of the training program, Carmack says. He found that Iraqi trainees “tend to be a little more relaxed” than U.S. troops. As he looks back on the mission, he concludes: “We gave them the tools they need. We’ll see what happens from here.”
Before he was sent to Iraq, Carmack graduated from U.S. Army Ranger School. Now stationed stateside, he’s looking forward to more schooling. “I want as much training as I can get,” he says. “I want to learn a lot of things, and I’m hoping for Special Forces selection, more mental and physical challenges.”
Carmack also has his eye on Afghanistan. “I’m a soldier,” he says. “So that’s where I need to go.”
His back straightens with obvious pride as he discusses his career. “I have a lot of responsibility,” he adds. “I have fun every day, and I love what I do.”
David Freseman: Heart and Spirit
You need lots of heart and determination to get through tough economic times in a resort town, especially when your mission is to combat unemployment and poverty.
Since 2000, David Freseman has been the director of Lift-Up of Routt County, a nonprofit organization that manages a food bank, thrift store and emergency assistance programs. A Lutheran minister who worked as a pastor in Nebraska and North Carolina for 25 years, Freseman came to Steamboat Springs in 1997. He and Debbie – “my lovely wife and best friend” – were attracted to the beauty of the area. “I knew the mountain well, too, and that didn’t hurt any,” says Freseman, who likes to ski and canoe.
When the Lift-Up position opened three years later, he applied. “I felt I had a lot of ability and the heart for it. It was a good mix and match,” he says.
Under Freseman’s leadership, the organization built the Lufkin Lift-Up Center in West Steamboat in 2006. Prior to that, Lift-Up programs were housed in three separate locales, scattered throughout town. “It’s very fulfilling to have been instrumental in Lift-Up achieving this building,” he says.
The past two years have posed challenges, Freseman acknowledges. “We’re very, very busy,” he says. “The amount of need for many of our assistance programs has tripled. Last year really highlighted the economic problems in our community.”
Fortunately the town has been up to the task, Freseman says. “Generous donors, a generous community and generous grants” have kept Lift-Up open. Ironically, as times have tightened, the thrift store’s revenues have increased, helping to offset the rising costs of assistance programs. Freseman surmises that the shop’s affordability makes it an attractive option for local families.
Lift-Up has no specific ties to any church or religion, but Freseman views his job as social justice ministry. “I’m getting unique fulfillment of how I see God’s mission: to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. We help people who are struggling, and that’s a really good feeling.”
The holidays are an especially important time for Lift-Up, as churches, schools, civic groups and businesses conduct food drives and donate to the organization. “The community gets into the holiday spirit, and everyone’s help is much-needed,” he says. “It helps us sustain our existence throughout the year.”
Lift-Up Food Bank Always Needs
- peanut butter
- canned fruit
- canned kidney/pinto beans
- dry beans
- spaghetti sauce
- canned tomato products
- toilet paper