When Gregg Taylor thinks about the military, he also thinks about college.
He graduated from Danbury High School in 1997, and in 1998 he joined the U.S. Army Reserves. He joined to get a college degree.
Taylor’s mother had died in 1995, and the high school’s Air Force ROTC program helped get him through that pain.
“It was kind-of my backbone,” said Taylor, who eventually served in Afghanistan.
But before that, he couldn’t afford college. His friends were attending school with the help of the National Guard, so in 2000, he transferred from the Reserves to the National Guard, and signed up for a new six-year contract and a shot at college. That was one year before 9/11. Everything changed after that.
He remembers the morning of 9/11 as one where he was still asleep from a night shift at Rosy Tomorrow’s on Mill Plain Road. His roommate, Timothy Richmond, came home and woke him.
“Planes hit the World Trade Center,” he said, and they turned on the TV. His roommate started putting his gear together, and calling people. The first post 9/11 work Taylor remembers was 12-hour security patrols with rifles holding live rounds. The drill was over.
“It went from playing Army Guy on the weekends to a high-tension regular Army Guy,” Taylor said. “Life just got real serious.”
He explained the only reason it took him several years to get overseas was random army rotations. Some teams went in right away, some didn’t go for years. “I saw friends come and go.”
He spent the next few years on “presence and patrol” which was work like guarding a nuclear power plant or a military base. He was training as a combat engineer. Check people and vehicles coming in, walk around as visible security, but he wasn’t at the war yet.
In 2005, his “Warning Order” came, saying his turn was coming. He was working at Rosy Tomorrow’s on October 1, 2005, when he got a phone call. “You’ve been mobilized. You have been ‘stop lost’ (You may have to serve until 2036) and you got transferred to the U.S. Army Infantry.”
“It was a very scary situation. Your whole life just got flipped upside down,” Taylor said.
Taylor had trained as an engineer. Now he had two months of intensive infantry training before Christmas 2005. He would serve in the Bravo Company First, of the 102 Infantry.
“In 1998, I loved the drill. I was doing this for college,” Taylor recalls. Then he was going to Afghanistan, wearing the 29th Infantry Division Iron Grey patch (See ‘Saving Private Ryan.’) He joined the infantry as a private first class.
He deployed to Afghanistan in 2006 as infantry. Sometimes he worked on ‘presence patrol,’ which is driving or walking around, checking on suspicious activities, and working on security teams to guard other soldiers who might be working on bomb detection or building wells.
He said in the back of his mind was finding Bin Laden. "It was finally a relief. Victory," he said, speaking about Bin Laden's death. "It's everyone's mission when they go over there."
Taylor fought in one firefight on Sept. 23, 2006, that lasted a total of seven hours in the Tagab Valley.
“After that, I couldn’t sleep for three days,” Taylor said. The firefight came in the middle of his deployment, which lasted from April 2006 to April 2007.
He said he still gets nightmares and flashbacks about the firefight, but they were much worse two or three years ago. He was treated for post traumatic stress disorder. “They used to come every day. Then every other day. Once a week, and then once a month. Then farther and farther apart.”
He said despite that diagnosis, he was determined to never let it get in his way. He graduated from Western Connecticut State University in 2010, and he started an MBA program at Fordham University in August.
“What happens is you build up a team. You learn everybody’s movements, and we built confidence in each other,” Taylor said. Sometimes you’re tired, wet and cold, but you work together, and it builds everyone’s confidence. "I'm glad I went when I was 27, not 21."