City veteran Christopher Kalis reflects on time in Iraq

Christopher Kalis stands in his Youngstown home with his Army and Air Force Reserve uniforms. Kalis spent four years in the Army, 18 years in the Army National Guard and five years in the Air Force Reserve. He spent 20 months serving in Iraq.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To suggest a veteran for this series, which runs weekly through Veterans Day, email Metro Editor Marly Reichert at mreichert@tribtoday.com or call her at 330-841-1737.

YOUNGSTOWN — Christopher Kalis’ family has a long, proud tradition of military service.

“It’s something I always dreamed of doing even as a kid playing Army,” said Kalis, of Youngstown. “It appealed to me. My grandfather and father served. All five of my grandmother’s brothers served in World War II. When I was 21, I joined the Army.”

Kalis’ journey would start with basic training in 1987 at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, where he learned to be a combat engineer. A combat engineer, he said, “goes in first and does demolition and breaches obstacles and mine fields.”

During his four years in the Army, Kalis trained and simulated combat against the former Soviet Union.

“I was preparing to go to Iraq for (Operation) Desert Storm and we were ready to ship,” he said. “But it didn’t last long and we didn’t go.”

Kalis left the Army in 1991 after four years.

“I met a lot of friends and traveled the world,” he said.

After coming home, Kalis was in the Army National Guard. He had jobs painting high-tension wires and at Dow, a chemical company, before being hired in 1996 to work for the Ohio Turnpike. He eventually became the turnpike’s roadway supervisor at its Canfield location.

Then, in 2003 and in his late 30s, Kalis was called to active duty to serve in Iraq.

As a member of a quick reaction force, Kalis served in Iraq between November 2003 and July 2005.

“It was scary,” Kalis said. “We rolled in when we knew something was going on and we went full bore. We’d go into different dwellings looking for information, weapons and worked to stop insurgents.”

He added: “It was kind of hectic. You didn’t know what to do. Kids would come up to you and they used kids for bad things like bombs. But many of them just wanted water. I hated the thought of having to shoot kids. Thankfully, I never had to do that.”

It was dangerous work with four members of his unit killed in Iraq, Kalis said.

After a while, Kalis said the unit became familiar with the people in Tikrit, the city where they were based.

“We’d do perimeter patrol and they’d be shooting mortars into our base from the outskirts,” he said. “We’d try to find out who was behind it.”

Kalis said it was difficult to be away from home, particularly his two sons, Julian and Alec.

“My children were small at that point and there wasn’t really a lot of contract with family back home,” he said.

Returning home was a difficult adjustment, Kalis said.

“It was hard coming home after seeing what we had and the kids in Iraq had nothing,” he said. “I was trying to get back to reality and I kept thinking my job at the turnpike was meaningless. Part of me felt like I should go back. It was hard to readjust and hear my coworkers complain about nothing after what we went through.”

After his time in the Army National Guard ended in 2009, Kalis said he wanted to continue serving his country.

Julian was planning to join the military.

“I told him if you go to the Air Force, I’d go too and I joined the Reserve,” he said.

Kalis was based out of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna from 2009 to 2014.

“I was in air transportation,” he said.”We loaded and unloaded cargo planes and medical supplies and learned how to tie dow the vehicles in aircrafts.”

Working alongside active duty members, Kalis was sent to Germany, Panama and Nicaragua.

By 2014, Kalis said: “I decided I was done. The physical demands were becoming harder.”

Looking back, Kalis said, “I’d do it all over again. My military service out of my entire career is what I took the most pride in outside of being a father. I saw a lot and I met a lot of good people. I’m proud of myself and I’m very proud of my service.”

He added: “Iraq was my most memorable experience. I learned that you don’t take things for granted.”

Kalis now drives fellow military veterans as part of the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission after retiring from the turnpike.

Christopher Kalis

AGE: 58.

RESIDENCE: Youngstown.

SERVICE BRANCH: Army from 1987 to 1991, Army National Guard from 1991 to 2009 and Air Force Reserve from 2009 to 2014.

MILITARY HONORS: Combat action badge, humanitarian service medal, Army achievement medal, Air Force meritorious service, professional development ribbon, expert weapons qualification badge, global war on terrorism medal, Army component achievement medal, national defense service medal, good conduct medal.

OCCUPATION: Retired roadway supervisor at the Ohio Turnpike’s Canfield office, and now a transportation specialist at the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission.

FAMILY: Wife, Janet; two sons, Julian and Alec.

Have an interesting story? Contact David Skolnick by email at dskolnick@vindy.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @dskolnick.


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