Helena, Montana, US
United States Army
CPL, 163rd Infantry Battalion, Montana National Guard
Dana was a kid who joined the National Guard shortly after graduating from high school in Helena. War changed Dana. He wasn’t always that way, his family told me.
“Before he left, he had a smile that could light up a room,” said his stepmother, Linda Dana. “You were never quite sure whether he was laughing with you or at you. But when he came back, that light had gone out. He’d lost his essence.”
“He was innocent,” said his dad, Gary Dana, sitting outside on a porch that overlooked the trailer in which his son had lived. “He went to high school, played sports, and then he got thrown into the war. Growing up that fast was too much for him.”
Chris was never an aggressive kid. He was one of the helpers. He was good with kids and liked them. His dad, who lives just outside of Helena and works construction, figured his son would become a social services worker and be happy helping people solve their problems.
Instead, Chris came home from high school during his senior year in 2002 and told his folks that a recruiter had visited their school and he’d signed up for the National Guard. That was a surprise, but it wasn’t particularly alarming. America wasn’t at war yet, and the discipline of serving in the military was considered to be a good way for teens to mature.
Right after high school, Dana went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for boot camp and training, and then returned to Helena in 2003. He worked at a Target store and attended weekend drills. “During that time, he had no problem going to the drills, but after he got back from Iraq, it was an entirely different story,” said his dad.