Junction City Union
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 affected many in the nation, but none more so than the children of the soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guard men and women serving the country.
For Capt. Zachary Birchmeier, 2010 Junction City High School graduate, the time after the attacks was a mixture of ‘when will dad be home’ and ‘why did my friend’s dad not come back with them?’
“I was in third or fourth grade when 9/11 happened,” he said. “That made a big impact on me and a lot of my peers — we still remember that day pretty vividly (even) as kids. Growing up around military bases I got to see it transition from us being at peace time to us being at war time. Sadly, I had a few friends whose parents didn’t come home complete or they did not come home at all. Still to this day that kind of motivates me to want to stay in and keep doing what I’m doing.”
The will and want to serve ran deep with Birchmeier, even moreso after the attacks. After graduating high school, he continued his pursuit of becoming an Army officer by attending Pittsburg State University in southeast Kansas where he enrolled in the ROTC program.
There, with the help of the officers and noncommissioned officers who taught the classes, he learned what it takes to become a leader in today’s Army.
“It was really the ROTC program at Pitt State that got me prepared for how to act like an officer,” he said. “I had incredible instructors up there, especially with the small class size. With the student to teacher ratio there, I got a lot of hands on knowledge from people like Sgt. 1st Class Forrest Robertson. Just having great leaders like that helped me with everything I have going on today.”
While living the Army lifestyle with his dad wasn’t complicated enough, he was after all a battalion commander for the Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, prior to the battalion being stood down.
“As kids we were conditioned for it,” he said. “It’s kind of how we knew life — dad’s got to go; mom’s got to go. All the kids I went to school with were in the same boat. We had huge support from [each other] and from other parents. When you’re raised in the military, you’re raised by a tribe of women because dad is gone a lot.
“The Army community is something you really can’t explain until you are a part of it,” he added. “It’s completely filled with amazing men and women that serve or are the spouses. Definitely proud that my mom is a wife of a veteran and getting to meet all the soldier’s spouses — they are something special.”
That connection to military tradition of taking care of the family has led Birchmeier to appreciate the time he has with his wife and their new children.
Currently stationed at Scholfield Barracks, Hawaii, Birchmeier is working with the patrol division of the, 728th Military Police Battalion, 8th Military Police Brigade.
He said that he had a greater appreciation for those veterans who have come before him and has even crossed paths with soldiers and officers who have served with his father — a person he looks up to.
“It’s kind of hard to compare myself to him because I have some big shoes to fill,” he said. “I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some people that served under him and they had nothing but great things to say about him.”
Birchmeier has not yet had to deploy to a combat zone, yet he knows there is a possibility. With that comes the possibility of losing his life or the life of someone he works with. A feeling he already knows.
He had to learn what losing a team member was like shortly before leaving college.
Sgt. 1st Class Robertson, his instructor, was killed in action in Afghanistan in November 2013.
Still the love for his country and the privilege to serve his country are something that he is extremely proud of.
“(It’s) a lot more office work than I anticipated,” he said jokingly. “But when you actually get time to spend time with the troops and everything, that is definitely worth all the hard stuff.”
That is a lesson his father did not teach him, Birchmeier said.
“He was an engineer and occasionally I would ask him what he did at work,” he said. “He said he ‘blew up a bridge,’ one day and I thought that was pretty cool.”
Growing up in the Army, Birchmeier was already prepared to travel to different installations. He was born in Georgia before his family moved to Fort Irwin, California; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Fort Leavenworth; 3 years in Germany; a year in Michigan before landing in 2004 at Fort Riley.
Through it all, he was interested in continuing in his fathers’ footsteps and joining the military.
“It was always kind of the plan joining the military ever since I was little,” he said. “My dad did 28 years and just growing up seeing him do his job I always wanted to be in the Army.”
The future is still in the air as to where Birchmeier may land. He already served as a lieutenant at Fort Riley as an officer with the 97th MP Battalion. After his time in Hawaii, who knows. He does know that his family will be there by his side which he is grateful for.
“She (was) literally doing everything by herself with two small kids,” he said of a recent rotation to the field. “So literally, every day, I had no idea how [she] managed to do this. I would lose my mind.”
That type of support is essential for the soldiers today and he is proud to have that, there with him and back home with his parents.