He thought he was helping his daughter set up for homecoming, but on Sept. 27, Col. Greg Adams was the surprise guest of honor at the Central Valley football game.
Adams, director of the U.S. Army Emergency Preparedness Program, was honored for his 30 years of military service.
Adams didn’t follow the traditional path to military service. While most young people enlist after high school or participate in ROTC, Adams joined the National Guard at 26.
“A friend planted the idea in my head,” he said. “I’ve always loved this country.”
Adams had already launched his teaching career with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a career that has spanned 32 years. He currently serves as the director of the Institute of Religion in Spokane. But he wanted to serve in a different way, so he talked to a recruiter in Provo, Utah, and heard about an engineering battalion. “The recruiter said, ‘We build things and blow things up,’ and I said, ‘That sounds exciting,’ ” Adams recalled.
He completed basic training in 1983 and three years later applied for officer candidate school. In August 1986, 10 days after graduating from OCS, he married Ann. The couple have four children and one grandchild.
From his office in his Spokane Valley home, the couple talked about Adams’ years of service. When the family moved from Utah to Boise, Adams transferred from the National Guard to the Army Reserves. He steadily rose in rank and responsibility, eventually serving as battalion commander of the 321st Engineer Battalion.
They moved to Spokane in 2005. “I thought I was going to be deployed to Iraq in 2006,” Adams said. “But the former battalion commander went with 60 percent of the troops and I stayed here with the rest.”
Part of his job entailed visiting injured soldiers who returned stateside. He made a lot of hospital visits. He said, “We lost six soldiers and received over 100 purple hearts. We endured the most casualties of any Reserve Battalion in the Iraq war.”
His daughter, Jenna, was in third grade at the time. “She starting coloring purple hearts, and I’d take a stack with me to Walter Reed.”
As difficult as it was for him to see the wounded at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, another part of his job was much worse – visiting families who’d lost a loved one in battle.
One incident is burned in his memory. Tasked with notifying a family that their son had been killed in action, Adams made a long drive to a farmhouse near Rexburg, Idaho. “As I walked up to the porch, I saw a curtain open and all these little faces peered out at me.” He paused, and his eyes filled. “The soldier was the oldest of six sons – they knew a soldier in full dress uniform on their porch brings bad news. I said, ‘On behalf of the President of the United States, I regret to inform you….’ ”
“The mother collapsed. All those boys were crying. I’ve been through a war and I’m telling you that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done – to tell parents their son is not coming home.”
Then there was the death of Kelly Grothe, a 2004 Central Valley graduate, killed in action in 2007. “I was there when they brought his body off the plane,” Adams said. “So you know who I was thinking about when I tossed that coin at the football game.”
Ann Adams added, “We go to his grave on May 3 every year. That’s the day he was killed. We leave him a can of Mountain Dew.”
In 2009, Adams was deployed to Iraq. It was a difficult time for Ann. “I literally did not sleep for the whole year,” she said.
It wasn’t easy for Adams to leave his family, either. “All Jenna remembered were all those purple hearts, and all the funerals I went to. She was very frightened.”
But he believed he had important work to do. “When we went in there, we dismantled the entire Iraqi government including their army. We had to start from the ground up.”
Adams will face mandatory retirement in 2016 – a thought he finds difficult to embrace. “How do I do that?” he said. “I love my troops.”
He is proud of his family and the way they’ve supported him, and he is proud of the men and women he leads and the work they’ve done.
He recalled a meeting in Iraq where leaders had gathered to discuss the formation of the new army. An Iraqi gestured toward the Americans and said, “We don’t need them.”
Adams said an Iraqi general stood up and quietly said, “These Americans have left their families for a year. Why did they do it? The answer is the name – Operation Iraqi Freedom. Because of them we are free.’ ”
Smiling, Adams continued, “I’m proud to represent our country. I’ve seen the joy in the faces of the people in Iraq. It came at a great price, but they have freedom.”