The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase has moved on to Texas, with Jimmie Johnson the points leader after a fresh win at the TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville.
While at Martinsville, TUMS and Speedway President Clay Campbell hosted a day at the race, with all the whistles and bells, for five Fort Bragg, North Carolina soldiers. The five were honored with distinguished duties, including honorary starter and grand marshals.
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Solomon from the XVIII Airborne Corps waved the green flag as honorary starter. “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines” was proclaimed by Sgt. Chad Willis from the 1st Sustainment Command, Sgt. Chase Noble and Spc. Matthew Lee McClintock, both from the 1-508th, 4th Brigade Combat Team and Pfc. Albert Boston from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group.
For Sgt. Chad Willis, it was his first NASCAR race — an unforgettable experience.
It’s a great sport. I’m enjoying every moment of it. We have been well taken care of, says U.S. Army Sgt. Chad Willis of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Willis had just returned from his second deployment — this one to Kuwait. He was assisting the draw down from Iraq.
Military reintegration after deployment is a process, involving the family and soldier getting back on the same page again, says Willis. “In theater, we’re close to the command, accomplishing our objectives. When we transition back into the family, we have to combine family, school, activities with our job.”
Some studies reveal it could take up to seven months for a post-deployed soldier to feel comfortable with the family, again.
Willis says communication is a key. “Make sure your spouse knows your plans — coming back together, getting on the same sheet of paper. The kids have a hard time. Willis and his wife, Shalana, have three kids, ages 2, 4 and 6.
During the TUMS Fast Relief 500, Willis was sharing the experience with his family members. “I’ve been texting back home a ton!”
Willis and the four other Fort Bragg soldiers were given presidential treatment. They were recognized on stage, spoke with all the drivers and crew members, walked through the garage and pits and watched the race in the suites.
“The first lap, we got to stand near the track and when they all come around, it just vibrates your body.”
Willis sums it up this way: “Watching a (NASCAR) race on TV and coming to a race is totally different. I didn’t expect it to be this loud. I didn’t expect it to be this exhilarating.”
Go here to read more about the Martinsville Speedway.
Learn more about Fort Bragg, North Carolina — home of the U.S. Army airborne and special operations.